Tag Archives: Thomas Watson


Praying hands

Can we pray to Jesus?  This is a question I’ve answered countless times, both in sermons and here on Yinkahdinay.  It’s a question I have to keep coming back to, because the answer sometimes given to that question is not only wrong, but harmful.  Some say that since Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer for us to pray to the Father, we must therefore only pray to the first Person of the Trinity.  The Lord’s Prayer says “Our Father,” and therefore we may not pray to Jesus.  Case closed.

However, if such voices are wrong, they fly against what we confess in article 32 of the Belgic Confession.  There we confess that we must not deviate from what Christ has commanded for worship.  Then read this carefully: “Therefore we reject all human inventions and laws introduced into the worship of God which bind and compel the consciences in any way.”  So, if someone says we must not pray to Jesus, and Scripture says we are allowed to pray to Jesus, that person is introducing a human law which illicitly binds and compels our consciences.  There is a lot at stake here.

There are several ways I could address this question.  I could point out the proper explanation of “Our Father” in the Lord’s Prayer (see here).  I could mention the explicit biblical passages where prayer to Jesus is not only observed, but even invited (John 14:14, Acts 7:59, 1 Cor. 16:22, Rev. 22:20).  I could discuss again how the primary author of the Heidelberg Catechism, Zacharias Ursinus, answered this question using an essential theological distinction.  I could point out the practice of the early church with church fathers such as Augustine, the practice of the medieval church with Anselm of Canterbury, the practice of the Reformation church with William Farel, or the post-Reformation church with Thomas Watson.  We could note that the Athanasian Creed speaks of worshipping the Trinity in unity, and unity in Trinity, noting how this has been understood throughout the history of the church.  We could note the prayer-like hymns we sing which address Jesus — and to which most people don’t give a second thought.  There are all these different ways of going at this issue.

However, today I want to take an approach I haven’t taken before.  It came to me while I was recently teaching a marriage preparation class for a couple in my church.  We were discussing healthy communication in marriage.  I pointed out what Scripture says in Ephesians 5, where the Holy Spirit draws a parallel between human marriage and the relationship between Christ and his church.  The thing that stood out to me is that Christ is clearly said to have a relationship with his church.  That relationship is spoken of in marital terms.  How absurd it would be for a human marriage to see one spouse being forbidden to speak with the other!  Imagine a human marriage where the husband can speak to the wife, but the wife is not allowed to answer and communicate with her husband.  Yet that’s what we’re left with when we’re told that the church of Jesus Christ may not pray to him.  We have a relationship where the communication can only go one way.  What healthy relationship only has one-way communication?  We realize that healthy relationships see communication going both ways.  If the church really does have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and if that relationship parallels human marriage, shouldn’t it be expected that the church would pray to Jesus?

As mentioned above, it is not only wrong to conclude otherwise, it is also harmful.  Think about it.  If we cannot communicate with him, how can we really have a relationship with him?  How can we live in union with someone with whom we’re not even allowed to speak?  How can we avoid the danger of turning the person of our beloved Saviour into a theological concept to be analyzed or argued rather than someone to be loved and cherished?  I posit that the challenge of real spiritual vitality goes up exponentially in Reformed communities where they are taught (and then believe) they may not pray to Jesus.

So, yes, I do pray to my Lord Jesus from time to time.  I don’t pray to him all the time.  Most of the time I pray to the Triune God as my Father.  But I’m taught in Scripture that prayer to my Saviour is also appropriate at times.  I may pray to him in my personal prayers.  I may sometimes also address him when I lead congregational prayer — this is especially if a sermon has been on a text explicitly unfolding some aspect of his person or work (as an example, see the prayer at the end of this sermon).  Through the Word of God, the Holy Spirit allows me this privilege of being in a relationship with the Son of God where I may freely speak with him.  He allows you that privilege too and don’t let anyone take that away from you.  Don’t let your conscience be bound by human laws.

Top Ten Influential Books

There’s this thing on Facebook where people are invited to share the top ten influential books in their lives.  A while back I was tagged for this too.  It didn’t take much thought — I had my top ten in ten minutes.  For my own future reference, and perhaps to point you in the direction of some good books too, I thought I would post it over here as well.

1. The Word of God — a light for my path, wisdom from above, good news for a great sinner.
2. The Defense of the Faith (3rd edition), by Cornelius Van Til. This book and its biblical approach has been foundational for everything, not just apologetics.
3. A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, by J. I. Packer. Combined with the next volume, this set me to learn from the Puritans.
4. Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were, by Leland Ryken. This busted all kinds of preconceived notions of the Puritans.
5. All Things for Good, by Thomas Watson. This is the first Puritan book I read. It’s powerful!
6. Expository Preaching with Word Pictures, by Jack Hughes. This one unfolds the method behind Watson’s genius and applies it to preaching today.
7. Christ-Centered Preaching, by Bryan Chapell. The book my seminary preaching prof dissed, but which many of us loved and learned lots from.
8. The Christian Soldier, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. This helped to bridge the gap between my military ambitions and the desire to serve in a different army.
9. Competent to Counsel, by Jay Adams. How do you apply Van Til’s presuppositionalism to counselling? Adams made a good initial effort to show us.
10. War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin, by Carlos M. N. Eire. Was the Regulative Principle of Worship invented by the Puritans? No, Eire demonstrates that its pedigree goes back to at least Geneva.

There are lots of other books, but I’d say that those 10 were definitely some of the biggest ones in my life so far.

Read the Puritans, Love the Puritans

Watson All Things

Every now and then I still run into prejudice against the Puritans amongst Reformed folk.  I deeply lament this.  Hundreds of years later, there is still much of value that can be gleaned from these Reformed giants of old.

I was introduced to the Puritans while in university.  An online friend from South Africa moved to Edmonton to study.  He had a nearly complete collection of the Puritan Paperbacks published by Banner of Truth.  He got me hooked.  My copy of Thomas Watson’s classic All Things for Good was a gift from this brother — still a treasured gift and one of my favourite books.

We discussed theology and the Puritans endlessly in those days.  We talked about the prejudices that many people have against the Puritans.  He pointed me to two books that dispel the myths surrounding these men.  These books are still worthwhile and I want to recommend them to those readers who are willing to have an open mind.

The first is Leland Ryken’s volume, Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were.  This book takes a balanced look at Puritanism.  Ryken takes apart the caricatures that have often been painted — for instance, he has an entire chapter on marriage and sex.  Be ready to rethink the label “Puritan” when it comes to those subjects!  The book tackles the Puritan approach to a number of subjects and then concludes with two summary chapters.  One deals with some of the things the Puritans did wrong, the other with what they did right.

The other volume I want to recommend as an introduction to the Puritans is J. I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life.  This is a more theological book, but with a focus on how theology bears on living as a Christian.  This was one of the strengths of many Puritans.  They understood that doctrine was not a game theologians play, but the foundation and root of a God-pleasing existence.  Packer’s book does touch on many Puritan figures, but he spends the most time with John Owen.  If you need to be convinced to read the Puritans, Packer presents a compelling case.

I love the Puritans and have for many years.  I get a lot of spiritual nourishment from reading their works.  That said, not all Puritans are equal.  Not all Puritan works are of equal value.  Some, like Thomas Watson, were dynamic preachers and communicators.  Because of his use of vivid word pictures, his writing has a timeless quality.  Others were excessively verbose, at times convoluted, and sometimes brought methods that belonged in the academy into the pulpit.  However, they were Reformed, many effectively combined emphases on head and heart, they all understood the gospel, and they believed that an understanding of the amazing grace of God in Christ would compel one to strive for holiness.   One can find valid reasons to criticize some of the Puritans in certain times for this or that.  However, the same can be said for Reformed figures of any era or background.  No matter who we’re reading, we must always chew the meat and spit out the gristle and fat.  If you begin with Ryken and Packer, you’ll quickly figure out where to find some of the best cuts.

Thinking of God — Thomas Watson

“To have frequent and devout thoughts of God witnesses sincerity.  No truer touchstone of sanctity exists than the spirituality of the thoughts.  What a man is, that his thoughts are: ‘For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he’ (Prov. 23:7).  Thoughts are freer from hypocrisy than words.  One may speak well for applause, or to stand right in the opinion of others; but when we are alone and think of God’s Name, and admire his excellencies, this shows the heart to be right.  Thoughts are freer from hypocrisy than an unblamable life.  A man may in his outward behaviour be fair, yet have a covetous, revengeful mind.  The acts of sin may be conceived when the heart sits brooding upon sin; but to have the thoughts spiritualized and set upon God is a truer symptom of sincerity, than a life free from vice.  Christians, what do your thoughts run upon?  Where do they make their most frequent visits?  Can you say, Lord, our hearts are still mounting up to heaven, our thoughts are lodged in paradise; though we do not see thy face, yet we think on thy Name?  This is a good evidence of sincerity.  We judge men by their actions; God judges them by their thoughts.”  (85)

Devotional Literature

I get a lot of requests from people looking for devotional literature.  The one person wants a book of devotions for retired couples.  The other wants a book for engaged couples.  Still another is looking for something for their teenage son or daughter.  I used to search high and low for things I could recommend for these niche needs.  No longer.  Now I recommend that people just start with reading the Bible prayerfully.  Why is it that everyone feels they either need to be spoon-fed or they need someone to make the Bible relevant for them?  It’s almost as if we’ve returned to the stereotype of the medieval church:  everyone talks about the Bible but no one reads it for themselves.  The thought seems to be that the Bible is a deep and mysterious book and we need someone else to interpret it and apply it for us.

Nevertheless, I do think there is a place for devotional literature.  I think there is a place for authors to share their meditations on sacred Scripture.  There is a place for us to learn from our forebears how to pray and to think Christianly.  The thing is that these things ought never to replace our going directly to the source for ourselves.  They should be supplementary.  Moreover, we should lose this (post-)modern idea of niche devotionals — the devotional for the unemployed single mother, the devotional for the engaged couple, etc., etc.  This trend is reflective of the narcissism of our day:  everyone needs something crafted exactly for their personal, individual needs.  Whatever happened to the catholic church?  Whatever happened to the communion of saints?  Whatever happened to being able to think and apply general truths to your individual needs?

So with those caveats, let me recommend some of the devotional literature that I’ve found helpful.  This list is not exhaustive.  There is a lot of good stuff out there, although most of it was written by dead old guys.  Sorry!  There just hasn’t been a lot of thoughtful and at the same time faithful devotional literature written in our day.  In no particular order, these are some of the resources I can suggest:

The Valley of Vision has long been one of my favourites.  This is a collection of prayers from Puritans and Puritan-minded folks.  Prayers are here from Thomas Watson, John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon and many others.  My only complaint about this volume is that it doesn’t tell you where the prayers are from or who wrote which prayers.  This book is also available in a bonded leather edition.  It would be a great gift for young people doing public profession of faith.

Still on the subject of prayer, there’s this volume from Johann Gerhard, a Lutheran theologian from the seventeenth century.  I just recently discovered this and it’s beautiful and powerful.  Throughout Gerhard is either quoting Scripture or working with scriptural concepts.

Thomas Watson is my favourite Puritan.  People who have a stereotype of the Puritans as obscure and difficult to read need to take a look at Watson.  I recently picked up this one and I’ve been enjoying it tremendously.  Here’s a sample quote:  “Let us get love to Christ.  Love is a holy transport.  It fires the affections, steels the courage, and carries a Christian above the love of life, and the fear of death.  Many waters cannot quench love (Song of Sol. 8:7).  Love made Christ suffer for us.  If anyone ask what Christ died of, it may be answered, He died of love” (10).

Thomas Watson is so good that he gets double mention on this list.  This volume is an arrangement of short devotional readings from his book Body of Divinity.  There’s enough here for an entire year.  The language here has been slightly modernized for ease of understanding.

Near Unto God is an abridgement by James Schaap of a classic volume by the Dutch Reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper.  I’ve been reading it for some time and have found it to be remarkable in places, puzzling (and almost bizarre) in others.  It’s hard to tell where Kuyper is being interpreted by Schaap.  Unfortunately, I don’t have either the Dutch original or the earlier English translation to compare.

Finally, also from our Dutch Reformed tradition, there is this classic by Petrus Dathenus.  If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he was involved with the production of our liturgical forms as well as an early edition of the Genevan psalter in Dutch.  As Joel Beeke aptly summarizes it on the back cover, “This succinct treatise lets the light of Scripture shine clearly on the practical issues involved in teaching and living the doctrines of sovereign grace.”  Dathenus powerfully points Christians to an all-sufficient Saviour as the true “pearl of great price.”