A Walk Through Thomas Watson’s, “Body of Divinity” – Part I

October 14, 2009


watson photo iiToday, I thought I’d like to start a series and explore Thomas Watson’s, A Body of Divinity.   At least some of it.  The 640 page work follows the shorter catechism and expands it to a level of saturated detail.  Thomas Watson’s writing style is at the same time practical and eloquent.  When simple explanation will suffice, he is spot on; when passionate reflection seems necessary to make a point, he is dramatic.  If you’ve read some of the Puritans, you’ll immediately notice the earthy reality that is typical of much of their writings.  The men whose books we still cherish were typically scholars of the first degree.  But even though they were intellects, their lives typified a Godly passion to take scripture and make simple application for their congregations.  Many of the Puritan authors in general, and Thomas Watson specifically, considered their callings a priori pastoral based on their strait-forward understanding of scripture; they were charged by God to help others understand.

Let’s begin…

So, what does it mean to be settled in religion?  What does it mean to be grounded?  Thomas Watson considered it needful to begin his work by contemplating these two questions.  Here he encourages his flock to examine their state in Christ.  He writes:

  I. It is the duty of Christians to be settled in the doctrine of faith. It is the apostle’s prayer, “May the God of all grace establish, strengthen, settle you.” That is, that they might not be meteors in the air—but fixed stars. The apostle Jude speaks of “wandering stars”. They are called wandering stars, because, as Aristotle says, “They do leap up and down, and wander into several parts of the heaven; and being but dry exhalations, not made of that pure celestial matter as the fixed stars are, they often fall to the earth.” Now, such as are not settled in true religion, will, at one time or other, prove wandering stars; they will lose their former steadfastness, and wander from one opinion to another. Such as are unsettled are of the tribe of Reuben, “unstable as water,” like a ship without ballast, overturned with every wind of doctrine. Beza writes of one Belfectius, who his religion changed as often as the moon. The Arians had every year a new faith. These are not pillars in the temple of God—but reeds shaken every way. The apostle calls them “damnable heresies.” A man may go to hell as well for heresy as adultery!

To be unsettled in true religion, argues lack of judgment. If their heads were not giddy, men would not reel so fast from one opinion to another.

 To be unsettled in true religion, argues lightness. As feathers will be blown every way, so will feathery Christians. Therefore such are compared to infants. “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” Ephesians 4:14. Children are fickle sometimes of one mind sometimes of another, nothing pleases them long. Just so, unsettled Christians are childish; the truths they embrace at one time, they reject at another; sometimes they like the Protestant religion, and soon after they have a good mind to turn Papists

 [1] It is the great end of the word preached, to bring us to a settlement in true religion. “And he gave some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the edifying of the body of Christ; that we henceforth be no more children.” The word is called “a hammer”. Every blow of the hammer is to fasten the nails of the building; so the preacher’s words are to fasten you the more to Christ; they weaken themselves to strengthen and settle you. This is the grand design of preaching, not only for the enlightening—but for the establishing of souls; not only to guide them in the right way—but to keep them in it. Now, if you be not settled, you do not answer God’s end in giving you the ministry.

[2] To be settled in true religion is both a Christian’s excellence and honor. It is his excellence. When the milk is settled it turns to cream; now he will be zealous for the truth, and walk in close communion with God. And his honor. “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness.” It is one of the best sights to see an old disciple; to see silver hairs adorned with golden virtues.

To me this is amazing.  What a message for today’s seeker-sensitive and easy-believism movements.  And, it contradicts political correctness and the contemporary style.  Consider the dilemma most in our post-modern age have for being settled about anything.  Indeed, aren’t open-mindedness and relativism virtues by today’s standards?  Here, Thomas Watson is saying he agrees with scripture when it likens faith to building a foundation upon rock; meaning Christ the rock of our salvation, the surety of the covenant of redemption.  The things of God are knowable, they are true, they are absolute, and they are definite… 

And to this end he writes much more.  His book can be found online through Monergism: http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/Puritans/Thomas-Watson/

In a day or two we’ll look at the grounded side of the argument.

Photo courtesy of Reformation Art, http://www.reformationart.com/index.html



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