The Puritan Pulpit: Thomas Watson by Edited by Don Kistler

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This contribution to The Puritan Pulpit series, published by Soli Deo Gloria, is a good sampler of Puritan sermons. Thomas Watson, one of the best known and most beloved of the English Puritan “devines,” lived from 1620 to 1686 during a time of great political and ecclesiastical turmoil. He endured imprisonment and other hardships because of his convictions, but his enthusiasm for the preaching of the Word was never dampened.

This book contains ten sermons that Watson preached. They are typical of Puritan sermons: long, saturated with Scripture, God-centered, beginning with exegesis and concluding with application. They are also more topical than expositional in nature. By that I mean Watson would normally structure a sermon around a single verse of Scripture, then travel all over the Bible exhausting the main thought of that verse. On the positive side, the Puritan style of preaching exposed the listeners to massive amounts of truth. It would be hard to imagine most congregations today handling such preaching. On the negative side, this method suffers the weakness of using passages out of context. I find this quite annoying with the Puritans as they often attempted to prove points with misinterpreted texts that had nothing to do with the subject. Most problematic is the frequent use of the Song of Solomon for this purpose.

Puritans, including Watson, also liked to illustrate their sermons with biblical examples that were never given for that purpose. These illustrations are interesting but have to be read with discernment. One example of many dozens: “The people of Israel stand in the outer court of the temple, but the high priest entered within the veil, into the holy of holies. Thus the senses stand in the outward court of the body, but faith enters within the veil…” (p. 7). Of course, this example taken from the Old Testament does not teach what Watson is saying – nor does he actually indicate that it does. He is using this illustration as a metaphor of the Christian life – and used that way it is valid. But it is only a short step from metaphor to interpretation and that step must not be taken by a student of God’s Word. Watson himself goes too far in statements such as this one, “It is said of Christ that His face was as though He would go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:53). A good Christian should be known by his face…” (p. 8). This is an obvious misuse of Luke 9:53.

The reader might be amazed at how frequently Watson refers to the Greek philosophers and ancient mythology. Much of this is by way of illustration, but the influence of the Greeks can be seen, especially in relationship to the body which they saw as the prison house of the soul.

The highlight of the book was Watson’s sermon on Psalm 1:2 which I found rich and profitable.

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