Book Review: A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson

watson - bodyThis is a collection of sermons on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. For those not familiar with the catechism, it is a manual for teaching christian beliefs in question and answer format. The document was produced back in the 1640s during the English Civil War and has enjoyed wide usage in the Church, especially among Christians of Reformed convictions. The Catechism, together with the Confession of Faith drawn up during this period, have been described by B.B.Warfield as ‘the richest and most precise and best guarded statement of all that enters into evangelical religion’.

Thomas Watson (1620 – 1686) is regarded as one of the most readable of the Puritans. C.H.Spurgeon wrote thus about him: ‘Watson was one of the most concise, *racy, illustrative, and suggestive of those eminent divines who made the Puritan age the Augustan period of evangelical literature. There is a happy union of sound doctrine, heart-searching experience, and practical wisdom throughout all his works, and his Body of Divinity is, beyond all the rest, useful to the student and the minister.’

The sermons are clear, pithy and  delightful to read. The chapters follow the general structure of the Catechism. He begins with a preliminary sermon on the importance of learning christian doctrines, with Colossians 1:23 as the scripture text. Then he goes on to expound the nature and attributes of God, the themes of Creation and Providence, the Covenant of Works, the Fall of man into sin, the Person and Offices of Christ as the Mediator of the Covenant of Grace. This is followed by sermons on how the blessing of Redemption is actually applied to believers. And this section comprises chapters on Faith, Justification, Sanctification, Growth in Grace,etc. The volume concludes with a section on Death and the Resurrection.

Each chapter concludes, characteristic of Puritan preaching, with instructions for applying the truth to one’s life. In summary, it’s a very helpful volume for understanding the key teachings of the Christian Faith.  I offer below a brief sampling of his words.

‘Knowledge of the grounds of religion (christianity) much enriches the mind. It is a lamp to our feet;it directs us in the whole course of  Christianity, as the eye directs the body. Knowledge of fundamentals is the golden key that opens the chief mysteries of religion; it gives us a whole system and body of divinity, exactly drawn in all its lineaments and lively colours; it helps us to understand many of those difficult things which occur in the reading of the word; it helps to untie many Scripture knots.’

‘The glory of God is a silver thread which must run through all our actions.’

‘Praising God is one of the highest and purest acts of religion. In prayer we act like men; in praise we act like angels.’

‘There is a never-failing fulness of grace in Christ. Grace in the saints is ebbing and flowing, it is not always in the same degree and proportion; at one time David’s faith was strong, at another time so faint and weak that you could hardly feel any pulse …Psalm 31:22. But grace in Christ is a never-failing fulness’.

‘Christ is the glory, and faith in Christ the comfort, of the gospel.’

*racy – in the sense of ‘lively’


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