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Monday, 23 January 2017

Discover & explore: Thomas Watson (Preaching)

Today's Discover & explore service at St Stephen Walbrook, explored preaching through the teachings of the Puritan cleric, Thomas Watson. The service featured the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields singing If ye love me by Tallis, The Lord's Prayer by Tavener, The Beatitudes by Stopford and Bring us, O Lord God by Harris.

Next week's Discover & explore service is on Monday 30 January at 1.10pm when Revd Sally Muggeridge, together with the Choral Scholars, will explore the theme of drama through the career of Sir John Vanbrugh.

In my reflection today I said:

Thomas Watson was an English, Nonconformist, Puritan preacher and author. He was also vicar of St Stephen Walbrook, one of a long line of controversial clerics. Of which he may even have been the first.

‘He was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he was noted for remarkably intense study. In 1646 he commenced a sixteen-year pastorate at St. Stephen's, Walbrook. He showed strong Presbyterian views during the civil war, with, however, an attachment to the king, and in 1651 he was imprisoned briefly with some other ministers for his share in Christopher Love's plot to recall Charles II of England. He was released on 30 June 1652, and was formally reinstated as vicar of St. Stephen's Walbrook. He obtained great fame and popularity as a preacher until the Restoration, when he was ejected for Nonconformity. Notwithstanding the rigor of the acts against dissenters, Watson continued to exercise his ministry privately as he found opportunity. Upon the Declaration of Indulgence in 1672 he obtained a license to preach at the great hall in Crosby House. After preaching there for several years, his health gave way, and he retired to Barnston, Essex, where he died suddenly while praying in secret. He was buried on 28 July 1686.’

C.H. Spurgeon wrote that although Watson ‘issued several most valuable books, comparatively little is known of him … his writings are his best memorial; perhaps he needed no other, and therefore providence forbade the superfluity’: ‘Thomas Watson's Body of Practical Divinity is one of the most precious of the peerless works of the Puritans; and those best acquainted with it prize it most. 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.’ 

In his sermon entitled ‘How to Get the Most from Readingyour Bible’ Watson recommended making sure ‘to put yourself under a true ministry of the Word, faithfully and thoroughly expounding the Word, be earnest and eager in waiting on it.’ At St Stephen Walbrook he found a congregation willing to do this. Spurgeon says ‘the church was constantly filled, for the fame and popularity of the preacher were deservedly great.’ Watson remarked in the second of three farewell sermons, ‘I have with much comfort observed your reverent attention to the word preached; you rejoice in this light, not for a season, but to this day. I have observed your zeal against error in a critical time, your unity and amity.’

It is this that he commends in ‘A Preliminary DiscourseTo Catechising’ where he shares his thoughts on how we can ‘continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel’ (Colossians 1. 23). Among the advice that he gives, in his sermons, on the way in which we can profit from listening to sermons and from reading the Bible are these thoughts:

·         Read with seriousness. The Christian life is to be taken seriously since it requires striving and not falling short.
·         Persevere in remembering what you read. Don't let it be stolen from you. If it doesn't stay in your memory it is unlikely to be much benefit to you.
·         Meditate on what you read. The Hebrew word for meditate' means to be intense in the mind'. Meditation without reading is wrong and bound to err; reading without meditation is barren and fruitless. It means to stir the affections, to be warmed by the fire of meditation.
·         Read with a humble heart. Acknowledge that you are unworthy that God should reveal himself to you.
·         Don't stop reading the Bible until you find your heart warmed. Let it not only inform you but also inflame you.
·         Put into practice what you read.


How are we capable of drawing near to you, O God, as by nature we stand in opposition to you, alienated and enemies? How then can we approach nigh to God? It is through a mediator. Jesus Christ is the screen between us and divine justice. As Joseph being so great at court, made way for all his brethren to draw near into the king's presence, so, Jesus, you are our Joseph, that doth make way for us by your blood, that we may now come near into God's presence. May we approach nigh and come near into your presence, O God. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Where should we draw near to you, O God? In the use of your ordinances and in the word, may we draw near to your Holy Oracle; in the sacrament may we draw near to your table. In your word may we hear your voice; at your table may we have your kiss. In a special manner may we draw near to you in prayer. Prayer is our soul's private converse and intercourse with you. Prayer whispers in your ears; in prayer may we draw so nigh to you that we ‘take hold of you. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

What is the manner of our drawing near to you, O God? Your special residence is in Heaven and we draw near to you, not by the feet of our bodies, but with our souls. The affections are the feet of the soul; by these may we move towards you. David drew nigh to God in his desires, praying ‘There is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.’ Like him, may we shoot our hearts into Heaven by pious ejaculations and in our spirits have intercourse at a distance with you, O God. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Blessing

O God, you are the summum bonum, the chief good. There's enough in you to satisfy the immense desire of the angels. In you perfections are centered, wisdom, holiness, goodness: you have rivers of pleasure where the soul shall bathe itself forever with infinite delight. May we find here ground sufficient for our drawing near to you. O God, you are the chief good; may we, and everything around us, desire to approach to our happiness, and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.


Philip Stopford - The Beatitudes.

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