14 “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14–16)
For the next several days, I will be profiling several individuals who not only preached about, but lived a life, of personal holiness before the Lord. While these pastors, evangelists, and hymn writers lived in different centuries and countries, they all shared a common bond which binds them together: holiness. These profiles will provide an introduction to our impending study of holiness. Today’s profile concerns the Puritan, Thomas Watson.
Thomas Watson (c. 1620 – 1686) was an English, Puritan preacher and author. He was probably born in Yorkshire, although the exact place and date of his birth are unknown.
He studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge (BA, 1639; MA, 1642), where he was apparently an excellent student. His profound intellect is apparent in his writings, which show a mastering not only of the English language, but also a solid understanding of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. He quotes from the early church fathers, and possessed a familiarity with the breadth of the scriptures. Cross-references from the Scriptures are found throughout his sermons, revealing a deep understanding of many texts. Watson also had a solid understanding of history, botany, medicine, physics, the classics, logic, and various other disciplines.
After living for a time with the Puritan family of Lady Mary Vere, the widow of Sir Horace Vere, Baron of Tilbury, in 1646 Watson went to St. Stephen’s, Walbrook, London. It was there he served as lecturer for about ten years, and then as rector for another six years. In about 1647, he married Abigail Beadle, daughter of John Beadle, an Essex minister of Puritan convictions. They had at least seven children in the next thirteen years, four of whom died young.
During the English Civil War, Watson began expressing his strong Presbyterian views. However, he had sympathy for the king, He was one of the Presbyterian ministers who went to Oliver Cromwell to protest the execution of Charles I. Along with Christopher Love, William Jenkyn, and others, he was imprisoned in 1651 for his part in a plot to restore the monarchy. Although Love was beheaded, Watson and the others were released after petitioning for mercy.
Watson was formally reinstated to his pastorate in Walbrook in 1652. Pastor Charles H. Spurgeon says of him: “He executed for nearly sixteen years the office of a faithful pastor with great diligence and assiduity. Happy were the citizens who regularly attended so instructive and spiritual a ministry. The church was constantly filled, for the fame and popularity of the preacher were deservedly great. Going in and out among his flock, fired with holy zeal for their eternal welfare, his years rolled on pleasantly enough amid the growing respect of all who knew him.”
With the Act of Uniformity in 1662, Watson was ejected from his pastorate. He continued to preach in private whenever he had the opportunity. In 1666, after the Great Fire of London, Watson prepared a large room for public worship, welcoming anyone who wished to attend. After the Declaration of Indulgence took effect in 1672, Watson obtained a license for Crosby Hall, Bishopsgate, which belonged to Sir John Langham, a patron of nonconformists. Watson preached there for three years before Stephen Charnock joined him. They ministered together until Charnock’s death in 1680.
Watson kept working until his health failed. He then retired to Barnston, in Essex, where he died suddenly in 1686 while engaged in private prayer. He is buried in the same grave as his father-in-law who served as a minister at Barnston.
Regarding the subject of holiness, Watson wrote that “God is holy intrinsically, primarily, efficiently and transcendently. It is above holiness in saints. It is a pure holiness. The saints’ holiness is like gold in the ore, imperfect; their humility is stained with pride; he that has most faith needs pray, ‘Lord, help my unbelief:’ but the holiness of God is pure, like wine from the grape; it has not the least dash or tincture of impurity mixed with it. It is a more unchangeable holiness. Though the saints cannot lose the habit of holiness (for the seed of God remains), yet they may lose some degrees of their holiness. ‘Thou hast left thy first love.’ (Revelation 2:4). Grace cannot die, yet the flame of it may go out. Holiness in the saints is subject to ebbing, but holiness in God is unchangeable; he never lost a drop of his holiness; as he cannot have more holiness, because he is perfectly holy; so he cannot have less holiness, because he is unchangeably holy.”
Soli deo Gloria!