Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Watson on Affliction, Intro and Part I

Fall has begun to settle upon us here in North Carolina. Due to a variety of experiences in my life, I find that it is this time of the year that my mind is turned to thinking about the 17th century reformers of Britain and Scotland, in particular, the English Puritans, the Scottish Covenanters, and the English Separatists. One of the things I thought I would do because of this is to post some of the writings of English Puritan Thomas Watson.

I know little of Thomas Watson, but what I do know is significant for the text I will be posting. He lived during the English civil war and stood in opposition to the intrusion of the state into the matters of the church. But being a Presbyterian, he worked during the Interregnum with fellow Puritan Christopher Love in effort to establish Charles II on the throne in his father’s place. For this he was temporarily imprisoned. Charles was later restored to his throne, but this no doubt brought results other than what Watson expected. He was ejected from the church with approximately 2000 other ministers during Charles’s reign for refusing to conform to the standards of the national church. Like many other Nonconformists, he continued to minister in private until the Declaration of Indulgence allowed him to return to the ministry.

Under his fellow Puritans, he was imprisoned. Under a crypto-Catholic king, he was ejected from his pulpit. It's easy to understand how Thomas Watson could tell us something about the good providence of God in affliction.

For this reason, the text I have chosen to post comes from Watson’s work A Divine Cordial. It is now published by Banner of Truth Trust as All Things For Good. Those interested in reading the entire work may do so here. I will be posting, a little bit at a time, a series of pieces from chapter two of the work, which is entitled “The Worst Things Work For Good To The Godly”.

Before getting to Watson himself, though, let me point out a couple of wonderful things the reader will find in the better Puritans’ writings. For one, I am struck by the affection the Puritans had for those who they hoped would read their writings, as well as for God. These were not mere theological exercises. These men were pastors, and had a sincere desire not only for the glory of God, but also for the spiritual comfort and benefit of believers. Secondly, I am amazed by the Puritans’ use of metaphor and analogy. Their writings were rich in pictures, both from Scripture and from nature, and served to beautify their writing and to clearly illustrate their teachings.

We will be jumping a couple of pages into the chapter, in the section “The evil of affliction works for good to the godly”, as Watson begins to list the ways this is true.

As the hard frosts in winter bring on the flowers in the spring, as the night ushers in the morning star: so the evils of affliction produce much good to those that love God. But we are ready to question the truth of this, and say, as Mary did to the angel, " How can this be? " Therefore I shall show you several ways how affliction works for good.

(1). As it is our preacher and tutor - "Hear ye the rod" (Mic. vi. 9). Luther said that he could never rightly understand some of the Psalms, till he was in affliction. Affliction teaches what sin is. In the word preached, we hear what a dreadful thing sin is, that it is both defiling and damning, but we fear it no more than a painted lion; therefore God lets loose affliction, and then we feel sin bitter in the fruit of it. A sick bed often teaches more than a sermon. We can best see the ugly visage of sin in the glass of affliction. Affliction teaches us to know ourselves. In prosperity we are for the most part strangers to ourselves. God makes us know affliction, that we may better know ourselves. We see that corruption in our hearts in the time of affliction, which we would not believe was there. Water in the glass looks clear, but set it on the fire, and the scum boils up. In prosperity, a man seems to be humble and thankful, the water looks clear; but set this man a little on the fire of affliction, and the scum boils up - much impatience and unbelief appear. "Oh," says a Christian, "I never thought I had such a bad heart, as now I see I have: I never thought my corruptions had been so strong, and my graces so weak."


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