Feathery Christians

Have you ever heard of “feathery Christians”? It’s a line from a book by Thomas Watson. Here’s what Charles Haddon Spurgeon had to say about the book: “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 most concise, racy, illustrative, and suggestive of those eminent divines who made the Puritan age the Augustine 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.”

Thomas Watson was a graduate of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. This is the famous Puritan college of Cambridge: there were seventy-two graduates of Emmanuel College who went on to be significant Puritan ministers who led from influential pulpits and also left behind great books, were involved in the Westminster Assembly, and even helped settle the New World. Watson was right there among them.

Once he graduated from Emmanuel College, Watson took his first pastorate in St. Stephen Walbrook in the City of London. He held that pastorate until 1660. At that point, he was expelled in the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II. Six years later, St. Stephen was destroyed in the great fire of London. It was rebuilt, one of many churches rebuilt and designed by Christopher Wren. It stands there today, right in the banking and financial district of London. It was there that, week after week, Watson preached his sermons. And it was also there that he laid the groundwork for his many books.

After he was expelled, Watson managed to find pulpits here and there and preached right up until his death in 1686. After his death, many of his books were published, including, in 1692, A Body of Practical Divinity. These days it’s published as A Body of Divinity. One of Watson’s main concerns in this book was helping Christians to be settled. In fact, he says this right on the first page, “It is the duty of Christians to be settled in the doctrine of faith.” Here’s what he has to say: “To be unsettled in religion argues want or lack of judgment. If their heads were not giddy, men would not reel so fast from one opinion to another. It argues lightness, as feathers will be blown every way, so will feathery Christians.” Watson wrote his book as the antidote to being a feathery Christian, not one who is unsettled but one who is settled. And how do you become settled in your Christian faith? Watson says it is very clear: you spend time on the foundational beliefs.

After he makes a case for being a settled Christian, Watson immediately turns to the Westminster Shorter Catechism and uses it to walk the reader through a body of divinity or, a theology. Of course, he starts with the first question, “What is the chief end of man?” “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” And this what Watson has to say: “Glorifying God consists in four things: appreciation, adoration, affection, subjection. This is the yearly rent we pay to the crown of heaven.” That’s Thomas Watson and A Body of Divinity.

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