Friday, August 15, 2014

Book Review: Thomas Watson's "The Doctrine of Repentance"

Thomas Watson. The Doctrine of Repentance. Electronic edition. (Public Domain: Amazon Kindle).

Overview: Thomas Watson was a great Presbyterian pastor during the puritan era in England. This book is the first of Watson’s that I have read (to my shame), but I certainly expect that it will not be my last. In The Doctrine of Repentance, Watson shows that he has thoroughly considered the subject of his treatise from nearly every conceivable angle. Watson considers the motives of repentance, the manner of repentance, distinctions between true and false repentance, and the source of our freedom in repentance.

The style of this work is highly engaging. He uses short, memorable aphorisms (almost “tweetable”) to underscore his primary thrusts: “Either sin must drown in the tears of repentance, or the soul must burn in hell” (location 54); “Many had rather had their sins covered than cured” (location 486); “It is a great shame not to be ashamed” (Location 657); “If prayer does not make a man leave sin, sin will make a man leave prayer” (location 1101) and the like.

These staccato maxims fall like lightening bolts in the midst of his biblical expositions. If Watson preached in the same style as he wrote, his audience must have left the sanctuary convicted each Lord’s Day! These short, almost proverbial, bursts would surely have preached audibly as powerfully as they read in this centuries old book.

Application: If there was a Christian believer who sincerely wanted to begin reading the Puritans—but was either intimidated to read such venerable stalwarts as John Owen, or was simply not sure where to begin—this book might be a good recommended starting point.

More than that, this work is a virtual “how to” manual for the believer to begin to look deep within his own soul when taking time to repent. Watson does his best work in distinguishing many of the false forms of “confession,” by insisting that we grapple with our sin at the root of the issue, refusing to allow lesser, shallow forms of repentance suffice.

Critique: The puritan style of making distinctions between distinctions (and even more distinctions) of theological topics may seem repetitive to some. Others may not be able to see the “direction” of the overall piece as it moves circuitously forward because it seems that Watson retreads some material in several places. In reality this is a fairly typical example of the puritan style of teaching; reemphasizing the basics, and recovering areas already explored in order to to help secure mastery of the material in their hearers or readers. For me, having some familiarity with this literary technique, it is not burdensome, but rather encouraging as I progress through Watson’s eminently practical doctrine of repentance. 

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. 

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