Biographical Introduction

 •  4 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Comparatively little is known of the personal history of Thomas Watson. We know nothing of his parentage, and are quite ignorant of the time and place of his birth, or where his early years were spent.
His name appears in Kennet's "Register and Chronicle", as one of a number of other famous Puritan ministers educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and, tradition reports, that, while at Cambridge, he was a most laborious student.
It would appear that after leaving the University, he lived for some time with the family of Mary, the widow of Sir Horace were, baron of Tilbury.
In 1646 Watson married Abigail daughter of John Beadle, the rector of Barnston, Essex. In the same year he was appointed rector of the parish of St. Stephen's, Walbrook. He became highly esteemed in the City of London as a man of considerable learning, a popular preacher, and a man of personal piety and prayer. Calamy, in his "Abridgments", relates that on a certain day when Watson was in the pulpit, "among other hearers, there came in that Reverend and learned Prelate, Bishop Richardson, who was so well pleased with his sermon, but especially with his prayer after it, that he followed him home, to give him thanks; and earnestly desired a copy of his prayer. 'Alas!' said Mr. Watson, 'that is what I cannot give; for I do not use to pen my prayers; it was no studied thing, but uttered as God enabled me from the abundance of my heart and affections, pro re natal. Upon which the good Bishop went away wondering that any man could pray in that manner, ex tempore." From this little incident we may judge that Thomas Watson realized the truth of Rutherford's touching words, "There be so many other things that are a-pouring out of the soul in prayer; as groaning, sighing, looking up to heaven, breathing, weeping; that it cannot be imagined, how far short printed and read prayers come of vehement praying: for you cannot put sighs, groans, tears, breathing, and such heart-messengers down in a printed book; nor can paper and ink lay your heart, in all its sweet affections, out before God."
During the Civil War, Watson inclined strongly to Presbyterian views. He joined some sixty Presbyterian ministers in an appeal to Cromwell, declaring their abhorrence of all violence against the person of the King, and urging him, and his army, to have no concern in it.
In 1651 he allowed himself to become involved, with others, in political correspondence with Charles II, then in Holland, and spent some months in the Tower for his pains.
On regaining his liberty he continued his charge at St. Stephen's until the passing of the Act of Uniformity in 1662. By this intolerant Act upwards of two thousand clergy were driven from their parishes; among them the wisest and most godly in the land. For conscience' sake the greater part of these ejected ministers had, henceforth, to face poverty and reproach, suffering and trial.
Thomas Watson was one of the London ejected ministers. His touching farewell address is still extant. The closing paragraph is worth quoting:
"The hour is come wherein the sun is setting on not a few of the prophets: our work seems to be at an end; our pulpits and places must know us no more. You are not ignorant what things there are imposed on us as the condition of our continuing our ministration. I must profess before God, angels, and men, that my non-submission is not from any disloyalty to authority or any factious disposition, but because I dare not do anything concerning which my heart tells me the Lord says, 'Do it not.' I feel I must part with my conscience or with my ministry. I choose, therefore, that my ministry be sealed up by my sufferings, rather than be lengthened out by a lie; but I shall, through the grace of God, endeavor patiently and peaceably to suffer as a Christian. And now welcome the cross of Christ; welcome reproach; welcome poverty, scorn, and contempt, or whatever may befall me. This morning I had a flock and you had a pastor, but now behold a pastor without a flock, and a flock without a shepherd! This morning, I had a house, now I have none. This morning, I had a living, now I have none: 'The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.' And thus, brethren, I bid you all farewell. `Finally, brethren, farewell.'"
After his ejection he continued to exercise his ministry in a private way. Following upon the Fire of London in 1666, he fitted up a large room for preaching, and later, at the time of the Declaration of Indulgence in 1672, he obtained a license for the use of the great hall of Crosby House, then belonging to Sir John Langham, a patron of evangelical nonconformity.
After preaching there for several years, his health gave way and he left the City for the quiet of Barnston in Essex. His end came suddenly in 1686, while engaged in prayer in his private room. He was buried on 28th July, 1686, in the grave of his father-in-law, John Beadle.
Hamilton Smith