Thomas Watson is one of the most enjoyable authors of the Puritan era; he combines rich insight with captivating illustrations. One would expect, then, to breeze through 252 pages of such wonderfully written material. This would be the case if Watson's words were not as soul-searching and penetrating. Watson is straightforward and calls sin exactly what it is. He does not lower the bar of holiness but paints a picture of the godly man as he ought to be.
After slowly reading and thinking deeply upon Watson's 24 characteristics one is left feeling the weight of sin and longing for grace. I found myself wishing to hear from a dear Richard Sibbes, to remind me that my feeble spark of grace is enough. To my surprise a few chapters after exhorting us towards godliness Watson comforts us with the gracious words of Matthew 12:20. He, too, reminds us that Christ will not "crush grace in its infancy".
And finally, Watson closes by reminding us of our union with Christ. It is from this union that the believer is made godly and considered godly. Watson comes full circle in this book. He begins by pointing us to the Cross. Then he paints a picture of what we ought to be in response. And finally, he points us back to the Cross for repentance and cleansing because we are often not what we ought to be.
What I Liked:
The word pictures that Watson employs are mind awakening. He paints pictures to help the believer think thoughts he never thought before. This makes such a soul-piercing work actually enjoyable. One can scarcely open the book without finding a metaphor on the page you opened to. This causes Watson to be remembered and very quotable.
Had the book ended without the final two chapters it would not have been as effective. However, had the book only contained the last two chapters it would not have been as effective. Watson does a wonderful job of raising the bar of holiness where it ought to be, then pointing to the grace of Christ when we fail. In reading through this book I felt the weight of sin and yet at the same time the depths of grace.
What I Disliked:
Watson does do a good job of providing grace and pointing to Christ. However, because this book is so soul-piercing one finds it difficult to get to page 222 without receiving comfort. It is occasionally hinted at throughout the book. As it stands, though, this book could be applied quite dangerously. If the believer goes about trying to attain the characteristics Watson mentions, and paint the picture of godliness himself, then he will find much despair. Therefore, it would have been more effective in my opinion for Watson to have paused occasionally and pointed us back to the Savior and to the powerful working of the Holy Spirit.
Because of this I would suggest three different ways to read it for maximum benefit. First, this would be a wonderful book to read alongside a book like The Bruised Reed, or a Cross-Centered CJ Mahaney type of book. Secondly, one could read a few sections of chapter four...stop...let the weight of sink in...and then go to chapter 11 or 12. Thirdly, sit down and read the entire thing in one or two sittings.
Should You Buy It?
I would certainly suggest this. Watson's beautiful way of putting things is enough to recommend this book for your collection. If Watson's words are heeded and they are used to point to the Cross and inspire in holiness then certainly this book is well worth whatever time you put into it.