Joel Beeke offers nine compelling reasons to read the Puritans:
1. Puritan writings help shape life by Scripture. The Puritans loved, lived, and breathed Holy Scripture. They relished the power of the Spirit that accompanied the Word. Their books are all Word-centered; more than 90 percent of their writings are repackaged sermons that are rich with scriptural exposition. The Puritan writers truly believed in the sufficiency of Scripture for life and godliness.
If you read the Puritans regularly, their Bible-centeredness will become contagious. These writings will show you how to yield wholehearted allegiance to the Bible’s message. Like the Puritans, you will become a believer of the living Book, echoing the truth of John Flavel, who said, “The Scriptures teach us the best way of living, the noblest way of suffering, and the most comfortable way of dying.”
Do you want to read books that put you into the Scriptures and keep you there, shaping your life bysola Scriptura? Read the Puritans. Read the Soli Deo Gloria Puritan Pulpit Series. As you read, enhance your understanding by looking up and studying all the referenced Scriptures.
2. Puritan writings show how to integrate biblical doctrine into daily life. The Puritan writings do this in three ways:
First, they address your mind. In keeping with the Reformed tradition, the Puritans refused to set mind and heart against each other, but viewed the mind as the palace of faith. “In conversion, reason is elevated,” John Preston wrote.
The Puritans understood that a mindless Christianity fosters a spineless Christianity. An anti-intellectual gospel quickly becomes an empty, formless gospel that never gets beyond “felt needs,” which is something that is happening in many churches today. Puritan literature is a great help for understanding the vital connection between what we believe with our minds and how that affects the way we live. Jonathan Edwards’s Justification by Faith Alone and William Lyford’s The Instructed Christian are particularly helpful for this.
Second, Puritan writings confront your conscience. The Puritans are masters at convicting us about the heinous nature of our sin against an infinite God. They excel at exposing specific sins, then asking questions to press home conviction of those sins. As one Puritan wrote, “We must go with the stick of divine truth and beat every bush behind which a sinner hides, until like Adam who hid, he stands before God in his nakedness.”
Devotional reading should be confrontational as well as comforting. We grow little if our consciences are not pricked daily and directed to Christ. Since we are prone to run for the bushes when we feel threatened, we need daily help to be brought before the living God “naked and opened unto the eyes of with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:12). In this, the Puritans excel. If you truly want to learn what sin is and experience how sin is worse than suffering, read Jeremiah Burroughs’s The Evil of Evilsand Thomas Shepard’s The Sincere Convert and the Sound Believer.
Third, the Puritan writers engage your heart. They excel in feeding the mind with solid biblical substance and they move the heart with affectionate warmth. They write out of love for God’s Word, love for the glory of God, and love for the soul of readers.
For books that beautifully balance objective truth and subjective experience in Christianity; books that combine, as J.I. Packer puts it, “clear-headed passion and warm-hearted compassion” (Ryken,Worldly Saints, x); books that inform your mind, confront your conscience, and engage your heart, read the Puritans. Read Vincent Alsop’s Practical Godliness.
3. Puritan writings show how to exalt Christ and see His beauty. The Puritan Thomas Adams wrote: “Christ is the sum of the whole Bible, prophesied, typified, prefigured, exhibited, demonstrated, to be found in every leaf, almost in every line, the Scriptures being but as it were the swaddling bands of the child Jesus.” Likewise, the Puritan Isaac Ambrose wrote, “Think of Christ as the very substance, marrow, soul, and scope of the whole Scriptures.”
The Puritans loved Christ and exalted in His beauty. Samuel Rutherford wrote: “Put the beauty of ten thousand worlds of paradises, like the Garden of Eden in one; put all trees, all flowers, all smells, all colors, all tastes, all joys, all loveliness, all sweetness in one. O what a fair and excellent thing would that be? And yet it would be less to that fair and dearest well-beloved Christ than one drop of rain to the whole seas, rivers, lakes, and foundations of ten thousand earths.”
If you would know Christ better and love Him more fully, immerse yourself in Puritan literature. Read Robert Asty’s Rejoicing in the Lord Jesus.
4. Puritan writings reveal the Trinitarian character of theology. The Puritans were driven by a deep sense of the infinite glory of a Triune God. When they answered the first question of the Shorter Catechism that man’s chief end was to glorify God, they meant the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They took John Calvin’s glorious understanding of the unity of the Trinity in the Godhead, and showed how that worked itself out in electing, redeeming, and sanctifying love and grace in the lives of believers. John Owen wrote an entire book on the Christian believer’s communion with God as Father, Jesus as Savior, and the Holy Spirit as Comforter. The Puritans teach us how to remain God-centered while being vitally concerned about Christian experience, so that we don’t fall into the trap of glorifying experience for its own sake.
If you want to appreciate each Person of the Trinity, so that you can say with Samuel Rutherford, “I don’t know which Person of the Trinity I love the most, but this I know, I love each of them, and I need them all,” read John Owen’s Communion with God and Jonathan Edwards on the Trinity.
5. Puritan writings show you how to handle trials. Puritanism grew out of a great struggle between the truth of God’s Word and its enemies. Reformed Christianity was under attack in Great Britain, much like Reformed Christianity is under attack today. The Puritans were good soldiers in the conflict, enduring great hardships and suffering much. Their lives and their writings stand ready to arm us for our battles, and to encourage us in our suffering. The Puritans teach us how we need affliction to humble us (Deut. 8:2), to teach us what sin is (Zeph. 1:12), and how that brings us to God (Hos. 5:15). As Robert Leighton wrote, “Affliction is the diamond dust that heaven polishes its jewels with.” The Puritans show us how God’s rod of affliction is His means to write Christ’s image more fully upon us, so that we may be partakers of His righteousness and holiness (Heb. 12:10–11).
If you would learn how to handle your trials in a truly Christ-exalting way, read Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot: The Sovereignty and Wisdom of God Displayed in the Afflictions of Men.
6. Puritan writings explain true spirituality. The Puritans stress the spirituality of the law, spiritual warfare against indwelling sin, the childlike fear of God, the wonder of grace, the art of meditation, the dreadfulness of hell, and the glories of heaven. If you want to live deep as a Christian, read Oliver Heywood’s Heart Treasure. Read the Puritans devotionally, and then pray to be like them. Ask questions such as: Am I, like the Puritans, thirsting to glorify the Triune God? Am I motivated by biblical truth and biblical fire? Do I share their view of the vital necessity of conversion and of being clothed with the righteousness of Christ? Do I follow them as far as they followed Christ?
7. Puritan writings show how to live by wholistic faith. The Puritans apply every subject they write about to practical “uses”—as they term it. These “uses” will propel you into passionate, effective action for Christ’s kingdom. Their own daily lives integrated Christian truth with covenant vision; they knew no dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. Their writings can assist you immeasurably in living a life that centers on God in every area, appreciating His gifts, and declaring everything “holiness to the Lord.”
The Puritans were excellent covenant theologians. They lived covenant theology, covenanting themselves, their families, their churches, and their nations to God. Yet they did not fall into the error of hyper-covenantalism, in which the covenant of grace becomes a substitute for personal conversion. They promoted a comprehensive worldview, a total Christian philosophy, a holistic approach of bringing the whole gospel to bear on all of life, striving to bring every action in conformity with Christ, so that believers would mature and grow in faith. The Puritans wrote on practical subjects such as how to pray, how to develop genuine piety, how to conduct family worship, and how to raise children for Christ. In short, they taught how to develop a “rational, resolute, passionate piety [that is] conscientious without becoming obsessive, law-oriented without lapsing into legalism, and expressive of Christian liberty without any shameful lurches into license” (ibid., xii).
If you would grow in practical Christianity and vital piety, read the compilation of The Puritans on Prayer, Richard Steele’s The Character of an Upright Man, George Hamond’s Case for Family Worship, Cotton Mather’s Help for Distressed Parents, and Arthur Hildersham’s Dealing with Sin in Our Children.
8. Puritan writings teach the importance and primacy of preaching. To the Puritans, preaching was the high point of public worship. Preaching must be expository and didactic, they said; evangelistic and convicting, experiential and applicatory, powerful and “plain” in its presentation, ever respecting the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit.
If you would help evangelicals recover the pulpit and a high view of the ministry in our day, read Puritan sermons. Read William Perkins’s The Art of Prophesying and Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor.
9. Puritan writings show how to live in two worlds. The Puritans said we should have heaven “in our eye” throughout our earthly pilgrimage. They took seriously the New Testament passages that say we must keep the “hope of glory” before our minds to guide and shape our lives here on earth. They viewed this life as “the gymnasium and dressing room where we are prepared for heaven,” teaching us that preparation for death is the first step in learning to truly live (Packer, Quest, 13).
If you would live in this world in light of the better world to come, read the Puritans. Read Richard Baxter’s The Saint’s Everlasting Life and Richard Alleine’s Heaven Opened.