Category Archives: Christian book review
Part 11: Concluding Thoughts, part 2
Finally, the conclusion of the Puritan Study comes today. I wish I could continue on in this study but I must move on. Thank you for all the very kind emails and helpful suggestions throughout this series. Seeing others come to a deeper appreciation of the Puritan literature has been an incredible encouragement to me.
Here is a collection of final thoughts …
I think it’s worth noting again that in this series of blog posts I have emphasized the most important Puritan resources for expositional research. Other Puritans are useful on a number of issues.
I like Baxter, Burgess, Watson and other Puritans. But these and other Puritans simply have not helped me when I’m under pressure to preach and write expositionally on a certain text. Spurgeon, Bunyan, Owen, Boston, Manton and the men I have promoted, however, have proven faithful in these situations.
If you are more interested in systematic theology, or apologetics, or church history, you will find other Puritans to be of great help. Here, we were concerned with the most effective Puritans for expositional sermon preparation and ranked these authors in order of availability and usefulness.
I was hoping to use this series to begin introducing you to the Dutch ‘Puritans’ (they are not really called ‘Puritans,’ but ‘the Dutch Second Reformation Divines’). These authors ministered during the same period of time as the English Puritans we know well, but their works were originally published in Dutch. Thanks to the recent work of the Dutch Reformed Translation Society, these works are now being made available in updated English. After some time reading these Dutch works, it’s clear these authors were as mature and experiential as their English counterparts.
Among others, the Dutch ‘Puritans’ include Wilhelmus à Brakel, Willem Teellinck and Herman Witsius (whose works have been in English for a few years now). Teellinck’s book on living a holy life (The Path of True Godliness) is very valuable and will be the subject of an upcoming book review.
These Dutch authors are very powerful and, although many of them will not be indexed and easily accessed, an introduction to their works was warranted at the end of this Puritan study. More information this winter …
Tough and Tender
John Piper once said, “one of my great desires is to see Christian pastors be as strong and durable as redwood trees, and as tender and fragrant as a field of clover.” This ideal finds its origin in the words and works of Jesus Himself. He knew when to be tough and when to be tender. He was strong and resolute but loving, kind, and compassionate, too. Many Puritans remind me of men who were uncompromising and stable in their convictions. They were a forest of redwood trees. But these preachers often displayed a compassionate tenderness like a fragrant field of clovers, too. An excellent pattern for preachers today.
The Presence of God
Many things draw me to the Puritans, but one of the most important is their pursuit of God. They see the Psalms as a blueprint for the Christian life – striving and praying for the presence of God to draw near (see Pss. 16, 42, 73). You can spot authors who read much of the Puritans because they, too, have a healthy and well-developed desire to pursue the presence of God (see A.W. Tozer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Piper, etc.).
I did not realize what was happening, but for several years as I have used the Puritan literature, I thought I was just borrowing a few quotes and thoughts along the way. Now it is obvious that over those years I was being changed.
What I love most about the Puritans is how they have been used in changing me. I treat the Word with more sobriety and seriousness now. My application of the text is much more mature. I am more articulate in pointing my hearer’s affections towards the things God sees as precious (like His Son, His holiness, His justice, love and grace).
Specifically, three areas of my life have been changed due to my Puritan Study …
(i) In catching the Puritan hermeneutic. The Puritans interpret every passage in light of the big picture of God’s glory in the Cross of Christ. Everything comes back to this. As expositors we are apt to get wrapped up in our four verses and lazily forget this big picture. The Puritans, especially in their application, make it clear that every text must be brought back to this big picture. Sadly, very few expositors today do this consistently (Piper and a few others, however, excel here). I pray that we would all catch this Puritan hermeneutic. Spurgeon reminded preachers that every sermon must find a way back to the Cross. This was the Apostle Paul’s point exactly (Gal. 6:14, 1 Cor. 1:22-25; 2:2; Phil. 3:8).
(ii) In catching the Puritan experiential style. When publishers want a good definition of ‘experiential preaching’ they turn to Puritan scholars. In the book, Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching (Soli Deo Gloria, 1573581445), Dr. Joel Beeke writes: “Experiential or experimental preaching addresses the vital matter of how a Christian experiences the truth of Christian doctrine in his life … Experimental preaching seeks to explain in terms of biblical truth how matters ought to go, how they do go, and what is the goal of the Christian life … Experimental preaching is discriminatory preaching. It clearly defines the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian, opening the kingdom of heaven to one and shutting it against the other” (pp. 95-96). The Puritans understood that a sermon lacking powerful application is an incomplete sermon. The Puritans are unparalleled here.
(iii) In catching the Puritan earnestness. The Christian life is a struggle of balance. The same is true in the pulpit. It is easy to focus on strengthening marriages, helping others raise children, and overall improvements in godliness while lacking earnestness. We can get the idea that the purpose of the pulpit is only for long-term sanctified changes. We need the Puritan earnestness to remind those who have never experienced the grace of God in their own hearts (the ‘almost Christian’ sitting in the pew), that they teeter on the brink of God’s judgment. There may not be a tomorrow. Each of us will be in heaven or hell very shortly. Nothing guarantees the sinner one more day to repent. Now is the time. Today is the day of salvation. Plead with sinners. The Puritans balanced these two sides of preaching and teach us to use the same sermon to both strengthen Christian marriages (long term) and to plead with sinners earnestly (now).
In the end, the ultimate benefit of a (well-used) Puritan library is how it changes you. Because of the Puritans, I view the bible differently, more seriously. They have taught me deep thoughts so I am not easily distracted with the empty and hollow ‘Christian’ thoughts today. They have taught me to treasure Christ. They have pointed out the sin in my heart. They have encouraged me in the task of preaching. And they have been faithful friends pointing me back to the scriptures when I begin to wander around. ‘Be serious because God’s thoughts are weighty,’ is the Puritan message I hear every time I use their works.
So keep at it. Work hard. Study diligently. Learn new terms. Don’t be intimidated by 200-word sentences. Grasp the concepts. Learn from the Puritan big-picture. And one day you will realize that God’s Spirit has taken the Puritan Study from your shelves and into your heart and changed you forever. All for His eternal glory.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Salvation belongs to the Lord by John M. Frame
God is in sovereign control. He has the right to tell people what to do and what not to do. He is powerful, wonderful, holy and awesome (in the true sense of the word). This big-God matrix frames everything else in John Frame’s new systematic theology, Salvation Belongs to the Lord.
Written in a warm, conversational, and engaging style for readers, Frame explains the main subjects of systematic theology. It is a great book for beginners, though the content is consistent with seminary level courses.
The content is very similar to Wayne Grudem’s, Systematic Theology. Frame considers Grudem “The best one-volume systematic theology written in recent years” (p. 351), and quotes him in many areas. The two however, do not agree on all things. Frame writes from a cessational perspective and Grudem from the charismatic.
The book is divided into two halves: (1) objective and unrepeated and (2) the subjective and the repeated. For example, the division is between the incarnation of Christ (unrepeated in history) and regeneration (repeated over and over in history with each believer).
I especially enjoyed the section on the church. He argues for a plurality of elders in each church, and his section on church discipline is very clear and helpful. Frame explains not only how to do church discipline, but why church discipline is important. He writes,
“There are at least three purposes of discipline. The first is to restore a sinning believer (Matt. 18:15; 1 Cor. 5:5; Gal. 6:1; 1 Tim. 1:20; James 5:20) … church discipline is not a cruel thing but a loving thing. Second, discipline exists to deter such sins by others, to instruct the congregation as to what is and is not acceptable (Heb. 12:15; 1 Cor. 5:2, 6-7; 1 Tim. 5:20). Third, discipline exists to protect the honor of Christ and his church (Rom. 2:24; 1 Cor. 6:6; Eph. 5:27). When churches ignore sin, the world despises them and the reputation of Jesus Christ himself is dragged through the mud” (p. 243).
This excerpt reveals the biblical depth, firm convictions, and pastoral concern of Frame in engaging and contemporary words. The entire book is marked with these characteristics.
The book is solidly reformed, quotes frequently from the Westminster Confessions, and uses the ESV translation. Frame is not shy about rebuffing falsehoods like Roman Catholic ‘justification’ and annihilationalism. He argues for padobaptism and sides with Postmillinialists. Frame displays a full awareness of the distinctions between errors that undercut the central tenants of biblical Christianity (justification) from secondary issues (like spiritual gifts and eschatology). He is strong and resolute on the first, and open and fair on the second.
John Frame has given us a wonderful gift. Such a high view of God’s holiness and Lordship; such a reminder of God’s presence with us; such an enjoyable read! I heartily recommend John Frame’s Salvation Belongs to the Lord.
Topical Index: yes (excellent)
Textual index: yes (excellent)
Bibliography: yes (excellent)
Reading level: Adult / moderate
Where this book fits into my library:
(1) Systematic Theology > General
Salvation belongs to the Lord, John M. Frame, 978-1-59638-018-9, 9781596380189, 1596380187, 1-59638-018-7
Part 4: Why our effective use of the Puritans begins with our Bibles
In this installment I will be showing you how the Puritans are made useful by our initial use of the bible. In the next two parts we will be looking more specifically at how to search printed books and then how to search electronic books.
Starting with the bible
The big problem with Puritan sermons is that most of us preach differently than the Puritans. They preached on one verse and often jumped all over scripture. We seek to preach through books of the bible and in 4-8 verses (or more) at a time.
A proper use of the bible is really one of the most important keys to unlocking the wisdom of the Puritans.
King James Version
Whether you use the KJV in your sermons or not, use of the Puritans requires an understanding of the KJV. No exceptions. The wording of this translation permeates all Puritan language.
Here is an example of how important the KJV is in Puritan research.
I personally preach from the ESV. But when I study the Puritan sermons, I keep the KJV close.
For today, and in the following weeks, I selected Psalm 16:11 as the example passage we will be researching.
ESV Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
KJV Psalm 16:11 Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.
When we look at electronic searches, I will break these translation distinctions down a little more. But what is important here is to note the difference in language. First, the Puritans would not say “in your presence” (ESV) but “in thy presence” (KJV). And even the spelling is different (“fullness” vs. “fulness” or “forevermore” vs. “for evermore”). These may seem like small distinctions, but they make a huge difference in electronic searches. Being aware of this will greatly enhance your Puritan research accuracy.
Breaking the passage down
The Puritans often scatter biblical phrases in their works. So while the Puritans only preached on one text, by the time they were done preaching the sermon on that one verse, several dozen other references were been brought in. In other words, a sermon on Psalm 36:8 (“They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures”) will probably reference Psalm 16:11 (“in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore”).
Before we find these cross-references, we need to break our sermon text into its various parts. In Psalm 16:11 I see three principles that are especially interesting to me …
KJV Psalm 16:11 (a) Thou wilt shew me the path of life: (b) in thy presence is fulness of joy; (c) at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.
(a) What is the nature of this path of life? Why does God have to show it to me?
(b) What does it mean to be in God’s presence? Can I live in His presence now?
(c) What are these pleasures forever? Can I find an illustration? Can I experience these pleasures now?
You may have many more questions but these are the three questions I will ask my Puritan friends as I study Psalm 16:11.
But we are not yet ready to invite our Puritan friends over.
I don’t use the Puritan sermons for their keen exegetical insights into the text (I let contemporary Hebrew and Greek scholars make those). My main use of the Puritans is for their explanation and application of broad biblical themes. They make concepts come alive in cross-referencing, illustration and application.
It is especially important that we find other biblical texts that say the same thing. The Puritans can make the same conclusion from many different angles using many different texts. Their one-text-at-a-time preaching style is misleading. The Puritans were experts at keeping the big picture in view and bringing in other passages from Genesis to Revelation.
Here are some cross-references that I believe will help me understand Psalm 16:11 better and will open up new paths in my Puritan research. I found them using the Thompson’s Chain Reference Bible and the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge.
(a) The path of life… Prov. 2:19; Prov. 5:6; Prov. 12:28; Matt. 7:14; Acts 2:28
(b) To be in God’s presence… Ps. 17:15; Ps. 21:6; Matt. 5:8; Eph. 3:19; Jude 24; Rev. 7:15-17
(c) The pleasures forever… Ps. 36:8
Now we are ready to search the Puritan sermons. From our observations of the biblical text we have four research options. Beginning with the most important to the least, here are the four research options in order.
(i) Primary text as sermon text. Example: A full sermon on Psalm 16:11.
(ii) Primary text as indexed text. Example: A sermon on Ps. 38:6 that references Ps. 16:11.
(iii) Cross-reference text as sermon text. Example: A full sermon on Ps. 38:6.
(iv) Cross-reference text as indexed text. Example: A sermon on Jude 24 that references Ps. 38:6.
Printed volumes are most helpful for my research in levels (i), (ii) and (iii). I can comfortably read a full sermon on a text (i and iii). And the text index at the end of a printed volume helps a lot in the search (ii). Electronic searches are helpful in all four, but especially in search (iv) when I want to search several resources quickly.
[Note: Often I have enough research material from searches (i) and (ii) that I don’t need to proceed into levels (iii) and (iv).]
There are two types of searches … We can search printed works (or those .pdf picture files) and we can also perform electronic text searches. Depending upon your library, you may have more printed works or more electronic books (ideally we want both electronic files and the printed books together).
In the next two posts we will discuss the specifics of the print and electronic searches.
Next time … Part 5: Print book searches.