Category Archives: Joel R. Beeke
For each of the past several years, we’ve been blessed with at least one monumental publishing achievement that further exposes contemporary readers to the exegetical and theological gems of the Puritan literary legacy. In 2006, Reformation Heritage Books reprinted the 12-volume Works of Thomas Goodwin. And over the last two years Justin Taylor and Kelly Kapic have blessed us with carefully edited and re-typeset versions of John Owen classics—Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Crossway, 2006) and Communion with the Triune God (Crossway, 2007).
But 2008 will be known for its own monumental achievement, in the reprinting of what I consider to be one of the leading collections of Puritan sermons. Solid Ground Christian Books has printed and is now shipping a new photolithographed, cloth-covered, sewn-bound, edition of the 22-volume, 10,500 page, Complete Works of Thomas Manton. And today I want to tell you about it.
Two years ago I compiled a list of most helpful Puritan resources for expositional, theological, and pastoral research. That list placed at #5 a man named Thomas Manton. Some of you were perplexed that I ranked this more obscure Puritan above those of more repute—John Owen, John Flavel, Richard Sibbes, Jeremiah Burroughs, Thomas Brooks, Thomas Goodwin, and Edward Reynolds. Each of these men represent exceptional gifting in the Puritan period; and if you disagree that Manton deserves to be above them, I think we can agree Rev. Manton belongs among them.
Compared to other favorite Puritans, Manton’s bibliography lacks pizzazz. Apart from two commentaries on James and Jude (both of which are excellent), he chose not to write books. Which explains why 20 of 22 volumes are stuffed full of expositions of Scripture. To the core of his life and ministry, Manton was a preacher of God’s Word, an able expositor who walked slowly through large sections of scripture in a very thorough and deliberate fashion. Dr. Joel Beeke writes, “Manton presents us with the best that English Puritans had to offer in careful, solid, warmhearted exposition of the Scriptures.”
The value of Manton’s works is discovered in the value of Manton the expositor.
So what type of preacher is Manton? Where does he rank among the other Puritan preachers? In assessing the value of Manton’s sermons, I find the careful thoughts of 19th century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon especially insightful. Spurgeon, in his commentary on Psalm 119, speaks fondly about a season of focused reading in Manton’s Works. Here is Spurgeon’s experience:
While commenting upon the one hundred and nineteenth Psalm, I was brought into most intimate communion with Thomas Manton, who has discoursed upon that marvelous portion of Scripture with great fullness and power. I have come to know him so well that I could pick him out from among a thousand divines if he were again to put on his portly form, and display among modern men that countenance wherein was ‘a great mixture of majesty and meekness.’ His works occupy twenty-two volumes in the modern reprint—a mighty mountain of sound theology. They mostly consist of sermons; but what sermons! They are not so sparkling as those of Henry Smith, nor so profound as those of Owen, nor so rhetorical, is those of Howe, nor so pithy as those of Watson, nor so fascinating as those of Brooks; and yet they are second to none of these. For solid, sensible instruction, forcibly delivered, they cannot be surpassed. Manton is not brilliant, but he is always clear; he is not oratorical, but he is powerful; he is not striking, but he is deep. There is not a poor discourse in the whole collection—they are evenly good, constantly excellent. Ministers who do not know Manton need not wonder if they are themselves unknown.
Don’t you love the way Spurgeon slaps ministers around who are unfamiliar with the Puritans? Spurgeon has a great respect for the Puritan preachers, and an appreciation for their consistent value for the Church. Manton is not the most brilliant of the Puritans, but he certainly is one of the most readable—and thereby one of the most valuable—of all the Puritan authors. Manton’s sermons are marked by clarity, doctrinal precision, and simplicity. And that places Manton right along with the very best of them.
Spurgeon understood that Manton was a preacher concerned to connect the deep truths of scripture to common audiences. His preaching was not glamorous in the day, and thereby unstained with the contemporary oratorical decorations and superfluous adornments that would have surely dated his language. Spurgeon loved to recount one story that showcases Manton’s care to preach in a manner suitable to the common Christian.
While Dr. Manton was minister at Covent Garden he was invited to preach before the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen, and the Companies of the City, upon a public occasion, at St. Paul’s. The doctor chose a very difficult subject, in which he had an opportunity of displaying his judgment and learning, and appearing to the best advantage. He was heard with the admiration and applause of the more intelligent part of the audience; and was invited to dine with my Lord Mayor, and received public thanks for his performance.
But upon his return in the evening to Covent Garden, a poor man following him, gently plucked him by the sleeve of his gown, and asked him if he were the gentleman who had preached that day before the Lord Mayor. He replied, he was.
“Sir,” says he, “I came with an earnest desire after the word of God, and in hope of getting some good to my soul, but I was greatly disappointed, for I could not understand a great deal of what you said: you were quite above me.”
The doctor replied, with tears in his eyes, “Friend, if I did not give you a sermon, you have given me one; and, by the grace of God, I will never play the fool by preaching before my Lord Mayor in such a manner again.”
Well Manton did not play the fool and his volumes of sermons testify to Manton’s desire to communicate to and edify the common Christian audience of his day. There is sweet consistency throughout his many sermons, or as Spurgeon puts it, “There is not a poor discourse in the whole collection they are evenly good, constantly excellent.”
But these sermons are slightly different than other collections of sermons I have purchased and read over the years. Unlike Spurgeon’s sermons, Manton is much less wordy, making me think these printed sermons are more likely his sermon manuscripts than edited transcripts (as in the case of Spurgeon). This means Manton’s sermons, by comparison, have a sweet concentration about them. And each sermon is very carefully outlined with use of clear points and subpoints, which make his sermons very easy to follow. Take Manton’s concentrated sermon form and well-outlined structure, multiply this by several sermons per volume, multiply that by 20 volumes, and you get a lifetime of sermon gems to feast the soul.
Recently Solid Ground Christian Books has served the Church by reprinting and shipping the entire 22-volume Complete Works of Thomas Manton. Currently the set is available through Reformation Heritage Books for $320.00 (plus a free copy of Meet the Puritans on each set). After some time reading and getting familiar with this new set, I offer my thoughts.
The new Manton set bears an obvious resemblance to the Banner’s edition of John Owen’s Works. Each volume is identical in height and depth, and has the same paper thickness, sewn binding, and photolithographed 19th century typeset. They are also nearly twins in beautiful genuine green cloth covers (Manton being slightly darker). There are two differences. The Manton volumes are not clothed in dust jackets. But on the other hand, the pages in Manton are bleach white, making them clearer and easier to read than the yellow paper of the Owen set.
Here are two detail photos of the set, one a close-up picture of the binding, cover, and paper color and another of the photolithographic text and paper color (click pictures for larger).
And this leads me to my favorite feature of the Manton set.
What determines the usefulness of a prolific Puritan writer? For busy pastors under the time crunch of sermon preparation, or for the common Christian reader looking to be fed devotionally on a specific topic or passage, the answer often boils down to one feature—indexing. Has the Puritan set been carefully indexed for ease-of-use? And there are, in my opinion and experience, no Puritans that have been more exhaustively or carefully indexed than this set of Manton works! The whopping 306 pages(!) of topical and scriptural indices take up most of the final volume in the Manton set, putting at your fingertips all 10,500+ pages of theological, expositional, and pastoral wealth.
There may be no better way to catch a glimpse into the priorities and usefulness of Manton than to peruse this massive index for yourself. So for your convenience I have converted these 306 pages into a single PDF, which you can download by clicking here (30.8MB file). I think by perusing the index you will gain a vision for the topics covered and the usefulness of Manton.
In late October of 1870, J.C. Ryle wrote a foreword to commemorate the first modern printing of Manton’s Works. In it Ryle wrote:
In days like these, I am thankful that the publishers of Manton’s Works have boldly come forward to offer some real literary gold to the reading public. I earnestly trust that they will meet with the success which they deserve. If any recommendation of mine can help them in bringing out the writings of this admirable Puritan in a new form, I give it cheerfully and with all my heart.
Today, I simply echo the recommendations of Spurgeon, Ryle, and Beeke. There are few, if any, Puritan sets that will provide you a more consistent and bountiful source of spiritual food for your soul than The Complete Works of Thomas Manton. And that is why I am so grateful for the Puritan preacher and so indebted to Solid Ground Christian Books for investing the time and money to offer this literary gold once again to the reading public.
Title: The Complete Works of Thomas Manton
Author: Thomas Manton
Boards: hardcover; green cloth and silver gilding
Dust jackets: no
Topical index: yes (extensive!; 224 pages)
Scriptural index: yes (extensive!; 80 pages)
Text: Photolithograph of 1870 James Nisbet & Co. edition
Publisher: Solid Ground Christian Books
Price USD: $1,000.00 / $320.00 at RHB
For the next several days this blog we will be devoted to exploring the life and work of the prolific Puritan Thomas Manton. I will be posting detailed photographs and a review of the Complete Works of Thomas Manton and we will be talking with a man who is preparing to begin work on what appears to be the very first PhD on Manton.
To celebrate this series, our friends at Reformation Heritage Books are offering this special offer: Purchase the Complete Works of Thomas Manton (which they sell for one of the most reasonable prices on-line—$320.00) and they will include a free copy of our 2006 book of the year, Meet the Puritans by Dr. Joel Beeke (minus the dusk jacket). Offer is good only while supplies last.
But before we jump into a review of the set, it’s appropriate for those not familiar with Manton to read the following biography taken directly from the pages of Meet the Puritans:
Thomas Manton [1620-1677] was baptized on March 31, 1620 at Lydeard St. Lawrence, Somerset, where his father, Thomas Manton, was probably curate. The young Thomas was educated at the free school in Tiverton, Devon, then, at the age of sixteen, went to study at Wadham College, Oxford. He graduated from Oxford with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1639, a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1654, and a Doctorate of Divinity degree in 1660.
Manton was ordained in 1640 to the diaconate at age twenty by Joseph Hall, and served for three years as lecturer at the parish church of Sowton, near Exeter, Devonshire, where he married Mary Morgan of Sidbury, Devonshire, in 1643. Through the patronage of Colonel Popham, he obtained the living of St. Mary’s, Stoke Newington, London, where his pastorate became a model of consistent, rigorous Calvinism. He soon became a leading Presbyterian in London, and used his influence to encourage ministers to establish Presbyterian church government and to promote public tranquility in troubled times. He was appointed one of three clerks at the Westminster Assembly and preached many times before Parliament during the Commonwealth.
Once, after Manton chose a difficult text to preach before the Lord Mayor, a needy believer rebuked him, complaining that he came for spiritual food but had been disappointed. Manton replied, “Friend, if I did not give you a sermon, you have given me one; and by the grace of God, I will never play the fool to preach before my Lord Mayor in such a manner again” (Hulse, Who are the Puritans?, p. 93).
Manton provided spiritual counsel to Christopher Love prior to his execution for insurrection in 1652, and was with Love when he was beheaded. Despite threats of being shot by soldiers from the army who were present that evening, Manton preached a funeral message to a large midnight audience at Love’s parish of St. Lawrence Jewry.
Despite his strong disapproval of the king’s execution, Manton retained the favor of Cromwell and his Parliament. In the mid 1650s, he served several important commissions, including being a commissioner for the approbation of public preachers, or “triers.” He served with Edmund Calamy, Stephen Marshall, and other Presbyterians in holding talks of accommodation with Congregationalists such as Joseph Caryl and Sidrach Simpson. He served on a committee to help resolve the division in the Church of Scotland between the Resolutioners and the Remonstranters. Then, too, he served on a committee with Thomas Goodwin, John Owen, Henry Jessey, and Richard Baxter for composing articles on the “fundamentals of religion” essential for subscription to the protectorate church.
In 1656, Manton was chosen as lecturer at Westminster Abbey and became rector of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, London as Obadiah Sedgwick’s successor. Manton desired to establish Presbyterian discipline at St. Paul’s, but was prevented from doing so by his assistant, Abraham Pinchbecke, and his parishioners. He accepted this graciously, and was ever the gentleman, showing charity to all, including ministers of other persuasions.
When Oliver Cromwell was offered the crown by Parliament in 1657, Manton was chosen, together with John Owen, Joseph Caryl, Philip Nye, and George Gillespie, to pray with the Lord Protector for divine guidance. After Cromwell finally refused the crown, Manton delivered the public blessing at the inauguration of the second protectorate Parliament (Oxford DNB, 36:366).
After the failure of Richard Cromwell’s protectorate, Manton favored the Restoration of Charles II. He accompanied Charles at Breda and swore an oath of loyalty to the King. Manton was appointed one of twelve chaplains to King Charles II, though he never performed the duties or received the benefits of this office. All the while, Manton remained firmly Presbyterian in his convictions, and warned against the restoration of episcopacy and the Anglican liturgy.
After Manton was ejected from the Church of England pulpits for Nonconformity in 1662, he preached at his house in King Street, Covent Garden, and other private places. Attendance kept increasing until he was arrested in 1670 and imprisoned for six months. When the Declaration of Indulgence was granted in 1672, Manton was licensed as a Presbyterian at his home in Covent Gardne. He also became lecturer for London merchants in Pinner’s Hall and preacher at the revival of the Presbyterian morning exercises.
When the King’s indulgence was annulled in 1675, Manton’s congregation was torn apart. He continued to preach to his aristocratic followers at Covent Garden, however, until his death in 1677. William Bates preached at Manton’s funeral.
Manton was remembered at his funeral as “the king of preachers.” Bates said that he never heard him deliver a poor sermon and commended his ability to “represent the inseparable connection between Christian duties and privileges.” Archbishop James Ussher described Manton as “a voluminous preacher” and “one of the best in England.” That is certainly evident from Manton’s many writings, most of which are sermons. … Manton’s sermons fill twenty of his twenty-two volumes. They are the legacy of a preacher devoted to the systematic teaching and application of God’s Word. Manton presents us with the best that English Puritans had to offer in careful, solid, warmhearted exposition of the Scriptures.
Taken from Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints by Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson (RHB, 2006), pp. 429-433. Posted by permission of the publisher, Reformation Heritage Books.
Today I have the honor of pointing you to Mary Beeke’s new book, The Law of Kindness: Serving with Heart and Hands (Reformation Heritage: 2007).
My wife and I have enjoyed brief but precious time with the Beeke family and have benefited from Mary’s display of kindness. As the mother of three kids and the wife of a busy seminary president, author, and pastor — Mary’s many duties are fulfilled in a display of selflessness and kindness. She is, in the words of Sinclair Ferguson, “Mrs. Kindness personified.”
Her new book was written to help the reader cultivate kindness. The book covers topics such as understanding kindness and its root (chs. 1-3), learning kindness as a wife, parent, or teacher (Mary was a teacher), and helping children and teens learn kindness (chs. 4-9). Finally, she concludes with chapters on the display of kindness: kind thoughts, kind words, and kindness displayed toward the needy (chs. 10-13).
It’s a book intended for a broad audience, not limited to wives and mothers.
The Kind Husband
The Law of Kindness features a very helpful chapter (ch. 5: “The Kind Husband”) written by Mary’s husband, Dr. Joel Beeke (also an example of kindness). His chapter sets out to help husbands understand and apply Ephesians 5:25-29. Dr. Beeke begins his chapter with a proper awareness of the Cross.
We are to show our wives loving-kindness because we are to treat our wives the way Christ treats His bride, the church. This is what Paul is saying in Ephesians 5:25-29. Here are three ways we are to show our wives loving-kindness:
1. Absolutely. Christ gives “Himself” for His bride — His total self (v. 25). He holds nothing back. That is obvious from what He has done (think of Calvary), is doing (think of His constant intercession at the Father’s right hand), and what He will do (think of His Second Coming). We, of course, do not merit salvation for ourselves. But in terms of the consistent, absolute giving of loving-kindness, Christ is our mentor. We, too, are to give ourselves to our wives. That is a call to consistent, absolute loving-kindness.
2. Realistically and purposely. Christ shows kindness to His bride to sanctify her so that He might present her without spot or wrinkle to His Father (vv. 26-27). Christ realizes that His church is far from perfect; she has many spots and wrinkles. She has numerous shortcomings. So we as husbands are to love our wives as if they were perfect, even when we know they are not. Our call and challenge is not to show consistent loving-kindness to a perfect woman but to model Christ in showing consistent loving-kindness to an imperfect wife who has numerous shortcomings. Our purposeful goal must be to influence our wife to good, hoping that our kind love may remove some of the shortcomings, so that our partners may receive freedom to flourish, basking in our kindness.
3. Sacrificially. Christ nourishes and cherishes His bride at His own expense (vv. 28-29). So ought we husbands treat our wives at our own expense with the care that we treat our own bodies. If you have something in your eye, you don’t say to yourself, “I think I’ll take care of that tomorrow.” You give it immediate, tender care. So we ought to treat our wives, sacrificing, at times, our own time and desires. We must care for, protect, nurture, and respect our wives as we would our own bodies.
Are you showing your wife the exemplary loving-kindness of Christ absolutely, realistically, purposely, and sacrificially? “No,” you confess, “that is impossible.” You are wrong, my friend. Yes, you will always fall short of the mark of perfection since you are not Christ, but by Christ’s grace and His Spirit, you can learn to treat your wife with Christlike loving-kindness (pp. 72-73).
The majority of the chapter explains very practical ways that husbands can display loving-kindness towards their wives.
I believe The Law of Kindness is Mary Beeke’s first official book project. Her writing style is very energetic and engaging. She is unafraid to discuss personal issues and offers much practical advice for wives to display kindness towards their husbands and children. Her words in chapter nine challenge children and teens to display kindness, too. And her expressed appreciation for her husband is itself a model of kindness. For example, she concludes the introduction with these words:
“Words fail to express my gratitude to my dear husband, Joe, for his steadfast love and tenacious support of me. He has encouraged me to continue writing about this subject that I love so much, in spite of times when I felt completely unworthy to do so. He has overlooked dust and clutter and has offered to take the family out to eat more times than he probably should have, so I could have time to write. I am deeply grateful to God for this man who lives by the law of kindness” (p. 7).
Whether in wise counsel, practical illustrations, or even in the way they talk about one another in the book, the Beeke family displays the law of kindness. It’s a rich blessing for the church to now have their influence in book form.
Title: The Law of Kindness: Serving with Heart and Hands
Author: Mary Beeke with one chapter by Joel Beeke
Reading level: 2.0/5.0 > readable and engaging
Dust jacket: no
Paper: white and clean
Topical index: no
Scriptural index: yes
Features: 17-pages of study questions
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
Price USD: $ 9.00 from RBH
The Inner Sanctum of Puritan Piety: John Flavel’s Doctrine of Mystical Union with Christ
by J. Stephen Yuille
At the very heart of Puritanism is the saints’ mystical union with Christ. We are in Christ! He is our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, our redemption. From this union to Christ we experience all the blessings and delights of communion with God and find spiritual vitality for obedience, prayer, ministry and sacrificial love. This powerful union is mystical because we cannot see it with our eyes. It is a spiritually-revealed truth.
Puritan John Flavel is certainly one of the most valuable (and perhaps one of the more overlooked) of the Puritans. The theme of mystical union with Christ is threaded throughout his entire ministry. A study of Flavel on this theme has become one of my favorite books of the year: The Inner Sanctum of Puritan Piety: John Flavel’s Doctrine of Mystical Union with Christ by J. Stephen Yuille (Reformation Heritage, 2007).
John Flavel (1628-1691) had an eventful life on the run as a nonconformist preacher (see Beeke’s bio of Flavel here). He is remembered for his books The Mystery of Providence, The Method of Grace, Christ Knocking at the Door of the Heart, The Fountain of Life, and Keeping the Heart. His complete works are still in print and available from the Banner of Truth in six volumes. These works remain strikingly valuable for contemporary readers. Almost a year ago I wrote this review.
Back to our specific theme. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “If you have got hold of this idea [i.e., mystical union with Christ] you will have discovered the most glorious truth you will ever know in your life.” It is glorious because it reminds us that in all things, at all times, Christ is central to our lives. All of our spiritual vitality and life comes through Christ. Christ is the “Head” from whom the whole Body is nourished, knit together and grows (Col. 2:19). Paul’s phrase for Christ is simply “who is your life” (3:4) and says our lives are hidden in Christ (3:3). This glorious truth of being united to Christ is at the core of the Christian life.
And Flavel “got hold” of this idea. It became central to his ministry and from this center flowed his understanding of pursuing obedience, prayer and communion with God. Now, Yuille has taken the highlights of Flavel’s teaching on this theme and systematized them into one short volume (128 pages).
Yuille covers the full spectrum of the doctrine in this book. I have taken the index and provided it to the right (click for larger image). The comprehensiveness of this volume does not make it unreadable or overly academic. Yuille is a professor at Toronto Baptist Seminary, but he is also a pastor and this book shows the intellectual awareness of a scholar and the experiential sensitivities of a pastor.
Whether this is your introduction to the full scope of the mystical union with Christ, or your introduction to John Flavel (or both!) this short work will richly bless your soul. Yuille has well-captured the precious truth of our union with Christ through the ministry of a first-rate Puritan. The result is a contender for the 2007 TSS book of the year award.
Title: The Inner Sanctum of Puritan Piety: John Flavel’s Doctrine of Mystical Union with Christ
Author: J. Stephen Yuille (forward by Michael A. G. Haykin)
Table of Contents: scanned and posted online by TSS [click here]
Reading level: 2.75/5.0 > moderate
Dust jacket: no
Topical index: yes
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
Price USD: $12.00/$9.00 from RHB
Assured By God: Living in the fullness of God’s grace
This Summer we have been looking deeper at what John Owen meant when he said we must diligently labor after full assurance of the faith (see the “Laboring After Assurance” posts). There is a biblical command that all professing Christians “be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities [faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love] you will never fall” (2 Pet. 1:10). Not only is this pursuit of assurance found all over the Reformed confessions but I have been arguing that it’s critical to understanding Puritan spirituality today.
Recently P&R published a compilation of essays by Christian leaders to further explain what it means to pursue this full assurance. Assured By God: Living in the fullness of God’s grace was written by men like R.C. Sproul, Philip Graham Ryken, Albert Mohler, Sinclair Ferguson, Joel Beeke, John MacArthur and Jerry Bridges. The book does an excellent job expounding the biblical principles and the means of grace given to pursue this full assurance.
One of the strengths of this volume is how well Beeke reveals assurance in the Old Testament. Building from Hebrews 10:39-12:2 he says, “Though revelation and redemption are yet in preparatory stages in the Old Testament and assurance is somewhat more obscure than in the New Testament, the Old Testament believer’s assurance of the abiding covenant love of Yahweh differs little from our understanding today of assurance of faith being rooted in the character and promises of God” (114). This really helps me make sense of the Psalmist’s spiritual life as a pattern for the Christian life.
Beeke closes his chapter (ch. 6) with this summary: “Assurance is covenantally based, sealed with the blood of Christ, and grounded ultimately in eternal election. Though assurance remains incomplete in this life, varies in degree, and is often assaulted by affliction and doubt, its riches must never be taken for granted. It is both a gift, for it is always the gracious and sovereign gift of the Triune God, and a pursuit, for it must be sought diligently through the means of grace. It becomes well grounded only when it evidences fruits and marks of grace such as love to God and for his kingdom, filial obedience, godly repentance, hatred for sin, love for believers, and humble adoration. Assurance produces holy living marked by spiritual peace, joyful love, humble gratitude, and cheerful obedience” (123-124).
Unfortunately, pursuing assurance in the faith is not a popular message today and those who did labor after assurance — like the Puritans — seem to the modern reader to be very odd birds. But this pursuit of assurance is biblical and too much is at stake to neglect its pursuit. Added to its importance, the biblical doctrine of full assurance can be tricky and demands serious and focused study. If this pursuit after the assurance of faith is on your mind I would wholehearted recommend this book as a clear-minded and biblical guide to your grace-centered and Cross-centered labors.
Title: Assured By God: Living in the fullness of God’s grace
Editor: Burk Parsons
Authors: R.C. Sproul, Burk Parsons, Philip Graham Ryken, Albert Mohler, Richard Phillips, Sinclair Ferguson, Joel Beeke, John MacArthur, Keith Mathison and Jerry Bridges.
Reading level: 2.0/5.0 > popular level (easy read)
Boards: cloth (navy blue with silver embossing)
Dust jacket: yes
Binding: Smyth sewn
Topical index: yes
Scriptural index: yes
Text: perfect type
Price USD: $18.00/$11.70 from Monergism
ISBNs: 9781596380295, 1596380292
Part 2: The Biblical Basis for Seeking Assurance
Today we embark on a study of personal assurance. To have assurance is to know with certainty in my Christian experience that I am known by God and adopted into His family through the gospel. It’s one thing to read in the Bible that salvation comes to those who repent and believe in Christ. But how do I know that God’s sovereign and saving grace has been poured out into my own soul? Because of its practical implications the pursuit of “full assurance” (Heb. 10:22) is one of the most important doctrines of the Bible. As Joel Beeke writes, “Many doctrines may escape a typical believer’s notice without serious consequence, but assurance is not one of them” (Quest, 281).
This study is connected with, but distinct from, a study on the perseverance of the saints. The doctrine of perseverance concerns God’s faithfulness to lead His children home without letting any of them perish. The doctrine of assurance, however, is more concerned with how I know that I am in fact one of God’s children (I’ll show later how these two are connected).
The diligent pursuit of assurance
The best place to begin this study of assurance is to open Scripture and see that we are in fact to labor and search after personal assurance. So my goal today is simply to let you read these passages for yourself with minimal comments. For the sake of space I have limited these passages to the New Testament.
2 Peter 1:10-11 … “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Hebrews 6:11 … “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end”
2 Corinthians 13:5 … “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”
1 John 5:13 … “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”
These calls to assurance would be unnecessary if (1) Christians were not called to attain assurance and (2) if all Christians were naturally imbibed with this assurance.
Paul’s deep assurance
Related to these calls to assurance is the example of assurance demonstrated in the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. He lived in a profound sense of personal assurance. Notice in these passages not only the sovereign power of God to persevere His children, but especially how convinced Paul is that he is in fact one of God’s children.
Galatians 2:20 … “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
2 Timothy 1:12 … “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”
Romans 8:35, 38, 39 … “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Ephesians 1:13-14 … “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
Paul’s words are a model of assurance for every Christian.
Dangers of false assurance
The seeking of true assurance is motivated by warnings in Scripture of those who have rested in false assurances to their eternal condemnation. If it were impossible to be convinced of the genuineness of our assurances these passages would drown our souls under doubt and despair.
Matthew 7:21-23 … “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’“
James 1:22, 26 … “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves … If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
James 2:17-18 … “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
Revelation 3:15-17 … “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.“
“We know” in 1 John
But praise God, His children can know for certain they are saved! And if there was a single book of the Bible devoted to the Saints pursuit of assurance it would be 1 John. Listen to the wording as we are called to “know” that we are saved.
1 John 2:3 … “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.”
1 John 3:14-24 … “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”
1 John 5:2 … “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.”
And the purpose statement of the entire book in 1 John 5:13 … “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”
It cannot be mistaken here that while we are saved by the Cross apart from any works, we are assured of partaking in the Cross by a life marked by change. These passages say to us, “take note of your own heart and labor after full assurance.”
Where has assurance gone?
We don’t need a Ph.D. in church history to see that a pursuit of personal assurance – the personal question of whether I am truly a child of God — is no longer a prominent theme in the Church today (and a reason why Puritan spirituality is so alien).
I think there are two reasons why.
1. The Gospel call has been separated from the call to Cross-bearing. It is fascinating to watch Jesus evangelize. Just listen to one example: “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:38-39). This is no tit-for-tat salvation where we do good things and get life for our obedience. Rather, in Jesus’ call there is a union into Christ’s death (Rom. 6). This union to Christ means salvation and justification, but also self-mortification and self-crucifixion. The goal of the Gospel is total life transformation, beginning in sanctification here, and glorification at the first sight of Christ’s glory (1 John 3:2).
If, from the beginning, sinners were aware that Jesus was calling them to a radically new Cross-centered life, pursuing evidences of grace and assurance would be an obvious step of consideration. The Gospel carries with it God’s holistic transforming grace evident to others and powerful enough to form part of the basis of our personal assurance.
It may be that because salvation in Christ comes by faith alone that we also think assurance is by faith alone. When this happens, the passages above that call us to pursue full assurance are viewed as uncomfortable oddities to be avoided, rather than the means to great joy and delight and personal security in our Father.
2. A neglect or denial of God’s sovereign grace. Probably the most radical passage in Scripture on assurance comes in 2 Peter 1:10-11, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities [virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love] you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Here Peter calls us to make certain our personal calling and election by the demonstration of godliness. Think about this for a moment… God’s children were elected from before the foundation of the earth and here we are called in our Christian experience to make this election certain (Eph. 1:4). God did not pencil us into His family until we wrote our names in Sharpies. Rather, the elected child of God will live a life that affirms God’s sovereign election! In our Christian experience we can know with certainty that we were elected in Christ!
But it’s not only 2 Peter that ties assurance directly to God’s sovereign grace (see also 1 Pet. 1:1-7 and Rom. 8:28-39).
The only way we can pursue our assurance of salvation is to know that God sovereignly preserves His chosen. Where an emphasis on God’s sovereign grace is not found, the pursuit of assurance will not be found either.
For example, Roman Catholicism teaches that “common Christians” will never know for certain they are children of God. At the Council of Trent Rome made it clear that none can know with any certainty that he or she is justified (6.9). It’s no wonder. God’s sovereign preservation of the Christian and the Christian’s assurance in this world undermines the foundations of mass, purgatory and the authority of the church as dispenser of sustaining grace. As Francis Turretin aptly noted, “For he who would be certain of his own salvation would betake himself neither to the patronage of the saints, nor to the merits of martyrs, nor to the absolution of priests” (Elenctic, 15.17.4).
But also for Protestants who believe that salvation can be lost, the pursuit of assurance would not make sense either. How can we ever find assurance in a salvation that we ourselves can undermine?
Theologian John Murray writes, “every brand of theology that is not grounded in the particularism which is exemplified in sovereign election and effective redemption is not hospitable to this doctrine of assurance of faith” (Writings, 2:267). The joy of pursuing personal assurance can only be pursued within a solid understanding of God’s sovereign election and perseverance of the sinner. Our fallible self-sustaining power would prove too flimsy a foundation to base any assurances.
The goal of assurance in the Christian life is not a labor of self-centered, self-righteous and introspective drudgery. The goal of pursuing assurance is a transcendent joy in our Abba Father who adopted His children in love! We are opening our spiritual ears to hear the witness of the Holy Spirit in our own spirits (Rom. 8:16).
Scripture (and especially 1 John) challenges me. I want to know with certainty that I am a child of God. I want to see the life-transforming effect of God’s grace in my heart and enjoy the humbling fact that I was elected from the foundation of the earth.
The act of pursuing assurance is one of deep communion with God that produces nothing short of a deep and abiding joy in the life of the Christian. This assurance is the “summit of intimacy by which the believer both knows Christ and knows he is known of Him” (Quest, 279). Next time we ask the big question … How do we labor after this “summit of intimacy” with Christ?
Sweet Communion by Arie de Reuver
So I was all ready to wind down a bit this weekend, and not push to get another post up. That was all disrupted Saturday when a bubble mailer arrived in my mailbox from Baker Academic. I simply could not wait until next week to announce their new release. The book is Sweet Communion: Trajectories of Spirituality from the Middle Ages through the Further Reformation by Arie de Reuver. The book was published in Dutch in 2002 and translated into English by James A. De Jong.
To explain the importance of this book, I need to give some background.
We are familiar with the English Puritans (men like John Owen, Richard Sibbes, John Bunyan, Thomas Brooks, etc.) primarily because their original works were written in English, and easily reprinted over the centuries with little editing necessary. However, in the Netherlands another “Puritan” movement was taking place. Like their English counterparts, men like Willem Teellinck, Herman Witsius and Thodorus and Wilhelmus à Brakel were producing valuable theological and spiritual works in Dutch. But until only recently has the work of Dr. Joel R. Beeke and the Dutch Reformed Translation Committee made these works more accessible. In fact, one of the great highlights of Beeke’s Meet the Puritans is a section entirely devoted to the Dutchmen of the “Further Reformation” (see pages 739-824). Books of the Dutch “Further Reformation” authors (like the recently translated The Path of True Godliness by Willem Teellinck) bear all the marks of brilliance we see in the English Puritans.
One of the most noticeable strengths of these “Dutch Puritans” (as I call them) is their emphasis on Reformed spirituality and their enjoyment of sweet communion with Christ. Theirs was a deep and sincere devotion to Christ where their union with Christ was the means of experiencing vibrant communion with Christ. They defended the doctrines of grace and simultaneously enjoyed a joyful and warm spirituality.
This beautiful Reformed spirituality can be seen in the works of Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635-1711).
Wilhelmus à Brakel is most noted for his four-volume work, The Christian’s Reasonable Service (Reformation Heritage Books; 1993; 4 vols.). While it looks like another Reformed systematic theology it is actually more practical in nature and intended to provide content for small group discussions as Christians gather to encourage one another in the Christian life. It is one of the beautiful works of the “Dutch Puritans.”
I have noticed in the past the “sweet communion” of the believer with Christ is a theme that sparkles from this work. After emphasizing the marriage union between the Groom (Christ) and His Bride (the Church), à Brakel explains the believer’s communion with Christ within this marital union. Once this union between the sinner and his Savior has taken place in conversion “Jesus Himself delights in having communion with you” (2:93). Read that incredible sentence again! This communion produces a “sweetness and overflowing delight … Here they (Christians) find balm for their sick souls, light to clear up their darkness, life for their deadness, food and drink for their hunger and thirst, peace for their troubled heart, blood to atone for their sins, the Spirit for their sanctification, counsel when they are at their wit’s end, strength for their weakness, and a fullness of all for their manifold deficiencies” (2:93,94).
Of this marital union and the communion that follows, à Brakel writes,
“A temporal believer concerns himself only with the benefits and has no interest in Christ Himself. Believers, however, have communion with the Person of Jesus Christ, but many neither meditate upon nor closely heed their exercises concerning Christ Himself. They err in this, which is detrimental to the strength of their faith and impedes its growth. Therefore we wish to exhort them to be more exercised concerning the truth of belonging to each other, and the union and communion with Jesus Himself. They will then better perceive the unsearchable grace and goodness of God that such wretched and sinful men may be so intimately united with the Son of God. Such reflection will most wondrously set the heart aflame with love. It will strengthen their resolve to put their trust in Jesus without fear. It will give them strength and liberty to obtain everything from Him to fulfill the desires of their soul, causing them to grow in Him, which in turn will generate more light and joy. Therefore, faith, hope, and love are mentioned in reference to the Person of Christ. Scripture speaks of receiving Him, believing in Him, trusting in Him, living in Him, loving Him, and hoping in Him” (2:91).
This beautiful passage points the believer back to the Person of Christ to find her joy and strength in the beauty of Jesus Christ. This light and joy is the byproduct of communion with Him and this communion goes back to the believer’s union with Christ in justification.
Later, à Brakel explains that since our union with Christ is absolute, our communion with Christ does not shift with circumstances or emotions. “By faith, hold fast to the fact that you are reconciled to and are a partaker of Him and His benefits, even if you do not perceive and feel this. This belonging to Him is not based on feeling. If the souls may truly believe this and be exercised therewith, this will lead the soul toward communion with Him” (2:96). Communion can never be separated from our union and our union is described by our justification by faith alone and in our election in the Son. So à Brakel and the “Dutch Puritans” remind us that our sweet communion with Christ is inseparably bound to our understanding of our union with Christ in the gospel!
In his conclusion on the teachings of Wilhelmus à Brakel, de Reuver writes that his “spirituality is one that is rooted in Christ through the word believed, even in its most intimate and mystical moments. This foundation protects his mysticism from spiritualism” (258).
Many today are drawn towards Roman Catholic mysticism or a non-theological spirituality by thinking a deep spiritual experience of Christ can be separated from a genuine understanding of the gospel. This, as à Brakel displays, is not the case. Neither does Reformed theology favor a cold orthodoxy. Following the best intentions of the Medieval theologians, the Reformed “Dutch Puritans” always believed that rich biblical doctrine is the vein for the warm blood of spiritual experience of the Son in communion.
So here is the importance of Sweet Communion by de Reuver: The rich spirituality we have received from the “Dutch Puritans” is a spiritual legacy following the spiritual traditions of Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471) but is firmly rooted in the precious theology of the Reformation. The final conclusion of de Reuver is that the all-controlling center of the Dutch Further Reformation spirituality rested in the Reformed theology. This is a beautiful and timely book to further dismantle the idea that Reformed theology is cold and stiff intellectualism. Our rich theology actually leads us deeper into true “mysticism” of direct communion with Christ.
Title: Sweet Communion: Trajectories of Spirituality from the Middle Ages through the Further Reformation.
Series: Texts and Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought
Author: Arie de Reuver (Dutch)
Translator: James A. De Jong (English)
Reading level: 4.5/5.0 > academic and some untranslated Dutch quotations
Dust jacket: no
Topical index: no
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Baker Academic
Price USD: $29.99/23.99 from Baker
ISBNs: 0801031222, 9780801031229
Related: Communion with God by Kelly Kapic. Another gem from Baker this year on communion with God. Kapic studies English Puritan John Owen’s understanding that communion with God takes place within a balanced Triunity of the Father, Son and Spirit. Highly recommended.
Unable to attend the Ligonier conference (Contending for the Truth), I stayed at home and watched a fair amount over the Internet. One personal surprise and highlight was seeing Joel Beeke. It’s great to see his book Meet the Puritans (our 2006 Book-of-the-Year) continue to grow in popularity. Our friends from Reformation Heritage Books and Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI have made the notes from his short address available to TSS. -Tony
Why You Should Read the Puritans
by Joel R. Beeke
The great eighteenth-century revivalist, George Whitefield, wrote:
The Puritans [were] burning and shining lights. When cast out by the black Bartholomew Act, and driven from their respective charges to preach in barns and fields, in the highways and hedges, they in a special manner wrote and preached as men having authority. Though dead, by their writings they yet speak: a peculiar unction attends them to this very hour (Works, 4:306-307).
Whitefield went on to predict that Puritan writings would continue to be resurrected until the end of time due to their scriptural spirituality. Today, we are living in such a time. Interest in Puritan books has seldom been more intense. In the last fifty years, 150 Puritan authors and nearly 700 Puritan titles have been brought back into print.
Puritan literature has so multiplied that few book lovers can afford to purchase all that is being published. What books should you buy? Where can you find a brief summary of each Puritan work and a brief biography of each author so that you can have a glimpse of who is behind all these books?
These kinds of questions motivated Randall Pederson and me to write Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints. In this book, we tell the life stories of the 150 Puritan writers who have been reprinted in the past fifty years. We have also included concise reviews of the 700 newly published Puritan titles plus bibliographical information on each book. And we have noted the books that we consider most critical to have in a personal library.
We had four goals for writing this book: first, that these godly Puritan writers will serve as mentors for our own lives. That is why we have told the stories of the Puritans on a layperson’s level and kept them short. You could read one life story each day during your devotional time. Second, we trust that when you read these reviews of Puritan writings, you will be motivated to read a number of these books, each of which should help you grow deeper in your walk with the Lord. Third, we hope this book will serve as a guide for you to purchase books for your families and friends, to help them grow in faith. Finally, for those of you who are already readers of Puritan literature, this guide is designed to direct you to further study and to introduce you to lesser-known Puritans that you may be unaware of.
Definition of Puritanism
Just who were the Puritan writers? They were not only the two thousand ministers who were ejected from the Church of England by the Act of Uniformity in 1662, but also those ministers in England and North America, from the sixteenth century through the early eighteenth century, who worked to reform and purify the church and to lead people toward godly living consistent with the Reformed doctrines of grace.
Puritanism grew out of three needs: (1) the need for biblical preaching and the teaching of sound Reformed doctrine; (2) the need for biblical, personal piety that stressed the work of the Holy Spirit in the faith and life of the believer; and (3) the need to restore biblical simplicity in liturgy, vestments, and church government, so that a well-ordered church life would promote the worship of the triune God as prescribed in His Word (The Genius of Puritanism, 11ff.).
Doctrinally, Puritanism was a kind of vigorous Calvinism; experientially, it was warm and contagious; evangelistically, it was aggressive, yet tender; ecclesiastically, it was theocentric and worshipful; politically, it aimed to be scriptural, balanced, and bound by conscience before God in the relationships of king, Parliament, and subjects; culturally, it had lasting impact throughout succeeding generations and centuries until today (Durston and Eales, eds., The Culture of English Puritanism, 1560-1700).
How to Profit from Reading the Puritans
Let me offer you nine reasons why it will help you spiritually to read Puritan literature still today:
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 by sola 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 Evils and 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.
Where to Begin
If you are just starting to read the Puritans, begin with John Bunyan’s The Fear of God, John Flavel’s Keeping the Heart, and Thomas Watson’s The Art of Divine Contentment, then move on to the works of John Owen, Thomas Goodwin, and Jonathan Edwards.
For sources that introduce you to the Puritans and their literature, begin with Meet the Puritans. Then, to learn more about the lifestyle and theology of the Puritans, read Leland Ryken’s Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), Peter Lewis’s The Genius of Puritanism (Morgan, Penn.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1997), and Erroll Hulse’s Who are the Puritans? and what do they teach? (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2000). Then move on to James I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1990) and my Puritan Reformed Spirituality (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2006).
Whitefield was right: the Puritans, though long dead, still speak through their writings. Their books still praise them in the gates. Reading the Puritans will place you and keep you on the right path theologically, experientially, and practically. As Packer writes, “The Puritans were strongest just where Protestants today are weakest, and their writings can give us more real help than those of any other body of Christian teachers, past or present, since the days of the apostles” (quoted in Hulse, Reformation & Revival, 44). I wholeheartedly agree. I have been reading Christian literature for more than forty years and can freely say that I know of no group of writers in church history that can so benefit your mind and soul as the Puritans. God used their books to convert me as a teenager, and He has been using their books ever since to help me grow in understanding John the Baptists’s summary of Christian sanctification: “Christ must increase and I must decrease.”
In his endorsement of Meet the Puritans, R.C. Sproul says, “The recent revival of interest in and commitment to the truths of Reformed theology is due in large measure to the rediscovery of Puritan literature. The Puritans of old have become the prophets for our time. This book is a treasure for the church.” So, our prayer is that God will use Meet the Puritans to inspire you to read Puritan writings. With the Spirit’s blessing, they will enrich your life in many ways as they open the Scriptures to you, probe your conscience, bare yours sins, lead you to repentance, and conform your life to Christ. Let the Puritans bring you into full assurance of salvation and a lifestyle of gratitude to the Triune God for His great salvation.
You might want to pass along Meet the Puritans and Puritan books to your friends as well. There is no better gift than a good book. I sometimes wonder what would happen if Christians spent only fifteen minutes a day reading Puritan writings. Over a year that would add up to reading about twenty average-size books a year and, over a lifetime, 1,500 books. Who knows how the Holy Spirit might use such a spiritual diet of reading! Would it usher in a worldwide revival? Would it fill the earth again with the knowledge of the Lord from sea to sea? That is my prayer, my vision, my dream. Tolle Lege―take up and read! You will be glad you did.
Book of the Year, 2006: Meet the Puritans by Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson (9781601780003, 1601780001)
Book of the Year, 2006
Meet the Puritans
by Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson
This was a great year for Christian publishing. We saw the first installment of Justin Taylor’s edited version of John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation. John Piper’s What Jesus Demands from the World was also excellent. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, edited by Piper and Taylor and Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? by Wayne Grudem were also very good. We saw the release of the The ESV English-Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament: English Standard Version. [Can someone at Crossway please give Justin Taylor a vacation already?] John Calvin’s excellent Sermons on the Beatitudes was released by Banner of Truth. Steven Lawson released the first volume of A Long Line of Godly Men, titled Foundations of Grace, which covers the history of the doctrines of grace in what is certain to become his greatest accomplishment. Reformation Heritage Books released the Works of Thomas Goodwin (12 volumes) in paperback form, containing much rich teaching on the beauty of Christ. No doubt, the second best book published this year was Mark Dever’s incredible, The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made. Perhaps no book has better opened up the Old Testament storyline.
Each of these books are tremendous accomplishments in themselves. I thank the publishers and their devoted writers, editors, administrators and warehouse managers who seek to magnify Christ in their publishing endevors. Thank you!
With all respect for these books released in 2006, none topped Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson. We had the honor of announcing this book to the public a few months ago. By any standard, this volume is a monumental accomplishment.
It’s endorsed by Packer, Piper, MacArthur, Sproul, Duncan, Mohler, Ferguson… and the recommendations go on and on. It’s packed with terse information, illustrations, great biographies on more than 140 individual Puritan authors, overviews of over 700 individual Puritan volumes, a list of all the known reprints published beween 1956 and 2005, excellent articles ,and a glossary of terms used. At 900 pages, its a deep well of information. As clothbound, it’s made to endure years of use.
Important helps include chapters on who the Puritans are, why we should read them, and short histories of the English, Scottish and Dutch Puritans. I found the short history of the resurgence of Puritan literature in the 20th century especially interesting.
Here is just one quote, taken from the section explaining why we should read the Puritans today:
“With the Spirit’s blessing, Puritan writings can enrich your life as a Christian in many ways as they open the Scriptures and apply them practically, probing your conscience, indicting your sins, leading you to repentance, shaping your faith, guiding your conduct, comforting you in Christ and conforming you to Him, and bringing you into full assurance of salvation and a lifestyle of gratitude to the triune God for His great salvation” (xix).
Perfect for the beginner and the more advanced reader, Meet the Puritans will help guide and direct your way through the forest of Puritan authors.
In summary, I cannot say it better than our friend, Dr. Ligon Duncan:
“Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson have produced a tremendous gift to and resource for all who want an entryway into the study of the Puritans. They not only provide accurate biographical and theological introduction to every Puritan whose works have been reprinted in the last fifty years, but also combine with their helpful summaries an insightful analysis. If this were not enough, they’ve added major appendices that include the so-called ‘Scottish Puritans’ (that is, the great Scottish theologians who were contemporaries of and like-minded brethren in doctrine and piety with the English Puritans) as well as the Dutch Further Reformation divines. Meet the Puritans, With a Guide to Modern Reprints is a must have. I know of nothing like it. If you are looking for a reliable window into the life, theology, piety and ministry of the Puritans — this is it.”
Like I said, a monumental work!
FREE: Reformation Heritage Books graciously provided The Shepherd’s Scrapbook with a special peak into the book… Here is one of the 140+ biographies in this volume: Dutch ‘Puritan’ Willem Teellinck, pp. 782-791 [download .pdf file].
SPECIAL DISCOUNT: Purchase Meet the Puritans directly from Reformation Heritage Books for the special discounted price of $22.50 between November 21st and 30th. You need to do two things. First, call the bookstore directly (1-616-977-0599 ext. 2). Second, tell them you are “a friend of The Shepherd’s Scrapbook.” [While you are there, consider buying The Path of True Godliness, the incredible book on pursuing godliness by Teellinck you can read about in the free chapter above].
Boards: clothbound, hardcover (blue, silver gilding)
Dust jacket: yes
Binding: Smyth sewn
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
Price USD: $35.00/$22.50 for a limited time (see discount above)
ISBNs: 9781601780003, 1601780001
The Works of Thomas Goodwin
The complete works of Thomas Goodwin (1600-1679) have become quite rare and so I was encouraged to find that Reformation Heritage Books released the complete set this year.
Goodwin was a very gifted bible scholar and experiential preacher. He and John Owen (1616-1683) team-preached on Sundays at Oxford between 1652-1657. According to scholars, much of the content in those precious volumes on the mortification sin and the glory of Christ were preached by Owen during these years. The bar was set high, and Owen was certainly more gifted, but Goodwin was an able counterpart. For me, Goodwin seems a bit easier to read than Owen, although that hardly makes Goodwin an easy read.
Owen may have been more prolific, but Goodwin was much more handsome and fashionable, incorporating hip stocking caps at formal occasions. Though differing in style, Owen (who favored a more kippot cap) and Goodwin were united by common passions. Both exalted the glory of Christ and encouraged believers to fight personal sin. And seeing that both men majored on these important topics makes me long to have been an Oxford student between 1652-1657.
The Glory of Christ
My first contact with Goodwin’s works came a few years ago when I purchased volume 5 (Christ the Mediator). In this volume Goodwin consumes 436 pages to relish in Christ’s fitness and work as our Mediator. He shows evidence upon evidence that Christ is the only hope for humanity. No angel or fallen man can save us – we sinners are helpless and hopeless of redemption without Christ. But here is the kicker: Christ’s fitness for the work does not make Him our Savior.
Christ, being perfectly suited for the work and able to fulfill the demands of the Father, still needs to freely choose the work for Himself. I was moved by Goodwin’s description of Christ’s willingness to freely lay His own life down for sinners. That nobody took His life, but He chose to give it (in a transaction made in eternity past) is a truth I will never fully consume or digest. It is a great truth that moves my affections and mortifies my sin.
When it comes to the glory of Christ, Owen and Goodwin are the power-hitting duo for the Puritans, what Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were to baseball. No duo matches Owen and Goodwin in overwhelming me with the glory of Christ.
For a preacher or writer who needs to navigate Puritan literature efficiently and timely, the index at the end of these works is a real treat. The topical index alone is 89 pages long. The text index contains over 10,200 biblical references and takes up 95 double-column pages. These two indexes make every one of the 6,600 pages easily accessible.
As I was recently reading, the following example struck me. In volume three Goodwin preaches a sermon titled, The Trial of Christian Growth (on John 15:1-2). We grow when we are pruned and we are pruned because we, as believers, are still sinful.
In the sermon, one question naturally arises: How do we know that sin resides in the heart of the believer? And for the next few pages Goodwin sets out to answer this important question. The following is a good example of Goodwin’s thought.
Of course sin resides in the believer because they are pruned. But then, Goodwin argues that we know sin resides in our hearts due to the nature of our justified righteousness in Christ.
“When the Apostle, long after his first conversion, was in the midst of that great and famous battle, chronicled in that 7th chapter of Romans, wherein he was led ‘captive to a law,’ and an army of sin within him, ‘warring against the law of his mind,’ presently upon that woeful exclamation and outcry there mentioned, ‘O miserable man that I am,’ &c., he falls admiring the grace of justification through Christ,–they are his first words after the battle ended,–‘Now,’ says he, ‘there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ.’ Mark that word now; that now, after such bloody wounds and gashes, there should yet be no condemnation, this exceedingly exalts this grace; for if ever, thought he, I was in danger of condemnation, it was upon the rising and rebelling of these my corruptions, which, when they had carried me captive, I might well have expected the sentence of condemnation to have followed; but I find, says he, that God still pardons me, and accepts me as much as ever upon my returning to him, and therefore I do proclaim with wonder to all the world, that God’s justifying grace in Christ is exceeding large and rich. And though there may be many corruptions in those that are in Christ, yet there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ, that walk after the Spirit, though flesh be in them.” (3:448 )
Then on to the next idea… Sin resides in the heart of the believer, otherwise God’s preserving grace of His children would be no special thing.
“It serves exceedingly to illustrate the grace of perseverance, and the power of God therein; for unto the power of God is our perseverance wholly attributed. 1 Peter 1:5, ‘Ye are kept,’ as with a garrison, as the word signifies, ‘through the power of God unto salvation,’ And were there not a great and apparent danger of miscarrying, such a mighty guard needed not. There is nothing which puts us into any danger but our corruptions that still remain in us, which ‘fight against the soul,’ and endeavor to overcome and destroy us.” (3:448-449)
Then on to the devil. Satan can only be motivated towards tripping and tempting believers if they have opportunity for sin. He writes,
“Neither would the confusion of the devil in the end be so great, and the victory so glorious, if all sin at first conversion were expelled. For by this means the devil hath in his assaults against us the more advantages, fair play, as I may so speak, fair hopes of overcoming, having a great faction in us, as ready to sin as he is greedy to tempt; and yet God strongly carries on his own work begun, though slowly, and by degrees, backs and maintains a small party of graces within us to his confusion.” (3:449)
Sin in the believer’s heart humbles us and makes certain we do not think of ourselves too highly. Notice Goodwin’s humor.
“But sanctification being a work wrought in us, we are apt to dote on that, as too much upon excellency in ourselves. How much ado have poor believers to keep their hearts off from doting upon their own righteousness, and from pouring on it, when it is, God wot [knows], a very little! They must therefore have something within them to pull down their spirits…” (3:450)
But Goodwin continues. We know sin resides in the believer’s heart to exalt post-conversion grace and again to humble us.
“It is not the sins of a fore-past unregenerate estate that will be enough to do this thoroughly; for they might be looked upon as past and gone… God would have us humbled by seeing our dependence upon him for inherent grace. And how soon are we apt to forget we have received it, and that in our natures no good dwells! We would not remember that our nature were a step-mother to grace, and a natural mother to lusts, but that we see weeds still grow naturally of themselves.” (3:450)
And Goodwin continues. Further, we know sin resides in the heart of the Christian because how else could God call believers to a life of self-denial?
“As thus to humble them, so that they might have occasion to deny themselves; which to do is more acceptable to God than much more service without it, and therefore the great promise of ‘having a hundred-fold’ is made to that grace. It was the great grace which of all other Christ exercised. Now, if we had no corruption to entice and seduce us, what opportunities were there for us thus of denying ourselves? Christ indeed had an infinite deal of glory to lay down, not so we. Unless there be a self in us to solicit us, and another self to deny those solicitations, we should have no occasions of self-denial or the exercise of any such grace.” (3:450)
But Goodwin hasn’t even arrived at the application! In application he reminds us (1) we must be humbled towards other Christians who fall into sin, and (2) we must fight to ever purge sin from our acts and hearts.
“If thou hast prevailed against the outward act, rest not, but get the rising of the lust mortified, and that rolling of it in thy fancy; get thy heart deaded towards it also; and it must not only be ‘crucified with Christ,’ but ‘buried’ also, and so rot.” (3:451)
I find his argument for sin in the life of the Christian to be compelling, humorous, experiential and very valuable. These four little pages held my attention for a few hours as I reflected upon them. I find this a common response to Goodwin’s sermons.
The first two volumes are largely comprised of sermons through Ephesians 1:1-2:11. The first volume also contains a helpful biography and strategy for reading Goodwin, written by Joel R. Beeke. Volume one contains 36 sermons through the first chapter of Ephesians and volume two contains 24 sermons on the second chapter of Ephesians. It has been said that, “Not even Luther on Galatians is such an expositor of Paul’s mind and heart as is Goodwin on the Ephesians.” Volume two concludes with four sermons on various other sections of Ephesians and a short book on James 1:1-5.
Volume three contains an exposition on various passages from Revelation 4-16. A 120-page book titled, A Child of Light Walking in Darkness, covers the darkest periods of the Christian life. An 80-page book follows on the topic of noting answered prayers. A 70-page book, The Trial of a Christian’s Growth, considers the God who prunes His children for more usefulness. A powerful 20-page sermon on The Vanity of Thoughts concludes this valuable volume. Volumes four and five are loaded with Christ-exalting books and sermons including Christ the Mediator (a personal favorite), Christ Set Forth and the Supereminence of Christ.
Volume six is comprised of one long book on the work of the Holy Spirit in our salvation. Volume seven contains several books covering the perfection of original created order, a call to gospel holiness in the Christian life, the three stages of Christian maturity (babes, men, fathers), the glory of the saints after death, man’s restoration by grace and a book on repentance. Volume eight is one long book titled, The Object and Acts of Justifying Faith, and clearly defines the object, act and properties of personal faith.
Volume nine is given almost wholly to defining the doctrine of election except for a sermon on thankfulness due to God for His blessings to us. Volume ten is one long indictment towards the unregenerate and their guiltiness before God. Volume eleven contains Goodwin’s argument for congregational church government over a Presbyterian form. The final volume is the shortest. It contains five sermons on various topics, a collection of quaint sayings of Goodwin and some extracts of sermon notes taken by hearers. The volume includes with those two incredibly helpful indexes to navigate the complete works.
Goodwin was mighty in the scriptures and a scholar of the human heart. He was balanced in topics and so provides help for the preacher on various themes. He was never content with the superficial, but dove to the depths of divine wisdom.
His complete works provide us a lifetime of learning into the sin-killing glories of Calvary. It is a set worth planning your library around.
Dust jackets: no
Text: facsimile of 1861-66 version (Nichol’s Standard Divines)
Topical Index: yes (excellent; end of vol. 12)
Textual index: yes (excellent; end of vol. 12)
Biography: yes (Joel R. Beeke; vol. 1)
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books (Grand Rapids, MI)
Price USD: $350/$240 at RHB, Inc.
Indexed: yes, in both Martin and PCA
ISBNs: 1892777916, 9781892777911
9781892777904, 9781892777829, 9781892777805, 9781892777898, 9781892777874, 9781892777843, 9781892777850, 9781892777867, 9781892777881, 9781892777836, 9781892777799, 9781892777812, 9781892777911