Category Archives: Puritan Library
During his sermon on 2 Timothy 4:13 (“Paul—his Cloak and His Books”), C.H. Spurgeon said:
He [Paul] is inspired, and yet he wants books!
He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books!
He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books!
He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books!
He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a men to utter, yet he wants books!
He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!
The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, “Give thyself unto reading.” The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritan writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master’s service. Paul cries, “Bring the books”—join in the cry.
I was born with a face for radio. And that is the extent of my qualifications for appearing on the airwaves. But this past Saturday Marcus Dahl interviewed me on the radio program “The Pastor’s Study Live” (980 AM KKMS in Minneapolis/St. Paul). During the interview Marcus and a few callers asked me questions on Puritan literature, books, reading, the Blank Bible, and other things. It was fun.
Download the program (27.2 MB) or listen online (39:31) here:
A list of books mentioned in the program:
- Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists by Collin Hansen
- George Whitefield: The Life and Times, Vol. 1 by Arnold Dallimore. It’s in this volume that the story is recounted of Whitefield preaching in a field to 10,000 souls, many of whom were covered in soot from the coal pits (p. 263). The place of the event was in Kingswood, UK not in America (as I wrongly stated in the interview).
- George Whitefield: The Life and Times, Vol. 2 by Arnold Dallimore
- Christ Crucified: Or the Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53 by James Durham
- Christian in Complete Armour by William Gurnall
- Works of Jonathan Edwards (Banner of Truth, 2 volumes)
- Altogether Lovely by Jonathan Edwards
- Charity and It’s Fruits by Jonathan Edwards
- Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards
- Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards
- Heaven, A World of Love by Jonathan Edwards (Pocket Puritan)
- Living Faith by Samuel Ward (Pocket Puritan)
- A Christian Directory by Richard Baxter
- Complete Works of John Bunyan (3 volumes)
- Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
- Everything by Octavius Winslow (many of his books are free online)
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 each the past several years we’ve been blessed with at least one monumental publishing achievement that furthers the Puritan legacy. This year I’m excited to announce one of the most important Puritan projects of the year—and certainly one of the most important I’ve seen in my 6 years of reading and collecting precious Puritan works!
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.
I’ve been (gently) criticized by my blog readers for saying that Manton is overall more valuable for expositional research than John Owen, Richard Sibbes, and Thomas Goodwin. But I stand by my placement of Manton in the Puritan Library series and soon I will begin arguing that (1) because of Manton’s excellent biblical insights, (2) warm application of eternal truths to daily life, and (3) because of the excellent 250 page indices in the back of the Works, he is one of the most helpful and useful of all the Puritans for the preaching pastor. Can I argue successfully? You be the judge.
Bottom line: This set is an epic feat in recent Puritan publishing. And over the next few weeks I’ll be looking closer at the set and talking with those familiar with Manton in order to bring substance to that very claim.
Reformed Theological Seminary has blessed the wider Church by offering many class lectures for online download. These are available trough the iTunes store and come through your computer (for free!). Recently RTS may have added their best resource yet – History and Theology of the Puritans, a 16-part series delivered by Dr. J.I. Packer. [Packer penned the popular, A Quest For Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Crossway: 1994).]
In over 11 hours of lectures, Packer covers …
1. The Puritan Identity – pt. 1 (45:14)
2. The Puritan Identity – pt. 2 (33:10)
3. Puritan Theological Concerns – pt. 1 (45:54)
4. Puritan Theological Concerns – pt. 2 (45:03)
5. The Bible in Puritan Theology – pt. 1 (46:53)
6. The Bible in Puritan Theology – pt. 2 (46:01)
7. Salvation by Grace – pt. 1 (46:41)
8. Salvation by Grace – pt. 2 (46:37)
9. Faith and Assurance – pt. 1 (46:32)
10. Faith and Assurance – pt. 2 (46:16)
11. The Good Fight – pt. 1 (46:22)
12. The Good Fight – pt. 2 (31:45)
13. Conscience (44:06)
14. Reformed Monasticism (43:01)
15. The Christian Minister (44:22)
16. Worship, Fellowship, and Discipline in the Church (27:40)
I hear you asking, So how do I enjoy this yummy goodness?
1. First, install the program iTunes on your computer by clicking here and following directions. Check first because there is a chance iTunes is already installed on your computer.
2. Once you have iTunes loaded you need to go to this website and click on the button under “Click to launch RTS on iTunes.”
3. You should now be in the RTS page in the iTunes store. Under “RTS Virtual Courses” click on “Church History.”
4. Then click on “History and Theology of the Puritans.” This will take you to the page for downloads.
5. To download just click the button “Get tracks” on the top (to get them all at once) or the button “Get” on the right side of each track (for individual downloads). The audio files will be downloaded into iTunes on your computer and from here you can listen to the mp3s, burn them to audio CDs, etc.
6. And be sure to download a PDF copy of the course syllabus.
And that, my Puritan friends, is how you get the yummy goodness of Packer on the Puritans into your computer and into your head!
Happy listening. And thank you to the gracious folks at RTS!
Christ Crucified by James Durham
Inside the cover of his personal copy of Christ Crucified, 19th century preacher C.H. Spurgeon wrote two words: “Much prized.”
Without question, author James Durham (1622-1658) left the Church with a precious treatise on the Cross of Christ. But, sadly, this “much prized” Puritan work never found itself printed in the 19th century, and the last printed edition appeared in 1792! The work may be prized for its content, but we lament that it’s so far outside the reach of contemporary readers.
This absence temporarily ended in 2001 when Chris Coldwell and publisher Naphtali Press (Dallas, TX) released a retypset, edited, and beautiful edition of Durham’s classic. But the 500 copies – even selling at $75 each to cover high expenses of a short print run – sold out by the Fall of 2003. The classic, while back for a flash, returned quickly to the status of “rare” and again outside the reach of most readers.
Just in the past few weeks (August of 2007), Naphtali finished their second (and much larger) printing. The 2001 Naphtali edition is back, fully stocked, and now available for $30!
So why is Durham’s classic so treasured?
Admittedly, Durham is a lesser-known of the Puritan divines and probably because the Scottish preacher died in 1658 at the age of 36. His productive ministry lasted a mere decade and the 11 books that bear his name were all printed posthumously. The 72 sermons in Christ Crucified were transcribed by Durham’s ministry partner John Carstairs. Carstairs edited and first published the sermons 25 years after Durham’s death. The full title is Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53 and was originally published in Edinburgh in 1683.
Christ Crucified is traditionally classified and used as a commentary on Isaiah 53:1-12. And it certainly contains an encyclopedia of biblical exegesis and deep doctrine you would expect from a Puritan commentary. But Durham’s sermons go further, being filled with rich application, exhortation, encouragement and fuel for the Cross-centered life. It’s a Puritan work that, when carefully digested, molds Gospel-centered preachers like Spurgeon.
In these 72 sermons, Durham patiently and carefully walks verse-by-verse through the great OT prophecy of Christ. His aim is not merely exegesis or theology, but rich application. He wants us to experience the Cross, and he moves the reader frequently from doctrine to application.
For example, in sermon 22 Durham traverses the mystery of Christ’s substitution, of His absorbing the wrath of God and being “wounded for our transgressions” (v. 5). The sermon ends with a plea for us to feel our dire condition as sinners. Our sin deserves the wounding of judgment. The suffering of Christ should lead us to despair in our empty self-righteousness. The sermon concludes with these words:
“O let these things sink in your hearts, that you are sinners, great sinners, under wrath, and at feud with God; that Jesus Christ is the savior of lost sinners, and that there is no way to pardon and peace, but by closing with him, and laying hold on his satisfaction, that you may be drawn to cast yourselves over on this everlasting covenant, for obtaining the benefits that Christ has purchased” (p. 252).
From beginning to end, Durham’s work is rich and applicable but the book is perhaps best remembered for the final six sermons on Isaiah 53:12, covering the intercessory work of Christ. Here Durham is at his best, reminding us our salvation, sanctification, and all other spiritual victories are a direct result of the Melchizedek-like eternal priesthood of Christ.
Christ intercedes for the elect, that they be justified, pardoned, and receive “favor, friendship, and fellowship” with God and kept from temptation. He intercedes so our service will being acceptable before God, our prayers be heard, that we be armed against the fear of death, always advancing in sanctification towards our ultimate salvation and glorification. “In a word, he intercedes for everything needful, and for everything promised to them, his intercession being as broad as his purchase” (p. 626).
Durham contends that we fail to comprehend the far-reaching influence of Christ’s intercession. He seeks to comfort his readers by opening our mind beyond Calvary and into the eternal holy of holies where Christ is now interceding for the saints.
Throughout the volume Durham presses his readers into Scripture, presses them into the Cross, and then applies the Cross for their salvation, sanctification, joy and comfort.
The enduring value of Christ Crucified is quite evident.
The Naphtali edition is more than 700-pages long and noticeably tall and wide. You can see how it stands alongside Meet the Puritans.
The retypeset text is clean and easy to read. Archaic words are underlined with a brief definition in brackets. The text includes sidebar headings for each subheading, and these headings are all listed in the extensive table of contents (download a PDF copy of the full table of contents here). The outside columns provide great room for notes.
Publishers of Puritan works should take careful note of Chris Coldwell’s work. Here is a retypeset Puritan classic, with the following admirable features:
- Uses original sources for careful edits and corrections.
- Notes variants and archaic words in the footnotes with a glossary in the back.
- Provides an excellent introduction and author biography.
- Supplies extensive table of contents in the front.
- Adds a Scriptural index and topical index in the back.
- Brought together with durable Smyth-sewn binding and housed in a cloth cover.
It’s doubtful the Naphtali edition could be improved.
I first learned of Durham four years ago when reading Spurgeon. In an early sermon Spurgeon said, “If I had lived in his [Durham’s] time, I should never, I think, have wanted to hear any other preacher; I would have sat, both by night and day, to receive the sweet droppings of his honeyed lips” (sermon 172). Obviously, Durham played a significant role in Spurgeon’s early ministry development.
As I mentioned earlier, in his personal copy of Christ Crucified, Spurgeon simply wrote “Much prized” (Autobiography, vol. 4). In Commenting and Commentaries – a book where Spurgeon freely assaults poor commentaries and their authors – he writes Christ Crucified is “marrow indeed” and “We need say no more: Durham is a prince among spiritual expositors.”
From contemporary reviewers Joel Beeke and Randall Peterson in Meet the Puritans (RHB: 2006) Christ Crucified is said to be “an excellent book for believers who yearn for a more intimate fellowship with Christ in His sufferings” (p. 678). Later they make the amazing claim that Christ Crucified is “one of the best commentaries ever written on Christ’s person and work in redemption” (p. 679). On this Naphtali edition they write, “The present reprint is carefully and beautifully done” (p. 678).
We agree with all of the above.
Take the advice of Beeke and Spurgeon. Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53 is a classic Puritan work that has been beautifully reproduced. Your soul will be drawn to fellowship with Christ and stirred to deeper discoveries of the Cross. Since 1792, Durham’s classic has never been more available and never more affordable.
Title: Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53
Author: James Durham (1622-1658)
Editor: Chris Coldwell
Reading level: 3.0/5.0 > Easier thanks to excellent editing and glossary
Boards: cloth spine, embossed
Dust jacket: no
Paper: white and clean
Topical index: yes
Scriptural index: yes
Text: perfect type, re-typeset
Publisher: Naphtali Press
Year: 2001 ed., 2007 printing
Price USD: $45 retail; $30 pub.; $29 RHB
Thursday morning (4/12/07)
Breakout seminar #2
Mark Dever: “Watch the Past: Living Lessons from Dead Theologians”
GAITHERSBURG, MD – Being one who loves to read the books of dead theologians and preachers, Mark Dever’s session was a personal highlight. The point was to encourage us to broaden our theological and biographical reading to at least 12 different authors, each to be read for one month annually. Dever himself uses a yearly reading plan where he reads a specific author each month of the year (like Augustine in February). Then every April he moves on to John Calvin, reading a new biography or theological work. Each year the reading plan starts over.
For readers of the Together for the Gospel blog, this will sound familiar. On February 1, 2006 Dever wrote a short post titled “An apostolic agenda” outlining this very thing. On Thursday morning at the Sovereign Grace Ministries Leader’s Conference, Dever filled out the details.
Dever began with a lengthy quote from C.S. Lewis’ introduction to Athanasius’ On The Incarnation which outlines some reasons why old books are important. Lewis writes,
There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire. …
The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.
With this introduction, Dever launched into his “canon of theologians.” He encouraged us to read on theological issues that are not a particular struggle at the time. Let the theologians talk about what they want to talk about. Dever then outlined his own personal reading plan.
The ‘canon of theologians’
January – Early church writings (1st-3rd centuries). Recommended reading: Many and various works and authors were mentioned like the Epistle of Dionysius, The Didache, Clement, The Martyrdom of Polycarp and the Penguin paperback, Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers (0140444750). When asked if he used the early church writings in his expositional research, he said ‘no.’ He is familiar with the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture but has not found them exegetically beneficial. [This helps answer an important question we asked earlier this year]. Dever’s use of the early church fathers is predominantly theological and historical.
February – Augustine (354-430). The most influential extra-biblical theologian in the West. Recommended: City of God and The Confessions (Henry Chadwick edition). Dever’s disagreement: That the church is the conduit of salvation. “Augustine got it bad wrong on ecclesiology.”
March – Martin Luther (1483-1546). Lessons learned: 1. Justification is by faith alone, all of sheer grace. Luther “cleanses the church from the barnacles of traditionalism.” 2. Luther’s boldness. Read biography Here I Stand. Recommended reading: 95 Theses and Bondage of the Will. You can read Bondage of the Will out loud to children and they will be engaged because of the vigorous prose and Luther’s name-calling towards Erasmus (Dever is very funny). Best bio being Here I Stand by Roland Bainton (0452011469).
April – John Calvin (1509-1564). The greatest theologian of the Reformation period. Lessons learned: 1. God’s glory at the center of everything. The world is the “theater” of God’s glory. 2. Centrality of man’s depravity, shown especially in the heart’s perpetual idol production. 3. He was careful with Scripture. Calvin had a very rare combination of gifts that balanced the theological, linguistic, pastoral, and exegetical. 4. He filled both the offices of pastor and scholar. 5. The diligent training of his spiritual children even as he knew sending these pastors back into France would mean certain death [see the concept of “Calvin’s School of Death”]. Disagreements: That the state is responsible for the church. He confused the church and state, a distinction we take for granted today. Recommended: Sermons on the Ten Commandments, commentary on 1 Cor. 12-14, The Institutes of the Christian Religion and anything written by T.H.L. Parker. He does not recommend modern bios of Calvin and especially warned against McGrath.
May – Richard Sibbes (1577-1635). Lessons learned: 1. The tenderness of Christ. The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax a great example of Jesus’ tenderness and it makes for a great read together with your spouse. Sibbes was able to point out evidences of grace very well. 2. “Diagnostic evangelism.” Sibbes continued to hold out the biblical truth of what a genuine Christian looks like and, by consequence, sorted out those who nominally professed faith. By authenticating the Christian life he naturally separated the sheep from the wolves and goats. He was clear that one’s salvation does not come through assurance but rather assurance comes from genuine salvation. Sibbes pointed those who were never converted to run to grace in the Cross. Disagreement: Infant baptism. Recommendations: Sibbes stuttered in his preaching so he kept his sentences relatively short and this makes him easier to read than his contemporaries. Start with the sermons in volume seven of his collected works.
June – John Owen (1616-1683) and John Bunyan (1628-1688). John Owen is known for his argument on limited atonement in Death of Death. It’s a good book to scare Arminians, but there exist better exegetical ways to argue for limited atonement. Lesson learned: Linger with Scripture. “Diligent meditation reaps great rewards.” Dever especially recommends the Owen volumes by Kris Lundgaard (The Enemy Within and Through the Looking Glass) and those by Kapic and Taylor (Overcoming Sin and Temptation). … John Bunyan was a “pot-repairer with extraordinary preaching gifts.” Bunyan clearly expresses himself without the use of long, Latin sentences. His life was marked by a sincere pastoral concern. Recommended: Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (autobiographical) and The Pilgrim’s Progress. The Pilgrim’s Progress being a “great systematic theology” built around the “centrality of heaven.”
July – Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). There are many lessons and warnings from the life of Jonathan Edwards. Lessons learned: 1. Diligent meditation. “Edwards can stare at an idea” and has “a powerful ability to think out and illustrate” that idea. An excellent example of this is Edward’s sermon The Excellency of Christ. 2. Edwards demonstrates a zeal for the purity of the church. 3. Understands the connection between his ministry and his congregation. In his Farewell Sermon, after Edwards was fired, he tells his congregation “I’ll see you before the throne.” Disagreements: 1. Infant baptism. 2. The logic of God’s centrality seemed a bit philosophical rather than always biblical. 3. He shows some pastoral carelessness especially with the “young folks’ Bible” controversy [see chapter 18 in George Marsden’s biography]. Nevertheless, Edwards demonstrates a powerful ability to think out and illustrate. Read his sermons and especially his sermon The Nakedness of Job which he wrote when he was 18 years old! As an interesting side note, Dever has preached an Edwards sermon to his congregation. On October 5, 2003 he took Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, marked up the manuscript as he would his own and preached it. You can listen to the final product here.
August – C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892). Lessons learned: 1. Evangelism. Spurgeon preached the gospel from any and every text. “More than anyone else, I think of Spurgeon when I prepare my sermons.” Preach each sermon as though someone may be converted. 2. His life is filled with stories of God’s kindness upon his ministry. Read Spurgeon’s autobiography and be amazed at the stories. Spurgeon’s autobiography “may be the most fun thing to read apart from Scripture.” It will encourage you to see that we have a glorious God. 3. He had a lively faith. Spurgeon had “a heightened God-consciousness.” Even in the midst of a prolonged depression, Spurgeon shows that depression drives a faithful Christian to God. Read his Morning and Evening devotional.
September – B.B. Warfield (1851-1921). “Warfield strengthens my faith.” Like John Calvin, Warfield had a wonderful mix of scholarship and piety. Disagreements include infant baptism and Presbyterian polity.
October – Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981). Not much in disagreement. Lessons learned: 1. Gave his life to preaching and lived confident in the power of God’s Word. 2. Deadly earnest. It was no light thing for him to preach. The pulpit was the “desk of God.” Recommended: Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Preaching and Preachers, Spiritual Depression and his biography by Iain Murray.
November – C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) and Carl F.H. Henry (1913-2003). Because time ran short, Dever simply finished off his list of writers he reads in November and December without further comment or recommendation.
December – Contemporary authors like John Stott, J.I. Packer, Iain Murray, R.C. Sproul and John Piper.
This breakout session encourages me to pursue the study of the early church writers, although I’ve become more convinced that they will not prove as helpful in my expositional research and sermon preparation as others. It also encourages me to narrow my focus to a handful of great writers and focus attention on their writings each year. I’m in the process of creating my own “canon of theologians” for annual study. In summary, this was an excellent session and if these small notes interest you, I would recommend getting the audio file for $2.00 to hear all the details that spilled faster than I could corral in my notes.
Related 2007 SGM LC sessions:
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.