Category Archives: Joel R. Beeke
Part 11: Concluding Thoughts, part 2
Finally, the conclusion of the Puritan Study comes today. I wish I could continue on in this study but I must move on. Thank you for all the very kind emails and helpful suggestions throughout this series. Seeing others come to a deeper appreciation of the Puritan literature has been an incredible encouragement to me.
Here is a collection of final thoughts …
I think it’s worth noting again that in this series of blog posts I have emphasized the most important Puritan resources for expositional research. Other Puritans are useful on a number of issues.
I like Baxter, Burgess, Watson and other Puritans. But these and other Puritans simply have not helped me when I’m under pressure to preach and write expositionally on a certain text. Spurgeon, Bunyan, Owen, Boston, Manton and the men I have promoted, however, have proven faithful in these situations.
If you are more interested in systematic theology, or apologetics, or church history, you will find other Puritans to be of great help. Here, we were concerned with the most effective Puritans for expositional sermon preparation and ranked these authors in order of availability and usefulness.
I was hoping to use this series to begin introducing you to the Dutch ‘Puritans’ (they are not really called ‘Puritans,’ but ‘the Dutch Second Reformation Divines’). These authors ministered during the same period of time as the English Puritans we know well, but their works were originally published in Dutch. Thanks to the recent work of the Dutch Reformed Translation Society, these works are now being made available in updated English. After some time reading these Dutch works, it’s clear these authors were as mature and experiential as their English counterparts.
Among others, the Dutch ‘Puritans’ include Wilhelmus à Brakel, Willem Teellinck and Herman Witsius (whose works have been in English for a few years now). Teellinck’s book on living a holy life (The Path of True Godliness) is very valuable and will be the subject of an upcoming book review.
These Dutch authors are very powerful and, although many of them will not be indexed and easily accessed, an introduction to their works was warranted at the end of this Puritan study. More information this winter …
Tough and Tender
John Piper once said, “one of my great desires is to see Christian pastors be as strong and durable as redwood trees, and as tender and fragrant as a field of clover.” This ideal finds its origin in the words and works of Jesus Himself. He knew when to be tough and when to be tender. He was strong and resolute but loving, kind, and compassionate, too. Many Puritans remind me of men who were uncompromising and stable in their convictions. They were a forest of redwood trees. But these preachers often displayed a compassionate tenderness like a fragrant field of clovers, too. An excellent pattern for preachers today.
The Presence of God
Many things draw me to the Puritans, but one of the most important is their pursuit of God. They see the Psalms as a blueprint for the Christian life – striving and praying for the presence of God to draw near (see Pss. 16, 42, 73). You can spot authors who read much of the Puritans because they, too, have a healthy and well-developed desire to pursue the presence of God (see A.W. Tozer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Piper, etc.).
I did not realize what was happening, but for several years as I have used the Puritan literature, I thought I was just borrowing a few quotes and thoughts along the way. Now it is obvious that over those years I was being changed.
What I love most about the Puritans is how they have been used in changing me. I treat the Word with more sobriety and seriousness now. My application of the text is much more mature. I am more articulate in pointing my hearer’s affections towards the things God sees as precious (like His Son, His holiness, His justice, love and grace).
Specifically, three areas of my life have been changed due to my Puritan Study …
(i) In catching the Puritan hermeneutic. The Puritans interpret every passage in light of the big picture of God’s glory in the Cross of Christ. Everything comes back to this. As expositors we are apt to get wrapped up in our four verses and lazily forget this big picture. The Puritans, especially in their application, make it clear that every text must be brought back to this big picture. Sadly, very few expositors today do this consistently (Piper and a few others, however, excel here). I pray that we would all catch this Puritan hermeneutic. Spurgeon reminded preachers that every sermon must find a way back to the Cross. This was the Apostle Paul’s point exactly (Gal. 6:14, 1 Cor. 1:22-25; 2:2; Phil. 3:8).
(ii) In catching the Puritan experiential style. When publishers want a good definition of ‘experiential preaching’ they turn to Puritan scholars. In the book, Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching (Soli Deo Gloria, 1573581445), Dr. Joel Beeke writes: “Experiential or experimental preaching addresses the vital matter of how a Christian experiences the truth of Christian doctrine in his life … Experimental preaching seeks to explain in terms of biblical truth how matters ought to go, how they do go, and what is the goal of the Christian life … Experimental preaching is discriminatory preaching. It clearly defines the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian, opening the kingdom of heaven to one and shutting it against the other” (pp. 95-96). The Puritans understood that a sermon lacking powerful application is an incomplete sermon. The Puritans are unparalleled here.
(iii) In catching the Puritan earnestness. The Christian life is a struggle of balance. The same is true in the pulpit. It is easy to focus on strengthening marriages, helping others raise children, and overall improvements in godliness while lacking earnestness. We can get the idea that the purpose of the pulpit is only for long-term sanctified changes. We need the Puritan earnestness to remind those who have never experienced the grace of God in their own hearts (the ‘almost Christian’ sitting in the pew), that they teeter on the brink of God’s judgment. There may not be a tomorrow. Each of us will be in heaven or hell very shortly. Nothing guarantees the sinner one more day to repent. Now is the time. Today is the day of salvation. Plead with sinners. The Puritans balanced these two sides of preaching and teach us to use the same sermon to both strengthen Christian marriages (long term) and to plead with sinners earnestly (now).
In the end, the ultimate benefit of a (well-used) Puritan library is how it changes you. Because of the Puritans, I view the bible differently, more seriously. They have taught me deep thoughts so I am not easily distracted with the empty and hollow ‘Christian’ thoughts today. They have taught me to treasure Christ. They have pointed out the sin in my heart. They have encouraged me in the task of preaching. And they have been faithful friends pointing me back to the scriptures when I begin to wander around. ‘Be serious because God’s thoughts are weighty,’ is the Puritan message I hear every time I use their works.
So keep at it. Work hard. Study diligently. Learn new terms. Don’t be intimidated by 200-word sentences. Grasp the concepts. Learn from the Puritan big-picture. And one day you will realize that God’s Spirit has taken the Puritan Study from your shelves and into your heart and changed you forever. All for His eternal glory.
Soli Deo Gloria!
The Complete Works of Thomas Boston (12 volumes)
[note: The following review compliments The Puritan Study, a series on incorporating Puritan literature into expositional preaching.]
Thomas Boston (1676-1732) is not only one of my favorite Puritan authors, but has also proven himself to be one of the most important and useful Puritans in my expositional research.
Known for his excellent books like “The Crook in the Lot” and “The Art of Man-Fishing,” his works are both excellent examples of Boston’s deep understanding of the Christian life and his firm commitment to obedience to Scripture.
As a preacher I love Boston for both his depth and breadth. Depth, in his ability to apply texts so personally and powerfully to his hearers. Breadth, in the fact that he preached on almost every biblical theme. It seems every time I flip through Martin’s topical index (A Guide to the Puritans) I discover Boston preached a sermon on my current topic. Preachers will find Boston’s breadth and depth to be very useful for every sermon, no matter the sermon topic or text.
Incredible sensitivity towards applying the scriptures to his hearers, and tremendous balance and diversity of content make Boston an often-used resource in my expositional research. But what I also find impressive about Boston was his pastoral work in Ettrick, which, prior to his arrival, was an unstable and worldly town. As Dr. Joel Beeke writes in the introduction, “When Boston arrived in Ettrick, the town had less than 400 people. The roads were nearly impassable. The parsonage was dilapidated. Church services were irregular. When a service was held, the people often talked throughout it. Spiritual barrenness, pride, deceit, swearing, and fornication abounded” (p. I-5). What happened over the next 25 years was the result of Spirit-blessed preaching now preserved for us in these volumes.
The works of Thomas Boston (published by Tentmaker) include 7,400 pages of books, sermons and his own memoirs.
Volumes one and two comprise “An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion” organized by the Shorter Catechism. These volumes are affectionate and deeply applicable on the main subjects like the authority of scripture, the trinity, creation, Christ, sin, justification, the Ten Commandments, self-examination, prayer, an experimental knowledge of Chirst, etc. These volumes are a treat to those of us who have seen systematic theology lacking experimental warmth and deep application. Boston abhors the thought.
Volume three is a collection of 37 sermons and two books: “The Crook in the Lot” and “The Unity of the Body of Christ.” Volume four includes 40 sermons and the book “The Distinguishing Characters of Real Christians.” Volume five includes books on discerning genuine believers from the false and “The Art of Man-fishing.” Volume six includes 16 sermons and a number of Q&As on various topics. Volume seven includes nine sermons and more theology similar to volume one and two, including discourses on “The Evil and Danger of Schism” (on 1 Cor. 1:10), “The Necessity and Foundations of a Throne of Grace for the Behoof of Poor Sinners, Pointed out and Illustrated” (on Psalm 89:14). Volume eight includes “Man’s Fourfold State” on the state of innocence, the state of nature (or sinfulness), the state of grace and the eternal state. Volume nine and ten are comprised of 88 sermons. Volume eleven includes diverse material on the covenant of grace and prayer. And the final volume comprises Boston’s excellent “Memoirs” where you can read more about his 25- year pastorate at Ettrick.
One of my favorite sections of Boston is a little book titled, “A Soliloquy on the Art of Man-Fishing” in volume five. It is a great reminder of the duty and pleasures of the work of evangelism. At times through this short book I have been lost in his language. Here is one section I especially enjoyed:
“I find in my heart a flame of desires, Matt. 5:6.  After the righteousness of Christ. My soul earnestly desires to be stripped naked of my own righteousness, which is as rags, and to be clothed and adorned with the robe of his righteousness. This wedding garment my soul affects; so shall I be found without spot, when the Master of the feast comes in to see the guests. My soul is satisfied, and acquiesces in justification by an imputed righteousness, though, alas! My base heart would fain have a home-spun garment of its own sometimes.  After communion with him, Ps. 42:1. When I want it, my soul though sometimes careless, yet, at other times, cries out, O that I knew where I might find him! I have found much sweetness, in communion with God, especially at the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, in prayer and meditation, hearing the word, faithfully and seriously preached, and in preaching it myself, when the candle of the Lord shines on my tabernacle; then was it a sweet exercise to my soul. I endeavor to keep it up when I have it, by watching over my heart, and sending up prayers to God. When I want it, I cry to him for it, though, alas! I have been a long time very careless. Sometimes my soul longs for the day, when my minority [earthly life] shall be over-past, and I be entered heir to the inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away; to be quit of this evil world; to be dissolved, and to be with Christ, which is best of all; especially at three times. (1.) When I get more than ordinarily near God, when my soul is satisfied as with marrow and fat, when my heart is nobilitated, and tramples on the world. (2.) When I am wrestling and groaning under the body of sin and death, the evil heart: then fain would I be there, where Satan cannot tempt, and sin cannot enter; yea, when I have been much forsaken, at least as to comfort … (3.) When I preach, and see that the gospel hath not success, but people are unconcerned, and go on in their abominations” (5:17).
Boston opens his soul to answer the question: At what time is my heart aflame? It comes, he writes, as a result of my deep love for the imputed righteousness from Jesus. It comes when I have enjoyed the presence of God in a special season. And later, my heart is aflame for God’s presence in heaven when I am reminded of my own sin and weaknesses and long for eternity.
For Boston, knowing and preaching the truth alone are insufficient. He wants to see the effects of the Spirit at work as confirmation of his work. This expectation that the Word of God will become reality in the world is the experiential mark on all of Thomas Boston’s sermons and books.
For the expositor of God’s Word, these volumes (and especially the many sermons) make this set a priceless gem. Boston is a Puritan friend who is exegetically faithful and sensitive of the human heart. His depth and breadth make him one of the very few writers that will help you prepare any sermon on any text for any audience.
Binding: clothbound (maroon)
Dust jackets: Yes
Binding: Smyth sewn
Paper: oversized and heavy weight
Text: facsimile printing of 1853 version (William Tegg & Co. of London)
Topical Index: yes (end of vol. 11)
Textual index: no
Biography: yes (“Memoirs” in vol. 12)
Publisher: Tentmaker (United Kingdom)
Price USD: $325.00 at RHB; $250.00 at TPB; $250.00 at Amazon
Want more information? An excellent introduction to Thomas Boston and his writing will be found in Christian Focus’ recent re-publication of “The Art of Manfishing.” J.I. Packer’s short introduction at the beginning of this book is beneficial. An extended biography and bibliography is included in Beeke’s new book “Meet the Puritans,” available by Christmas from Reformation Heritage Books.
Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan continues to set itself apart as a superior place to study Puritan literature. The seminary itself houses the Puritan Resource Center, one of the world’s largest collections of seventeenth and eighteenth century antiquarian volumes written by Puritans.
But the people of PRTS are completing another project that is certain to further distinguish the school as the premier facility for Puritan research.
PRTS President Joel R. Beeke and author Randall J. Pederson are putting the final touches on a new book project titled, Meet the Puritans. The book includes short biographies and a bibliography of over 140 Puritan authors! The hefty, 950-page book will serve pastors who want short introductions to Puritan authors, short summaries of each Puritan work and information about when those works were last printed.
This excellent resource should be available before Christmas from Reformation Heritage Books. (Hint, hint, if my wife is reading this.)