Wednesday, March 23, 2016
Reading the Puritans
I don’t know when it happened, but early on in my Christian life, perhaps in my teen years and certainly in my twenties, I developed a taste for Puritan writings and more modern writers who themselves had been steeped in Puritan and Reformation thought. As a pastor, my dad accumulated quite a library which included many Puritan and Reformation works. Even though he was a dispensationalist, he gravitated toward Reformation works and was able, in his own mind at least, to mesh the teachings together in a coherent thought pattern. I think I inherited some of this from him.
What attracted me to these writings was the way the authors in that tradition focused on the greatness, glory and sovereignty of God. The God described in the churches I attended was the same God and the beliefs were the same, but the emphasis was more on us and what we should be doing in our efforts to serve Him and please Him. The God of the Puritans was in charge. His followers could trust Him completely and more than that, they were able to rest in His goodness and in His plans for His people. It’s hard to describe but there was a difference. The God that was described by many people I heard had made salvation available, but His hands seemed to be tied by the “free will” of man. The offer was made, but rather than being the God described in the Bible as the one who goes out to save with His mighty right hand, we were given a God who was somewhat impotent while awaiting the outcome of what everyone was going to do with His Son. I was impressed with the purposes of God in the intention of increasing His glory among the nations and in worshipping this God with the spirit of reverence which is due His great name.
So who were some of the people I began to read and/or listen to? Here are some of my favorites: John Own, Jonathan Edwards, William Gurnall, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John MacArthur, John Piper, Arthur W. Pink, J. I Packer, Martin Luther, R.C. Sproul, to name a few. Now I don’t want to write this disclaimer in every article I write, although I may I have to. But, I don’t agree with every single thing these men say or write and you probably won’t either, but I don’t agree with everything anyone says. So my recommendation to read these men means there is good, meaty substance here even if you don’t agree with every statement or conclusion.
What are some of the works I would recommend? Any of the commentary series by Lloyd-Jones are good. He has a great set of books on Ephesians and Romans among others. These are mainly transcriptions of his sermons which he preached in London to a regular group of folks so these are not the kind of works meant for a scholarly audience. In addition, there is a website dedicated to presenting his audio sermons. The site is http://www.mljtrust.org/. I highly recommend it. I can remember my dad listening to his sermons on the radio back in the 50’s and early 60’s.
A publisher I became familiar with early on in my adult life was Banner of Truth. This organization republishes Puritan works that had gone out of print. One of my favorite was a three paperback series called “The Christian in Complete Armour” by William Gurnall. This is an excellent devotional read. This is a modernized version so it is easier to read than the original. But who would think this much could be written from Ephesians 6 and the armor of God? They also publish a book of Puritan Prayers and Devotions called The Valley of Vision. This book helped me see the difference between the way I pray and meditate from the way the Puritans did. What I saw in them was a deeper reverence for God than what I have and a greater distrust of the flesh and therefore our need for deeper repentance and dependence on God for the living of our lives.
Other good books include Indwelling Sin in Believers by Owen, Practical Christianity by Pink, The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther, The Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards, The Pleasures of God by John Piper and any of the books and commentaries by John MacArthur. There is a very difficult book by John Owen titled The Death of Death in the Death of God. But the introduction by J.I. Packer is great if you can find it on line anywhere. Mark Dever and J. I. Packer quote this introduction in its entirety in chapter 4 of In My Place Condemned He Stood.
Some other good books include The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul, The Plight of Man and the Power of God by Lloyd-Jones, Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer, The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink and Knowing God by J. I. Packer.
Jonathan Edwards is sometimes hard to follow and Ben Stevens has done us a service by taking Edwards’ book Dissertation Concerning the End for which God Created the World, and simplifying it in modern English for the rest of us. Stevens’ book is entitled simply Why God Created the World. These are very important ideas to think about and I heartily recommend the time it may take to read and think about what Edwards through Stevens is telling us.
For those of you who, like me, are from a Baptist background I’ll mention one more book that was helpful to me a number of years ago. It is called By His Grace and for His Glory by Dr. Thomas J. Nettles. In this book Dr. Nettles shows us how the Doctrines of Grace prevailed in the most influential and enduring arenas of Baptist denominational life until the end of the second decade of the twentieth century. This is a book that traces theological history in Baptist life from Reformation teaching down to the present. So if you’re the type of person that likes history and theology, you might find this an interesting read.
Hopefully this hasn’t been too overwhelming, but I wanted to give you a flavor of the kind of books that were formative in my Christian life and were powerful in propelling me forward in my love for God and His word. Perhaps something in this article will trigger your curiosity and might deepen your love for God and your appreciation of His grace as well.