MEET THE PURITANS Hardcover – 8 Jan 2007
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Meet the Puritans is a resource designed to guide people through the reprints of Puritan writings that have been produced since 1956. The book provides "a brief biography of each Puritan author whose works have been reprinted since 1956 and a short review of those books. We hope this will help purchasers of Puritan books, interest other readers in the Puritans, and guide those already immersed in Puritan literature to further depths of study." It is more a reference book than one you would be likely to read from cover-to-cover, though if you wanted to, you certainly could.
The format of the book is simple. After a Preface explaining how to profit from reading the Puritans, a brief word about where to begin and a brief history of English Puritanism, there comes a long list of authors. Each author has his own chapter containing a short biography and a list of his books that have been reprinted. There is a review of each book along with publishing information and the number of pages. And that is the heart of the book and continues for some 800 pages. Five appendices deal with collections of Puritan writings, Scottish divines, Dutch further Reformation divines, secondary sources on the Puritans and a final word on Puritanism courtesy of J.I. Packer. In short, this is a one-stop-shop for all you could want to know as a beginner to the Puritans. And if you are already a fan of their writing, this book will lead you further and deeper, guiding you to the best books available.
One thing I would like to see in future editions of this book is a more thorough list of the best place to begin in reading the Puritans. The authors do offer a few suggestions, but they are only basic ones. I'd like to see a list of the top ten or twenty books they would recommend. Additionally, it might be nice to have a topical index of sorts, pointing to the best works on a variety of subjects so that a person looking for a Puritan work on worship or sin or other important topics could quickly and easily find the best resources.
Quite simply, if you are interesting in reading the Puritans, this is a guide you won't want to be without! It is endorsed by a who's who of Reformed leaders and authors (the back cover alone has endorsements by Sproul, Piper, MacArthur, Packer and Mohler and there are many more inside!) and deservedly so. Best of all, it promises to be a book that will be updated as time goes on and as these great writings continue to be released.
First, it gives a more detailed history of Puritanism, how it was born, the account of persecution they went through, including the Presbyterians in Scotland and the Dutch Further Reformation fueled by the Synod of Dort in 1618. Second, it contains a brief, but not too brief, biography of over 120 British, Scottish and Dutch Puritans; their education, family, ministry, controversy and persecution, and death; followed by their printed works, which ones are available to the readers today, their synopsis and publisher so that interested readers know where to get a hold of them. The list has led me to a greater happiness in enjoying Puritan literature through its recommendation to read at least two books; Richard Sibbes' "The Bruised Reed" and Thomas Manton's "The Temptation of Christ." But more are coming that are in my wish list from John Flavel, Richard Baxter, Richard Gilpin, and others.
Here are my general observations in addition to what the authors analyzed in the first section of the book before they begin with the biography of their ministers, theologians and laymen. First, it seems, though not strictly true, that they all held a doctorate in theology by looking at the humongous amount of publications of the study they produced. Most of them studied at either Oxford or Cambridge graduating with at least an equivalent of Master of Divinity today, which means they were experts in exegesis, having studied Hebrew and Greek intensively at school. Second, they were church leaders; not only pastors, but also vicars, lecturers, deans, tutors at colleges, chaplains to prominent governmental leaders and agencies, and members of Westminster Assemblies. Third, they wrote at least hundreds of pages, sometimes thousands of pages of books consisting of either commentary or sermon collections on the books of the Bible or topical theology; the popular themes I notice are spiritual warfare, conversion, self-examination, Christology, and heaven. The two volumes of Jonathan Edwards, for example, have over 4,000 pages. John Owen has even more. Fourth, in terms of their family, there is a broad range of spectrum where some of them, though a minority, were singles and never married, and others who had a handful of children; some over ten. Fifth, these men were eminent in piety and experimental Christianity. They not only preached powerful sermons and wrote excellent books, but they also lived their sermons and books. This last point here from a practical point of view is perhaps the most important. Though we may not have a doctorate or master's degree in divinity, this last point is applicable to everyone. Ray Ortlund Jr wrote aptly, "I like Reformed theology. I believe it's what the Bible teaches. But I don't like Reformed culture. I don't believe it's what the Bible teaches." When the head is bloated with knowledge that stays there without flowing to the heart that results in doxology and gracious lifestyle and treatment toward people, the heart remains small and the result is a nasty spiritual arrogance. As Jonathan Edwards puts it that "true spiritual life was a matter not only of intellectual assent, but also of the affections." (p.200).
If there is one criticism, it would be that this book, while enormous in breadth, yet it is lacking in depth in comparison with Packer's book, which seems to be the opposite; having great depth, yet covering only certain eminent Puritan profiles. But I guess one has to choose either or, and not both since if it were both, this book would have easily grown into a ten-thousand-page monster.
After going through the Puritan profiles, I cannot but be happily intimidated in a good way and humbled as I look at the dwarfishness of my spirituality, discipline, earnestness and service in comparison to these giant, standing-tall redwoods, as J I Packers puts it. Those who believe there is a crisis of the lack of role models today for young people to follow, look no further than the list in this book. My own words are too weak to commend the Puritans. So the best way to describe the kind of impact the Puritans have that Christians today may benefit from, I should quote George Whitefield and JC Ryle who wrote,
"The Puritans [were] burning and shining lights. Their works still praise them in the gates, and without pretending to a spirit of prophecy, we may venture to affirm that they will live and flourish when more modern performances of a contrary cast, notwithstanding their gaudy and tinseled trappings, will languish and die in the esteem of those whose understandings are opened to discern what comes nearest to the Scripture standard" (George Whitefield).
"Their works still speak for them on the shelves of every well-furnished theological library. Their commentaries, their expositions, their treatise on practical, casuistical, and experimental divinity, are immeasurably superior to those of their adversaries in the seventeenth century. The Puritans as a body, have done more to elevate the national character than any class of Englishmen that ever lived (here I should add, not only Englishmen, but also every affected reader). Ardent lovers of civil liberty, and ready to die in its defense, mighty at the council board, and no less mighty in the battlefield, feared abroad throughout Europe, and invincible at home while united, great with their pens, and no less great with their swords (by which Ryle meant the Bible and their intellectual power), fearing God very much and fearing men very little, they were a generation of men who have never received from their country the honor that they deserve" (JC Ryle).
The biographical presentation is in alphabetical order, starting with the British divines. Then we are introduced to the Scots, and also the Netherland divines. There are too many great names, too many immeasurable sacrifices, too many theological contributions to mention - all in one book! Yet I cannot fail to mention the words of John Bunyan, ejected from his pulpit and kept in prison for 12 years for contravening the Act of Uniformity, who knew the cold and damp well at Bedford jail:
'The Almighty God being my help and shield, I am determined yet to suffer, if frail life might continue so long...even till the moss shall grow upon my eyebrows, rather than violate my faith and principles.' p 106
The Marrow Controversy of the 1720's divided the Scottish kirk into the Evangelicals and the Moderates. The Evangelicals, of whom belonged the brothers Erskine, Ebenezer and Ralph, 'emphasized an immediate offer of salvation to sinners who looked to Christ in faith.' p 687 Firstly, the Moderates viewed the Seceders as 'dangerously antinomian' because they taught that the fear of punishment and the promise of reward could not be legitimately used to promote obedience to the law. Secondly, the Seceders, guided by their evangelical understanding of 'an immediate offer of salvation', urged great numbers of sinners to make a decision for Christ there and then. This was usually accomplished by emotional pleas to 'Close with Christ!' Consequently, the Seceders had a different approach to preaching than that of the Moderates and that of the Dutch Calvinists, emphasizing the believer's possession of faith as the possessing of Christ. This became the ground of assurance of faith, and not God's electing grace. Where the Moderates preference had always been for the objective historia salutis, the more experiential Seceders placed their emphasis on the subjective ordo salutis.
Personal Thoughts: I love this book. I have flipped through its pages so many times. This book really helped me to learn who the Puritans were and what exactly I wanted to read based on my own interests and reading levels. Don't get intimidated by the size of this book. Remember that it is primarily a reference tool. I think very much of the Puritans --they've helped me grow in my faith so very much with the help of the Holy Spirit. I truly hope that you would read a Puritan author one day. Start with Thomas Brooks or Richard Sibbes. Things will progress on their own from there...especially if you have the help of this book.
Within this text of almost 900 pages one reads about Puritans like theologian John Owen (Owen, 1616-1683, was one of the finest Reformed theologians in history; pastor and chaplain to Oliver Cromwell; Dean of Christ Church, Oxford): "To preach the word . . . and not to follow it with constant and fervent prayer for its success, is to disbelieve its use, neglect its end, and to cast away the seed of the gospel at random."
This significant book furnishes numerous biographical sketches of important and less known Puritan authors and a review of their works.
Thomas Watson wrote: "To know that nothing hurts the godly, is a matter of comfort; but to be assured that all things which fall out shall co-operate for their good, that their crosses shall be turned into blessings, that showers of affliction water the withering root of their grace and make it flourish more; this may fill their hearts with joy till they run over."
This work is aimed to assist those interested in Puritan books as a key reference work. Thanks be to God for the work of the Puritans and the labor of the modern publishers of their outstanding writings.
Owen adds: "The whole creation is as a garment, wherein the Lord shows his power clothed unto men; whence in particular his said to clothe himself with light as with a garment (Psa. 104:2). And in it is the hiding of his power. Hid it is, as a man is hid with a garment; not that he should not be seen at all, but that he should not be seen perfectly and as his is. It shows the man, and he is known by it; but also it hides him, that he is not perfectly or fully seen. So are the works of creation unto God, he so far makes them his garment or clothing as in them to give out some instances of his power and wisdom; but he is also hid in them, in that by them no creature can come to the full knowledge of him. Now, when this work shall cease, and God shall unclothe or unveil all his glory to his saints, and they shall know him perfectly, see him as he is, so far as a created nature is capable of that comprehension, then will he lay them aside and fold them up, at least as to that use, as easily as a man lays aside a garment that he will wear or use no more."
Thomas Manton (Manton, the king of preachers, gave spiritual counsel to Christopher Love before Love was executed in 1652, he was with Love when he was beheaded and preached his funeral sermon) declared "Works before conversion cannot engage God, and works after conversion can not satisfy God - all the endeavor and labor of the creature will never procure it"
And C. Love said: "Blessed be God that Thou hast filled the soul of Thy servant with joy and peace in believing."
Love added: "Most Glorious and eternal Majesty, Thou art righteous and holy in all thou dost to the sons of men, though thou hast suffered men to condemn Thy servant, Thy servant will not condemn Thee."
Richard Sibbes observed: "When we grow careless of keeping our souls, then God recovers our taste of good things again by sharp crosses."
The one and only John Bunyan proclaimed: "Do not even such things as are most bitter to the flesh, tend to awaken Christians to faith and prayer, to a sight of the emptiness of this world, and the fadingness of the best it yield? Doth not God by these things (ofttimes) call our sins to remembrance, and provoke us to amendment of life? How then can we be offended at things by which we reap so much good?.... Therefore if mine enemy hunger, let me feed him; if he thirst, let me give him drink. Now in order to do this, (1) We must see good in that, in which other men can see none. (2) We must pass by those injuries that other men would revenge. (2) We must show we have grace, and that we are made to bear what other men are not acquainted with. (4) Many of our graces are kept alive, by those very things that are the death of other men's souls.... The devil, (they say) is good when he is pleased; but Christ and His saints, when displeased."
I love this quote from John Mason: "We need not be ashamed of that now, which we are sure we shall not repent of when we come to die."
John Flavel famously said: "A hot iron, though blunt, will pierce sooner than a cold one, though sharper."
S. Charnock noted: "Let us not satisfy ourselves with a knowledge of God in the mass; a glance upon a picture never directs you to the discerning the worth and art of it."
James Durham rightly admonished: "Neither place, parts, nay, nor graces, will exempt any man from falling. O believers, what need is there to be watchful and humble!"
This excellent resource is an outstanding way to begin one's study of the Puritans and their works. This book is also a fine fit for those who desire a more comprehensive and deeper pursuit of Puritan thought.
See the New Book that contends for the existence of God using moral absolutes by Mike Robinson:
There Are Moral Absolutes: How to Be Absolutely Sure That Christianity Alone Supplies
or additionally see the dynamic new book on apologetics that draws from Puritan thought:
[[ "God Does Exist!: Defending the faith using presuppositional apologetics, evidence, and the impossibility of the contrary"]]ASIN:1420827626