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Friday, December 16, 2011

Living in the Light of the Cross: Puritan Writing

Joel Beeke offers nine ways reading Puritan literature aids Christian spiritual growth. (See excerpt below.) Many, many of these works are now available in reprint and a number have been updated to modern English. I previously posted a recommendation for the modern English version of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Several of you borrowed or purchased it and have since mentioned to me how valuable it proved to be as both an evangelistic tool and as a spur to your own spiritual walk. Take advantage of these modern language versions if the original language is more than you care to handle! 

Beeke has co-authored a guide to Puritan literature called Meet the Puritans. It offers biographical and background information to various Puritan authors and their works, as well as a list of what is currently available, with a synopsis of each book. [Reformation Press is offering it at almost half price for a limited time! Just click on the above title.]

 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.

2. Puritan writings show how to integrate biblical doctrine into daily life.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 him with whom we have to do” (Heb.4:12-13).
  • 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.
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.” If you would know Christ better and love Him more fully, immerse yourself in Puritan literature.

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. 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.

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. 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).

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.

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.”

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.

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).

[Beeke's entire post may be found here.]

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