As the 2007 year is quickly coming to a close, I wanted to offer a suggestion for this upcoming year. That suggestion would be to get acquainted with the Puritans. Allow me to offer five brief reasons why I believe this would be a worthy thing for you to do.
First, the Puritans had a relentless pursuit of God. In their writings you will find believers who knew their God deeply through a rich God-centeredness that affected every area of their lives. We are living in a day where it is hard to find folks who know their God well. Second, the Puritans were physicians of souls. These men studied themselves and had a real, experimental knowledge of Christianity. Nowhere will you find more “uses” and applications for your life than in their writings. Not only did they know God well, they knew the minds, hearts, and consciences of men well. Third, the Puritans possessed genuine piety because they knew how to fight the fight of faith. These men took direct aim at indwelling sin and fought hard for their personal sanctification. Their writings are incredibly pastoral and at the same time intimately convicting. Fourth, the Puritans were pacesetters in church history. They ran in such a way to win, and whether it is their study of Scripture, commitment to family worship, personal devotion to prayer, or caring for the souls in their community, these men ran and ran hard. Fifthly, reading the Puritans will provide you a healthy perspective so as to prevent chronological snobbery. Let’s face it. It is tempting to read only what is novel, trendy, and popular. Yet it is worthwhile to read books 100 years or older to understand how Christians lived, face struggles, dealt with issues (doctrinal, ecclesiological, ethical, etc.), and experienced God. Frankly speaking, you will not find anything close to Owen, Watson, Brooks, and Baxter on the front shelves of your local bookstore.
So allow me to offer three way to greet the Puritans in 2008.
1. Get a copy of The Valley of Vision and meditate on the prayers as part of your daily devotions. The prayers in this book are some of the most honest and humbling words you will ever read. The authors’ hearts were laid bare before God, and our hearts resonate with such authentic trembling in God’s presence and seeking God’s face.
2. Commit to reading one Puritan Paperback a month. You can do this by blocking out 30 minutes each day (~10 pages) after personal Bible reading as supplementary to your spiritual growth. To make it easy for you, I have created a sample monthly reading list below.
January: The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes (128 pp)
February: The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel (221 pp)
March: The Godly Man’s Picture by Thomas Watson (252 pp)
April: Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks (253 pp)
May: Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ by John Bunyan (225 pp)
June: The Mortification of Sin by John Owen (130 pp)
July: A Lifting Up for the Downcast by William Bridge (287 pp)
August: The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs (228 pp)
September: The True Bounds of Christian Freedom by Samuel Bolton (224 pp)
October: The Christian’s Great Interest by William Guthrie (207 pp)
November: The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter (256 pp)
December: A Sure Guide to Heaven by Joseph Alleine (148 pp)
There are several other great Puritan paperbacks, but I chose these because I wanted to have a different author each month (Owen, Bunyan, Watson, and Brooks have multiple paperbacks). I have front-loaded the reading schedule with some of the more readable Puritans and tried to balance out the topics throughout the year. Outside the Scripture, there is perhaps nothing better for your own soul than to invest in your personal sanctification by developing a reading plan of Puritan paperbacks! (Other books include: Thomas Watson, All Things for Good, The Doctrine of Repentance, The Lord’s Supper, The Great Gain of Godliness; John Owen, The Holy Spirit, The Glory of Christ, Communion with God, Apostasy from the Gospel, Temptation: Resisted and Repulsed, The Spirit and the Church; Thomas Brooks, Heaven on Earth, The Secret Key to Heaven; Richard Sibbes, Glorious Freedom; William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying; John Bunyan, All Loves Excelling, Prayer, The Jerusalem Sinner Saved, The Acceptable Sacrifice; Ralph Venning, The Sinfulness of Sin, Learning in Christ’s School; Robert Traill, Justification Vindicated; and Samuel Rutherford, Letters of Samuel Rutherford.)
3. Read about the lives and stories of the Puritans. There are some amazing parallels from their context to ours. This kind of reading may not be of immediate benefit, but it will serve you well to learn of these men and the historical and ecclesiological context in which they wrote. Some recommended books I have linked below for easier accessibility.
Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke & Randall Pederson (exhaustive biographical list with guide to reprints)
The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors by D.M. Lloyd-Jones (from the last great Puritan himself)
A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life by J.I. Packer (tons of juicy quotes, very rich)
A Guide to the Puritans by Robert P. Martin (solid work with topical and scriptural indices)
Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were by Leland Ryken (really helpful)
English Puritanism: 1603-1689 by John Spurr (good historical work; highly recommended by Packer)
The Reformation of the Church: A Collection of Reformed and Puritan Documents on Church Issues by Iain Murray (breaks down some key ecclesiological issues)
The Genius of Puritanism by Peter Lewis (short but substantive)
The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics by Kelly Kapic and Randall Gleason (contemporary reflections on great Puritan works)
The Puritan Hope: Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy by Iain H. Murray (Puritan eschatology)
Puritan Papers Vol. 1-5, edited by J.I. Packer (five books comprised of a collection of papers presented during 1950s-60s)
So there you have it. Will you consider greeting the Puritans as you welcome 2008? Many of these men have become my closest spiritual advisers, and I hope they become as such to you!
>> UPDATE: Here’s to all who have shared the Puritan vision for 2008!
Steve Burlew (Banner of Truth)
Ryan at Tentpeg
The Conventicle (Chris Ross)
The Puritan Board
Noah D. Lee
The Blue Fish
Liz at a Savior Worth Having
Chris Watson Lee
Andrew and Carolyn