Why You Should Read the Puritans: Part FourPosted: June 12, 2007
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. Puritan literature is a great help for understanding the vital connection between what we believe with our minds and how that affects the way we live. Jonathan Edwards’s Justification by Faith Alone and William Lyford’s The Instructed Christian are particularly helpful for this.
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. As one Puritan wrote, “We must go with the stick of divine truth and beat every bush behind which a sinner hides, until like Adam who hid, he stands before God in his nakedness.”
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 with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:12). In this, the Puritans excel. If you truly want to learn what sin is and experience how sin is worse than suffering, read Jeremiah Burroughs’s The Evil of Evils and Thomas Shepard’s The Sincere Convert and the Sound Believer.
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.
For books that beautifully balance objective truth and subjective experience in Christianity; books that combine, as J.I. Packer puts it, “clear-headed passion and warm-hearted compassion” (Ryken, Worldly Saints, x); books that inform your mind, confront your conscience, and engage your heart, read the Puritans. Read Vincent Alsop’s Practical Godliness.