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The Benefits of Reading the Puritans

James La Belle

Coming into the Reformed Faith out of the Pentecostalism of the Bible belt and the false teaching of the Word of Faith movement with “Dad” Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, and Benny Hinn, I was starving for trustworthy commentaries and biblical interpreters; but I didn’t know where to find them. I had just read the Bible through for the first time in my life and was confronted with the many errors in my belief system and with many truths in Scripture which I’d never been taught. I didn’t know where to go from there, but I knew I couldn’t in good conscience continue as a pentecostal, word-of-faith, Arminian dispensational believer.

Although I cared nothing for reading, in God’s gracious providence my dear friend Dan put a book into my hands for which I will be eternally grateful. It was Boettner’s Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. It radically affected me and opened my eyes to the analogy of faith (using Scripture to interpret Scripture) and to the Reformed Faith—which I believe with all my heart is, as Warfield said, “Christianity comes into its own.” I’d never seen anyone listen to Scripture the way Boettner did. He treated it as the authoritative Word of God and simply let it speak—even if it meant demolishing one’s preconceived notions and biases. He didn’t manipulate it to make it fit his thinking. He didn’t avoid its difficult sayings and tensions. He let Scripture stand as God had given it, let clear passages govern unclear ones, and left the secret things in the hands of God. I’d never seen hermeneutics like that before and at the end of the book was driven by two questions: “Who taught him? What authors was he reading?” I wanted to learn from the teachers who’d taught him to understand and exegete the Word of God as he had in his book. I wanted to read the books he’d read. So I turned to his bibliography—and that’s where I was introduced to writers like Warfield, Hodge, Dabney, Berkhof, and Kuyper.

That same thought that drove me all those years ago to learn from my teacher’s teachers is the very thought that’s propelling the production of a massive “top-shelf” DVD project entitled Puritan: All of Life to the Glory of God (puritandocumentary.com) by Media Gratiae (who brought us Logic on Fire and Behold your God) and Reformation Heritage Books. The boxset includes 3 DVDs (Disc 1, a 2-hr documentary on the significance of the Puritans; Discs 2 and 3, 17 sessions on key Puritans and 17 sessions on important Puritan themes), a workbook, a book introducing the Puritans, and more.

We all read and listen—with joy and edification, I might add—to men such as John MacArthur, Steven Lawson, Geoff Thomas, J. I. Packer, John Piper, Joel Beeke, Kevin DeYoung, Mark Dever, Sinclair Ferguson, Al Mohler, Ian Hamilton, Michael Haykin, Derek Thomas, Stephen Yuille, and Chad Van Dixhoorn. And as we’ve listened to these men exposit the Bible, apply the truth, preach the Word, and teach theology, haven’t we asked the questions, “Who taught them? Who are they reading?” In a spectacular and thorough way, this DVD project seeks to give this answer: “The Puritans are the writers whom the preachers and teachers you love so much are reading—and you should be reading them too.“ Let me cut to the chase and recommend you order two copies of this boxset, one for yourself and one for your church library.

My own love for the Puritans came thanks to a recommendation Iain Murray gave at the 2007 Banner of Truth Conference in Pennsylvania. He was promoting Brooks’ The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod. Although I knew of their importance and had a few of the classic texts, I had only dabbled into the Puritans at that point. But Murray’s recommendation was so appealing that I left home with vol. 1 of Brooks’ Works. It’s an understatement to say that the hundred page Mute Christian changed my life. It was my first year in the pastorate and I felt the need for two things: (1) mentors for the grand task of pastoral ministry and (2) satiating soul-food to replenish the constant outflow in my ministry to others. “Pastor” Brooks’ treatise on quiet, patient, and trusting suffering did more for my soul and heart than anything I’d ever read. I immediately ordered the remaining volumes of his Works, along with the Works of Bunyan, Manton, Sibbes, Swinnock, and—over time—dozens of others. The more I read the Puritans, the more I found my soul satisfied, my love for Christ grow, my zeal enflamed, my life changed, my congregation and family blessed, and my entire ministry strengthened. Being fully aware of their fallibility as men and their being men of their time, I took the Puritans as my mentors and fed my soul on their writings. They’ve had a tremendous influence on my life and ministry and I thank God for the many blessings that I’ve enjoyed from studying them.

Here are some of the reasons why I find their writings to be so helpful and why I highly recommend them to you.

  1. Their writings are biblically saturated. As Spurgeon said of Bunyan, if you prick a Puritan he’ll bleed Bibline.
  2. Their writings are Christ-centered and Christ-exalting. They bring everything back to Christ, showing Him to be a complete Savior who completely saves.
  3. They understand sin and the sinfulness of the human heart. Their writings drive the sinner out of all his hiding places and leave him no other refuge but in Christ alone.
  4. They give a clarion call to intentional holiness, calling God’s people to walk in the good works prepared for them, all the while maintaining that true holiness is a work of the Spirit which we enjoy by faith in Christ and pursue out of a love for God—which makes them haters of legalism and lovers of the law of Christ.
  5. They constantly press the comforts of the gospel onto the consciences of the weak and doubting believer, rehearsing the themes of free grace, full grace, relentless grace, grace all-sufficient for all our sin-troubled days.
  6. They teach how to walk through suffering with patience, joy, gratitude, and faith.
  7. They’re exemplary in preaching the whole counsel of God to the whole man, aiming at head, heart, and hand, seeking to awaken the conscience, stir the affections, and change the life.
  8. They believed in the sufficiency of the Word of God for life, for ministry, for counseling, for evangelism, for all things.

The writings of the Puritans are a spiritual, Christ-centered, soul-satisfying feast. I pray you’ll make room for them on your reading list. You’ll be glad you did.

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