A Book Review from Books At a Glance
By Ryan Speck
Joel Beeke is a well-known pastor, writer, conference speaker, and Seminary President, who is widely recognized in this manifold ministry to focus upon the Puritans.
Michael Reeves also co-authored the Gift Book with Beeke, and Reeves (Ph.D., King’s College, London) is president and professor of theology at Union School of Theology in Oxford.
Nicholas Thompson co-authored the Workbook in this set with Beeke, and Thompson is an MDiv student at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.
Media Gratiae (which is Latin for “means of grace”) produced the 6 DVD’s contained in this set, and “is an independent nonprofit (501c3) multimedia ministry based out of New Albany, Mississippi” whose “desire is to produce film, print, and other media for the glory of Christ and for the good of His Church.”
Gift Book: Following God Fully: An Introduction to the Puritans
Part 1: Who Were the Puritans? (Chapters 1-5)
This classy-looking hardcover and clothbound book introduces the reader to the Puritans, with a design to correct a caricature of their lives and to whet our appetite to read more of their writings. The Puritans were not “Haunted by the fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy” (p. 11). Rather, they were mighty men of God, “great with their pens, and no less great with their swords” (p. 3). “Despite their shortcomings, the Puritans strove to be Calebs (and Joshuas) before God, to follow Him fully in every area of their lives” (p. 8). That was their goal—to continue reforming themselves, the church, and society more and more into conformity with the Word of God. They desired to follow God fully, to live all of life to the glory of God.
After providing a general historical framework for Puritanism, Beeke and Reeves define Puritanism as a term that includes “not only those who were ejected from the Church of England by the Act of Uniformity in 1662, but also those in England and North America who, from the reign of Elizabeth I until around 1700, worked to reform and purify the church and to lead people toward godly living consistent with the Reformed doctrines of grace” (p. 23). Thus, “Puritanism” grew out of a historical framework of civil oppression against the freedom of religion and sought, especially, to continue the work of the Reformation begun in 1517. In his lecture, “Puritans on Politics and Culture,” Greg Salazar claims The Admonition to Parliament in 1572 “was essentially the beginning of the Puritan movement.”
Regarding doctrine, Beeke and Reeves summarize Puritanism as: “a kind of vigorous Calvinism experientially, it was warm and contagious; evangelistically, it was active and urgent, yet tender; ecclesiastically, it was centered on the triune God and His worship and service; politically, it aimed to be scriptural, balanced, and bound by conscience before God in the mutual relations of king, Parliament, and subjects” (p. 24)
Further, Beeke and Reeves explain why we should study Puritans and their writings today. Namely, they were balanced in their doctrine and experienced in their lives. Thus, we can learn much from them, both doctrinally and experientially.
I was, frankly, a bit disappointed by these opening chapters. Having profound respect for Dr. Beeke as the expert on Puritans today, I was expecting a much more clearly defined and concise definition for Puritanism. The doctrinal summary of the Puritans, I should think, is what every reformed Christian strives to be. How, then, is it particular to Puritans? The historical definition is helpful, but, even here, the authors exceed their own definition by including Jonathan Edwards as a Puritan. If Puritanism ended around 1700, how could Edwards (born in 1703) be included as a Puritan? I was hoping for a one or two sentence, concise definition that I could use from this point forward to explain to others what “Puritanism” really is and means. I did not leave this book with such a definition. Perhaps, however, my expectations were wrong? Perhaps this means Puritanism is not so easily defined as I would have hoped? Perhaps Puritanism is not conducive to sound-bite definitions?
Part 2: Puritan Stalwarts (Chapters 6-14)
In this second part, Beeke and Reeves provide brief biographical sketches for significant Puritans. As I read about their lives, I got a glimpse into the experiences that shaped their characters, which, no doubt, informed their writings. I discovered how varied their lives were, especially before conversion. (Perhaps, oddly, as a parent, it gave me fresh hope that I would see my own children come to know and serve the Lord according to His providential timing and pathway.) The Puritans are not stuffy caricatures of men but flesh and blood men as we are with a wide variety of upbringings and experiences. The accounts of their lives endeared me to them and inspired me to read their writings. Therefore, I plan to return to these biographical sketches to refresh my memory before reading one of their writings. Further, at the end of each biography, the writers provide recommended books to read from each Puritan, which is very helpful.
Part 3: The Triune God and His Saving Work (Chapters 15-20)
In each of the following parts (Parts 3-7), Beeke and Reeves summarize the Puritan views on a variety of subjects (the same subjects cited in the subtitles below). Throughout these summaries, Beeke and Reeves provide powerful and heart-warming quotes to illustrate these Puritan beliefs. In each section, therefore, I will highlight a few of these quotes to entice you to enjoy the full book.
- Stephen Charnock, “Nothing of God looks terrible in Christ to a believer. The sun is risen, shadows are vanished, God walks upon the battlements of love, justice hath left its sting in a Savior’s side, the law is disarmed, weapons out of his hand, his bosom open, his bowels yearn, his heart pants, sweetness and love is in all his carriage. And this is life eternal, to know God believingly in the glories of his mercy and justice in Jesus Christ” (p. 68).
- Thomas Manton, “God’s mind is revealed in Scripture, but we can see nothing without the spectacles of the Holy Ghost” (p. 75).
Part 4: A Saved and Holy People (Chapters 21-27)
- William Gurnall, “Faith hath two hands; with one it pulls off its own righteousness and throws it away. With the other it puts on Christ’s righteousness” (p. 88).
- Richard Sibbes, “As when things are cold, we bring them to the fire to heat and melt, so we bring our cold hearts to the fire of the love of Christ. . . . If you will have this tender and melting heart, then use the means of grace; be always under the sunshine of the gospel” (p. 98).
- John Owen taught that “an unbeliever clings to sin willingly while sin clings to the believer against his will” (p. 106).
Part 5: Christ’s Bride (Chapters 28-35)
- The Puritans “put the pulpit rather than the altar at the center of their churches and put preaching rather than the sacraments at the center of their worship” (p. 124).
- The Puritans recognized that “a mindless Christianity quickly fosters a spineless Christianity” (p. 125).
- Thomas Boston, regarding preaching: “The voice is on earth, [but] the speaker is in heaven” (p. 129).
- Joseph Alleine, teaching how you should remember a sermon: “. . . come from your knees to the sermon, and come from the sermon to your knees” (p. 130).
- “In an old Scottish story, a wife asked her husband if the sermon was done when he arrived home. ‘No,’ he replied. ‘It has been said, but it has yet to be done’” (p. 131).
- Thomas Watson: “The word will be effectual one way or the other; if it does not make your hearts better, it will make your chains heavier. . . . Dreadful is their case who go loaded with sermons to hell” (p. 131).
- Richard Baxter, “. . . he preacheth not heartily to his people, that prayeth not earnestly for them” (p. 138).
Part 6: Puritans in Daily Life (Chapters 36-40)
- “When the Puritan Richard Rogers and one of his neighbors were riding horses, the neighbor commented, ‘I like you and your company very well, only you are too precise.’ Rogers explained why. ‘O sir,’ he said, ‘I serve a precise God!’” (p. 146).
- Cotton Mather: “Families are the nurseries for Church and Commonwealth; ruin families and you ruin all” (p. 153).
- The Puritans taught: “Where a man’s desires and gifts come together, there he will find his calling” (p. 159).
- William Tyndale: “There is difference betwixt washing of dishes, and preaching the word of God; but as touching to please God, not at all” (p. 160).
Part 7: The Last Things (Chapters 41-43)
- Jonathan Edwards on Heaven: “All shall stand about the God of glory, the fountain of love, as it were opening their bosoms to be filled with those effusions of love which are poured forth from thence, as the flowers on the earth in a pleasant spring day open their bosoms to the sun to be filled with his warmth and light, and to flourish in beauty and fragrancy by his rays. Every saint is as a flower in the garden of God, and holy love is the fragrancy and sweet odor which they all send forth, and with which they fill that paradise” (p. 164).
- Isaac Ambrose, “Think of Christ as the very substance, marrow, soul, and scope of the whole Scriptures” (p. 172).
- Samuel Rutherford: “Put the beauty of ten thousand thousand worlds of paradises, like the Garden of Eden in one; put all trees, all flowers, all smells, all colors, all tastes, all joys, all loveliness, all sweetness in one. O what a fair and excellent thing would that be? And yet it would be less to that fair and dearest well-beloved Christ than one drop of rain to the whole seas, rivers, lakes, and foundations of ten thousand earths” (p. 172).
I should note, in Part 7, Beeke and Reeves include a section on Puritan faults (found in some Puritans, not necessarily all or most), from which we can learn also, including: insisting upon legalistic practices, revealing intolerant attitudes, practicing or condoning slavery, and conducting witch trials. Finally, Beeke and Reeves conclude this book with an appendix offering advice on where to begin reading the Puritans.
Regarding critique, the reader should note that throughout parts 3-7, summarizing the Puritan beliefs, Beeke and Reeves at times say “the Puritans believed” thus and such, without proving it by careful and exhaustive citation. Or, they note “some Puritans” or “most Puritans” believed thus and such, again, without citing exhaustive lists of who believed what (e.g., pp. 115, 126). Additionally, when they summarize the Puritan beliefs, they are not so much seeking to be exegetical—not seeking to prove these beliefs from the Word of God—as simply presenting those beliefs.
In the end, therefore, you will read this book with pleasure, acquainting yourself with the true Puritans, enjoying their fine quotes, and being enticed to read their writings for yourself. However, this is an introduction; it is not the definitive tome to end all tomes.
Workbook and DVD’s 1-4: To God’s Glory: Lessons on Puritanism
The Workbook begins with a brief summary of Puritanism (very similar to the one in the Gift Book). Then the following 35 lessons in this Workbook are linked to an audio lecture on DVD’s 1-4. The written lessons in the Workbook call for the listener/reader to meditate, learn, reflect, discuss, and read (more) in relation to of each lesson/lecture. For, “The goal of these lessons is not to be ends in themselves, but means to get you to read the Puritans for yourself, if you are not doing so already” (p. 8). In addition, the Workbook and DVD’s were designed “to be useful in a number of different contexts, including personal devotions, homeschooling, study groups, and Sunday School” (p. 7).
The Workbook, however, is linked only to four of the six DVD’s contained in this Deluxe Edition, which four are entitled To God’s Glory: Lessons on Puritanism. In the first set (DVD’s 1-2), the lives of various Puritans are set forth. In the second set (DVD’s 3-4), the views of the Puritans on various topics are recorded. In the third set, entitled All of Life to the Glory of God (confusingly labelled as DVD’s 1-2 also), a variety of special features are provided. In short, the first two sets (DVD’s 1-4) are the main body of this documentary, containing specific lessons on various Puritans or Puritan topics, which are all connected to the Workbook. Discs 5-6 contain additional content on Puritanism (see below).
Each lecture in DVD’s 1-4 opens with the same beautiful scenes (largely) from Britain and classical music designed to cause anticipation of great things to come, concluding with a close-up view of the statue-face of Deacon Samuel Chapin (one of the founders of Springfield, Massachusetts). If I were to nit-pick this beautiful opening, I would say that the scenes flash abruptly from one to the other with no transition and little information. If you were not familiar with these scenes, you would not know what you are seeing. Perhaps subtitles would have been helpful.
Each lecture records an expert on the topic, speaking directly into the camera, which provides the viewer with variety, simplicity, and depth of instruction. The lessons vary in length from approximately nine to twenty minutes. One of the facts that strikes you, as you listen to these DVD’s and read the lessons, is the varied and rich lives the Puritans lived, struggling and experiencing the same trials we do today. In short, these lessons exposit Puritanism in a personal, rich, and endearing manner.
At the end of each lesson in the Workbook, the reader is presented with questions to reflect upon and to discuss. These questions are not checking whether you paid attention, asking you to regurgitate facts. They are deep, thoughtful questions that drive the reader carefully to apply to himself the teaching of each lesson. By both listening to these lectures and reading the lessons in the Workbook, I was challenged, convicted, informed, and warmed. It is difficult to express strongly enough how fantastic these lessons and lectures are and how profitable. With deep conviction of their benefits, I commend them to you heartily.
Disc #1: Perkins to Bunyan
- William Perkins by Stephen Yuille (18:16)
Infamous as a drunkard and impaired in his right hand, this father of Puritanism taught believers to “ascribe all the good we have or can do to the grace of God,” influenced a generation of young preachers to speak plainly and “preach one Christ by Christ to the praise of Christ,” “moulded the piety of a whole nation,” and sparked the Synod of Dordt.
- Richard Sibbes by Mark Dever (8:56)
This stuttering bachelor bookworm was called “the heavenly doctor” because he had “Heaven in him, before he was in heaven.” Sibbes drank deeply of the sweetness of God’s love and grace so that it permeated all of his preaching (from which his books are derived).
- Oliver Cromwell by Michael Haykin (13:01)
The poorest wretch that lived, Lord Protector, to whom the kingship of England was offered, Cromwell was a quintessential Puritan, except he never joined a church. A fierce warrior for liberty of conscience in religion, declaring that “he had rather that Mahometanism [Islam] were permitted amongst us than that one of God’s children should be persecuted.”
- Thomas Goodwin by Joel Beeke (15:50)
Barred from the Lord’s Supper, backslider into empty rhetoric and Arminian theology, disturber of the Westminster Assembly, greater than John Owen, the most Christological of all the Puritans, Goodwin had “a simply awesome theological intellect . . . wielded by the tender heart of a pastor.” He was “the greatest pulpit exegete of Paul that has ever lived,” who defined Christianity “as a habitual sight of [Christ].” He declared that the Bible “doth, as it were, take our hands, and lay them upon Christ’s breast and let us feel how his heart beats and his bowels yearn towards us.”
- Richard Baxter by Joel Beeke and J.I. Packer (24:00)
Taken out of his gambling father’s home—later to be driven to Christ under the influence of his converted father—Baxter struggled with assurance of salvation because he could not pinpoint the moment of his conversion, wrote a book on heaven while looking death full in the face, wrote insightfully on depression (which his wife struggled with), married a wealthy twenty-something-year-old convert at age fifty (whom he outlived), preached “as a dying man to dying men,” devoted two days a week to in-home visitation/counseling (which, he believed, bore more fruit than his preaching), was persecuted such that even his sick-bed was confiscated from under him, who was a strange theological mix, holding a flawed view of justification that offended both Arminians and Calvinists (but did not undermine his pastoral writings to any serious degree), and was “the most outstanding pastor, evangelist, and writer on practical and devotional themes that Puritanism produced.”
- John Owen by Sinclair Ferguson (17:41)
Entering Oxford at 12 years old, sleeping an average of 4 hours a night, refusing to wear the robe and cap of a professor as it smelled of Roman Catholicism, losing 10 out of his 11 children before they attained adulthood, Owen focused upon the importance of the Trinity suffused throughout Scripture as the very essence of the Christian life, the importance of beholding the glory of Christ as the greatest privilege and advancement in this life and the next, and the necessity to kill sin, lest it be killing you—he was “probably the greatest of the Puritan thinkers” and “the Prince of the Puritans” whose writings remain enormously relevant today.
- Christopher Love by Geoff Thomas (10:38)
Executed under the reign of Cromwell, tipping his own executioner, and reminded by his wife on the eve of his death that God “will be a husband to thy widow and a father to thy children,” Love “lived too much in heaven to live long out of heaven.”
- John Bunyan by Derek Thomas (14:07)
A tinker who once confessed jealousy of animals, running away from home to join the army, coming under profound conviction of sin, having Bibline blood (i.e., bleeding forth Biblical knowledge), and imprisoned for his faith, Bunyan found that the most vexing part of his imprisonment was separation from his family (especially from his blind daughter), which separation Bunyan described as if “pulling of the flesh from my bone.” Yet, to suffer rightly, he knew he must “pass a sentence of death upon everything that can be properly called a thing of this life.” John Owen said he would give up all his learning to preach one sermon like Bunyan, helping Bunyan publish his most famous work, The Pilgrim’s Progress, which Bunyan wrote in prison, teaching not only that the Christian life is a pilgrim life but “that the pilgrim journey is to be made in the context of the local church.”
Disc #2: Flavel to Lloyd-Jones
- John Flavel by Brian Cosby (14:22)
Known on occasion to dress as a woman, married four times, Flavel is “the most uniformly interesting, engaging and refreshing writer on religion, ancient or modern.” He is known for emphasizing keeping the heart, which “is a hungry and restless thing” that “will have something to feed upon.” Thus, Christians must by prayer learn to “let forth their hearts to God,” knowing that “God lets forth his comforts and refreshments into their hearts.” God does not “patronize sloth and carelessness.” Therefore, the Christian must keep his heart “by a frequent examination of the heart, humble repentance of heart-sin, ardent prayer for purifying grace, close study and meditation of the Scriptures, and constant awareness of God’s presence.”
- Matthew Henry by William VanDoodeward (19:48)
Known for his commentary on the entire Scripture, Henry believed “Christianity is characterized by a whole-Bible exposition and whole-souled prayer” and that “It is better to be without bread in your house than without Bibles.” He recognized that “When God intends great mercy for His people . . . the first thing He does is set them a-praying.”
- American Puritans by Stephen Nichols (17:48)
“The five Johns of American Puritanism” proved that true Calvinists have zeal for evangelism, by facing dangers and hardships to evangelize Native Americans especially. “Through translating the Word into the native tongue (Eliot), founding an American colony upon the Word (Davenport), proclaiming the Word from the pulpit (Tennent and Brainerd), and translating the preached Word (Wauwaumpequunnaunt), these men evidenced a passion for the Scriptures and for making the true God known to lost mankind.”
- Jonathan Edwards by Joe Rigney (12:54)
Known as “the profoundest reasoner and greatest divine . . . that America produced,” the only boy amongst ten sisters, spending thirteen hours a day in his study, “fueled by a passion for God’s glory,” preaching during a time of revival and unable to complete a sermon because of the uproar of conviction, called “pre-eminently the theologian of revival,” Edwards was cast out of his church and ministered to Indians and wrote fruitfully during this time. Edwards was known to emphasize the stark Creator-creature distinction and the enjoyment of God and “was the greatest in his attribute of regnant, permeating, irradiating spirituality.” He died refuting anti-vaxxers.
- Katherine Willoughby and Anne Bradstreet by Michael Haykin (17:21)
“Willoughby and Bradstreet are shining examples of the many fearless, wise, and gracious women who labored during the Puritan era,” who “evidenced a willingness to die for the sake of Reformation truth,” proving “true femininity is not weak, but tough and heroic in Christ’s service.” They were “exemplary wives and mothers,” and certainly did not have “squirrel brains”!
- Gisbertus Voetius and Wilhelmus à Brakel by Joel Beeke (19:12)
Emphasizing the need for “precision” and continuing reform (not of doctrine but of life) that “needed to penetrate more intimately into personal lives, the church’s worship, and society as a whole,” “[f]ew men have in any age exercised greater influence over the church of their time and country” as Voetius and Brakel. Brakel prefaced his accessible and devotional Systematic Theology volumes with this prayer: “May it be to the conversion of the unconverted, the instruction of the ignorant, the restoration of backsliders, the encouragement of the discouraged, as well as to the growth of faith, hope, and love in all who have become partakers of a measure of grace.”
- Samuel Rutherford by Ian Hamilton (18:09)
Accused of fornication, exiled for his faith, and later accused of treason, Rutherford was “a flawed Christian,” “a man of extremes,” and “one of the greatest ministers of the Scottish church,” which he called “my harlot.” Often rising at 3 a.m. for hours of prayers and meditation on the Word, Rutherford confessed, “Next to Christ I had but one joy—to preach Christ my Lord.” Rutherford recognized the purpose of suffering, declaring that “Grace withereth without adversity.” Therefore: “Why should I tremble at the plough of my Lord that maketh deep furrows on my soul? I know He is no idle husbandman; He purposed a crop.” Although “some of his writings are almost impenetrable,” Spurgeon declared his Letters to be “the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men.”
- Martyn Lloyd-Jones by Jason Meyer (13:52)
Experiencing poverty at an early age, Lloyd-Jones gave up a lucrative medical career to become a poor minister, declaring that he “gave up nothing” but “received everything” because he counted “it the highest honor that God can confer on any man to call him to be a herald of the gospel.” Having “doctrinal steel,” he continued a worship service, even as a bomb fell nearby, shaking the building and covering him in dust. Being “profoundly influenced by Puritanism,” he “sought to spread it far and wide in the twentieth century,” by establishing a Puritan Conference and helping to form The Banner of Truth Trust to re-publish Puritan works. For, by reading the Puritans, “we may be crushed to our knees with a sense of humility and be made to cry to God that He would visit us again.” He emphasized need for revival to focus on God, not man, and he emphasized the primacy of the church, writing: “If we fail to put the doctrine of the church in a central position we are departing from the true Puritan attitude, the Puritan outlook, the Puritan spirit, and the Puritan understanding.” Lloyd-Jones “will stand as one of the greatest preachers of all time.”
Disc #3 The Westminster Assembly to Puritans on Work and Money
- The Westminster Assembly by Chad Van Dixhoorn (18:40)
According to Richard Baxter, “the Christian world since the days of the apostles had never a synod of more excellent divines . . . than this Synod and the Synod of Dort.” Officially lasting a decade, meeting approximately 1,400 times: “The Westminster Confession of Faith is one of the most influential documents of the Christian Church. It remains the fullest and most carefully constructed brief exposition of the Christian faith ever written” and remains perhaps “the wisest of creeds in its teaching and the finest in its doctrinal expression.” The Assembly produced approximately 140 other documents, including one on worship, of which John Murray writes, “In the Directory for Public Worship, we have one of the finest fruits of the Assembly. . . . Nothing in human literature will afford us better instruction in the dignity and decorum that ought to characterize the public worship of God.”
- Puritans on Regeneration and Conversion by John Snyder (13:15)
“Regeneration was investigated and explained in Puritanism as never before or since.” “Man is unable to come to Christ because he is unwilling to come to Christ, and he is unwilling to come to Christ because he hates Christ.” Therefore, men must plead with God in prayer for regeneration and attend diligently upon the preaching of the Word especially. “As the minister speaks to the ear, Christ speaks, opens, and unlocks the heart at the same time.” It is not mere baptism or knowledge that regenerates: “An evangelical head will be but drier fuel for eternal burning.” The Spirit must work “sweetly overpowering their wills, making them willing to come unto him,” until they cry: “Give us Christ, or else we die.” Watch the lesson to learn how the Puritans distinguished regeneration from conversion and the various experiences of regeneration!
- Puritans on Conscience by David Murray (21:20)
The Puritans “believed [the conscience] to be a universal faculty of human nature by which God established His authority in the soul for men to judge themselves rationally.” To inform the conscience, both to convict or to soothe, the Puritans developed biblical counseling (casuistry), taking the Law and the Gospel and applying it to specific situations so that men could live with a peaceful conscience. “All actions that please God, must be done in faith; therefore all actions that please God, must have some ground and direction in the word of God, without which word of God there can be no faith.” Therefore, the Puritans called upon ministers, from the pulpit and in private, specifically to apply God’s Word to believers. Likewise, every individual should audit his own conscience daily: “Let every man keep an audit within doors, every day cast up our accounts, every day draw the blood of Christ over our accounts.” May we experience a peaceful conscience in Christ, lest we hear its sharpened and relentless voice in hell—the worm that never dies.
- Puritans on Zeal by James LaBelle (16:49)
Christian zeal is “a sacred flame lit by God in the soul, which sets all the affections on fire for God and results in all of life being lived for His glory.” Zeal burns up the great enemies of holiness, namely, love of pleasure, love of self, and love of ease. True zeal is marked by love for God, is ruled by Scripture, is devoted to good works, and cares for others. Sacred zeal “causes all of our graces to reach beyond the mere doing of a thing to the fullest expression of the whole person and heart.” Without zeal, “our obedience is no warmer than a painted fire,” which is obnoxious to the God Who loves adverbs. Among other means, the believer must bring his smoldering flax of zeal to church to hear sermons, which are “bellows” ordained by God to blow upon and enflame the believer’s zeal. Likewise, the believer must have fellowship to stir up zeal: “Can one coal alone keep itself glowing?”
- Puritans on Suffering and Providence by Brian Cosby (13:47)
“God’s rod . . . is a pencil to draw Christ’s image more lively on us.” Sanctified sufferings come through the veins of Christ. We have more reason to lament our dead hearts than our dead friends. Are afflictions a proper excuse to focus upon ourselves and ignore others? Should we avoid suffering at all costs? Can Godliness save us from afflictions? Should we be “mute and silent” under afflictions, or is there a proper way to “vent our questions and struggles” to God? Such are the questions the reader/hearer is confronted with in this lesson.
- Puritans on Marriage by Joel Beeke (18:14)
Since God solemnized marriage Himself, it has greater honor than all other ordinances, being, likewise, “a covenant with God which He witnesses and seals.” The ultimate duty in marriage is love, “without which it is no more itself, than a carcase [sic] is a man.” Regarding submission and headship, Matthew Henry explained it well, noting how Eve was made from Adam’s rib: “not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.” Men should profess the reason for marrying a woman to be the desire to wash her by the Word so that in the Day of Judgment she would be clean before God.
- Puritans on Family by Joel Beeke (19:09)
“Families are the nurseries for Church and Commonwealth; ruin families and you ruin all.” “Puritan parents were fully engaged with their children throughout their entire growing up, training them, nurturing them, molding them in the fear of God with the realization that on the day of judgment they would have to give an account of their parental stewardship.” Thus, Puritans “made it a law that parents must teach their children to read so that they could read the Bible.” In fact, the New England Primer taught the ABC’s of theology: “from A, ‘In Adam’s Fall, we sinned all,’ to Z, ‘Zacchaeus, he did climb the Tree, his Lord to see.” Yet, “Experience teaches us that children learn more from countenance, gesture, and behavior than by rule, doctrine, or instruction.” Thus, parents were to set a Godly example by their own lives for their children to follow.
- Puritans on Education by Leland Ryken (15:02)
“Education for the Puritans was not optional but essential,” especially the liberal arts (because of the doctrine of common grace). Melancthon said: “Some teach absolutely nothing out of the sacred Scriptures. Some teach the children absolutely nothing but the sacred Scriptures. Both of which are not to be tolerated.” “To surrender any of arts and sciences was unthinkable.” “The Puritans wished to educate the whole person for all of life.” “Where ignorance reigns, there reigns sin.” Thus, they industriously founded many schools, such as Harvard, which had this founding rule: “Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ.” For this reason, one Puritan advised parents not to send their children to any educational institution in which the Bible was not supreme. Accordingly, the Puritans “stood strongly against the anti-intellectual tides within the church.”
- Puritans on Work and Money by Leland Ryken (15:52)
The Puritans believed a revolutionary doctrine, namely: “All legitimate work was ultimately from God, to be carried out by faith in God, to the end of the glory of God.” Every proper vocation is divinely imposed upon each person to glorify God, to serve the public good, and to meet one’s own physical needs (in that order). Therefore, each person’s work “is inherently sacred.” “Is your business here clogged with any difficulties and inconveniences? Contentment under those difficulties is no little part of your homage to that God who hath placed you where you are.” The Puritans rejected both laziness and excessive work (i.e., the workaholic). Even work should be undertaken in moderation. For, the love of money is sin, right? “Because it is from God, money is inherently good.” In fact, “all love of riches is not sin.” Yet, men must be warned that money is dangerous to the soul: “Riches do make it harder for a man to be saved.” However, men may use money with great benefit for the glory of God and the good of others. “Do you see your labor and wealth as lent to you by the Lord as a sacred trust?”
Disc #4: Puritans on Shepherding to Practical Conclusions
- Puritans on Shepherding by William VanDoodeward (19:25)
“All churches either rise or fall as the minister doth rise or fall.” The task of the shepherd is threefold, following the anointed offices of Christ: (1) As prophet, the minister’s first task “is to feed the sheep with the saving and soul-nourishing Word of God,” along with evangelism, visitation, and counseling. (2) As a priest, the minister must pray: “To preach the word, therefore, 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.” (3) As king, “Ministers are entrusted with the keys of the kingdom by which they have authority, under Christ, to grant people entrance into the church and shut people out of the church (Matt. 16:19).” Therefore, “how persistently ought you to be in praying for your shepherd?” Listen to the lecture to learn how gospel ministers and civil governors can work together to shepherd God’s people!
- Puritans on Preaching by Joel Beeke (15:58)
By “biblical, doctrinal, experiential, and practical preaching, reformation and revival spread among the people of God” during the Puritan “golden age of preaching.” The Puritans insisted that preaching is central, replacing “the altar, which had for centuries occupied the dominant place in the worship of God’s people” with the pulpit. For, the call to preach is the highest calling in this world, and the second greatest gift (second only to the Holy Spirit). Every sermon either brings you closer to heaven or closer to hell. Thus, the Puritans preached “with the stick of divine truth” to “beat every bush behind which a sinner hides” in order to leave sinners naked before God that they might cry out to be clothed in Christ’s righteousness. “Starched oratory may tickle the brain, but it is plain truth that informs the judgment, that convicts the conscience, that bows the will and wins the heart.” “We are not sent to get galley-slaves to the oars, or a bear to the stake: but He sends us to woo you as spouses, to marry you to Christ.” “An all-consuming love for Christ and His people were the two great passions which undergirded Puritan preaching.”
- Puritans on Church and Worship by Derek Thomas (14:10)
“To desire worship as an end, is carnal . . . [to desire] communion with God in it, is spiritual, and the fruit of a spiritual life,” that is, to be ravished with the excellency of God. Corporate worship was regulated by God’s Word so that it “was not only founded upon the Scriptures, but also saturated in the Scriptures. . . . reading the Word, praying the Word, singing the Word, preaching the Word, and seeing the Word in the Sacraments.” The Sabbath was the day of worship: “He that keeps the Sabbath only by resting from his ordinary work, keeps it but as a beast.” Likewise, the Puritans rejected set liturgies: “to imprison and confine by force, into a pinfold of set words, those two most unimprisonable things, our prayers and that Divine Spirit of utterance that moves them, is a tyranny.” The congregation must work diligently to be fully engaged in every aspect of worship: “Do you receive the Word meekly, pray earnestly, sing joyously, and partake of the sacraments believingly?” Such worship was “one of the most important legacies of Puritanism.”
- Puritans on Sabbath by Greg Salazar (17:24)
“There are no Christians in all the world comparable for the power of godliness and heights of grace, holiness, and communion with God, to those who are more strict, serious, studious and conscientious in sanctifying the Lord’s Day . . . . The true reason why the power of godliness is fallen to so low an ebb, both in this and other countries also, is because the Sabbath is not more strictly and conscientiously observed.” As part of God’s moral, creational Law, the Sabbath is set apart for the activity of worship: “Idleness is a sin every day: but much more on the Lord’s Day.” For the Puritans, the Sabbath was “a taste of heaven on earth,” meant not to be a burden but a blessing, a day of refreshment. Thus, they reveled in this day and praised this gift from God: “Hail thou that are highly favored of God, thou golden spot of the week, thou market-day of souls, thou daybreak of eternal brightness, thou queen of days, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among days. . . . Oh the mountings of mind, the ravishing happiness of heart, the solace of soul, which on thee enjoy in the blessed Saviour!” “Do you delight in the Lord’s Day?” “Do you take time to prepare your heart for the Lord’s Day?”
- Puritans on Evangelism and Mission by Joel Beeke (21:07)
Puritans zealously yearned for the conversion of sinners, and their methods of evangelism were preaching and catechizing. Their evangelistic zeal and methods were grounded upon their theology and personal piety. Their evangelism was robustly Biblical and God-centered. They spoke plainly of the full heinousness of man’s sin to “rip up the consciousnesses of men and women” and then proclaimed “Christ in His ability, willingness, and preciousness as the only Redeemer of lost sinners.” Richard Baxter, during his 20-year ministry, counted 600 converts, none of whom had forsaken the faith. For the Puritans, evangelism was not merely getting people to Christ but continuing to catechize them and keep them in Christ. They relied upon the work of the Holy Spirit for conversions, not upon themselves: “God never laid it upon thee to convert those he sends thee to. No; to publish the gospel is thy duty.” Thus, the Puritans prayed earnestly for conversions: “If we prevail not with God to give them faith and repentance, we shall never prevail with them to believe and repent.”
- Puritans on Awakening and Revival by John Snyder (12:03)
“Puritanism was, at its heart, a movement of spiritual revival.” What is revival? It is not the suspension of the ordinary means of grace (in favor of new methods) but remarkable effusions of the Spirit that attend the ordinary means of grace. “God hath had it much on his heart, from all eternity, to glorify his dear and only-begotten son; and there are some special seasons that he appoints to that end, where he comes forth with omnipotent power to fulfill his promise . . . to him.” How does revival begin? It begins with prayer: “when God is about to accomplish great things for his church, he will begin by remarkably pouring out the spirit of grace and supplication.” It leads to “an insatiable hunger for preaching.” Laurence Chaderton had preached for 2 hours, saying, “I will no longer trespass upon your patience” to his congregation. To which, they responded: “For God’s sake, go on, go on.” Thus, revival brings many conversions and the deep assurance of salvation because the Spirit accelerates the work of spiritual growth. Armed with the knowledge of this lesson, we can answer questions such as these: “Why can’t we manufacture revival and put it on our calendars?” and “What role do corporate prayer meetings play in revival?” When churches throughout the land spontaneously begin to pray earnestly that God would revive us again, that His people may rejoice in Him, let us grow in excited anticipation of the imminent and remarkable effusion of the Spirit once again!
- Puritans on Politics and Culture by Greg Salazar (19:32)
The Admonition to Parliament in 1572 “was essentially the beginning of the Puritan movement.” “The Puritans were desirous of bringing all of life under the lordship of Christ. Thus, they sought reform, not only within the church, but in the wider cultural and political scene. This pursuit was rooted in their belief that God rules over the kingdoms of this world and that His Word is authoritative in all spheres of life.” The Puritan submitted to the civil government, therefore, “yet did he distinguish between authority and lusts of magistrates.” And, when the Puritan was obliged to disobey, he submitted to the civil penalties for so doing. In order to continue preaching, many Puritans were “diplomatic,” agreeing to wear vestments, to accept an episcopal form of church government, and not to denounce publicly the errors of the Anglican church—as they sought reform within the system. They sought to use the civil government to accomplish their reforms, but they were willing to die rather than compromise on certain points. Are you?
- Puritans on Paedobaptist Covenant Theology by Mark Jones (18:08)
“The English Puritans by and large believed that all true theology was based on some form of a divine covenant.” This section provides a fine summary of covenant theology, emphasizing Christ as our Covenant Head and the unity of the covenants. “Believers under the old economy partook of the same covenant of grace as those under the new, and thus formed a singular people of God.” However, I am not sure why the word “Paedobaptist” was used in the title. If you are expecting (as I was) teaching on paedobaptism, you will be disappointed. Also, Mark Jones, while his lesson was exceptional in content, could have been a bit more animated.
- 17th Century Baptist Covenant Theology by Jeremy Walker (21:53)
Although a minority, “some Puritan ministers and theologians eventually rejected their previous practice of baptizing the infants of believing parents.” While they agreed in large measure with their paedobaptist brethren on covenant theology—and both sides “in their best moments” pursued unity—they distinguished between the physical and spiritual descendants of Abraham. Thus, circumcision was physically applied to the physical seed, but spiritual circumcision only to the spiritual seed. This distinction (of physical vs. spiritual) means today, with regard to baptism, that only the spiritual seed should be baptized. Yet, both sides regarded covenant theology as of critical importance when considering the doctrine of baptism. Your view of baptism grows out of your view of circumcision as a covenantal sign.
- Practical Conclusions by Joel Beeke (13:59)
Beeke concludes by providing ten lessons we can learn from the Puritans and by an inspiring exhortation to us as Christians. For, “We need the inward disposition of the Puritans—the authentic, biblical, intelligent piety they possessed in our hearts, lives, and churches.” I give you simply one quote from this section: “They do not love Christ who love anything more than Christ.” May we learn, with and by the Puritans, truly to love our Triune God, as revealed especially in His Son, with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength; for, “following Christ is always worth the price!”
Bonus Material DVD’s 5-6: All of Life to the Glory of God
Disc #1: Puritan: All of Life to the Glory of God (app. 2 hours of content)
Steven Lawson: “The trouble with preachers today is nobody wants to kill them anymore.” That was not true of the Puritans! They believed the day of their death was better than the day of their birth. This interesting, informative, and edifying DVD could easily be viewed and understood on its own. Yet, it summarizes and reviews much of the content from the rest of this Deluxe Edition, interspersed with new speakers, additional information, and beautiful scenes (of the places discussed). This DVD focuses especially upon the history of Puritanism, tracing it from its Dawn to its Legacy. It consists of seven chapters: The Dawn, The Marks, The Architects, the Scattering, The Waxing and Waning, The Re-Awakening, and The Legacy of Puritanism. As the previous DVD’s, this inspiring DVD is well done, contains edifying information, and its content is provided by notable speakers. It is a great introduction and vindication of the Puritans that could easily be given on its own as a gift to a visual learner or Puritan skeptic (willing to devote two hours to the subject).
Disc #2: Special Features (over 3½ hours of additional content)
This DVD is divided into material from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and from Media Gratia. Puritan Seminary’s material consists of Dr. Sinclair Ferguson speeches, given as a tour guide at Bunhill Fields. These talks are very short, app. 2-3 minutes long. Primarily, Ferguson is exhorting us to read Puritan books.
Media Gratia’s section is essentially giving you tastes of various other documentaries it has produced, wanting you to buy those documentaries as well. Accordingly, it provides one lesson from Behold Your God: The Weight of Majesty, which is a 13-week DVD course (with workbook) presenting various figures of church history. Further, it provides one podcast from the Behold Your God Podcast, discussing evangelism. DVD 6, likewise, records a featurette of the documentary, Logic on Fire: The Life and Legacy of Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones. Finally, this DVD includes a trailer for the documentary, Matthew Henry: The Life and Times of the Bible Commentator. Judging from the quality and content of the Puritan DVD series (and these enticing appetizers), all of these other videos would be worth seeing.
Again, I heartily commend this Series to you. It is most beneficial and edifying. Especially the 35 lessons on Puritanism (from DVD’s 1-4 and the Workbook) are profoundly moving and edifying. If you are looking for more information on the Puritans to teach your congregation about the Puritans, to challenge someone’s assumptions about the Puritans, or to provide devotional lessons for yourself, this is the perfect material for you!
Ryan Speck is Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Columbia, MO, and is Review Editor for Theology here at Books At a Glance.