Published on May 13, 2019 by Joshua R Monroe

Banner of Truth, 2018 | 167 pages

A Book Review from Books At a Glance

By Andrew Ballitch


Lewis Allen and Tim Chester offer four compelling reasons for why the Puritans remain important today:

  1. The Puritans learned to discover grace in suffering.
  2. The Puritans were committed to learning and education.
  3. The Puritans longed to see the power of gospel transformation.
  4. The Puritans wanted to know God, above all.

The Puritans were serious Christians. Not that they were morose kill-joys, but they really believed that the Bible was the supreme guide for all of life and that Christian faith must impact every aspect of human existence. Regarding the Puritans as a group, the authors argue that “all Christians need to discover the important story of how these men and women sought to follow Jesus Christ. Their convictions resulted in a brave and joyful faith, and the writing they have left us on the Christian life continues to be a rich resource for our own discipleship” (vii).

This book aims to make the resource of the Puritans accessible, by providing brief introductions to various Puritan writings, an edited selection from the works themselves, and suggestions for further reading. The primary sources were self-consciously chosen for their pastoral benefit and to help Christians. As a result, the contents of the book are not obscure theological debates or the various Puritan political agendas, but rather deal with Christian spirituality. There are eleven chapters, the first three are clustered around the assurance of faith and 4–6 seem to handle the theme of trusting God’s providence. The remaining five chapters present some of the Puritan giants and significant Puritan themes.

Here is a breakdown of the chapters.

  1. Richard Sibbes on Assurance
  2. Thomas Goodwin on the Holy Spirit
  3. Samuel Rutherford on Covenant Confidence
  4. William Bridge on Suffering
  5. Jeremiah Burroughs on Contentment
  6. Anne Bradstreet on Loss
  7. John Own on Communion with God
  8. Richard Baxter on Everyday Discipleship
  9. John Bunyan on Faith
  10. John Flavel on Providence
  11. Thomas Boston on the Bible

The list of names reveals some variety. For instance, Sibbes was a semi-conforming Church of England man, Anne Bradstreet was obviously a woman, and Bunyan had Baptist leanings. But most of the Puritans surveyed fit comfortably in the Congregationalist and Presbyterian camps. Thomas Boston, writing in the first quarter of the eighteenth century is a generation too late to be properly considered a Puritan, yet is included as representative of the vision and legacy of Puritanism. This, however, begs the question why no Puritans from the sixteenth century, during the Elizabethan period, were included.

Allen and Chester provide a helpful general introduction, which both hooks the reader, by highlighting the benefit of the Puritans for piety today, and provides some historical context. For the former, they assume an organic connection between Puritanism and evangelicalism, which is historically debatable. For the latter, they briefly and ably narrate the events from Henry VIII’s separation from the Church of Rome in the mid-sixteenth century to the English Civil War in the mid-seventeenth. They then helpfully wade through the upheaval of the 1640s and 1650s, though one gets the impression that the Puritans simply jumped on the opportunity that was the Commonwealth, rather than being partially responsible for the war and execution of king Charles I, which is a bit misleading. Their historical survey ends with a discussion of Puritan marginalization throughout the rest of the seventeenth century.

The small introductions to each chapter are quite useful. They consistently provide some necessary biographical material, as well as the primary purpose or intent of the chosen treatise, sermon, poems, etc. Notes on key themes and historical context also benefit the reader. These introductions also do a good job at showing the connections between these men, illustrating the godly networks that existed. Sibbes, John Preston, and Goodwin all pastoring Trinity Church in Cambridge, for example. Burroughs and Bridge served alongside each other in exile in the Netherlands. And many participated in the Westminster Assembly together. The suggestions for further reading are heavy on primary sources, though some helpful secondary sources are included at times.

Concerning the methodology of their editing, Allen and Chester are explicit about the selections being “gently edited” to make them “more digestible.” This included “reshaping sentences to aid clarity,” “replacing archaic words with contemporary equivalents,” and “adding headings to signpost the argument” (xvi). Upon comparing the edited selection of Baxter’s The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax and Goodwin’s An Exposition of the First Chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians with the editions of the collected works from which they are drawn, it is obvious that Allen and Chester are faithful to their claim of “gentle editing.” They do also add and remove paragraph breaks for readability and fail at times to include ellipses when content is removed. Replacing “earnest” with “deposit,” which is not exactly the same thing, is an example of the inevitable casualties that ensue with updating archaic words.

The subtitle of this little book promises to introduce the Puritans in their own words, and it makes good on that promise. It assumes the reader has zero prior knowledge of the Puritans, and therefore makes for an excellent first step in getting to know this helpful group of Christians from the past. Pastors will find it edifying and those unacquainted with the Puritans will be enlightened. I certainly see myself recommending it to members of my church.


Andrew Ballitch is a pastor at Hunsinger Lane Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He also teaches church history at Boyce College and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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The Glory of Grace: An Introduction to the Puritans in Their Own Words

Banner of Truth, 2018 | 167 pages

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