New Books On The Puritans
Almost ten years ago J. I. Packer‘s collection of articles and essays on the Puritans appeared, entitled in Great Britain, Among God’s Giants (Kingsway Publications, 447 pages). Many of the papers had been given at the Puritan Conference, and there were a number of other articles, not readily available to us before the appearance of this treasure. One does not expect the history of the Puritans which was hoped for and even announced in the 1960’s but we are thankful for that book.
Now two other useful publications have appeared on this same theme. The first is a booklet entitled, Why Read the Puritans Today? (Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1999, 18 pp.) and is written by the Rev Don Kistler the overall editor of Soli Deo Gloria Publications. He tells us this:
There is an encouraging resurgence of interest in the Puritans and their writings in our day. There are several reasons for it. One is that people are getting tired of religion offering things it can’t deliver. Promises are made, but people come to those promises out of self-interest; and when the things promised don’t materialize they are disappointed. Second, some people are tired of shallow, superficial religion. Most people don’t worship God because the God they hear about really isn’t worth worshipping. He is not the ‘high and lofty one.’ He is not the ‘Lord God omnipotent who reigneth forever and ever.’ He is just ‘my friend,’ and familiarity in this arena surely breeds contempt!
In the Puritans, people are finding men who were passionate and obsessed with the knowledge of God. They will elevate your concept of God to a degree you probably never thought possible, and show you a God who is truly worthy of your worship and adoration. Jeremiah Burroughs, in his classic book Gospel Worship, said ‘The reason why we worship God in a slight way is because we do not see God in his glory.’ The modern man hears about a god who isn’t worth worshipping. Why should he worship a God who wants to do good, but can’t bring good about because man just won’t cooperate? And then who is sovereign? Man is!
Perhaps a warning of sorts is necessary at this point. Once you begin to read the Puritans, you may find yourself in a spiritual sense, somewhat lonely. You will begin to be excited about what you are reading and what you are feeling in your heart, and then you will notice that there aren’t many others who know what you are talking about. And that can be lonely indeed! When you begin to have Isaiah’s vision of God from Isaiah 6, and you realize that the reality of God is infinitely beyond anything your mind can fully comprehend, you’ll realize that the average man doesn’t think much about God at all, much less at the deep level you are thinking.
One of the reasons we think so poorly is because we read so little. Reading helps us to think; and we live in a photographic culture now instead of a typographic culture. Most communicating is done through pictures, videos, and movies. The work of thinking is all done for us, and therefore we are not forced to wrestle with concepts. Someone else interprets the matter for us in pictures. In the Puritan day, words were frozen on a page and forced you to deal with the thoughts expressed.
The modern writer Neil Postman has dealt with this extensively in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death. He shows the important relationship between reading and thinking. The Puritans were, above all, great thinkers; and it is no coincidence that they were also great readers.
The second book is written by a long time lover and advocate of Puritanism, Erroll Hulse, and it is entitled Who Are the Puritans . . . And What Do They Teach? (Erroll Hulse, Evangelical Press, 2000, 220 pages). He says about the ongoing influence of the Puritans. Whatever I write on the revival of Puritan literature today will be out of date very soon because the printing presses are constantly at work with new translations and newly edited and revised Puritan works. Readers who desire to read the Puritans should write and request catalogues from the major publishers of Puritan books.
A renewal of interest in the Puritans began in the late 1950s and accelerated in the 1960s. The Banner of Truth have led the way and published whole sets of Puritan writings: John Owen (16 vols plus 7 vols on Hebrews), John Flavel (6 vols), Thomas Brooks (6 vols), John Bunyan (3 large size vols), Stephen Charnock (5 vols), David Clarkson (3 vols), the beginning of the Thomas Manton set of 22 volumes [update: now the complete set of 22 volumes], Richard Sibbes (7 vols) and George Swinnock (3 vols). Added to this are three volumes by Thomas Watson: A Body of Divinity (the first book published by the Banner and one of the most consistent sellers), The Ten Commandments and The Lord’s Prayer. Also by Watson is The Beatitudes. A more recent Puritan title is George Newton on John 17 (394-page hardback). Newton was one of the ejected Puritans. During 1997 the Banner of Truth published A Guide to the Puritans by Robert P Martin, a topical and textual index to the writings of the Puritans and some of their successors recently in print. This most useful tool enables students to locate biographies, sermons and meditations for the Lord’s Table and sermons for special occasions.
The entire set of 22 volumes by Thomas Manton (1620-1677) was republished in 1870 with an introduction by J. C. Ryle in which he claimed that the Puritans did more to elevate the national character than any class of Englishmen that ever lived. During the 1970s an American publisher reissued the set of Thomas Manton, again in 22 volumes, an edition limited to 1,000. In 1996 another American publisher, Tanski Publications, has made available The Works of Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680), in twelve volumes. Added to this there are Banner of Truth popular paperback titles, some of the most useful of which are: The Glory of Christ and Communion with God and Apostasy from the Gospel by John Owen, The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel, A Lifting up of the Downcast by William Bridge, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks, The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom by Samuel Bolton, Heaven on Earth by Thomas Brooks, The Doctrine of Repentance and All Things for Good both by Thomas Watson.
In the USA a publishing work of outstanding enterprise and energy has emerged, Soli Deo Gloria. Among the publications are the writings of Richard Baxter, (4 large vols), John Howe (3 vols), William Bridge (5 vols) and choice works by Jeremiah Burroughs including The Excellency of a Gracious Spirit and The Evil of Evils; Thomas Watson, including Heaven Taken by Storm and The Duty of Self-Denial; and Robert Bolton, including A Treatise on Comforting Afflicted Consciences. Edward Reynolds, who was one of the Westminster Assembly divines, wrote up his expositions on Psalm 110. This 465-page treasure is also available.
The influence of The Westminster Confession of Faith in Presbyterian denominations and of The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith is extensive. The 1689 Confession has been translated into a number of foreign languages.
The vision for abridging and simplifying some of the most useful Puritan writings has been implemented by Grace Baptist Mission. By 1999 there were sixteen titles (distributed by Evangelical Press). The idea of producing simplified Puritan classics originated through Tamil-speaking Christians in South India. John Owen’s book Death of Death was chosen and renamed Life by his Death. The book was published in Tamil in 1981. One of the early fruits of this book was the conversion of a Tamil Hindu farmer in Sri Lanka. Four of Owen’s titles are now printed in a variety of languages. For instance The Glory of Christ is available in Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Tamil. Flavel’s Mystery of Providence is now in Hebrew, Spanish, and Tamil, and Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, now entitled Learning to be Happy is in Albanian, Arabic, French, Indonesian, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, and Spanish. This catalogue of Puritan titles is growing steadily.
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