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A Guide to the Puritans

Category Articles
Date February 5, 2004

Do ministers in particular know what Robert P. Martin has done in compiling his "Guide to the Puritans" (Banner of Truth)? The subtitle informs the reader of what this books consists: "A topical and textual index to writings of the Puritans and some of their successors recently in print." The bulk of the book consists of a Topical Index of 263 pages and a Scripture Index of almost 200 pages.

The value of the book, which I constantly use, came home to me recently. I am preaching through Mark’s gospel and I came to that great text, Mark 8:36, "For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" For me it is absolutely crucial that such ‘big texts’ in the Bible are not submerged into and swallowed up in longer section teaching. That reduces preaching to ‘glorified Bible studies’ – as Dr Lloyd-Jones described such messages. One must not come under the tyranny of having to complete preaching through a book in a set time. One must pause before a gem of truth and hold it up and let its facets dazzle a congregation. History of Redemption insights are helpful, but they may not be absolutised. The evangelistic pulpit is dying because such verses are not charged to the consciences of our hearers. This failure has caused the lament that "there is no preaching of the gospel these days." It is grievous if ministers are no longer prepared to preach on a text like this, and are intimidated by scoffers who complain that "he uprooted the text; it could have come from anywhere in the Bible." All right. A few minutes setting this text in the revelation of Jesus as the promised Messiah confirmed by God’s own voice as his Son at the Mount of Transfiguration would not be wasted time. Then there lies before us preachers the task of really getting under the skin of our congregation, laying this great question to their minds and consciences and calling on them to say that it would be the utmost folly to gain everything at the cost on their own souls. So help from the great preachers in the faith is indispensable.

From "A Guide to the Puritans" I was informed of J.C.Ryle’s sermon on this text in "Old Paths." Then I turned to the companion verse in Matthew’s gospel, Matthew 16:26, and found there that this text had been expounded by Thomas Watson, John Bunyan, John Flavel, a puritan writer I had not heard of in "Puritan Sermons," and also Edward Griffin in the first volume of his works. Then going to the Index of C.H.Spurgeon’s sermon in the New Park Street Pulpit I discovered in volume 2 of his works Spurgeon’s sermon on this text. What treasures. Surely a preacher can warm his heart at the fires these men have kindled. All this would have been unknown to me if it were not for Robert P Martin’s "A Guide to the Puritans." This is the Preface he wrote to his fine work.


This volume is the product of both appreciation and frustration. With many who trace their religious and theological heritage to the Protestant Reformation, I owe an enormous debt to the Puritans, the most prolific and accurate expounders of the biblical principles upon which the Reformation was built. Their concern for vital godliness in every area of the Christian’s experience has rightly earned for them the title "theologians of the Christian life."’ Their writings are a rich banquet table loaded with solid nourishment for God’s people.

Such a rich heritage should be easily accessible; however, for many, finding one’s way around the banquet table is a frustrating experience. This is especially true for ministers wanting to digest strong Puritan meat in order to serve it to their people. In my own preparations for public ministry, I have often wondered if one of the Puritans preached or wrote on my text o~ topic. At times, special occasions have called for a special word; and I have wondered what men like Boston, Sibbes, or Manton said in similar situations. Until now, the only way to discover what is available has been to examine the index of each Puritan set or volume. In my experience, this always consumed more time than I could afford and often ended with the discovery that nothing was to be found, at least not in the volumes consulted. Often I returned to my desk fearful that something vital was yet to be known about my text or topic, and frustrated by the suspicion that one of the Puritan masters had covered the ground before and left a record of his labors that I could not find. This volume, therefore, is the product of my frustrations; and my hope is that it will help God’s people and God’s servants mine the rich vein of Puritan gold available today in printed form.

There are many more qualified to index the Puritans than I. Had someone more acquainted with the Puritans’ works and more schooled in their history and theology undertaken this project, the end product would have been vastly superior. My primary qualification is that I have been willing to undertake the task. I will not be surprised if those who use this volume find many things which could be done better, especially in the topical index. My hope, however, is that those who find flaws will favor me with their suggestions for improvement, so that if future editions come from the press, the people of God will be served better than at present.

In determining which writers and works to index, I have been guided and restrained by several principles. First, I have deliberately chosen a broad definition of the term Puritan. Instead of the narrow ecclesiastical sense, i.e., of referring only to those in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries who desired reformation in the national church of England, I am using the term Puritan in the broader religious sense of those advocating the experimental, Calvinistic religion which the Puritans exemplified. Moreover, I have cast my net even farther to take in those who have looked to the Puritans as their nearest theological kin; thus including such men as Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, W. G. T Shedd, John Murray, and many other modern Puritans.

Second, with reference to older writers, I have limited my efforts to recently republished works. Many valuable works, of course, have not reappeared in our day, but are available only in libraries and private collections. I have not tried to include any such items. A comprehensive index of the entire body of Puritan writings would be a wonderful resource, but it is quite beyond my ability to undertake such a project.

Third, though I have tried to include all the older works currently available, I have indexed only a sampling of works from living writers. Some may question my choices or judge that I have overlooked important new works and authors in the Puritan mold. I sincerely regret overlooking any volume worthy of notice. My only defense is that my knowledge of living authors is much less than my awareness of the proven guides of the past. For the most part I have limited new works to those published by the Banner of Truth Trust, confident that these works have passed through a fine grid of review, and would not bear the Banner label if they were not clearly in the Puritan tradition.

Fourth, doubtless some users of this index will be disappointed that several important precursors to the Puritans are missing. For example, except for the notice of a few well-known works, Calvin and Luther are not indexed. The same is true of Augustine. The contribution of these men to reformed and Puritan thinking cannot be overestimated. Including their works, however, was not possible, given my present constraints. I regret this greatly.

Among nineteenth-century figures, the most prominent absence is that of C. H. Spurgeon. Spurgeon certainly is worthy of a place in this work; however, since a textual and topical index of his sermons already exists, I chose not to duplicate that work here.

In our own century, the ministry of D. M. Lloyd-Jones has produced a large body of useful material in the Puritan tradition; however, unlike his contemporary, John Murray, no collection of Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s writings is yet available. Much that Dr. Lloyd-Jones preached is now published in commentary form (e.g., his expositions of the Sermon on the Mount, Romans, Ephesians, etc.) and is not included in this index because of my decision not to index commentaries. I have indexed the Doctor’s topical works that were available to me. Those wanting more information on Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s writings should consult the bibliography found at the end of volume two of Iain Murray’s biography.

The Scripture Index was easy to produce. Where a specific text (or texts) of scripture served as the basis for a sermon or treatise, it is included in the Scripture Index at the appropriate place. This does not mean, however, that every work listed in the Scripture Index contains a detailed exegesis of the text to which it is attached. Often the Puritans used texts as the starting points for topical sermons or series. What follows is not so much an exposition of the text but an exposition of a theme which the text epitomizes. Such sermons do not always answer to the needs of the technical exegete, but they often serve as catalysts for doctrinal and practical observations on the text.

A few whole commentaries are found in the Scripture Index. These are present only because they are included in an author’s collected writings. Many more commentaries could have been included; however, those appearing before 1870 are catalogued already in Spurgeon’s Commenting and Commentaries. Many fine commentaries in the Puritan tradition also have appeared since 1870; but I have made no effort to produce what would in fact have been an update of Spurgeon’s work.

The Topical Index was extremely difficult to construct. Two problems constantly intruded themselves into the process. First, when I began, no list of topics was ready at hand. My method therefore was to compile the list of topics as I went along. The end product doubtless is less accurate than if the topics had been set from the beginning. Second, Puritan sermons are not always capable of being reduced to one or two key ideas. Frequently the Puritans ranged across a wide field of related themes in a single sermon. Where this occurred, properly placing the sermon in the Topical Index was difficult. In most cases I was guided by either the author’s title or his doctrine summary, i.e., a statement expressing the theme of the sermon. I have tried to exercise as much care as possible in indexing topically; however, those more familiar with individual sermons or treatises perhaps will question my decisions. Again, I hope that observations which may improve this work will be communicated to me.

Before bringing this preface to an end, a word is in order about titles, page numbers, and annotations. First, I have tried for the most part to include full titles instead of using short or abbreviated titles. My reason for this is that in many cases the Puritans used the title as a kind of table of contents. Hopefully, having immediate access to full titles will help the user get a better idea of the emphasis of a given piece. Second, I have given inclusive page numbers for every entry. Where an item is also part of a larger work, I have given the inclusive page numbers of the larger work as well. My reason for this is so that the user can see the length of a piece that catches his interest, thus knowing immediately whether there is time at present to read and digest it. Third, I have included comments with some entries. It was not possible to do this for every entry. For the most part, I did this where I felt that a word was needed to clarify the emphasis of a given work.

I wish to express appreciation to the elders of Trinity Baptist Church, Montville, New Jersey, who consented to my including this project among my duties as professor in Trinity Ministerial Academy.

Likewise, thanks are due to the staff of Trinity Book Service, and to my brother in the flesh and in the Lord, Pastor Lamar Martin, who kindly gave me access to volumes not in my personal library. Last but certainly not least, my heartfelt thanks to my dearly beloved wife, Colleen, without whose self-denying and patient support this work would not exist.


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