I believe it was C.S. Lewis who promoted the reading of old books and authors; something to the effect that we should read one old book for every four new books.  That is sage advice.  There is so much to be gained from going to those who’ve gone before us.  Unfortunately, when it comes to our own Reformed tradition, there’s not a lot of old stuff in English.  However, we do have close relatives to whom we can turn.  Joel Beeke has an excellent article entitled “Why You Should Read the Puritans.”  You can find it here.   I concur for the most part.  It’s nothing new under the sun, but not all Puritan authors are equally worthy of our time and effort.  For some, their obscurity is history’s judgment on their prolixity and obfuscation.  For others (like Thomas Watson), the fact that they’re still being republished bears witness to their effectiveness in communication and the timeless message they held forth.

I know what some of you are thinking:  the Puritans spoke and wrote an English that’s hard to understand.  Sometimes that’s true.  But I say, “So what?”  Are we afraid of having to work a bit to understand an author?  Are we so narcissistic and lazy that we can’t put some effort into our reading?  But having said that, I would highly recommend beginning with Thomas Watson and his All Things for Good.  Give him a try.  You might be surprised.

(reposted from 07.21.07)

2 responses to “Read the Puritans”

  1. Calvin says:

    Would you consider Spurgeon a Puritan? I recently heard him being grouped together with them, being called “the last of the Puritans”.

    And where do you go/what do you do to solve those unclear instances when the Puritans are hard to understand? Has anyone written commentaries on the Puritans? If not, maybe someone should. 🙂

    Calvin Vanderlinde

    • D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has also been labelled as such. Come to think of it, I think even J. I. Packer. Where does one stop? I think that Puritanism as a movement is a late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century phenomenon. In their book Meet the Puritans, Joel Beeke and Randall Peterson describe Jonathan Edwards as the last Puritan. I think even that is debatable.

      As for commentaries on Puritan writings, my friend Stephen Westcott has recently published a guide to the theology of John Owen. Owen is one of the less readable Puritans, but he still has a lot to offer. Westcott’s book is entitled By the Bible Alone: John Owen’s Puritan Theology for Today’s Church. You can order it here.

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