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The Puritan Papers: Five Volumes About the Puritans and Their Theology


From my recent reading: volume one of a collection called “Puritan Papers,” which I first learned about through a special offer from Westminster (WTS) publications, then available for reduced price in Kindle format; at the time I did not have a Kindle, but found a good price on a used copy of volume 1. These volumes come from a series of conferences, which took place from 1956 through 1969, with many essays that highlighted the Puritans and their theology. Edited by J.I. Packer, this volume includes many informative essays from the years 1956 through 1959 – a few authored by J.I. Packer, also Iain Murray, though most of the names are less known. (Each of the five volumes is available in used-print and Kindle format.)

The topics include important Puritan doctrines: sovereign election, assurance and the witness of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life, law and the covenants, as well as essays explaining the Puritan view of the Sabbath and Puritan worship and “daily life.” Several essays feature particular Puritan writers, names I had not heard of, including “Mrs. Hutchinson and her teaching” (not the notorious Anne Hutchinson of American Colonial history, but English Lucy Hutchinson, author of “On the Principles of the Christian Religion” and “Of Theology”), plus an overview look at the writings of Thomas Goodwin, Stephen Charnock, Richard Baxter and others. The 20th century writers also note areas where particular Puritans erred, such as Welsh Puritan Morgan Llwyd (who believed in free will, the possibility of Christian perfectionism, and ideas that were favorable to the Quaker position).  Especially helpful in this area (where certain Puritans erred) is J.I. Packer’s analysis of observations made by Charles Spurgeon in an 1863 sermon (one I have read), “The Warrant of Faith.”  Packer acknowledges some areas of valid criticism, concerning the three men Spurgeon named — John Rogers, Thomas Hooker, and Thomas Shepard — who over-emphasized and went beyond scripture in the matter of “qualifications for coming to Christ.”

The reading content assumes at least basic understanding of the Puritans, from a Calvinist/Reformed background, and from that starting point, these are quite helpful, a good overview and introduction to the subject. The various 1950s authors were interested in returning evangelical Christianity to what it now lacks and has forgotten, the depth of theology and experience from the Puritan age, thus teaching the current generation about this great Christian era, for what we can learn from them. Considering the state of American Christianity over the last 50 years since then, the Puritan understanding of the Christian life is even more needed today.

J.I. Packer’s introductions (which were written some time after the conference, date uncertain) include some great quotes about the contrast between our generation and the Puritan era, as with these excerpts:

Whereas the Puritans demanded order, discipline, depth, and thoroughness in every department of the Christian life, the modern evangelical temper is rather one of casual haphazardness and restless impatience. We crave for stunts, novelties, and entertainments; we have lost our taste for solid study, humble self-examination, disciplined meditation, and unspectacular hard work in our callings and in our prayers. … Whereas the Puritan outlook had God and His glory as its unifying center, and was in consequence a broad, balance, biblically proportioned whole, its modern evangelical counterpart has a different center. It revolves around the individual man, as if he were the real hub of the universe. . . .

and

In teaching the Christian life, our habit is to depict it as a life of thrilling feelings rather than of working faith. We stress supernatural experiences at the expense of rational righteousness. And even in dealing with Christian experience we are one-sided, for we dwell continually on the themes of joy, peace, happiness, satisfaction, and rest of soul with no balancing reference to the divine discontentment of Romans 7, the fight of faith of Psalm 73, or any of the burdens and strains which the responsibility of living as a child of God brings with it. Thus the spontaneous jollity of the carefree extrovert comes to be equated with healthy Christian living, so that jolly extroverts in our churches are encouraged to become complacent hypocrites, while saintly souls of less sanguine temperament are driven almost to distraction because they find themselves unable to bubble over in the prescribed manner. From “Puritan Papers Volume 1” (introduction to the 1958 articles).

I also appreciated the sampling of quotes from Puritan authors, such as the following from Stephen Charnock:

To dispossess man of his self-esteem and self-excellency, to make room for God in the heart where there was none but for sin, as dear to him as himself, to hurl down the pride of nature, to make stout imaginations stoop to the cross, to make desires of self-advancement sink under a zeal for the glorifying of God and an over-ruling design for His honor, is not to be ascribed to any but an outstretched arm wielding the sword of the Spirit.

The “Puritan Papers” are good reading (at least the first volume, what I’ve read so far), informative and instructive, for anyone interested in learning more about the Puritans.

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  1. July 6, 2015 at 7:26 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

  2. July 6, 2015 at 9:29 am

    Awesome stuff. Love the Puritans.

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