Friday, June 5, 2009

Purely Delightful: The Benefits and Joy of Reading the Puritans

There are three major things that I seek to foster and maintain everyday: 1) an awareness of the presence, nature, promises and character of God, 2) an awe and feared-filled response to that awareness and 3) an appropriate and passionate response to God in all of the particular responsibilities, interactions and pleasures of the day.

The first and greatest way I perpetuate these three things throughout the day is a steady flow of scripture intake. When I realize both the source and consequent authoritative nature of the scriptures; I have found that I feel a great sense of security, clarity and peace. We are a generation of information. We all, very literally now, have it right at our finger tips. For most now, there is seemingly (emphasis on seemingly) no need to actually learn anything. Why learn something when you can pull up the information in seconds on your mobile device?

What is our obsession with having information so readily and instantaneously? Besides numerous other reasons, I would say that much of it has to do with creating a sense of security for ourselves and having more control through the power of remaining informed. In fact I would say the number one reason that many people stay silent or don't assert themselves in situations is due to a lack of confidence in knowing how to contribute in a valuable way. Information, or truth, is vital to every daily operation and to our joy. The more someone knows about something or someone the more they tend to respond appropriately.

Truth inspires, directs and comforts us. Truth also confronts us and causes us to change when necessary to avoid potential disobedience, harm or destruction even. Given the overwhelming power and necessity of knowing truth; we must love both the acquisition and dissemination of it. Truth, or Jesus, is the most valuable thing we can acquire and at the same time the most valuable thing we can offer anyone.

This leads me to one of the other most influential ways in which I cultivate those the three things mentioned above--reading the writing of the Puritans. Now I must say up front that I certainly read more than just the Puritans and also seek wise counsel from the living and not just the dead. That said, however, I would like to share with you some reasons why I find reading Puritan writing so influential to my growing in godliness. To do this I would like to share with you one of the six characteristics of Puritan literature that Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson (authors of the book "Meet the Puritans") put forward as why Puritan literature is so beneficial and profitable:


"2.[of six] They marry doctrine and practice. The Puritans did this by addressing the mind, confronting the conscience, and wooing the heart.


Addressing the mind. The Puritans refused to set mind and heart against each other but taught that knowledge was the soil in which the Spirit planted the seed of regeneration. They viewed the mind as the palace of faith. "In conversion, reason is elevated," John Preston wrote. Cotton Mather said, "Ignorance is the mother not of devotion but of heresy."


The Puritans understood that a mindless Christianity fosters a spineless Christianity. An anti-intellectual gospel quickly becomes an empty, formless gospel that doesn't get beyond "felt needs." That's what is happening in many churches today. Tragically, few understand that if there is little difference between what Christians and unbelievers believe with their minds, there will soon be little difference in how they live. Puritan literature is a great solution to this problem.


Confronting the conscience. The Puritans were masters at naming specific sins, then asking questions to press home conviction of those sins. As one Puritan wrote, "We must go with the stick of divine truth and beat every bush behind which a sinner hides, until like Adam who hid, he stands before God in his nakedness."


Devotional reading should be confrontational as well as comforting. We experience little growth if our consciences are not pricked daily and directed to Christ. Since we are prone to run for the bushes, we need daily help to be brought before the living God, “naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). In this, no writers can help us as much as the Puritans.

Engaging the heart. It is unusual today to find books that feed the mind with solid biblical substance and move the heart with affectionate warmth, but the Puritans do both. They reason with the mind, confront the conscience, and appeal to the heart. They write out of love for the souls of readers. They set forth Christ in His loveliness, moving us to yearn to know Him better and live wholly for Him.”

It is certainly needless to say that God uses other things in my life and the lives of others to grow us in godliness, however; I have found that usually these things are just another way of God giving us an opportunity to come to learn more truth, respond to it or to share it with others. The Puritanical emphasis on the marriage of doctrine (truth) and practice, as described by Beeke and Pederson, is like the meeting of a low pressure system and a high one that creates a wind or storm of divine awareness, reverence, repentance, awe, adoration and action.

Each week I hope to share with you a little from various different Puritan writings that have thus far impacted me the most. I think (and pray) you will find them as stirring as I have.

Soli Deo Gloria

2 comments:

Laurie M. July 3, 2009 at 11:05 PM  

I linked here through Challies today, and noticed this post. My husband received this book as a gift and enjoyed it so much it lead to him teaching a Sunday School series for our church on the Puritans a while back. Glad to hear you're enjoying it as well.

Joseph Mancuso July 6, 2009 at 9:38 AM  

Laurie,

That sounds like a great idea. I teach Sunday School at Church sometimes and think that would be a great series! Thanks for the visit and idea!