Posted tagged ‘Meet the Puritans’

Who is Joseph Alleine?

December 3, 2008

[Reformation Heritage Books has graciously provided this biographical and reprint essay on the life and works of Richard Baxter. You can find this information and others in the book, Meet the Puritans.]

Joseph Alleine (1634-1668)

Born at Devizes, Wiltshire, early in 1634, Joseph Alleine loved and served the Lord from childhood. A contemporary witness identified 1645 as the year of Alleine’s “setting forth in the Christian race.” From eleven years of age onward, “the whole course of his youth was an even-spun thread of godly conversation.” When his elder brother Edward, a clergyman, died, Joseph begged that he might be educated to take Edward’s place in the ministry of the church. He entered Oxford at age sixteen and sat at the feet of such great divines as John Owen and Thomas Goodwin.

Alleine began his studies at Lincoln College in 1649. Two years later, he became a scholar of Corpus Christi College, where the faculty was, in general, more thoroughly Puritan than at Lincoln. Alleine studied long hours, often depriving himself of sleep and food. He graduated from Oxford in 1653 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and became a tutor and chaplain of Corpus Christi. He also devoted much time to preaching to prisoners in the county jail, visiting the sick, and ministering to the poor.

In 1655, Alleine accepted the invitation of George Newton, vicar of St. Mary Magdalene Church, Taunton, Somerset, to become Newton’s assistant. Taunton, a wool-manufacturing city of some 20,000, was a Puritan stronghold. Shortly after moving to Taunton, Alleine married his cousin, Theodosia Alleine, whose father, Richard Alleine, was minister of Batcombe, Somerset (see below). She was an active woman who feared God deeply. Early in their marriage, she ran a home school of about fifty scholars, half of them boarders. She would later serve as her husband’s biographer after his death.

Alleine rose early, devoting the time between four and eight o’clock in the morning to the exercises of private worship. His wife recalled that he “would be much troubled if he heard smiths or other craftsmen at work at their trades, before he was at communion with God: saying to me often, ‘How this noise shames me! Doth not my Master deserve more than theirs?'”

His ministry in Taunton as preacher and pastor was very fruitful. Richard Baxter recalled Alleine’s “great ministerial skillfulness in the public explication and application of the Scriptures-so melting, so convincing, so powerful.” Alleine was also an excellent teacher, devoting much time to instructing his people, using the Shorter Catechism. He was a passionate evangelist. One contemporary wrote, “He was infinitely and insatiably greedy of the conversion of souls, wherein he had no small success.”

Ejected for nonconformity in 1662, Alleine took the opportunity to increase his public  labors, believing that his remaining time was short. He preached on average one or two sermons every day for nine months until he was arrested and cast into the Ilchester prison. The night before, Alleine had preached and prayed with his people for three hours and had declared, “Glory be to God that hath accounted me worthy to suffer for His gospel!”

Alleine’s prison cell became his pulpit as he continued to preach to his people through the prison bars. He also wrote numerous pastoral letters and theological articles. Released on May 20, 1664, after about a year in prison, he resumed his forbidden ministry until arrested again on July 10, 1665 for holding a conventicle. Once more released from prison, his remaining time was “full of troubles and persecutions nobly borne.” He returned to Taunton in February, 1668, where he became very ill. Nine months later, at age thirty-four, weary from hard work and suffering, Alleine died in full assurance of faith, praising God and saying, “Christ is mine, and I am His-His by covenant.”

The Act of Conformity (RE; 47 pages; n.d.)

This small, polemical tract is bound with RE Publications’ edition of Alleine’s Alarm to the Unconverted. It is not included in the list of Alleine’s works compiled by Charles Stanford in 1861. No one is certain that it was written by Alleine, though its style is similar to that of his other works. The work is an in-depth examination of the Oath of Allegiance passed on August 24, 1662, and whether or not a nonconformist minister could conscientiously subscribe to it. The Act of Conformity offers an emphatic “No,” saying, “Taking this oath will encourage Parliament (when they shall see how glibly and smoothly we swallow every pill) to think themselves either infallible in imposing, or us as ductile, flexible and sequatious souls” (p. 45).

An Alarm to the Unconverted (BTT; 148 pages; 1995)

This evangelical classic was first printed in 1671 (subtitle: A Serious Treatise on Conversion), when 20,000 copies were sold, and subsequently reprinted in 1675 as A Sure Guide to Heaven, which was the title given to the latest BTT editions. It is a powerful manual on conversion and the call of the gospel, as the chapter titles reveal: Mistakes about Conversion; The Nature of Conversion; The Necessity of Conversion; The Marks of the Unconverted; The Miseries of the Unconverted; Directions to the Unconverted; The Motives to Conversion.

Alleine’s model of Puritan evangelism is well suited to correct today’s distortions of the gospel. For example, he shows us that dividing the offices and benefits of Christ is not a new idea. The true convert is willing to receive Christ, both as Savior from sin and as Lord of one’s life. He asserts:

All of Christ is accepted by the sincere convert. He loves not only the wages but the work of Christ, not only the benefits but the burden of Christ. He is willing not only to tread out the corn, but to draw under the yoke. He takes up the commands of Christ, yea, the cross of Christ. The unsound convert takes Christ by halves. He is all for the salvation of Christ, but he is not for sanctification. He is for the privileges, but does not appropriate the person of Christ. He divides the offices and benefits of Christ. This is an error in the foundation. Whoever loves life, let him beware here. It is an undoing mistake, of which you have often been warned, and yet none is more common (p. 45).

This book, reprinted some five hundred times and the most famous of Alleine’s nineteen treatises, has been used for the conversion of many souls. It greatly influenced the evangelistic approach of famous preachers such as George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon. Despite a smattering of statements that may be misconstrued as promoting human ability in salvation, Alleine’s classic remains a golden example of evangelistic preaching and a spur to personal evangelism.

The Life and Letters of Joseph Alleine (RHB, 332 pages, 2003)

A definitive biography of Alleine has yet to be written. The longest sustained seventeenth century narrative was written by his wife, Theodosia, following his ejection and imprisonment after the passing of the Act of Uniformity in 1662. In 1672, four years after his death and a year after the first printing of Alarm to the Unconverted, Alleine’s Christian Letters, Full of Spiritual Instructions was printed in London. The following year, fragments of biographical information and personal reminiscences were brought together by his widow and Richard Baxter and were printed with his letters. That volume was reprinted with corrections in 1677 as The Life and Death of that Excellent Minister of Christ Mr. Joseph Alleine (London: Nevil Simmons).

Additional printings of the 1677 volume with minor additions or deletions took place in 1806, published by J. Gemmill; in 1829, by the American Sunday School Union; and in 1840, by Robert Carter in New York. The RHB reprint of 2003 includes the Carter edition, plus two letters from the Gemmill edition and three letters from Alleine’s Remains. Thus, for the first time, all forty-nine of Alleine’s extant letters are printed in one volume. An appendix contains George Newton’s Sermon Preached at the Funeral of Mr. Joseph Alleine (London: Nevil Simmons, 1677).

Charles Stanford’s biography, Joseph Alleine: His Companions and Times, appeared in 1861. Though Charles Spurgeon called it an “admirable biography,” it, too, is incomplete, no doubt partly due to the paucity of details of Alleine’s life. Although Alleine’s Life and Letters suffers somewhat from not being a sustained narrative, it has the advantage of having been written by Alleine’s contemporaries. Allowing for some repetition and hagiographical tendencies, these pages display the portrait of a minister who had a large heart for God and for the precious souls of those who sat under his ministry.

In this book, Richard Baxter wrote chapter 1 of Alleine’s biography. Richard Alleine, his father-in-law, wrote chapter 3. Other chapters were written by his senior colleague, George Newton (chap. 4), his widow (chap. 6), and his close friend and ministerial colleague, Richard Fairclough (chap. 9). The remaining chapters were written by several close friends who preferred to remain anonymous.

Valuable as the account of Alleine’s life by his contemporaries is, his letters which form the second half of the book are of greater worth. While the narrative of his life gives us an account of his outward circumstances, his letters reveal the secret springs of his heart, exhibiting the fervor of an evangelist, the heart of a pastor, and the patience of a sufferer for Jesus Christ. Many of these letters were written from prison to parishioners in Taunton when he was no longer able to minister the Word of God to them in person. With their emphasis on Christ and true godliness, these letters breathe the atmosphere of heaven itself. Here is a passage expressing his love for his people in Taunton:

You are a people much upon my heart, whose welfare is the matter of my continual prayers, care, and study. And oh that I knew how to do you good! How it pities me to think how so many of you should remain in your sins, after so many and so long endeavors to convert you and bring you in! Once more, oh beloved, once more hear the call of the Most High God unto you. The prison preaches to you the same doctrine that the pulpit did. Hear, O people, hear; the Lord of life and glory offers you all mercy, and peace, and blessedness. Oh, why should you die? Whosoever will, let him take of the waters of life freely. My soul yearns for you. Ah, that I did but know what arguments to use with you; who shall choose my words for me that I may prevail with sinners not to reject their own mercy? How shall I get within them? How shall I reach them? Oh, that I did but know the words that would pierce them! That I could but get between their sins and them (pp. 150-51).

Truly, as Iain Murray writes, “Never did the evangel of Jesus Christ burn more fervently in any English heart!”

When the Scottish missionary Alexander Duff (1806-78) read this book, he was deeply impressed by Alleine’s rich variety of gifts and graces, mature judgment, fervent devotion, and pervasive seriousness. Duff wrote: “What inextinguishable zeal! What unquenchable thirstings after the conversion of lost sinners! What unslumbering watchfulness in warning and edifying saints! What profound humility and self-abasement in the sight of God! What patience and forbearance, what meekness and generosity, what affability and moderation!  What triumphant faith-what tranquil, yet rapturous joy!” No wonder John Wesley called Alleine “the English Rutherford.”

In a day when the desire for personal happiness and self-esteem have replaced the biblical mandate for holiness of life, a reading of Alleine’s life and letters can be a real tonic to the soul.

The Precious Promises of the Gospel (SDG; 40 pages; 2000)

This booklet is extracted from Richard Alleine’s Heaven Opened. It is one of the two chapters written by Joseph Alleine. Impersonating God in addressing His people, Alleine provides us with a moving declaration of the loving, merciful heart of the Triune God, revealed in the promises of Scripture, which are woven into nearly every sentence.

Other Puritan Profiles in the 08PRC:

* Who Is Richard Baxter? (November)
* Who Is William Guthrie? (October)
* Who Is Sameul Bolton? (September)
* Who Is William Bridge? (July)
* Who Is John Bunyan? (May)
* Who Is Jeremiah Burroughs? (April)
* Who Is Thomas Watson? (March)
* Who Is John Flavel? (February)
* Who Is Richard Sibbes? (January)

Who Is Richard Baxter?

November 4, 2008

[Reformation Heritage Books has graciously provided this biographical and reprint essay on the life and works of Richard Baxter. You can find this information and others in the book, Meet the Puritans.]

Richard Baxter (1615-1691)

Richard Baxter was born in 1615, in Rowton, near Shrewsbury,in Shropshire. He was the only son of Beatrice Adeney and Richard Baxter, Sr. Because of his father’s gambling habit and inherited debts, and his mother’s poor health, Richard lived with his maternal grandparents for the first ten years of his life. When his father was converted through “the bare reading of the Scriptures in private,” Richard returned to his parental home, and later acknowledged that God used his father’s serious talks about God and eternity as “the Instrument of my first Convictions, and Approbation of a Holy Life” (Reliquiae Baxterianae, 1:2-4).

Baxter’s education was largely informal; he later wrote that he had four teachers in six years, all of whom were ignorant and two led immoral lives. Nevertheless, he had a fertile mind, and enjoyed reading and studying. A prolonged illness and various books-particularly William Perkins’s Works-were the means God used to “resolve me for himself,” Baxter wrote (Reliquiae Baxterianae, 1:3-4). When he was fifteen, he was deeply affected by Richard Sibbes’s The Bruised Reed: “Sibbes opened more the love of God to me, and gave me a livelier apprehension of the mystery of redemption and how much I was beholden to Jesus Christ.” Subsequently, Ezekiel Culverwell’s Treatise of Faith (1623) “did me much good” (ibid., 1:4-5).

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Who Is John Bunyan?

May 4, 2008

[Reformation Heritage Books has graciously provided this biographical and reprint essay on the life and works of John Bunyan. You can find this information and others in the book, Meet the Puritans.]

John Bunyan [1628-1688]

John Owen said of John Bunyan, a powerful preacher and the best-known of all the Puritan writers, that he would gladly exchange all his learning for Bunyan’s power of touching men’s hearts. John Bunyan was born in 1628 at Elstow, near Bedford, to Thomas Bunyan and Margaret Bentley. Thomas Bunyan, a brazier or tinker, was poor but not destitute. Still, for the most part, John Bunyan was not educated well. He became rebellious, frequently indulging in cursing. He later wrote, “It was my delight to be taken captive by the devil at his will: being filled with all unrighteousness; that from a child I had but few equals, both for cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the holy name of God” (Works of Bunyan, ed. George Offor, 1:6). Sporadic periods of convictions of sin helped restrain some of that rebellion, however.

When Bunyan was sixteen years old, his mother and sister died a month apart. His father remarried a month later. Young Bunyan joined Cromwell’s New Model Army, where he continued his rebellious ways. Fighting in the Civil War sobered him considerably, however. On one occasion, his life was wonderfully spared. “When I was a soldier, I with others, was drawn out to go to such a place to besiege it. But when I was just ready to go, one of the company desired to go in my room; to which when I consented, he took my place, and coming to the siege, as he stood sentinel he was shot in the head with a musket bullet and died” (ibid.).

Bunyan was discharged from the army in 1646 or 1647. His military experience was later reflected in his book, The Holy War.

In 1648, Bunyan married a God-fearing woman whose name remains unknown, and whose only dowry was two books: Arthur Dent’s The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven and Lewis Bayly’s The Practice of Piety. When Bunyan read those books, he was convicted of sin. He started attending the parish church, stopped swearing (when rebuked by a dissolute woman of the town), and tried to honor the Sabbath. After some months, Bunyan came into contact with some women whose joyous conversation about the new birth and Christ deeply impressed him. He mourned his joyless existence as he realized that he was lost and outside of Christ. “I cannot now express with what longings and breakings in my soul I cried to Christ to call me,” he wrote. He felt that he had the worst heart in all of England. He confessed to be jealous of animals because they did not have a soul to account for before God.

In 1651, the women introduced Bunyan to John Gifford, their pastor in Bedford. God used Gifford to lead Bunyan to repentance and faith. Bunyan was particularly influenced by a sermon Gifford preached on Song of Solomon 4:1, “Behold thou art fair, my love, behold thou art fair,” as well as by reading Luther’s commentary of Galatians, in which he found his own experience “largely and profoundly handled, as if [Luther’s] book had been written out of my own heart” (cited by Greaves, John Bunyan, p. 18). While walking through a field one day, Christ’s righteousness was revealed to Bunyan’s soul and gained the victory. Bunyan writes of that unforgettable experience:

One day, as I was passing in the field, this sentence fell upon my soul: Thy righteousness is in heaven; and methought withal I saw with the eyes of my soul, Jesus Christ, at God’s right hand; there, I say, as my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was a-doing, God could not say of me, He wants my righteousness, for that was just before Him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ Himself, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away. Now I went home rejoicing for the grace and love of God. I lived for some time very sweetly at peace with God through Christ. Oh! methought, Christ! Christ! There was nothing but Christ that was before my eyes. I saw now not only looking upon this and the other benefits of Christ apart, as of His blood, burial, and resurrection, but considered Him as a whole Christ! It was glorious to me to see His exaltation, and the worth and prevalency of all His benefits, and that because now I could look from myself to Him, and would reckon that all those graces of God that now were green in me, were yet but like those cracked groats and fourpence-halfpennies that rich men carry in their purses, when their gold is in their trunk at home! Oh, I saw that my gold was in my trunk at home! In Christ my Lord and Saviour! Now Christ was all (Grace Abounding, paragraphs 229-32, pp. 129-31).

The year 1654 was a momentous one for Bunyan. He moved to Bedford with his wife and four children under the age of six; his firstborn, Mary, was blind from birth. That same year, he became a member of Gifford’s church, and was soon appointed deacon. His testimony became the talk of the town. Several people were led to conversion in response to it. By the end of the year, he had lost his beloved pastor to death.

In 1655, Bunyan began preaching to various congregations in Bedford. Hundreds came to hear him. He published his first book the following year, Some Gospel Truths Opened, written to protect believers from being misled by Quaker and Ranter teachings about Christ’s person and work. Two years later, Bunyan published A Few Sighs from Hell, an exposition of Luke 16:19-31 about the rich man and Lazarus. The book attacks professional clergy and the wealthy who promote carnality. It was well received, and helped establish Bunyan as a reputable Puritan writer. About that same time, his wife passed away.

In 1659, Bunyan published The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, which expounds his view of covenant theology, stressing the promissory nature of the covenant of grace and the dichotomy between law and grace. This helped establish him as a thoroughgoing Calvinist, though it led to false charges of antinomianism by Richard Baxter.

In 1660, while preaching in a farmhouse at Lower Samsell, Bunyan was arrested on the charge of preaching without official rights from the king. When told that he would be freed if he no longer preached, he replied, “If I am freed today, I will preach tomorrow.” He was thrown into prison, where he wrote prolifically and made shoelaces to provide some income for twelve and a half years (1660-1672).

Prior to his arrest, Bunyan had remarried, this time to a godly young woman named Elizabeth. She pleaded repeatedly for his release, but judges such as Sir Matthew Hale and Thomas Twisden rejected her plea. So Bunyan remained in prison with no formal charge and no legal sentence, in defiance of the habeas corpus provisions of the Magna Carta, because he refused to give up preaching the gospel and denounced the Church of England as false (see Bunyan’s A Relation of My Imprisonment, published posthumously in 1765).

In 1661 and from 1668-1672, certain jailers permitted Bunyan to leave prison at times to preach. George Offer notes, “It is said that many of the Baptist congregations in Bedfordshire owe their origins to his midnight preaching” (Works of Bunyan, 1:lix). His prison years were times of difficult trials, however. Bunyan experienced what his Pilgrim’s Progress characters Christian and Faithful would later suffer at the hands of Giant Despair, who thrust pilgrims “into a very dark dungeon, nasty and stinking.” Bunyan especially felt the pain of separation from his wife and children, particularly “blind Mary,” describing it as a “pulling of the flesh from my bones.”

Prison years, however, were productive years for Bunyan. In the mid-1660s, Bunyan wrote extensively, with only the Bible and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs at his side. In 1663, he wrote Christian Behaviour, intended as a handbook for Christian living and a response against charges of antinomianism, as well as a last testament, since Bunyan expected to die in prison. He also finished I Will Pray with the Spirit, which expounded 1 Corinthians 14:15, and focused on the Spirit’s inner work in all true prayer. In 1664, he published Profitable Meditations; in 1665, One Thing Needful, The Holy City (his understanding of church history and the end times), and The Resurrection of the Dead. This latter work is a sequel to The Holy City, in which Bunyan expounds the resurrection from Acts 24:14-15 in a traditional way, and then uses his prison torments to illustrate the horrors that await the damned following the final judgment. In 1666, the middle of his prison-time, he wrote Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, in which he declared, “The Almighty God being my help and shield, I am determined yet to suffer, if frail life might continue so long, even till the moss shall grow upon my eyebrows, rather than violate my faith and principles.” During the last part of his imprisonment, he finished A Confession of My Faith, A Reason for My Practice, and A Defence of the Doctrine of Justification, an uncompromising criticism of the rising tide of Pelagianism among the Nonconformists and latitudinarianism among the Anglican establishment.

The Bedford congregation, sensing some relaxation of the law against preaching, appointed Bunyan as pastor on January 21, 1672, but Bunyan was not released until May. He had been the first to suffer under Charles II and was the last to be released. His long years in Bedford’s county prison made him a martyr in the eyes of many.

Bunyan had enjoyed only a few years of freedom when he was again arrested for preaching and put in the town jail. Here he wrote Instruction for the Ignorant (a catechism for the saved and unsaved that emphasizes the need for self-denial), Saved by Grace (an exposition of Ephesians 2:5 that encourages the godly to persevere in the faith notwithstanding persecution), The Strait Gate (an exposition of Luke 13:24 that seeks to awaken sinners to the gospel message), Light for Them That Sit in Darkness (a polemical work against those who oppose atonement by Christ’s satisfaction and justification by His imputed righteousness, especially the Quakers and Latitudinarians), and the first part of his famous Pilgrim’s Progress. That book, which sold more than 100,000 copies in its first decade in print, has since been reprinted in at least 1,500 editions and translated into more than two hundred languages, with Dutch, French, and Welsh editions appearing in Bunyan’s lifetime. Some scholars have asserted that, with the exception of the Bible and perhaps Thomas à Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, this Bunyan classic has sold more copies than any other book ever written.

John Owen, minister of an Independent congregation at Leadenhall Street, London, successfully appealed for Bunyan to Thomas Barlow, bishop of Lincoln, who used his influence at court to secure Bunyan’s release from prison on June 21, 1677. Bunyan spent his last years ministering to the Nonconformists and writing. In 1678, he published Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, a popular exposition of John 6:37 that movingly proclaims a strong free offer of grace to sinners to fly to Jesus Christ and be saved. This book went through six editions in the last decade of Bunyan’s life. In 1680, he wrote The Life and Death of Mr. Badman, described as “a series of snapshots depicting the commonplace attitudes and practices against which Bunyan regularly preached” (Oxford DNB, 8:707). Two years later, he published The Greatness of the Soul and The Holy War. In 1685, he published the second part of Pilgrim’s Progress, dealing with Christiana’s pilgrimage, A Caution to Stir Up to Watch Against Sin, and Questions About the Nature and the Perpetuity of the Seventh-day Sabbath.

In the last three years of his life, Bunyan wrote ten more books, of which the best-known are The Pharisee and the Publican, The Jerusalem Sinner Saved, The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate, The Water of Life, Solomon’s Temple Spiritualized, and The Acceptable Sacrifice. Most of those books were reproduced in paperback by William Frasher in the 1960s through Reiner Press, in Swengel, Pennsylvania. They are not listed separately in this book because they are included in Bunyan’s Works.

In 1688, Bunyan died suddenly from a fever that he caught while traveling in cold weather. On his deathbed, he said to those who gathered around him, “Weep not for me, but for yourselves. I go to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will, no doubt, through the mediation of his blessed Son, receive me, though a sinner; where I hope we ere long shall meet, to sing the new song, and remain everlastingly happy, world without end” (Works of Bunyan, 1:lxxviii). After telling his friends that his greatest desire was to be with Christ, he raised his hands to heaven, and cried, “Take me, for I come to Thee!” and then died. He was buried in Bunhill Fields, close to Thomas Goodwin and John Owen.

The Works of John Bunyan (BTT; 3 vols., 2,400 pages; 1999).

Bunyan was unusual among the Puritans in that he had little formal education. Nevertheless, he read exhaustively, and the Holy Spirit blessed his studies. He became a prolific writer and wrote more than sixty works in sixty years. Many of those have been overshadowed by Pilgrim’s Progress and The Holy War, but they are still worthy of reading.

Bunyan’s works are a treasure of scriptural, experiential truth. He was a Spirit taught theologian who had the gift of interpreting evangelical truth for the masses. Bunyan was one of the most popular Puritans, no doubt because, while possessing the Word-centeredness and depth of doctrine and experience of other Puritans, he presented truth with warm simplicity. Several publishers have reprinted Bunyan’s individual works. Most recently, SDG has reprinted The Fear of God, in which Bunyan addresses the objects and reasons for fearing God, the various kinds of fear, the character and effects of godly fear, and the privileges and uses of this doctrine. BTT has also reprinted five of Bunyan’s works (The Acceptable Sacrifice, All Loves Excelling, Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, The Jerusalem Sinner Saved, and Prayer) in the Puritan Paperback Series. GM has reprinted Groans of a Lost Soul, Solomon’s Temple Spiritualized, and Advice to Sufferers, among others.

For those wishing to own the best of what Bunyan has written, the BTT edition of George Offor’s 1854 compilation is the best option. It offers fifty-five of Bunyan’s works in three volumes. The first volume contains valuable introductions and an eighty-page memoir of Bunyan’s life and times. Volumes 1 and 2 contain his experimental, doctrinal, and practical works, such as Christ a Complete Saviour and The Fear of God. Volume 3 has Bunyan’s allegorical, figurative, and symbolical works, such as The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Holy War, and The Life and Death of Mr. Badman, as well as a compendious index.

Christiana’s Journey; Or, The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Second Part (BP; 150 pages; 1993).

This edition contains the text of Christiana’s Journey and seventy-three beautiful full-page oil paintings by Albert Wessels, which especially engage children.

Bunyan may have been motivated to write the second part of Pilgrim’s Progress in which Christiana and other female characters, as well as children, play prominent roles to depict a more subdued way in which the Holy Spirit often works conversion in typical church members. Hence Christiana and her children do not fall into the Slough of Despond nor have such a dramatic experience at the cross as Christian did. Christian and Christiana traverse much of the same ground, which shows the universality of believers’ spiritual experiences, but the section on Christian is more autobiographical while the section on Christiana is more corporate and normative, showing a more typical morphology of conversion.

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (AP; 243 pages; n.d.).

An indispensable source for Bunyan’s early life and conversion, this autobiographical classic chronicles his life from infancy to his imprisonment in 1660. Text on the remainder of Bunyan’s life is supplied by the editor. It provides an open and candid look into his life struggles, showing that God’s grace abounds to even the chief of sinners. Richard Greaves writes, “Although conventional in structure, Grace Abounding transcends contemporary examples of the genre in its depth of psychological experience, its riveting account of Bunyan’s struggle to keep from succumbing to pervasive, numbing despair, and his agonizing wrestling with biblical texts” (Oxford DNB, 8:705).

Grace Abounding was published six times during Bunyan’s lifetime, and has been reprinted scores of times over the centuries. This reprint is taken from the eighth edition.

The Holy War (Reiner; 454 pages; 1974).

This allegory, second only to Pilgrim’s Progress, bears the full title of The Holy War, made by King Shaddai upon Diabolus, for the Regaining of the Metropolis of the World; or, the Losing and Taking again of The Town of Mansoul. Reiner’s edition contains the valuable “explanatory, experimental, and practical notes” of George Burder and sixty-eight engravings.

Macauley claims that The Holy War, written after Bunyan’s imprisonment, “would be the best allegory ever written if Pilgrim’s Progress did not exist.” The Holy War is more difficult to read but is also more profound in places than Pilgrim’s Progress partly because it involves several levels of allegory. “Mansoul is not only the soul of each believer and the allegorical personification of Christianity but the symbol of England itself” (Oxford DNB, 8:707). The Holy War contains valuable counsel on how to fight the good fight of faith. It will richly reward the meditative reader.

The Pilgrim’s Progress (Reiner, 1974; BTT, 1983; BP, 1999).

This is a moving, allegorical account of spiritual warfare experienced by a wayfaring pilgrim traveling from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, in which Bunyan allegorizes his own religious experience as a guide for others. “Christian is both pilgrim and warrior, and the message of The Pilgrim’s Progress is not only a call to embrace and persist in the Christian life, but also a summons to battle the forces of evil” (Oxford DNB, 8:705).

Bunyan’s insights into mankind’s desperate plight and God’s redeeming grace make this a legendary classic. Regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, mortification, sanctification, and perseverance are poignantly painted for us in biblical, doctrinal, experiential, and practical detail.

Among the more than two dozen reprints of Bunyan’s classic since 1960, three are worthy of mention. First, an excellent edition of both parts of Pilgrim’s Progress containing the invaluable explanatory notes of Thomas Scott, original marginal notes, and textual support, has been reprinted by Reiner (1974), and is the most helpful edition. It includes a helpful 50-page memoir of Bunyan by Josiah Condor.

Second, Banner of Truth Trust published a deluxe edition in 1983, which includes original marginal notes and references from Scripture, both parts of Pilgrim’s Progress, and a series of sketches by William Strang.

Third, Bunyan Press has issued a handsome, coffee-table volume containing the complete text of Pilgrim’s Progress along with a beautiful collection of more than seventy oil paintings by Albert Wessels. This edition is excellent for helping children grasp the classic story. A number of retellings of Bunyan’s famous story have been printed for children by other publishers.

Who Is Jeremiah Burroughs?

April 5, 2008

[Reformation Heritage Books has graciously provided this biographical and reprint essay on the life and works of John Flavel. You can find this information and others in the book, Meet the Puritans.]

Jeremiah Burroughs (c. 1600-1646)

Jeremiah Burroughs (or Burroughes) was baptized in 1601 and admitted as a pensioner at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1617. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1621 and a Master of Arts degree in 1624. His tutor was Thomas Hooker.

Burroughs’s ministry falls into four periods, all of which reveal him as a zealous and faithful pastor. First, from about 1627 until 1631, he was assistant to Edmund Calamy at Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. Both men became members of the Westminster Assembly. Both men strongly opposed King James’s Book of Sports. Both refused to read the king’s proclamation in church that dancing, archery, vaulting, and other games were lawful recreations on the Lord’s Day.

Second, from 1631 to 1636, Burroughs was rector of Tivetshall, Norfolk, a church that still stands today. Despite the best efforts of his patron, Burroughs was suspended in 1636 and deprived in 1637 for refusing to obey the injunctions of Bishop Matthew Wren, especially regarding the reading of the Book of Sports, and the requirements to bow at the name of Jesus and to read prayers rather than speak them extemporaneously.

Third, from 1638 to 1640, Burroughs lived in the Netherlands, where he was teacher of a congregation of English Independents at Rotterdam, formerly ministered by William Ames. William Bridge was the pastor and Sidrach Simpson had established a second like-minded church in the city. Thus, three future dissenting brethren were brought together, all of whom would serve as propagandists for congregationalism later in the 1640s.

In the final period from 1640 to his death in 1646, Burroughs achieved great recognition as a popular preacher and a leading Puritan in London. He returned to England during the Commonwealth period and became pastor of two of the largest congregations in London: Stepney and St. Giles, Cripplegate. At Stepney, he preached early in the morning and became known as “the morning star of Stepney.” He was invited to preach before the House of Commons and the House of Lords several times. Thomas Brooks called him “a prince of preachers.”

As a member of the Westminster Assembly, Burroughs sided with the Independents, but he remained moderate in tone, acting in accord with the motto on his study door: Opinionum varietas et opinantium unitas non sunt hasustata (“variety of opinion and unity of opinion are not incompatible”). Richard Baxter said, “If all the Episcopalians had been like Archbishop Ussher, all the Presbyterians like Stephen Marshall, and all the Independents like Jeremiah Burroughs, the breaches of the church would soon have been healed.”

In 1644, Burroughs and several colleagues presented to Parliament their Apologetical Narration, which defended Independency. It attempted to steer a middle course between Presbyterianism, which they regarded as too authoritarian, and Brownism, which they regarded as too democratic. This led to division between the Presbyterians and Independents. Burroughs served on the committee of accommodation, which tried to reconcile the differences, but on March 9, 1646, he declared on behalf of the Independents that presbyteries were “coercive institutions.” Burroughs said he would rather suffer or emigrate than submit to presbyteries. Ultimately, the division between Presbyterians and Independents helped promote the cause of prelacy after the death of Oliver Cromwell.

Burroughs pursued peace to the end. He died in 1646, two weeks after a fall from his horse. The last subject on which he preached became his Irenicum to the Lovers of Truth and Peace, an attempt to heal divisions between believers. Many of his friends believed that church troubles hastened his death. Burroughs was a prolific writer, highly esteemed by Puritan leaders of his day, some of whom published his writings after his death. Nearly all of his books are compilations of sermons.

The Evil of Evils, or The Exceeding Sinfulness of Sin (SDG; 345 pages; 1999).

This book, first printed in 1654, consists of sixty-seven short chapters that expose sin and urge believers to choose affliction over sin. Burroughs organizes his material around seven major thoughts: (1) there is more evil in the least sin than in the greatest affliction; (2) sin and God are contrary to each other; (3) sin is directly against our good; (4) sin opposes all that is good; (5) sin is the evil of all other evils; (6) sin has infinite dimension and character; and (7) sin makes us comfortable with the devil. Evil of Evils is invaluable for sensitizing our consciences to the “exceeding sinfulness of sin” (cf. Rom. 7:13).

The Excellency of a Gracious Spirit (SDG; 260 pages; 1995).

Based on Numbers 14:24 (“Caleb was of another spirit; he followed God fully”), this book is divided into two parts: (1) what this gracious spirit is, and (2) what it means to follow God fully. Burroughs says we must strive to live in the fear of the Lord to depart from evil and draw closer to Him. Living out of godly fear is the sum and substance of a gracious spirit.

An Exposition of the Prophecy of Hosea (SDG; 699 pages; 1990).

This mammoth exposition of Hosea is one of Burroughs’s finest works. This edition is a facsimile reprint of the 1863 James Sherman edition. Burroughs died before finishing the work, but two of his closest friends, Thomas Hall and Edward Reynolds, finished the commentary. Spurgeon called this work “masterly,” noting that it is “a vast treasure-house of experimental exposition.” No work on Hosea has since superseded this commentary.

Gospel Conversation (SDG; 310 pages; 1995).

This masterful treatise deals with the right living of believers. It includes seven sermons on Philippians 1:27 (“Let your conversation be as becometh the gospel of Christ”), three on John 18:36 (“My kingdom is not of this world”), and a sermon on Exodus 14:13, titled “The Saints’ Duty in Times of Extremity.”

Burroughs moves the reader to mourn his alienated state and yearn for the spring of holiness, union, and communion with Christ. He stresses there can be no works of sanctification before union with Christ. But once in Christ, the Christian must give evidence of that union by fervently pursuing the pious life to which God calls him. Good works are dangerous if they are made the foundation of justification, but are necessary and useful in sanctification. The conversation and conduct of believers must be on a higher plane than that of unbelievers.

Gospel Fear: Developing a Tender Heart that Trembles at the Word of God (SDG; 147 pages; 2001).

The concept of reverence has nearly been forgotten in our day, even by many who regard themselves as Christians. We are irreverent because we are ignorant of God and His holiness. As Burroughs writes, “The reason men worship God in a slight way is because they do not see God in His glory.” These sermons (on Isaiah 66:2, “he that trembleth at my word” and on 2 Kings 22:19, “because thine heart was tender”) are a corrective to prevailing ignorance. The entire volume shows our need for reverence and awe towards God and His Word.

Gospel Reconciliation (SDG; 379 pages; 1997).

There is no more important issue for any one than how to be right with God. In this treatise of eighty-one chapters on 2 Corinthians 5:19, 20 (“God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself”), Burroughs answers questions about reconciliation. Christ’s atoning work is the only way for fallen sinners to be reconciled with God, for a finite creature can never satisfy the justice of an infinite God. Burroughs explains the consequences of our reconciliation in Christ, showing that this reconciliation is a deep mystery, that it is free, sure, full, honorable, firm, and eternal, but also a difficult work, for we are only saved by divine accomplishment, not by human achievement.

Gospel Remission (SDG; 310 pages; 1995).

Subtitled True Blessedness Consists in Pardon of Sin, this first-time reprint consists of a series of sermons on Psalm 32:1, which Burroughs preached after finishing his masterpiece on sin, The Evil of Evils. As a tender pastor, Burroughs knew that after hearing about the deadly nature of sin, his congregation would need to hear about the remission of sins offered in the gospel. Burroughs covers five areas of forgiveness: (1) the many gospel mysteries in remission; (2) the glorious effects proceeding from remission; (3) the great mistakes made about remission; (4) the true signs and symptoms of remission; and (5) the ways and means to obtain remission. Burroughs stresses the dishonor done to God by not resting on the mercy of His remission.

Gospel Worship (SDG; 400 pages; 1990).

Subtitled The Right Manner of Sanctifying the Name of God in General, this treatise on Leviticus 10:1-3 is a call to propriety and sobriety in the worship of God. It deals with the believer’s sanctification through “three great ordinances”: (1) hearing the Word, (2) receiving the Lord’s Supper, and (3) prayer. In a day that promotes man-made forms of worship, Gospel Worship is a call to biblical worship of the Triune God through the means that He has instituted. Burroughs shows how important worship is to God and teaches us how to “give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name” (Ps. 29:2). He makes plain that we do not need new forms of worship to be relevant, but to renew old forms of worship.

Hope (SDG; 150 pages; 2005).

This treatise on 1 John 3:3, “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself,” first establishes that every believer is a hopeful person; second, explains that where true hope resides, it will purge the heart; and third, provides ten ways in which believers can purify themselves by hope. Burroughs also shows the origin, object, and ground of hope. The book concludes with an exhortation to put away sin. This is a timely, succinct masterpiece for our impure world, lost in sin and full of despair.

Appendixed to Hope is a 63-page sermon by Burroughs on the misery of those who have hope only in this life, based on Psalm 17:14b, “From men of the world, which have their portion in this life.”

Irenicum to the Lovers of Truth and Peace (SDG; 440 pages; 1998).

Subtitled, Heart-divisions opened in the causes and evils of them, with cautions that we may not be hurt by them, and endeavors to heal them, this volume contains the last sermons Burroughs preached before his death. Burroughs pleads for unity among his brethren, addresses the issues that seriously divided believers in his day, and offers practical ways to promote unity. He explains when one should plead his conscience, provides rules to know in what areas we are to bear with our brethren, and shows that “every difference in religion is not a differing religion.” He discusses the role of pride, self-love, envy, anger, rigidity, rashness, willfulness, inconsistency, jealousy, contentiousness, covetousness, and gossip in division. He concludes that the answer for division does not lie in blanket tolerance of all religions nor in a compromising attitude towards sin, but in a biblical striving for peace. Given the divisiveness of Christians in all generations, this treatise is extremely applicable.

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (BTT; 228 pages; 2000).

In this book on contentment (Philippians 4:1, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content”), Burroughs presents two major themes: (1) peace among believers of various persuasions, and (2) peace and contentment in the hearts of believers during “sad and sinking times.”

Burroughs expounds what Christian contentment is (chap. 1), unveils its mystery (chaps. 2-4), shows how Christ teaches it (chaps. 5-6), and describes ten of its fruits (chap. 7). He then addresses the evils and aggravations of discontentment (chaps. 8-11). He concludes by showing how to attain contentment (chaps. 12-13). This classic provides numerous practical remedies for the spiritual disease of discontent.

The Saints’ Happiness (SDG; 264 pages; 1988).

This book offers a detailed exposition of the Beatitudes in forty-one sermons. Though Burroughs does not match Thomas Watson in popular appeal or Robert Harris in exegetical skill on the Beatitudes, his work is a significant contribution for proper understanding of these important marks of spiritual life.

The Saints’ Treasury (SDG; 175 pages; 1994).

This is a compilation of five sermons on the holiness of God, Christ as all in all, faith’s enjoyment of heavenly things, the natural man’s bondage to the law and the believer’s liberty by the Gospel, and preparation for judgment.

A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness (SDG; 220 pages; 1998).

A timely reprint for our earthly-minded age, this book contains two treatises: a serious warning against the evils of being earthly minded; an explanation on how to “get our hearts free from earthly-mindedness”; and a discussion on what it means to be heavenly-minded, with an accent on living godly in Christ Jesus. Several chapters deal with how to foster heavenly conversation and a heavenly walk.

Who Is Thomas Watson?

March 11, 2008

[Reformation Heritage Books has graciously provided this biographical and reprint essay on the life and works of John Flavel. You can find this information and others in the book, Meet the Puritans.]

Thomas Watson (1620-1686)

Thomas Watson was probably born in Yorkshire. He studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1639 and a Master of Arts degree in 1642. During his time at Cambridge, Watson was a dedicated scholar. After completing his studies, Watson lived for a time with the Puritan family of Lady Mary Vere, the widow of Sir Horace Vere, baron of Tilbury. In 1646, Watson went to St. Stephen’s, Walbrook, London, where he served as lecturer for about ten years, and as rector for another six years, filling the place of Ralph Robinson.

In about 1647, Watson married Abigail Beadle, daughter of John Beadle, an Essex minister of Puritan convictions. They had at least seven children in the next thirteen years; four of them died young.

During the Civil War, Watson began expressing his strong Presbyterian views. He had sympathy for the king, however. He was one of the Presbyterian ministers who went to Oliver Cromwell to protest the execution of Charles I. Along with Christopher Love, William Jenkyn, and others, he was imprisoned in 1651 for his part in a plot to restore the monarchy. Although Love was beheaded, Watson and the others were released after petitioning for mercy. Watson was formally reinstated to his pastorate in Walbrook in 1652.

When the Act of Uniformity passed in 1662, Watson was ejected from his pastorate. He continued to preach in private—in barns, homes, and woods—whenever he had the opportunity. In 1666, after the Great Fire of London, Watson prepared a large room for public worship, welcoming anyone who wished to attend. After the Declaration of Indulgence took effect in 1672, Watson obtained a license for Crosby Hall, Bishopsgate, which belonged to Sir John Langham, a patron of nonconformists. Watson preached there for three years before Stephen Charnock joined him. They ministered together until Charnock’s death in 1680. Watson kept working until his health failed. He then retired to Barnston, in Essex, where he died suddenly in 1686 while engaged in private prayer. He is buried in the same grave as his father-in-law who served as a minister at Barnston.

Watson’s depth of doctrine, clarity of expression, warmth of spirituality, love of application, and gift of illustration enhanced his reputation as a preacher and writer. His books are still widely read today.

All Things for Good (BTT; 128 pages; 1988).

Watson once said he faced two great difficulties in his ministry: to make the unbeliever sad without grace and to make the believer glad with grace. In this study of Romans 8:28, formerly titled A Divine Cordial (first printed in 1663, one year after two thousand ministers were ejected from the Church of England), Watson encourages God’s people to rejoice. He explains how the best and worst experiences work for good. He writes, “To know that nothing hurts the godly, is a matter of comfort; but to be assured that all things which fall out shall co-operate for their good, that their crosses shall be turned into blessings, that showers of affliction water the withering root of their grace and make it flourish more; this may fill their hearts with joy till they run over.”

If someone asks, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or “How can I know if I am called by God?,” offer them this book. Its chapters on the love of God, effectual calling, and the purpose of God are especially helpful in understanding Romans 8:28. Chapter 5, on the “tests of love to God,” is particularly searching.

The Art of Divine Contentment (SDG; 133 pages; 2001).

Watson’s works are all marked by profound spirituality, terse style, impressive remarks, and practical illustrations. This book, first printed in 1653, is no exception. Based on Philippians 4:11, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content,” Watson writes, “For my part, I know not any ornament in religion that doth more bespangle a Christian, or glitter in the eye of God and man, than this of contentment. Nor certainly is there anything wherein all the Christian virtues do work more harmoniously, or shine more transparently, than in this orb. If there is a blessed life before we come to heaven, it is the contented life.”

Godly contentment is a theme missing from many pulpits today. A serious reading of this treatise or Jeremiah Burroughs’s Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment would do much to fill this void.

The Beatitudes (BTT; 307 pages; 1971).

First published in 1660, this exposition of Matthew 5:1-12 is rich with instruction. For example, in explaining the blessedness of meekness (5:5), Watson explains meekness towards God as submission to His will and flexibility to His Word. Meekness towards man, he says, involves bearing injuries, forgiving injuries, and recompensing good for evil. In bearing injuries, meekness opposes a hasty spirit, malice, revenge, and speaking evil of others. In forgiving injuries, meekness forgives truly, fully, and often. In recompensing good for evil, Watson says, “To render evil for evil is brutish; to render evil for good is devilish; to render good for evil is Christian.” He offers numerous reasons why Christians should be meek, such as: Jesus Christ is meek; meekness is a great ornament to a Christian; meekness is the way to be like God; meekness argues a noble and excellent spirit; meekness is the best way to conquer and melt the heart of an enemy; meekness contains great promises, for the meek shall inherit the earth; and an un-meek spirit hinders peace. All of this is cogently explained in a mere fifteen pages (pp. 105–119).

A Body of Divinity (BTT; 316 pages; 1998).

This book, first published after Watson’s death in 1692, was his magnum opus and became his most famous work. Following the question-and-answer format of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, it offers 176 sermons on the essential teachings of Christianity. It shows the author’s deep understanding of spiritual truths and his ability to make them clear to anyone. Unlike most other systematic theologies, it weds knowledge and piety together, and can be used effectively in daily devotions. It is perhaps the most experiential systematic theology ever written, with the exception of Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service.

The Lord’s Prayer and The Ten Commandments (cf. below) complete Watson’s exposition of the Shorter Catechism. This trilogy on the Shorter Catechism has been reprinted often over the centuries in one or three volumes.

The Duty of Self-Denial and Ten Other Sermons (SDG; 210 pages; 2001).

This book includes eight chapters on self-denial, based on Luke 9:23, and ten additional sermons, seven of which have not been reprinted since the seventeenth century. Watson teaches that “self-denial is the first principle of Christianity.” He describes what self-denial is, then demonstrates the Christ-asserting nature of every self-denying act. The additional sermons in this volume are also valuable, particularly those on God as the reward of His people (Gen. 15:1), “kissing” the Son (Ps. 2:12), the comforting rod (Ps. 23:4), and the Judgment Day (Acts 17:31).

The Fight of Faith Crowned (SDG; 191 pages; 1996).

This book contains six sermons that had not yet been reprinted in the twentieth century. They include “The Crown of Righteousness” (2 Tim. 4:8), “The Righteous Man’s Weal and the Wicked Man’s Woe” (Isa. 3:10–11), “Time’s Shortness” (a funeral sermon for the Puritan preacher John Wells, based on 1 Cor. 7:29), “The Fight of Faith Crowned” (a funeral sermon for Henry Stubbs, based on 1 Tim. 4:7–8), “A Plea for Alms” (Ps. 112:9), and “The One Thing Necessary” (Phil. 2:12). The last sermon strips away every excuse for not seeking God and pleads that we bow to the demands of the gospel. Watson concludes by explaining six helps for working out one’s salvation: Christ’s strength, diligence, love, humility, hope, and prayer.

Gleanings from Thomas Watson (SDG; 144 pages; 2001).

This work offers quotations from Watson’s writings. It sorts them according to fifteen areas of the believer’s walk with Christ, including contentment, persecution, temptation, preaching, prayer, and meditation. Watson had the gift of presenting profound doctrinal truth in vivid images and colorful metaphors that are particularly memorable.

Here are a few samples:

• He who is ashamed of Christ is a shame to Christ.
• Worldly sorrows hasten our funerals.
• They that bear the cross patiently shall wear the crown triumphantly.

The Godly Man’s Picture (BTT; 252 pages; 1992).

This work is subtitled Drawn with a Scripture Pencil, or, Some Characteristics of a Man who is Going to Heaven. After explaining the nature of godliness, Watson describes twenty-four marks of a godly man, including “moved by faith,” “fired with love,” “prizes Christ,” “loves the Word,” “is humble,” “is patient,” and “loves the saints.” The concluding chapters offer helps to godliness, advice on how to persevere in godliness, counsel and comfort for the godly, and teaching on the mystical union between Christ and His people.

Harmless as Doves: A Puritan’s View of the Christian Life (CFP; 188 pages; 1994).

This book contains ten excellent sermons that provide a biblical picture of practical Christian living. They include “Christian Prudence and Innocency,” “On Becoming A New Creature,” “The Evil Tongue,” “Not Being Weary in Well-Doing,” “On Knowing God and Doing Good,” “Christ All in All,” “The Preciousness of the Soul,” “The Soul’s Malady and Cure,” “The Beauty of Grace,” and “The Trees of Righteousness Blossoming.” These sermons reveal Watson’s colorful and compelling style of preaching. They are experiential and practical and make excellent devotional reading.

Heaven Taken by Storm (SDG; 135 pages; 1992).

This is an excellent handbook—perhaps the best ever written—on how to use the various means of grace. Based on Matthew 11:12, Watson describes how the Christian is to take the kingdom of heaven by holy violence through the reading and exposition of Scripture, prayer, meditation, self-examination, conversation, and keeping the Lord’s Day. He explains how the believer is to battle against self, Satan, and the world, and counters objections and hindrances to offering such violence. An appendix to the book includes two additional sermons: “The Happiness of Drawing Near to God” and “How We May Read the Scriptures with Most Spiritual Profit.”

This book helped lead Colonel James Gardiner (1688–1745) as well as many others to conversion. It is an excellent book to give to those who want to start reading the Puritans.

The Lord’s Prayer (BTT; 332 pages; 1994).

Originally produced as a companion to A Body of Divinity on the Shorter Catechism, Watson continues the question-and-answer format to explain the petitions of Jesus’ model prayer. In our opinion, this book matches Herman Witsius’s The Lord’s Prayer in usefulness. Witsius’s work is more deliberate and theological, while Watson’s is more devotional and practical.

The Mischief of Sin (SDG; 176 pages; 1994).

This is Watson’s most definitive treatment of sin. It includes four parts: “The Mischief of Sin,” “The Desperateness of Sinners,” “An Alarm to Sinners,” and “Hell’s Furnace Heated Hotter.” “The Mystery of the Lord’s Supper” is included in an appendix.

John MacArthur writes, “Thomas Watson’s study of sin is profound, convicting, thought-provoking, and filled with rich spiritual insight. It distills the best attributes of Puritan writing. As devotional as it is doctrinal, as practical as it is biblically sound, and as delightful as it is convicting, this books cuts to the very heart of the biblical issues regarding sin. You cannot read it and remain indifferent toward sin in your own life.”

A Plea for the Godly and Other Sermons (SDG; 480 pages; 1997).

This collection containing some of Watson’s best work includes: “Comfort for the Church,” “The Happiness of Drawing Near to God,” “The Tongue, a World of Iniquity,” “The Mystical Temple,” “Christ All in All,” “The Perfume of Love,” “A New Creature,” “The Heavenly Race,” “The Fiery Serpents,” and Watson’s farewell sermon.

The Puritan Pulpit: Thomas Watson (c.1620–1686) (SDG; 233 pages; 2004).

This book, the second in the Puritan Pulpit Series, is a collection of ten sermons not found in any other work of Watson’s in print today: “A Christian on Earth Still in Heaven,” “Christ’s Loveliness,” “God’s Anatomy Upon Man’s Heart,” “The Beauty of Grace,” “The Preciousness of the Soul,” “The Saint’s Desire to be with Christ,” “The Saint’s Spiritual Delight,” “The Soul’s Malady and Cure,” “The Tree of Righteousness Blossoming and Bringing Forth Fruit,” and “The Spiritual Watch.” These sermons are vintage Watson—pastoral and easy to understand, rich with illustration and abounding in application.

Religion Our True Interest (BB; 144 pages; 1992).

This work consists of Watson’s notes on Malachi 3:16–18. It offers helpful teaching on religious conversation, God-centered thinking, God’s disposition toward His people, and the fear of God, which Watson defines as “reverencing and adoring God’s holiness, and setting ourselves always under His sacred inspection.” Today, we’re sorely in need of such teaching, for too many people who call themselves Christians lack this mark of grace, which Watson calls “the best certificate to show for heaven” though “the fear of God is not our plea, yet [it is] our evidence for heaven.”

The covenant-keeping character of God is evident as Watson explains God’s promise “They shall be mine” from the book of Malachi. Believers belong to God, Watson says, but God and all His riches also belong to believers. God says, “My wisdom shall be yours to teach you, my holiness shall be yours to sanctify you, my mercy shall be yours to save you,” to which Watson responds, “What richer dowry than deity? God is a whole ocean of blessedness. If there is enough in Him to fill the angels, then surely He has enough to fill us.” This book is rich fare for the encouraging, enlightening, and admonishing of believers.

Sermons of Thomas Watson (SDG; 745 pages; 1997).

This work was originally titled Discourses on Interesting and Important Subjects, being the Select Works of the Reverend Thomas Watson (2 volumes). With the exception of The Beatitudes, this reprint puts everything in the original two volumes under one cover. It includes “The Christian’s Charter of Privileges,” “The Saint’s Spiritual Delight,” “A Treatise Concerning Meditation,” “The Upright Man’s Character,” and “The Godly Man’s Picture Drawn with a Scripture Pencil.” The treatise on meditation is particularly valuable. Edward Reynolds writes in the introductory epistle: “Meditation is the palate of the soul whereby we taste the goodness of God; the eye of the soul whereby we view the beauties of holiness; the askesis and gymnasia, whereby our spiritual senses are exercised,… it is the key to the wine-cellar, to the banqueting house, to the garden of spices, which letteth us in unto him whom our soul loveth; it is the arm whereby we embrace the promises at a distance, and bring Christ and our souls together.”

The Ten Commandments (BTT; 245 pages; 1998).

This third volume that Watson wrote on the Shorter Catechism examines the moral law as a whole as well as each of its commandments. Watson repeatedly shows the various ploys of indwelling sin. In view of the importance of law in Christian living, this is an extremely valuable work.

Who Is John Flavel?

February 4, 2008

[Reformation Heritage Books has graciously provided this biographical and reprint essay on the life and works of John Flavel. You can find this information and others in the book, Meet the Puritans.]

John Flavel (1628-1691)

John Flavel (or Flavell) was born in 1628 in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. He was the son of Richard Flavel, a minister who died of the plague in 1665 while in prison for nonconformity. John Flavel was educated by his father in the ways of religion, then “plied his studies hard” as a commoner at University College, Oxford. In 1650, he was ordained by the presbytery at Salisbury. He settled in Diptford, where he honed his numerous gifts.

He married Joan Randall, a godly woman, who died while giving birth to their first child in 1655. The baby died as well. After a year of mourning, Flavel married Elizabeth Stapell and was again blessed with a close, God-fearing marriage, as well as children.

In 1656, Flavel accepted a call to be minister in the thriving seaport of Dartmouth. He earned a smaller income there, but his work was more profitable; many were converted. One of his parishioners wrote of Flavel, “I could say much, though not enough of the excellency of his preaching; of his seasonable, suitable, and spiritual matter; of his plain expositions of Scripture; his talking method, his genuine and natural deductions, his convincing arguments, his clear and powerful demonstrations, his heart-searching applications, and his comfortable supports to those that were afflicted in conscience. In short, that person must have a very soft head, or a very hard heart, or both, that could sit under his ministry unaffected” (Erasmus Middleton, Evangelical Biography, 4:50-51).

Flavel was ejected from the pulpit in 1662 for nonconformity, but he continued to meet secretly with his parishioners in conventicles. On occasion, he would preach for them in the woods, especially on days of fasting and humiliation. Once he even disguised himself as a woman on horseback in order to reach a secret meeting place where he preached and administered baptism. At another time, when pursued by authorities, he plunged his horse into the sea and managed to escape arrest by swimming through a rocky area to reach Slapton Sands.

In 1665, when the Five Mile Act went into effect, Flavel moved to Slapton, which was beyond the five-mile limit of legal disturbance. There he ministered to many people in his congregation. At times, he would preach secretly in the woods to larger numbers of people, sometimes as late as midnight. Once, soldiers rushed in and dispersed the congregation. Several of the fugitives were apprehended and fined, but the remainder brought Flavel to another wooded area where he continued his sermon.

Flavel preached from other unique pulpits, such as Salstone Rock, an island in the Salcombe Estuary that is submerged at high tide. In that refuge, the congregation would “linger in devout assembly till the rising tide drove them to their boats.”

In 1672, King Charles II issued the Declaration of Indulgence, giving Nonconformists freedom to worship. Flavel returned to Dartmouth, licensed as a Congregationalist. When the indulgence was canceled the following year, Flavel once more resorted to preaching secretly in private homes, secluded neighborhoods, or remote forests. Flavel’s second wife died during this time and he married Ann Downe, a minister’s daughter. They were happily married for eleven years, and had two sons.

In the late 1670s and early 1680s, Flavel carried on his ministry mainly by writing. He published at least nine books in this period. In the summer of 1682, he was forced to seek safety in London, where he joined the congregation of his friend, William Jenkyn, known today for his commentary on Jude. In 1684, soldiers interrupted a prayer service Flavel was conducting with Jenkyn. Flavel narrowly escaped arrest. During his stay in London, Flavel’s third wife died. He married Dorothy, a widowed daughter of George Jefferies, minister of Kingsbridge; she survived him.

In 1685, Flavel returned to Dartmouth, where his ministry was confined to his home. He preached every Sunday and on many weekday evenings to people who crowded into his home. That same year he was burned in effigy by a mob, but he pressed on, praying for his beloved Dartmouth, “O that there were not a prayerless family in this town!” In 1687, King James II issued another indulgence for Nonconformists that allowed Flavel to preach publicly once again. This freedom was later augmented with the coming of William of Orange and the Glorious Revolution in 1688.

Flavel’s congregation built a large church upon his return to the pulpit. His last four years of public preaching, which began with his sermons on Revelation 3:20, “Behold I stand at the door and knock,” were greatly blessed. Yet he was aging rapidly. Speaking for himself and his colleagues, he wrote, “We have long borne the burden and heat of the day; we are veteran soldiers almost worn out.” While visiting Exeter to preach on June 6, 1691, Flavel suffered a massive stroke and died that same evening at the age of sixty-three. His final words were, “I know that it will be well with me.”

Flavel was humble, godly, and learned. He spent much time in study and prayer. One of his children wrote, “He was always full and copious in prayer, seemed constantly to exceed himself, and rarely made use twice of the same expressions.” He was well versed in church discipline, infant baptism, and a number of Oriental languages.

Flavel’s preaching was blessed by the Spirit. Robert Murray M‘Cheyne tells about an American immigrant, Luke Short, who remembered listening to Flavel preach in England when he was fifteen years old. The text was, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maranatha.” Eighty-five years after hearing Flavel preach on the horror of dying under God’s curse, the Spirit of God effectually converted him at the age of one hundred as he meditated on that sermon!

Flavel’s power as a preacher came out of his depth of spiritual experience. He spent many hours in meditation and self-examination. As Middleton writes, “He [Flavel] attained to a well-grounded assurance, the ravishing comforts of which were many times shed abroad in his soul; this made him a powerful and successful preacher, as one who spoke from his own heart to those of others. He preached what he felt, and what he had handled, what he had seen and tasted of the word of life and they felt it also” (ibid., p. 58).

While meditating on heaven on one occasion, Flavel was so overcome with heavenly joy that he lost sight of this world. Stopping his horse by a spring, he viewed death as the most amiable face he had ever seen, except that of Christ’s, who made it so. When he finally arrived at an inn, the innkeeper said to him, “Sir, what is the matter with you? You look like a dead man.” “Friend,” Flavel replied, “I was never better in my life.” Years later, Flavel said that he understood more of heaven from that experience than from all the books he had ever read and all the sermons he had ever heard on the subject.

The Works of John Flavel (BTT; 6 vols., 3,600 pages; 1968).

Flavel’s complete works were printed five times in the eighteenth century, three times in the nineteenth century, and several times in the twentieth century. Repeated printings of his writings (also in individual paperback editions) testify to their sound doctrinal instruction and spiritual application. They have been used by the Spirit to influence many people, including notable divines such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, and Scottish evangelical leaders such as Robert Murray M‘Cheyne and Andrew Bonar. Archibald Alexander, the first professor at Princeton Seminary, read Flavel when he was a teenager. He later wrote, “To John Flavel I certainly owe more than to any uninspired author.” Edward Bickersteth wrote, “There are few writers of a more experimental, affectionate, practical, popular, and edifying character than Flavel” (cf. Iain Murray, “John Flavel,” Banner of Truth, no. 60 [September 1968]: 3-5).

The first volume of Flavel’s Works describes the life of John Flavel and includes “The Fountain of Life.” Volume 2 contains “The Method of Grace” and “Pneumatologia: A Treatise of the Soul of Man.” Flavel deals with the origin, nature, and capacities of the soul and its union with the body. He proves the immortality of the soul and shows how it loves and “inclines” to the body.

Volume 3 contains the remaining part of “Pneumatologia,” in which Flavel stresses that we ought to think often of death, particularly our own, before it comes. As believers, we should strive to begin to be what we expect to be, realizing there is nothing between us and those who have died but a breath and moment of time. Thoughts of hell can also benefit us by making us more aware of the horrifying end of sinners. These thoughts can also make us more conscious of the purpose of our existence. More than a hundred pages describe the souls of believers in the intermediate state, and twenty pages deal with souls of unbelievers in the intermediate state. Flavel concludes by stressing the value of our souls and our need to redeem time. “A Practical Treatise on Fear,” based on Isaiah 8:12-14, focuses on fear and how one’s own fears are the cruelest tormentors. “Some fear more than they ought, and some before they ought, and others when they ought not at all,” Flavel writes. “The Righteous Man’s Refuge,” based on Isaiah 26:20, stresses how God’s people rest in God and how His attributes of wisdom, faithfulness, unchangeableness, and love are revealed when He pours out His wrath upon a nation. “The Causes and Remedies of Mental Errors” stresses the differences between matters of faith and human opinion. Flavel exposes the dangers of errors that creep into the church. This volume concludes with “Gospel Unity,” a sermon based on 1 Corinthians 1:10, which promotes unity in the church of Christ.

In addition to “England’s Duty Under the Present Gospel Liberty [1689]” and “The Mystery of Providence,” volume 4 includes “Mount Pisgah,” a thanksgiving sermon based on Deuteronomy 3:24-25; “A Narrative of Some Late and Wonderful Sea Deliverances”; “Antipharmacum Saluberrimum” [“A Most Wholesome Antidote to Poison”], a short treatise providing eight ways that believers should respond to temptation and trial, particularly the special pressures of the moment exerted by Roman Catholicism; and “Tidings from Rome, or England’s Alarm,” which stresses the need to oppose the papacy and prepare for a time when Roman Catholicism might prevail in England.

Volume 5 contains “A Saint Indeed,” “The Touchstone of Sincerity,” and “A Token for Mourners,” as well as the impressive “Husbandry Spiritualized,” which illustrates spiritual truths through various aspects of farming. It also includes three treatises written primarily for sailors: “Navigation Spiritualized,” which spiritualizes life at sea; “A Caution to Seamen,” which warns against “several horrid and detestable sins”; and “The Seaman’s Companion,” subtitled “Six Sermons on the Mysteries of Providence as Relating to Seamen.”

Volume 6 contains an excellent question-and-answer exposition on the Westminster Assembly’s Shorter Catechism, as well as twelve helpful meditations to prepare believers for the Lord’s Supper, followed by a dialogue between a minister and a doubting Christian on attending the Lord’s Supper. The volume also includes several additional sermons and three minor treatises on preparing for suffering, defending infant baptism, and the need for personal reformation and conversion.

Flavel’s work includes catchy titles, striking sayings, apt quotations, and simple illustrations. We know a pastor who has profited greatly from reading a sermon or chapter of Flavel every morning for decades. When he finishes volume 6, the pastor begins over again with volume 1. If you can afford only a few sets of Puritan works, Flavel’s should be included.

Christ Knocking at the Door of the Heart (GM; 400 pages; 1978).

Originally titled England’s Duty Under the Present Gospel Liberty (1689), this book contains eleven sermons on Revelation 3:20. It explains God’s offer of Christ to sinners, the natural heart that resists that offer, and Christ’s patience in persisting with the offer. Flavel suggests that every conviction of conscience is Christ’s knocking for entrance into the soul. Christ is an “earnest suitor for union and communion with the souls of sinners,” Flavel says. Christ will not refuse the vilest sinner who is willing to open to Him; rather, His own quickening voice enables the sinner to receive Christ by faith and to commune with Him. That is the great goal of the gospel. The last sermon on the “mutual, sweet, and intimate communion between Christ and believers in this world” is worthy of repeated reading. This book is particularly helpful for convicted sinners who are struggling to find liberty in Christ.

The Fountain of Life (GM; 556 pages; 1977).

This book, subtitled A Display of Christ in His Essential and Mediatorial Glory, contains forty-two sermons on the riches of Christ’s offices and states. The book offers a comprehensive Christology with a devotional accent. Chapter 3 alone, on the covenant between the Father and the Son, is worth the price of the book. The book also contains fifteen sermons on Christ’s sufferings, from the Garden of Gethsemane until His burial. It rivals Friedrich W. Krummacher’s Suffering Savior for experiential warmth and depth. Flavel says this book was written “in a time of great distractions [persecutions].” No doubt his faith was greatly strengthened by his reflections on the great sufferings of his glorious Savior.

Keeping the Heart (SDG; 170 pages; 1998).

In this work, originally titled A Saint Indeed, Flavel examines how to keep the heart and why this is the great calling of every believer. He suggests six ways to keep the heart before God: (1) converse with your heart, (2) let the evils of your heart humble you, (3) pray for grace, (4) resolve to walk more carefully with God, (5) be jealous for holiness and afraid of sin, and (6) be aware of God’s omniscience.

Flavel provides powerful motives for keeping our hearts. He says that will help us understand “the deep mysteries of religion” and preserve us from dangerous errors. It will prove our faith as real and sincere. It will maintain joy through the means of grace, such as praying, worshiping, and listening to sermons. It will furnish grist for prayer and make us strive more for revival. It will help keep us from falling into sin, promote better fellowship among believers, and enable us to preserve our impressions of spiritual truth.

God has used this book to convert many. For example, a gentleman from London tried to purchase some plays at a bookshop. The owner had none in stock, but recommended Flavel’s Keeping the Heart. The man from London swore and threatened to burn the book. Still, he bought it. He returned a month later, saying that God had used it to save his soul. “Can I purchase one hundred copies?” he asked.

Included in the SDG edition are a helpful introduction, outline, and study guide written by Maureen Bradley, making this an excellent book for adult study groups.

The Method of Grace (GM; 560 pages; 1977).

In five sections, this book describes the work of the Spirit in applying Christ’s redemption to sinners. It consoles the weak believer and exposes the dangers of false comfort. In the first section, beginning with union with Christ ( John 17:23), Flavel shows how the Holy Spirit applies Christ to the soul ( John 6:44) so that faith can receive and fellowship with Him ( John 1:12; Ps. 14:7).

In the second section, Flavel invites sinners to come to Christ by means of His titles and benefits. Those titles include Physician, Mercy, Altogether Lovely, Desire of All Nations, Lord of Glory, and Consolation of Israel. The benefits include forgiveness of sin, acceptance with God, Christian liberty, reconciliation, and glorification. Flavel shows in the third section how coming to Christ implies true conviction of sin, “being slain by the law” (Rom. 7:9), and being “taught of God” (John 6:45).

Section four describes evidences of union with Christ, including the indwelling of the Spirit (1 John 3:24), becoming a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17), mortifying sin (Gal. 5:24), and imitating Christ (1 John 2:6). The last section shows “the lamentable state of unbelievers” in their spiritual death and misery (Eph. 5:14), their condemnation ( John 3:18), and their unbelief (2 Cor. 4:3-4). This book searches the believer’s heart, challenges faith, and enriches love.

The Mystery of Providence (BTT; 221 pages; 1963).

First published in 1678 as Divine Conduct or the Mystery of Providence Opened, this frequently reprinted book is based on Psalm 57:2, “I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth all things for me.” It explains the following doctrine: “It is the duty of the saints, especially in times of straits, to reflect upon the performances of Providence for them in all the states and through all the stages of their lives” (p. 20).

The BTT edition divides this book into three sections. In the first, Flavel explains the evidence of providence in the birth and upbringing of believers, in their conversion and employment, in their family affairs, and in their sanctification and preservation from evil. In the second, he instructs believers on the art of meditating on the providence of God, explaining the duty of such meditation, how to do it, and the benefits of doing it. Such meditation promotes communion with God, the endearment of Christ, and delight in the Christian life. It supports the life of faith and provides matter for praise. If we don’t meditate on providence, we will minimize God’s benefits, slight God, and harm our prayer life, for we cannot pray intelligently unless we are in tune with God’s providence. Finally, Flavel applies the doctrine of providence by showing its practical implications for believers and the problems of wrestling with it. The book concludes with a chapter titled “The Advantages of Recording our Experiences of Providence.”

Flavel’s book is rich with illustrations. For example, when dealing with the difference between what Flavel calls “our time” and “God’s time,” Flavel concludes that our time is not the proper season for us to receive our mercies, since God’s delay “is nothing else but the time of His preparation of mercies for you, and your heart for mercy, so that you may have it with the greatest advantage of comfort. The foolish child would pluck the apple while it is green; but when it is ripe it drops of its own accord and is more pleasant and wholesome” (p. 139).

This excellent book on providence opens avenues of spiritual knowledge and experience that few believers have probed. It is invaluable for understanding God’s purposes for our lives. Flavel teaches us how to find delight in discerning how God works all things in the world for His glory and our good.

True Professors and Mourners: Two Works by John Flavel (Rhwym; 176 pages; 1996).

This small book contains two works: The Touchstone of Sincerity and A Token for Mourners. The first book, based on Revelation 3:17-18, probes the sincerity of one’s Christianity and ruthlessly exposes hypocrisy. The second, based on Luke 7:13, discusses Christ’s advice to the widow of Nain who is mourning the death of her only son. Flavel warns against immoderate sorrow and presents ways of curing that problem. The language of this book has been updated for modern readers, but the binding and formatting quality are seriously deficient.

Join the 2008 Puritan Reading Challenge!

January 7, 2008

Update 1: Some have brought up the fact that I forgot to actually list the books for each month in this post (although they are in the prior post). I have included them so that everyone can know what books scheduled to read. However, if you would like to develop your own PP reading schedule, then you are free to do so.

Update 2: Many of you have already purchased the entire set for $65, so many that we are experiencing a shortage on some of the Puritan Paperbacks. This is a great thing! Would that all the PP’s become best-sellers in 2008. 🙂 However, if there is a problem with obtaining the books by the time of the scheduled read, we will rearrange the reading to make that possible.

Update 3: Some have asked about how to insert the HTML code for the blog button. I cannot simply copy and paste the code because WordPress will convert it to the image. So you need to insert this url http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2052/2172676863_e1315a3839_o.jpg where the code says “INSERT JPEG HERE.”

<a href=”http://timmybrister.com/2008/01/07/join-the-2008-puritan-reading-challenge/”><img src=”INSERT JPEG URL HERE”></a>

Then copy and paste the entire code into your template sidebar or text widget (if you are using WordPress). Please let me know if you have any more questions!

Update 4: A word from Tim Keller from Justin Taylor’s post:

For what it’s worth, I read all but one of the books on this list during seminary and my early ministry, and they had an enormous, life-changing, ministry-shaping impact on me. A couple of them almost literally saved my life. I couldn’t recommend them more highly. I’d only add: a) Read Owen on Temptation as well as Mortification. It’s short and well worth the read. b) Consider adding Baxter’s Saints Everlasting Rest. Other than those, I’d agree that these are the best short, accessible Puritan works. A great list.

Tim Keller

Update 5: After three days, over 100 people have signed on!  I am super-excited.  Also I have tallied 55 blogs plugging or blogging the challenge.  Thanks to everyone who has helped get the word out!  Perhaps we can see 200?! 

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Towards the close of 2007, I began thinking of a way I could challenge myself to grow spiritually through a reading regiment and schedule. While riding home from work one morning, I came up with the idea of reading one Puritan Paperback a month, along with incorporating the Valley of Vision in my devotional meditations and prayers. I shared my personal challenge publicly, not thinking much about it.

To my surprise, this Puritan reading challenge has resonated with more people than I could have ever imagined. Due to the high level of interest and encouragement from many people wanting to take on this reading challenge together, I have worked to make this Puritan reading project the best it could be. Allow me to briefly share with you some of the developments, but before I do, let me ask a personal favor:

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have decided to join the 2008 Puritan Reading Challenge, please take a moment and comment on this post, providing your first and last name. If you are going to blog through the books or promote the challenge on your blog, please express your intentions as well. This way I will have a general idea of who’s in and how to communicate with everyone throughout the year.

1. Reformation Heritage Books Partnership and Specials

I am excited to share with you that Reformation Heritage Books, has agreed to partner with us in the 2008 Puritan Reading Challenge. Several of you have contacted me via the blog, Facebook, and email about getting them all at one time at a discounted price, and RHB has delivered on that request. Although RHB already has the lowest prices on Puritan Paperbacks (usually around 30% off), they have created a 2008 Puritan Reading Special where you can buy all 12 Puritan Paperbacks together in one bundle, saving you 36% off the retail price. The 12 books retail for $101.00, and RHB is selling them for only $65.00. Here is the line-up of books we are reading this year:

January: The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes (128 pp)
February: The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel (221 pp)
March: The Godly Man’s Picture by Thomas Watson (252 pp)
April: Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks (253 pp)
May: Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ by John Bunyan (225 pp)
June: The Mortification of Sin by John Owen (130 pp)
July: A Lifting Up for the Downcast by William Bridge (287 pp)
August: The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs (228 pp)
September: The True Bounds of Christian Freedom by Samuel Bolton (224 pp)
October: The Christian’s Great Interest by William Guthrie (207 pp)
November: The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter (256 pp)
December: A Sure Guide to Heaven by Joseph Alleine (148 pp)

Secondly, RHB is offering a special discounted price for an excellent Puritan resource, Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson. The book retails for $35.00, and on their website it sells for $25.00. But RHB is now offering a special price of only $20.00. To get this great deal, you must order either via phone or email, letting them know that you heard about the 2008 Puritan Reading Special for Meet the Puritans for only $20.00. The number to call and place your order is (616) 977-0599, or you can email them at orders@heritagebooks.org. These specials are a fantastic way for you to get you copies of Puritan literature at the most affordable price anywhere, and I am grateful to the good people at RHB for joining in this exciting project.

2. Beneath and Behind the Pages

To make this project more beneficial to you, I have considered ways to provide more context both historically and biographically to each book we are reading. At the beginning of each month, I will post a brief biographical sketch of the author, providing general information about his life, ministry, and other available works. Second, I am going to hunt down online resources related to the author and make them available in one place. Third, if the author’s works are available, I hope to “mine the works” and provide additional topical or thematic reading material that might be of interest to you. Fourth, I hope to provide some quotes from other individuals who have had something to say either about the author or the book we are reading. Last, I am looking to highlight either the thesis or key doctrinal themes in the work we are reading for interaction and discussion. I would love for you to join in sharing your thoughts!

3. Prospective Interviews

It is always good to hear from pastors and theologians who have studied and benefited from the Puritans. With each month, I am hoping to provide an interview of respected leaders who have expressed their appreciated of and indebtedness to the Puritans. I am really excited about this opportunity!

4. Monthly Giveaways

At the close of each month, I am going to post an open thread to conclude each book. The Puritans were intensely practical in their works, often spending the majority of their sermons and literature focusing on the “uses” or application for any given doctrine or biblical truth. They did not want mere head knowledge but a deep, experiential (experimental) knowledge of God. In light of that, the open thread will be an opportunity to answer the question, “How has this book impacted your life? What use will it have in your ministry or service in the kingdom?” In 500 words or less, I would love to hear your testimony regarding your experience that month while reading the Puritan Paperback and internalizing the truths into your heart and life. For January’s giveaway, we are going to randomly select from among those in the comments of this post who sign on to the Puritan Reading Challenge, so be sure sign on!

5. Blog Button Promotional

Over 30 bloggers have been kind enough to mention the 2008 Puritan Reading Challenge, encouraging their readers to check it out. Realizing the potential for this challenge to spread exponentially through the blogosphere, I have created a small button you can use on your sidebar to direct people to this post where they can sign up, order books, or ask any questions they might have. The dimensions of the button are 185×98 at a resolution of 72 dpi and can be downloaded by clicking here.

A Word of Encouragement

I know many of you have never heard of the Puritans. Some of you may have never read literature older than a decade, much less three centuries. Let me sincerely encourage you to consider this challenge. You may not have time or be able to read all twelve books. That’s totally fine. If you read just one, I promise you will have not wasted your time! Inevitably, some of you will read about this challenge sometime during the year. It’s never too late to join in! The goal behind this challenge is to introduce you to some of the godliest men who have ever lived through their writings. While their books may never make the front shelves of your local bookstore, for 2008, they will be on the front of the virtual bookshelf for all who are interested. I pray you are among them!

REMEMBER, if you have decided to join the 2008 Puritan Reading Challenge, please take a moment to leave your first and last name in the comments, expressing your intentions to take the challenge. To the bloggers who want to use the blog button to help promote the project, if you have any questions or problems, please let me know.

I am looking forward to this year sitting at the feet of great teachers like Richard Sibbes, Thomas Watson, John Owen, Richard Baxter, and others along with you. May we pursue the heart of God with greater affections, and may we renew our minds with higher thoughts of the greatness and glory of God.