Stern and severe. Gloomy and grim. Dry and Dull. Harsh and hard-hearted. Killjoys of the highest order.
Thanks to our high school history books, these are probably some of the images that come to mind when you think of the Purtians. Our dictionaries aren’t much help either. Under the word puritanical you’ll find synonymns like austere, strait-laced, stuffy, rigid, prudish, prim, and priggish. Not a flattering list to say the least. Why would anyone in their right mind want to read anything by that kind of people?
It’s possible that no other group in American history is more misrepresented than the Puritans. What we read in our history books and synonym lists is mostly an unwarranted caricature of a group of Christians who were more spiritually and emotionally dynamic than they often get credit for.
Yes, they had their flaws and faults. They were sinners after all, and they knew and bewailed that fact more than anyone. And yes, they had their blindspots which to our modern minds might appear inconsistent and hypocritical. To think the Puritans represent some pristine and pure breed of Christianity would be a foolish and naive thought.
But despite their reputation and shortcomings, what the Puritans actually represent in their writings is a Christianity full of mind-illuminating depth, soul-penetrating precision, and heart-ravishing joy. When you read the Puritans for yourself, you don’t find a dry rigidness, but you encounter a deep richness of Christian thought that is unparalleled in our day.
For those who need more convincing, here are 5 reasons you should read the Puritans.
1. The Puritans are radically God-centered
For the Puritans, everything came down to the glory of God. They breathed an air of God-centeredness that is glaringly absent from much of Christian church today. All of their writing is permeated with the glory of God and how Christians might with greater devotion and joy live for that glory.
2. The Puritans are steeped in Scripture
You can’t go very far in reading the Puritans without coming across Scripture. The Puritans had minds that were immersed in the Bible and their writing reveals a profound knowledge of God’s word that most of us can only dream of obtaining. And from Scriptures alone they sought to draw all of their theology, beliefs, and practices.
3. The Puritans are pastorally practical
It’s common to misjudge the Puritans as those who only cared about right doctrine and theology, without much concern for personal application. That misconception quickly disappears as soon as you open up the Puritans and find them constantly encouraging Christians in very practical ways. From ways to resist temptation to reasons to love your neighbor more, Puritan writing is full of practical helps that aim to embed the glories of the gospel into the very warp and woof of daily life.
4. The Puritans are “physicians of the soul”
When you read the the Puritans, it can feel like someone is gazing into your soul and all of its inner-workings. That’s because the Puritans had a deep understanding of and care for the spiritual health of believers. They saw their calling as “soul-doctors” who counseled believers under spiritual problems such as unbelief, depression, or lack of assurance. Such a helpful and encouraging care for souls pervades all of their writing. The Puritans were also great students of Satan’s schemes and throughout their writings offer wise, insightful defenses against the evil one.
5. The Puritans are heart-compellingly Christ-exalting
Maybe the best reason you should read the Puritans is that their greatest aim is to stir your affections for Christ. The Puritans were never content with a mental assent to the gospel, but labored for enflamed hearts that joyfully delighted in the glory, grace, and love of Christ. Thus when you read the Puritans you’ll find them laboring with all their might to display a Christ so beautiful, so worthy, and so glorious that your heart is compellingly moved to trust and love Christ more. That’s worth a little old English to me.
There are probably a hundred more reasons. But I hope these short and simple 5 will whet your appetite for the rich feast to be found in reading the Puritans. Below is a list of 3 recommendations for those who’d like to get started.
For a complete selection of Puritan books, check out Banner of Truth.