Where to Begin Reading the Puritans

Where to Begin Reading the Puritans

Are you hungering for deeper understanding in your walk with the Lord? Do you want to integrate faith in every area of your life? The Puritans were English Protestants of the 16th and 17th centuries who sought to live out the implications of their Reformed beliefs. Puritans wanted to live deeply biblical lives, enjoying all they had in Christ. They sought to integrate the Christian faith in every area of life, possessing an intelligent faith based on the Word – not on superstition, ignorance, or empty tradition. The writings they produced are often more thoughtful, penetrating, challenging, and rewarding than much of what is popular in Christian publishing today. Do the Puritan’s desires describe you? Reading and pursuing what they wrote can lead to a desire to know God, the Scriptures, and the joy of the Lord more deeply. Here are five suggestions for where to start.

The Valley of Vision, ed. Arthur Bennett

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.”

This book is a collection of Puritan prayers. There are prayers for every occasion, written with beautiful, rich language. This volume is useful to read or recite prayers in times of need or in daily devotion. A work such as this gives a vocabulary for prayer and shows us how to pray better, more deeply, and for areas we often overlook. 

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Matthew Henry

“The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled on, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near to his heart to be beloved.”  | Vol. 1 on Genesis 2:21-25

In seminary we weren’t allowed to use this commentary for exegetical or analytic papers because it was considered dated and not scholarly. Now that I’m writing sermons instead of papers, it is my first and favorite commentary to read on any given passage. Henry wrote thousands of pages over five volumes on every book of the Bible through the book of Acts before he died. Volume 6, covering Romans – Revelation, was completed by 13 other ministers. This is a readable and useful commentary, great for personal devotion or preparing for a lesson. You can buy this in a condensed one-volume version, and you can find the whole work online or in app form for free. But the full six-volume hardcover sure does look good on the shelf.

A Body of Divinity, Thomas Watson

We shall never enjoy ourselves fully until we enjoy God eternally.

Watson might be my favorite Puritan, after John Owen. He is widely considered the easiest to read, but that does not mean he is light reading. Watson is weighty. I found myself underlining my first copy of A Body of Divinity so much that the pages started falling out and I had to buy a second, hardcover copy. It is a book I have purchased and given to others several times. Watson’s writing is clear, efficient, and effective. He is great at punchy statements that summarize an idea to lasting effect; some examples are below.

  • We borrow all our holiness from God. (83)
  • Whatever we love more than God we make a god. (106) 
  • Life beings with a cry and ends with a groan; but at death all troubles die. (291)
  • (On God’s adoption of us) We needed a Father, but he did not need sons. (235)
  • (On the believer’s reward after death) Christ keeps the best wine till last. (295)

A Body of Divinity is the first part of a trilogy teaching through the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This is a theology lesson that will warm your heart and nourish your soul.

The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan

I saw in my dream that when Christian walked up the hill to the cross, his burden came loose from his shoulders and fell off his back, tumbling down the hill until it came to the mouth of the tomb, where it fell in to be seen no more.

The Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegorical story of a man, Christian, who begins the story in the city of Destruction with a burden on his back. He meets a man named Evangelist who directs him to the Narrow Gate, whereby he can make his way to the Celestial City. Thus begins Christian’s journey and ours. Through this story, Bunyan instructs, warns, and encourages us to press on in the journey of faith. This is one of the most widely read, translated, and published books in the English language. Not surprisingly, the Pilgrims read it widely in the Puritan colonies of America. It has never been out of print and for good reason. This is great for kids too!

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, Thomas Brooks

Till we have sinned, Satan is a Parasite; when we have sinned, he is a tyrant.

The Puritans thought deeply about how Satan tempts, traps, afflicts, and influences Christians, and how we may put up a good defense (2 Cor. 2:11). In Precious Remedies, Brooks seeks to identify common ways that Satan’s lies draw us into sin, and then offers some mental ammunition to combat it. His writing is insightful, pithy, sobering, and helpful. If you enjoyed C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, you will appreciate this book.

This post was originally published on October 21, 2019.