2 Timothy 2:15 reads, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” This is a biblical text that is applicable to all students of the Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” These selected texts are written by the Apostle Paul in order to pierce the hearts of every person. The question I wish to explore in this article is, “How does one ‘rightly’ handle the Word of Truth?” In order to answer this question, we must first turn to the Scriptures before we look at the example of John Calvin, a great pastor in the history of the church.
Isaiah 66:2 states, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my Word.” A preacher of the gospel must be one who rightly handles the Word of God. Through his preaching, the man of God must show humility, reverence, and awe. John Calvin is a pastor who is a prime example of a man of God who handles the Word of God with great care and skill.
When John Calvin’s name is mentioned, people immediately think of John Calvin the theologian; however, John Calvin was also a pastor.
Calvin’s theological work is indeed life changing, but looking at his skill as a pastor is a teaching tool that demonstrates how he rightly handled the Scriptures. Calvin is an outstanding example on how to rightly handle the Word of God. This can be seen in three ways; Calvin’s view on the authority of Scripture, his intentional proclamation of the Word, and his faithful life.
The Authority of Scripture
Calvin stood before his congregation and proclaimed the Word of God in a thoroughly Christ-centered manner that provided the groundwork for all of his exegesis. When Calvin studied God’s Word, it was to behold the majesty of God. Calvin was not only careful in his handling of Scripture, his exegesis is marked by fear and trembling before the face of God.
Calvin also understood the Scriptures were verbum Dei – the literal words of God – and that these words alone should be the guiding hand of the Church. Calvin identified the Bible as the sole authority of God in His church, and wholeheartedly embraced it. He insisted that the Bible was the authoritative, inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God. These truths should must be fully understood and taught by everyone who teaches the Word of God.
The Bold Proclamation
As John Calvin stepped into the pulpit, he sought to faithfully explain the Scriptures. Calvin had one priority, which was the bold proclamation of the Word of God to a lost and dying world. He would preach in an expository manner where he would preach verse by verse manner known as Lectio Continua following other greats in the history of the Church who progressed slowly through entire books of the Bible giving clear exegesis of the Scriptural text then concluding with convicting application. All of Calvin’s sermons were delivered in easy to understand language everyday people could understand. His goal in preaching in this way was to see the Spirit bring conviction. In preaching in this manner, Calvin wanted to be a minister who proclaimed the Truth to the sheep of his flock with the hope that God would unveil His matchless glory and grace to the congregants that came into the sanctuary. Calvin’s style of preaching is an outstanding example of proclamation that not only covers the entire word of God carefully but does so with reverence, and clear application.
The Faithful Life
Calvin did not separate his preaching from the way he lived his life. His life can be summarized by two words “devoted heart.” This language can not only be used in regards to the way Calvin prepared himself for preaching, but also to summarize the entire way Calvin lived his life. Calvin was sincerely a God-fearing man, and this reverential awe of God characterized his devotion to God.
The rejection he experienced during his banishment from Geneva (1538-1541) served only to deepen his drive to know and serve God. When the City Council of Geneva rescinded its ban and called for Calvin’s return, he wrote to William Farel, “Because I know that I am not my own master, I offer my heart as a true sacrifice to the Lord.” This expression of his devotion of his heart to God became the personal motto and emblem of the Genevan Reformer. In his personal seal, the emblem is a pair of human hands holding out a heart to God…the inscription reads, “My heart I give to thee, O Lord, promptly and sincerely.” The words promptly and sincerely aptly describe how Calvin believed his life was to be lived before God, namely, in devotion to Him.
A Few Final Thoughts
To be ministers of the gospel who rightly handle the Word of God, we must understand that our theology is never divorced from our practice. The Word proclaimed from the pulpit must be lived out in the life of the minister. Given the relationship between theology and practice, it is crucial theologians seek to cultivate faithfulness in their lives. If our theology does not first convict and soften our own hearts then we will not be able to minister the Word faithfully. Also if our theology doesn’t convict our own lives then it will harden our hearts, which leads to unbelief, false humility, and feeds our pride, instead of our growth in Christ-like humility and character.
If the Word of God is to be handled correctly, then preachers must not only boldly proclaim God’s Word, but must also strive to live faithfully devoted to God’s Word. Calvin’s character and leadership complemented and reinforced the words that he proclaimed from the pulpit. If this were not the case, he would not have been so influential in his day and in our own today.
The Scriptures are our final authority for faith and practice. This is why they must be handled with great care in order to rightly declare the hope offered through the finished work of Christ. After all it is only by the Scriptures that we can make sure our worship and our lives are pleasing in the sight of God.
Every minister of the gospel must be intentional in remembering Jesus’ words in John 17:17, as He prayed for His people, “Sanctify them in your truth. Your word is truth.” Through careful study and application of the Word by preachers, God will renew His people’s minds and bring growth into their lives. This is why Pastors and teachers of the Word should follow in the example of Calvin and be careful students of the Scriptures, and preach sermons that aim to be faithful in their exegesis and Christ-centered in their application.
Read More »
The Reformation in the 16th century is long known as a religious renewal which we refer to today as the Protestant Reformation. This movement is known to have changed the course of Western civilization, but what is often not understood about this event is that not one single man caused it. It didn’t begin with Martin Luther (1483-1546) when he posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the church doors of Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.
Luther’s “Tower Experience” is said to be where he came to grasp the definitive doctrine of the Reformation: justification by faith alone. With that said, it’s also important to note that the Reformation grew out of earlier attempts for renewal, the most notable of which was led by Peter Waldo (1140-1217) and his followers in the Alpine regions—John Wycliffe (1324—1384) and the Lollards in England (those without an academic background); and John Huss (1372-1415) and his followers in Bohemia. All of these men and many more are called forerunners of the Reformation—rather than Reformers—since, although they anticipated many of the emphases of the Reformation, they lacked a complete understanding of the critical doctrine of justification by faith alone. While the intent of Luther’s Reformation was originally to purge the Roman Catholic Church of its abuses, the Lord expanded this Reformations reach and influence in other regions and throughout the coming centuries. And its five core teachings are as valuable today as they were in the 16th century.
The Five Solas
The Reformers taught what is known as the “five solas”: Scripture alone (sola Scriptura), faith alone (sola fide), grace alone (sola gratia), Christ alone (solus Christus), and glory to God alone (soli Deo gloria). Dr. Joel Beeke notes, “The first of these battle cries deals with the fundamental issue of authority, the middle three deal with the basics of salvation, and the final one addresses worship” (6). [i]
The Importance of the Five Solas for Today
In the past few years researchers have been hard at work studying problems in the American church. One study done by sociologist Christian Smith and his fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion came to conclude that American’s youth believe in a philosophy called “moral therapeutic deism.” Smith and his research team define this as: 1) “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth”; 2) “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions”; 3) “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself”; 4) “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem”; and 5) “Good people go to heaven when they die.”
This definition is significant for several reasons. The decline of mainstream American denominations came about as a denial of the authority of the Bible. When the authority of the Bible is diminished, there is no standard for faith and practice thereof. Thus, a return to the first sola—sola Scriptura—should be our battle cry. The Scriptures are the inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient Word of God. When the Bible speaks, God’s people should hear, heed, and obey the Word by His grace. Not only this—the Bible proclaims the Truth of the other solas, namely that salvation is by grace alone through faith in Christ. Man has not been saved for his own purposes but for God’s purpose and glory. Thus man’s greatest need is indeed Christ. As Charles Spurgeon said, “I have a great need for Christ, I have a great Christ for my need.”
The greatest need of the Church has always been reformation around the Word of God. Thus, undergirding these five solas is ecclesia semper reformanda est, which means”the church (is) always to be reformed.” The Word of God stands over us—individually and collectively. This is why the Church must always be a listening to the Word Church. Romans 10:17 states, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Michael Horton notes,
“Personally and corporately, the church comes into being and is kept alive by hearing the gospel. The church is always on the receiving end of God’s good gifts as well as His correction. The Spirit does not lead us apart from the Word but directs us back to Christ as He is revealed in Scripture. We always need to return to the voice of our Shepherd. The same gospel that creates the church sustains and renews it.”[ii]
Rather than being restrictive, ecclesia semper reformanda est undergirds the five solas by providing a foundation on which they can stand. The Church exists because of Christ, is in Christ, and is for the spread of the glory of Christ. As Horton further notes,
“When we invoke the whole phrase — “the church Reformed and always being reformed according to the Word of God” — we confess that we belong to the church and not simply to ourselves and that this church is always created and renewed by the Word of God rather than by the spirit of the age.”iii]
The five solas provide the foundation for a robust and true evangelical faith and practice. My prayer is that the Lord would daily renew in His people a love for what He loves—a love of His grace, proclaimed in His power from every pulpit throughout the land, and from every mouth and tongue of His beloved for His glory.
[i]Joel Beeke, Living For God’s Glory An Introduction To Calvinism (Lake Mary, FL, Reformation Trust, 2008), 6.
[ii] Michael Horton “Semper Reformanda”, October 1st, 2009, Table Talk Magazine, accessed 4 November 2014. http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/semper-reformanda/
[iii] Ibid. http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/semper-reformanda/
Read More »
Is Reformation theology still relevant today? Absolutely! It reminds us that we have a big God and that salvation is found in Him alone. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for God’s glory alone. And we know this because Scripture alone is our highest standard for truth. We don’t determine what is good and true about God. God does.
I would argue that the biggest problem in the church today is that many of us have too small a view of who God is. We have shrunk an infinite being. We have diminished His glory and put Him into very small and manageable boxes. This ignores the objectively there God altogether to the point that He becomes (to us) just a projection of what we think He is like, what we feel He should be like.
We need a new reformation—a re-reformation.
We, as the church in the 21st century, need to recapture a sense of the grandeur of God—how vast and awesome He is. We need a biblical view of His glory. We need a biblical view of His sovereignty. We need a biblical view of what it means to say He’s both transcendently holy and imminently relational. We need a biblical vision of His love, His mercy, His justice, His grace. If we start there, awestruck by the infinite God at the center of our worldview, then many other issues in our church world will sort of self-fix. As true worship is happening, our marriages will get better, our churches will have less scandals, and our joy will be maximized in Jesus Christ.
Allow me to give a few historical examples of this.
Way back in the first century, we find Jesus Christ championing a big view of God. Meanwhile, there are these Pharisees who had shrunk their view of God by essentially saying, “At the end of the day, our rule-keeping and our mile-long lists of dos and don’ts, that is where we get our righteousness.” Jesus confronts this man-centered view of salvation (which, by the way, is no good news at all). He reminds the Pharisees that they are not the point. The glory of God is!
The same debate breaks out later in the first century. Only this time, you have the apostle Paul on one side and the Judaizers on the other. The Judaizers were a group of Jews who were telling all the Gentiles (non-Jews) that if you want to get saved, you’ve got to supplement God’s grace with circumcision and adherence to all kinds of rituals within the Jewish culture. The apostle Paul boldly rose to the challenge, confronted the Judaizers, and revealed that their message of salvation is a different gospel altogether. After all, if salvation is a man-centered endeavor that comes down to us jumping through religious hoops, then what’s so good about that news? Paul contended for a radically God-centered view of reality.
If we move forward in church history to the 4th century, we find the same scenario. Same question, new century. Pelagius was a monk who said that man had the power in and of himself to choose salvation. Augustine contended against him, claiming that Pelagius had strayed off a biblical course and down the dead-end road of works-based salvation. Augustine fought to bring the popular theology of the day back to the Bible alone—back to a God who does the saving. What’s interesting is that at this point, the fourth century Roman Catholic Church actually sides with Augustine and deems Pelagianism heretical.
In the 16th century, however, the Roman Catholic Church had slid from a God-centered view back into a man-centered view of salvation. Under their teachings, one could buy a plenary indulgence—a little sheet of paper that was basically a sure-shot passport to heaven. One could also visit a number of sacred sites and gaze upon the relics of Saint Peter and others. It was a man-centered movement about trying to reach God by the power of human volition. Then, Martin Luther shows up on the scene standing in the same shoes that Augustine stood in the 4th century, the same shoes that Paul stood in during the 1st century. Luther contended for a biblical view of salvation in which all credit goes to amazing grace of God. Thus, Luther helped start the Protestant Reformation: protesting what had become a man-centered institution.
Now, here we are in the 21st century.
A recent survey asked a large number of professing Christians how we get to heaven: Is it by good works or as an act of grace? An alarming 73% of Protestants in mainline denominations said that God let’s us into heaven based on our good works. Many of today’s Protestants have embraced the very anti-gospel doctrine that Protestantism originated to protest! It is the same pattern we’ve seen throughout history. We get pulled downward into our self-powered salvation attempts with an almost gravitational force.
So, this raises the question: Who are the Luthers, the Augustines, the Pauls of the 21st century? In other words, who are the people willing to stand up for the good news that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone? Where are the people willing to stand in those shoes?
How desperately we need God at the center!
God is salvation’s author.
He alone gets the glory.
This is reformation thinking, and we will need it always.
Read More »
E-Book PDF: Open in New Window
I’m often asked questions about the Puritans and Puritanism. While the definitions are a bit elusive, I wanted to give you an article I wrote a few years ago for Churchman, helping navigate the waters of various definitions that have been offered. Here you go:
Read More »
The gospel-centered movement may be new, but gospel-centeredness itself isn’t a novelty. Love for the gospel lies at the center of the rich heritage of evangelicalism, reaching back hundreds of years.
I’m (very) slowly plodding through The Works of John Owen, the most important theologian in my Christian life. Tucked away in Owen’s 250 pages on The Nature and Causes of Apostasy from the Gospel (in Volume 7 of Owen’s works) is a short, but insightful, delineation of what Owen calls the “proper end and design” of evangelical truths.
The context is Owen’s treatment of the first (of six) causes of apostasy from the gospel, namely “that rooted enmity which is in the minds of men unto spiritual things, abiding uncured under the profession of the gospel” (p. 82). Owen demonstrates that when the gospel doesn’t fully penetrate a person’s heart, so as to bring about the intended transformation of the heart in particular ways, then the hostility of the unregenerate nature eventually rises up against the truth, even if there has been an outward profession of faith.
But in arguing for this point, Owen takes some time to articulate just what the intended effects of the gospel are – the “proper end and design” of evangelical truths. There are three of them, which I will state in my own words, followed by some excerpts from Owen.
1. Rest and Satisfaction in Christ
The first goal of the gospel is to “take off the soul of man from rest and satisfaction in itself” and to “seek after righteousness, life, peace, and blessedness, by Jesus Christ” (p. 83). The natural inclination of fallen human beings is to look inward, to ourselves and what we can accomplish, to find the solution to our various problems. The problems may be moral, psychological, or spiritual, but the core conviction of our untransformed hearts is to think, “I can do it. I can handle this.” So, we try to live better lives, to be better people, and to find within ourselves the resources we need for goodness and happiness (or in Owen’s words, “righteousness, life, peace, and blessedness”).
But the gospel “presseth to take men off wholly from their old foundations” (p. 84). It shows us our insufficiency and redirects our trust to Christ and his sufficiency alone. The gospel shows us that “present peace” and “future blessedness” are found not in ourselves, or anything we can do, but only in Jesus.
2. Renovation of the Soul
The second goal of the gospel is one I’ve written about more extensively: the “the renovation of our minds, wills, and affections, into the image or likeness of God” (p. 83). We are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ, says Paul (Rom. 8:29), and the primary means God uses to effect this transformation is the gospel, applied to our hearts by the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).
But how does this actually happen in practice? Owen answers: “by presenting spiritual things unto us in that light and evidence, with that power and efficacy, as to transform us into their likeness” (p. 83). In other words, transformation happens when the truth of the gospel comes into our hearts with both clarity and efficacy, logic and fire, conviction and passion, Word and Spirit, light and heat.
3. A Heart for Worship
Finally, Owen says that evangelical truth “engageth the whole soul, in all its powers and faculties, through the whole course of its activity…to live unto God in all holy obedience” (p. 83-84). Worshiping God is the only rational response to the lavish mercies of God (Rom. 12:1). But when the gospel does it’s work in our hearts, worship is seen not simply as our duty to God (although it is), but as the natural reflex of our hearts in response to God’s revelation of his grace and mercy through the cross and resurrection of Christ and the gift of his Spirit.
Questions for Application
To return to Owen’s main point, let me end with some personal questions.
- Has the gospel produced these effects in your heart?
- Is your trust firmly fixed on Christ and his cross, or are you still looking inward for moral improvement and existential satisfaction?
- Are you being more and more transformed into the image of Christ?
- Do you look more like Jesus than you did a year ago?
- Do you delight to worship God?
- Do the lavish mercies of God beckon your heart to praise and enjoy him?
If not, maybe the gospel hasn’t penetrated deeply enough. Maybe there is still an “uncured enmity” or hostility to God and the gospel deep inside your soul. Be watchful. When this is the case, Owen warns, “spiritual truths are first neglected, then despised, and at last, on easy terms, parted withal” (p. 84). Religious people sometimes profess to believe without really believing. When they do, they first “stifle truth as to its operation” and eventually “reject it as to its profession” (p. 85). This is the natural course of apostasy from the gospel.
The only solution is to embrace the gospel more deeply, with an earnest desire for the Spirit to apply evangelical truths more deeply and powerfully to our hearts.
This post first appeared at Brian’s blog and is posted here with his permission.
Read More »
The Puritans were the 16th century English Protestants and their successors in 16th-17th century New England, whose concern for church reform and spiritual renewal earned them the originally derogatory epithet, “puritan.” Unfortunately, when most people hear the word “puritan” they remember Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and associate the term with legalism, self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and witch-hunts. And, of course, the Puritans weren’t perfect.
Yet, despite their imperfections, there is much we can learn from them today. J. I. Packer once compared the Puritans to the gigantic Redwood trees of California, saying: “As Redwoods attract the eye, because they overtop other trees, so the mature holiness and seasoned fortitude of the great Puritans shine before us as a kind of beacon light, overtopping the stature of the majority of Christians in most eras, and certainly so in this age . . . when Western Christians sometimes feel and often look like ants in an anthill . . .”
In my own sampling of Puritan writings, I have found much help for my heart and stimulation for my soul. Here are several reasons why I would suggest that pastors give renewed attention to the writings of the Puritans.
1. They lift our gaze to the greatness and gladness of God.
We are innately man-centered in our thinking about God. As someone once said, “God made man in his own image, and man returned the compliment.” In the divinely inspired words of the psalmist: “You thought I was one like yourself” (Ps. 50:21). But the Puritans lift our gaze upward to see God in his soul-satisfying transcendence. I’ll never forget the awe of God upon my soul after spending significant time reading in Stephen Charnock’s The Existence and Attributes of God, or the depth of joy in God that I discovered in the writings of Thomas Brooks and Jonathan Edwards.
For example, Edwards wrote: “The enjoyment of [God] is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, to fully enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams. But God is the fountain. These are but drops; but God is the ocean.”
2. They open our eyes to the beauty and loveliness of Christ.
The Puritans were as Christ-centered as they were God-centered. They loved Christ passionately and sought his glory tirelessly. Christ meant everything to them. Thomas Goodwin said, “If I were to go to heaven, and find that Christ was not there, I would leave immediately; for heaven without Christ would be hell to me.”
The Puritans saw Christ on virtually every page of Scripture. Thomas Adams wrote: “Christ is the sum of the whole Bible, prophesied, typified, prefigured, exhibited, demonstrated, to be found in every leaf, almost in every line, the Scriptures being but as it were the swaddling bands of the child Jesus.” We might occasionally question the accuracy of Puritan exegesis, but surely we can find no fault with their passion for Christ-centeredness.
They especially gloried in the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work. Jonathan Edwards, in a sermon on Isaiah 32:2, said: “Christ by His obedience, by that obedience which he undertook for our sakes, has honored God abundantly more than the sins of any of us have dishonored him, how many soever, how great soever. . . God hates our sins, but not more than he delights in Christ’s obedience which he performed on our account. This is a sweet savour to him, a savour of rest. God is abundantly compensated, he desires no more; Christ’s righteousness is of infinite worthiness and merit.”
3. They convict our consciences with the subtlety and sinfulness of sin.
There are not a lot of titles in Christian bookstores today that include the word “sin.” But the Puritans were serious about sin and wrote about it often, as just a few of their titles reveals (Ralph Venning’s The Sinfulness of Sin, Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Evil of Evils, Thomas Watson’s The Mischief of Sin.) Perhaps the books which have helped me most have been John Owen’s classic works on the mortification and temptation of sin. Someone once said that before reading Owen, one should prepare to come under the knife. To read Owen is to allow a doctor of the soul to do surgery on your heart. Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” His counsel on how to kill sin and avoid temptation is the best I’ve read anywhere.
4. They ravish and relish the soul with the power and glory of grace.
Sometimes Puritans get a bad rap for being legalistic. And perhaps the accusation would occasionally stick – there was, after all, imperfect theology in the 16th century, too! But the Puritans understood the transforming power and glory of grace in dimensions that are often foreign to our own experience. Many contemporary books on dealing with sin simply give us lists to live by – things to do and not do. Even a focus on the spiritual disciplines can sometimes be bereft of any real dependence on grace. Contrast that with Owen who said, “There is no death of sin without the death of Christ . . . Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of thy sin . . . by faith fill thy soul with a due consideration of that provision which is laid up in Jesus Christ for this end and purpose, that all thy lusts, this very lust wherewith thou art entangled, may be mortified.” Owen does not fail to point the sin-fighting believer to Christ. On the contrary, he shows us that the only effective means of overcoming sin is by dependence on Christ and his cross.
5. They plumb the depths of the soul with profound biblical, practical and psychological insight.
The Puritans were not just theologians; they were pastors. They were physicians of the soul and exceptionally good counselors. My wife, who has occasionally read Puritans at my recommendation, has commented that the Puritans understand people and how they think.
One of the most practical of all the Puritan’s writings is Richard Baxter’s A Christian Directory. Tim Keller has called it “the greatest manual on biblical counseling ever produced.” This 900 page tome of fine print is divided into four sections: I. Christian Ethics, II. Christian Economics, III. Christian Ecclesiastics, and IV. Christian Politics. In layman’s terms, these four sections deal with the Christian’s personal spiritual life, home life, church life, and life in world.
Here are some examples of the kind of practical matters Baxter addresses and the pastoral advice he gives. Under “Christian Ethics,” are found 20 directions “to weak Christians for their establishment and growth;” 5 directions for “redeeming as well as improving time” (including #4: “thieves or time wasters to be watched against,” of which Baxter lists 12); 10 “directions for the government of the passions”; 10 pages on “directions against gluttony,” in which Baxter defines gluttony, lists 10 causes of gluttony, 20 reasons why it is such a great sin, and gives 14 practical “directions” against it; 16 directions against lust; 13 directions against excess of sleep, and so on! In section two, on “Christian Economics” are given similar directions for husbands, wives, parents, and children, in their specific duties towards one another. I surveyed a list of 10 directions for helping husbands and wives “live in quietness and peace, and avoid all occasions of wrath and discord” with one another, and have never seen anything more practical in a contemporary book on marriage.
6. They sustain and strengthen the soul through suffering with the sovereignty of God.
Because the Puritans were descendants of the English martyrs and were persecuted themselves (thousands of Puritan pastors were ejected from their pulpits in 1662), they were well acquainted with suffering. They knew the pain of affliction, yet they trusted the good providence of God in and over suffering. For the Puritans, suffering was purposeful.
Thomas Watson said, “God’s rod is a pencil to draw Christ’s image more lively on us.” John Flavel wrote, “Let a Christian . . . be but two or three years without an affliction, and he is almost good for nothing.” In another volume, Flavel said, “Oh what owe I to the file, and to the hammer, and to the furnace of my Lord Jesus! who has now let me see how good the wheat of Christ is, that goes through his mill, and his oven, to be made bread for his own table. Grace tried is better than grace, and more than grace. It is glory in its infancy.” Few books could be more helpful for pastors and believers than John Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence, Thomas Watson’s All Things for Good, Thomas Brooks’ A Mute Christian Under the Rod, or Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot.
7. They set our sights and focus our affections on eternal realities.
The Puritans lived with heaven and hell in view, and the aroma of the world to come pervades their writings. Richard Baxter, in The Saints Everlasting Rest, shows that the reason so many Christians are lifeless and cold in their love for Christ is because they live with heaven out of sight and mind. Baxter wrote, “If thou wouldst have light and heat, why art thou not more in the sunshine? For want of this recourse to heaven, thy soul is as a lamp not lighted, and thy duties as a sacrifice without fire. Fetch one coal daily from this altar, and see if thy offering will not burn. Light thy lamp at this flame, and feed it daily with oil from hence, and see if it will not gloriously shine. Keep close to this reviving fire, and see if thy affections will not be warm.”
Most of us are familiar with Jonathan Edwards’ frightening descriptions of hell from “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” But his vision of the glory of heaven is as attractive as his description of hell is repulsive. In his Miscellanies, Edwards wrote this of the glorified saints in heaven: “their knowledge will increase to eternity; and if their knowledge, their holiness; for as they increase in the knowledge of God, and of the works of God, the more they will see of his excellency, and the more they see of his excellency . . . the more will they love him, and the more they love God, the more delight and happiness will they have in him.” The Puritans remind us that heaven is not a life of disembodied bliss of harp-plucking in a cloud-filled, ethereal environment, but rather the experience of ever-expanding knowledge of God and ever-increasing joy in God.
The Puritans saw God, loved Christ, feared sin, were transformed by grace, were practical in counsel, endured suffering, and lived for eternity. When I read them, I almost always find the palate of my soul cleansed and my ability to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) enhanced. Dear brothers and sisters, read the Puritans! Your heart will be helped.
This article first appeared at Brian’s blog and is posted here with his permission.
Read More »
 J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990) 11-12.
 The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974 reprint) 2:244
 Quoted in Don Kistler, Why Read the Puritans Today? (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1999) 3.
 Quoted in Joel R. Beeke & Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006) xxi-xxii.
 Edwards, 2:930.
 John Owen, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, in The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1995 reprint) Volume 6, page 9. For a contemporary synthesis of Owen’s thought, see “The Spirituality of John Owen” in J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life John Owen on the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990) 191-218 and Sinclair B. Ferguson, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1995). More digestible is Kris Lundgaard’s The Enemy Within: Straight Talk about the Power and Defeat of Sin (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1998).
 Owen, 6:33, 79.
 Richard Baxter, The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, Volume 1: A Christian Directory (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1997 reprint) blurb on dust-jacket.
 Thomas Watson, All Things for Good (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986 reprint) 28.
 John Flavel, The Mystery of Providence (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1963 reprint) 202.
 John Flavel, The Fountain of Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1977 reprint) 322-323.
 Richard Baxter, The Saints Everlasting Rest (Welwyn, UK: Evangelical Press 1978 reprint) 288.
 Miscellanies, #105 in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 13, ed. Thomas Shafer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994) 275.