Posted On January 29, 2014

Book Review – John Flavel: Puritan Life and Thought in Stuart England

by | Jan 29, 2014 | Biographies

The past decade or perhaps more has seen a vast increase in the amount of literature coming out dedicated to the Puritans. The fascination with the Puritans is not a new one but rather one many Christians of previous times in church history greatly enjoyed and benefited from. The resurgence of Puritan literature is cause for celebration since their thought in large measure influenced mighty men such as Jonathan Edwards and many others who in turn God used to impact the world with the Gospel. What is the fascination with the Puritans? Why are they so popular? Should every Christian spend their time and energy reading and studying them or just ignore them? After all everyone’s time is very limited and everyone is extremely busy with Church, family, work and hobbies. Shouldn’t we just focus on our own time period and our own struggles and neglect the Puritans?

While those questions are worth reflecting on, I earnestly believe that the Puritans are worth reading and worthy of study because they were men who were faithful to the Truth of the Word of God and who sought to faithfully proclaim the Gospel. The Puritans are remembered because of their faithfulness to God. Even after these many years people still read the Puritans because they sought to take the Word of God and apply it to all of life. Since our own day is one of biblical illiteracy we need the Puritans precisely at this point to help us integrate a Christian worldview into all of life. Their teaching and example should be followed and studied closely by every Christian. In particular a few men such as John Owen and John Flavel should be read far and wide for they represent the very best of the Puritan thought. This brings me to a new book John Flavel Puritan Life and Thought in Stuart England by Dr. Brian Cosby.

Dr. Cosby and I are friends. He has been a source of encouragement to me from the first time we met and continues to be to this day. What I appreciate about Dr. Cosby is he writes as a pastor-theologian. He writes and ministers for the glory of God and for the edification of the people of God. I bring this up because this is on full display in his biography of John Flavel a man who was considered the preeminent pastor-theologian of his time. Since there has been conversation about what a pastor-theologian looks like in our day I can think of no better biography for Pastors to read to learn what a pastor-theologian looks like than this biography on John Flavel by Dr. Brian Cosby.

Dr. Cosby’s book is divided into two parts. In part one Dr. Cosby looks at the Life of Flavel in his Puritan context, then proceeds to look at his life, ministry and character, and his influence past and present. In part two, Dr. Cosby looks at the thought of Flavel; his theological heritage, his view on the doctrine of Scripture, theology proper, creation, Fall, covenant theology, election, soteriology, the law of God and the Christian Life, and the Church, sacrament and eschatology.

You may wonder why you should read this book and even care about John Flavel. After all many people have no idea who he is. Let me tell you it is precisely because you may have no idea about John Flavel that you should read this biography about him from a Flavel scholar. Over the years I’ve read many biographies and the best one’s always bring out the character and beliefs of the person being covered. It is in this spirit that Dr. Cosby writes to bring out the character and thought of Flavel in order that you may see why his life and thought is so important to the life and health of the church today. After all if a man like Jonathan Edwards considered the preeminent pastor-theologian of American Christianity was influenced by John Flavel then surely you should consider that Flavel is a very important person in church history.

Many church historians consider Flavel in the same breathe as Richard Baxter and John Owen. What made Flavel so great according to Dr. Cosby was not his ability to give new doctrine but rather his ability to state old biblical truths in fresh ways; along with his desire to model that truth to the people of God. In other words Flavel took seriously Paul’s words to Timothy to watch his life and his doctrine. In our own day we need men like this who will preach and teach the Word with words and by the way they live their lives. Men like Flavel and Owen model for Christians and Pastors what a life well lived for God and His glory looks like.

As I read this biography by John Flavel by Dr. Brian Cosby I was truly blessed and edified. I was given historical insight into a man who I hadn’t given much thought to nor did I know much about. Even though that was the case it isn’t anymore as Dr. Cosby writes to help his readers understand Flavel the man who was deeply influential in his own time. Along the way Dr. Cosby also looks at his declining influence and his importance for today. What I appreciate about Brian’s treatment of Flavel is he quotes source material to help the reader understand who Flavel is and what people said about him in his own time and how others were influenced by his life and thought. To give you some idea this book is only 135 pages but has about 15 pages of bibliography. Not only is the scholarship in this book world class, Dr. Cosby’s biography of John Flavel was given a commendation by Dr. J.I. Packer one of the foremost experts on Puritan theology. I agree with Dr. Packer who wrote that we owe Dr. Cosby, “thanks from al who value the Puritans at their true worth” for this book on Flavel.

This biography of John Flavel would be a good read for those interested in Reformed theology or church history in general. If one is interested in the Puritans (as many of my friends and readers are) I think this biography on Flavel is a must read for them. This book sets the life of John Flavel in his historical context; showing where he lived, how he ministered, what he preached, how he lived and what others thought of him. As I read this book I was deeply blessed and encouraged by the resurgence on Puritan literature in our day. Added to that list of encouragement is this biography on John Flavel which I pray would have a wide reading. John Flavel was one of the most influential men of his time and one of the leading lights of the Puritan movement. The recovery of his life and thought impacted the church of his day and well afterword’s. The recovery of his thought is a blessing to the church because his was a life lived in commitment to God’s Word, to His Gospel, to Christ’s Church and to serving and ministering the people of God. In our day we desperately need men like this which is why I hope you will join me in praying that God may use the influence of men of the caliber of Flavel to awaken a passion in men today to love Jesus, His Church, their families and the people of God. Such a recovery would bless the church and strengthen the family in its mission to make much of Jesus. It is for this and many other reasons that I heartedly recommend my friend’s book to you—not only because of its scholarship but also because of the man who wrote it.

Title: John Flavel: Puritan Life and Thought in Stuart EnglandBook Review - John Flavel: Puritan Life and Thought in Stuart England 1

Author: Brian H. Cosby

Publisher: Lexington Books (2013)

I received this for free from Lexington book review program for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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