25 July, 2005

Read a Bunch of Dead Guys?

WE LIVE IN AN AGE where Christians are reading less and less. Reading good literature used to be seen as a means for the Christian to be encouraged, rebuked, challenged, and even strengthened in the faith.

Those Christians who do choose to read are reading books that are, at least, "spiritual milk" and, at most, outright heresy. (Think of the list of "Christian" books that have made the NY Times bestseller list or the Orcha book club.)

We need to recapture the art of reading and of comprehension. One of the means to reformation in the sixteenth and seventeenth century was by going back to the original sources, ad fontes, and seeking out biblical Christianity in the Scriptures, the ancient creeds, and Christian writings.

A challenge to all Reformed and Presbyterian believers:
1. Seek the Lord in the Scriptures
2. Find grace in the creeds and confessions
3. Read our spiritual forefathers.

The Puritans were, according to many, the greatest living out of Christian doctrine and practice. There are many great Puritan authors that have been re-published since the 1950s and are now available to us. (See my bibliophiles section.) These are great pastors and teachers that have a lot to say to us today. They are fresh and contemporary even though they have joined the Church Triumphant.

Below is an article by Dr. Beeke that gives a synopsis of Puritan thought and practice. It is an excellent starting point for what to read in the Puritan genre. Read towards reformation.

Soli Deo Gloria!

A Guide to Puritans in your Devotional Life

Shape Your Life by Scripture

Let the Puritans show you how to shape your entire life by scripture. They loved, lived, and breathed Scripture, relishing the power of the Spirit that accompanied the Word. They regarded the sixty-six books of Scripture as the library of the Holy Spirit that was graciously bequeathed to them. Scripture was God speaking to them as their Father; the Word was truth they could trust in for all eternity. They saw it as Spirit-empowered to renew their minds and transform their lives.The Puritans searched, heard, and sang the Word with delight, and encouraged others to do the same. Puritan Richard Greenham suggested eight ways to read Scripture: with diligence, wisdom, preparation, meditation, conference, faith, practice, and prayer.
Thomas Watson provided numerous guidelines on how to listen to the Word: Come to the Word with a holy appetite and a teachable heart. Sit under the Word attentively, receive it with meekness, and mingle it with faith. Then retain the Word, pray over it, practice it, and speak to others about it.The Puritans sounded a call to become Word-centered in faith and practice. Richard Baxter's Christian Directory showed how the Puritans regarded the Bible as a trustworthy guide for all of life. Every case of conscience was subjected to Scripture's directives. Henry Smith said, "We should set the Word of God always before us like a rule, and believe nothing but that which it teacheth, love nothing but that which it prescribeth, hate nothing but that which it forbiddeth, do nothing but that which it commandeth."If you read the Puritans regularly, their Bible-centeredness becomes contagious. They show you how to yield wholehearted allegiance to the Bible's message. Like them, you will become a believer of the Living Book, concurring with John Flavel, who said, "The Scriptures teach us the best way of living, the noblest way of suffering, and the most comfortable way of dying." Puritan books are rich with scriptural support and references. When you read these books for devotions, look up their references and meditate on them.

Marry Doctrine and Practice

The Puritans show us how to marry doctrine and practice in our lives by addressing the mind, confronting the conscience, and wooing the heart.
• Puritan literature addresses the mind. The Puritans loved and worshiped God with their minds. They refused to set mind and heart against each other, but taught that knowledge was the soil in which the Spirit planted the seed of regeneration. They viewed the mind as the palace of faith. "In conversion, reason is elevated," John Preston wrote. Cotton Mather said, "Ignorance is the mother not of devotion but of heresy."The Puritans teach us to think in order to be holy. They understood that a mindless Christianity fosters a spineless Christianity. An anti-intellectual gospel will spawn an irrelevant gospel that doesn't get beyond "felt needs." That's what is happening in our churches today. We have lost our intellect, and for the most part we don't see the necessity of recovering it. We do not understand that if there is little difference between the Christian and unbelievers in what we believe, there will soon be little difference in how we live.
• Puritan literature confronts the conscience. The Puritans were masters at naming specific sins, then asking questions to press home the guilt of those sins. As one Puritan wrote, "We must go with the stick of divine truth and beat every bush behind which a sinner hides, until like Adam who hid, he stands before God in his nakedness."Devotional reading should be confrontational as well as comforting. We grow little if our consciences are not pricked daily and directed to Christ. Since we are prone instead to run away, we need help in our daily devotions to be brought before the living God, "naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:~3).
• Puritan literature woos the heart. It is unusual today to find books that both feed the mind with solid biblical substance and move the heart with affectionate warmth, but the Puritans do this. They reason with the mind, confront the conscience, and appeal to the heart. They write out of love for God's Word, love for the glory of God, and love for the souls of readers. They set forth Christ in His loveliness, moving the reader to yearn to know Him better and live wholly for Him.

Focus on Christ

Puritan literature magnifies Christ. According to Thomas Adams, "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." Likewise, Isaac Ambrose wrote, "Think of Christ as the very substance, marrow, soul, and scope of the whole Scriptures."The Puritans loved Christ and wrote much about His beauty. Listen to Samuel Rutherford: "Put the beauty of ten thousand thousand worlds of paradises, like the Garden of Eden in one; put all trees, all flowers, all smells, all colors, all tastes, all joys, all loveliness, all sweetness in one. O what a fair and excellent thing would that be? And yet it would be less to that fair and dearest well-beloved Christ than one drop of rain to the whole seas, rivers, lakes, and foundations of ten thousand earths." Thomas Goodwin summed that up, writing, "Heaven would be hell to me without Christ."Would you know Christ better and love Him more fully? Immerse yourself in Puritan literature, asking the Spirit to sanctify it to you in a Christ-centered way.

Handle Trial Christianly

The Puritans show us how to handle trials. We learn from their books that we need affliction to humble us (Deut. 8:2), to teach us what sin is (Zeph. 1:12), and to bring us to God (Hos. 5:15). 'Affliction is the diamond dust that heaven polishes its jewels with," wrote Robert Leighton. They teach us to view God's rod of affliction as His means to write Christ's image more fully upon us so that we may be partakers of His righteousness and holiness (Heb. 12:10-11).If you are presently undergoing profound trials, learn from the Puritans not to overestimate those trials. Read William Bridge's A Lifting Up for the Downcast (Banner of Truth), Thomas Brooks' A Mute Christian Under the Rod, and Richard Sibbes's A Bruised Reed (Banner of Truth). They will show you how every trial can bring you to Christ to walk by faith and to be weaned from this world. As Thomas Watson wrote, "God would have the world hang as a loose tooth which, being easily twitched away, doth not much trouble us."Or read The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (Banner of Truth) by Jeremiah Burroughs. He'll teach you how to learn contentment through trial. Then, the next time you're buffeted by others, Satan, or your own conscience, you will not waste time complaining. Instead, you'll carry those trials to Christ and ask Him, by His Spirit, to sanctify them so that you model spiritual contentment for others.

Live in Two Worlds

The Puritans show us how to live from a two-worlds point of view. Richard Baxter's The Saint's Everlasting Rest demonstrates the power that the hope of heaven should have to direct, control, and energize our life here on earth. Despite its length (800-plus pages), this classic became household reading in Puritan homes. It was exceeded only by John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (Banner of Truth), which, by the way, is an allegorical proof of my point. Bunyan's pilgrim is heading for the Celestial City, which he never has out of his mind except when he is betrayed by some form of spiritual malaise.The Puritans believed that we ought to have heaven ''in our eye'' throughout our earthly pilgrimage. They took seriously the two-worlds, now/not-yet dynamics of the New Testament, stressing that keeping the "hope of glory" before our minds helps guide our lives here on earth. Living in the light of eternity for the Puritans often necessitated radical self-denial. They taught us to live knowing that the joy of heaven will make amends for any losses and crosses, strains and pains that we must endure on earth if we are to follow Christ. They teach us that preparation for death is the first step in learning to live. This earth is God's dressing-room and gymnasium that prepares us for heaven.

Emulate Puritan Spirituality

There's so much to learn from the Puritans - how they promote the authority of Scripture, biblical evangelism, church reform, the spirituality of the law, spiritual warfare against indwelling sin, the filial fear of God, the art of meditation, the dreadfulness of hell and the glories of heaven - but space prohibits us. In a word, let's read the Puritans devotionally, then pray to emulate their spirituality. Let's ask ourselves questions like these: Are we, like the Puritans, thirsting to glorify the triune God? Are we motivated by biblical truth and biblical fire? Do we share the Puritan view of the vital necessity of conversion and of being clothed with the righteousness of Christ?Reading the Puritans isn't enough. We also need the inward disposition of the Puritans authentic, biblical, intelligent piety that shows in our hearts, lives, and churches.Let me challenge you. Will you live like the Puritans? Will you go beyond reading their writings, discussing their ideas, recalling their achievements, and berating their failures? Will you practice the degree of obedience to God's Word for which they strove? Will you serve God as they served Him? Will you live with one eye on eternity as they did? "Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls" (Jer. 6:16).


Anonymous said...

I could hear you typing this while we were talking... "sneaky, sneaky, sir." (from Mr. Deeds)

I'm talking and you were applying Strong Bad's lessons found here...


Nate said...

I was not writing this shawnonymous, but was merely editing it. i had to make sure that it was spaced properly.


I meant no disrespect.

notliberal said...

Are you refering to fantasy writing or actual writing here? If you're refering to fantasy, you've lost me because I'd rather jump off the bus than read such nonsense. Furthermore, if that is what you're commenting on, why hasn't there been a revival of reformed fantasy writing to go along with the boom in reformed theological writing?

notliberal said...

As a side note there's only so much man love I'm willing to put up with. Send eachother kissy-face emails but don't post such tripe publicly.

BonnieJ said...

I didn't actually read the post :( because I have to go in a minute but the name Cotton Mather caught my eye.

On a side note, I just read a book on "old New England Traditions" that was written in 1893 and it mentioned Cotton/Mathers quite a few times. BTW, the Toad Remedy for smallpox was most intriguing. Put as many 'toades' as you can find in a cauldron, turn it over with a tile on it, cook it down twice and grind it up till it's black powder. Drink a 'dragme' and you will be well! Half a 'dragme' was purportedly enough for prevention. Yummy. Ok..so by now you're thinking why didn't she just read the post, if she had that much time? heh. I REALLY have to go now.

Nate said...

What in the world?

This isn't about Harry Potter and the Sorcers stone...its about Christian living to the glory of God!


Janna said...

Thanks Nate for the great post! Of course, now I just want to go book shopping and blow my savings. As if my pile of books to read isn't high enough already...

notliberal said...

So what should I read Mr. Fancy Pants? Give me the title of a decent book based on Christian principles that I'll actually want to read.

Anonymous said...

Nathan Eshelman... don't tell me you were unaware that many of your beloved Puritans also dabbled in medicine as well?

I believe Cotton and his brother (Polyester perhaps? Couldn't resist)were herbalists or somesuch.


Jeff said...

In order to dispel myths about the Rev. Cotton Mather, I'm issuing forth my comment:
I suppose you could call Mather an "herbalist" for recommending the following:
"an excellent thing for the Scurvy is Whey, with the Juice of Orange or Lemon in it. Limons do Wonders, for the Releef of the Scurvy."
But Mather most definitely did NOT recommend Toad mashing for smallpox. He actually was instrumental in introducing inoculation in the colonies saving many lives (see quote below):
"I had from a servant of my own an account of its being practised in Africa. Inquiring of my Negro-man, Onesimus, who is a pretty intelligent fellow, whether he had ever had the smallpox, he answered both yes and no. He told me that he had undergone the operation which had given something of the smallpox and would forever preserve him from it, adding that was often used in West Africa."
See his medical treatise entitled "The Angel of Bethesda".

Jeff said...

Not everyone was convinced of of Mather's inoculation treatment in 1721 as is evidenced by the bomb thrown into his house with the following note attached:
"Cotton Mather, you dog, dam you! I’ll inoculate you with this; with a pox to you."
From: http://qhc.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/13/1/82

Jeff said...

btw, toads aren't herbs. They're amphibians (or contemptible persons). So Toad Mashing would have to be relegated to the realm of "somesuch" aka witchcraft (or even murder if they're mashing comtemptible persons). :-)

tam said...

um, off topic a bit. i found a blog that you might like. http://www.apparenting.com/welcome_aboard.html

Anonymous said...

But herbalist dabblers in medicine nonetheless Jeffrey...

Nate said...

So is anyone going to READ any Puritan writings for the good of their Christian life?

Or are we just going to talk about their obscurities?

Jeff said...

Hey! I think it's important to remember that reformers/puritans were not superstitious twits. They not only engaged in theology, but provided valuable insights into science, medicine, horticulture, and other fields. I haven't read "The Angel of Bethesda", but it might be quite inspiring. And remember, the modern day contemporary Christian would consider all puritan writings obscure. SO, I suppose obscurity is relative to one's knowledge of puritan and american history and one's propensity towards or against certain topics like theology. Knowing information like this is good for when someone comes a long and tells you that puritans were superstitious twits who tried to cure smallpox with mashed, dried, and powdered TOADS. Finally, it should be clear to all that the only thing you can get from toads are WARTS, not medical cures. ;)

Nate said...

Good point Jeff. The Puritans were dabblers in many things.

We can learn a lot about Christian worldview from them.

Gisela said...

Thanks for the article. 'Think in order to be holy.' I like that. People just do not want to think anymore. 'Mindless Christianity fosters spineless Christianity'. I agree that the Puritans have some great writings. There is room, however, for Harry Potter, no? Is that just mindless, magical garbage? Is there room for such fiction on a Christian's TO READ list?

Anonymous said...

Holy...way too intellectual for me. I am lost...HI Nate and Lyd miss you