In my senior year of Bible college, I had two electives to choose from for my final theology class. I saw the option for Puritan Theology but thought, “This will be a very boring class. What could I glean from the Puritans?”
You see, I grew up thinking the Puritans were:
And while this class wasn’t the most popular choice—Puritans have never been the “cool kids,” neither in their day nor today—something in me decided to do it. That’s one thing Bible college taught me: to challenge beliefs I grew up with or didn’t know why I believed.
The class introduced me to Puritan authors like Richard Baxter and John Owen, among others, who challenged their own beliefs. The Puritans taught me that true communion with the Lord requires slowing down, being intentional with my time, and resisting worldly distraction.
My class on the Puritans pushed me to consider a group of people that I otherwise would have ignored—and I’m grateful for that. Learning about the Puritans caused me to look at my relationship with the Lord in a new way, and I hope these words from the Puritans (and latter-day Puritan J. I. Packer) encourage you to do the same.
In these quotes adapted from The Quest for Godliness, J. I. Packer unpacks the practical lives of Puritans and their quest for a deeper relationship with the Lord.
Puritan authors regularly tell us, first, of the mystery of God: that our God is too small, that the real God cannot be put without remainder into a man-made conceptual box so as to be fully understood; and that he was, is, and always will be bewilderingly inscrutable in his dealing with those who trust and love him, so that “losses and crosses,” that is, bafflement and disappointment in relation to particular hopes one has entertained, must be accepted as a recurring element in one’s life of fellowship with him.
Then they tell us, second, of the love of God: that it is a love that redeems, converts, sanctifies, and ultimately glorifies sinners, and that Calvary was the one place in human history where it was fully and unambiguously revealed, and that in relation to our own situation we may know for certain that nothing can separate us from that love (Rom 8:38f), although no situation in this world will ever be free from flies in the ointment and thorns in the bed.
Developing the theme of divine love the Puritans tell us, third, of the salvation of God: that the Christ who put away our sins and brought us God’s pardon is leading us through this world to a glory for which we are even now being prepared by the instilling of desire for it and capacity to enjoy it, and that holiness here, in the form of consecrated service and loving obedience through thick and thin, is the high road to happiness hereafter.
Following this they tell us, fourth, about spiritual conflict, the many ways in which the world, the flesh, and the devil seek to lay us low; fifth, about the protection of God, whereby he overrules and sanctifies the conflict, often allowing one evil to touch our lives in order thereby to shield us from greater evils; and, sixth, about the glory of God, which it becomes our privilege to further by our celebrating of his grace, by our proving of his power under perplexity and pressure, by totally resigning ourselves to his good pleasure, and by making him our joy and delight at all times. (pg. 33)
I learned this to be true as I read the works of these Puritans that semester.
Additionally, the simplicity in which they went about worship was inspiring. Something practical stuck out to me: the way they treated the Sabbath and Sunday worship. It has forever changed the way I think about Saturdays:
Preparing the heart is the most important matter of all, for the Lord’s Day is preeminently “a day for heart-work.”1 From this point of view, the battle for our Sundays is usually won or lost on the foregoing Saturday night, when time should be set aside for self-examination, confession, and prayer for the coming day. Richard Baxter’s young people’s fellowship used to spend three hours each Saturday evening preparing together for the Sabbath in this way. “If thou wouldst thus leave thy heart with God on the Saturday night,” [George] Swinnock assures us, “thou shouldest find it with him in the Lord’s-day morning.”2 The last rule for preparation comes from the supremely practical mind of Richard Baxter: “Go seasonably to bed, that you may not be sleepy on the Lord’s Day.”3(pg. 241)
What a simple and practical practice: pay attention to the night before Sabbath. Prepare your heart for the next day as a way of honoring Sunday and giving over your time to Jesus.
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- Baxter, Works, I:470.
- Swinnock, Works, I:230.
- Baxter, Works, I:472.