May 29, 2017

Reading the Puritans: Where Should You Start?

The Puritans lived over 200 years ago, but their words still speak today. Through careful study of Scripture and much prayer, they left a legacy of writings and sermons that address the mind, confront the conscience, and engage the heart. And those who make the effort to mine their works carefully reap rich rewards! (Not sure what I’m talking about? Learn who the Puritans were and why you should read them.)

But the list of Puritan authors is over 2000 names long, and their published works number even higher. So where do you start?

Here are some favorite go-to recommendations for getting started:

  • Voices from the Past — Volume 1 and Volume 2
    A collection of single-page devotional readings carefully curated from various Puritan authors, which you can read in about five minutes and meditate on for the rest of the day. There are 2 volumes, each with 365 dated entries; and each day’s entry gives the author, work, and range of pages so you can note which works or sections you want to read further. I find this to be a great introduction to the Puritans, not only learning some of their names but getting a feel for their writing styles and topics.
  • The Valley of Vision — Book or Daily Devotional
    A collection of over 200 Puritan prayers and meditations, each one only a page long, but filled with beautiful language that mines the depths of God’s character, mysteries of the Trinity, utter depravity and foolishness of man, horrors of sin, and power of the gospel. The Puritans were known for their faithful habit of biblical meditation, and this book helps modern Christians enter into that practice as well. They are prayers to meditate on, make notes beside, and ultimately pray through for yourself.
  • J.I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness —  Updated Edition
    Good introductory overview of why we need the Puritans today and their vision of the Christian life. This book is written by a modern author, J. I. Packer, but it is filled with a profitable exploration of Puritan life and thought, including their beliefs and words on key doctrines such as the gospel, the Bible, spiritual gifts, family life, and ministry.
  • John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress — Free or Modernized Version
    A classic allegory that was considered second to the Bible in many older religious homes. It tells the story of a man named “Christian” as he journeys to the celestial city, and the companions and trials he faces along the way. This is also a great book to read through as a family (especially illustrated/modernized versions) — even young children can glean basic spiritual truths from this story!
  • Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions — Original List or Categorized
    A list of 70 commitments that Edwards compiled throughout his life (mostly in his first few decades), and reviewed on a weekly basis, which helped him remain focused on living a God-centered, others-serving life. While we don’t need to choose the same resolutions for our own lives, though many of them would certainly be beneficial for us today, they are also helpful to give a sense of the seriousness with which Edwards (and the other Puritans) approached life.
  • The Hymns of Isaac Watts — Cyberhymnal List
    Another unique introduction to the Puritans! Watts is considered the “Father of English Hymnody,” and he penned around 600 hymns throughout his lifetime — including When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, I Sing the Mighty Power of God, and Jesus Shall Reign. Many of his songs are paraphrases of the Psalms and various passages in the New Testament; others are more personal expressions of worship and faith.
  • Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible — Full Version, Condensed, or Phone App
    This commentary offers a more devotional approach to studying God’s Word, and comments on small sections of Scripture, rather than doing a verse-by-verse or chapter-at-a-glance approach. For instance, the first chapter of Ruth is broken into 3 sections, with a very brief overview paragraph outlining the whole chapter. It’s easy to read just a few short paragraphs each day on whatever section of the Bible you are currently reading. Plus, it’s readily available, both in print and digitally!

Reading the Puritans: Where Should You Start?

Once you start getting familiar with their works, you’ll probably find you enjoy certain authors better than others, and that’s okay. While they all wrote with timeless depth, their individual styles varied greatly. Some wrote short (<100 page) books; others wrote commentaries and long volumes of theology; still others actually preached their words and had them later transcribed into books. Some wrote in paragraph outlines, some in annotated lists, and others in a more traditional format.

They also cover an extremely wide range of topics! From living in love and purity, to practicing contentment, knowing God, praying powerfully, overcoming sin and temptation, understanding the gospel, and pursuing holiness — pick the topic of Christian living you want to study, and there’s probably a Puritan work that covers it.

Reading the Puritans: Where Should You Start?

Many Puritan works can be found for free online — search public domain sites like CCEL, Project Gutenberg, or Google Books. If you prefer a downloadable format, many of them also available for free or under $2 on Amazon (check the reviews to see if they’re adequate transcriptions).

But with so many works to pick from, and not enough time to read them all, it can be hard to choose the best ones! If you want to explore the Puritans further, but aren’t sure what to read next, here are some more popular favorite authors and works (links to modernized versions provided where possible):

So many of these books would make an excellent addition to your morning devotional time or a profitable evening meditation. A lot of them have very short chapters, which could be read in about 10-15 minutes — so don’t let their older linguistic styles push you away!

And as always, read with discernment! While we greatly value the Puritans’ contributions, they were not infallible, and everything they wrote should be evaluated against Scripture (with Scripture taking the higher place, of course!).

Reading the Puritans: Where Should You Start?

Want to explore further? Check out this comprehensive list of Puritans, complete with snapshot biographies and resource links; browse the Banner of Truth site for articles and book recommendations; or consider purchasing a book-length guide such as Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints.

Do you have a favorite Puritan work or author?

 

* Special thanks to Kim Pina, Sarah Beals, James Johnson, and Sandy Cox for contributing to this series!


Comments

  1. Thank you for listing these great works and for providing links for many of them! I hope to make good use of them. 🙂

  2. Oh, thank you also for providing the links to the public domain sites!

  3. I like Marriage to a Difficult Man. It’s about the life of Sarah Edwards, and her marriage to Johnathan, and their family life.

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