“Laurence Chaderton, the extraordinarily long-lived Master of that nursery of Puritanism, Emmanuel College, Cambridge, once apologized to his congregation for preaching to them for two straight hours. Their response was, ‘For God’s sake, Sir, go on, go on!’ – Reeves, The Unquenchable Flame, 152-153.
Earlier this week I read Rejoicing in Christ and it is a smashing sequel to Delighting in the Trinity. One of the great things about Reeves’ popular works is how he weaves rich meditations from theologians of old into sidebar-like sections. Consider this one on Thomas Goodwin and the heart of Christ:
[Goodwin’s] most remarkable and most popular work was The Heart of Christ in Heaven Toward Sinners on Earth. His aim in it was clear and simple: Goodwin wanted to show through Scripture that for all Christ’s heavenly majesty, seated on the throne, he is not now aloof from believers and unconcerned; he is still the same man, with the strongest affections for his people. In fact, if anything, he capacious heart beat more strongly than ever with tender love for them. Meaning we can approach the throne of grace with wonderful confidence, knowing we have a great high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses, having been tempted in every way like us (Heb. 4:14-16).
In particular, Goodwin argues, two things stir Christ’s compassion: our afflictions and—almost unbelievably—our sins. Having experienced on earth the utmost load of pain, rejection, and sorrow, Christ in heaven empathizes with our sufferings more fully than the most loving friend. More, though: he actually has compassion on his people who are ‘out of the way’—that is, sinning (Heb. 5:2 KJV). Indeed, says Goodwin,
‘your very sins move him to pity more than to anger… yea, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that hath some loathsome disease… his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction, but his bowels shall be the more drawn out to you; and this as much when you lie under sin as under any other affliction. Therefore fear not, ‘What shall separate us from Christ’s love?’
Reeves goes on to comment, “In glory, Jesus’ first reaction when you sin is pity. Where you would run from him in guilt, he would run to you in grace.” Amen—and praise the Lord Jesus!
To know the life of John Newton is to know the sheer power of God’s grace.
From roughly the age of 10-30, the formative years of life, Newton lived on the sea actively working in the burgeoning slave trade. He was nearly killed several times, was himself a slave in Africa, and eventually God’s mercy found him out. On March 10, 1748 Newton wrote in his journal, “In a violent storm, my address was ‘Lord, have mercy.’ Oh it was mercy indeed, to save a wretch like me.”
From that conversion came a ministry that hasn’t stopped bearing fruit. His hymns are sung all across the world each week, his letters continue to offer a peculiar power in pastoral wisdom, and his sermons inspire a deeper love for Christ. Spurgeon said, “In few writers are Christian doctrine, experience and practice more happily balanced than in the author of these letters, and few write with more simplicity, piety and force.”
Praise God that 2015 is poised to a be banner publishing year for John Newton.
The Works Return
The first noteworthy publication is Banner of Truth’s planned printing Newton’s works. The six-volume set originally put out by Banner in 1985 recently went out of print and the Trust has been quiet on when the new collection would come out. We still don’t know the publication date, but we do know sometime this year Banner will bring out a completely reformatted, four-volume set of Newton’s works. They say, “The text of this new four-volume edition of The Works of John Newton has been entirely reformatted, producing a clear and easily navigable set of documents for today’s reader.”
Here’s what the Trust has to say about this collection:
When John Newton, ex-sea captain and, as yet, unsuccessful candidate for the Church of England ministry, finished his first book (an autobiography) in 1762 there was no ready publisher. Any thought that he was destined to become one of the best known authors of his age would have been as fantastic as the last 37 years of his life. But in both cases the improbable came about. Becoming curate of Olney, a small village in the south of England, in 1764, Newton there laid his reputation as an evangelical writer, pre-eminently by his published letters and by the Olney Hymns (including ‘How Great the Name of Jesus Sounds, ‘Glorious things of Thee are spoken’ and ‘Amazing grace’). Before the end of his subsequent pastorate at St. Mary Woolnoth, London (1780-1807), his writings were prized around the world from America to Australia.
Newton has a firm place in the classics of Christian literature. While his style is strong and clear, it is the spiritual attractiveness and importance of his main themes which secure the permanent value of his writings. Most of his books came, unpremeditated, out of a need to help his congregation or individual hearers, and it is in practical helpfulness towards Christian living that he excels. If he is loved rather than admired, it is for this reason. Conformity to Christ is the one subject upon which his themes finally focus (‘It will not be a burden to me at the hour of death that I have thought too highly of Jesus, expected too much from Him myself, or laboured too much in commending and setting Him forth to others’). Not surprisingly, Alexander Whyte could write, ‘For myself, I keep John Newton on my selectest shelf of spiritual books: by far the best kind of books in the whole world of books.’
A Modern Synthesis
This year also brings new volumes Crossway’s useful Theologians on the Christian Life series. One new addition is Tony Reinke’s work Newton on the Christian Life: To Live is Christ. The summary blurb tells the tale of Reinke’s book,
John Newton is best known as the slave trader turned hymn writer who penned the most popular English hymn in history: “Amazing Grace.” However, many Christians are less familiar with the decades he spent in relative obscurity, laboring as a “spiritual doctor” while pastoring small parishes in England. In the latest addition to Crossway’s growing Theologians on the Christian Life series, Tony Reinke introduces modern readers to Newton’s pastoral wisdom by leading them through the many sermons, hymns, and—most importantly—letters that he wrote over the course of his life. Considered by many to be one of the greatest letter writers of all time, Newton has valuable insights to offer modern Christians, especially when it comes to fusing together sound doctrine, lived experience, and godly practice.
Newton on the Christian Life is scheduled to drop on May 31st.
Set aside some book money this year and serve your soul with good Mr. Newton. Tolle lege!
“On Christ’s glory I would fix all my thoughts and desires, and the more I see of the glory of Christ, the more the painted beauties of this world will wither in my eyes and I will be more and more crucified to this world. It will become to me like something dead and putrid, impossible for me to enjoy.” – John Owen, The Glory of Christ, 7.
Depending on your background the practice of meditation may sound thoroughly orthodox or totally New Age. We ought to think of it as utterly biblical.
No book in the Bible speaks more frequently about meditation than the Psalms. Psalm 1 says the blessed man meditates on God’s law day and night. In Psalm 63 David speaks of a deep thirsting after the Lord which leads him to meditate upon the God’s greatness during the night. Psalm 119:148 says, “My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.”
Let the Puritans Guide the Way
One group in church history that understood the usefulness of meditation was the Puritans. Joel Beeke writes, “The Puritans never tired of saying that biblical meditation involves thinking upon the Triune God and His Word. By anchoring meditation in the living Word, Jesus Christ, and God’s written Word, the Bible, the Puritans distanced themselves from the kind of bogus spirituality or mysticism that stresses contemplation at the expense of action, and flights of the imagination at the expense of biblical content.
During the seventeenth century, English Puritan pastors often encouraged their congregations in the spiritual discipline of meditating on God and His Word. Today, however, much of evangelicalism is either ignorant of or turned off to the idea of meditation. In God’s Battle Plan for the Mind, pastor David Saxton seeks to convince God’s people of the absolute necessity for personal meditation and motivate them to begin this work themselves. But he has not done this alone. Rather, he has labored through numerous Puritan works in order to bring together the best of their insights on meditation. Standing on the shoulders of these giants, Saxton teaches us how to meditate on divine truth and gives valuable guidance about how to rightly pattern our thinking throughout the day. With the rich experiential theology of the Puritans, this book lays out a course for enjoying true meditation on God’s Word.
My pathway into the Puritans began, unexpectedly, in the spring of 2007 when I read George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life. I found Edwards’ passion for God’s glory and personal holiness captivating. What fascinated me most about his spirituality was his heavenly-mindedness. Thinking Edwards was a “Puritan” (he’s technically isn’t) I googled, “Puritans and heavenly mindedness.” Over 800,000 hits came back and my life has never been the same.
I came across J.I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness and a bunch of works by some guy named Joel Beeke. I devoured these secondary sources with an appetite bordering on gluttonous. But I had yet to really get into the original Puritan works.
That all changed on Christmas Day 2008 when generous family members ushered in, what I’ve come to call, “The Winter of Puritan Paperbacks.” Banner of Truth’s wonderful reprints opened my eyes to new vistas of doxological approaches to theology. From there, I purchased the complete works of Boston, Brooks, Bunyan, Flavel, Goodwin, Sibbes, and Swinnock. It seemed as though I was always reading a Puritan work; I was squarely in their grip and there I remain.
In the Puritans I find reverent affection for our great God.
In the Puritans I find doctrinal precision coupled with experiential application.
In the Puritans I find a devotion to worship God in all of life.
In the Puritans I find a passion to be with Christ’s church in worship.
In the Puritans I find a peculiar strength for suffering.
In the Puritans I find a delightful submission to God’s providence.
In short, the Puritans train my soul for joy. I believe they can do the same for you.
A Very Good Place to Start
Many Christians – and pastors – today live with spurious assumptions about the Puritans: “They are killjoys!” “They are impossible to read!” “They are crazy, introspective legalists!” There are, to be sure, some verbose, legalistic joy-crushing Puritans, but those men are an aberration within the movement. The overwhelming majority are “Doctors of the Soul” without peer in church history.
The only way you’ll know if I’m right or wrong is to step into the Puritans waters (come on in, the water’s great!). Here are a few works that capture the Puritan ethos and will likely cause you to swim deeper into this ocean of spiritual goodness.
The Mortification of Sin by John Owen. Jerry Bridges said, “John Owen’s treatises on Indwelling Sin in Believers and The Mortification of Sin are, in my opinion, the most helpful writings on personal holiness ever written.” JI Packer once wrote, “I owe more to John Owen than to any other theologian, ancient or modern, and I owe more to this little book (The Mortification of Sin) than to anything else he wrote.”
No one, outside of the apostles, peered so deeply into the human heart and the glory of Christ as this Prince of Puritans. Owen is thus unusually able to steel our gaze against the heart-fortresses of sin. His application of truth to the believer’s sin-slaying work is, at certain points, breathtaking. In the fall of 2013 I had a few dozen men in my church read The Mortification of Sin and a large handful said something like, “This is one of the most useful books I’ve ever read!” If you read one book the rest of this year, make it Owen’s classic. I promise your soul will say, “Thank you.”
Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks. One area where the Puritans uniquely excel is on the always pressing topic of spiritual warfare. When it comes to Satan’s schemes, Brooks knows best. I don’t think Banner of Truth is exaggerating when they say, “Brooks treated the seductive influence and terrible power of Satan in a way greatly more full and suggestive than in the literature of the present day.” Brooks takes on 38 (!) different favored devices of the Worm and gives specific remedies for each one. His insight into Satan’s ways are stunning. The final chapter, “Ten Special Rules Against Satan’s Devices” is pure gold. Spurgeon had a particular affection for Brooks, saying,
Had Brooks been a worldly man, his writings would have been most valuable; but since he was an eminent Christian, they are doubly so. He had the eagle eye of faith, as well as the eagle wing of imagination. He saw similes, metaphors, and allegories everywhere; but they were all consecrated to his Master’s service.
The Art of Divine Contentment by Thomas Watson. If there was an award for “The Most Readable Puritan” its recipient would surely be Thomas Watson. Joel Beeke says Watson stands out from all the rest because of his “depth of doctrine, clarity of expression, warmth of spirituality, love of application, and gift of illustration.” You really can’t go wrong with any of Watson’s works (All Things for Good and The Doctrine of Repentance are excellent), but I suggest The Art of Divine Contentment because the subject is a perennial struggle for every Christian. Launching off from Philippians 4:11, Watson writes, “For my part, I know not any ornament in religion that doth more bespangle a Christian, or glitter in the eye of God and man, than this of contentment. . . . If there is a blessed life before we come to heaven, it is the contented life.”
2014 is almost over and reasons to praise God for His kindness are everywhere. One reason is the Christian publishing industry.Particularly Reformation Heritage Books and Banner of Truth.
THE TRUMPET OF THE SCOTTISH REFORMATION
Banner of Truth says, “Unfortunately for many years hardback sets of Knox’s Works have been virtually unobtainable by, and inaccessible to, the general public. Now, to mark the 500th anniversary of his birth (probably in 1514) and the 150th anniversary of the completion of the first definitive edition of the Scottish reformer’s Works (1846-64), these rare volumes have been reprinted. The present republication of the reformer’s writings provides a unique and remarkably affordable opportunity for a new generation of students to rediscover and get to know the real John Knox.”
Click here to see the table of contents for all six volumes.
THE FATHER OF THE PURITANISM
Though Perkins is best known today for his writings on predestination, he also wrote prolifically on many subjects. His works filled over two thousand large pages of small print in three folio volumes and were reprinted several times in the decades after his death. However, his complete works have not been in print since the mid-seventeenth century.
Reformation Heritage has blessed the church and academy with a modern typeset edition of the Works includes four volumes of Perkins’s expositions of Scripture, three volumes of his doctrinal and polemical treatises, and three volumes of his practical writings.
The present volume contains three of Perkins’s treatises. The first is A Digest or Harmony of the Books of the Old and New Testament, which offers a synopsis of the Bible that relates sacred history to the chronology of the world. Dating God’s creation of the universe in 3967 BC, Perkins develops his overview of redemptive history that culminates in the final judgment.
The second treatise is The Combat between Christ and the Devil Displayed. Expounding Matthew 4:1–11, Perkins shows how Christ’s temptation in the wilderness (1) set Jesus up to serve as the second Adam, overcoming Satan’s temptation in a way the first Adam did not; (2) reveals how the devil assaults the church so that we might be better prepared to resist his temptations; and (3) equipped Christ to be a sympathetic high priest to those who are tempted.
The third and most significant treatise is A Godly and Learned Exposition upon Christ’s Sermon in the Mount. “Hereof I have chosen to entreat,” says Perkins, “because it is a most divine and learned sermon, and may not unfitly be called the ‘Key to the whole Bible’; for here Christ opens the sum of the Old and New Testaments.” The fact that Perkins saw the Sermon on the Mount as unlocking the meaning of Scripture in its entirety suggests that his understanding of what Christ declares in Matthew 5–7 was pivotal to the development of his theology and piety.
One of the few things I’m certain of is the spiritual usefulness of John Owen. He is worth every fighting moment of consideration and meditation. He rewards the reader’s rigorous attention with untold treasures for the soul.
But not all of his books are like wading through a literary slog. Owen does occasionally puts the cookies on the lower shelf for those of us more feeble in mind. One such work was recently republished by Reformation Heritage under the title of Rules for Walking in Fellowship.
DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THIS GEM
RHB says, “In Rules for Walking in Fellowship, John Owen supplies struggling congregations with biblical guidelines for making church life in the present a foretaste of heavenly fellowship to come. He discusses both the responsibilities congregations have toward pastors as well as the duties members have toward one another. Together, Owen presents twenty-four rules for fostering gospel fellowship, supporting them with numerous proof texts, brief explanations, and words of motivation to keep them. His simple approach makes this book ideal for personal or small group study. Here, then, is a collection of indispensable biblical rules that will challenge Christians in any given congregation, of whatever denomination—a little gem that is at the same time doctrinal, practical, and ecumenical.”
The book’s usefulness is quite clear when you browse the Table of Contents . . .
PART 1: Rules for Walking in Fellowship, with Reference to the Pastor or Minister Who Watches Over Your Souls
- Attending to the Ordinances Dispensed by Your Pastor
- Following Your Pastor’s Example
- Praying for Your Pastor
- Esteeming Your Pastor
- Paying Your Pastor’s Salary
- Standing by Your Pastor in His Trials
- Gathering to Worship when Summoned
PART 2: Rules to Be Observed By Those Who Walk in Fellowship, to Remind Them of Their Mutual Duties Toward One Another
- Loving One Another
- Praying for the Church
- Taking a Stand for the Church
- Preserving Unity
- Separating from the World
- Engaging in Spiritual Conversation
- Bearing with One Another’s Faults
- Bearing One Another’s Burdens
- Helping the Poor
- Being Wary of Those Who Divide the Church
- Sharing the Church’s Lot, No Matter What
- Associating with the Lowly
- Praying for the Afflicted
- Keeping Each Other Accountable
- Being Holy
In many ways, this is the Puritan answer to the question of, “What is a Healthy Church Member?” Grab a few copies, a few friends, and tolle lege!
On weeks when I don’t preach, like this one, I aim to place myself on unusual watch against Satan’s schemes. He rages at all times, but in my own experience it’s weeks like these that he bears his lion-teeth with uncommon fervor.
In addition to the word, prayer, and fellowship I have found Thomas Brooks’ classic Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices to be of great help. His final chapter on “10 Special Helps and Rules Against Satan’s Devices” worth revisiting whenever you feel the Worm is raging. Consider these helps and rules this week as you strive against Satan.
10 WAYS TO FIGHT AGAINST THE ENEMY
Walk by rule of the Word of God. (Prov. 12:24; Gal. 6:16) He who walks by rule, walks most safely; he who walks by rule, walks most honorably; he who walks by rule, walks most sweetly. When men throw off the Word, then God throws them off, and then Satan takes them by the hand, and leads them into snares at his pleasure.
Take heed of vexing and grieving of the Holy Spirit of God. Ah! if you set that sweet and blessed Spirit a-mourning, who alone can secure you from Satan’s depths—by whom will you be preserved? Man is a weak creature, and no way able to discover Satan’s snares, nor to avoid them—unless the Spirit of the Lord gives skill and power.
Labor for more heavenly wisdom. It is not the most knowing Christian—but the most wise Christian, who sees, avoids, and escapes Satan’s snares. ‘The way of life leads upward for the wise,’ says Solomon, ‘that he may depart from hell beneath’ (Prov. 15:24). Heavenly wisdom makes a man delight to fly high; and the higher any man flies, the more he is out of the reach of Satan’s snares.
Make immediate resistance against Satan’s first motions. He who will play with Satan’s bait, will quickly be taken with Satan’s hook! The promise of conquest is given to resisting, not to disputing: ‘Resist the devil, and he will flee from you’ (James 4:7).
Labor to be filled with the Spirit. He who thinks he has enough of the Holy Spirit, will quickly find himself vanquished by the evil spirit. Therefore labor more to have your hearts filled with the Spirit than to have your heads filled with notions, your shops with wares, your chests with silver, or your bags with gold; so shall you escape the snares of this fowler, and triumph over all his plots.
Keep humble. An humble heart will rather lie in the dust than rise by wickedness, and sooner part with all than the peace of a good conscience. Humility keeps the soul free from many darts of Satan’s casting, and snares of his spreading; as the low shrubs are free from many violent gusts and blasts of wind, which shake and rend the taller trees. He who has a gracious measure of humility, is neither affected with Satan’s offers nor terrified with his threatenings.
Keep a strong, close, and constant watch (1 Thess. 5:6). A sleepy soul is already an ensnared soul. That soul that will not watch against temptations, will certainly fall before the power of temptations. Shall Satan keep a crafty watch, and shall not Christians keep a holy spiritual watch? Watchfulness is nothing else but the soul running up and down, to and fro, busy everywhere. Watchfulness is the heart busied and employed with diligent observation of what comes from within us, and of what comes from without us and into us.
Keep up your communion with God. Your strength to stand and withstand Satan’s fiery darts is from your communion with God. A soul high in communion with God may be tempted—but will not easily be conquered. Such a soul will fight it out to the death. Communion with God furnishes the soul with the greatest and the choicest arguments to withstand Satan’s temptations.
Do not engage Satan in your own strength—but be every day drawing new virtue and strength from the Lord Jesus. Ah, souls! when the snare is spread, look up to Jesus Christ, who is lifted up in the gospel, as the brazen serpent was in the wilderness, and say to him, “Dear Lord! here is a new snare laid to catch my soul, and grace formerly received, without fresh supplies from your blessed bosom, will not deliver me from this snare. Oh! give me new strength, new power, new influences, new measures of grace, that so I may escape the snares!”
Be much in prayer. Prayer is a shelter to the soul, a sacrifice to God and a scourge to the devil. There is nothing that renders Satan’s plots fruitless like prayer; therefore says Christ: ‘Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation’ (Matt. 26:41). You must watch and pray, and pray and watch, if you would not enter into temptation.’