Living in Two Worlds
The Puritans show us how to live from a two-world point of view. Richard Baxter’s The Saint’s Everlasting Rest is a magnificent demonstration of the power that the hope of heaven should have for the directing, controlling, and energizing of your life here on earth. Despite being 800+ pages, this classic became household reading in Puritan homes, exceeded only by John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, 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 you ought to have heaven “in your eye” throughout your entire earthly pilgrimage. They took seriously the two-worldly, now/not yet dynamics of the New Testament, stressing that keeping the “hope of glory” before our minds helps guide and keep our lives straight here on earth. Living in the light of eternity for the Puritans often necessitated radical self-denial. Timothy, refuse to become a self-seeking, spiritually careless minister, and instead, deny indulging in anything you cannot pray about or pursue in light of the immense value of eternity. Like the Puritans, live in terms of the settled judgment that the joy of heaven will make amends of any losses and crosses, strains and pains that we must endure on earth if we are going to follow Christ faithfully. Regard preparedness to die as the first step in learning to live. View this earth as God’s dressing-room and gymnasium that prepares you for heaven.
When visiting Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s church in Dundee a few years ago, I couldn’t help but notice a large flat stone, perhaps 8’ x 8’, placed at the entrance of the graveyard adjacent to the church. I got down on my hands and knees to wipe away the dust and dirt that was clouding a single word carved into the center of that large stone. I traced the word with my fingers: “Eternity” is all it said. I have little doubt that M’Cheyne, permeated by the Puritan spirit, had it placed there, so that no one could visit that graveyard without considering the solemn reality of their future state.
When Jonathan Edwards was thirteen years old, he wrote in his diary, “God, stamp eternity upon my eyes.” Dear Timothy, make it your daily prayer: “O Triune God, stamp eternity on my eyes, my conscience, my soul, my hands and feet, my family and public worship, yes, my entire being and ministry—every sermon I preach and class I teach, every pastoral visit I make and every article I write. Help me to preach as a dying man to dying people. Help me to always live on the edge of eternity—with shod feet, girt loins, and ready staff—prepared to meet the living God every day.”
There’s so much more to learn from the Puritans, Timothy—how they promoted the authority of Scripture, biblical evangelism, church reform, the spirituality of the law, spiritual warfare against indwelling sin, the filial fear of God, the dreadfulness of hell and the glories of heaven—but this letter is already too long. In a word, Timothy, I advise you, as I advise myself: Emulate Puritan 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? It is not enough to just read the Puritans. A stirring of interest in the Puritans is not the same thing as a revival of Puritanism. We need the inward disposition of the Puritans—the authentic, biblical, intelligent piety they showed in our hearts, lives, and churches.
Let me challenge you, Timothy! Will you live godly in Christ Jesus like the Puritans? Will you go beyond studying 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).
Warmly, in the Master’s bonds,
Joel R. Beeke
P.S. If you are just starting to read the Puritans, Timothy, I recommend beginning with Thomas Watson’s Heaven Taken By Storm, John Bunyan’s The Fear of God, John Flavel’s Keeping the Heart, and Thomas Brooks’s Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. From there, move on to the works of John Owen, Thomas Goodwin, and Jonathan Edwards. You can find out the basics about Puritan books in A Reader’s Guide to Puritan Literature. In that book, Randall Pederson and I give a brief summary of each Puritan title that has been reprinted since the resurgence of Puritan literature in the 1950s, and provide you with a biographical summary of each Puritan author’s life. You should also get Ralph Martin’s A Guide to the Puritans (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1997), which indexes most of the Puritan reprints, so that you can quickly find what the Puritans have to say on any major subject.
For secondary sources that introduce you to the Puritans lifestyle and theology, begin with Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), Peter Lewis, The Genius of Puritanism (Morgan, Penn.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1997), and Erroll Hulse, Who are the Puritans? and what do they teach (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2000). Then move on to J.I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1990). For a bibliography that contains numerous Puritan works not yet reprinted, see my The Quest for Full Assurance: The Legacy of Calvin and His Successors (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999).
Finally, you may want to check out the new documentary, Puritan: All of Life to the Glory of God.
Joel Beeke (@JoelBeeke) is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and one of the pastors of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation both in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has written, co-authored, and edited over 80 books.
Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson