My Top Ten Puritan Authors
10. Thomas Vincent (1634–1678): Only a handful of Vincent’s writings were ever published. Nevertheless, when we find ourselves cold and listless, Vincent can help kindle the fire of Christian love. Just try reading The True Christian’s Love to the Unseen Christ (1677) without yearning to love Christ more! Vincent also wrote The Good Work Begun (1673), a helpful evangelistic book for young people.
Vincent wrote some more solemn treatises as well, including God’s Terrible Voice in the City (1667) and Christ’s Certain and Sudden Appearance to Judgment (1667), both written after the Great Fire of London, as well as Fire and Brimstone (1670). Many of these titles were reprinted by Soli Deo Gloria Publications from 1991 to 2001.
Vincent’s works are uniquely refreshing. It is no wonder that Vincent’s works were bestsellers in the eighteenth century.
9. John Bunyan (1628–1688): When I first felt convicted of my sins, I saw Bunyan’s The Life and Death of Mr. Badman on my father’s bookcase and figured "that book must be for me!" More importantly, my father read Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress to us every Sunday evening after church (I must have listened to that book fifteen times). As I grew older, I would ask questions about how the Holy Spirit works in the soul, about Mr. Talkative, the Man in the Iron Cage, the House of the Interpreter, and scores of other characters and matters. My father often wept as he answered my questions. Later I realized what a rare gift those sessions were—after forty years, illustrations from Bunyan’s great classic still come to mind while I’m preaching.
8. John Flavel (1628–1691): With the exception of Jonathan Edwards, no Puritan divine was more helpful for me in sermon preparation as a young minister than Flavel. His sermons on Christ’s suffering also greatly blessed my soul. What lover of Puritan literature has not been blessed by Flavel’s classics: The Mystery of Providence, Keeping the Heart, The Fountain of Life, Christ Knocking at the Door of the Heart, and The Method of Grace?
7. Thomas Brooks (1608–1680): Brooks became my favorite Puritan writer in my late teens. His Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod, Heaven on Earth: A Treatise on Assurance, “The Unsearchable Riches of Christ” (vol. 3), “The Crown and Glory of Christianity” (vol. 4)—a classic on holiness consisting of 58 sermons on Hebrews 12:14—all ministered to me. Brooks’s books are real page-turners. He often brought me to tears of joy over Christ and tears of sorrow over sin. His writings exude spiritual life and power.
6. Thomas Watson (c. 1620–1686): Watson was my favorite Puritan after I was converted in my mid-teens. I read his Body of Divinity as a daily devotional. His All Things for Good was a wonderful balm for my troubled soul in a period of intense affliction in the early 1980s. His winsome writing includes deep doctrine, clear expression, warm spirituality, appropriate applications, and colorful illustrations. I love his pithy, quotable style of writing.
5. William Perkins (1558–1602): Rhetorician, expositor, theologian, pastor, Perkins became the principle architect of the Puritan movement. By the time of his death, Perkins’s writings in England were outselling those of John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and Henry Bullinger combined. He “moulded the piety of a whole nation,” H.C. Porter said. Little wonder, then, that Perkins is often called the father of Puritanism.
Perkins first influenced me while I was studying assurance of faith for my doctoral dissertation. Ten years later, his Art of Prophesying, a short homiletic textbook for Puritan seminarians, helped me understand how to address listeners according to their various cases of conscience. My appreciation for Perkins has increased over the years. I am thoroughly enjoying spending more time reading his works as general editor with Derek Thomas on a ten-volume reprint of Perkins’s works, of which two volumes are now in print.
4. Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758): A class at Westminster Theological Seminary motivated me to read most of Edwards’s two-volume works in 1983. His sermons convicted and comforted me beyond words; what a master wordsmith Edwards was! The two books that influenced me most were Religious Affections, which is often regarded as the leading classic in American history on spiritual life, and Edwards’s sermons on justification by faith. Earlier, I was greatly influenced by The Life and Diary of David Brainerd.
I was touched by Edwards’s concept of “fittedness” throughout his writings, and have often found that concept a great tool for leadership and decision-making. Edwards grounded this concept in God; a God who is always fitting will guide His people to want to do what is fitting in each life situation to bring Him the most glory. Hence, we must ask of every decision we face: What is most fitting in God’s sight according to His Word? What will bring God the most honor?
3. John Owen (1616–1683): Owen’s wide range of subjects, insightful writing, exhaustive doctrinal studies, profound theology, and warm devotional approach explain why I and so many others regard his work with such high esteem. Owen may be wordy on occasion, but he is never dry. His works are invaluable for all who wish to explore the rich legacy left by one who is often called “Prince of the Puritans.”
I was most influenced by Owen when I spent the summer of 1985 studying his views on assurance. The two books that influenced me most were Owen’s treatment of Psalm 130, particularly verse 4, and his amazing Communion with God, which focuses on experiential communion between a believer and individual persons of the Trinity.
2. Thomas Goodwin (1600–1679): Goodwin’s exegesis is massive; he leaves no stone unturned. His first editors (1681) said of his work: “He had a genius to dive into the bottom of points, to ‘study them down,’ as he used to express it, not contenting himself with superficial knowledge, without wading into the depths of things.” Begin by reading some of the shorter, more practical writings of Goodwin, such as Patience and Its Perfect Work; This book was written after much of Goodwin’s personal library was destroyed by fire. Also read Certain Select Cases Resolved, which offers three experiential treatises that reveal Goodwin’s pastoral heart for afflicted Christians. Each deals with specific struggles in the believer’s soul, including spiritual depression, answers to prayer, and sanctification. This is a mini-classic on spiritual growth.
For twenty years, my favorite Puritan writer was Thomas Goodwin. Goodwin’s 12-voume Works most recently reprinted by Reformation Heritage Books (12 vols.) is a treasure trove of experiential Reformed divinity at its best.
1. Anthony Burgess (d. 1664): In my opinion, Burgess is the most underrated Puritan of all time. His best and largest work, Spiritual Refining: The Anatomy of True and False Conversion (1652–54)—two volumes of 1,100 pages—has been called an “unequaled anatomy of experimental religion.” The first volume, subtitled A Treatise of Grace and Assurance, contains 120 sermons; the second, subtitled A Treatise of Sin, with its Causes, Differences, Mitigations and Aggravations, contains 42 sermons.
Several of Burgess’s major works are polemical. His first major treatise, Vindiciae Legis (1646) vindicated the Puritan view of the moral law and the covenants of works and grace in opposition to Roman Catholics, Arminians, Socinians, and Antinomians. Two years later, Burgess wrote against the same opponents, plus Richard Baxter, in his first volume on justification. His 555-page Doctrine of Original Sin (1659) meanwhile drew Anabaptists into the fray.
A scholar acquainted with the works of Aristotle, Seneca, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin, Burgess nevertheless produced astute, warm, devotional writings, while reasoning in the plain style of Puritan preaching.
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