Note: Today I have Dave Arnold as my guest blogger. He is a pastor and writer living in the Monroe-area of Michigan. He has authored five books and contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Although I was exposed to a few of the Puritans when I was in college – namely, in my preaching classes – it wasn’t until 2014 that God, by His grace, opened my eyes to these spiritual giants of the seventeenth century and forever changed my life.
I remember the morning clearly. It was early and my daughter (who was only a few months old), was sitting on my lap contently. I reached over to grab my Kindle and scrolled through the “free books” section. It was then my eyes fell upon a title Samuel Rutherford and Some of His Correspondents by Alexander Whyte. I knew of Whyte and had read some of his sermons, so I thought I’d download it. And I’m so glad I did!
Whyte had me at the introduction, as he beautifully portrayed the life of Rutherford, the great Scottish divine of Anwoth, his exile in Aberdeen, his involvement in the Westminster Assembly, and most importantly, his ardent love for Christ.
Not only did I read Whyte’s classic work on Rutherford’s letters, but then went on to read the Letters myself, which drastically impacted the trajectory of my life. Moreover, through Whyte, and then incidentally, Rutherford, their writing opened my eyes to other Puritans; and thus, my journey to understand the Puritans began.
With that said, I’d like to share with you four lessons on how the Puritans have impacted me personally.
1. Personal Holiness
The first lesson I learned from the Puritans was the importance (and urgency!) of personal holiness, both within the believer and the church. To be honest, my Christian life prior to reading Whyte’s book on Rutherford was lacking in holiness. I believed in the Lord, was involved in ministry, had regular time with Him, but I had grown apathetic.
Shortly after I read Rutherford, I dusted off an old copy of a Jonathan Edwards book I had and read his Personal Narrative (the story of Edwards’ conversion and growth in Christ). I was struck with how serious Edwards took holiness. He writes, “I had vehement longings of soul after God and Christ, and after more holiness, wherewith my heart seemed to be full, and ready to break.” Oh how my heart soared when I read those words, and how I too had a greater longing for more holiness.
The Puritans saw holiness as both experiential and holistic; that is, holiness should be in every part of our lives.
2. The Ugliness of Sin
Not only did the Puritans help me understand the importance of personal holiness, but also of the ugliness of sin. “Sin is likened to the rot,” says Puritan Ralph Venning, “to the filth and corruption of the foulest disease, which is so foul and rotten that one would not touch it with a pair of tongs.” The Puritans took the doctrine of sin very serious, much more than we tend to in our modern day. In our culture of excessive hedonism, the Puritan seriousness of sin is a much-needed reminder. Indeed, we cannot understand the sweetness of grace unless we know the bitterness of sin.
3. The Importance of Reverence
Another vital lesson I have learned from the Puritans is the importance of the fear of the Lord, a theme we don’t hear preached too often from the pulpit. And yet, one cannot understand the love of God without the fear of God.
The Puritans reminded me of how crucial it is to have a holy reverence toward the Lord. In fact, in my recent book In This Manner: Six Essential Truths on How to Live Out the Lord’s Prayer, I touch on this subject in great detail.
4. Delighting in the Lord’s Day
My first pastorate position was as a youth and associate pastor of a church in Romulus, Michigan, a few miles away from Detroit Metropolitan Airport. And in that church, we had two services: a morning service and an evening service. Sunday was the Lord’s Day… the whole day. Therefore, I spent the majority of that day at church and within fellowship with the congregation. I loved it!
But when my wife and I moved to Ohio, the church I worked at had two morning services and no evening service. And I noticed something: once church was over, people rushed to get out, go out to eat, watch football, or play golf (depending on the weather). It was as if they said, “Well, church is done; I can check that off my list… now it’s football time!”
This is a sad reality for many of our churches today. We have lost the sanctity of the Lord’s Day.
Thankfully, when I began to read the Puritans regarding the Lord’s Day, it breathed new life into my week as I began to anticipate Sunday – the “market day of the soul,” as the Puritans called it. Thomas Watson said “you cannot love the Lord unless you love His day.”
I am eternally indebted to the Puritans and to the many lessons I’ve learned from them. In fact, studying Puritan theology has become a passion of mine, and one I plan to continue throughout the rest of my life.
Note: Here are three books on the Puritans that you may be interested in:
- Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer
- The Very Heart of Prayer: Reclaiming John Bunyan’s Spirituality
- Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer