The Reformed Theology of Grace and Its Influence on Puritan Spirituality

The Reformed theology of grace, as articulated in the Canons of Dort, informed and influenced the spirituality of the Puritans. These Canons of Dort, also called the Five Articles against the Remonstrants, consist of doctrinal statements adopted by the Synod of Dort in 1618–19 against the Five Articles of the Remonstrants (conditional election based on foreseen faith, universal atonement, partial depravity of man, resistible grace, and the possibility of lapsing from grace). In response to these five articles, the delegates at the Synod of Dort issued what came to be known as the five points of Calvinism or doctrines of grace (unconditional election, limited atonement, total depravity, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints). These doctrines highlight the sovereign and gracious work of God in salvation (see The Doctrines of Grace by Boice and Ryken).

For the Reformed, grace is a favor that God sovereignly and freely bestows on those who do not deserve it; in fact, they deserve the exact opposite. Grace rests on God’s eternal election without foreseen faith, its ground is the person and finished work of Christ, and its efficient cause is the Holy Spirit. With this grace, man is given the ability to repent and believe. And as a recipient of God’s unwavering favor, man will persevere until the end. While there is significant diversity among the Puritan heirs of this Reformed view of grace (for instance, there were strong Calvinists like Thomas Goodwin, moderate Calvinists like Richard Baxter, and even Arminian Calvinists like John Goodwin), these doctrines of grace are the broad lines of the Puritan understanding of grace, which impacted their spirituality in various ways. What follows are at least five effects that the Reformed theology of grace had on Puritan spirituality in general.

First, with the Reformed emphasis on the unconditional election and sovereign giving of grace, Puritan spirituality flowed from God’s work and not the product of mere human effort. On the flip side, it saw the human depravity that not only did not merit God’s favor but merited his condemnation. That the Puritans adopted the Calvinistic view on depravity and grace is clear in the Westminster Confession, in which the Puritan divines maintain that man by his fall has totally lost his ability to choose any spiritual good for his salvation. Their emphasis on total depravity underlined the necessity of God’s sovereign grace in salvation. Hence, as Gleason and Kapic have noted, the spirituality of the Puritans was “predominantly Augustinian” in its emphasis on human depravity and sovereign grace (see their The Devoted Life). Yet this Reformed emphasis on election, depravity, and grace did not stop the Puritans from freely and sincerely offering the gospel to all sinners. In their preaching and writing they called sinners to repentance and faith (see, for instance, John Bunyan’s Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ).

Second, the spirituality of the Puritans was shaped by their understanding of grace as grounded in the person and finished work of Christ. Because Christ is the basis of grace, union and communion with him is often foregrounded, and meditating on Christ is one way this manifests in spirituality. Thus, the Puritans wrote lengthy meditations on Christ. Take, for example, Samuel Rutherford’s collection of letters in The Loveliness of Christ and Thomas Goodwin’s The Heart of Christ in Heaven toward Sinners on Earth. Likewise, with this view of grace, the Puritans avoided exalting excessively the physical humanity of the Savior, as seen in certain strains of Roman Catholicism with its emphasis on the Eucharist. Instead the Puritans recognized it was Christ himself who worked salvation and thus whom the heart must love and adore.

Third, Puritan spirituality viewed the Holy Spirit’s work in the soul as the effectual cause of grace. Despite our deadness in sin, the Spirit regenerated us, planting the seed out of which a life of grace would bloom. Indeed, the need for regeneration by the Spirit became a dominant theme in Puritan spirituality. To illustrate this, Thomas Goodwin, author of The Work of the Holy Spirit in Our Salvation, once said that at regeneration the Spirit quickened, enabled, and inclined the soul so as to believe and repent. The Puritans believed that all spirituality resulted from the Spirit’s prior work in the soul. It is immediately upon regeneration that man becomes a cooperator with the Spirit, yet this is always in response to the Spirit’s work. Thus, the Puritans stressed the Spirit’s role not only in conversion but also in sanctification. To give an example, they emphasized the role of the Spirit in prayer, realizing that apart from the Spirit we cannot pray in such a way pleasing to God (see Bunyan’s I Will Pray with the Spirit).

Fourth, the Reformed emphasis on the Father’s electing work, Christ’s redeeming work, and the Spirit’s sanctifying work is another hallmark of Puritan spirituality. This trinitarian emphasis is clearly seen in John Owen’s Communion with God, a work that is not really about prayer but about the doctrine of the Trinity. Owen teaches the Christian that a life of spirituality is about communing with each one of the members of the Trinity in the proper way, each one being the object of our adoration, affection, and prayer. As Rutherford expressed it, “I do not know which person of the trinity I love the most, but this I know, I love each of them and I need them all.”

Finally, and closely related to the emphasis on God’s sovereign, gracious, and definitive work, is the fact that man can be assured of his faith and that he will persevere until the end by God’s preserving grace. The Puritans spent a lot of time on assurance of faith, on its objective grounds and its subjective marks. They attempted to balance a firm trust in what God has done and is doing, without becoming presumptuous, while also identifying the subjective marks without causing those subjective feelings in the soul to simply become the reason for assurance of faith. For instance, according to Joel Beeke in his book Living for God’s Glory, the delegates at the Synod of Dort recognized that Arminian theology threatened the believer’s eternal security and assurance in God’s sovereign grace. Why? Because according to the Remonstrants you can lose your salvation. By understanding the Reformed theology of grace, the Puritans could enjoy assurance of faith because they knew that God would preserve them for eternity.

Sadly, some historians such as David Bebbington think that the Puritans held the position that assurance is rare. This, Bebbington argues, is in contrast to the evangelical belief which maintains that assurance is normal (see his Evangelicalism on Modern Britain). Scholars such as Beeke and Michael Haykin have challenged Bebbington’s view and convincingly argue that the Puritans practiced and taught assurance of faith (see Beeke’s Quest for Full Assurance and Haykin’s coedited book The Advent of Evangelicalism). That the Puritans preached and taught assurance of salvation is clear. For example, Baxter exhorted his congregation not to sit down without assurance, meaning they should not rest until they were assured of God’s saving grace in their lives. Thomas Brooks expressed his assurance of faith this way: “I am wholly His . . . I am eternally His.” “To all who love Christ sincerely,” said William Pinke, “God presently gives an everlasting assurance of salvation.”

Puritan Puritan piety Reformed Theology Spirituality

Working Prayerfully: A Lesson from Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan_EdwardsOne of my favorite writers is Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), often considered to be the last Puritan. Through his writings, Edwards taught me a lot, especially with regard to prayer. For instance, he taught me to work or study prayerfully. As a pastor, I learned from Edwards to prepare for my sermons prayerfully. As a PhD student, I also learned from him to do a research paper prayerfully. As an author, I learned to write a book or article prayerfully. Indeed, Edwards himself did this. As he was studying, approximately 13 hours a day, he was doing so prayerfully, so that prayer and study intertwined with each other. Iain Murray, in his masterful biography of Edwards, illustrates this point well:

“Edwards maintained daily set times for prayer, when it was probably his custom to speak aloud. He also had…particular days which he set aside for solitude, meditation and fasting. But prayer was not a compartment in his daily routine, an exercise which possessed little connection with the remainder of his hours alone. Rather he sought to make his study itself a sanctuary, and whether wrestling with Scripture, preparing sermons or writing in his notebooks, he worked as a worshipper. Thought, prayer and writing were all woven together” (Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, 143).

Donald Whitney’s observation is similar: “Edwards was so devoted to prayer that it is hard to find a daily routine for him that wasn’t permeated with it…. He prayed over his studies, and he prayed as he walked in the evening. Prayer was both a discipline and a part of his leisure” (“Pursuing A Passion For God Through Spiritual Disciples: Learning From Jonathan Edwards, in A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, 114).

Even Edwards’ physical exercise was permeated with prayer. Many people comment that one of Edwards’ weaknesses was that he was a workaholic at the cost of his health. While this comment has an element of truth, he was not altogether neglectful of his health. In fact, number twenty of his Resolutions, written when he was nineteen years old, shows his concern for his whole-being: “Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.” Moreover, he himself makes a record in his Personal Narrative that he would ride out into woods for his health: “I rode out into the woods for my health…having alighted from my horse in a retired place, as my manner commonly has been, to walk for divine contemplation and prayer.” What is noteworthy here is that even his physical exercise was interfused with a spirit of prayer.

Oh, may the Lord teach us to pray. May we turn our workplace into a sanctuary where we work as a worshipper of God. And even if we go to the gym to exercise, may we do so prayerfully. Truly, may our entire life be permeated with prayer. After all, we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

Do you work prayerfully?

Prayer-seemed-to-be quote on Edwards

To learn more about Edwards’ prayer life, see my book Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer.






Jonathan Edwards Prayer Puritan

Four Lessons I’ve Learned From the Puritans

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


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:

  1.  Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer
  2. The Very Heart of Prayer: Reclaiming John Bunyan’s Spirituality
  3. Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer 










Jonathan Edwards Puritan Puritan piety

An Interview with Paul M. Smalley about his co-authored book Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ.

Brother, congratulations on your well-researched co-authored book with Dr. Joel Beeke. I am confident that Prepared by Grace, for Grace is destined to be a standard work on the subject.index

Paul Smalley: Thank you, Pastor Najapfour. We hope that by God’s grace the book will be useful.

Here are some of my questions for you about your book:

1. Could you please briefly define the following terms as used in your book? I think defining these terms will help the readers of this interview better understand your discourse.

a. Reformed, Puritan, & evangelical

Reformed refers to the stream of Christianity beginning with sixteenth-century Reformers such as Zwingli and Calvin, and defined by adherence to confessions such as the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Standards.

Puritanism was a movement of British Christians from the 1560s through about 1700 that emphasized applying the biblical doctrines rediscovered in the Reformation to one’s personal life, family, church, and nation.

The Reformers (including Reformed and Lutheran Christians) called themselves “evangelicals” in the sixteenth century because God has restored to the church the biblical gospel (“evangel”) of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to Scripture alone for the glory of God alone. The term continues to be used today.

b. Doctrine of preparation (Is this doctrine biblical? How is it different from the so-called preparationism?)

The doctrine of preparation is the idea that God’s general way of bringing sinners to Christ is to awaken them to a sense of their spiritual need before they trust in Christ to save them. Preparationism is really a term used to accuse someone of legalism based on the idea that sinners can (or must) work themselves up to a level of spirituality in order to be prepared for salvation. The doctrine of preparation is biblical, as long as we remember that God works in a variety of ways with various people. Christ came not to save people who think that they are righteous, but people who by the Holy Spirit’s conviction know they are sinners (Luke 5:32). Preparationism is unbiblical, for sinners are born again by grace alone, and justified by faith alone (Gal. 2:16).

c. Conversion (Is it a one-time event or a process? How is it distinct from regeneration?)

Regeneration is the miraculous event where God brings a person from spiritual death to spiritual life by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:5; Titus 3:5). Conversion is the experience and process of change where a person turns from his former beliefs and practices that were against God towards the Lord. Conversion can be viewed narrowly to refer to the first motions of faith and repentance, or more broadly as a process, and in its broadest sense it includes a lifelong process of change. Regeneration takes place in a moment, but that moment may not be easily recognized by a person for the Spirit’s work is mysterious (John 3:8).

d. Legal repentance & evangelical repentance

Legal repentance is the outward change of behavior based on guilt over sin and fear of God’s punishment. Evangelical repentance is a saving grace from God, in which a sinner out of a true sense of the evil of his sin, taking hold of God’s promise of mercy in Jesus Christ, does with grief and hatred of his sin turn from it to God, with sincere intention and working to perform a new obedience.

e. Legalism & antinomianism

Legalism is resistance against Christ the only Mediator by putting something in his place as our Prophet, Priest, and King. It has many forms. It can involve adding anything to Christ’s Word as the standard for true belief, obedience, or worship (against Christ as our Prophet), adding anything to Christ’s obedience and death as our justification and righteousness before God (against Christ as our Priest), or adding anything to Christ’s power as the effective cause of our sanctification (against Christ as our King).

Antinomianism, which means being against God’s law, is actually a form of legalism. It may replace obedience to Christ’s laws with an unbiblical mysticism. Or it may reject Christ’s power to save all in union with him not only from the condemnation of their sins, but also the reigning power of their sins. Either way, Antinomianism tries to use Christ as an excuse not to follow Christ’s Word by Christ’s power.


2. In the minds of the Puritans what is God’s ordinary way of causing sinners to come to the point of believing in Christ alone for salvation? Were the Puritans united in their view of the doctrine of preparation for saving grace?

After researching the views of many theologians on this subject, Dr. Beeke and I concluded that the Puritan tradition in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was united around a belief in preparation for conversion. In every case we examined, the Puritans taught that before God brings a person to saving faith in Christ, he works a conviction of sin and humbling sense of one’s inability to save himself. Even when a Puritan writer critiqued another Puritan’s view of preparation, the difference was in the details, not the core doctrine. We also discovered that in cases where scholars have thought a Reformed writer was attacking preparation, in fact the writer was attacking the Roman Catholic view, not that shared among the Puritans.


3. Why do you think pastors should spend time studying the doctrine of preparation? How is this doctrine important to the ministry?

I would not make this doctrine central to pastoral ministry and the life of the church, for that place belongs to the person and work of Jesus Christ. However, the doctrine of preparation is important, especially for those called to preach, teach, and counsel the Word. If you are planning to preach a message especially to the lost, should you speak only of God’s love and Christ’s grace, or should you also speak of God’s law and man’s violation of the commandments? If a person comes to you for counsel because he is experiencing a sense of guilt and fear of damnation, what do you say to him? Do you tell him to brush it off as unhealthy or inconsistent with God’s love? Do you tell him that if he feels guilty and cleans up his life then he must already be saved? These are the kinds of practical questions that the doctrine of preparation addresses, for it teaches us that the condemning power of the law to produce guilt and fear is helpful in evangelism, but in itself cannot save. Only the gospel is the instrument of saving faith. Preparation also helps us to appreciate (and pray for) the work of the Holy Spirit even before regeneration, for it is the Spirit who convicts of sin (John 16:8). Thus the doctrine honors the triune God.


4. On page 7, you state with your co-author, “Though we affirm the fundamentals of the Puritan doctrine of preparation, we do not always agree with the details of each Puritan’s way of working out the implications of this doctrine.” In what areas do you disagree with the Puritan doctrine of preparation? And please name some Puritans with whom you are not comfortable as far as this doctrine is concerned.

The most significant area of disagreement would be the idea that a person must experience such a level of humbling over his sins that he is content to be damned by God if God so chooses. It seems that Thomas Hooker and Thomas Shepard taught this, but it was rejected by the mainstream of Puritanism. The Bible nowhere teaches such a thing. We must acknowledge that God could in all justice damn us to hell for our sins, but that is far from being content to be damned. Rather, we should long for salvation. Another concern is that some Puritans such as Hooker may have become imbalanced in their preaching, emphasizing the guilt and fear of preparation so strongly and so long that they temporarily obscured the free offer of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We always want to urge sinners to come to Christ immediately and not seek any other qualification than the gospel call itself. There are also other theological caveats and qualifications that we make about the Puritan view of preparation in the last chapter of the book. However, we were encouraged to find that most Puritans had a very biblical and balanced approach to evangelism. Hooker himself said, “The Lord proclaims his mercy openly, freely offers it, heartily intends it, waits to communicate [share] it, lays siege to the soul by his long sufferance: there is enough to procure all good, distrust it not: he freely invites, fear it not, thou mayest be bold to go: he intends it heartily, question it not: yet he is waiting and wooing, delay it not therefore, but hearken to his voice.”


5. What projects are you currently working on?

I am editing the second volume of The Works of William Perkins, his exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. That is a very satisfying project, for it is full of gospel truth and was written by a premier Reformed and Puritan author. I am also working with Dr. Beeke on another co-authored book, The Holy Fear of John Bunyan. Bunyan’s life and teaching on the fear of the Lord are remarkably beautiful and God-honoring, and so the research has strengthened my soul, and I hope it will do the same for others.



Paul Smalley is a member of Grace Immanuel Reformed Baptist Church. He served as a pastor for twelve years, and presently works as a teaching assistant to Dr. Joel Beeke at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.

Interview Puritan Reformer

8 Pressures in Pastoral Ministry

In their book, Encouragement for Today’s Pastors: Help from the Puritans, Joel R. Beeke and Terry D. Slachter enumerate eight pressures in pastoral ministry that can weaken our passion for ministry. We must not allow these pressures to stop us from serving our Lord Jesus Christ. As the author of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast our profession” (Hebrews 4:14).


Here are the eight pressures:

  1. Some of us find ourselves in denominations where the standards of doctrine are being downgraded. We find ourselves in situations in which we must decide when and where to make a stand.
  2. Some of us face opposition, perhaps from peers within our own denomination or from members in the pew who want us to join them in abandoning the historic doctrines of Reformation Christianity or downplay the necessity to experience those doctrines in a personal and spiritual way.
  3. Some of us are confronted with a cult of man-made traditions or a demand for trendy innovations in church life and worship.
  4. Some of us labor in situations where little growth is evident, numerical or spiritual.
  5. Some of us are crippled by debilitating loneliness—perhaps having no congenial or like-minded colleagues in our locality.
  6. Some of us labor in the midst of strife and disunity within our own flocks. A minority of vocal members spreads foolish accusations and slanderous gossip that wound our fellow Christians.
  7. Some of us are discouraged because we feel the withdrawing of the presence of God in our soul’s consciousness for no apparent reason.
  8. Some of us are discouraged on account of our own weak spiritual condition.


Ministry Pastor Puritan

A Sketch of Christian Spirituality: From the Patristic Period to the Evangelical Era (Part 4 of 5)

Puritan Reformed Spirituality

The problem with medieval Catholic spirituality is that it does not purely stem from God’s Word. Consequently, it often produces unscriptural mysticism. In contrast, Puritan Reformed spirituality is essentially based on the Bible and in dependence on the Holy Spirit. The by-product is biblical piety.

Anyone who studies Puritan Reformed spirituality should not neglect Joel R. Beeke’s priceless work whose title itself is Puritan Reformed Spirituality. Beeke, president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a first-class scholar of Reformation and Post-Reformation theology. This book, according to Beeke, “promotes biblical spirituality through a study of the Reformed and Puritan heritage.”[1] Actually, all chapters in this volume (except for chapter 13) have been previously published in a periodical or book. As a result, and what could be perceived as a disadvantage, each chapter “is an independent unit with the exception of chapters 11 and 12.”[2] Yet, these independent units do not affect the serviceability of the material to understanding Puritan Reformed spirituality, a type of spirituality which the author believes to be biblical.

Puritan Reformed Spirituality deals with different dimensions of spirituality (assurance of faith, evangelism, the Decalogue, meditation, preaching, justification by faith, and others) with a special focus on the writings of the following authors:  French reformer John Calvin, English Puritans William Ames and Anthony Burgess, Scottish divines John Brown of Haddington, Thomas Boston, and Ebenezer and Ralph Erskine, and Dutch Second reformers Willem Teellinck, Herman Witsius, and Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen. Noticeably, Beeke includes the spirituality of the Dutch Second or Further Reformation, which resembles English Puritanism, especially in terms of the practice of piety.

Of all nineteen chapters of Beeke’s book, one may find chapters 1, 4, 14, and 18 as most helpful for the understanding of Puritan Reformed spirituality. In chapter 1, “Calvin on Piety,” Beeke examines Calvin whose “reputation as an intellectual… is often seen apart from the vital spiritual and pastoral context in which he wrote his theology.”[3] Beeke dispels this caricature, insisting that for Calvin “theological understanding and practical piety, truth and usefulness, are inseparable.”[4] In fact, the very purpose of Calvin in writing his great theological work—the Institutes—was “solely to transmit certain rudiments by which those who are touched with any zeal for religion might be shaped to true godliness.”[5]

Ironically, Calvin’s concept of piety also has an element of mysticism—mystical union with Christ—which is cardinal to his system of theology. Beeke says, “For Calvin, piety is rooted in the believer’s mystical union (unio mystica) with Christ; thus this union must be our starting point.”[6] But such piety is different from medieval spirituality for the simple reason that Calvin’s piety is solidly grounded in the proper knowledge of God. Calvin believes that right doctrine of God prompts holy practice, and that the practice of holiness becomes only superficial when it does not emanate from the right knowledge of God. To further distinguish Calvin’s piety from medieval spirituality, Beeke gives the following explanation:

For Calvin, the Reformation includes the reform of piety (pietas), or spirituality, as much as a reform of theology. The spirituality that had been cloistered behind monastery walls for centuries had been broken down; medieval spirituality was reduced to a celibate, ascetic, and penitential devotion in the convent or monastery. But Calvin helped Christians understand piety in terms of living and acting every day according to God’s will (Rom. 12:1-2) in the midst of human society. Through Calvin’s influence, Protestant spirituality focused on how one lived the Christian life in the family, the fields, the workshop, and the marketplace. Calvin helped Protestants change the entire focus of the Christian life.[7]

In chapter 4, “The Puritan Practice of Meditation,” Beeke discusses one critical aspect of spirituality—meditation. For the Puritans, meditation is a spiritual exercise of both mind and heart. In the words of Thomas Watson (c. 1620-1689) meditation is “a holy exercise of the mind whereby we bring the truths of God to remembrance, and do seriously ponder upon them and apply them to ourselves.”[8] Puritan meditation centers on the written truth (Scripture) as well as the living Truth (Christ). As such, Beeke says, “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.”[9]

In chapter 14, “Willem Teellinck and The Path of True Godliness,” Beeke addresses one of the foremost representatives of the Dutch Second Reformation, namely, Teellinck (1579-1629) who is often considered the father of the Dutch Further Reformation. Teellinck was profoundly influenced by the Puritans, particularly by their practice of piety.  This Puritan influence is seen in his sermons and writings in which his concern was always to promote holy living. In Teellinck’s The Path of True Godliness, his magnum opus on sanctification, he castigates those who claim to have faith in God, and yet do not show godliness in their lives. For Teellinck, “the true Christian faith is knowledge that leads to godliness.”[10] Beeke, commenting on the impact of Teellinck, states: “Teellinck’s positive emphasis in promoting biblical, Reformed spirituality serves as a corrective to much false spirituality…. to orthodox teaching that presents truth to the mind but does not apply it to the heart and daily life.”[11]

At the latter part of his life, however, Teellinck became somewhat mystical, emphasizing feelings more than faith. This mystical tendency can be detected from Teellinck’s The New Jerusalem, published posthumously. The Dutch Calvinist theologian Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676) commented that, in this volume, Teellinck “could rightly be regarded as a second Thomas ä Kempis.”[12] Beeke agrees with Voetius’ comment, but adds that, unlike Thomas ä Kempis, Teellinck was “Reformed in his theology.”[13]

Beeke, in Chapter 18, “Cultivating Holiness,” reaches as it were the climax. This chapter is packed with quotes from the Reformers and the Puritans, and their like-minded successors. Here Beeke demonstrates to his readers what Puritan Reformed spirituality really is. The chapter ends with a pastoral plea to pray for piety with Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843), “Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be.”[14]

[1] Joel R. Beeke, Puritan Reformed Spirituality (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2004), viii.

[2] Ibid., ix.

[3] Ibid., 1.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Cited in Ibid., 1-2. The quote is taken from John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill and trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 1:9.

[6] Beeke, Puritan Reformed Spirituality, 4.

[7] Ibid., 26-27.

[8] Cited in Ibid., 74. The quote is taken fromThomas Watson, Heaven Taken by Storm (Morgan, Pa.; Soli Deo Gloria, 2000), 23.

[9] Beeke, Puritan Reformed Spirituality, 74.

[10] Willem Teellinck, The Path of True Godliness, ed. Joel R. Beeke, trans. Annemie Godbehere (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, reprint, 2006), 31.

[11] Beeke, Puritan Reformed Spirituality, 329.

[12] Cited in Ibid., 315.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Cited in 421.

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Seven Causes of Pastoral Discouragement

In their new book—Encouragement for Today’s Pastors: Help from the Puritans (2013), Joel R. Beeke and Terry D. Slachter, borrowing from Archibald D. Hart’s work—Coping with Depression in the Ministry and Other Helping Professions (1984), list seven causes of pastoral discouragement, depression, or burnout.


First, the ministry is a people-oriented calling to lead a group of volunteers. A pastor cannot avoid problems such as troublesome personalities, interpersonal conflicts, and resulting frustrations in meeting his goals.

Second, a minister’s work does not have clear boundaries. Feeling they can never complete any one task creates a lot of stress for pastors.

Third, pastoral ministry lacks criteria for measuring success, yet most ministers (disclaimers aside) long to see tangible results of their work. Yet setting numerical goals in ministry is like grasping at the wind.

Fourth, congregational expectations for a pastor are often unrealistically high. This not only sets up a minister for failure in meeting everyone’s expectations but also tends to make him a people-pleaser.

Fifth, problems in a pastor’s character, such as perfectionism, laziness, authoritarianism, or a victim mentality may exacerbate difficulties in church leadership.

Sixth, many ministers come to a church with extremely idealistic anticipations. The idealism of youth combined with high spiritual aspirations can lead to grave disappointments if adjustments are not made in the first years of ministry.

Seventh, many pastors feel guilty about their limitations, emotional ups and downs, and weaknesses.


Note: Click here to listen to my message on encouraging ourselves in the LORD our God (1 Samuel 30:1-6).


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Forthcoming Book—Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer

Book Cover for Jonathan Edwards-His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer“In giving Jonathan Edwards to the church, God did her an inestimable favor. In giving Jonathan Edwards to the reader, Brian Najapfour has done the Christian a great favor.

Edwards rightly stands at the fountainhead of a great theological tradition. The depth of Edwards’ theology, however, often overwhelms the uninitiated. In response, the reader turns to shallower streams and dies instead of theological thirst. The great riches of Edwards await those who will swim against the current. Those who persevere find not only the majesty of his thought on such great doctrines as the will and sin. They find on the far shores of their efforts the gems, ideas and doctrines directly related to God’s call upon every Christian. Edwards’ theology of prayer is such a gem. Given the chance, Jonathan Edwards and this volume, Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer, promise to change the way we pray.”

Dr. Peter Beck, Assistant Professor of Religion, Charleston Southern University


“Thomas Shepard, the Harvard man, once quipped that there are times in his life when he’d rather die than pray. No doubt we sometimes feel this way. This book on the man from Yale by Brian Najapfour will help remedy the problem of prayerlessness. For that reason alone I am grateful for this enjoyable read on the prayer life of Jonathan Edwards.”

—Dr. Mark Jones, Minister of Faith Presbyterian Church (PCA), Vancouver, British Columbia and Research Associate, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa


“Brian Najapfour weaves together a beautiful tapestry of theology and piety, of doctrine and devotion, from the life, sermons and writings of Jonathan Edwards. You’ll end up knowing much more about this godly man; but, if you follow his example, you’ll end up knowing even more about God.”

—Dr. David P. Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary


“Historically informed and contemporarily relevant, Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer equips one in the life of prayer.”

—Dr. Adriaan C. Neele, Associate Editor and Director of the Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale University Divinity School


Brian G. Najapfour is pastor of Dutton United Reformed Church, Caledonia, Michigan, co-editor of Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer (2011), and author of The Very Heart of Prayer: Reclaiming John Bunyan’s Spirituality (2012).

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New Book on John Bunyan (1628-1688)

The Very Heart of Prayer: Reclaiming the Spirituality of John Bunyan


“Najapfour advances a well-researched thesis that Bunyan was in fact a sectarian Puritan. While Bunyan was not a Puritan in the sense of a reformer within the Church of England, Najapfour demonstrates that Bunyan embraced a Reformed and Puritan spirituality—godliness empowered by biblical truth. Not only does Najapfour bridge the gap between scholarly and pious readings of Bunyan, but he also explores Bunyan’s view of prayer, the Holy Spirit, and godliness in a way that enriches our minds and souls.”

—Dr. Joel R. Beeke, President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.


“Brian Najapfour has provided the church with a helpful introduction to Bunyan’s spirituality. I commend this book, and more importantly Bunyan himself, as a conversation partner for all evangelicals who desire a Word-centered, Spirit-led, gospel-driven spirituality.”

—Dr. Nathan A. Finn, Assistant Professor of Church History and Baptist Studies, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.


“This new study by Brian Najapfour opens up to us Puritan views on what it means to pray in the Spirit and how deeper godliness is to be sought. Here we have solid help from some of Bunyan’s lesser known devotional writings. Those who are seeking serious godliness in our own times will find a good deal to help them in this book.”

—Rev. Maurice Roberts, Minister of Greyfriars Congregation, Inverness, Scotland, and former editor of Banner of Truth magazine.


“A blend of history, biography, and practical theology, Najapfour’s book will be of profit to anyone who wants to learn more about either the life and times of the remarkable John Bunyan or about prayer.”

—Dr. Donald S. Whitney, Professor of Biblical Spirituality, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.


To purchase this book, click here.

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