The Puritan Study (Part 4) Why our effective use of the Puritans begins with our Bibles

Part 4: Why our effective use of the Puritans begins with our Bibles

In this installment I will be showing you how the Puritans are made useful by our initial use of the bible. In the next two parts we will be looking more specifically at how to search printed books and then how to search electronic books.

Starting with the bible

The big problem with Puritan sermons is that most of us preach differently than the Puritans. They preached on one verse and often jumped all over scripture. We seek to preach through books of the bible and in 4-8 verses (or more) at a time.

A proper use of the bible is really one of the most important keys to unlocking the wisdom of the Puritans.

King James Version

Whether you use the KJV in your sermons or not, use of the Puritans requires an understanding of the KJV. No exceptions. The wording of this translation permeates all Puritan language.

Here is an example of how important the KJV is in Puritan research.

Psalm 16:11

I personally preach from the ESV. But when I study the Puritan sermons, I keep the KJV close.

For today, and in the following weeks, I selected Psalm 16:11 as the example passage we will be researching.

ESV Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

KJV Psalm 16:11 Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

When we look at electronic searches, I will break these translation distinctions down a little more. But what is important here is to note the difference in language. First, the Puritans would not say “in your presence” (ESV) but “in thy presence” (KJV). And even the spelling is different (“fullness” vs. “fulness” or “forevermore” vs. “for evermore”). These may seem like small distinctions, but they make a huge difference in electronic searches. Being aware of this will greatly enhance your Puritan research accuracy.

Breaking the passage down

The Puritans often scatter biblical phrases in their works. So while the Puritans only preached on one text, by the time they were done preaching the sermon on that one verse, several dozen other references were been brought in. In other words, a sermon on Psalm 36:8 (“They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures”) will probably reference Psalm 16:11 (“in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore”).

Before we find these cross-references, we need to break our sermon text into its various parts. In Psalm 16:11 I see three principles that are especially interesting to me …

KJV Psalm 16:11 (a) Thou wilt shew me the path of life: (b) in thy presence is fulness of joy; (c) at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

(a) What is the nature of this path of life? Why does God have to show it to me?
(b) What does it mean to be in God’s presence? Can I live in His presence now?
(c) What are these pleasures forever? Can I find an illustration? Can I experience these pleasures now?

You may have many more questions but these are the three questions I will ask my Puritan friends as I study Psalm 16:11.

But we are not yet ready to invite our Puritan friends over.


I don’t use the Puritan sermons for their keen exegetical insights into the text (I let contemporary Hebrew and Greek scholars make those). My main use of the Puritans is for their explanation and application of broad biblical themes. They make concepts come alive in cross-referencing, illustration and application.

It is especially important that we find other biblical texts that say the same thing. The Puritans can make the same conclusion from many different angles using many different texts. Their one-text-at-a-time preaching style is misleading. The Puritans were experts at keeping the big picture in view and bringing in other passages from Genesis to Revelation.

Here are some cross-references that I believe will help me understand Psalm 16:11 better and will open up new paths in my Puritan research. I found them using the Thompson’s Chain Reference Bible and the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge.

(a) The path of life… Prov. 2:19; Prov. 5:6; Prov. 12:28; Matt. 7:14; Acts 2:28
(b) To be in God’s presence… Ps. 17:15; Ps. 21:6; Matt. 5:8; Eph. 3:19; Jude 24; Rev. 7:15-17
(c) The pleasures forever… Ps. 36:8

The Puritans

Now we are ready to search the Puritan sermons. From our observations of the biblical text we have four research options. Beginning with the most important to the least, here are the four research options in order.

(i) Primary text as sermon text. Example: A full sermon on Psalm 16:11.
(ii) Primary text as indexed text. Example: A sermon on Ps. 38:6 that references Ps. 16:11.
(iii) Cross-reference text as sermon text. Example: A full sermon on Ps. 38:6.
(iv) Cross-reference text as indexed text. Example: A sermon on Jude 24 that references Ps. 38:6.

Printed volumes are most helpful for my research in levels (i), (ii) and (iii). I can comfortably read a full sermon on a text (i and iii). And the text index at the end of a printed volume helps a lot in the search (ii). Electronic searches are helpful in all four, but especially in search (iv) when I want to search several resources quickly.

[Note: Often I have enough research material from searches (i) and (ii) that I don’t need to proceed into levels (iii) and (iv).]

Two searches

There are two types of searches … We can search printed works (or those .pdf picture files) and we can also perform electronic text searches. Depending upon your library, you may have more printed works or more electronic books (ideally we want both electronic files and the printed books together).

In the next two posts we will discuss the specifics of the print and electronic searches.

Next time … Part 5: Print book searches.

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