The Puritan Study (Part 6) Electronic searches.

Part 6: Electronic searches.

What would the Puritans think of the Internet, CD-Roms, DVDs and pdfs?

We know the Puritans were innovative. They broke new ground, always seeking to reform the church and re-think ministry. It is fitting that at least one Puritan scholar warns preachers today from lazily copying the style and language of Puritans who lived 300 years ago. “It would be very un-Puritan,” he said. To be Puritanically minded today is to re-think how we can best communicate the message of the Cross to our generation (rather than resting on the language and methods of a previous generation).

We can presume, therefore, that the Puritans would be enthusiastic in the ways their works can be condensed into digital numbers and stored in a tiny little part of a hard drive.

Without question, the digital age has made the Puritans more accessible today than during any other generation. These digital files are essential to any efficient library of Puritan literature.

Precision in Electronic searches

Electronic text searches are precise. For fun, misspell a word in a Google search (like “recieve”) and you can find everyone on the Internet who needs a dictionary. This precision also means we can find information very quickly.

This speed and precision are great, but they pose challenges when we try to search old language like the Puritans. Precision is critical.

E-search awareness

In an earlier post, we talked briefly about the awareness required when performing a text search. The Puritans used Roman numerals for biblical chapters (ex.: “Ps./Psa. xvi. 11.”). They also used the language and spelling of the King James Version. These points are very important when running a text search of the Puritans.

Defining the search

Knowing exactly what you are looking for is the first key in conducting a text search of the Puritans. Let’s break our passage down in light of this. Here again is our text in the ESV (which I preach from) and the KJV (which they preached from):

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.

In our printed book searches, we were concerned with finding scriptural references in sermons and then looking into topical indexes. When we search the Puritan e-books, we are also looking for scriptural references but also a new option – phrase searches.

Here are the details on the two searches most useful in e-Puritan literature:

(a) Scripture reference searches. Like I said earlier, the Puritans used Roman numerals. There are programmers who are going through these old works and tagging the files so they can be searched without needing to use the Roman numerals. But this helpful technology has not hit most Puritan works yet, so precision is the key. On our passage in Psalm 16:11 we will want to search for “Psa. (or “Ps.” depending upon the author) xvi. 11”.

(b) Phrase searches. The Puritans are filled with biblical phrases and language of the KJV. We can find these biblical phrases littered throughout their sermons. It is essential that we become familiar with the language of the KJV and pick out specific phrases we seek to research (the shorter the phrase, the easier to find).

For our purposes in this post we will search for three phrases in Psalm 16:11. These include, “Thou wilt shew me the path of life,” “fulness of joy,” and “pleasures for evermore.”

So going into our searches we have our list.

Again, technology will make all of this searching more helpful and useful in the coming years. For now, I must open up specific works on my computer. Let’s begin with a Puritan, Jonathan Edwards, whose printed works lack both a textual and topical index. To navigate these works we must search the text files (free from the CCEL here).

Jonathan Edwards

With our computers open, let’s conduct a text search of the 2-volume works of Jonathan Edwards. I’ve opened the files and run searches on each of our phrases.

Here are the search terms we are looking for and their frequency in the two volumes.

The results (“phrase”, vol. 1 / vol. 2):

Psa. xvi. 11” = 0/1.
Thou wilt shew me the path of life” = 0/0
fulness of joy” = 4/6
pleasures for evermore” = 0/7

Notice what happens in Edwards’ works. He only mentions Psalm 16:11 by name one time in the entire 2-volumes! It would be easy to think Edwards placed little emphasis on this passage when, in fact, he did. We know this because Edwards actually references the passage 17 times!

This search illustrates beautifully the importance of phrase searches in the Puritans (and consequently why we must use electronic books). If we were simply looking in our printed indexes we would never find these references. Only e-books give us the precision and speed to search on single phrases.

For the Puritans, the biblical language permeates everything they write. Those seventeen references in Edwards to phrases of Psalm 16:11 contain some very helpful quotes like this one on the content of our pleasures forever,

Edwards, 2:893: “There they shall dwell in habitations of sweet delight and pleasure in paradise; there they shall drink of those rivers of pleasures for evermore; there they shall dwell in perfect light and perfect love; there they shall see and converse with God and Christ, and with angels and glorious spirits, and shall contemplate the wonderful love of God to men in sending his only Son; there shall they contemplate the glorious love of God to them, the love he had to them before the foundation of the world. There shall they see and know what love Christ had to them, that influenced him to lay down his life for them; and shall behold the beauty and excellency of Christ, and see face to face, and know even as they are known.”

What a beautiful quote! It takes Psalm 16:11 and focuses our attention back to the Cross.

Not only are these electronic search principles important with the files we store on our hard drive, but they are also important for searches we conduct on the Internet. One growing source of Puritan text files is providing pastors with a wealth of content to search. The website is the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. It’s free and next time I will show you how to maximize this Website in your Puritan research.

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Next time … Part 7: Using the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
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