Q&A: Which Puritan to start with?

Mr. Reinke,

Grace to you! I have really enjoyed your website and I still have much of it to study. I was hoping to ask your advice. I am not a pastor, however I really enjoy reading or trying to read the Puritans. I am particularly interested in them as they seem to know “heart religion” and treasuring Christ above all else.

If you were to start off with one of Banner of Truth’s multi-volume works which one would you start off with? I am considering Thomas Brooks (I really have like Precious Remedies and Heaven on Earth). Also, there is John Bunyan who seems to have lived on the edge of eternity as John Piper pointed out in his great biographical address. John Flavel is one I am really interested in as well. I know he was a favorite of Robert M’Cheyne and, I believe Whitefield, and that about cinches him as my choice.

Your review of Flavel was also noteworthy, but I wanted to put these other two to you as well. Others seem to be a bit more involved or just too long for me at this time. Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated. Lord bless you!

Very Respectfully,
James L.
Alabama

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Hello James,

Excellent question. I would not start with Edwards, Owen or Goodwin. Flavel and Brooks are excellent but they can wait. If I were starting over I would begin with John Bunyan. His three volume works are a real treasure, easy to read, very well edited, and with an excellent topical index! Probably what makes them most useful is Bunyan’s wide range of topics (making them useful on any number of issues) and the wide variety of literary formats (allegory, autobiography, sermon, poem, etc.). When you start thinking about the towering figures of the Puritans — Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, Thomas Goodwin — surprisingly it’s a tinker I would select as the most important to start with.

I love John Owen’s testimony about Bunyan. Piper writes, “The greatest Puritan theologian and contemporary of Bunyan, John Owen, when asked by King Charles why he, a great scholar, went to hear an uneducated tinker preach said, ‘I would willingly exchange my learning for the tinker’s power of touching men’s hearts.'” Wow — to think those words were delivered to a king!

Bottom line: Start with Bunyan then Jonathan Edwards and build your library from there working down the list of 14. You may consider bypassing Goodwin and sticking to abridged Owen volumes.

Blessings,

Tony

5 thoughts on “Q&A: Which Puritan to start with?

  1. Tony and James,

    You can order this set directly from Banner of Truth and the total cost is only $74.24 — a bit cheaper than CBD.

    Thanks, Tony, for your excellent advice. I have just started learning about the Puritans (mostly through Dr. Piper’s influence) and they provide very rich fare. Your blog has also been tremendously helpful.

    Lisa

  2. Tony

    Great job. I keep coming back and back to this website.

    Another great resource for these and 100’s of puritan and Reformed books is the Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore online. http://www.wtsbooks.com You can purchase this 3 volume set for even less; $64.35 I use them for all my Banner of Truth purchases.

  3. It may have been an oversight, but I cannot imagine such a list (as the 14) without Thomas Watson. I would actually recommend Watson as the place to start. He is rightly called the “readable Puritan” and exposure to him will give you a good breadth of pastoral insight (e.g. The Godly Man’s Picture) and doctrine (A Body of Divinity).

    Watson also has the distinct advantage of representing the main channel of Puritanism, unlike Owen (an independent) or Bunyan (a Baptist nonconformist), both of whom I love (Pilgrim’s Progress is a must, and Owen is in my opinion the greatest English speaking theologian).

  4. Fred,
    No I have not forgotten about Watson (or Burgess, Baxter, Ames, Perkins, Rutherford, Charnock or the Dutch ‘reformers’ like Brakel and Teellinck, etc…). These men are excellent resources. But I am an expositor and so finding specific meditations on specific passages of God’s Word is of first importance. Therefore the Puritans who have compiled sermons on several texts, whose works have been collected into complete works, and are well indexed are most useful in my case. In my list of 14 Puritans I am not saying these are the overall best, but that they rank as such on a scale of their usefulness to cover broad categories of topics, accessible (still in print and in a set of works, rather than individual volumes like Watson) and well indexed. Watson is not easy to get because his volumes are scattered and not collected and that means there are no topical or textual indexes of his entire works. A big, big bummer!

    Does that make sense? Those 14 are very specifically recommended because they are very accessible when it comes to navigating their works in a short amount of time. The bottom line is that the influence of a gifted editor is critical.

    “A Body of Divinity” is one of the best books if I were to recommend Puritan resources for systematic theology. In fact when it comes to systematics and commentaries I have lists beyond the 14.
    Tony

  5. A great systematic bibliography of Puritan works has been compiled by Joel Beeke in Harmony of the Reformed Confessions (see pp. 247-271). Beeke’s list was outlined according to the Belgic Confession of Faith and includes the best works on each systematic topic from the Reformers/Puritans to contemporary authors. This may be of great use in the meantime.

    Blessings!

    Tony

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