Book: Sweet Communion by Arie de Reuver

Book Announcement
Sweet Communion by Arie de Reuver

So I was all ready to wind down a bit this weekend, and not push to get another post up. That was all disrupted Saturday when a bubble mailer arrived in my mailbox from Baker Academic. I simply could not wait until next week to announce their new release. The book is Sweet Communion: Trajectories of Spirituality from the Middle Ages through the Further Reformation by Arie de Reuver. The book was published in Dutch in 2002 and translated into English by James A. De Jong.

To explain the importance of this book, I need to give some background.

We are familiar with the English Puritans (men like John Owen, Richard Sibbes, John Bunyan, Thomas Brooks, etc.) primarily because their original works were written in English, and easily reprinted over the centuries with little editing necessary. However, in the Netherlands another “Puritan” movement was taking place. Like their English counterparts, men like Willem Teellinck, Herman Witsius and Thodorus and Wilhelmus à Brakel were producing valuable theological and spiritual works in Dutch. But until only recently has the work of Dr. Joel R. Beeke and the Dutch Reformed Translation Committee made these works more accessible. In fact, one of the great highlights of Beeke’s Meet the Puritans is a section entirely devoted to the Dutchmen of the “Further Reformation” (see pages 739-824). Books of the Dutch “Further Reformation” authors (like the recently translated The Path of True Godliness by Willem Teellinck) bear all the marks of brilliance we see in the English Puritans.

One of the most noticeable strengths of these “Dutch Puritans” (as I call them) is their emphasis on Reformed spirituality and their enjoyment of sweet communion with Christ. Theirs was a deep and sincere devotion to Christ where their union with Christ was the means of experiencing vibrant communion with Christ. They defended the doctrines of grace and simultaneously enjoyed a joyful and warm spirituality.

This beautiful Reformed spirituality can be seen in the works of Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635-1711).

Wilhelmus à Brakel is most noted for his four-volume work, The Christian’s Reasonable Service (Reformation Heritage Books; 1993; 4 vols.). While it looks like another Reformed systematic theology it is actually more practical in nature and intended to provide content for small group discussions as Christians gather to encourage one another in the Christian life. It is one of the beautiful works of the “Dutch Puritans.”

I have noticed in the past the “sweet communion” of the believer with Christ is a theme that sparkles from this work. After emphasizing the marriage union between the Groom (Christ) and His Bride (the Church), à Brakel explains the believer’s communion with Christ within this marital union. Once this union between the sinner and his Savior has taken place in conversion “Jesus Himself delights in having communion with you” (2:93). Read that incredible sentence again! This communion produces a “sweetness and overflowing delight … Here they (Christians) find balm for their sick souls, light to clear up their darkness, life for their deadness, food and drink for their hunger and thirst, peace for their troubled heart, blood to atone for their sins, the Spirit for their sanctification, counsel when they are at their wit’s end, strength for their weakness, and a fullness of all for their manifold deficiencies” (2:93,94).

Of this marital union and the communion that follows, à Brakel writes,

“A temporal believer concerns himself only with the benefits and has no interest in Christ Himself. Believers, however, have communion with the Person of Jesus Christ, but many neither meditate upon nor closely heed their exercises concerning Christ Himself. They err in this, which is detrimental to the strength of their faith and impedes its growth. Therefore we wish to exhort them to be more exercised concerning the truth of belonging to each other, and the union and communion with Jesus Himself. They will then better perceive the unsearchable grace and goodness of God that such wretched and sinful men may be so intimately united with the Son of God. Such reflection will most wondrously set the heart aflame with love. It will strengthen their resolve to put their trust in Jesus without fear. It will give them strength and liberty to obtain everything from Him to fulfill the desires of their soul, causing them to grow in Him, which in turn will generate more light and joy. Therefore, faith, hope, and love are mentioned in reference to the Person of Christ. Scripture speaks of receiving Him, believing in Him, trusting in Him, living in Him, loving Him, and hoping in Him” (2:91).

This beautiful passage points the believer back to the Person of Christ to find her joy and strength in the beauty of Jesus Christ. This light and joy is the byproduct of communion with Him and this communion goes back to the believer’s union with Christ in justification.

Later, à Brakel explains that since our union with Christ is absolute, our communion with Christ does not shift with circumstances or emotions. “By faith, hold fast to the fact that you are reconciled to and are a partaker of Him and His benefits, even if you do not perceive and feel this. This belonging to Him is not based on feeling. If the souls may truly believe this and be exercised therewith, this will lead the soul toward communion with Him” (2:96). Communion can never be separated from our union and our union is described by our justification by faith alone and in our election in the Son. So à Brakel and the “Dutch Puritans” remind us that our sweet communion with Christ is inseparably bound to our understanding of our union with Christ in the gospel!

In his conclusion on the teachings of Wilhelmus à Brakel, de Reuver writes that his “spirituality is one that is rooted in Christ through the word believed, even in its most intimate and mystical moments. This foundation protects his mysticism from spiritualism” (258).

Many today are drawn towards Roman Catholic mysticism or a non-theological spirituality by thinking a deep spiritual experience of Christ can be separated from a genuine understanding of the gospel. This, as à Brakel displays, is not the case. Neither does Reformed theology favor a cold orthodoxy. Following the best intentions of the Medieval theologians, the Reformed “Dutch Puritans” always believed that rich biblical doctrine is the vein for the warm blood of spiritual experience of the Son in communion.

So here is the importance of Sweet Communion by de Reuver: The rich spirituality we have received from the “Dutch Puritans” is a spiritual legacy following the spiritual traditions of Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471) but is firmly rooted in the precious theology of the Reformation. The final conclusion of de Reuver is that the all-controlling center of the Dutch Further Reformation spirituality rested in the Reformed theology. This is a beautiful and timely book to further dismantle the idea that Reformed theology is cold and stiff intellectualism. Our rich theology actually leads us deeper into true “mysticism” of direct communion with Christ.

Title: Sweet Communion: Trajectories of Spirituality from the Middle Ages through the Further Reformation.
Series: Texts and Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought
Author: Arie de Reuver (Dutch)
Translator: James A. De Jong (English)
Reading level: 4.5/5.0 > academic and some untranslated Dutch quotations
Boards: paper
Pages: 303
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: glue
Paper: normal
Topical index: no
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Baker Academic
Year: 2007
Price USD: $29.99/23.99 from Baker
ISBNs: 0801031222, 9780801031229

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Related: Communion with God by Kelly Kapic. Another gem from Baker this year on communion with God. Kapic studies English Puritan John Owen’s understanding that communion with God takes place within a balanced Triunity of the Father, Son and Spirit. Highly recommended.

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Why You Should Read the Puritans by Beeke

Unable to attend the Ligonier conference (Contending for the Truth), I stayed at home and watched a fair amount over the Internet. One personal surprise and highlight was seeing Joel Beeke. It’s great to see his book Meet the Puritans (our 2006 Book-of-the-Year) continue to grow in popularity. Our friends from Reformation Heritage Books and Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI have made the notes from his short address available to TSS. -Tony

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Why You Should Read the Puritans
by Joel R. Beeke

The great eighteenth-century revivalist, George Whitefield, wrote:

The Puritans [were] burning and shining lights. When cast out by the black Bartholomew Act, and driven from their respective charges to preach in barns and fields, in the highways and hedges, they in a special manner wrote and preached as men having authority. Though dead, by their writings they yet speak: a peculiar unction attends them to this very hour (Works, 4:306-307).

Whitefield went on to predict that Puritan writings would continue to be resurrected until the end of time due to their scriptural spirituality. Today, we are living in such a time. Interest in Puritan books has seldom been more intense. In the last fifty years, 150 Puritan authors and nearly 700 Puritan beeke.jpgtitles have been brought back into print.

Puritan literature has so multiplied that few book lovers can afford to purchase all that is being published. What books should you buy? Where can you find a brief summary of each Puritan work and a brief biography of each author so that you can have a glimpse of who is behind all these books?

These kinds of questions motivated Randall Pederson and me to write Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints. In this book, we tell the life stories of the 150 Puritan writers who have been reprinted in the past fifty years. We have also included concise reviews of the 700 newly published Puritan titles plus bibliographical information on each book. And we have noted the books that we consider most critical to have in a personal library.

We had four goals for writing this book: first, that these godly Puritan writers will serve as mentors for our own lives. That is why we have told the stories of the Puritans on a layperson’s level and kept them short. You could read one life story each day during your devotional time. Second, we trust that when you read these reviews of Puritan writings, you will be motivated to read a number of these books, each of which should help you grow deeper in your walk with the Lord. Third, we hope this book will serve as a guide for you to purchase books for your families and friends, to help them grow in faith. Finally, for those of you who are already readers of Puritan literature, this guide is designed to direct you to further study and to introduce you to lesser-known Puritans that you may be unaware of.

Definition of Puritanism

Just who were the Puritan writers? They were not only the two thousand ministers who were ejected from the Church of England by the Act of Uniformity in 1662, but also those ministers in England and North America, from the sixteenth century through the early eighteenth century, who worked to reform and purify the church and to lead people toward godly living consistent with the Reformed doctrines of grace.

Puritanism grew out of three needs: (1) the need for biblical preaching and the teaching of sound Reformed doctrine; (2) the need for biblical, personal piety that stressed the work of the Holy Spirit in the faith and life of the believer; and (3) the need to restore biblical simplicity in liturgy, vestments, and church government, so that a well-ordered church life would promote the worship of the triune God as prescribed in His Word (The Genius of Puritanism, 11ff.).

Doctrinally, Puritanism was a kind of vigorous Calvinism; experientially, it was warm and contagious; evangelistically, it was aggressive, yet tender; ecclesiastically, it was theocentric and worshipful; politically, it aimed to be scriptural, balanced, and bound by conscience before God in the relationships of king, Parliament, and subjects; culturally, it had lasting impact throughout succeeding generations and centuries until today (Durston and Eales, eds., The Culture of English Puritanism, 1560-1700).

How to Profit from Reading the Puritans

Let me offer you nine reasons why it will help you spiritually to read Puritan literature still today:

1. Puritan writings help shape life by Scripture.
The Puritans loved, lived, and breathed Holy Scripture. They relished the power of the Spirit that accompanied the Word. Their books are all Word-centered; more than 90 percent of their writings are repackaged sermons that are rich with scriptural exposition. The Puritan writers truly believed in the sufficiency of Scripture for life and godliness.

If you read the Puritans regularly, their Bible-centeredness will become contagious. These writings will show you how to yield wholehearted allegiance to the Bible’s message. Like the Puritans, you will become a believer of the living Book, echoing the truth of John Flavel, who said, “The Scriptures teach us the best way of living, the noblest way of suffering, and the most comfortable way of dying.”

Do you want to read books that put you into the Scriptures and keep you there, shaping your life by sola Scriptura? Read the Puritans. Read the Soli Deo Gloria Puritan Pulpit Series. As you read, enhance your understanding by looking up and studying all the referenced Scriptures.

2. Puritan writings show how to integrate biblical doctrine into daily life. The Puritan writings do this in three ways:

First, they address your mind. In keeping with the Reformed tradition, the Puritans refused to set mind and heart against each other, but viewed the mind as the palace of faith. “In conversion, reason is elevated,” John Preston wrote.

The Puritans understood that a mindless Christianity fosters a spineless Christianity. An anti-intellectual gospel quickly becomes an empty, formless gospel that never gets beyond “felt needs,” which is something that is happening in many churches today. Puritan literature is a great help for understanding the vital connection between what we believe with our minds and how that affects the way we live. Jonathan Edwards’s Justification by Faith Alone and William Lyford’s The Instructed Christian are particularly helpful for this.

Second, Puritan writings confront your conscience. The Puritans are masters at convicting us about the heinous nature of our sin against an infinite God. They excel at exposing specific sins, then asking questions to press home conviction of those sins. As one Puritan wrote, “We must go with the stick of divine truth and beat every bush behind which a sinner hides, until like Adam who hid, he stands before God in his nakedness.”

Devotional reading should be confrontational as well as comforting. We grow little if our consciences are not pricked daily and directed to Christ. Since we are prone to run for the bushes when we feel threatened, we need daily help to be brought before the living God “naked and opened unto the eyes of with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:12). In this, the Puritans excel. If you truly want to learn what sin is and experience how sin is worse than suffering, read Jeremiah Burroughs’s The Evil of Evils and Thomas Shepard’s The Sincere Convert and the Sound Believer.

Third, the Puritan writers engage your heart. They excel in feeding the mind with solid biblical substance and they move the heart with affectionate warmth. They write out of love for God’s Word, love for the glory of God, and love for the soul of readers.

For books that beautifully balance objective truth and subjective experience in Christianity; books that combine, as J.I. Packer puts it, “clear-headed passion and warm-hearted compassion” (Ryken, Worldly Saints, x); books that inform your mind, confront your conscience, and engage your heart, read the Puritans. Read Vincent Alsop’s Practical Godliness.

3. Puritan writings show how to exalt Christ and see His beauty. The Puritan Thomas Adams wrote: “Christ is the sum of the whole Bible, prophesied, typified, prefigured, exhibited, demonstrated, to be found in every leaf, almost in every line, the Scriptures being but as it were the swaddling bands of the child Jesus.” Likewise, the Puritan Isaac Ambrose wrote, “Think of Christ as the very substance, marrow, soul, and scope of the whole Scriptures.”

The Puritans loved Christ and exalted in His beauty. Samuel Rutherford wrote: “Put the beauty of ten thousand worlds of paradises, like the Garden of Eden in one; put all trees, all flowers, all smells, all colors, all tastes, all joys, all loveliness, all sweetness in one. O what a fair and excellent thing would that be? And yet it would be less to that fair and dearest well-beloved Christ than one drop of rain to the whole seas, rivers, lakes, and foundations of ten thousand earths.”

If you would know Christ better and love Him more fully, immerse yourself in Puritan literature. Read Robert Asty’s Rejoicing in the Lord Jesus.

4. Puritan writings reveal the Trinitarian character of theology. The Puritans were driven by a deep sense of the infinite glory of a Triune God. When they answered the first question of the Shorter Catechism that man’s chief end was to glorify God, they meant the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They took John Calvin’s glorious understanding of the unity of the Trinity in the Godhead, and showed how that worked itself out in electing, redeeming, and sanctifying love and grace in the lives of believers. John Owen wrote an entire book on the Christian believer’s communion with God as Father, Jesus as Savior, and the Holy Spirit as Comforter. The Puritans teach us how to remain God-centered while being vitally concerned about Christian experience, so that we don’t fall into the trap of glorifying experience for its own sake.

If you want to appreciate each Person of the Trinity, so that you can say with Samuel Rutherford, “I don’t know which Person of the Trinity I love the most, but this I know, I love each of them, and I need them all,” read John Owen’s Communion with God and Jonathan Edwards on the Trinity.

5. Puritan writings show you how to handle trials. Puritanism grew out of a great struggle between the truth of God’s Word and its enemies. Reformed Christianity was under attack in Great Britain, much like Reformed Christianity is under attack today. The Puritans were good soldiers in the conflict, enduring great hardships and suffering much. Their lives and their writings stand ready to arm us for our battles, and to encourage us in our suffering. The Puritans teach us how we need affliction to humble us (Deut. 8:2), to teach us what sin is (Zeph. 1:12), and how that brings us to God (Hos. 5:15). As Robert Leighton wrote, “Affliction is the diamond dust that heaven polishes its jewels with.” The Puritans show us how God’s rod of affliction is His means to write Christ’s image more fully upon us, so that we may be partakers of His righteousness and holiness (Heb. 12:10–11).

If you would learn how to handle your trials in a truly Christ-exalting way, read Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot: The Sovereignty and Wisdom of God Displayed in the Afflictions of Men.

6. Puritan writings explain true spirituality. The Puritans stress the spirituality of the law, spiritual warfare against indwelling sin, the childlike fear of God, the wonder of grace, the art of meditation, the dreadfulness of hell, and the glories of heaven. If you want to live deep as a Christian, read Oliver Heywood’s Heart Treasure. Read the Puritans devotionally, and then pray to be like them. Ask questions such as: Am I, like the Puritans, thirsting to glorify the Triune God? Am I motivated by biblical truth and biblical fire? Do I share their view of the vital necessity of conversion and of being clothed with the righteousness of Christ? Do I follow them as far as they followed Christ?

7. Puritan writings show how to live by wholistic faith. The Puritans apply every subject they write about to practical “uses”―as they term it. These “uses” will propel you into passionate, effective action for Christ’s kingdom. Their own daily lives integrated Christian truth with covenant vision; they knew no dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. Their writings can assist you immeasurably in living a life that centers on God in every area, appreciating His gifts, and declaring everything “holiness to the Lord.”

The Puritans were excellent covenant theologians. They lived covenant theology, covenanting themselves, their families, their churches, and their nations to God. Yet they did not fall into the error of hyper-covenantalism, in which the covenant of grace becomes a substitute for personal conversion. They promoted a comprehensive worldview, a total Christian philosophy, a holistic approach of bringing the whole gospel to bear on all of life, striving to bring every action in conformity with Christ, so that believers would mature and grow in faith. The Puritans wrote on practical subjects such as how to pray, how to develop genuine piety, how to conduct family worship, and how to raise children for Christ. In short, they taught how to develop a “rational, resolute, passionate piety [that is] conscientious without becoming obsessive, law-oriented without lapsing into legalism, and expressive of Christian liberty without any shameful lurches into license” (ibid., xii).

If you would grow in practical Christianity and vital piety, read the compilation of The Puritans on Prayer, Richard Steele’s The Character of an Upright Man, George Hamond’s Case for Family Worship, Cotton Mather’s Help for Distressed Parents, and Arthur Hildersham’s Dealing with Sin in Our Children.

8. Puritan writings teach the importance and primacy of preaching. To the Puritans, preaching was the high point of public worship. Preaching must be expository and didactic, they said; evangelistic and convicting, experiential and applicatory, powerful and “plain” in its presentation, ever respecting the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit.

If you would help evangelicals recover the pulpit and a high view of the ministry in our day, read Puritan sermons. Read William Perkins’s The Art of Prophesying and Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor.

9. Puritan writings show how to live in two worlds. The Puritans said we should have heaven “in our eye” throughout our earthly pilgrimage. They took seriously the New Testament passages that say we must keep the “hope of glory” before our minds to guide and shape our lives here on earth. They viewed this life as “the gymnasium and dressing room where we are prepared for heaven,” teaching us that preparation for death is the first step in learning to truly live (Packer, Quest, 13).

If you would live in this world in light of the better world to come, read the Puritans. Read Richard Baxter’s The Saint’s Everlasting Life and Richard Alleine’s Heaven Opened.

Where to Begin

If you are just starting to read the Puritans, begin with John Bunyan’s The Fear of God, John Flavel’s Keeping the Heart, and Thomas Watson’s The Art of Divine Contentment, then move on to the works of John Owen, Thomas Goodwin, and Jonathan Edwards.

For sources that introduce you to the Puritans and their literature, begin with Meet the Puritans. Then, to learn more about the lifestyle and theology of the Puritans, read Leland Ryken’s Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), Peter Lewis’s The Genius of Puritanism (Morgan, Penn.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1997), and Erroll Hulse’s Who are the Puritans? and what do they teach? (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2000). Then move on to James I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1990) and my Puritan Reformed Spirituality (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2006).

Whitefield was right: the Puritans, though long dead, still speak through their writings. Their books still praise them in the gates. Reading the Puritans will place you and keep you on the right path theologically, experientially, and practically. As Packer writes, “The Puritans were strongest just where Protestants today are weakest, and their writings can give us more real help than those of any other body of Christian teachers, past or present, since the days of the apostles” (quoted in Hulse, Reformation & Revival, 44). I wholeheartedly agree. I have been reading Christian literature for more than forty years and can freely say that I know of no group of writers in church history that can so benefit your mind and soul as the Puritans. God used their books to convert me as a teenager, and He has been using their books ever since to help me grow in understanding John the Baptists’s summary of Christian sanctification: “Christ must increase and I must decrease.”

In his endorsement of Meet the Puritans, R.C. Sproul says, “The recent revival of interest in and commitment to the truths of Reformed theology is due in large measure to the rediscovery of Puritan literature. The Puritans of old have become the prophets for our time. This book is a treasure for the church.” So, our prayer is that God will use Meet the Puritans to inspire you to read Puritan writings. With the Spirit’s blessing, they will enrich your life in many ways as they open the Scriptures to you, probe your conscience, bare yours sins, lead you to repentance, and conform your life to Christ. Let the Puritans bring you into full assurance of salvation and a lifestyle of gratitude to the Triune God for His great salvation.

You might want to pass along Meet the Puritans and Puritan books to your friends as well. There is no better gift than a good book. I sometimes wonder what would happen if Christians spent only fifteen minutes a day reading Puritan writings. Over a year that would add up to reading about twenty average-size books a year and, over a lifetime, 1,500 books. Who knows how the Holy Spirit might use such a spiritual diet of reading! Would it usher in a worldwide revival? Would it fill the earth again with the knowledge of the Lord from sea to sea? That is my prayer, my vision, my dream. Tolle Lege―take up and read! You will be glad you did.

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Joel Beeke is President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and the Editorial Director of Reformation Heritage Books.

Book of the Year, 2006: Meet the Puritans by Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson (9781601780003, 1601780001)

Book of the Year, 2006
Meet the Puritans
by Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson

This was a great year for Christian publishing. We saw the first installment of Justin Taylor’s edited version of John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation. John Piper’s What Jesus Demands from the World was also excellent. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, edited by Piper and Taylor and Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? by Wayne Grudem were also very good. We saw the release of the The ESV English-Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament: English Standard Version. [Can someone at Crossway please give Justin Taylor a vacation already?] John Calvin’s excellent Sermons on the Beatitudes was released by Banner of Truth. Steven Lawson released the first volume of A Long Line of Godly Men, titled Foundations of Grace, which covers the history of the doctrines of grace in what is certain to become his greatest accomplishment. Reformation Heritage Books released the Works of Thomas Goodwin (12 volumes) in paperback form, containing much rich teaching on the beauty of Christ. No doubt, the second best book published this year was Mark Dever’s incredible, The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made. Perhaps no book has better opened up the Old Testament storyline.

Each of these books are tremendous accomplishments in themselves. I thank the publishers and their devoted writers, editors, administrators and warehouse managers who seek to magnify Christ in their publishing endevors. Thank you!

With all respect for these books released in 2006, none topped Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson. We had the honor of announcing this book to the public a few months ago. By any standard, this volume is a monumental accomplishment.

It’s endorsed by Packer, Piper, MacArthur, Sproul, Duncan, Mohler, Ferguson… and the recommendations go on and on. It’s packed with terse information, illustrations, great biographies on more than 140 individual Puritan authors, overviews of over 700 individual Puritan volumes, a list of all the known reprints published beween 1956 and 2005, excellent articles ,and a glossary of terms used. At 900 pages, its a deep well of information. As clothbound, it’s made to endure years of use.

Important helps include chapters on who the Puritans are, why we should read them, and short histories of the English, Scottish and Dutch Puritans. I found the short history of the resurgence of Puritan literature in the 20th century especially interesting.

Here is just one quote, taken from the section explaining why we should read the Puritans today:

“With the Spirit’s blessing, Puritan writings can enrich your life as a Christian in many ways as they open the Scriptures and apply them practically, probing your conscience, indicting your sins, leading you to repentance, shaping your faith, guiding your conduct, comforting you in Christ and conforming you to Him, and bringing you into full assurance of salvation and a lifestyle of gratitude to the triune God for His great salvation” (xix).

Perfect for the beginner and the more advanced reader, Meet the Puritans will help guide and direct your way through the forest of Puritan authors.

In summary, I cannot say it better than our friend, Dr. Ligon Duncan:

“Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson have produced a tremendous gift to and resource for all who want an entryway into the study of the Puritans. They not only provide accurate biographical and theological introduction to every Puritan whose works have been reprinted in the last fifty years, but also combine with their helpful summaries an insightful analysis. If this were not enough, they’ve added major appendices that include the so-called ‘Scottish Puritans’ (that is, the great Scottish theologians who were contemporaries of and like-minded brethren in doctrine and piety with the English Puritans) as well as the Dutch Further Reformation divines. Meet the Puritans, With a Guide to Modern Reprints is a must have. I know of nothing like it. If you are looking for a reliable window into the life, theology, piety and ministry of the Puritans — this is it.”

Like I said, a monumental work!

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FREE: Reformation Heritage Books graciously provided The Shepherd’s Scrapbook with a special peak into the book… Here is one of the 140+ biographies in this volume: Dutch ‘Puritan’ Willem Teellinck, pp. 782-791 [download .pdf file].

SPECIAL DISCOUNT: Purchase Meet the Puritans directly from Reformation Heritage Books for the special discounted price of $22.50 between November 21st and 30th. You need to do two things. First, call the bookstore directly (1-616-977-0599 ext. 2). Second, tell them you are “a friend of The Shepherd’s Scrapbook.” [While you are there, consider buying The Path of True Godliness, the incredible book on pursuing godliness by Teellinck you can read about in the free chapter above].

Meet the Puritans (details)

Boards: clothbound, hardcover (blue, silver gilding)
Pages: 900
Dust jacket: yes
Binding
: Smyth sewn
Paper: normal
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
Price USD
: $35.00/$22.50 for a limited time (see discount above)
ISBNs: 9781601780003, 1601780001

The Works of Thomas Goodwin (1892777916)

Book review:

The Works of Thomas Goodwin

The complete works of Thomas Goodwin (1600-1679) have become quite rare and so I was encouraged to find that Reformation Heritage Books released the complete set this year.

Goodwin was a very gifted bible scholar and experiential preacher. He and John Owen (1616-1683) team-preached on Sundays at Oxford between 1652-1657. According to scholars, much of the content in those precious volumes on the mortification sin and the glory of Christ were preached by Owen during these years. The bar was set high, and Owen was certainly more gifted, but Goodwin was an able counterpart. For me, Goodwin seems a bit easier to read than Owen, although that hardly makes Goodwin an easy read.

Owen may have been more prolific, but Goodwin was much more handsome and fashionable, incorporating hip stocking caps at formal occasions. Though differing in style, Owen (who favored a more kippot cap) and Goodwin were united by common passions. Both exalted the glory of Christ and encouraged believers to fight personal sin. And seeing that both men majored on these important topics makes me long to have been an Oxford student between 1652-1657.

The Glory of Christ

My first contact with Goodwin’s works came a few years ago when I purchased volume 5 (Christ the Mediator). In this volume Goodwin consumes 436 pages to relish in Christ’s fitness and work as our Mediator. He shows evidence upon evidence that Christ is the only hope for humanity. No angel or fallen man can save us – we sinners are helpless and hopeless of redemption without Christ. But here is the kicker: Christ’s fitness for the work does not make Him our Savior.

Christ, being perfectly suited for the work and able to fulfill the demands of the Father, still needs to freely choose the work for Himself. I was moved by Goodwin’s description of Christ’s willingness to freely lay His own life down for sinners. That nobody took His life, but He chose to give it (in a transaction made in eternity past) is a truth I will never fully consume or digest. It is a great truth that moves my affections and mortifies my sin.

When it comes to the glory of Christ, Owen and Goodwin are the power-hitting duo for the Puritans, what Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were to baseball. No duo matches Owen and Goodwin in overwhelming me with the glory of Christ.

Indexes

For a preacher or writer who needs to navigate Puritan literature efficiently and timely, the index at the end of these works is a real treat. The topical index alone is 89 pages long. The text index contains over 10,200 biblical references and takes up 95 double-column pages. These two indexes make every one of the 6,600 pages easily accessible.

Example

As I was recently reading, the following example struck me. In volume three Goodwin preaches a sermon titled, The Trial of Christian Growth (on John 15:1-2). We grow when we are pruned and we are pruned because we, as believers, are still sinful.

In the sermon, one question naturally arises: How do we know that sin resides in the heart of the believer? And for the next few pages Goodwin sets out to answer this important question. The following is a good example of Goodwin’s thought.

Of course sin resides in the believer because they are pruned. But then, Goodwin argues that we know sin resides in our hearts due to the nature of our justified righteousness in Christ.

“When the Apostle, long after his first conversion, was in the midst of that great and famous battle, chronicled in that 7th chapter of Romans, wherein he was led ‘captive to a law,’ and an army of sin within him, ‘warring against the law of his mind,’ presently upon that woeful exclamation and outcry there mentioned, ‘O miserable man that I am,’ &c., he falls admiring the grace of justification through Christ,–they are his first words after the battle ended,–‘Now,’ says he, ‘there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ.’ Mark that word now; that now, after such bloody wounds and gashes, there should yet be no condemnation, this exceedingly exalts this grace; for if ever, thought he, I was in danger of condemnation, it was upon the rising and rebelling of these my corruptions, which, when they had carried me captive, I might well have expected the sentence of condemnation to have followed; but I find, says he, that God still pardons me, and accepts me as much as ever upon my returning to him, and therefore I do proclaim with wonder to all the world, that God’s justifying grace in Christ is exceeding large and rich. And though there may be many corruptions in those that are in Christ, yet there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ, that walk after the Spirit, though flesh be in them.” (3:448 )

Then on to the next idea… Sin resides in the heart of the believer, otherwise God’s preserving grace of His children would be no special thing.

“It serves exceedingly to illustrate the grace of perseverance, and the power of God therein; for unto the power of God is our perseverance wholly attributed. 1 Peter 1:5, ‘Ye are kept,’ as with a garrison, as the word signifies, ‘through the power of God unto salvation,’ And were there not a great and apparent danger of miscarrying, such a mighty guard needed not. There is nothing which puts us into any danger but our corruptions that still remain in us, which ‘fight against the soul,’ and endeavor to overcome and destroy us.” (3:448-449)

Then on to the devil. Satan can only be motivated towards tripping and tempting believers if they have opportunity for sin. He writes,

“Neither would the confusion of the devil in the end be so great, and the victory so glorious, if all sin at first conversion were expelled. For by this means the devil hath in his assaults against us the more advantages, fair play, as I may so speak, fair hopes of overcoming, having a great faction in us, as ready to sin as he is greedy to tempt; and yet God strongly carries on his own work begun, though slowly, and by degrees, backs and maintains a small party of graces within us to his confusion.” (3:449)

Sin in the believer’s heart humbles us and makes certain we do not think of ourselves too highly. Notice Goodwin’s humor.

“But sanctification being a work wrought in us, we are apt to dote on that, as too much upon excellency in ourselves. How much ado have poor believers to keep their hearts off from doting upon their own righteousness, and from pouring on it, when it is, God wot [knows], a very little! They must therefore have something within them to pull down their spirits…” (3:450)

But Goodwin continues. We know sin resides in the believer’s heart to exalt post-conversion grace and again to humble us.

“It is not the sins of a fore-past unregenerate estate that will be enough to do this thoroughly; for they might be looked upon as past and gone… God would have us humbled by seeing our dependence upon him for inherent grace. And how soon are we apt to forget we have received it, and that in our natures no good dwells! We would not remember that our nature were a step-mother to grace, and a natural mother to lusts, but that we see weeds still grow naturally of themselves.” (3:450)

And Goodwin continues. Further, we know sin resides in the heart of the Christian because how else could God call believers to a life of self-denial?

“As thus to humble them, so that they might have occasion to deny themselves; which to do is more acceptable to God than much more service without it, and therefore the great promise of ‘having a hundred-fold’ is made to that grace. It was the great grace which of all other Christ exercised. Now, if we had no corruption to entice and seduce us, what opportunities were there for us thus of denying ourselves? Christ indeed had an infinite deal of glory to lay down, not so we. Unless there be a self in us to solicit us, and another self to deny those solicitations, we should have no occasions of self-denial or the exercise of any such grace.” (3:450)

But Goodwin hasn’t even arrived at the application! In application he reminds us (1) we must be humbled towards other Christians who fall into sin, and (2) we must fight to ever purge sin from our acts and hearts.

“If thou hast prevailed against the outward act, rest not, but get the rising of the lust mortified, and that rolling of it in thy fancy; get thy heart deaded towards it also; and it must not only be ‘crucified with Christ,’ but ‘buried’ also, and so rot.” (3:451)

I find his argument for sin in the life of the Christian to be compelling, humorous, experiential and very valuable. These four little pages held my attention for a few hours as I reflected upon them. I find this a common response to Goodwin’s sermons.

Contents

The first two volumes are largely comprised of sermons through Ephesians 1:1-2:11. The first volume also contains a helpful biography and strategy for reading Goodwin, written by Joel R. Beeke. Volume one contains 36 sermons through the first chapter of Ephesians and volume two contains 24 sermons on the second chapter of Ephesians. It has been said that, “Not even Luther on Galatians is such an expositor of Paul’s mind and heart as is Goodwin on the Ephesians.” Volume two concludes with four sermons on various other sections of Ephesians and a short book on James 1:1-5.

Volume three contains an exposition on various passages from Revelation 4-16. A 120-page book titled, A Child of Light Walking in Darkness, covers the darkest periods of the Christian life. An 80-page book follows on the topic of noting answered prayers. A 70-page book, The Trial of a Christian’s Growth, considers the God who prunes His children for more usefulness. A powerful 20-page sermon on The Vanity of Thoughts concludes this valuable volume. Volumes four and five are loaded with Christ-exalting books and sermons including Christ the Mediator (a personal favorite), Christ Set Forth and the Supereminence of Christ.

Volume six is comprised of one long book on the work of the Holy Spirit in our salvation. Volume seven contains several books covering the perfection of original created order, a call to gospel holiness in the Christian life, the three stages of Christian maturity (babes, men, fathers), the glory of the saints after death, man’s restoration by grace and a book on repentance. Volume eight is one long book titled, The Object and Acts of Justifying Faith, and clearly defines the object, act and properties of personal faith.

Volume nine is given almost wholly to defining the doctrine of election except for a sermon on thankfulness due to God for His blessings to us. Volume ten is one long indictment towards the unregenerate and their guiltiness before God. Volume eleven contains Goodwin’s argument for congregational church government over a Presbyterian form. The final volume is the shortest. It contains five sermons on various topics, a collection of quaint sayings of Goodwin and some extracts of sermon notes taken by hearers. The volume includes with those two incredibly helpful indexes to navigate the complete works.

Conclusion

Goodwin was mighty in the scriptures and a scholar of the human heart. He was balanced in topics and so provides help for the preacher on various themes. He was never content with the superficial, but dove to the depths of divine wisdom.

His complete works provide us a lifetime of learning into the sin-killing glories of Calvary. It is a set worth planning your library around.

Binding: paperback
Volumes: 12
Pages: 6,600
Dust jackets: no
Binding: glue
Paper: normal
Text: facsimile of 1861-66 version (Nichol’s Standard Divines)
Topical Index: yes (excellent; end of vol. 12)
Textual index: yes (excellent; end of vol. 12)
Biography: yes (Joel R. Beeke; vol. 1)
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books (Grand Rapids, MI)
Price USD: $350/$240 at RHB, Inc.
Indexed: yes, in both Martin and PCA
ISBNs: 1892777916, 9781892777911

9781892777904, 9781892777829, 9781892777805, 9781892777898, 9781892777874, 9781892777843, 9781892777850, 9781892777867, 9781892777881, 9781892777836, 9781892777799, 9781892777812, 9781892777911

The Puritan Study (Part 11) Concluding Thoughts, part 2

Part 11: Concluding Thoughts, part 2

Finally, the conclusion of the Puritan Study comes today. I wish I could continue on in this study but I must move on. Thank you for all the very kind emails and helpful suggestions throughout this series. Seeing others come to a deeper appreciation of the Puritan literature has been an incredible encouragement to me.

Here is a collection of final thoughts …

Expositional Puritans

I think it’s worth noting again that in this series of blog posts I have emphasized the most important Puritan resources for expositional research. Other Puritans are useful on a number of issues.

I like Baxter, Burgess, Watson and other Puritans. But these and other Puritans simply have not helped me when I’m under pressure to preach and write expositionally on a certain text. Spurgeon, Bunyan, Owen, Boston, Manton and the men I have promoted, however, have proven faithful in these situations.

If you are more interested in systematic theology, or apologetics, or church history, you will find other Puritans to be of great help. Here, we were concerned with the most effective Puritans for expositional sermon preparation and ranked these authors in order of availability and usefulness.

Dutch ‘Puritans’

I was hoping to use this series to begin introducing you to the Dutch ‘Puritans’ (they are not really called ‘Puritans,’ but ‘the Dutch Second Reformation Divines’). These authors ministered during the same period of time as the English Puritans we know well, but their works were originally published in Dutch. Thanks to the recent work of the Dutch Reformed Translation Society, these works are now being made available in updated English. After some time reading these Dutch works, it’s clear these authors were as mature and experiential as their English counterparts.

Among others, the Dutch ‘Puritans’ include Wilhelmus à Brakel, Willem Teellinck and Herman Witsius (whose works have been in English for a few years now). Teellinck’s book on living a holy life (The Path of True Godliness) is very valuable and will be the subject of an upcoming book review.

These Dutch authors are very powerful and, although many of them will not be indexed and easily accessed, an introduction to their works was warranted at the end of this Puritan study. More information this winter …

Tough and Tender

John Piper once said, “one of my great desires is to see Christian pastors be as strong and durable as redwood trees, and as tender and fragrant as a field of clover.” This ideal finds its origin in the words and works of Jesus Himself. He knew when to be tough and when to be tender. He was strong and resolute but loving, kind, and compassionate, too. Many Puritans remind me of men who were uncompromising and stable in their convictions. They were a forest of redwood trees. But these preachers often displayed a compassionate tenderness like a fragrant field of clovers, too. An excellent pattern for preachers today.

The Presence of God

Many things draw me to the Puritans, but one of the most important is their pursuit of God. They see the Psalms as a blueprint for the Christian life – striving and praying for the presence of God to draw near (see Pss. 16, 42, 73). You can spot authors who read much of the Puritans because they, too, have a healthy and well-developed desire to pursue the presence of God (see A.W. Tozer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Piper, etc.).

Personal change

I did not realize what was happening, but for several years as I have used the Puritan literature, I thought I was just borrowing a few quotes and thoughts along the way. Now it is obvious that over those years I was being changed.

What I love most about the Puritans is how they have been used in changing me. I treat the Word with more sobriety and seriousness now. My application of the text is much more mature. I am more articulate in pointing my hearer’s affections towards the things God sees as precious (like His Son, His holiness, His justice, love and grace).

Specifically, three areas of my life have been changed due to my Puritan Study …

(i) In catching the Puritan hermeneutic. The Puritans interpret every passage in light of the big picture of God’s glory in the Cross of Christ. Everything comes back to this. As expositors we are apt to get wrapped up in our four verses and lazily forget this big picture. The Puritans, especially in their application, make it clear that every text must be brought back to this big picture. Sadly, very few expositors today do this consistently (Piper and a few others, however, excel here). I pray that we would all catch this Puritan hermeneutic. Spurgeon reminded preachers that every sermon must find a way back to the Cross. This was the Apostle Paul’s point exactly (Gal. 6:14, 1 Cor. 1:22-25; 2:2; Phil. 3:8).

(ii) In catching the Puritan experiential style.
When publishers want a good definition of ‘experiential preaching’ they turn to Puritan scholars. In the book, Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching (Soli Deo Gloria, 1573581445), Dr. Joel Beeke writes: “Experiential or experimental preaching addresses the vital matter of how a Christian experiences the truth of Christian doctrine in his life … Experimental preaching seeks to explain in terms of biblical truth how matters ought to go, how they do go, and what is the goal of the Christian life … Experimental preaching is discriminatory preaching. It clearly defines the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian, opening the kingdom of heaven to one and shutting it against the other” (pp. 95-96). The Puritans understood that a sermon lacking powerful application is an incomplete sermon. The Puritans are unparalleled here.

(iii) In catching the Puritan earnestness. The Christian life is a struggle of balance. The same is true in the pulpit. It is easy to focus on strengthening marriages, helping others raise children, and overall improvements in godliness while lacking earnestness. We can get the idea that the purpose of the pulpit is only for long-term sanctified changes. We need the Puritan earnestness to remind those who have never experienced the grace of God in their own hearts (the ‘almost Christian’ sitting in the pew), that they teeter on the brink of God’s judgment. There may not be a tomorrow. Each of us will be in heaven or hell very shortly. Nothing guarantees the sinner one more day to repent. Now is the time. Today is the day of salvation. Plead with sinners. The Puritans balanced these two sides of preaching and teach us to use the same sermon to both strengthen Christian marriages (long term) and to plead with sinners earnestly (now).

Conclusion

In the end, the ultimate benefit of a (well-used) Puritan library is how it changes you. Because of the Puritans, I view the bible differently, more seriously. They have taught me deep thoughts so I am not easily distracted with the empty and hollow ‘Christian’ thoughts today. They have taught me to treasure Christ. They have pointed out the sin in my heart. They have encouraged me in the task of preaching. And they have been faithful friends pointing me back to the scriptures when I begin to wander around. ‘Be serious because God’s thoughts are weighty,’ is the Puritan message I hear every time I use their works.

So keep at it. Work hard. Study diligently. Learn new terms. Don’t be intimidated by 200-word sentences. Grasp the concepts. Learn from the Puritan big-picture. And one day you will realize that God’s Spirit has taken the Puritan Study from your shelves and into your heart and changed you forever. All for His eternal glory.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Book Review: The Complete Works of Thomas Boston (12 volumes)

Book Review

The Complete Works of Thomas Boston (12 volumes)

[note: The following review compliments The Puritan Study, a series on incorporating Puritan literature into expositional preaching.]

Thomas Boston (1676-1732) is not only one of my favorite Puritan authors, but has also proven himself to be one of the most important and useful Puritans in my expositional research.

Known for his excellent books like “The Crook in the Lot” and “The Art of Man-Fishing,” his works are both excellent examples of Boston’s deep understanding of the Christian life and his firm commitment to obedience to Scripture.

As a preacher I love Boston for both his depth and breadth. Depth, in his ability to apply texts so personally and powerfully to his hearers. Breadth, in the fact that he preached on almost every biblical theme. It seems every time I flip through Martin’s topical index (A Guide to the Puritans) I discover Boston preached a sermon on my current topic. Preachers will find Boston’s breadth and depth to be very useful for every sermon, no matter the sermon topic or text.

Incredible sensitivity towards applying the scriptures to his hearers, and tremendous balance and diversity of content make Boston an often-used resource in my expositional research. But what I also find impressive about Boston was his pastoral work in Ettrick, which, prior to his arrival, was an unstable and worldly town. As Dr. Joel Beeke writes in the introduction, “When Boston arrived in Ettrick, the town had less than 400 people. The roads were nearly impassable. The parsonage was dilapidated. Church services were irregular. When a service was held, the people often talked throughout it. Spiritual barrenness, pride, deceit, swearing, and fornication abounded” (p. I-5). What happened over the next 25 years was the result of Spirit-blessed preaching now preserved for us in these volumes.

Contents

The works of Thomas Boston (published by Tentmaker) include 7,400 pages of books, sermons and his own memoirs.

Volumes one and two comprise “An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion” organized by the Shorter Catechism. These volumes are affectionate and deeply applicable on the main subjects like the authority of scripture, the trinity, creation, Christ, sin, justification, the Ten Commandments, self-examination, prayer, an experimental knowledge of Chirst, etc. These volumes are a treat to those of us who have seen systematic theology lacking experimental warmth and deep application. Boston abhors the thought.

Volume three is a collection of 37 sermons and two books: “The Crook in the Lot” and “The Unity of the Body of Christ.” Volume four includes 40 sermons and the book “The Distinguishing Characters of Real Christians.” Volume five includes books on discerning genuine believers from the false and “The Art of Man-fishing.” Volume six includes 16 sermons and a number of Q&As on various topics. Volume seven includes nine sermons and more theology similar to volume one and two, including discourses on “The Evil and Danger of Schism” (on 1 Cor. 1:10), “The Necessity and Foundations of a Throne of Grace for the Behoof of Poor Sinners, Pointed out and Illustrated” (on Psalm 89:14). Volume eight includes “Man’s Fourfold State” on the state of innocence, the state of nature (or sinfulness), the state of grace and the eternal state. Volume nine and ten are comprised of 88 sermons. Volume eleven includes diverse material on the covenant of grace and prayer. And the final volume comprises Boston’s excellent “Memoirs” where you can read more about his 25- year pastorate at Ettrick.

Example

One of my favorite sections of Boston is a little book titled, “A Soliloquy on the Art of Man-Fishing” in volume five. It is a great reminder of the duty and pleasures of the work of evangelism. At times through this short book I have been lost in his language. Here is one section I especially enjoyed:

“I find in my heart a flame of desires, Matt. 5:6. [1] After the righteousness of Christ. My soul earnestly desires to be stripped naked of my own righteousness, which is as rags, and to be clothed and adorned with the robe of his righteousness. This wedding garment my soul affects; so shall I be found without spot, when the Master of the feast comes in to see the guests. My soul is satisfied, and acquiesces in justification by an imputed righteousness, though, alas! My base heart would fain have a home-spun garment of its own sometimes. [2] After communion with him, Ps. 42:1. When I want it, my soul though sometimes careless, yet, at other times, cries out, O that I knew where I might find him! I have found much sweetness, in communion with God, especially at the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, in prayer and meditation, hearing the word, faithfully and seriously preached, and in preaching it myself, when the candle of the Lord shines on my tabernacle; then was it a sweet exercise to my soul. I endeavor to keep it up when I have it, by watching over my heart, and sending up prayers to God. When I want it, I cry to him for it, though, alas! I have been a long time very careless. Sometimes my soul longs for the day, when my minority [earthly life] shall be over-past, and I be entered heir to the inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away; to be quit of this evil world; to be dissolved, and to be with Christ, which is best of all; especially at three times. (1.) When I get more than ordinarily near God, when my soul is satisfied as with marrow and fat, when my heart is nobilitated, and tramples on the world. (2.) When I am wrestling and groaning under the body of sin and death, the evil heart: then fain would I be there, where Satan cannot tempt, and sin cannot enter; yea, when I have been much forsaken, at least as to comfort … (3.) When I preach, and see that the gospel hath not success, but people are unconcerned, and go on in their abominations” (5:17).

Boston opens his soul to answer the question: At what time is my heart aflame? It comes, he writes, as a result of my deep love for the imputed righteousness from Jesus. It comes when I have enjoyed the presence of God in a special season. And later, my heart is aflame for God’s presence in heaven when I am reminded of my own sin and weaknesses and long for eternity.

For Boston, knowing and preaching the truth alone are insufficient. He wants to see the effects of the Spirit at work as confirmation of his work. This expectation that the Word of God will become reality in the world is the experiential mark on all of Thomas Boston’s sermons and books.

For the expositor of God’s Word, these volumes (and especially the many sermons) make this set a priceless gem. Boston is a Puritan friend who is exegetically faithful and sensitive of the human heart. His depth and breadth make him one of the very few writers that will help you prepare any sermon on any text for any audience.

Binding: clothbound (maroon)
Volumes: 12
Pages: 7,400
Dust jackets: Yes
Binding: Smyth sewn
Paper: oversized and heavy weight
Text: facsimile printing of 1853 version (William Tegg & Co. of London)
Topical Index: yes (end of vol. 11)
Textual index: no
Biography: yes (“Memoirs” in vol. 12)
Publisher: Tentmaker (United Kingdom)
Price USD: $325.00 at RHB; $250.00 at TPB; $250.00 at Amazon
Want more information? An excellent introduction to Thomas Boston and his writing will be found in Christian Focus’ recent re-publication of “The Art of Manfishing.” J.I. Packer’s short introduction at the beginning of this book is beneficial. An extended biography and bibliography is included in Beeke’s new book “Meet the Puritans,” available by Christmas from Reformation Heritage Books.