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.

The Puritan Study (Part 3) The People of a Puritan Library

Part 3: The People of a Puritan Library

So far we’ve talked vaguely about some group of people named ‘The Puritans.’ Today we name names.

Like I said, this list does not include Puritan commentaries. You should consider getting Matthew Henry’s commentary on the bible. It is very useful and mature in its biblical application. And of course (Reformer) John Calvin’s commentaries are likewise valuable. Both are available in print for a reasonable price and online for free.

The list

I have used the following 14 Puritans in a number of situations but mostly in expositions. These men are faithful and trustworthy friends. I have been pushed deeper into scripture as these men faithfully expound and apply the bible. Many of their sermon illustrations have been reworded for my hearers. I have shared hundreds of quaint and beautiful quotations from these men. And I have personally been fed and refreshed as each of these men exalt in the glory of Jesus Christ, teach me to conquer (mortify) sin, and steer my affections away from the temporary and towards the eternal.

The Shepherd’s Scrapbook is proud to offer this list of Puritans (ordered by each author’s usefulness and availability. See pictures of these sets). …

1. Charles Haddon Spurgeon (63 sermon vols.; CD-Rom). Not a Puritan (obviously) but he is the great synthesizer of the best of the Puritan literature (see the Treasury of David for example).
2. Jonathan Edwards (2 vol. works; printed)
3. John Bunyan (3 vol. works; printed)
4. Thomas Boston (12 vol. works; printed)
5. Thomas Manton (22 vol. works; printed)
6. John Owen (16 vol. works; but especially vols. 1,2 and 6; printed)
7. John Flavel (6 vol. works; printed)
8. Richard Sibbes (7 vol. works; printed)
9. Jeremiah Burroughs (misc. books; printed)
10. Thomas Brooks (6 vol. works; printed)
11. Thomas Goodwin (12 vol. works; printed)
12. John Newton (6 vol. works; printed)
13. David Clarkson (3 vol. works; printed)
14. Edward Reynolds (vols. 1,4,5,6 of 6 vol. works; printed)

(Note: Spurgeon’s sermons work better in electronic format because of their sheer size and cost in print format.)

At the close of this series on building a Puritan Library, I will be reviewing each set in order to highlight the strengths. Plus, I will share a few tricks necessary to exhaust each of these incredible resources.

Honorable mention

The following Puritans are very helpful. However, these men are either poorly indexed or hard to find (or both). These include the works of William Ames, William Bates, Stephen Charnock, William Perkins, Samuel Rutherford and Thomas Watson.

The bottom line

The bottom line is this: God’s grace is magnificent. He alone allows the funding for these Puritans to be reprinted. He gives publishers the burden to print them today (although these efforts bring very little, if any, profit). He gives men like Robert Martin the generosity to share his Puritan index so we can all benefit from his work.

Before we consider the costs of such a library and the tricks to using one effectively, we should take time this weekend to thank God. His Spirit makes these ancient resources available so the Word can go out into the world today with the earnestness worthy of the Gospel.

Next time … Part 4: Why our effective use of the Puritans begins in the bible

The Puritan Study (Part 2) The Rules of a Puritan Library

Part 2: The Rules of a Puritan Library

In the remaining weeks we will be spending a lot of time discussing how to efficiently use the Puritans. In this and the next post, I want to take some time to define what a solid Puritan library looks like. Today we lay the ground rules for what follows.

It is my view that the most useful Puritan Study (or Library) will be well-indexed and use both printed volumes and electronic files.

E-books vs. Print books

Open this question, and memories of Ali vs. Frazier or Tyson vs. Holyfield come to mind. Debate whether the Puritans will endure in e-books or print books, and the two sides strap on the gloves and enter the ring for a showdown.

Let’s step back from the debate and make some clarifications.

No question, the computer has changed the way we pass words around. More and more Puritan books are being scanned into .pdf format for use on a computer, and many of these are being converted into text files for easy searching.

Here’s a little more info about the two types of electronic Puritan books commonly available today.

PDF picture files. Some electronic publishers take the Puritan texts and scan them into a computer as a picture file. The pictures can be seen on your computer and are an identical copy of the book page. Usually these are not text-recognized so you cannot conduct a text search or copy and paste. These files are very common with the Puritans but they also make for large and cumbersome files. (My powerful Apple PowerBook G4 can hardly keep up with a 100 MB file off the hard drive.) So unless you have the most powerful computer on the market, it is hard to efficiently use these large .pdf files.

Text files. These are more rare because they demand careful editing of the raw text. The raw text is generated by a computer deciphering words from the printed page through a scan of the page. Because many Puritan books are old editions, the computer doesn’t perfectly transcribe the words and so time-consuming editing is critical. This text file makes for much smaller and convenient file. But even better, they are searchable. There is a growing collection of these files freely available at . The Puritans are in the public domain so anyone can scan and distribute the texts freely. More about that later.

Back to the ring. Who is going to win the fight? The old dusty volume or the energetic young e-book? If we look at e-books and print books honestly, we see that they are more compatible than at first glance. In fact, I would argue that e-books and print books make a better matrimonial match than a boxing match.

For example, print books travel easily. A volume travels in the airport and across the country, without plugs or electricity. You can underline in it and write marginal notes. On the other side, the e-book text can be searched in seconds. But who spends hours at their computer reading through a Puritan e-book? (Ouch, my eyes water at the thought.) Print books are much easier to read. Print books usually include very helpful indexes at the end and since e-books are often repaginated, those indexes become worthless in text files. With e-books, I can keep hundreds of volumes on my laptop when I’m out of town.

My point: We need both e-books and printed books. Let them live in peace.

One example

Probably the best example I can give you is my use of the 2-volume Works of Jonathan Edwards. (No preacher should be without them, Martyn Lloyd-Jones said.) And no preacher should be without the free text files either.

The two work beautifully together. The text file is easy to search and the print volume is nice to read.

Let’s say we are preaching through Ephesians chapter 2, and we want to see what Edwards had to say. We open the text file to the first volume. And since the text file uses Roman numerals we do a quick search on “Eph. ii.”. We see there are 35 references to Ephesians 2 in the first volume of Edwards’ Works in about 3 seconds.

The reference you see on the screen shot looks like an interesting one. Notice this text file (from the CCEL) includes the printed page number in the left column. I open the Banner of Truth volumes in my library to page 628. Where was this reference by Edwards? A sermon? A book? What was Edward’s main point in using Ephesians 2 here? These questions are more easily answered by reading the printed book.

Wasn’t that easy?

Now here is the shocker: I personally believe e-books actually make the printed books MORE valuable! They certainly make the printed volumes more useful. [One idea: Puritan publishers should consider bundling their printed volumes with a free CD of electronic volumes.]

Remember Thomas Edison who invented the phonograph (‘sound’ + ‘writing’) in 1876? Well Edison proudly predicted that by the year 2000 audio books would eliminate the need for printed books. He was wrong. Printed books, like diamonds, are forever.

Q: Should I pay for Puritan CD-Roms?

Generally speaking I say “No,” don’t buy Puritan CD-Roms. As you will see there are exceptions to this rule but most Puritans are going online at an amazing rate. Just look at the files available on Puritan John Owen from CCEL (here). And all these are free.

Because almost all of the Puritans (including Spurgeon) are public domain, nobody has the rights to the text itself. Anyone can take the text and publish them as they wish. And that is what people are doing online.

Wait patiently. Pretty much all the important Puritan files you see on these expensive CD-Roms sets will be available for free (and in searchable text form) in the coming years. So if you own the CD-Roms already consider unloading them on Ebay while they still have value. Invest your money in printed books.


Indexes are the key to the Puritan Study I am laying out before you. I don’t have the time to sift through 100,000 pages of Puritan literature to create my own index (and I’m certain you don’t either). So the best Puritan Study will be built from the indexes currently available.

The following two indexes are especially valuable. (Ironically, one is electronic and one printed.)

1. A free online index. This index lists the Puritan sermons by sermon text. It’s especially valuable because it includes an index to the sermons of Charles Spurgeon. There is no topical index. Later in the series I’ll show you how to get around this hitch.

2. A Guide to the Puritans by Robert P. Martin (Banner of Truth, 0851517137). This volume comprises two indexes (by text and by topic). Like the free resource above, this book is a handy textual reference to the Puritan sermons (minus Spurgeon). But what makes this especially valuable is the topical index of the sermons. You can look up any topic – like ‘Christ > Pre-incarnation existence of’ – and see that both Flavel and Manton preached sermons on the subject. No true Puritan researcher should be without this volume.

So these are the ground rules for my Puritan Study. I value both the e-books and printed volumes. And a good index is critical.

Tomorrow we will look specifically at the most useful (and best indexed) of the Puritans.


Next time … Part 3: The People of a Puritan Library


The Puritan Study (Part 1) The Delights and Pains of a Puritan Study

Part 1: The Delights and Pains of Puritan study

Here begins a several part study on building (and using) a Puritan library of your own. Of all the areas of my library, the Puritan section is the most useful.

The “Puritans” are a group of people I (very) loosely define as faithful Christians of the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as those who carried on the Puritan tradition into the 18th and 19th centuries. My definition includes John Bunyan and John Owen (true Puritans), Jonathan Edwards (post-Puritan), and Charles Spurgeon (who carried the Puritan tradition). Other names you may not be familiar with include Brooks, Boston, Burgess, Sibbes, Flavel, Reynolds, Ames, Manton, Rutherford, Newton and Clarkson. You will become more familiar with the names as we continue on.

This series is based upon two fundamental convictions.

First, the church today benefits most from leaders and preachers who are burdened to present expositional messages – sermons drawn from principles clearly demonstrated in scripture. The preacher is to “preach the Word” by taking every precaution in the name of accuracy and then exhorting and encouraging by earnest application.

Secondly, an efficient and workable library of the best Puritan literature is a great way to faithfully preach and apply scripture to the hearts of your hearers. The Puritans are no substitute for careful exegesis and use of contemporary commentaries. But once the foundational research is complete, the Puritans will open up new threads of understanding and application on your text. Pastors and congregations today truly need the Puritans.

J.I. Packer once wrote, “the great Puritan pastor-theologians – Owen, Baxter, Goodwin, Howe, Perkins, Sibbes, Brooks, Watson, Gurnall, Flavel, Bunyan, Manton, and others like them – were men of outstanding intellectual power, as well as spiritual insight. In them mental habits fostered by sober scholarship were linked with a flaming zeal for God and a minute acquaintance with the human heart. All their work displays this unique fusion of gifts and graces. In thought and outlook they were radically God-centered. Their appreciation of God’s sovereign majesty was profound, and their reverence in handling his written word was deep and constant. They were patient, thorough, and methodical in searching the Scriptures, and their grasp of the various threads and linkages in the web of revealed truth was firm and clear. They understood most richly the ways of God with men, the glory of Christ the Mediator, and the work of the Spirit in the believer and the church. And their knowledge was no mere theoretical orthodoxy…”

The delights of Puritans

I would not be writing this series if I were not personally acquainted with the great fruitfulness of Puritan study. The Puritans have matured my understanding of God, the Christian life, the idols of my heart, marriage and parenting. I have a deeper appreciation for the Cross, grace and the resurrection because of their words.

And here are a few other delightful benefits from the Puritans…

1. Cohesive biblical wisdom. As you can already see, the Puritans are an incredible source of biblical insight and application. They were skilled at seeing the big picture of the Christian life and then breaking that picture down into its various facets and details. Each sermon and every detail was presented in light of the big biblical themes and tied back to God Himself. What you will see in the coming weeks is that (as Packer would say) we “need” the Puritans. Even to this day there are no substitutes for their wisdom and perception in drawing us back to the big picture of God.

2. Well outlined sermons. Typical Puritan sermons provide the greatest help in my expositional research. These sermons are well outlined and very easy to navigate. Typically the whole purpose of the sermon is summarized in one nifty sentence towards the beginning of the sermon. And because these sermons are so well-organized, you can sift through them fairly quickly.

The pains of the Puritans

I won’t mislead you, there are a few pains involved in Puritan research.

1. Old words and Roman numerals. Four hundred year old literature comes with difficulties. There are words that are no longer in use today. And don’t think you can get along without memorizing Roman numerals. These are critical when you are researching Psalm lxxiii and verse 25. Be prepared to read a few sentences two or three times. Patience is important.

2. Puritan sermon style. There are some great Puritan commentaries. But for me, the most useful Puritan literature are the printed sermons (this series will focus specifically on these sermons). A typical Puritan sermon covers just one verse and rarely in the context of a broader book study. So here is the rub: The contemporary researcher (preaching through an entire book like Ephesians, for example) will need to collect and have a proper index to find Puritan literature on a given verse or topic. This is no small challenge and thankfully there are researchers who have given us great resources here (and some for free!). But if you can master this problem, and I will show you how, a library of Puritan sermons will come alive.

3. Errors. We must be on guard against the error of thinking that the Puritans were infallible. The Puritans had their errors. But this is the glory of old books. As C.S. Lewis once said, the errors in old books are easier to see than the errors in new books. Old errors are less deceptive, just as hindsight is 20/20.

For the delights and the pains, there are no substitutes for the Puritans. For every sermon I consult my trusted Puritan friends and grow from their wealth of wisdom and unparalleled seriousness with the bible. They will stretch you, challenge you and keep you accountable. But most importantly, they will cast a stern eye when you feel the pressure to compromise the biblical message.


Next time… Part 2: The Rules of a Puritan Library


Click here to access all posts in the The Puritan Study series.