My 5 Favorite Puritan Authors
Over the last year, I did a lot of reading in the old Puritan authors (I'm not going to get into the interminable debate over the definition of "Puritan" here). Many of them, I had the opportunity to read at length for the first time. These works are treasure troves, and I cannot recommend them highly enough. If you are not sure where to begin and are hesitant to spend a lot of money before you are sure, I would recommend perusing various Puritan works at The Digital Puritan website. I enjoy recommending books and authors, so I thought I'd attempt to come up with my "Top 5" list. This is merely a list of the five Puritan authors I have most enjoyed reading for a variety of reasons. Others will enjoy different authors.
Thomas Brooks is best known for his work Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices, and that is a great introduction to his work, but by all means do not stop there. Brooks has written so much more, and all of it is biblically rich, Christ-centered, and practically edifying. You will find yourself driven to prayer repeatedly when reading Brooks. Banner of Truth has his collected works in a six-volume set. It's one of the few multi-volume sets in which every volume is worth reading from first to last. If you don't want to take my word for it, here is Sinclair Ferguson discussing and recommending the works of Thomas Brooks. If you haven't read Brooks, choose a work by him and put it at the top of your reading list.
We have all things in Christ. Christ is all things to a Christian. If we are sick, Jesus is a physician. If we thirst, Jesus is a fountain. If our sins trouble us, Jesus is our righteousness. If we stand in need of help, Jesus is mighty to save. If we fear death, Jesus is life. If we are in darkness, Jesus is light. If we are weak, Jesus is strength. If we are in poverty, Jesus is plenty. If we desire heaven, Jesus is the way. The soul cannot say, 'this I would have, and that I would have.' But having Jesus, he has all he needs—eminently, perfectly, eternally (Thomas Brooks).
It is difficult to choose between Thomas Brooks and Thomas Watson for first place on my list of five favorite Puritans. It's basically a tie for first in my mind because I enjoy reading both of them so much. His best known work is titled A Body of Practical Divinity, Consisting of Above One Hundred and Seventy Six-Sermons on the Shorter Catechism, Composed by the Reverend Assembly of Divines at Westminster. As this typically concise Puritan book title indicates, this work consists of over one hundred and seventy six sermons on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It is preached theology, theology done in and for the church, and that is one of the things that makes reading it such a delight. This is not dry and dusty ivory tower theology by a mile. This is theology driven home to the heart, and it is theology that results in doxology. Banner of Truth has published the bulk of this work in three volumes: A Body of Divinity, The Ten Commandments, and The Lord's Prayer. Another work originally published together with these is titled The Art of Divine Contentment. It was published by Soli Deo Gloria and now by Reformation Heritage Books. Read all of these together. Doctrine and practice weren't as easily separated in the older Reformed theologies, and reading all three of these together as they were preached and published reminds us of why they shouldn't be separated as they have often been in the contemporary church.
When the banner of glory shall be displayed over you, you shall be as the angels of God, you shall never have a sinful thought more; no pain or grief, no aching head or unbelieving heart. You shall see Christ's face, and lie for ever in his arms; you shall be as Joseph. Gen 41:14. They brought him hastily out of the dungeon, and he shaved himself, and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh. Long for that time, when you shall put off your prison garments, and change your raiment, and put on the embroidered garment of glory. Oh long for it! Yet be content to wait for this full and glorious redemption, when you shall be more happy than you can desire, when you shall have ‘that which eye has not seen. nor ear heard. nor can it enter into man's heart to conceive' (Thomas Watson).
If you are troubled, one of the best Puritan works to read is Richard Sibbes' A Bruised Reed. Once you've read it, you'll want to read more by an author that Martyn Lloyd-Jones referred to as "a balm to my soul." Sibbes is one of those authors, you simply want to keep reading. Every page is filled with God-exalting biblical wisdom. His collected works is another set that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend.
There is no condition so ill, but there is balm in Gilead, comfort in Israel. The depths of misery are never beyond the depths of mercy. God oft for this very end, strips his church of all helps below, that it may only rely upon him: and that it may appear that the church is ruled by a higher power than it is opposed by. And then is the time when we may expect great deliverances of the church, when there is a great faith in the great God. (Richard Sibbes).
Stephen Charnock is known for his massive work on the Existence and Attributes of God. In the five-volume complete works of Charnock published by Banner of Truth, that work fills the first two volumes, and if The Existence and Attributes of God were all Charnock wrote, he would still be in my Top 5. That book is an outstanding example of Reformed scholasticism and classical theism. As a side note, Stephen Charnock ministered alongside Thomas Watson for about five years at Crosby Hall, Bishopsgate. Sometimes I wonder if the members of that church during those years had any idea.
Worship is a duty incumbent upon all men. It is a homage mankind owes to God, under the relation wherein he stands obliged to hiin; it is a prime and immutable justice to own our allegiance to him. It is as unchangeable a truth that God is to be worshipped, as that God is: he is to be worshipped as God, as Creator; and therefore by all, since he is the Creator of all, the Lord of all, and all are his creatures, and all are his subjects (Stephen Charnock).
Most Christians have heard of Matthew Henry because his commentary on the Bible remains in print to this day. I should say that although Henry's commentary doesn't elaborate on the exegesis of the original languages, it is still worth reading after that work has been done. The strength of Henry's commentary is in practical application. Some of it at times is a stretch, but it is always worth reading and considering. Regardless of one's opinion of his commentary, his book A Method for Prayer is something every Christian should take the time to read. Banner of Truth has published an edition revised for modern readers by O. Palmer Robertson. Another edition, updated for modern readers by Ligon Duncan, is available from Christian Focus Publishers.
The scripture has foretold the incredulity of those who should hear the gospel, that it might not be a surprise nor stumbling-block to us, John xii. 37, 38; Rom. x. 16. Let us think never the worse of the gospel of Christ for the slights men generally put upon it, for we were told before what cold entertainment it would meet with (Matthew Henry).
A large amount of what is published today will be gathering dust in ten or twenty years. There is a reason these older Puritan works are still being published and read centuries after the deaths of their authors. It is because they didn't chase ever-changing cultural fads. They were grounded in that which is unchanging and ever-relevant -- God and His Word. Read them. Find out for yourself.