Why we should read the Puritans (and resources on how to build a Puritan Library and actually read them!)

Does it ever make you feel awe-inspired to know that you and I are in a line that extends all the way back? That people like Ruth and David and Paul and Justin Martyr and Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon and John MacArthur are in the same line we are in? Because of Christ’s blood, we are part of a Godly lineage that from one generation to another that is passing the baton of faith forward.

It’s a shame more people don’t study and read about church history. It’s fascinating.

One thing I do know, our elder says that it’s good to read ‘old books’, you know, the dead old guys. We in the present time can’t see our blind spots, but when we read the older tomes, we can. Here is John MacArthur’s take on it:

If I want to test my interpretation of Scripture, invariably I go backwards to those in the past who have the noble, proven, interpreters of Scripture whose books are still in print because they have stood the test of time and the scrutiny of scholarship. And I go back to make sure that I’m not inventing something. I just want to take the baton from somebody. I want to interpret the Word of God the way it’s always been interpreted and I want to be faithful to those in the past who were led by the Spirit of God to understand the Word of God. ~Source

Our elders quote the Puritans a lot. Currently Jonathan Edwards and John Owen are getting heavy rotation, lol, to use old disc jockey lingo. There are a lot of Puritans worth reading. They are so edifying. John Bunyan for example, wrote so much more than Pilgrim’s Progress, though that book is the most famous Christian book after the Bible and has never been out of print for 340 years!!

From a purely literary viewpoint, The Pilgrim’s Progress is without a doubt the greatest allegory ever written. Critics have called it “a hybrid of religious allegory, the early novel, the moral dialogue, the romance, the folk story, the picaresque novel, the epic, the dream-vision, and the fairy tale” (Lynn Veach Sadler, John Bunyan, Twayne Publishers, 1979). The world over, The Pilgrim’s Progress is the second best-selling book in history (the first is the Bible) and has been translated into over 200 languages. ~Source

John Flavel, Thomas Manton, Thomas Brooks, Richard Sibbes…and so many more are worthy of a good visit.
Admittedly, some of the Puritans are an easier read than others. Tim Challies has a list that progresses from recommendations for beginners to all the way up. Beginners should definitely read Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed, hope for the suffering. Flavel’s Providence is a little harder and John Owen, well, he takes some commitment. But they are worth it.
As a bonus, many of these Puritan books are free on ccel.org, free on Kindle, or discounted in hard copy at places like Monergism, Ligonier, Banner of Truth, or Westminster Books.

Where does one begin, though? Tony Reinke has a wonderful series of a type of “Puritan Reading Plan”.  Here is the link and his introduction to the study-

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

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.

Well, there ya go.

Click here to access all posts in Reinke’s The Puritan Study series.

Part 1: The delights and pains of Puritan study
Part 2: The rules of a Puritan library
Part 3: The people of a Puritan library
Part 4: Why our effective use of the Puritans begins with our Bibles
Part 5: Print book searches
Part 6: Electronic searches
Part 7: Using the Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Part 8: To quote or not to quote?
Part 9: The strategy of building a Puritan library
Part 10: Concluding thoughts, part 1
Part 11: Concluding thoughts, part 2
Part 12: Q&A > Which Puritan should I start with?
Part 13: Photographs of the Puritan Library

And under that, there’s another set of links reviewing various Puritan books.

Here are even more resources for you.


Tim Challies:

Recommended Puritans

The Puritans: John Bunyan, Thomas Boston, Stephen Charnock, Richard Baxter (and so on!)

A few practical lessons from the Puritans

Search at his site challies.com by plugging in ‘Puritans’, there are even more search results that come up than I have posted here


Mt. Zion Library

Phil Johnson says of the Mt. Zion Bible Chapel online library

A wonderful collection of literature and sermons from Mt. Zion Bible Church in Pensacola, FL. This church’s literature ministry has quietly, faithfully been sowing seed for years. Only heaven will reveal how bountiful the harvest has been. The Web site has an amazingly full collection of choice documents—including the complete works of John Bunyan. Mt. Zion supplied many Spurgeon sermons for The Spurgeon Archive

They have free study guides and courses. For example, there’s a study guide to go along with reading Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. So wonderful! A plethora of resources.



ship rose

HMS Rose (I THINK!) in the Chesapeake in the early 1990s.
Hey, it looks like a ship the Puritans could have come over on. I was struggling
to find a photo to go with the essay! Don’t judge me…

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