By Elizabeth Prata
Last week I had the providential opportunity of being on Fall break when the first-ever Puritan Conference occurred, hosted at Grace Community Church in Santa Clarita, CA and founded and led by Dr. Joel Beeke. I was able to watch many of the lectures live. What a blessing! [Media from all sessions will be available to the public in the coming weeks.]
One particular lecture I looked forward to was delivered by Dr. Beeke on the topic of the ‘Writing of the Puritans’. I’m a writer and I love the Puritans, so this was going to be good, I thought. It was good, but for two reasons, not just one! Winning!
We are blessed to have available to us, hundreds of years later, the Puritans’ writing. Why? Because when they were fired from their pastorates for being non-conformist, many were hired by Anglicans. The Anglican churches were drying up, since so many people wanted the sermons of the Puritans. But the Non-conforming Puritans were unable to preach, because their licenses had been revoked. The Anglicans decided to hire a Puritan and call him “a lecturer”. The Puritan was to give the Wednesday night and Sunday evening “lecture”. The Anglican priest only gave the main sermon on Sunday mornings.
Since the Anglican priest was only crafting 1/3 of the week’s sermons, he had more time to do pastoral things like visit and counsel. Since the Puritan ‘lecturer’ didn’t have to do pastoral duties, he had more time to develop lectures, research and write. The Puritan did so, and then put his lectures into books. The books were printed, and Beeke said at the time about 25% of all publishing was Christian Puritan matter. That is why we have so much of it nowadays. In today’s publishing world, only about 1% of material is Christian oriented, if that, Beeke said.
What an amazing set of providences that God orchestrated! I mulled that over for a long time, and still think about how and why God manages events for His own glory and for the good of those that love Him.
All the information Beeke gave on the writing of the Puritans; their style, their history, was interesting. But the charm came when Beeke spent the first part of his lecture on his own story. Here’s where it got so delightful for me.
He related his origins, remembering being a young boy of about 9 years old. He’d done something bad and was punished for it. He felt terrible, and he understood he was “a bad boy” who does bad things. He went to his father’s library, which, by the way, was full of Puritan books. He looked for a book that could help him understand his badness. He found one by Bunyan called Life and Death of Mr. Badman. He thought to himself, “I’m a bad boy, here’s a book about a bad man, that’s pretty close.”
He read it and absorbed it and enjoyed it. He said the sorrowful feeling about his bad acts wore off after about 6 months though, and he wasn’t truly regenerated until his mid teens, about 16 or so, he said. But he kept reading his dad’s library chock full of Puritan books. He actually asked his father at one point if he could mark up and make notes in his books as he read them. Dad Beeke was delighted with his son’s request and generously gave him license to read and mark away!
Dr. Beeke’s interest in the Puritans only grew from that 9-year-old first foray into the world of holiness and self-denying Christian lifestyle. He kept reading his dad’s books, and decided after he was truly regenerated at around age 16 that he wanted to sell Puritan books.
At the Conference Dr. Beeke went on from there, relating how he and his 19-year-old brother started selling books, he related several adventures in book-selling, and his eventual founding of Reformation Heritage Books in 1994 which stands today as the most widespread purveyor of Puritan material in the world, by far.
So all that was interesting, but then I mulled the overarching, bigger picture. My love for Christ grew again, after hearing the Beeke origin story. I thought about how the Lord fashions us in the womb. Sets us apart by name since before the founding of the world. (Jeremiah 1:5, Ephesians 1:4). Causes us to be born to the parents He decides He wants us to be born under. Grows us in His timing, and instills in us interests, skills, and trades that if we are set apart-elect, will one day be used for His glory.
Beeke’s interest in the Puritans was awakened at age 9, and has by the Lord’s providential care, undergirded him as a mainstay throughout his next 61 years. He now writes books about the Puritans, sells Puritan books, teaches and preaches about Puritans and Puritan preaching and writing style, manages his family like the Puritans did, leads Puritan Reformed Seminary as its President, and travels the world to spread the joy of learning about the Puritans. All from one man.
God is the ultimate Sovereign. His plan from the beginning was sure to be enacted through to the end. That means all at once, before anything began, God designed all of human history, named each person who ever was to be, and gave His elect interests, physicality, intellect that would all play into His kingly plan.
For example, King Saul was extra tall and handsome, Timothy was timid, Sarai was given beauty that attracted Pharaoh. Jeremiah was appointed to be a prophet before history began. Paul was given intellect, a logical mind, and a love for the Law. Dorcas had sewing talent. Lydia a business acumen. Jacob was given an aptitude for sheep farming.
It is so encouraging to know that God has a mind that not only created (and named!) all the stars, but knows each one of us, and instilled interests and capabilities that help flourish not only ourselves, but His kingdom for His glory.
God did it all before the foundation of the world. We serve an AMAZING God!!