Many are scared off from reading the Puritans thinking they are too difficult to read. Others hear the echoes of an overzealous and inaccurate college professor’s lectures on the Puritans or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter warning them away. I want to encourage you to read the Puritans. Banner of Truth has done a great service through its Puritan Paperbacks series making their works accessible and readable. These works are not too difficult to read, except for the effect they have upon the soul. The lectures of your college professor and Hawthorne’s portrayal are inaccurate, they rob the Puritans of their heart.
I have been leading my small group through one of these works, The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. It is a Christian classic for a reason. If you haven’t read it, buy a copy and reward your soul. Sibbes, a Puritan of the late 16th and early 17th century, teases out the prophecy in Isaiah 42:1-3 regarding Christ, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment into truth.”
Let me give you a few selected quotes from Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed and see if you can prevent your heart from being moved and your soul from being gripped?
- What a support to our faith is this, that God the Father, the party offended by our sins, is so well pleased with the work of redemption! And what a comfort is this, that, seeing God’s love rests on Christ, as well pleased in him, we may gather that he is as well pleased with us, if we be in Christ!
- He is a physician good at all diseases, especially at the binding up of a broken heart.
- The lion of the tribe of Judah will only tear in pieces those ‘that will not have him rule over them’ (Luke 19:14). He will not show his strength against those who prostrate themselves before him.
- Christ’s way is first to wound, then to heal. No sound, whole soul shall ever into heaven.
- …there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us…It is better to go bruised to heaven than sound to hell. Therefore let us not take off ourselves too soon, nor pull off the plaster before the cure be wrought, but keep ourselves under this work till sin be the sourest, and Christ the sweetest, of all things.
- …let all know that none are fitter for comfort than those that think themselves furthest off. Men, for the most part, are not lost enough in their own feeling for a Savior. A holy despair in ourselves is the ground of true hope.
- Christ values us by what we shall be, and by what we are elected unto.
- Grace, though little in quantity, is much in vigor and worth.
- Nothing in the world is of so good use as the least grain of grace.
- It would be a good contest amongst Christians, one to labor to give no offence, and the other to labor to take none. The best men are sever to themselves, tender over others.
- Truth fears nothing so much as concealment, and desires nothing so much as clearly to be laid open to the view of all. When it is most unadorned, it is most lovely and powerful.
- We must not judge ourselves always according to feeling…Life in the winter is hid in the root.
- Without Christ’s Spirit the soul is in confusion, without beauty and form, as all things were in the chaos before the creation. The whole soul is out of joint till it be set right again by him whose office is to ‘restore all things.’
- Grace conquers us first, and we, by it, conquer all else; whether corruptions within us, or temptations from outside us.
Read the Puritans. They aren’t quite as hard to read as they have been portrayed and they aren’t quite as scary either. In fact, they are good for the mind, the heart, and the soul.