On How To Read the Puritan Paperbacks

If you’ve followed this blog in the past, you know that I enjoy the little Banner of Truth book series called “The Puritan Paperbacks.”  To be honest, the first time I read one of these Paperbacks (I forget which one), I didn’t really enjoy it or appreciate it.  I thought it was too tedious, detailed, and old-school.  That was over 15 years ago; now I have about twenty-five of them and have benefited from them in many ways.  Nine years ago here on the blog I wrote a few things that have helped me read the Puritan Paperbacks with profit.  I’ll repost my blog below.  (This list also applies to other Puritan books, for sure, but to keep it shorter, I’m thinking primarily of the Paperbacks.)

Puritan Paperback Set

To read the Puritan Paperbacks with profit,

1) Know your systematic theology.  You don’t need a Ph.D. in systematics to benefit from them, but if you know your basic systematics (i.e. the attributes of God, the doctrine of man, the doctrine of Christ, the ordo salutis, etc.) it will be easier to read the Paperbacks.  For example, if you know the Westminster Standards well, or study Louis Berkhof’s Manual of Christian Doctrine, it will make reading the Paperbacks more enjoyable – you’ll be able to see that when the Puritans do “go deep,” they’re staying in the Reformed categories.  When I realized this, it made it easier and more edifying to read the Puritans on sanctification, because (just for one example) I knew that even when they were quite detailed, they were not blending it with justification.

2) Stick with it.  The archaic language and grammar is tough at first (you may need a dictionary!), but after a few Paperbacks you get used to it.  Remember that these authors wrote several hundred years ago, so the language and illustrations will be different (I still chuckle when I come across a word like “compunction”).  And as with all books, don’t be surprised when there are a few sections here and there that are less helpful than others.   Be patient and start by reading a chapter/section or two a week.  One good Paperback to start with is Thomas Watson’s Repentance because it is short, clear, and very helpful – it won’t overwhelm you.  Don’t read the longer and harder ones until later.  For example, wait quite awhile until you read The Sinfulness of Sin, A Lifting Up for the Downcast, and others that are detailed and over 200 pages or so.

3) Take notes.  When I read a Paperback, I have a pencil and highlighter in hand to mark the best sections.  I also make my own index in the back cover so that when I study a certain topic later I can just pull the Paperback off my shelf, turn to the back cover, find the topic and page number that I wrote, and turn there to find it highlighted/underlined.  You may want to do the same for certain Scripture references since the books don’t have scriptural indexes.  Basically, you’ll profit from reading these books by making your own topical or scriptural index so you can use these books often in your future studies and devotions.

4) Approach reading the Paperbacks differently than you do other books.  The genre of these books is quite different from other things we read from day-to-day, so read them when you’re in the mood for deeper subjects.  If you approach the Paperbacks realizing that they are not newspaper articles or trendy Christian books filled with buzzwords and Christian-eze, you’ll be in the right frame of mind to read.  I also find that I profit best from these books when I space them out a bit.  For example, I read one last week (on my “vacation week”) and I won’t read another for over a month or so.   Reading them too often can be something like too much of a good thing.

In summary, I think with some time and effort, most Christians who are “readers” will be able to understand these books, profit from them, and learn to appreciate the Puritans at least to some extent.  Though I don’t elevate the Puritans above other writers/teachers, the Paperbacks have given me a deep respect for the Puritans.

By the way – one other great thing about these Paperbacks is that they are usually priced well under $10.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian (OPC)
Hammond, WI

How to Read the Puritan Paperbacks

This is a slightly edited repost from June, 2010.

If you’ve followed this blog for the past few years, you know that we enjoy the little Banner of Truth series of books called “Puritan Paperbacks.”  To be honest, the first time I (Shane) read one of these Paperbacks (I forget which one), I didn’t really enjoy it or appreciate it.  I thought it was too tedious, detailed, and ancient.  That was twelve years ago; now I have about seventeen of them and have benefited from them in many ways.  Here are a few things that have helped me read the Puritan Paperbacks with profit.  This list also applies to other Puritan books, for sure, but to keep it shorter, I’m thinking primarily of the Paperbacks.

To read the Puritan Paperbacks with profit, 

1) Know your systematic theology.  You don’t need a Ph.D. in systematics to benefit from them, but if you know your basic systematics (i.e. the attributes of God, the doctrine of man, the doctrine of Christ, the ordo salutis, etc.) it will be easier to read the Paperbacks.  For example, if you know the Westminster Standards well, or study Louis Berkhof’s Manual of Christian Doctrine, it will make reading the Paperbacks more enjoyable – you’ll be able to see that when the Puritans do “go deep,” they’re staying in the Reformed categories.  When I realized this, it made it easier and more edifying to read the Puritans on sanctification, because (just for one example) I knew that even when they were quite detailed, they were not blending it with justification.

2) Stick with it.  The archaic language and grammar is tough at first (you may need a dictionary!), and even daunting, but after a few Paperbacks you get used to it.  Be patient.  Remember that these authors wrote several hundred years ago, so the language and illustrations will be different (I still chuckle when I come across a word like “compunction”).  And as with all books, don’t be surprised when there are a few sections here and there that are less helpful than others.   Start with a short Paperback and perhaps read a chapter/section or two a week.  One good Paperback to read first is Thomas Watson’s ‘Repentance’ because it is short, clear, and very helpful – it won’t overwhelm you.  Similarly, Watson’s ‘All Things for Good,’ and Bunyan’s ‘All Love’s Excelling’ are short and clear.   Don’t read the longer and harder ones until later.  For example, wait quite awhile until you read The Sinfulness of Sin, A Lifting Up for the Downcast, and others that are detailed and over 200 pages.

3) Take notes.  When I read a Paperback, I have a pencil and highlighter in hand to mark the best sections.  I also make my own index in the back cover so that when I study a certain topic later I can just pull the Paperback off my shelf, turn to the back cover, find the topic and page number that I wrote, and turn there to find it highlighted/underlined.  You may want to do the same for certain Scripture references since the books don’t have scriptural indexes.  You’ll profit in the long run from reading these books by making your own topical or scriptural index so you can use them in your future studies and devotions.  I’ve also heard of some people keeping a reading journal of sorts.  Either way, taking notes on these books is helpful and edifying.

4) Approach reading the Paperbacks differently than you do other books.  The genre of these books is quite different than other things we read from day to day, so read them when you’re in the mood for deeper Christian writing.  Pray that the book will teach, convict, and comfort you in Christ.  If you approach the Paperbacks realizing that they are not newspaper articles, Christian Amish fiction novels, or other Christian fluff books, you’ll be in the right frame of mind to read.  I don’t recommend reading the Puritans on a tablet because if you’re not self-disciplined enough, you’ll be tempted to check email or browse the web when the reading becomes difficult.  I also find that I profit best from these books when I space them out a bit.  Reading them too often is something like too much of a good thing.  And, of course, it is good to vary our reading material; we should read the Puritans, but we should read other authors from other centuries as well.

In summary, I think with some time and effort, most Christians who are “readers” will be able to understand these books, profit from them, and learn to appreciate the Puritans at least to some extent.  Though I don’t elevate the Puritans above other writers/teachers, they have have taught me much about sin, salvation, and serving Christ.  Even if you don’t get “into” the Puritans, I challenge you to at least read a few shorter Puritan Paperbacks.  And I should warn you that once you’ve read a few of these Paperbacks, it just might make you realize how trendy, simple, and “thin” many modern Christian books are (you’ve been warned)!

By the way – one other great thing about these Paperbacks is that they are usually priced well under $10. 

rev shane lems

Why Preach/Teach Sin?

  In a pastoral way, I feel sorry for Christians who sit under preaching that doesn’t clearly, consistently, and convictingly discuss sin (total depravity, radical corruption, etc.).  If you think about it from a human perspective, I can understand why one might avoid the topic of sin, for it is hard to hear that our anger, lust, and pride offend the living God.  However, if you think about it from a biblical perspective, there are tremendous benefits in knowing what the Bible teaches about sin and misery (including our own dark hearts).  Here’s how puritan Ralph Venning stated it.

“…It cannot but be extremely useful to let men see what sin is: how prodigiously vile, how deadly mischievous, and therefore how monstrously ugly and odious a thing sin is.”

He then explained the benefits of knowing sin and its vile aspects:

1) It helps us better admire the free and rich grace of God.

2) It makes us flee – by faith – to our Lord Jesus Christ.

3) It vindicates the holy, just, and good law of God and his justice in condemning those who break his law.

4) It leads us to hate sin, repent from it, and take a holy, just, and good revenge on it and ourselves.

5) It helps us love and serve God better than we did before we understood the depth of depravity.

6) Seeing sin’s ugliness and darkness makes God’s incomparable and transcendent beauty of holiness stand out all the more.

Of course we shouldn’t take sinful pleasure in talking about sin, but avoiding the issue isn’t the biblical and Christian way.  If we do avoid or downplay the doctrine of sin, we will not understand the other truths of Scripture: God’s holiness, the justice of his law, the amazing aspect of his grace, the work of Jesus, true repentance and faith, and growing in godliness (plus several more).  In the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, before we truly know what it  means to live and die in the comfort of the gospel, we must know how great our sin and misery are (cf. Q/A #2).  In other words, if we don’t know the depths of our depravity, we won’t know the greatness of grace displayed on the cross.  God, have mercy on me, a sinner!  Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more!

For the above Venning quotes (which I slightly edited), see page 18 of The Sinfulness of Sin.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

The Loss of A Loved One

 This is a great resource on dealing with sorrow and grief in the Christian life: Facing Grief by John Flavel (d. 1691).  Flavel starts by discussing Luke 7.13: When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry” (NIV).  He then moves to aspects of sorrow, explaining the biblical way for a Christian to grieve (he mostly speaks about grief over the loss of a loved one). 

One of the first points he makes is that Christians may grieve, of course, but grief should never overcome us: “Christians ought to moderate their sorrows for their dead relations (friends/family), no matter how many afflicting circumstances and aggravations meet together in their death” (p. 10).  It is a deep and cutting sorrow to lose a loved one, but since Jesus defeated death in his resurrection, death’s sorrow should not overwhelm us.  Here are a few more words of wisdom Flavel gives to the mourner.

“Whatever God takes, be still thankful for what he leaves” (p. 23).

“It is well for us and ours that our times are in God’s hand, and not in our own” (p. 56).

“The more impatient you are under this affliction, the more need you had of it” (p. 85).

“If you would not be overwhelmed with trouble for the loss of dear relations, turn to God under your trouble and pour out your sorrows by prayer into his bosom” (p. 117).

If deep sorrow has hit your life, you’ll want to read through this book.  I’m quite certain it will bring out some tears, especially when Flavel talks about losing an infant.  I had to set it down a few times – I wish I had read this several years ago!

By the way, Flavel’s language is a bit archaic, so you have to concentrate while reading, but it is not long (120 small pages), and the benefits are worth the effort.  And, as with many of these Puritan Paperbacks, it is very affordable.  You really should get this one! 

shane lems

How To Read the Puritan Paperbacks

If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know that we enjoy the little Banner of Truth series of books called “Puritan Paperbacks.”  To be honest, the first time I read one of these Paperbacks (I forget which one), I didn’t really enjoy it or appreciate it.  I thought it was too tedious, detailed, and old-school.  That was ten years ago; now I have about 15 of them and have benefited from them in many ways.  Here are a few things that have helped me read the Puritan Paperbacks with profit.  This list also applies to other Puritan books, for sure, but to keep it shorter, I’m thinking primarily of the Paperbacks.

Puritan Paperback Set

To read the Puritan Paperbacks with profit, 

1) Know your systematic theology.  You don’t need a Ph.D. in systematics to benefit from them, but if you know your basic systematics (i.e. the attributes of God, the doctrine of man, the doctrine of Christ, the ordo salutis, etc.) it will be easier to read the Paperbacks.  For example, if you know the Westminster Standards well, or study Louis Berkhof’s Manual of Christian Doctrine, it will make reading the Paperbacks more enjoyable – you’ll be able to see that when the Puritans do “go deep,” they’re staying in the Reformed categories.  When I realized this, it made it easier and more edifying to read the Puritans on sanctification, because (just for one example) I knew that even when they were quite detailed, they were not blending it with justification. 

2) Stick with it.  The archaic language and grammar is tough at first (you may need a dictionary!), and even annoying, but after a few Paperbacks you get used to it.  Remember that these authors wrote several hundred years ago, so the language and illustrations will be different (I still chuckle when I come across a word like “compunction”).  And as with all books, don’t be surprised when there are a few sections here and there that are less helpful than others.   Be patient and start by reading a chapter/section or two a week.  One good Paperback to start with is Thomas Watson’s Repentance because it is short, clear, and very helpful – it won’t overwhelm you.  Don’t read the longer and harder ones until later.  For example, wait quite awhile until you read The Sinfulness of Sin, A Lifting Up for the Downcast, and others that are detailed and over 200 pages or so. 

3) Take notes.  When I read a Paperback, I have a pencil and highlighter in hand to mark the best sections.  I also make my own index in the back cover so that when I study a certain topic later I can just pull the Paperback off my shelf, turn to the back cover, find the topic and page number that I wrote, and turn there to find it highlighted/underlined.  You may want to do the same for certain Scripture references since the books don’t have scriptural indexes.  Basically, you’ll profit from reading these books by making your own topical or scriptural index so you can use these books often in your future studies and devotions. 

4) Approach reading the Paperbacks differently than you do other books.  The genre of these books is quite different than other stuff we read from day to day, so read them when you’re in the mood for deeper subjects.  If you approach the Paperbacks realizing that they are not newspaper articles, Christian Amish fiction novels, or Twitter, you’ll be in the right frame of mind to read.  I find that I profit best from these books when I space them out a bit.  For example, I read one last week (on my “vacation week”) and I won’t read another for a month or so.   Reading them too often is something like too much of a good thing. 

In summary, I think with some time and effort, most Christians who are “readers” will be able to understand these books, profit from them, and learn to appreciate the Puritans at least to some extent.  Though I don’t elevate the Puritans above other writers/teachers, the Paperbacks have given me a deep respect for the Puritans. 

By the way – one other great thing about these Paperbacks is that they are usually priced well under $10. 

shane lems