This week I've been reading John Owen's sixty-five page little book on Temptation in Volume 6 of his Works. The actual title is: Of Temptation: the Nature and Power of it; The Danger of Entering into it; and the Means of Preventing from that Danger. I finished it this morning and reading it was deeply convicting and edifying - in fact, few recent books have better nourished my soul. And so it prompts this blog on yet another reason for reading the Puritans. And that reason is the high premium they placed on holiness and what they called "experiential religion."
The Puritans were truly physicians of souls. They were not merely doctors of divinity, they were doctors of spiritual experience. They knew well the labrynths of the human heart and from their own deep struggles against sin were able to counsel others. And Owen was especially a master in this. As I read this book on Temptation I was convicted and made desperate over my own sin and carnality. And this wonderfully prepared me for the gospel-centered help which was to come. Owen first diagnosed my condition, then lanced my wound, then applied the balm of the gospel. This is how the Puritans wrote.
When I read the Puritans I find myself loathing sin and loving holiness more. I find myself convicted over my negligence of personal communion with Christ (or my formal, yet largely empty attempts to maintain spiritual disciplines without deep fellowship with Christ). And I find myself freshly applying myself to the cross and longing for the grace and mercy of God in Christ. And this is a good thing.
As I was driving to lunch today after finishing Owen on Temptation, I was reminded that Spurgeon read six full books of Puritan theology each week (and these books are 600 pagegs long!) and thought that it was no wonder he was such a holy and Christ-centered man. He was so permeated with the richness of the Puritans that it bled through in his life and labors. I don't think I'll ever manage six of these a week - I just can't read that fast - but I am thinking about how to work in six or eight volumes a year.
If you feel intimidated by the Puritans, as many people it seems are, you should try the abridged and often modernized "Puritan Paperbacks" published by Banner of Truth. These are usually only a couple of hundred pages long and Banner of Truth seems to have a knack for picking the best ones to republish. Even if you don't read all the way through them, I feel sure that you would find much help to your spiritual life from reading a few pages here or there. Are you discouraged, try William Bridges's A Lifting Up for the Downcast. Are you struggling a lack of assurance of salvation? Read Thomas Brooks' Heaven on Earth. Is the battle with sin overwhelming you? Try John Owen's The Mortification of Sin or Thomas Brooks' Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices. Are you languishing in difficult circumstances? John Flavel's The Mystery of Providence or Thomas Watson's All Things for Good will encourage you. Do you long for deeper communion and fellowship with Christ? Read Owen's Communion with God. I have read at least part of all of these books and have always been helped.