A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life by J. I. Packer is a remarkable treatment of one of the greatest eras in the history of the church - the era of the English Puritans. Few have been the generations of Christians which have grown to the spiritual stature characteristic of the Puritans. We can learn much from them, and A Quest for Godliness is a great place to start.
Dr. Packer's book serves as a comprehensive introduction to these faithful giants of Christian history. (Packer likens the Puritans to the California Redwood trees among the ants and anthills of contemporary Western Christians!) Twenty chapters are arranged under six general headings and deal with many issues relevant to our present need for revival.
The first section, “The Puritans in Profile,” serves as an interesting introduction to the Puritans themselves, exploring the Puritan movement in its historical context and examining the practical relevance which the Puritans have to our own age. Next, Packer examines the crucial issue of “The Puritans and the Bible.” These three chapters cover the Bibliology of the Puritans, including their view of the Divine inspiration and authority of Scripture and their principles for interpreting the Bible, and ending on their understanding of conscience. Section three, “The Puritans and the Gospel,” contains Packer’s stunning introduction to John Owen's controversial book The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, and looks at the doctrine of justification and its development and decline among the Puritans. The Puritan view of preaching the gospel is also discussed.
Part four spotlights “The Puritans and the Holy Spirit.” These chapters provide a rich and rewarding study on the way in which Puritans understood the ministry of the Holy Spirit, especially in relationship to assurance (with much from Thomas Goodwin, Richard Sibbes, and Thomas Brooks), sanctification and communion with God (particularly in the works of John Owen), and spiritual gifts. I found these chapters spiritually invigorating and thought-provoking and was led from them to read Owen’s book on the mortification of sin. “The Puritan Christian Life” is the next area of focus, giving a detailed look at the Puritan perception of worship (a sumptuous spiritual feast drawing from Stephen Charnock and George Swinnock), how they developed the observance of the Christian Sabbath (the Lord's Day) into what it became, and the Puritan ideals for marriage and family relationships. This is one of the more practical sections of the book.
Finally, “The Puritans in Ministry” contain three wonderful chapters dealing with preaching, evangelism, and revival. Here Packer introduces us to Richard Baxter (a wonderful model for pastors), and Jonathan Edwards, the New England Puritan pastor who witnessed and wrote about The First Great Awakening. “Jonathan Edwards and Revival,” is both an introduction to Edward’s life and a synopsis of what Packer calls “Edwards’ most original contribution to theology: namely, his pioneer elucidation of biblical teaching on the subject of revival” (p. 315). Although less than twenty pages long, this chapter provides an extremely helpful analysis of Edwards’ theology of revival.
A Quest for Godliness is one of the best books I have ever read. The chapters are well organized and written concisely and precisely with Packer's characteristic zest and creative flare. The book is very interesting, laced with hundreds of quotations from the best of the Puritan writings. The spiritually minded reader will whet his appetite and stoke his hunger for God as he reads this book, and will probably be drawn into a deeper study of the Puritans themselves. I cannot recommend this book too highly.