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Reading Classics Together

October 10, 2013

Over the past few weeks Dr. Joel Beeke and I have been teaming up to work our way through a portion of his massive new work A Puritan Theology. We have not been reading the whole book, but just the final eight chapters which deal with practical theology, the “so what?” of systematic theology.

This week we read chapter 55 which discusses the Puritans and meditation. I asked Dr. Beeke a few questions related to the Puritans and the way they practiced meditation.

TC: The word “meditation” has found use in true Christianity, in Catholicism, and in many Eastern forms of spirituality. Along the way it has been used to describe many different practices. What did the Puritans mean by it?

JB: In religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, meditation involves breathing techniques, posture, and chanting certain repetitive sounds (a mantra) to empty the mind and achieve a feeling of tranquility and connectedness with an impersonal divine being. Roman Catholicism has promoted meditation especially in the form of imagining the physical sufferings of Christ in a way that stirs sympathetic emotions, or repeating set prayers to Mary and the saints. The Puritan practice of meditation is quite different from any of these.

Puritan meditation engages the mind with God’s revealed truth in order to inflame the heart with affections towards God and transform the life unto obedience. Thomas Hooker defined it like this: “Meditation is a serious intention of the mind whereby we come to search out the truth, and settle it effectually upon the heart.” The direction of our minds reveals the truest love of our hearts, and so, Hooker said, he who loves God’s Word meditates on it regularly (Ps. 119:97). Therefore, Puritan meditation is not repeating a sound, emptying the mind, or imagining physical sights and sensations, but a focused exercise of thought and faith upon the Word of God.

TC: How deliberate were the Puritans when it came to meditation? Would they ensure they had time in their schedules for deliberate meditation, or did they consider meditation what happened through the course of daily life?

JB: The Puritans did seek to meditate throughout life, as a complement of praying without ceasing. Hooker said that meditation is “the main trade that a godly man drives”—his greatest occupation day and night (Ps. 1:2). Joseph Hall said, “Lord, … that man is truly holy, whose understanding is enlightened with right apprehensions  of thee and heavenly things; whose will and affections are rightly disposed to thee, so that his heart is wholly taken up with thee, his conversation being in heaven; who thinks all time lost, in which he doth not enjoy thee, and a sweet and holy communion with thee; walking perpetually with thee, and laboring in all things to be approved of thee.” Thus Hall encouraged people to see all the world around them as a “stage” to see God’s wisdom and glory, just as Solomon learned from the ant (Prov. 6:6–8) and our Lord taught us by the lilies of the field (Matt. 6:28–30). Thus, Hall said, “There is no creature, event, action, speech, which may not afford us new matter of meditation.” This kind of brief meditation that takes place in the hustle and bustle of daily life they called occasional meditation. Several Puritans wrote entire books of examples of occasional meditation to teach their church members how to do this.

October 03, 2013

Over the past few weeks Dr. Joel Beeke and I have been teaming up to work our way through a portion of his massive new work A Puritan Theology. We have not been reading the whole book, but just the final eight chapters which deal with practical theology, the “so what?” of systematic theology.

This week we read chapter 54 which discusses the Puritans and prayer. I asked Dr. Beeke a few questions related to the Puritans and the way they prayed.

TC: The Puritans are known today for the importance they placed on corporate worship and family worship. Would they also have integrated private worship (or personal devotions) into their lives? What would that worship have consisted of?

JB: The Puritans saw personal devotions as the root of family and public worship. The Directory for Family Worship actually begins by commending “secret worship” as “most necessary” where each individual devotes himself “to prayer and meditation” as a special means of “communion with God.” Pastors and fathers, it said, should exhort “persons of all sorts to perform this duty morning and evening.”

The chief elements of personal devotions are meditation on the Word and prayer to God. Meditation feeds the soul with the Word for each day of serving God. Thomas Manton said, “He that labors must have his meals, otherwise he will faint. Painted fire needs no fuel.” John Cotton said, “Feed upon the Word, and that makes [us] to rejoice in the Word.”

TC: Matthew Henry wrote a very popular book on prayer and among his first directions was “begin each day with God.” What might the Puritans have said if someone suggested that the Bible does not command daily devotions or daily private worship?

September 26, 2013
A few months ago, a conversation with Joel Beeke went in an unexpected direction. We were talking Puritans (what else do you talk about with Dr. Beeke?) and we tried to think of a way we could team up to help people read A Puritan Theology. At that point I had only just begun reading the book, but was enjoying it tremendously and was eager to make it known to others. Yet I realized the price and sheer size of the volume makes it more than a little intimidating.
 
After some thought we decided to make A Puritan Theology the next of the books I would take on in the Reading Classics Together program. Not the whole book, mind you, but just the last eight chapters which deal with practical theology, the “so what?” of systematic theology.
 
This week we read chapter 53 which discusses the Puritans and family worship. I asked Dr. Beeke a few questions related to the Puritans and the way they worshipped.

TC: To hear people talk about the Puritans, you would imagine they were harsh toward their children, making them endure endless hours of family worship. Is this accurate?

JB: Endless hours in family worship would have been impossible for most people in the seventeenth-century. In Puritan New England, many people were farmers who had to labor hard to produce food. Children also had much to do in school, household chores, and working alongside their fathers and mothers to learn a vocation. The Puritans also took time for recreation. They enjoyed hunting, fishing, shooting competitions, and wrestling—two New England Puritan ministers were famous amateur wrestlers. They enjoyed music in their homes, owning guitars, harpsichords, trumpets, violas, drums, and other instruments. There was a lot to do; family devotions were one part—albeit the most important part—of a busy daily schedule.

The Puritans aimed at pithy instruction and heart-moving prayer. Samuel Lee wrote that in all our teaching of the family we should beware of boring the children by talking too much. Long devotions overburden their little minds. It is best to hold the attention of children by using spiritual analogies with flowers, rivers, a field of grain, birds singing, the sun, a rainbow, etc. 

TC: The Puritans regarded family worship as a duty. Did Puritan pastors ensure that fathers were carrying out this duty? How would they have helped families do this well?

JB: The Puritans did take this duty seriously. For example, in 1647, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith. Three days earlier, they had adopted the Directory for Family Worship, and required ruling elders and ministers to discipline heads of household that neglected family worship. In another branch of Puritanism, in 1677 the congregational church in Dorchester, Massachusetts, covenanted together to “maintain the worship of God” in their families, “educating, instructing, and charging our children and our households to keep the ways of the Lord.”

Puritan pastors helped families, first, by preaching on this subject; second, by writing books about family worship, and devotional books useful for family worship; third, by writing simple catechisms or promoting an official catechism; and fourth, by visiting each family in the church and catechizing the children. Parents often invited the minister over a meal, after which the minister would lead family worship. Pastoral visits both held parents accountable by revealing the level of knowledge of their children, and modeled what family worship should be.

September 19, 2013

A few months ago, a conversation with Joel Beeke went in an unexpected direction. We were talking Puritans (what else do you talk about with Dr. Beeke?) and we tried to think of a way we could team up to help people read A Puritan Theology. At that point I had only just begun reading the book, but was enjoying it tremendously and was eager to make it known to others. Yet I realized the price and sheer size of the volume makes it more than a little intimidating.

After some thought we decided to make A Puritan Theology the next of the books I would take on in the Reading Classics Together program. Not the whole book, mind you, but just the last eight chapters which deal with practical theology, the “so what?” of systematic theology.

This week we read chapter 52 which shows how Puritan theology was shaped by a pilgrim mentality. Dr. Beeke was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about this kind of mentality, what it meant to the Puritans, and what it might mean to us if we had a better sense of it.

TC: This chapter discusses the pilgrim mentality. Most of us are familiar with Pilgrim’s Progress, but should we understand that the pilgrim mentality was prevalent across most or all of the Puritans?

JB: Yes, the Puritans consistently saw the Christian life as a pilgrim’s journey to heaven. They suffered much and chose obedience over compromise, keeping their eyes upon Christ and heaven. J. I. Packer says, “The Puritans have taught me to see and feel the transitoriness of this life, to think of it, with all its richness, as essentially the gymnasium and dressing-room where we are prepared for heaven, and to regard readiness to die as the first step in knowing how to live.”

TC: Could you give a short definition of that pilgrim mentality and tell us what difference it made to the Puritans?

JB: The pilgrim mentality is living against this world in hope of glory in another world by faith in Christ. Like Moses, believers in Christ today choose to trade this world’s pleasures for present suffering and future glory with Christ (Heb. 11:24–26). Jeremiah Burroughs said that faith has power “to take off the heart from the world” because its “primary work” is “for the soul to cast itself upon God in Christ for all the good and happiness it ever expects … upon God as an all-sufficient good.” This weans our affections from the world, and enables us to wait patiently on the Lord (Ps. 37:7). 

Faith also empowers believers to rejoice in what we do not see, for, as Burroughs said, “Faith makes the future good of spiritual and eternal things to be as present to the soul, and to work upon the soul, as if they were present.”

September 11, 2013

I told you recently that for the next 8 weeks I will be embarking on a unique reading project—a project I’d like you to join in. Consider this a reminder and a second attempt to convince you to participate.

A Puritan TheologyLast year Reformation Heritage Books released A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life. This work by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones surveys the major doctrines of the Christian faith to find what the Puritans believed. It is a very good book and one that has been a blessing to me. The book looks and sounds intimidating, but is actually surprisingly easy to read, to understand, and to digest. It is exactly the kind of book many of us want to read, but lack the motive or opportunity. I want to help with that.

The final eight chapters are my favorites. They turn from systematic theology to theology in practice. Beeke and Jones show how the Puritans put all of this theology into practice in their lives, their homes, their churches. I read these eight chapters before I read anything else and want to invite you to do the same. They are a great warm-up to the rest of the book but they also stand well on their own.

So here is what I am proposing. Why don’t we read the final eight chapters of A Puritan Theology together. I think you will enjoy them and benefit from them just as much as I did. And just to sweeten the deal a little bit, Joel Beeke is going to join with me in preparing a once-weekly post exploring some of the themes. We will allow him to guide us through the book.

The question I want to ask before each of these chapters is this: What would the Puritans want us to know about life and doctrine? I want to hear how they might guide us, how they might encourage and critique us. And these chapters do that very thing. They focus on the Puritans’ pilgrim mentality as a means of understanding the Christian life; they focus on godly living in the home, on daily prayer and meditation, on conscience and zeal. Each of these is an area where we would do well to listen to those who have gone before us.

Buy the Book

To give you some extra incentive, Reformation Heritage Books has agreed to lower the price of the book. (You are free to take advantage of the lower prices whether or not you plan to join in the reading program.)

E-book
The e-book is usually around $22 but RHB has lowered it to just $9.99. You can get the deal at Amazon (Kindle) or Barnes and Noble (Nook). Logos users can find it here (use the coupon code PURITAN22 to get a 22% discount).

Printed Book
The printed book is typically around $60, but RHB has lowered it to $30. You can find the deal at Westminster BooksGrace Books International, and Reformation Heritage Books.

Read the Book

Once you have the book, start reading it! We will begin with chapter 52. Please read that chapter prior to Thursday, September 19. On the 19th visit this site and Dr. Beeke and I will have some thoughts on that chapter. Then we’ll just continue to read and discuss it at the pace of one chapter per week, sharing an article each Thursday morning.

Leave a comment and let me know if you’re joining in!

September 04, 2013

For many years now I have been leading a project I call “Reading Classics Together.” Through this program we have read and discussed all kinds of excellent classic works of the Christian faith. But now, for just a while, I want to try something a little bit different. Hear me out and see if you are interested in joining in.

A Puritan TheologyLast year Reformation Heritage Books released A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life. This massive work by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones surveys the major doctrines of the Christian faith to find what the Puritans believed. It is a very good book and one that has been a blessing to me. The book looks and sounds intimidating, but is actually surprisingly easy to read, to understand, and to digest. It is exactly the kind of book many of us want to read, but lack the motive or opportunity. I want to help with that.

The final eight chapters are my favorites. They turn from systematic theology to theology in practice. Here Beeke and Jones show how the Puritans put all of this theology into practice in their lives, their homes, their churches. I read these eight chapters before I read anything else and want to invite you to do the same. They are a great warm-up to the rest of the book but they also stand well on their own.

So here is what I am proposing. Why don’t we read the final eight chapters of A Puritan Theology together. I think you will enjoy them and benefit from them just as much as I did. And just to sweeten the deal a little bit, Joel Beeke is going to join with me in preparing a once-weekly post exploring some of the themes. We will allow him to guide us through the book.

The question I want to ask before each of these chapters is this: What would the Puritans want us to know about life and doctrine? I want to hear how they might guide us, how they might encourage and critique us. And these chapters do that very thing. They focus on the Puritans’ pilgrim mentality as a means of understanding the Christian life; they focus on godly living in the home, on daily prayer and meditation, on conscience and zeal. Each of these is an area where we would do well to listen to those who have gone before us.

Buy the Book!

There is just one problem: the book is huge and, therefore, expensive. To help put it within reach, Reformation Heritage Books has agreed to lower the price for a few weeks. (You are free to take advantage of the lower prices whether or not you plan to join in the reading program.)

E-book
The e-book is usually around $22 but RHB has lowered it to just $9.99. You can get the deal at Amazon (Kindle) or Barnes and Noble (Nook). Logos users can find it here (use the coupon code PURITAN22 to get a 22% discount).

Printed Book
The printed book is typically around $60, but RHB has lowered it to $30. You can find the deal at Westminster BooksGrace Books International, and Reformation Heritage Books.

Read the Book

Once you have the book, start reading it! We will begin with chapter 52. Please read that chapter prior to Thursday, September 19. On the 19th visit this site and Dr. Beeke and I will have some thoughts on that chapter. Then we’ll just continue to read and discuss it at the pace of one chapter per week, sharing an article each Thursday morning.

Leave a comment and let me know if you’re joining in!

July 18, 2013

It is one of the Bible’s many sweet and powerful promises: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). The question is, though, how do we do this? In very practical ways, how do we resist the devil? Thomas Brooks offers a list of ten ways the Christian can resist Satan’s temptations.

1. Be Ruled by the Word. Make the Word of God your rule and authority and live in obedience to all it says. It will keep you walking straight and guard you from all manner of temptation. “When men throw off the Word, then God throws off them, and then Satan takes them by the hand, and leads them into snares at his pleasure.”

2. Beware of Grieving the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that gives the Christian the ability to discern Satan’s temptations and to see his hand in and behind life’s circumstances. If you grieve the Spirit, you drive off the one whose ministry involves guarding you against Satan’s attacks.

3. Labor for Wisdom. There is a great difference between knowledge and wisdom, between accumulating facts and applying Scripture to those facts so they become wisdom. It is not the Christian with the most knowledge, but the Christian with the most wisdom, who is equipped to battle Satan’s temptations.

4. Resist the First Stirring of Temptation. It is safe to resist temptation and dangerous to dabble in it. “He that will play with Satan’s bait, will quickly be taken with Satan’s hook.” God promises that we can resist temptation, not that we can resist sin once we have begun to dabble in that temptation.

5. Labor to Be Filled With the Spirit. The Spirit is a Spirit of light and power. The Spirit’s light shines bright against the darkness of sin and his power is sufficient to overcome all evil and temptation. When it comes to fighting Satan’s temptations, it is better to have a heart filled with the Spirit than a head filled with facts.

July 11, 2013

Satan hates God and therefore he hates God’s people, the church. His great plan for the church is to cause Christians—true believers who ought to be together in the gospel—to find ways of disagreeing among themselves, to divide, to be bitter and jealous, and ultimately to “bite and devour one another” (Gal. 5:15). Here are twelve ways that you can repulse Satan’s attacks.

#1. Spend more time considering evidences of grace in other Christians than you do pondering their sins and weaknesses. You, as a Christian, probably have a much greater ability to see weakness in other believers than to see strength. It is as if you use a magnifying glass when looking for weakness and a telescope when looking for grace. Brooks warns, “Sin is darkness, grace is light; sin is hell, grace is heaven; and what madness is it to look more at darkness than at light, more at hell than at heaven.” Indeed.

#2. Consider that spiritual safety comes through spiritual unity. Christians united together are difficult to separate, difficult to break, difficult to pick off and destroy. It is when you isolate yourself by disrupting or denying unity that you are most at risk.

#3. Meditate on God’s many commands demanding that we love one another. When you feel your heart begin to turn against another Christian, this is the time to turn to the many commands to love one another—commands found in places such as John 15:12, Romans 13:8, Hebrews 13:1, 1 John 4:7, 1 Peter 1:22, and so on. Allow God’s Word to convict you of love’s necessity.

#4. Spend more time considering areas of agreement than disagreement. The doctrines you share with other true believers are the foundational doctrines; the ones you do not share are necessarily less central to the faith. Acknowledging that you and those with whom you disagree will spend eternity together should encourage you to not allow peripheral doctrines to separate you here on earth.

#5. Consider your peaceful God. God is the God of peace, Christ is Prince of peace and the Spirit is the Spirit of peace. Having made peace with God, having bowed before Christ, having been indwelled by the Spirit whose fruit is love, joy, peace…, you now have the ability, and ought to have the desire, to be at true, deep and lasting peace with other Christians.

#6. Renew in your mind and heart what it means to be at peace with God. Preach the gospel to yourself, because as you consider who you are in light of God’s perfect goodness, holiness and peace, you must soften toward others.

July 04, 2013

Though Satan can never steal the Christian’s crown, though he can never snatch him away from the hand of the Father, he is so envious and malicious that he will leave no stone unturned in robbing the Christian of comfort and peace, in making their life miserable, in giving them reason to live in constant sorrow and mourning, doubt and questioning.

Thomas Brooks once identified eight ways in which Satan keeps Christians—Christians like you!—in this sad, doubting, questioning, condition.

1He causes you to think more about your sin than your Savior. He wants to so fill your mind with thoughts of the sin you’ve committed in the past, or temptations to sin you face today, that all thoughts of Jesus Christ and his finished work are displaced and erased. His desire is that you would think so much of your sickness that you would neglect the remedy that is close at hand.

2He works in you to wrongly understand God’s graces. Just as falsely defining sin will lead a person astray, so too will wrongly defining God’s graces. In particular, Satan labors so a Christian will define saving faith only in such a way that it includes full assurance of salvation; he can then use that too-expansive definition to cause the Christian to make his doubt proof of his lack of justification.

3He leads you to make false inferences from harsh providences. He whispers to you that providence appears to contradict your prayers, desires, tears, hopes and endeavors. Once he has shown you this he says, “Surely, if God actually loved you and delighted in you, he wouldn’t deal with you in these ways…”

4He suggests to you that the evidences of grace in your life are counterfeit rather than genuine. He wants you to believe that what you call faith is actually just a fleeting fancy, that what you see as zeal is just natural and unsanctified enthusiasm, that you are not actually evidencing any true evidences of grace, but just natural ability.

5He convinces you that the kind of battle you have with sin is a battle that marks only unbelieving hypocrites. As you battle against sin, and while the same old sins continue to rise up against you, Satan tries to make you believe that these very battles are evidences of hypocrisy rather than a universal Christian condition.

6He suggests to your soul that the fact that you have less joy in Christ now than you once did proves that you have not been saved. He may bring to your mind a time when your heart was overflowing with joy in him, when you felt the tangible comfort of the Holy Spirit. And then he will have you contrast that to your present condition and use it to convince you that you must not be a Christian.

7He works within you to make you believe that relapses into sin—even sins you have labored to overcome—are evidence that you are not a believer. He may whisper to you that you are a fool and a hypocrite to believe that God could ever love someone who battles sin, overcomes it, and then later succumbs to that same old sin.

8He convinces you that only an unbeliever could face the manner and the weight of temptation you face right now. First he will weary you with constant temptations perfectly suited to your weaknesses and desires. Then he will try to convince you that the very fact that you face these temptations must mean that you are not a Christian at all.

June 27, 2013

Satan wants to keep you from worshipping the One he hates. He wants to keep you from doing the right thing, whether that is spending time alone with the Lord in Scripture and prayer, attending and participating in public worship services, or any other thing that will draw you closer to the Lord. Here, courtesy of Thomas Brooks, are eight ways Satan will keep you from worship.

Here’s how I would encourage you to use the list. Think of the times that you decide to stay in bed instead of getting up to read the Bible; think of the times you scrapped family worship for no good reason; think of the times you stayed home from church instead of going to worship. Think of those things, and see which of these temptations is the one Satan brings to you.

1He makes the world look beautiful, attractive and desirable. Many people profess Christ and see him as desirable for a time. For a while they enjoy private and public worship and do it all with enthusiasm. But before long Satan presents to them worldly things and makes those look more beautiful and desirable than Christ, and many souls are drawn away. “Where one thousand are destroyed by the world’s frowns, ten thousand are destroyed by the world’s smiles.”

2He makes you aware of the fact that those who worship the Lord have often faced danger, loss and suffering. There are many men who would obey the Lord and worship him, except that they fear the consequences. Satan loves to present the high cost of obedience. This was the case for many in Jesus day: “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue” (John 12:42).

3He gives you an awareness of the difficulty of worshipping well. Satan will whisper, “It is difficult to pray well, it is hard to spend time with the Lord and to persevere until he speaks to you through his Word, it isn’t worth the effort of going to church and being warm and friendly and engaging with other Christians.” Whatever God tells you to do, Satan will present it to you as a great burden or as something you do poorly, and in this way he will keep you from it.

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