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.”