Christian Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Excerpts

Pass the Puritans, Please

  • Joel Miller
  • 2002 14 Jan
Pass the Puritans, Please
You got to love the Puritans. You can always find wonderful gems of spiritual wisdom and insight in their writings, and it's not the namby-pamby stuff. It's straightforward and honest. Look no further than the issue of sanctification and the day-to-day difficulties of Christian duty.

After we are saved from the condemnation of sin, we must work out our salvation -- i.e., sanctification. Not an easy task. Here's Samuel Rutherford explaining the natural desire to only appreciate Christ's saving power but buck sanctification:

"Sanctification and mortification of our lusts are the hardest part of Christianity. It is in a manner as natural to us to leap when we see the New Jerusalem as to laugh when we are tickled. Joy is not under our command, or at our nod, when Christ kisseth. But oh! how many of us would have Christ divided into two halves, that we might take the half of him only! We take his office, Jesus and salvation: but 'Lord' is a cumbersome word; and to obey, and work out our own salvation, and to perfect holiness, is the cumbersome and stormy northside of Christ; and that we eschew and shift."

We call it the Bible Buffet these days -- just pick the choice morsels, dump the rest. Rutherford wasn't having any of it. He knew what was really going on. Dividing salvation from sanctification, taking the grace without the gruel -- much as we might want to do it for the ease of our favored slice -- is rip-sawing Christ in two.

Thomas Watson clues us further into the difficulties of Christian duty and sanctification:

"The exercises of the worship of God are contrary to nature; therefore there must be a provoking of ourselves to them. The movement of the soul toward sin is natural, but its movement toward heaven is violent. The stone . . . has an innate propensity downward, but to draw up a millstone into the air is done by violence because it is against nature. So to lift up the heart to heaven in duty is done by violence and we must provoke ourselves to it."

Some of the Puritan writers are difficult to read, no doubt about it. But many -- Thomas Watson, for instance -- are very readable and well worth reading. Compared to the fluff of much of modern-day evangelical inspirational, devotional, "Christian growth" writing and theology, the Puritans are startling realistic, honest, and to-the-point. Part of growing in grace is, after all, getting to know "the cumbersome and stormy northside of Christ."

It isn't all fun. It isn't all happy. It isn't all cheery. Scripture says we work out our salvation with "fear and trembling."

Ignoring the rough patches for some positive-affirmation faith that's feel-goody and hip misses the point.

Going with the flow is easy, but, as Watson pointed out, the flow isn't toward God. The natural man wants nothing to do with God. Sanctification is all about the inner fight, keeping the rock from rolling downhill. If Christians do not at times want nothing to do with God -- but provoke in ourselves love despite the antipathy -- are we really progressing in our sanctification?

You can keep your positive-affirmations. Pass me some Puritans instead, please.