Review: Puritan Portraits by J. I. Packer

5 out of 5 Stars
Author: J. I. Packer
Publisher: Christian Focus Publications
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Reading Level: Moderate

The title says it all--portraits. This book contains a collection of portraits written as introductions for reprints of Puritan works. They were collected as a sketches for each of the authors with additional material supplemented (introduction to Puritan theology and two additional authors sketched at end).

To know the Puritan emphasis, we must first understand true evangelical devotion,

Whatever the reason, the fact is there, and our idea of devotion appears foreshortened. Once it signified adhering to God, the Father, the Son and the Spirit, in loyalty and love with all one’s heart, mind, soul and strength; a single-minded concentration on praising and pleasing God as our life’s key activities. And included in the understanding of devotion was an appetite for learning wisdom from didactic study and exposition of Scripture. In former days, preaching and devotion were seen as correlates – faithful Bible teaching fed hearers with truth to trust, digest, and live out, and faithful Christians looked for, and longed for, didactic displays of biblical thought and teaching by which to shape their self-management in both living with God and relating to family, friends, colleagues and other human beings. (Kindle Locations 83-88).

and also know how to discern the baby from the bath water,

No doubt there was a good deal of Puritan bath-water needing to be emptied, but the essential Puritan insight into the Christian life as a blend of structured obedience and hope based on freedom in and through Christ and on promises of grace sustaining close communion with God was a precious synthesis that Christians should have prized, and sadly did not. Clergy should have taught it, and sadly did not. So at this point we live in a vacuum today, and it shows. Many ministers are unclear as to what they should tell their congregations about holiness and godliness, and many church people are quite lost when it comes to the specifics of spelling out, commending and living the Christian life. These are shortcomings which a grasp of the heart of Puritanism would cure. (Kindle Locations 115-120).

I loved how Packer starts off with the realization that we have much to learn from the Puritans while also recognizing they weren’t perfect. Crooked sticks, right? It should also be noted that Packer is discussing Purtanism from a strictly historical perspective (meaning Reformed pastors from 1560-1710) and isn’t using the term as it is often understood colloquially as refering to Reformed pastors up until as late as C. H. Spurgeon (1892).

What I found the most inspiring is the focus on making theology practical. All of the men sketched (Thomas Boston, Stephen Charnock, John Bunyan, Richard Baxter, John Flavel, Henry Scrougal, Matthew Henry, John Owen, and William Perkins) were supremely concerned with pastoring. I’ve heard it often said that Reformed theology is cold and detached but for those who would say so I would ask, “Have you read the Puritans?” These men were master surgeons cutting to the very heart of men and applying the gospel where needed.

If you haven’t read anything by the Puritans, I would recommend starting here. Packer will give you a taste of what you can expect. And if you’re then interested in reading the Puritans I would recommend reading the books these portraits go along with (put out by Christian Focus Publications see links in the paragraph above). You will find practical gospel truth for your soul. You will find a love for God and His Word. You will find men of God who will drive you to the foot of the cross. Not perfect by any means, but men who loved the gospel and took their charge as pastors seriously.

A free copy of this book was provided by Christian Focus Publications via Cross Focused Reviews. If you plan on purchasing Puritan Portraits, consider supporting Grace for Sinners by purchasing from Amazon.