The Puritans are having a resurgence in the modern church. We are rediscovering the theological and pastoral richness of the works of these 16th and 17th-century writers—and it’s a wonderful thing! But if you’ve never picked up a Puritan work, you might feel a little intimidated by their length and apparent complexity. Or you might just not know where to start wading through the torrent of Puritan works that have been published in recent years.
More and more modern writers today are drawing from the Puritans. I’ll suggest where you could start reading them.
I want to help you start this journey. More and more modern writers today are drawing from the Puritans or tracing the same themes as they write books. In this guide, I’ll suggest where you could start reading the Puritans based on some of Reformers Bookshop’s favourite and bestselling titles. Dipping into a familiar theme may kickstart a lifelong love for the Puritans.
Gentle and Lowly was published in 2020 and continues to be a bestseller, for a good reason: it teaches us the neglected doctrine of Christ’s gentle heart towards sinners and sufferers. In the first pages of the book, Ortlund acknowledges his debt to Puritan writers including Thomas Goodwin, and draws particularly from Goodwin’s The Heart of Christ all throughout. Dig deeper into this beautiful, nourishing doctrine by going back to Ortlund’s source material. It will surely draw your heart closer to our Saviour.
Chester’s 2018 book Enjoying God changed the way I think about relating to God. He helped me to wrestle with what it looks like to actually have a joyful relationship with a God that we cannot see—a three-personed God who is Father, Son, and Spirit. By weaving through the story of an ordinary couple, Chester illustrates what relating to our triune God looks like in everyday life. Enjoying God draws from various writers from the past, including the Puritan John Owen’s classic Communion with God. Owen’s book is structured similarly, exploring our communion with each person of the Trinity in turn. I read it recently and found it immensely encouraging, especially the chapters on relating to the Holy Spirit.
Picking up this Puritan book will give you biblical (and practical) guidance on how to keep your heart devoted to God.
When we speak of the “heart,” we tend to mean our emotions, our affections. In Craig Troxel’s book With All Your Heart, he examines what the Bible says about our heart—and it’s a much more expansive definition, referring not just to our emotions but to our inner self. It includes our mind (what we know), our desires (what we love), and our will (what we choose). This deeply insightful book will help you to love God with all your heart, as we are commanded to in the Bible. Troxel draws on Puritan works including Keeping the Heart by John Flavel. This is an exposition of Proverbs 4:23: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Picking up this Puritan book will give you biblical (and practical) guidance on how to keep your heart devoted to God.
Jen Wilkin has done a great service to Christian women with her pair of books on the attributes of God (None Like Him and In His Image). This is a very old topic, but Wilkin brings it to a modern audience in an accessible and engaging way. If you enjoyed her books, I recommend picking up Blessed and Boundless God by Puritan writer George Swinnock, which explores God’s incomparable being, attributes, works, and words. Each chapter is only a few pages, so it’s a great book for devotional reading or discussing with a friend. In the first line of Swinnock’s introduction, he writes: “Our eternal happiness consists in large part in our perfect knowledge of the blessed and boundless God… . Our present holiness also depends a great deal on our knowledge of God.” I’m sure Jen Wilkin would agree.
Jerry Bridges has written a few excellent books that explore sanctification in an insightful and very readable way. In the preface to his bestselling work, The Pursuit of Holiness, he mentions his debt to Puritan writers (including John Owen) and their successors. Pair this book with one of the most renowned Puritan works on holiness: The Mortification of Sin by John Owen. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you could instead try Overcoming Sin and Temptation, which combines three of Owen’s works about holiness (including Mortification) into one volume.