Puritan Piety

Writings in Honor of Joel R. Beeke

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Editor(s): 
Michael A.G. Haykin, Paul M. Smalley
  • Ross-shire, Scotland: 
    Christian Focu Publications
    , October
     2018.
     304 pages.
     $17.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781527101586.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

English and American Puritans practiced piety as a devotion to God, expressed through lives of Christian discipleship and obedience. Their base was theological. It grew out of Reformed theology, emphasizing the wedding of doctrine and life. What one believes is expressed in how one lives. How one lives is grounded in what one believes. 

Puritan Piety: Writings in Honor of Joel R. Beeke is a collection of thirteen essays on Puritan piety divided into four parts: Reformed Theology and Puritan Piety; Means of Grace and Puritan Piety; Individual Snapshots of Puritan Piety; and Later Heirs of Puritan Piety. The book is presented in honor of Joel R. Beeke, an extraordinary writer, teacher, and pastor who has done as much to acquaint our contemporaries with Puritan theology and its implications as anyone now living. Beeke himself exemplifies “Puritan Piety” as the Introductory essay by Paul M. Smalley conveys.

The trinitarian cast of Puritan piety reflects Puritan and Reformed definitions of theology as captured in the title of Ryan M. McGraw’s piece, “What is Theology? A Puritan and Reformed Vision of Living to God, through Christ, by the Spirit.” Recognizing the full trinitarian importance of this vision is key, argues McGraw, since “the great insight of historic Reformed theology … is that theology is inherently experimental because it is trinitarian” (28). This theology addresses “the whole person” (28). 

Mark Jones points to the Christological focus of this piety in Jesus Christ while Smalley writes about “The Kingdom of God in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards”—Edwards being “a Puritan theologian who lived after the Puritan era” (53). Emphases in both pieces are on the means of salvation, effected by God’s sovereignty, the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit in applying salvation to individuals through faith. This salvation occurs now, in history, and will reach beyond into eternity where, as Edwards writes, “Christ will to all eternity continue the medium of communication between God and the saints” (66).

In Puritan thought, there are various “means of grace” through which piety, as an expression of faith in Jesus Christ, is fostered and sustained. The context for these means of grace is the church, where faith is shaped and nurtured. The five essays that discuss these dimensions consider “Calvin the Preacher and the Puritans” (Joseph Pipa); “The Highway of Holiness: Puritan Moral Reform in the English Revolution” (Chad Van Dixhoorn); “John Cotton and the Spiritual Value of Psalm-singing” (W. Robert Godfrey); “John Owen and the Lord’s Supper” (Sinclair B. Ferguson); and “Principles and Practice for the Household: Thomas Gouge’s Catechseis ‘with Practical Applications’ (1679)” (Richard A. Muller). 

Overall, these pieces point to intense Puritan desires to present the Christian Gospel and have it rooted in the daily lives of believers. Puritan yearnings for the reform of church and society emerged from convictions of the importance of salvation, and needs for the reformation of the moral lives of believers. Discipline in churches was “intended to guide the traveler and recall the wanderer” (110) to “the highway of holiness.” Singing Psalms to the glory of God and receiving the Lord’s Supper, which was “to help ‘fix’ our faith on Jesus Christ” (John Owen; 139), took place in church worship contexts. Though Puritans also emphasized the need for faith to be studied and practiced in households. Catechetical instruction promoted this. Thomas Gouge created a catechism, Principles of Christian Religion (1690), for family use. As Muller points out, “Gouge’s catechism rests on the foundational assumption that parents and heads of households are responsible for the religious instruction of all those in their care, whether children or servants” (157). We get a feel for Gouge’s catechism through the section in  Muller’s chapter on “From Principle to Explication: Illustrations of Gouge’s Doctrinal Expositions” (160-172). This examination shows “the broad relationship between Puritan, or more precisely, early modern English Reformed theology and various forms of continental Reformed orthodox theology, perhaps most notably the Nadere Reformatie project of communicating theology understood as a practical piety to laity in the vernacular” (172).

Three “Individual Snapshots of Puritan Piety” constitute part 3 of the book. In “Daniel Dyke and The Mystery of Self-deceiving” (Randall J. Pederson), we find a study of an important Puritan spiritual issue: Self-deception—thinking we have no sin, when we have sin. For Dyke, “while it is impossible to fully discover the ‘infinite number of the veins of deceitfulness,’ it is possible to categorize deceitfulness generally into two sorts: the deceitfulness whereby we deceive others only and that whereby we deceive ourselves” (185). Pederson writes that for Dyke, “There is only one way to uncover the heart’s deception, and that is through the illumination of God’s Spirit through His Word.” For “God’s Word is such that it is an ‘anatomizing knife’ that cuts through the ‘monster’ of deceitfulness” (185).

A fine chapter on “Milton’s Sonnet on His Blindness and the Puritan Soul” (Leland Ryken) analyzes Milton’s famous piece “as an expression of the Puritan soul” (195). Milton’s faith was tested by this adversity, but he was resigned to his situation. Milton wrote of his blindness: “I may oftener think on what [God] has bestowed than on what he has withheld” (200).

Two helpful studies of “Later Heirs of Puritan Piety” examine “J.C. Philpot and Experimental Calvinism” (Robert W. Oliver) and “Eminent Spirituality and Eminent Usefulness: True Spirituality According to Andrew Fuller” (Michael A.G. Haykin). A twenty-five page bibliography of the “Works of Joel R. Beeke 1980-2017” concludes the volume.

This is a splendid collection of essays on what was central to Puritans: living in pious devotion to God. This entailed the whole of the Christian life, rooted in Puritan theology, and expressed in godly living, in all arenas of existence. Puritan Piety is a fitting tribute to Beeke, who embodies Puritan convictions and has done so much to communicate Puritan theology and its implications for Christian living.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Donald K. McKim is an Independent Scholar.

Date of Review: 
July 15, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Michael A.G. Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, and Director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies in Louisville, Kentucky.

Paul M. Smalley is Teaching Assistant to Joel R. Beeke at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and pastor at Grace Immanuel Reformed Baptist Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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