Some of the greatest devotional writings you will come upon are from the Puritans:
If you love the writings and sermons of people like Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and J. I. Packer, then you should of course love the Puritans, since these great Christians soaked themselves in Puritan thought and literature. And we need to be reminded that some of the most soul-stirring devotional writings you will ever read are from the Puritans.
The Puritans were not just adept at biblical and systematic theology, but pastoral and spiritual theology as well. Indeed, it all went together for the Puritans. They saw a deep and thorough awareness of theology as the basis of the Christian life. And experiential Christianity comes to flower from the seedbed of solid doctrinal understanding.
The Puritans took God seriously. They also took his grace seriously – and sin. Because they loved God and appropriated his grace, they could seriously deal with indwelling sin. Thus their constant writings on mortification and the like.
There may be few other Christian groups who produced such amazing devotional literature, and who exemplified such deep seated experiential Christianity. In his collection of Puritan quotes Welsh preacher I. D. E. Thomas said this about the noble traits of the Puritan makeup:
Foremost among these would be the massive intellectual capacity of the Puritan, equalled only by the profundity of his spiritual comprehension. No men were ever more conversant with the whole sweep of biblical revelation, or more specialized in the probing and discerning of spiritual behavior. As seers of Divine truth, and as surgeons of human souls, the Puritans remain peerless.
Reading the Puritans directly will of course expose you to their great writings. But many modern readers can be put off by the mammoth volumes they penned, the very deep ways in which they expressed themselves, and their somewhat older English. Thus it is sometimes best to start with various recent collections and compilations of their writings. Often these have been written in more modern English.
Many of these edited works are worth being aware of. Here I feature some of the best volumes that are well worth acquiring. All up these 15 volumes will provide you with a terrific introduction to Puritan spirituality and their incredible devotional literature.
Beeke, Joel and Brian Najapfour, eds., Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer. Reformation Heritage Books, 2011.
A number of experts on Puritan and Reformed thought and practice look at the issue of prayer and devotion. Puritans covered include Boston, Perkins, Henry, Bunyan and Edwards.
Bennett, Arthur, ed., Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. Banner of Truth, 1975, 2019.
This now classic work contains over 200 page-length readings from the Puritans. Sadly however we are not given any references for them (author, book, etc). But the inspirational writings found here will feed the soul and stir the heart.
Di Gangi, Mariano, A Golden Treasury of Puritan Devotion. P&R, 1999.
Here longer portions of 13 major Puritan writers are featured. Each one is briefly introduced and some 10-12 pages of their major work is presented, involving over 500 quotes all up. Thus we have portions of The Saints’ Everlasting Rest by Baxter; The Christian in Complete Armour by Gurnall; The Bruised Reed by Sibbes; and Practical Divinity by Watson. A good introduction.
Elmer, Robert, Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans. Lexham Press, 2019.
In this volume several hundred memorable prayers uttered by over 30 key Puritans are featured. The Puritans were noted for writing out their prayers, and they were filled with Scripture and biblical truth. In our current Christian age where written prayers are looked down upon, the collection might help us change the way we think about prayer.
Horn, H. J., The Puritans Day by Day. Banner of Truth, 2016.
This is one of the better volumes to highlight, featuring thousands of short quotes from the Puritans. Each day features 6-7 quotes on a given topic. Some 100 famous Puritans are featured. This is another fantastic volume that every Christian should own.
Kapic, Kelly and Randall Gleason, eds., The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics. IVP, 2004.
This is a great volume where a number of experts discuss a key Puritan writing. Thus J. I. Packer speaks to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress; Sinclair Ferguson talks about Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence; John Coffey discusses Samuel Rutherford’s Letters; Leland Ryken deals with Milton’s Paradise Lost; and so on. An excellent resource.
McKim, Donald, Everyday Prayer With the Puritans. P&R, 2021.
This is another helpful and inspiring volume featuring some of the key prayers by some of the key Puritans. A very useful collection indeed.
Pederson Randall, ed., Day By Day With the English Puritans. Hendrickson Pub., 2004, 2015.
Brief biographical sketches of 74 Puritans are found here, along with numerous quotations based on different topics. Over 400 pages of inspiring writings from the Puritans.
Rushing, Richard, Voices From the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings, vol. 1. Banner of Truth, 2009.
If you want a meaty and soul-satisfying daily devotional that will continually minister to your heart and mind – and serve as a terrific introduction to the Puritans as well – this volume is strongly recommended. It is one of the best you will find.
Rushing, Richard, Voices From the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings, vol. 2. Banner of Truth, 2016.
And even more great writings from the Puritans. Following in the format of the earlier volume, these books feature helpful author and topic indices so that you can track down a particular author or search for a particular subject. These two volumes should be on every serious Christian’s shelf.
Saxton, David, God’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation. Reformation Heritage Books, 2015.
We need to recover the lost art of biblical meditation. In this slim but important volume we learn about how important this was to the Puritans. As he lays out how the Puritans engaged in such spiritual practice, he features quotes from around 70 key Puritan titles.
Smith, Dale, Ore From the Puritan’s Mine. Reformation Heritage Books, 2020.
What a very important volume this is. In some 650 pages we have around 400 topics arranged alphabetically, with some 250 authors providing key quotations. All up there are over 3000 quotes featured here by all the noted Puritans: Baxter, Boston, Brooks, Henry, Gurnall, Owen, Rutherford, Sibbes, Venning and Watson and so many more. An invaluable compilation.
Spurgeon, Charles, Flowers From a Puritan’s Garden. Banner of Truth, 1883, 2017.
Given how very busy Spurgeon was, it is amazing that he could compile so many great quotes from the Puritans – especially lacking things like the internet and computers. Here he offers us “Illustrations and Meditations on the writings of Thomas Manton”.
Spurgeon, Charles, Smooth Stones Taken From Ancient Brooks: Selections from the Writings of Thomas Brooks. Banner of Truth, 1855, 2011.
Here Spurgeon gathers around 1000 quotes from the great English Puritan Thomas Brooks (1608–1680), gleaned from his 6-volume collected works. Says Spurgeon: “As a writer, Brooks scatters stars with both his hands: he hath dust of gold; in his storehouses are all manner of precious stones.”
Thomas, I. D. E., A Puritan Golden Treasury. Banner of Truth, 1975, 2017.
1500 quotations from the Puritans are found in this treasure chest. It is a terrific resource. With perhaps several hundred topics and some 120 Puritans quoted from. A wonderful collection of short and sharp quotes.
If I have to nominate my faves, they would be Horn, Pederson, Rushing, Smith and Thomas.
A few quotes
“We must love God more for what he is than for what he bestows. True love is not mercenary.” Thomas Watson
“Those blessings are sweetest that are won with prayers and won with thanks.” Thomas Goodwin
“Nothing humbles and breaks the heart of a sinner like mercy and love. Souls that converse much with sin and wrath, may be much terrified; but souls that converse much with grace and mercy, will be much humbled.” Thomas Brooks
“The way to preserve the peace of the church is to preserve its purity.” Matthew Henry
“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” Jeremiah Burroughs
“When reason cannot wade there faith may swim.” Thomas Watson
“The longer you delay, the more your sin gets strength and rooting. If you cannot bend a twig, how will you be able to bend it when it is a tree?” Richard Baxter
“There is much in our Lord’s pantry that will satisfy his children, and much wine in his cellar that will quench all their thirst. Hunger for him until he fills you. He is pleased with the importunity of hungry souls.” Samuel Rutherford
“Eternity to the godly is a day that has no sunset; eternity to the wicked is a night that has no sunrise.” Thomas Watson
“I do not understand how a man can be a true believer in whom sin is not the greatest burden, sorrow, and trouble.” John Owen
“Holiness is a constellation of graces.” Thomas Boston
“First we practice sin, then defend it, then boast of it.” Thomas Manton
“Knowledge brings us to the door of truth, but meditation opens the door to the house and takes us into all its rooms. This is the way to enter into the secret places of the things of God.” William Bridge
“It is not merely knowledge that will bring to Heaven, for the devil has that; but it is knowledge sanctified, seizing upon the affections.” Richard Sibbes
“It is not the bee’s touching of the flower that gathers honey, but her abiding for a time upon the flower that draws out the sweet. It is not he that reads most, but he that meditates most, that will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest and strongest Christian.” Thomas Brooks
“Cowards never won heaven. Do not claim that you are begotten of God and have His royal blood running in your veins unless you can prove your lineage by this heroic spirit: to dare to be holy in spite of men and devils.” William Gurnall
“Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.” John Bunyan
“Christ is never loved till sin be loathed. Heaven is never longed for till sin be loathed.” Thomas Watson
“No doctrine is more excellent, or necessary to be preached and studied, than Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” John Flavel
“Are you bruised? Be of good comfort, he calls you. Conceal not your wounds, open all before him and . . . go to Christ . . . There is more mercy in [Him] than sin in [you].” Richard Sibbes
“What health is to the heart, that holiness is to the soul.” John Flavel
“Praising God is one of the highest and purest acts of religion. In prayer we act like men; in praise we act like angels.” Thomas Watson
“We fear men so much, because we fear God so little. One fear cures another. When man’s terror scares you, turn your thoughts to the wrath of God.” William Gurnall
“Temptations, when we meet them at first, are as the lion that reared upon Samson; but if we overcome them, the next time we see them we shall find a nest of honey within them.” John Bunyan
“We are never nearer Christ than when we find ourselves lost in a holy amazement of His unspeakable love.” John Owen
If this handful of quotes does not stir your heart and encourage you to pursue the Puritans further, I do not know what will!