Although Joel Beeke’s Meet the Puritans is the gold standard reference work on the Puritans and their books, if I wanted to introduce someone to the Puritans for the first time, I’d now give them J I Packer’s Puritan Portraits. I would also give it to someone who was wondering where to start reading in the Puritans.
In Puritan Portraits, Christian Focus have taken the seven biographical essays Packer wrote to introduce a number of Puritan classics in the Christian Heritage series, put them together in one slim and readable volume, and bookended them with valuable longer Packer essays on the pastoral work and programs of the Puritans. The short epilogue, A Puritan Pastor’s Program, could transform many modern ministries for the better.
A survey of seven Puritan lives ministries is followed by a summary of at least one of his books, together with choice and appetizing extracts from them. They include:
- Henry Scougal: The Life of God in the Soul of Man
- Stephen Charnock: Christ Crucified
- John Bunyan: The Heavenly Footman
- Matthew Henry: The Pleasantness of a Religious Life
- John Owen: The Mortification of Sin
- John Flavel: Keeping the Heart
- Thomas Boston: The Art of Man Fishing.
William Perkins and Richard Baxter get longer treatments.
What I especially liked about this book was its honesty. Packer recognizes flaws and failings in some of these men’s writings, making them difficult to read at times. However, he also provides practical helps to enable the reader to overlook or overcome these faults, and balance out some of the imbalances.
Having been deeply impacted by the powerful combination of doctrine, devotion, and duty in these Puritan works, Packer is clearly anxious for others to benefit from them too and not to be deterred or discouraged by certain deficiencies in style or content.
The success of his efforts will be measured by the answer to a simple question: “Did it make you want to read one of the highlighted books?” Judged by such a criteria, it was certainly a success for me.
J I Packer, Puritan Portraits (Tain: Christian Focus, 2012), 188 pages, $9.99