Meet the Puritans by Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2005, xxx plus 895 pp., cloth, $24.95
It is high time the Christian reading public had such a book as this. There have been excellent introductions to the Puritans like Peter Lewis’s The Genius of Puritanism, Leland Ryken’s Worldly Saints, and J.I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness, but until now there has been no work that provided an introduction to the lives and works of these great men in such a helpful, straightforward way. Meet the Puritans functions almost as an encyclopedia of the Puritans.
Beeke and Pederson run through their subjects in alphabetical order; first in England and Colonial America, then in Scotland (Appendix 2), and lastly the Nadere Reformatie (Appendix 3) in Holland. Three other appendices, plus a full bibliography, a glossary and index round- off the volume.
Each author is presented through a brief biographical sketch (Brook’s Lives of the Puritans has been mined to good effect). In some cases (e.g. John Bunyan, Thomas Gouge, Nicholas Byfield) these are sobering reminders of the triumph of faith over life’s trials.
Although the cameos are valuable perhaps the chief value of this book is its annotations on the various works produced by these men. With so many Puritan works being reprinted over the past thirty years it is well nigh impossible for a newcomer to know where to begin. Even those who have been benefiting from these writers for some time can be at a loss as to who to read next, such is the wealth of material available today.
Some of the most celebrated men of the movement were not known principally as writers (Laurence Chadderton, John Dod – whose Ten Commandments, however, should be reprinted, Edmund Calamy, Hugh Peter) and these are not included, but the book can hardly be faulted at that point. One minor criticism is that several of the treatments are rather thin (e.g. Joseph Hall, William Bates, and Hugh Binning). And there is no mention of Sir Richard Baker’s marvelous aphorisms. But my main gripe concerns the omissions of Robert Leighton and George Hutcheson. Surely these men’s contributions are significant to say the least! Still, there are particularly good chapters on Thomas Brooks and Richard Sibbes, and Henry Smith is especially well served. A “wishlist” of hoped-for reprints would have been nice.
This is the sort of book one will pick up and read again and again. It will always deliver. As such, it deserves the highest commendation.