Christian books ought to be like cisterns that hold the refreshing waters of life for weary and thirsty souls. The Puritans understood this. In his final sermon to his congregation in 1662, the Puritan minister Thomas Watson challenged his flock with the importance of reading soul-satisfying books: “When you find a chilliness upon your souls and your former heat begins to abate, ply yourselves with warm clothes and get those good books that may acquaint you with such truths as may warm and affect your hearts”” [i]
The writings of the Puritans have warmed and affected my heart over the years. Below, you’ll discover some Christ-centered excerpts from what George Whitefield called “good old puritanical writings.” I gladly share these quotes in hopes that weary and discouraged pastors may behold Christ Jesus in his beauty, be strengthened by the grace that is in him (2 Timothy 2:1), and strive to press on for his eternal glory.
It’s important to remember that the Puritans knew firsthand the challenges, discouragements and toilsome labors that accompany faithful gospel ministry.
John Flavel (1627–1691): “The labours of the ministry will exhaust the very marrow from your bones, hasten old age and death. They are fitly compared to the toil of men in harvest, to the labours of a woman in travail, and to the agonies of soldiers in the extremity of a battle. We must watch when others sleep. And indeed it is not so much the expense of our labours, as the loss of them that kills us. It is not with us, as with other labourers: They find their work as they leave it, so do not we. Sin and Satan unravel almost all we do, the impressions we make on our people’s souls in one sermon, vanish before the next. How many truths have we to study! How many wiles of Satan, and mysteries of corruption, to detect! How many cases of conscience to resolve! Yes, we must fight in defense of the truths we preach, as well as study them to paleness, and preach them unto faintness.” [ii]
So what do the Puritans have to say to the weary, exhausted, discouraged pastor? Look to Christ. By faith, look to Jesus Christ, the One who is mighty and glorious and whose steadfast love is better than life. Out of a love for the glory of God, the word of God and the people of God, the Puritan writers consistently focus our gaze on Jesus Christ. As Joel Beeke writes, “They set forth Christ in his loveliness, moving us to yearn to know him better and live wholly for him.” [iii]
The Puritans encourage us as discouraged pastors to consider the greatness of the mercies we have in Christ. Instead of pondering our failings, contentment may be found by plunging ourselves into the sea of God’s mercies and love.
Jeremiah Burroughs (1599–1646): “Name any affliction that is upon you: there is a sea of mercy to swallow it up. If you pour a pailful of water on the floor of your house, it makes a great show, but if you throw it into the sea, there is no sign of it. So, afflictions considered in themselves, we think are very great, but let them be considered with a sea of God’s mercies we enjoy, and then they are not so much, they are nothing in comparison.” [iv]
Thomas Brooks (1608–1680): “Sit down and wonder at this condescending love of God. Oh! What is in thy soul or in my soul that should cause the Lord to give such gifts to us as he hath given? We were all equal in sin and misery; nay, doubtless, we have actually outsinned thousands, to whom these precious gifts are denied. Let us therefore sit down and wonder at this condescending love of God. Oh! We were once poor wretches sitting upon the dunghill, yea, wallowing in our blood, and yet behold the King of kings, the Lord of lords, hath so far condescended in His love, as to bestow himself, his Spirit, his grace, and all the jewels of his royal crown upon us. Oh! What heart can conceive, what tongue can express, this matchless love! ‘I will be thine forever,’ says Christ, and ‘My Spirit shall be thine forever,’ and ‘My grace shall be thine forever,’ and ‘My glory shall be thine forever,’ and ‘My righteousness shall be thine forever.’ ‘All I am and all I have, shall be thine forever.’ O sirs! What condescending love is this! Oh! What a Christ is this!”[v]
The Puritans knew that feeling weak shouldn’t discourage us from drawing near to Christ. He already knows the weakness of our frame. He knows that we are dust. And he is merciful toward the weak and broken-hearted pastor. God looks upon weak saints in the Son of his love, and sees them all as lovely.
Thomas Brooks (1608–1680): “The weakest Christian is as much justified, as much pardoned, as much adopted, and as much united to Christ as the strongest, and hath as much interest in Christ as the highest and noblest Christian that breathes.” [vi]
Richard Sibbes (1577–1635): “What mercy may we not expect from so gracious a Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5), that took our nature upon him that he might be gracious. He is a Physician good at all diseases, especially at the binding up of a broken heart.” [vii]
The Puritans wrote exquisitely about the transcendent loveliness and blessedness of Jesus Christ. Weary, burned-out pastors need to be reminded of the glory of being united to Jesus Christ, the One who is glorious and altogether lovely.