How to Get the Most Out of Reading the Puritans

Old LibraryIT IS MY OPINION, that the Puritans have explored deeper, further, and more methodically into these caverns—“the unsearchable riches of Christ”—than any others before them or since. Reading Puritan works can be difficult trekking, but like everything else in life, the reward is proportional to the effort expended. Here are a few thoughts which may help you maximize your enjoyment of, and the dividends paid by, your time spend reading the works of the Puritans.

1. Read slowly. You will quickly observe that Puritan works, if they are to be read profitably, must be read with a deliberate slowness, and with contemplation. Their sentence structure, though complex, reflects the profundity of truths that are expressed therein. Skimming through these texts instead of reading them carefully and thoughtfully, is like the difference between touring the countryside in an automobile, or on foot. The pedestrian will see and enjoy his experience immeasurably more than the passenger.

One of the surest ways to rob yourself of both the pleasure and profit of reading the Puritans is by moving through the text at an artificial or hurried pace. Set aside the idea of reading a certain number of pages, or completing a certain section in a particular sitting. Read instead until your appetite is satiated for the moment, and save the enjoyment of what remains for a later time. The bucket, when full, does not benefit from remaining under the open spigot—it already contains all the water it is capable of holding. Use the water to your benefit, and return again when the bucket has room for more water.

Try to think of the work you are holding as a delicate wine of the finest and most prized vintage—to be enjoyed in a suitably quiet time with leisure, savoring it in small sips. It is not meant to be slurped greedily through a straw like a super-sized cola as you speed around town running errands at a frenetic pace. Or consider it to be a box of spiritual cigars, to be relished on a special occasion for their pleasing taste and aroma—not chain-smoked mindlessly like a ruffian in a motorcycle gang.

2. Make an effort to understand what the author is communicating—maybe in a group. Read and re-read passages that you don’t comprehend your first time through. Look up words you don’t understand fully. Some words that we still use in common parlance have meanings that have become archaic. Usually this will be obvious. Online dictionaries are helpful, in that they often reveal archaic definitions.

Reading these difficult passages aloud often makes them easier to grasp. This is logical if you consider that many of these works are transcripts of sermons that were delivered orally when originally preached. I have sometimes enjoyed sharing Puritan works with others, as we take turns reading them aloud to each other. This also gives the opportunity to pause and discuss what is being read, amplifying the understanding in the mind, and making it more memorable—essentially sharing company with the long-dead Puritan divine who composed the work generations before. A Puritan book club need not be any more complex than this. No homework to do beforehand, just meeting together for coffee, taking turns passing the book around, reading it aloud and discussing it as you go—what a gloriously sublime use of these works!

Happy reading, and, I invite your comments—The Editor.

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