Doctrine is most important. It is important because it informs our practice. It is important because it teaches us about God. It is important because we derive it from God’s most Holy Word. Many folks know doctrine well. Many folks can opine about the finer points of all things theological. Waxing eloquent, many are able to capture our theological attentions and impress us with their wit. And there’s nothing wrong with that. However, doctrine, in and of itself, it is not enough. This is why in our day and age we should read the Reformers and Puritans.
It is no surpirse that the Puritans have been called Doctors of the Soul. Not only did they have mastery of knowledge of doctrine, but mastery of that piety which is informed by doctrine. The Puritans get a bad wrap these days, being painted as stodgy zealots who burned women at the stake for witcheries and wickedness untold. This, of course, is historical revisionism wherein a few people’s foolish actions are embellished beyond reality, then perpetuated with a vengeance by those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. The last I checked, men are born totally depraved, so there’s bound to be a bad seed here and there.
Regardless, the Puritans can be read by us, and when we do so, it is not too long before we realize they are accurately reading us. Using that double-edged Sword, the Word of Truth, they will turn over all the rocks, look in every nook and cranny, and expose the heart of a man for all that he is. How were they able to do this? Because they examined themselves arduously. They knew the evil of the hearts of all men because they knew the evil of their own! And in godly, pastoral fashion they are able to tear down the man, and when he comes to the end of himself, point him to the Gospel of Grace.
One need only read great men like William Gurnall, or Richard Sibbes, to overcome that guilt of sin that goes beyond godly guilt. They are able to encourage, as it were, the sting of rebuke that David felt after being confronted by Nathan, while discourage those darts of accusations that come from Satan, wherein he tells you you’ve been dethroned from grace. And for the calloused man, one need only read Jeremiah Burroughs or John Owen, with their painstakingly penetrating words of wisdom to the wickedness of sin. But not only do they expose such wickedness, they give the practical and pastoral answers as to the method of the mortification thereof.
You see, the Puritans, the Reformers, and the Scottish Presbyterians of old though “being dead, yet speak.” They were able to distinguish between a healthy dose of doctrine, which always results in the practice of True and Godly Christian piety, and an overdose of doctrine that only results in seeming theological prowess. These men wrote with a heart for the shepherding of the Church of God. These men understood the essential need of personal holiness and piety in the Christian life, while realizing that said things don’t earn merit before God. These men wrote as pastors, shepherds, and overseers, not as mere teachers, lecturers, and opiners of theology extraordinaire.
So, for a good balance of Law & Gospel, Doctrine & Piety, Conviction & Comfort, read the Puritans. They will read you as well.