I have read Waterfall shamelessly plug her affection for old composers here many times. So, I thought maybe I would take a moment to plug my affection for some long-since deceased fellows as well. We know them as "Puritans."
Sadly, the picture that most people get when they think of Puritans is some sort of celestial killjoy. They imagine stern-faced men and nunnish looking women who are perpetually bored. Or, at worst, they imagine zealous weirdos who, after listening to maddened children, run about the country burning men and women at the stake for witchcraft. *sigh*
This stereo-type is only reinforced by the literary caricature one of my personal favorites, Jonathan Edwards. Nestled inside your beloved Norton Anthology of Early American Literature is a snippet his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". I say snippet because the sermon is incomplete. It only contains the bad news in that part of the sermon. They did not bother to let him move on to grace that delivers us from the wrath the must soon come. This is entirely why the Puritans are so misunderstood and what I find particularly frustrating. Judging Edwards by that sermon is like judging Jesus for what He said to the Pharisees.
I will admit to you that they are serious minded people. Flippancy is a virtue in our culture. These people viewed life as something precious. They viewed spirituality as something to be cultivated. They diligently worked in the garden of the soul by plowing, weeding, pruning, watering, and gleaning. If they were serious and stern, then I think that it was warranted.
Think of it. If heaven and hell are real and last an eternity, if every person you meet is heading for one of these destinations at the speed of life, and if God is truly the only One who can bring lasting joy, peace, and satisfaction to the world weary soul, then all things trivial begin to fade to into the background. If you become convinced about the truth of God in Christ Jesus, reconciling the world to Himself through His death and resurrection, and if this is truly the only medicine with the power to heal the darkened heart, then it would seem logical to live like God's thoughts and ways are important.
I also have one sort of aside that particularly aggravates me. The Puritans are often viewed as sexual prudes. Nothing could be more ridiculous. They wrote about sex and they had lots of it. Each of them had about 10 children apiece. After all, if you are reading this, then it is likely that some Puritan somewhere in your background was happily obedient to the command to "be fruitful and multiply." If it is prudish to reserve yourself for one true and magnificent love (that is Christ) and then to express this love lavishly to one person for the rest of one's life, then count me prude. I find that noble.
I also love the Puritans because they attempted to answer questions that few today even have the moral and spiritual fortitude to address. In truth, we do not even think in the categories that they wrestled with. Destiny is limited to the realm of Sci-Fi. Justification, Sanctification, imputation, the Trinity, suffering, and atonement are all big words that have, for the most part, lost all significance to the average Church member. We are only concerned with blessing, leaving our theologies woefully inadequate to deal with the realities of grief, depression, and suffering in the normal Christian life.
So, I encourage you to read some of these great folks. Pick up some Jonathan Edwards, John Owens, John Bunyan, or John Calvin, Richard Baxter, or Samuel Bolton. (My first name is John, too. Seems to have been a popular Puritanesque name!) It will not be easy. These folks were serious thinkers. I compare it to running a marathon. It isn't easy, but afterwards you have an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and know that you learned much from the experience. You may not understand all, and they will bore you at times, but you will grow taller by walking with giants. (By the way, if you want a good laugh, read some Martin Luther. If you're Catholic, at least you'll understand why he and the Pope did not get along very well. And, he'll probably make you mad. But you'll benefit from it anyway.)
There, in a nutshell, is my short ode to the Puritans. The serious, wonderful Puritans. I wonder what they would think if they read the selection of books in our average Christian bookstore. I believe that they would probably be greatly saddened at our lack of seriousness for learning about ourselves and our God who so loves us.
I have written more at length for my gratitude for these men in an article at www.thirstysoul.org entitled "My Gratitude for Spirit-Filled Teachers" if you are interested in seeing how they have personally affected me. (I figured that I'd give myself at least a little publicity.)