John Calvin

 A Quest for Godliness:
The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life

James I. Packer
Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1990
367 pages, cloth, $17.95

During the 1950's and 60's, the Puritan and Reformed Studies Conference, held annually in Westminster Chapel, London, did much to plant, nurture and bring to maturity a robust evangelical Calvinism, which has been, and is being, greatly used of God around the world. Undoubtedly the two central figures in this annual event were the late D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and J. I. Packer. The masterly papers given by Lloyd-Jones at the annual meetings of this Conference and those of its successor, the Westminster Conference for Theological and Historical Study (with special reference to the Puritans), have appeared as the The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors: Addresses Delivered at the Puritan and Westminster Conferences 1959-1978, published by the Banner of Truth in 1987.
     Many of the equally invaluable papers which Packer gave at the Puritan and Reformed Studies Conference are available in A Quest for Godliness. All but three of the twenty chapters of the book (the Introduction, that on "Marriage and Family in Puritan Thought" have actually appeared in print before. Nine chapters were papers originally given at the Puritan Conference, four started out as introductions to various volumes, while the rest were either lectures or printed as articles in various journals.     
      In the Introduction, Packer confesses that the center of his interest in the Puritans for the past forty years has lain in Puritanism as a renewal movement and Puritan spirituality. This interest is certainly reflected in the chapters of the book, which bear such titles as Puritanism As a Movement of Revival," "The Puritan Conscience," "The Witness of the Spirit in Puritan thought," and "The Spirituality of John Owen." For Packer, "Puritanism was at the heart a spiritual movement, passionately concerned with God and godliness" (p. 28). It is primarily for this reason that much in their writings is of great value for today's church. While all of the chapters are well-crafted, incisive and marrowy, the following are particularly excellent: the one on particular redemption (originally an
Introduction to John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, A classic defense of this doctrine), that on "The Spirituality of John Owen," and the one dealing with Jonathan Edwards's perspective on revival.
     Owen (1616-83) figures largely in many of the chapters; Packer admits that Owen comes closer than anyone else to being the hero" of the book (p. 191). One of the great British theologians, hailed by one of his Puritan contemporaries as the "Calvin of England," he has been sadly neglected. Packer's extensive treatment of aspects of his theology and spirituality will undoubtedly help to foster and encourage a rediscovery of his legacy.
    It should be no surprise to find Jonathan Edwards's thought being treated in a book devoted to the Puritans. Although he flourished after the Puritan era (which Packer places between 1550 and 1700 (p. 11; see also 1. 60) Packer considers him "a Puritan born out of time" (p. 310). Packer finds major proof of Edwards's Puritanism in his lifelong concern with and vindication of "experiential religion" (p. 312). Here, Packer's reading of Edwards coincides with that of Lloyd-Jones (see Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans, pp. 348-71).
     The only real blemishes in Packer's solid studies in Reformed spirituality are a few typographical ones. For instance, the scene of much of Jonathan Edwards's pastoral labors was Northampton, Massachusetts, not New Hampshire as stated on p. 309. These blemishes aside, here is a book which can help in meeting the greatest need of late twentieth-century evangelicalism, namely, revival. Puritanism, as Packer contends, was a movement focused on what God does in us; thus, "opening the windows of our souls to let in a breath of fresh air from the seventeenth century would . . . be the wisest possible course" in the pursuit of revival (p. 77).

Michael A.G. Haykin
Heritage Baptist College and Theological Seminary
Cambridge, Ontario

Please join others who have commented upon this and other topics in our Discussion Group.

Home Page Return to the Main Highway 

Book Reviews Index Back to Book Reviews Index


Go to the Resource Page