The Puritans were a large contingent of English Christians alive during the 16th and 17th centuries. At some point in high school, you probably learned about the Salem Witch Trials. That incident has profoundly shaped the cultural perception of Puritanism. But the vast majority of Puritans weren't witch hunters. Rather, they were people captivated by the beauty of Jesus; people who longed to bring all of life under his lordship. The Puritans were "gospel-centered" way before it was cool to be gospel-centered.
There are many reasons to read the Puritans.Old books challenge our chronological snobbery (a term coined by C.S. Lewis). Chronological snobbery is...
...the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate of our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that count discredited.
The Puritans have often caused me to reassess my own devotion to Jesus. Their zeal is palpable. Yet, the Puritans were not uncritical or anti-intellectual (go read a commentary by John Owen and you'll see what I mean). They saw the Christian life as a balance of head, heart and hands. As J.I. Packer says,
...their knowledge was no mere theoretical orthodoxy. They sought to ‘reduce to practice’ (their own phrase) all that God taught them. They yoked their consciences to his word, disciplining themselves to bring all activities under the scrutiny of Scripture, and to demand a theological, as distinct from a merely pragmatic, justification for everything that they did. They applied their understanding of the mind of God to every branch of life, seeing the church, the family, the state, the arts and sciences, the world of commerce and industry, no less than the devotions of the individual, as so many spheres in which God must be served and honored. They saw life whole, for they saw its Creator as Lord of each department of it, and their purpose was that ‘holiness to the Lord’ might be written over it in its entirety.
Here's a final reason to read the Puritans; they will help you to hate (and I mean loathe and detest) sin, and love (and I mean be entranced and captivated by) Jesus. Here's a little snippet from John Owen to whet your appetite:
Look on him whom you have pierced, and let it trouble you. Say to your soul, "What have I done? What love, what mercy, what blood, what grace have I despised and trampled on! Is this how I pay back the Father for his love? Is this how I thank the Son for his blood? Is this how I respond to the Holy Spirit for his grace? Have I defiled the heart that Christ died to wash, and the Holy Spirit has chosen to dwell in? How can I keep myself out of the dust? What can I say to the dear Lord Jesus? How shall I hold up my head with any boldness before him? Do I count fellowship with him of so little value that, for this vile lust's sake, I have hardly left him any room in my heart? How shall I escape if I neglect so great a salvation? What shall I say to the Lord? His love, mercy, grace, goodness, peace, joy, consolation - I have despised all of them! I have considered them as nothing, that I might harbor lust in my heart. Have I seen God as my Father, that I might provoke him to his face? Was my soul washed that there might be room for new defilements? Shall I seek to disappoint the purpose of the death of Christ? Shall I grieve the Holy Spirit, who sealed me unto the day of redemption?
Allow your conscience to consider these things every day.
The Mortification of Sin, abridged and simplified by Richard Rushing (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2004); 78-79.