The Spiritual Brotherhood of the Puritans

In his address at the inauguration of the Puritan Resource Center, located in the library of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (, Sinclair Ferguson, senior pastor-elect of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, spoke on “The Puritans: Can They Teach Us Anything Today?” [PRTS Update 2, No.4 (December 2005), 1-5]. It is vintage Ferguson. He mentions four things in particular that we need to learn from the Puritans, those ecclesial Reformers of the British Isles and New England who longed for Spirit-wrought revival.

  • The “significance of spiritual brotherhood in the movements of the Holy Spirit” (p.2-3)
  • The necessity of “the recovery of the pulpit for the recovery of the church” (p.3-4)
  • Driving the Puritans was “their deep sense of the infinite glory of a Triune God” and thus they mining of Scripture produced a theology with a “Trinitarian character” (p.4-5)
  • The Puritans were men and women devoted to the Bride of Christ: they “recognized with great clarity the significance of the church in the purposes of Christ” (p.5)

To all of these points I heartily say amen!

I was especially struck by the first point: the need for a spiritual brotherhood—Christians with “a common vision and a common burden, a common prayer life, and therefore a common goal” (p.3). What was true of Puritan leaders like Richard Greenham, John Cotton, and Richard Sibbes—men bound together in a spiritual family tree—is true of all true movements of the Spirit. Here, as Ferguson emphasizes, one thinks of the Cappadocian Fathers or the circle of friends around Augustine (p.2). Or one might think of two “Puritan” style groups in the 20th century, the circle of men around Martyn Lloyd-Jones and those men mentored by William Still of Aberdeen.

And the same must be true if we are going to see any forward movement of the Spirit in our day. We, who have been made to delight in the sovereign grace and glory of the Triune God, need to learn to esteem one another highly for the sake of the Gospel. This does not mean becoming wishy-washy in our convictions. But it does mean breaking down the barriers erected by distrust and pride and the pettiness of turf-wars. It means ongoing displays of genuine humility and repentance. O for a clear eye centred on the things of first importance and not bedimmed by the things of this passing world.

Some of this is taking place. I am thinking of the upcoming Together for the Gospel conference hosted by Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, C.J. Mahaney, Albert Mohler with special guests John MacArthur, John Piper, and R.C. Sproul in Lousville next April. But we need to see far more initiatives like this one. May God be gracious to us.