Reading Charnock

Over the past several years, as part of my devotional reading, it has been my deep pleasure to have been reading the massive work of the Puritan pastor and theologian Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God. It’s been slow going even for me, not because I’m a slow reader by any means, but because he is an author to be savored. It’s rather amazing how many notions of later dates he anticipates, such as the possible existence of other worlds and the denial of the foreknowledge of God. His methodology is pretty sound, starting with propositions set forth in the Bible about the nature and existence of God and reasoning from there. More than many theologians, he ‘shows his work’; that is, he displays a chain of reasoning rather than making statements. And one cannot spend much time with him without finding one’s worship and devotion to God deeply enriched.

If you’re thinking that I think that a good dose of Charnock would be immensely helpful for contemporary pastors, theologians and apologists, you are quite correct. Many fall prey to the contemporary at the expense of the timeless, and much that Charnock writes is simply sound theology based on God’s revelation of himself and sound reasoning based on revelation. Even more, though, many modern believers who are part of our congregations would find Charnock quite nourishing to their souls. So often, it seems like modern evangelicalism has fallen prey to being just one more form of self help and a kind of a psychologized moral therapy rather than a pursuit of God.

Some prerequisites to Charnock for those who fear the depth of his theology and his 17th century language would be A. W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy and J. I. Packer’s Knowing God. In any case, I would recommend keeping these kinds of books on hand and revisiting them regularly over the years. They may help to keep us out of the folly of running after the latest author with the latest spiritualized self help gimmick. Even more, they may help to keep us in fostering and deepening that relationship with the God of the Bible, which those of us who claim that we have through faith in Jesus Christ.

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