In 2012, I am following the lead of a few of my favorite bloggers and posting a quote or excerpt on Sundays. I’ve chosen A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life by J.I. Packer.
The Puritans have taught me to see and feel the transitoriness of this life, to think of it, with all its richness, as essentially the gymnasium and dressing-room where we are prepared for heaven, and to regard readiness to die as the first step in learning to live. Here again is an historic Christian emphasis–Patristic, Medieval, Reformational, Puritan, Evangelical–with which the Protestantism that I know has largely lost touch. The Puritans experienced systematic persecution for their faith; what we today think of as the comforts of home were unknown to them; their medicine and surgery were rudimentary; they had no aspirins, tranquillisers, sleeping tablets or anti-depressant pills, just as they had no social security or insurance; in a world in which more than half the adult population died young and more than half the children born died in infancy, disease, distress, discomfort, pain and death were their constant companions. They would have been lost had they not kept their eyes on heaven and known themselves as pilgrims travelling home to the Celestial City. Dr. Johnson is credited with the remark that when a man knows he is going to be hanged in a fortnight it concentrates him mind wonderfully, and in the same way the Puritans’ awareness that in the midst of life we are in death, just one step from eternity, gave them a deep seriousness, calm yet passionate, with regard to the business of living that Christians in today’s opulent, mollycoddled, earthbound Western world rarely manage to match. Few of us, I think, live daily on the edge of eternity in the conscious way that the Puritans did, and we lose out as a result. For the extraordinary vivacity, even hilarity…with which the Puritans lived stemmed directly, I believe, from the unflinching, matter-of-fact realism with which they prepared themselves for death, so as always to be found, as it were, packed up and ready to go. Reckoning with death brought appreciation of each day’s continued life, and the knowledge that God would eventually decide, without consulting them, when their work on earth was done brought energy for the work itself while they were still being given time to get on with it.