May 26, 2022

Joel Beeke on William Perkins

Stephen Nichols & Joel Beeke
Joel Beeke on William Perkins

What can we learn from the father of the English Puritans? Bringing the third season of Open Book to a close, Joel Beeke and Stephen Nichols discuss William Perkins, whose writings have helped generations of Christians apply the truth of God to their everyday lives.


Dr. Stephen Nichols: Welcome back. It's another episode of Open Book, and we're returning to the library of our good friend, Joel Beeke. It's good to see you, Dr. Beeke. As I'm looking at you, just off to your shoulder there, I see cassette tapes. Would you like to explain those before we go any further? Some people might not know what they are.

Dr. Joel Beeke: Yeah, I know. I know. I have a hard time getting rid of wonderful, wonderful material, and God used many of those cassette tapes greatly in my life. I’ve got a lot of R.C. Sproul there, actually.

Nichols: I was going to ask, are any of those...?

Beeke: Yes.

Nichols: Do you have something to listen to them on? That's the key.

Beeke: Yes, I still do, but the last twenty years of my life, I must confess, I'm always involved in writing some book, and I don't listen to nearly as many as I used to. When I was a full-time pastor, I'd drive around Grand Rapids going to hospitals, visiting people. I'd sometimes go for the whole day. You have about an hour and a half driving time. I never listened to the radio, actually.

Nichols: Just listened to tapes.

Beeke: Yeah. I had them all lined up, the ones I wanted to listen to on my car. There were times I just pulled off to the side of the road and just wept. There were some special times listening to those tapes, so it's hard for me to throw them away.

Nichols: And there they are.

Well, we're talking about books, as well. This is a tome. This is volume one of the works of William Perkins. Now, you had Dr. Ferguson at Westminster Seminary, and I did. And I remember the first time hearing Dr. Ferguson say, "Perkins." And I just thought, "Oh, this is wonderful."

So, we're talking about Perkins. And this is another set of books that you were instrumental in bringing into the English, and also served as an editor for this series. But tell us about Perkins, about this volume in particular.

Beeke: Yes. Perkins is an amazing individual. Just as we saw on the Teellinck volume, that he was the Father of the Dutch for the Reformation, Perkins is really the Father of English Puritanism, as he's called. What happened in my life is, when I started reading Perkins, I started with him on assurance of faith in my dissertation topic. I realized, as I read, this is amazing material. This man is a ground-breaker. He's a catechist. He's a preacher. He's a teacher. He was really the springhead.

Nichols: His Art of Prophesying was the manual for preachers.

Beeke: Oh, yes. A great little book.

Nichols: Edwards read this, and it influenced his preaching.

Beeke: And it influenced all of England. It was the most popular homiletics textbook. So anyway, I was working on doing something on Perkins, and one day a man walks across the street, from the seminary across the street. He has three books in his hands. He says, "I want to show you something." And he shows me the large old folder of volumes, the complete works of William Perkins. This was many years ago, now. Then he opens to the title page and he says, "See here? The seal that's on there? This is Charles Spurgeon's seal."

Nichols: Oh, my.

Beeke: I go, "Charles Spurgeon owned these books?" Yeah. Every one of them is sealed with Spurgeon. We know that Spurgeon sealed the books himself, right? And then he says, "You see the handwriting in here?"

Nichols: It's Spurgeon.

Beeke: No, A.W. Pink.

Nichols: Oh, no.

Beeke: The widow of Spurgeon sold it to someone who sold it to A.W. Pink. In 1952, when Pink died—and his handwritten notes are all over it; if Pink really likes something, he draws a hand in all the detail and puts an arrow, and it's amazing—Pink's widow sold it to O.B. Carter in 1952, and O.B. Carter sold it in 1993 across the street. They heard I was working on Perkins, so they brought it over to me and said, "Can we cut a deal, and you can buy it?" So, it's under glass.

Nichols: So, you have it.

Beeke: Yeah. It's under glass upstairs in our Puritan Resource Center. But, increasingly over the years, I was waiting for someone else to do this. Why hasn't anyone reprinted the Father of Puritanism? In the Reformed faith, it'd be like not having Calvin's Institutes or Calvin's commentaries.

Nichols: Yeah. It just doesn't make sense.

Beeke: It doesn't make sense. So, I said, “We've got to do it.” We got typists from all over the world to do a first-round typing, and we're in the process now of printing the complete works of William Perkins in fresh, modern typeface with edits and an introduction.

Nichols: That’s great.

Beeke: But what we did was—so ordinary readers could benefit from it, as well, and not just scholars—we kept the original words for the scholars, and if there's an old-fashioned word, we put it in a footnote. But we also divided it up into sections. So, volumes one through four are his exegetical works. He does something on Galatians and Hebrews 11.

Nichols: Sermon on the Mount.

Beeke: Revelation. Sermon on the Mount. Sermon on the Mount is a really good one. And then volumes five through seven are his doctrinal works on the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, two major works on predestination and assurance of faith, and so on. Then, volumes eight through ten are his practical works, Discourse on Conscience. He was really foundational in bringing the Roman Catholic idea, focus on conscience. He said their ideas are so wrong in so many areas on conscience, but we do need something in the Reformed world on conscience. Now, Ames actually, I think, improved on Perkins after that, and tied it more into Scripture than Perkins did, but it's a ground-breaking work in its own day.

Nichols: He’s a pioneer for it.

Beeke: Yeah. And then he's got a bunch of miscellaneous works, as well. How to Live Well in All Estates, the Right Manner of Erecting and Ordering Your Family, the Calling of the Ministry, the Manner and Method of Preaching, a Treatise on Dying Well. These are great little books. They're all little books. And the neat thing about Perkins is that, unlike many other Puritans, none of these books are out of date. None of them are written against some individual that's obscure.

Nichols: They're timeless.

Beeke: They're timeless.

Nichols: Just looking at these, who wouldn't want help on these? Treatise on How to Live Well in All Estates. This one reminds me of a Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.

Beeke: Yes.

Nichols: Right? How are you content in all estates? Treatise on Vocations. We always forget that doctrine, don't we?

Beeke: Interestingly, in that Treatise on Vocations he says to God-fearing young men, before you decide not to go into the ministry, if you are a serious godly young man, and you've got some mental faculties that are fairly astute, you need to have clarity from the Lord that you're not called to the ministry before you consider other professions.

Nichols: That's interesting.

Beeke: Just the opposite way I grew up. You don't even think about the ministry unless God powerfully calls you to it. So, that's an eye-opener.

Nichols: That's interesting.

Beeke: Perkins advises ministers, if you see in your church young men who you think God could use because they're godly, they're serious, they're earnest about the Scriptures, they have a love for people, you should pull them under your wing and say, "Could God possibly be calling you to ministry?" Give them some extra time, and shepherd them, and see what the Lord will do.

Nichols: I think this image that so many people have of the Puritans is just sort of academics, scholars. It's just got to go.

Beeke: They were practical. They were head, heart, and hand.

So, what we're doing, Derek Thomas and I actually are the general editors of this. We appoint a different editor to each volume, and we ourselves take one volume, as well.

Nichols: I was hoping you'd mention the co-editor, there.

Beeke: Derek has been a great friend in this.

Nichols: Indeed, he is. Well, I appreciate this time. Thanks for talking to us about William Perkins. Thank you for your labors, your co-labors with Dr. Thomas, and making these available. Thank you for this time.

Beeke: My pleasure.

Nichols: I'm Steve Nichols, and that was the last episode of season three of Open Book. I hope you've enjoyed this time with Dr. Joel Beeke, as we have visited his library and spent time with him and with the books that have shaped his life. I'm already looking forward to season four. We will be visiting Columbia, South Carolina, and we will be spending time in the library with our good friend, Dr. Derek Thomas. Open Book is a listener-supported outreach of Ligonier Ministries.