“J.I. Packer, in his masterpiece A Quest for Godliness , highlights what he believes to be the three major principles of biblical interpretation in Puritan expositions. These are three principles we would do well to imitate:
“1. Puritan exegetes…do not bring to the Bible the pervasive sense of difference and distance between cultures and epochs that is so much part of today’s mind-set; nor do they bring with them the imaginative ideas of religious evolution that cripple so many modern biblical scholars and corrupt so much of their expository work. Instead of feeling distant from biblical characters and their experiences because of the number of centuries between them, the Puritans felt kinship with them because they belonged to the same human race, faced, fear, and fellowshipped with the same unchanging God, and struggled with essentially the same spiritual problems.”
“2. Puritan grammatical-historical exegesis of texts, though often naively expressed, is remarkably competent, as any knowledgeable reader of Matthew Henry’s great expository commentary on the whole Bible will soon see.”
“3. Puritans exegeted Scripture in order to apply it, and as application was the focus of their concern so it was the area of their special strength…”
It is point #1, which I would like to address to us personally. Do we relate to the characters of Scripture? Do we understand their struggles and pains, their joys and excitements? If not, why? Might it be we are afraid to see ourselves in their lives, for then the answer might terrifyingly be staring us in the face? Might we see our sin too clearly? Or maybe we will see God’s demands so plainly before our eyes and we don’t want to see or know these truths? But equally important are the questions, “Do we understand our neighbor next door? Do we see ourselves in their struggles and vice versa?” This seems to be a corollary to relating to the characters of the Scriptures. How many of us feel distant and like we can’t relate to another person’s position? The truth is, we are not that far apart. Their sin is ours and our sin is theirs. We are very near to one another and we all share the same struggles in life, albeit expressed differently, but the the same nevertheless. As we come to see ourselves and our nature and God’s desires for us in the Biblical narrative, we will also be able to see ourselves in our neighbor and express greater compassion and understanding to them, as well. We would do well to read the puritans for our own spiritual lives and apply their insights to our world and the characters whom we meet.