The Puritans: John Newton.

John Henry Newton (1725 – 1807) was an English pastor and hymn writer. He was the son of an English sea captain. His mother was a deeply righteous woman who taught John from the Bible until she died when John was seven years old.

Not much is known about John’s childhood immediately following his mother’s death, but at the age of eleven John went to sea and spent the next 20 years as a sailor engaged in slave trading. His life was spent in the vilest and sordid forms of wickedness. At one time, he was the property of an African woman, who fed him only that which she threw him under her table. He was nearly killed several times during a terrible storm at sea, which almost sank his ship. His wicked life passed before him and with deep conviction over his sinful life he cried out to God for salvation.

He married Mary Catlett in 1750. They had no children. The next several years were spent in preparation for the ministry. He learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and studied the Scriptures intensively.

In 1764 he was appointed pastor of Olney, where he served for 16 years before moving to St. Mary Woolnoth in the city of London. In addition to his pastoral duties, Newton was an ardent writer. His works included Omicron, Narrative, Review of Ecclesiastical History, and Cardiphonia.

John Newton is perhaps best known as the author of the world-famous hymn, Amazing Grace, which was one of the Olney Hymns written in collaboration with
William Cowper. Newton is also remembered for his work in the anti-slavery movement in England, which occupied the latter part of his life.

The following are a series of selected quotations from several of Newton’s writings.

An excerpt from a letter entitled, Causes, Nature and Marks of a Decline in Grace (March 1765): But still it is to be lamented, that an increase of knowledge and experience should be so generally be attended with a decline of fervor. If it was not for what has passed in my own heart, I should be ready to think it impossible. But this very circumstance gives me a still more emphatic conviction of my own vileness and depravity. The want of humiliation humbles me, and my very indifference rouses and awakens me to earnestness. There are, however, seasons of refreshment, ineffable glances of light and power upon the soul, which, as they are derived from clearer displays of divine grace, if not so tumultuous as first joys, are more penetrating, transforming, and animating. A glance of these when compared with our sluggish stupidity, when they are withheld, weans the heart from this wretched state of sin and temptation, and makes the thoughts of death and eternity desirable. Then this conflict shall cease;-I shall sin and wander no more, see Him as he is, and be like Him forever.

John Newton on the subject of salvation by grace alone: “Salvation is wholly of grace, not only undeserved but undesired by us until God is pleased to awaken us to a sense of our need of it. And then we find everything prepared that our wants require or our wishes conceive; yea, that He has done exceedingly beyond what we could either ask or think. Salvation is wholly of the Lord and bears those signatures of infinite wisdom, power, and goodness which distinguish all His works from the puny imitations of men. It is every way worthy of Himself, a great, a free, a full, a sure salvation. It is great whether we consider the objects (miserable, hell-deserving sinners), the end (the restoration of such alienated creatures to His image and favor, to immortal life and happiness) or the means (the incarnation, humiliation, sufferings and death of His beloved Son). It is free, without exception of persons or cases, without any conditions or qualifications, but such as He, Himself, performs in them and bestows upon them.”

Newton’s Epitaph: While working as a tide surveyor he studied for the ministry, and for the last 43 years of his life preached the gospel in Olney and London. At 82, Newton said, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.” 

Newton’s tombstone reads, “John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.” 

 Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

The Puritans: John Bunyan, Part 4.

John Bunyan had enjoyed only a few years of freedom when he was again arrested for preaching and put in the town jail. Here he wrote Instruction for the Ignorant (a catechism for the saved and unsaved that emphasizes the need for self-denial), Saved by Grace (an exposition of Ephesians 2:5 that encourages the godly to persevere in the faith notwithstanding persecution), The Strait Gate (an exposition of Luke 13:24 that seeks to awaken sinners to the gospel message), Light for Them That Sit in Darkness (a polemical work against those who oppose atonement by Christ’s satisfaction and justification by His imputed righteousness, especially the Quakers and Latitudinarians), and the first part of his famous Pilgrim’s Progress.

Pilgrim’s Progress sold more than 100,000 copies in its first decade in print. It has since been reprinted in at least 1,500 editions and translated into more than two hundred languages, with Dutch, French, and Welsh editions appearing in Bunyan’s lifetime. Some scholars have asserted that, with the exception of the Bible and perhaps Thomas à Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, this Bunyan classic has sold more copies than any other book ever written.

John Owen, minister of an Independent congregation at Leadenhall Street, London, successfully appealed for Bunyan to Thomas Barlow, bishop of Lincoln. Barlow used his influence at court to secure Bunyan’s release from prison on June 21, 1677.

John spent his last years ministering to the Nonconformists and writing. In 1678, he published Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, a popular exposition of John 6:37 that movingly proclaims a strong free offer of grace to sinners to fly to Jesus Christ and be saved. This book went through six editions in the last decade of Bunyan’s life.

In 1680, he wrote The Life and Death of Mr. Badman, described as “a series of snapshots depicting the commonplace attitudes and practices against which Bunyan regularly preached. Two years later, he published The Greatness of the Soul and The Holy War. In 1685, he published the second part of Pilgrim’s Progress, dealing with Christiana’s pilgrimage, A Caution to Stir Up to Watch against Sin, and Questions About the Nature and the Perpetuity of the Seventh-day Sabbath.

As one author comments, “In the last three years of his life, Bunyan wrote ten more books, of which the best-known are The Pharisee and the Publican, The Jerusalem Sinner Saved, The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate, The Water of Life, Solomon’s Temple Spiritualized, and The Acceptable Sacrifice.”

In 1688, Bunyan died suddenly from a fever that he caught while traveling in cold weather. On his deathbed, he said to those who gathered around him, “Weep not for me, but for yourselves. I go to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will, no doubt, through the mediation of his blessed Son, receive me, though a sinner; where I hope we ere long shall meet, to sing the new song, and remain everlastingly happy, world without end.” After telling his friends that his greatest desire was to be with Christ, he raised his hands to heaven, and cried, “Take me, for I come to Thee!” He then died. He was buried in Bunhill Fields, close to Thomas Goodwin and John Owen.

Professor James Coffield writes, “If often seems as if God narrates the story of our lives with irony. Joy is often fleeting and real joy is paradoxically birthed in the most challenging of times. Joy flows from a particular way that one engages life. Joy is the product of praying for and entering into His presence, seeking His ultimate purpose, and stumbling toward His perspective.” Professor Coffield’s comments could well apply to the life and work of John Bunyan.

John 3:27 says, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” Certainly, God gave John Bunyan the ability to communicate biblical truth through writing, even in the midst of persecution. What gift has God given you by which to serve Him and the church?

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

The Puritans: John Bunyan, Part 3.

One of the most familiar Puritans was John Bunyan. His allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, remains in print and by many statisticians is second to the Bible as the all-time best-selling book. There are some 1,300 editions of The Pilgrim’s Progress currently in existence.

In spite of his many years in prison, John Bunyan remained productive. In the mid-1660s, Bunyan wrote extensively, with only the Bible and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs at his side. In 1663, he wrote Christian Behaviour, intended as a handbook for Christian living and a response against charges of Antinomianism, as well as a last testament, since Bunyan expected to die in prison. He also finished I Will Pray with the Spirit, which expounded 1 Corinthians 14:15, and focused on the Spirit’s inner work in all true prayer.

In 1664, he published Profitable Meditations; in 1665, One Thing Needful, The Holy City, and The Resurrection of the Dead. This work, a sequel to The Holy City, found Bunyan expounding on the resurrection from Acts 24:14-15 in a traditional way, and then uses his prison torments to illustrate the horrors that await the damned following the final judgment.

In 1666, the middle of his prison-time, he wrote Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, in which he declared, “The Almighty God being my help and shield, I am determined yet to suffer, if frail life might continue so long, even till the moss shall grow upon my eyebrows, rather than violate my faith and principles.”

During the last part of his imprisonment, he finished A Confession of My Faith, A Reason for My Practice, and A Defence of the Doctrine of Justification, an uncompromising criticism of the rising tide of Pelagianism. The Bedford congregation, sensing some relaxation of the law against preaching, appointed Bunyan as pastor on January 21, 1672, but Bunyan was not released until May. He had been the first to suffer under Charles II and was the last to be released. His long years in Bedford’s county prison made him a martyr in the eyes of many.

Bunyan had enjoyed only a few years of freedom when he was again arrested for preaching and put in the town jail. Here he wrote Instruction for the Ignorant (a catechism for the saved and unsaved that emphasizes the need for self-denial), Saved by Grace (an exposition of Ephesians 2:5 that encourages the godly to persevere in the faith notwithstanding persecution), The Strait Gate (an exposition of Luke 13:24 that seeks to awaken sinners to the gospel message), Light for Them That Sit in Darkness (a polemical work against those who oppose atonement by Christ’s satisfaction and justification by His imputed righteousness, especially the Quakers and Latitudinarians), and the first part of his famous Pilgrim’s Progress.

Yet John Bunyan was not finished with the work for which God gave him. What work has God given you to accomplish? Are you being faithful to the task at hand?

Soli deo Gloria!

 

The Puritans: John Bunyan, Part 2.

One of the most familiar Puritans was John Bunyan. His allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, remains in print and by many statisticians is second to the Bible as the all-time best-selling book. There are some 1,300 editions of The Pilgrim’s Progress currently in existence.

Following his conversion, Bunyan moved to Bedford with his wife and four children under the age of six; his firstborn, Mary, was blind from birth. That same year, he became a member of Gifford’s church, and was soon appointed deacon. His testimony became the talk of the town. Several were led to Christ because of God’s work in John’ soul.

In 1655, Bunyan began preaching to various congregations in Bedford. Hundreds came to hear him. He published his first book, Some Gospel Truths Opened, the following year. John wrote it to keep written to protect believers from being misled by Quaker and Ranter teachings about Christ’s person and work.

Two years later, Bunyan published A Few Sighs from Hell, an exposition of Luke 16:19-31 about the rich man and Lazarus. The book attacked professional clergy and the wealthy who promote carnality. It was well received, and helped establish Bunyan as a reputable Puritan writer. About that same time, his wife died.

In 1659, Bunyan published The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, which expounded his view of Covenant or Reformed theology, stressing the promissory nature of the covenant of grace and the dichotomy between law and grace. This helped establish him as a thoroughgoing Calvinist, although he still had disagreements with another Puritan pastor, Richard Baxter.

In 1660, while preaching in a farmhouse at Lower Samsell, Bunyan was arrested on the charge of preaching without official rights from the king. When told that he would be freed if he no longer preached, he replied, “If I am freed today, I will preach tomorrow.” He was thrown into prison, where he wrote prolifically and made shoelaces to provide some income for twelve and a half years (1660-1672).

Prior to his arrest, Bunyan had remarried, this time to a godly young woman named Elizabeth. She pleaded repeatedly for his release, but judges such as Sir Matthew Hale and Thomas Twisden rejected her plea. So Bunyan remained in prison with no formal charge and no legal sentence, in defiance of the habeas corpus provisions of the Magna Carta, because he refused to give up preaching the gospel and denounced the Church of England as false (see Bunyan’s A Relation of My Imprisonment, published posthumously in 1765).

In 1661 and from 1668-1672, certain jailers permitted Bunyan to leave prison at times to preach. George Offer notes, “It is said that many of the Baptist congregations in Bedfordshire owe their origins to his midnight preaching.” His prison years were times of difficult trials, however. Bunyan experienced what his Pilgrim’s Progress characters Christian and Faithful would later suffer at the hands of Giant Despair, who thrust pilgrims “into a very dark dungeon, nasty and stinking.” Bunyan especially felt the pain of separation from his wife and children, particularly “blind Mary,” describing it as a “pulling of the flesh from my bones.”

One of the defining characteristics of the Puritans, especially John Bunyan, was their commitment to the Scriptures in spite of the sacrifice it would entail. May we be found to as faithful in our day as they were in their day.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

The Puritans: John Bunyan.

One of the most familiar Puritans was John Bunyan. His allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, remains in print and by many statisticians is second only to the Bible as the all-time best-selling book. There are some 1,300 editions of The Pilgrim’s Progress currently in existence.

In an excerpt from Meet the Puritans by Dr. Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, the authors write: John Owen said of John Bunyan, a powerful preacher and the best-known of all the Puritan writers, that he would gladly exchange all his learning for Bunyan’s power of touching men’s hearts.” We’re going to focus our attention upon this infuential Puritan for the next several days.

John Bunyan was born in 1628 at Elstow, near Bedford, to Thomas Bunyan and Margaret Bentley. Thomas Bunyan, a brazier or tinker who mended people’s pots and pans was poor but not destitute.

John Bunyan was not a well-educated man. He eventually became rebellious, frequently indulging in cursing. He later wrote, “It was my delight to be taken captive by the devil at his will: being filled with all unrighteousness; that from a child I had but few equals, both for cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the holy name of God.” When Bunyan was sixteen years old, his mother and sister died a month apart. His father remarried a month later.

Bunyan joined Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army during the English Civil War (1642-1648) where he continued his rebellious ways. Fighting in the English Civil War had a sobering affect upon John. On one occasion, his life was providentially spared. In his book Grace Abounding, John recounted an incident from this time, as evidence of the grace of God: “When I was a soldier, I with others, was drawn out to go to such a place to besiege it. But when I was just ready to go, one of the company desired to go in my room; to which when I consented, he took my place, and coming to the siege, as he stood sentinel he was shot in the head with a musket bullet and died.”

His military experience was later reflected in his book, The Holy War in which he used his knowledge of military language to describe the spiritual war of the believer. Bunyan spent nearly three years in the army, leaving in 1647 to return to Elstow and a tinker’s trade.

In 1648, Bunyan married a God-fearing woman whose name remains unknown, and whose only dowry was two books: Arthur Dent’s The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven and Lewis Bayly’s The Practice of Piety. When Bunyan read those books, he was convicted of sin, but was not as yet converted to Christianity. He started attending the parish church, stopped swearing, and tried to honor the Sabbath.

Several months later, Bunyan came into contact with some women whose joyous conversation about the new birth and Christ deeply impressed him. He mourned his joyless existence as he realized that he was lost and outside of Christ. “I cannot now express with what longings and breakings in my soul I cried to Christ to call me,” he wrote. He felt that he had the worst heart in all of England. He confessed to be jealous of animals because they did not have a soul to account for before God.

Dr. Joel Beeke writes, “In 1651, the women introduced Bunyan to John Gifford, their pastor in Bedford. God used Gifford to lead Bunyan to repentance and faith. Bunyan was particularly influenced by a sermon Gifford preached on The Song of Solomon 4:1, “Behold thou art fair, my love, behold thou art fair,” as well as by reading Luther’s commentary of Galatians, in which he found his own experience “largely and profoundly handled, as if [Luther’s] book had been written out of my own heart.”

Bunyan recounts his own conversion this way in his book Grace Abounding. He writes, “One day, as I was passing in the field, this sentence fell upon my soul: Thy righteousness is in heaven; and me thought withal I saw with the eyes of my soul, Jesus Christ, at God’s right hand; there, I say, as my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was a-doing, God could not say of me, He wants my righteousness, for that was just before Him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ Himself, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away. Now I went home rejoicing for the grace and love of God. I lived for some time very sweetly at peace with God through Christ. Oh! me thought, Christ! Christ! There was nothing but Christ that was before my eyes. I saw now not only looking upon this and the other benefits of Christ apart, as of His blood, burial, and resurrection, but considered Him as a whole Christ! It was glorious to me to see His exaltation, and the worth and prevalency of all His benefits, and that because now I could look from myself to Him, and would reckon that all those graces of God that now were green in me, were yet but like those cracked groats and fourpence-halfpennies that rich men carry in their purses, when their gold is in their trunk at home! Oh, I saw that my gold was in my trunk at home! In Christ my Lord and Saviour! Now Christ was all.”

Can you recall a moment in time in which the righteousness of Christ became your own, by grace alone, through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone? If so, you know the truth of God loosing your burdens and afflictions from your soul. If you have not received Christ, you may. Right where you are.  

Soli deo Gloria!

The Puritans: The Persecutions Persist.

Following the conclusion of the English Civil War (1642-1648), and the publishing of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), the Puritans continued to experience difficulties. Partly this was due to their becoming in control of the government along with seeking to influence the church.

Increased tensions occurred following the Puritan victories under the military leadership of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658). Following the creation of a new Commonwealth, the political disagreements between Christians led to government gridlock. Therefore, Cromwell, as head of state, dissolved Parliament in 1653 and singularly ruled the country as Lord Protector. This continued until his death in 1658.

Religious freedoms flourished under Cromwell’s tenure. Leading Puritans, such as John Owen, were appointed to prestigious positions such as Oxford University. However, the political leadership which followed Cromwell, including his son Richard, failed. The English Monarchy resurrected in 1660 under King Charles II. This resulted in a return to the days of Puritan persecution. Many Puritan pastors, including John Bunyan and Richard Baxter, were imprisoned.

As Dr. Joel Beeke explains, “In 1662, the Act of Uniformity required Puritan ministers to repudiate their denominational ordinations, renounce their oath of the Solemn League and Covenant, and be re-ordained under the bishops. Nearly two thousand minsters (a fifth of all the clergy) refused to conform and were ejected from their parishes on St. Bartholomew’s Day, August 24, 1662.”

Additionally, The Conventicle Act of 1664 banned those who would not conform to government edicts from preaching in fields and in homes. The Five Mile Act of 1665 prohibited ministers from coming within five miles of their former churches or the town in which they were located.

However, the Puritans continued to preach, write, and defend the truth of God’s Word. Some of the most cherished classics were born during this intense time of persecution.

Sadly, the influence of the Puritans began to wane in the mid-17th century. While there would remain small vestiges of Puritan preaching, the widespread influence of Puritanism never reoccurred.

Brief Bio:

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

Excerpt from Meet the Puritans
by Dr. Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson

Matthew was Philip Henry’s second son. Born prematurely to his mother Katherine Henry, he apparently suffered from a weak constitution during his childhood. But what he lacked in physical health he made up for in spiritual vigor.

Schooled by his gifted father till he was eighteen, Henry went on to study at a Nonconformist academy in Islington, then a village near London. After 1662, Nonconformists like Henry were barred from graduating from either of the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge. As a result, various Nonconformist academies had come into existence to provide a liberal arts education and training for ministry.

The tutor at this academy was an eminent Presbyterian scholar, Thomas Doolittle (1631-1707), who had been converted as a boy in Kidderminster under the preaching of Richard Baxter (1615-1691). In 1682, however, persecution forced the academy to move, and Henry returned home.

Henry was the author of a goodly number of publications, some of which had a wide circulation in the years following his death — for example, A Communicant’s Companion (a treatise on the frame of heart in which to receive the Lord’s Supper written in 1704) and Directions for Daily Communion with God (1712). But the work for which Henry is best known is undoubtedly The Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, otherwise known as Matthew Henry’s Commentary. 

Henry had begun this massive work in November 1704. By the time of his death ten years later, the project had got as far as the end of the book of Acts. It would be finished by a number of ministers after his death.

The commentary is quintessentially Puritan. It focused on biblical spirituality and was alert to the need to glorify God in the whole of life. It was also chock-full of the terse and piquant aphorisms that the Puritans delighted to use to penetrate the hearts of their hearers and readers.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Puritans: Blessings out of Burdens.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

One of the paradoxes of the Christian life is that great blessings from God often occur when we encounter great burdens and difficulties. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12).

The Apostle Paul echoed this perspective in Romans 5:1-5 when in writing to Christians in Rome he explained, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Not only did James address this truth at the very beginning of his epistle, but also did the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews in 11:30-40. In this extensive paragraph, the writer gives testimony of the many saints who persevered under trials by faith.

It should then not surprise us that the Puritans encountered their share of trials and tribulations for their faith in Christ and their commitment to biblical truth. As one author comments: “It often seems as if God narrates the story of our lives with irony. Joy is often fleeting, and real joy is paradoxically birthed in the most challenging of times.”

It was during the most challenging of times that Puritan pastors wrote and preached wonderful sermons filled with theological gold. Were these magnificent texts composed and created in spite of their trials or as a direct result of the tribulations they encountered? I submit it was the latter and not the former.

One such treatise which was the result of Puritan commitment to biblical truth during turbulent times was the Westminster Confession of Faith. It was during the English Civil War (1642-1648), while under the direction of Parliament no less, that over one hundred Puritans leaders gathered at Westminster Abby to draft a new confession of faith for the national church.

The Westminster Confession of Faith was completed in 1647. It was approved by churches throughout Scotland, England and even New England in 1648. The Westminster Confession of Faith became the doctrinal statement for Puritan theology.

The Confession contains 33 chapters, which address doctrinal topics such as the inerrancy of Scripture, the Trinity, Creation, Providence, Justification, Sanctification, Marriage and Divorce and the Last Judgment. The Confession may be found in some study Bibles (The Reformation Study Bible) and online.

My favorite online source for the Westminster Confession of Faith is presented by the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics (CRTA). It can be accessed at www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs. Not only does the website contain the entire confession, but also supporting Scriptural texts. It is a convenient resource that is available at no cost.

It should not surprise us that we have a connection to our Puritan brothers and sisters. 2 Timothy 3:12 states, Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” While the Puritans did not seek trials and tribulations for their faith in Christ and commitment to biblical truth, they were not willing to compromise either. Neither should we.

Soli deo Gloria!

Brief Bio:

John Owen (1616-1683)

Excerpt from Meet the Puritans
by Dr. Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson

John Owen, called the “prince of the English divines,” “the leading figure among the Congregationalist divines,” “a genius with learning second only to Calvin’s,” and “indisputably the leading proponent of high Calvinism in England in the late seventeenth century,” was born in Stadham (Stadhampton), near Oxford. He was the second son of Henry Owen, the local Puritan vicar. Owen showed godly and scholarly tendencies at an early age. He entered Queen’s College, Oxford, at the age of twelve and studied the classics, mathematics, philosophy, theology, Hebrew, and rabbinical writings. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1632 and a Master of Arts degree in 1635. Throughout his teen years, young Owen studied eighteen to twenty hours per day.

Pressured to accept Archbishop Laud’s new statutes, Owen left Oxford in 1637. He became a private chaplain and tutor, first for Sir William Dormer of Ascot, then for John Lord Lovelace at Hurley, Berkshire. He worked for Lovelace until 1643. Those years of chaplaincy afforded him much time for study, which God richly blessed. At the age of twenty-six, Owen began a forty-one year writing span that produced more than eighty works. Many of those would become classics and be greatly used by God.

Owen’s fame spread rapidly in the late 1640s through his preaching and writings, gradually earning him a reputation as a leading Independent theologian. While he was still in his early thirties, more than a thousand people came to hear his weekly sermons. Yet Owen often grieved that he saw little fruit upon his labors. He once said that he would trade all his learning for John Bunyan’s gift for plain preaching. Clearly, he underestimated his own gifts.

 

 

 

 

The Puritans: The Conflict Grows.

“The Puritans were burning and shinning lights.”                    George Whitfield

The conflict between the Puritans and the English government intensified when Charles I (1600 –1649) became king in 1625. He attempted to re-introduce Catholic liturgy and prayer books back into Puritan Churches in England and Presbyterian Churches in Scotland. King Charles did not care about personal piety in the churches, but only about order and respect given to the king.

Persecution of the Puritans intensified under Charles trusted advisor William Laud (1573-1645). In 1628, Laud reintroduced many Catholic forms of worship into the churches. When King Charles dissolved Parliament and assumed personal and total rule in 1629, Laud let loose a bitter persecution against the Puritans. He prohibited the biblical doctrine of predestination, required all clergy to use the Catholic prayer book, wear vestments, and make congregations knell when taking Communion as an acknowledgment that the bread and wine were in actuality the body and blood of Christ.

Laud became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. At this time, Laud opposed the Puritans’ observance of the Sabbath demanding that instead of biblical preaching, all pastors must read The Book of Sports from the pulpit. This would be like all pastors today being required to read aloud Sports Illustrated from the pulpit instead of preaching from the Scriptures. Come to think of it, that’s what many pastors today are coming close to doing.

Instead of submitting to Laud’s demands and edicts, hundreds of Puritans emigrated to either the Netherlands or to New England. As one author notes, “In 1630 John Winthrop (1588-1649) lead the first great Puritan exodus to Massachusetts aboard the Arabella as part of a seven-ship flotilla. During the next decade, some of the most esteemed preachers in England, including John Cotton, Thomas Hooker and Thomas Shepard, joined 13,000 emigrants who sailed to New England.”

For those Puritans who remained in England, persecution became rampant. Puritan nonconformists, such as William Prynne (1600-1669), were branded and had their ears cut off. This brought back many memories of persecution under Queen Mary. Increased attacks by Laud against Scottish Presbyterians resulted in 1638 of the National Covenant which affirmed Reformed Theology and freedom of the Church in Scotland.

Charles refusal to work with either the Puritans, or Parliament, ultimately resulted in Charles fleeing London in 1642. Parliament rejected Charles’ claim of the Divine Right of Kings. This resulted in the English Civil War (1642-1648).

Charles’ Cavalier Army were defeated by the Puritan’s New Model Army of Soldiers under the brilliant leadership of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658). Parliament arrested Laud and executed him for treason in 1645. Charles was eventually tried, convicted and executed on January 30, 1649.

What would follow would mark a significant and enduring legacy left by the Puritans.

Brief Bio:

Thomas Hooker (1586-1647)

Excerpt from Meet the Puritans
by Dr. Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson

Thomas Hooker was born in Leicestershire around 1586. He was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and became Rector of Esher in Surrey in 1620. In the will of Thomas Williarnson, a churchwarden of Chelmsford Parish Church (now the Cathedral), money was left to finance monthly sermons, to be preached in the town, six shillings (30p) to be paid for each. These sermons were very popular and were held on the first Friday of each month, which was market day. In 1623, Alice Bird a widow of Chelmsford, gave to buy ‘a fair new pulpit to be set in a fit place in the church…. where people may hear God’s word’.

Thomas Hooker was appointed Town Lecturer of Chelmsford, ‘a good bigge town’, in 1625. He was a popular and powerful preacher and seemed to get on well with the Rector, John Michaelson. However, Laud, Bishop of London, in whose diocese Chelmsford then was, did not approve of his outspoken views. He placed the greatest emphasis on ceremonies in church: the communion table, not the pulpit, was to be the central feature. On the other hand, Hooker and his friends claimed the right to preach the word of God, as set forth in Holy Scripture, according to their consciences.

By 1628, Bishop Laud was determined to silence Hooker, who faced charges in the church courts. In 1630, he fled to Cuckoos Farmhouse in the small nearby village of Little Baddow, where he founded a school to teach young ministers.

In 1632 he was persuaded by his friends to flee with his family to Holland. The following year, he set sail to Boston. The family settled in New Town, which later became Cambridge, Massachusetts, but two years later he led a group of people a hundred miles into the Connecticut River valley where they established a new colony at Hartford and Hooker established his first church.

Thomas Hooker was the first minister of Center Church and led the original settlers to Hartford in 1636 from Newtowne (Cambridge), Massachusetts. In 1638 he preached a sermon to the General Court as they prepared to develop a plan for self-government for their colony. He shared his vision that “the foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people.” His vision was incorporated into the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, which is known as the first written constitution in the world and was a model for the United States Constitution.

He died at Hartford Connecticut, in 1647 and his statue in front of the Old State House.

 

The Puritans: Birth Pangs, Part 3.

One of the strong concerns which emerged in the 17th century among those within the Church of England, in the aftermath of the 16th century Protestant Reformation, was the issue of personal piety or holiness. The lingering question was how do you encourage true piety once you have reformed the church?

The Protestant Reformation had accomplished much in changing the organization of the church and the theology of the church. The growing issue became that now that the externals of the church were being reformed, how was the church to ensure true piety, devotion to God in the hearts of the people?

One of the ways the Puritans evaluated Christian’s personal piety and holiness was asking themselves the question of what kind of preaching were people receiving? Did the preaching really address what Christians are to believe and how they ought to live? The Puritans were concerned that this was not the type of preaching that was occurring in churches. Therefore, what the Puritans began to do was to create opportunities for people to hear preaching outside of the regular Sunday worship service. You might call these meetings “Bible Studies.” These meetings became known as Lectureships.

Another issue for the Puritans was the establishment of Sunday as a Christian Sabbath. They not only thought this was a continuation of obedience to the Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20), but also necessary for the health and wellbeing of the church. They had strong sense of the man’s need for a day of rest and worship. This perspective of a Christian Sabbath took hold of the Christian culture well on into the 20th century. I remember as a child that Sunday was a day of worship and no businesses or retail grocery or department stores were open. The day was distinctively different. What a dramatic change has occurred wherein many Christians only attend church when it does not interfere with their children’s dance recitals, sports clubs, the lake, or profession football games.

These reforms were pursued and took place while Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603) was Queen of England. The Puritans were hopeful that Elizabeth would support these, and other, reforms since she was technically the head of the Church of England. She was a most capable politician and the Puritans soon came to realize that she was not going to change anything out of concern of offending her other subjects who were not Puritans or in favor of Puritanism. The hope then was when Elizabeth died, her successor, James I, would further the Puritan reforms.

James (1566 -1625) became king in 1603. Raised by Presbyterians, He did not like his Presbyterian tutors because they believed they could tell or instruct the king. They were not submissive enough to suit his tastes.  Therefore, when the Puritans wanted the king to make the Church of England more like the Scottish Presbyterian Church, he refused. Both James, and his son Charles I, labored against the Puritans.

In attempting to deny that they were “schematics aiming at the dissolution of the English Church,” the Puritans presented new requests for church reform to King James in what was called The Millenary Petition (1603). Signed by thousands of ministers, it contained several proposed reforms. These included (1) changes in the administration of baptism; (2) the need for self-examination before Communion; (3) replacing bishops with clergy who would preach; and (4) installing greater restraints on excommunicating laypersons and suspending ministers.

King James responded to The Millenary Petition in 1604. In considering the Puritan’s requests, he finally concluded “No bishop, no king.” He correctly understood that to remove bishops and other church hierarchy was to eventually strip the king of his church authority as head of the Church of England. This James refused to do.

Although King James agreed to produce a new English translation of the Bible (the King James Version), he demanded that all clergy and pastors conform the established liturgy and government of the Church of England. The king enforced this through his bishops.

Between 1604 to 1609, nearly 90 ministers were suspended from their pastorates, including John Robinson (1575-1625), who would leave England for the Netherlands. Accompanying Robinson was William Bradford (1589-1657), future governor of Plymouth Colony. Also suspended was William Ames (1576-1633) one of the greatest Puritan theologians.

This conflict between the Puritans and the crown intensified when Charles I (1600 –1649) became king in 1625. He attempted to re-introduce Catholic liturgy and prayer books back into Puritan Churches in England and Presbyterian Churches in Scotland. King Charles did not care about personal piety in the churches, but only about order and respect given to the king.

As you can see, the Puritans desire for personal piety was not a non-controversial matter. More to come.

Brief Bio:

William Ames (1576-1633)

Excerpt from Meet the Puritans
by Dr. Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson

Prominent Puritan preacher and theologian of England and the Netherlands. Educated at Christ’s College, Cambridge (B.A. 1598, M.A. 1601), he stayed on to become a fellow and teacher of Christ’s. As a student he was converted by the Puritan preaching of William Perkins, and throughout his life he associated himself with the more extreme Puritans. In 1610 Ames was expelled from Cambridge because of his Puritanism, and thereafter his career was destroyed in England.

Ames took refuge in the Netherlands, joining the large English-Scottish refugee community. During his immigrant years he served first as a military chaplain and then as professor of theology at the University of Franeker (1622-33), where he earned a doctor of theology degree. He was a strong Calvinist and opposed the Arminians, which reputation drew him to the Synod of Dort (1618-19) as an adviser to the Synod president. He died at Rotterdam.

The Puritans: Birth Pangs, Part 2.

Puritanism began as a movement within the Church of England primarily concerned with this issue of personal piety. In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the Church of England, or the Anglican Church, was solidly committed to the Protestant Reformation and its theology. However, there were those who thought the reforms within the Church of England near the conclusion of the 16th century had not gone far enough. They felt there were too many remnants of Roman Catholicism. They believed worship services needed to be freer from liturgical organization and constraints.

You must realize that the head of the Church of England was the king or queen of England. Therefore, everybody was directed and required to go to church. You could be fined if you did not faithfully attend a church worship service. That must seem strange to us as Americans where we find so many reasons not to attend church, or we attend if there is nothing else on the calendar for that given Sunday.

One of the ways the Puritans evaluated Christian’s personal piety and holiness was asking themselves the question of what kind of preaching were people receiving? Did the preaching really address what Christians are to believe and how they ought to live? The Puritans were concerned that this was not the type of preaching that was occurring in churches.

Therefore, what the Puritans began to do was to create opportunities for people to hear preaching outside of the regular Sunday worship service. You might call these meetings “Bible Studies.” These meetings became known as Lectureships.

Another issue for the Puritans was the establishment of Sunday as a Christian Sabbath. They not only thought this was a continuation of obedience to the Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:8-11), but also necessary for the health and wellbeing of the church. They had a strong sense of man’s need for a day of rest and worship.

Therefore, Christians were to separate themselves from their regular work and routines and to dedicate Sunday as a day for not only corporate worship, but also personal worship. While there was some initial resistance to this, the Puritans were very successful in seeing the idea of a Christian Sabbath become entrenched in the lives of the people.

One of the best summations of Puritan theology of faith and practice is the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646). There is an entire chapter dedicated to the idea of a Christian Sabbath. This is available online at http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs.

How else did the Puritans impact the culture of country and Church of England? More to follow. Please take note of the “Brief Bio” I will be regularly including regarding leading Puritan pastors and authors.

Brief Bio:

John Welsh.

Excerpt from Meet the Puritans
by Dr. Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson

John Welsh was a Scottish Presbyterian leader.

He was born in Dumfriesshires’ and, after a wayward youth, attended the University of Edinburgh and obtained his MA in 1588. He became a minister in Selkirk, and at 59 years of age married 16 year old Elizabeth, a daughter of John Knox. He was a rival of his father-in-law in genius, piety and zeal.

Welsh later ministered in Kirkcudbright and in Ayr, where he spent five years and with which he was ever afterward associated. His preaching resulted in his imprisonment on the orders of King James VI of Scotland (James I of England), and in 1606 he was exiled to France, where he continued his activities for many years. His grandson was the Covenanters’ leader, John Welsh of Irongray.