“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!
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.