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.

 

 

 

The Puritans: Birth Pangs.

What were the religious and political issues which existed in 16th and 17th century England which led to the origination of a loose group of Christians known as the Puritans?

One of the first issues was the Puritans love for the Word of God. Before the Puritans even existed, ignorance of the Scriptures was widespread, especially in England. It was here that William Tyndale (1495-1536) defied a law which forbade Bible translation. Tyndale had run afoul of religious and political authority because of his commitment to the Scriptures. Regarding his passion in ministry Tyndale said to a religious leader, “If God spare my life, ere many years, I will cause that a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of Scripture than that thou dost.” 

As one Tyndale biographer comments, “William Tyndale was a talented theologian. His theological writings were gathered and published in 1572. Tyndale’s work represents a formative contribution in the development of Protestant Christianity, especially on the central issue of justification by faith alone, by grace alone, which can be seen in a competent reply made to Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), English Lord Chancellor, who wrote books against Tyndale.” 

Tyndale  was successful in translating and printing the New Testament, plus the Pentateuch and the Book of Jonah, into English. While living in Europe, Tyndale was persecuted everywhere he lived. Eventually, due to betrayal, he was sentenced to prison. He was executed by strangling and burning in 1536.

One of Tyndale’s associates, Miles Coverdale (1488-1568), fled England for Switzerland where he used Tyndale’s work to translate the entire Bible into English. Henry VIII approved this endeavor. By 1537,  two editions were published in England of what came to be known as the Geneva Bible. It was the Bible the Puritans used. From 1579 and 1615, there were printed in England at least 39 editions of the Geneva Bible.

Tyndale’s work, and those who followed him, were some of the effects the Protestant Reformation had upon England.  However, the country’s eventual break from Roman Catholicism as its official church occurred for less than noble reasons.

The impact of the word of God through Martin Luther and others eventually reached the attention of England’s King Henry VIII (1509-1547). King Henry used the Reformation as a pretense to break free from the Roman Catholic Church in order for him to obtain a legal divorce, remarry, and eventually produce a male heir.

Following Henry’s death, and during the reign of Henry’s son King Edward VI (1547-1553), Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) introduced Reformed Theology into the Church of England. However, Edward’s successor, his Catholic sister Mary Tudor (1553-1558) also known as “Bloody Mary,” overturned many of the Protestant reforms, reinstated the Latin Mass, and enforced allegiance to the Pope by executing 270 Protestant martyrs, including Thomas Cranmer. Many pastors and Protestants fled to the continent to escape persecution.

When Mary’s Protestant sister Elizabeth (1553-1603) succeeded her, many who had fled to Europe returned to England hoping for a continuation of the religious reforms begun under King Edward. Even though Elizabeth’s Acts of Uniformity (1659-1662) were praised, many believed it left the church only half-reformed. Many of the trappings of Catholicism remained in churches. Many Christians were longing for the biblical preaching they had heard in Europe.

It was at this time that Thomas Cartwright’s (1553-1603) Book of Discipline was circulated. It contained new suggestions for religious public worship which supported and encouraged the expositional preaching of the Word of God and the proper observance of the ordinances of believer’s baptism and Communion.

Even though Queen Elizabeth fought against any further organized efforts to purify the church, a groundswell movement of pastors, many believe initiated by William Perkins (1558-1602) began to form. Puritan pastors and educators began to train many pastors of the next generation to purify the church.      

While reforming and purifying the Church of England remained a key goal of the Puritans, one of the other 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 and devotion to God in the hearts of the people?

The issue became one of formalism. Formalism, so to speak, is going through the motions of personal devotion to God, but truly lacking the inner desire. It is people coming to church, but just taking a nap. You can have a worship service organized to the minutest detail with no impact whatsoever on those attending. The movement known as Puritanism was also concerned about this issue.

Let me ask you a question. Are you a Puritan? The Puritans were concerned as to how there could be true piety, holiness and faith in the life of the church. Therefore, are you concerned about whether there is true piety, holiness and faith not only in your own life, but also in the life of your church? If so, then you are a Puritan at heart.

Brief Bio:

William Perkins

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

William Perkins was born in 1558 to Thomas and Hannah Perkins in the village of Marston Jabbett, in Bulkington parish, Warwickshire. As a youth, he indulged in recklessness, profanity, and drunkenness. In 1577, he entered Christ’s College in Cambridge as a pensioner, suggesting that socially he nearly qualified as gentry. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1581 and a master’s degree in 1584.

While a student, Perkins experienced a powerful conversion that probably began when he overheard a woman in the street chide her naughty child by alluding to “drunken Perkins.” That incident so humiliated Perkins that he gave up his wicked ways and fled to Christ for salvation. He gave up the study of mathematics and his fascination with black magic and the occult, and took up theology. In time, he joined up with Laurence Chaderton (1536–1640), who became his personal tutor and lifelong friend. Perkins and Chaderton met with Richard Greenham, Richard Rogers, and others in a spiritual brotherhood at Cambridge that espoused Calvinist and Puritan convictions.

From 1584 until his death, Perkins served as lecturer, or preacher, at Great St. Andrew’s Church, Cambridge, a most influential pulpit across the street from Christ’s College. He also served as a fellow at Christ’s College from 1584 to 1595. Fellows were required to preach, lecture, and tutor students, acting as guides to learning as well as guardians of finances, morals, and manners.

On July 2, 1595, Perkins resigned his fellowship to marry a young widow. That motivated Samuel Ward, later Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, to respond in his diary, “Good Lord, grant…there follow no ruin to the college.” Men such as Ward counted it a great blessing to sit under Perkins’s teaching and to witness his exemplary living.

Perkins served the university in other capacities. He was dean of Christ’s College from 1590 to 1591. He catechized the students at Corpus Christi College on Thursday afternoons, lecturing on the Ten Commandments in a manner that deeply impressed the students. On Sunday afternoons, he worked as an adviser, counseling the spiritually distressed.

Perkins had exceptional gifts for preaching and an uncanny ability to reach common people with plain preaching and theology. He pioneered what was known as Puritan Casuistry—the art of dealing with “cases of conscience” by self-examination and scriptural diagnosis. Many people were convicted of sin and delivered from bondage under his preaching. The prisoners of the Cambridge jail were among the first to benefit from his powerful preaching. Perkins “would pronounce the word damn with such an emphasis has left a doleful Echo in his auditors’ ears a good while after,” wrote Thomas Fuller.

In time, Perkins as rhetorician, expositor, theologian, and pastor became the principle architect of the Puritan movement. His vision of reform for the church, combined with his intellect, piety, writing, spiritual counseling, and communication skills, enabled him to set the tone for the seventeenth-century Puritan accent on Reformed, experiential truth and self-examination, and their polemic against Roman Catholicism and Arminianism.

Perkins writings include The Works of William Perkins, A Commentary on Hebrews 11, The Art of Prophesying, and The Foundation of Christian Religion Gathered into Six Principles.

 

 

 

The Puritans: The Benefit of Reading the Puritans, Part 3.

The Puritans have become recently introduced to a whole host of people through the publishing of much of their literature which was originally written in the 16th and 17th centuries. In large measure it was Pastor Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899 – 1981) who helped to create a demand for books by the Puritans. One way he did so was through an annual Puritan Conference which created a demand for Puritan literature. Puritan reprints began to be republished by the publishing company Banner of Truth Trust in the 1950’s.

As one author on the Puritans comments, “A new generation of Christians began to relish the written legacy of the Puritans in their quest for guidance and understanding. Demand began to grow for new editions of ‘the good old puritanical writings’.”

Dr. Joel Beeke, who along with Randall Pederson co-authored the book Meet the Puritans, gives nine reasons how one may profit from reading the writings of the Puritans. Those reasons are as follows.

First, Puritan writings help shape life by Scripture.  Second, Puritan writings show how to integrate biblical doctrine into daily life. Third, Puritan writings show how to exalt Christ and see His beauty. Fourth, Puritan writings reveal the Trinitarian character of theology. Fifth, Puritan writings show you how to handle trials. Sixth, Puritan writings explain true spirituality. 

Seventh, Puritan writings show how to live by wholistic faith. Dr. Beeke explains that, “The Puritans apply every subject they write about to practical “uses”—as they term it. These “uses” will propel you into passionate, effective action for Christ’s kingdom. Their own daily lives integrated Christian truth with covenant vision; they knew no dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. Their writings can assist you immeasurably in living a life that centers on God in every area, appreciating His gifts, and declaring everything “holiness to the Lord.”

I encourage you to read the compilation of The Puritans on Prayer, Richard Steele’s The Character of an Upright Man, George Hamond’s Case for Family Worship, Cotton Mather’s Help for Distressed Parents, and Arthur Hildersham’s Dealing with Sin in Our Children.

Eighth, Puritan writings teach the importance and primacy of preaching. For the Puritans, preaching was the high point of public worship. Preaching must be expository, instructive and edifying. It must also be evangelistic and convicting, experiential and applicatory, powerful and “plain” in its presentation, ever respecting the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. Read William Perkins’s The Art of Prophesying and Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor.

Finally, Puritan writings show how to live in two worlds. Dr. Beeke explains that, “The Puritans said we should have heaven “in our eye” throughout our earthly pilgrimage. They took seriously the New Testament passages that say we must keep the “hope of glory” before our minds to guide and shape our lives here on earth. They viewed this life as “the gymnasium and dressing room where we are prepared for heaven,” teaching us that preparation for death is the first step in learning to truly live.”. Richard Baxter’s The Saint’s Everlasting Life and Richard Alleine’s Heaven Opened.

You may be asking yourself, where do I begin to introduce myself to the Puritans and their writings? I would encourage you to purchase Meet the Puritans. The authors compile brief biographies of 621 Puritan pastors/authors. They also provide a guide to modern reprints of Puritan literature.

I would also encourage you to access the website www.monergism.com. Not only does this website contain a host of sound biblical articles, books, and free e-books on many biblical topics, it also provides a whole host of material on the Puritans.

When next we meet, we’ll begin to explore the political and religious culture which existed in 16th century England which led to the origination of a loose group of Christians and pastors known as the Puritans.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Puritans: The Benefit of Reading the Puritans, Part 2.

The Puritans have become recently introduced to a whole host of people through the publishing of much of their literature which was originally written in the 16th and 17th centuries. In large measure it was Pastor Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899 – 1981) who helped to create a demand for books by the Puritans. One way he did so was through an annual Puritan Conference which created a demand for Puritan literature. Puritan reprints began to be republished by the publishing company Banner of Truth Trust in the 1950’s.

As one author on the Puritans comments, “A new generation of Christians began to relish the written legacy of the Puritans in their quest for guidance and understanding. Demand began to grow for new editions of ‘the good old puritanical writings’.”

Dr. Joel Beeke, who along with Randall Pederson co-authored the book Meet the Puritans, gives nine reasons how one may profit from reading the writings of the Puritans. Those reasons are as follows.

First, Puritan writings help shape life by Scripture.  Second, Puritan writings show how to integrate biblical doctrine into daily life. Third, Puritan writings show how to exalt Christ and see His beauty.

Fourth, Puritan writings reveal the Trinitarian character of theology. Dr. Beeke writes,The Puritans were driven by a deep sense of the infinite glory of a Triune God. When they answered the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism that man’s chief end was to glorify God, they meant the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They took John Calvin’s glorious understanding of the unity of the Trinity in the Godhead, and showed how that worked itself out in electing, redeeming, and sanctifying love and grace in the lives of believers. John Owen wrote an entire book on the Christian believer’s communion with God as Father, Jesus as Savior, and the Holy Spirit as Comforter. The Puritans teach us how to remain God-centered while being vitally concerned about Christian experience, so that we don’t fall into the trap of glorifying experience for its own sake.” Read John Owen’s Communion with God and Jonathan Edwards on the Trinity.”

Fifth, Puritan writings show you how to handle trials. As Dr. Beeke continues,Puritanism grew out of a great struggle between the truth of God’s Word and its enemies. Reformed Christianity was under attack in Great Britain, much like Reformed Christianity is under attack today. The Puritans were good soldiers in the conflict, enduring great hardships and suffering much. Their lives and their writings stand ready to arm us for our battles, and to encourage us in our suffering. The Puritans teach us how we need affliction to humble us (Deut. 8:2), to teach us what sin is (Zeph. 1:12), and how that brings us to God (Hos. 5:15). “

As Robert Leighton wrote, “Affliction is the diamond dust that heaven polishes its jewels with.” The Puritans show us how God’s rod of affliction is His means to write Christ’s image more fully upon us, so that we may be partakers of His righteousness and holiness (Heb. 12:10–11).” Read Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot and The Sovereignty and Wisdom of God Displayed in the Afflictions of Men.

Sixth, Puritan writings explain true spirituality. Dr. Beeke comments that, “The Puritans stress the spirituality of the law, spiritual warfare against indwelling sin, the childlike fear of God, the wonder of grace, the art of meditation, the dreadfulness of hell, and the glories of heaven.” If you want to live deep as a Christian, read Oliver Heywood’s Heart Treasure.

Read the Puritans devotionally, and then pray to be like them. Ask questions such as: Am I, like the Puritans, thirsting to glorify the Triune God? Am I motivated by biblical truth and biblical fire? Do I share their view of the vital necessity of conversion and of being clothed with the righteousness of Christ? Do I follow them as far as they followed Christ?”

Good questions to consider. Next time, we will continue to examine reasons for reading the literature by the Puritans.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Puritans: The Benefit of Reading the Puritans.

The Puritans have become recently introduced to a whole host of people through the publishing of much of their literature which was originally written in the 16th and 17th centuries. In large measure it was Pastor Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899 – 1981) who helped to create a demand for books by the Puritans. One way he did so was through an annual Puritan Conference which created a demand for Puritan literature. Puritan reprints began to be republished by the publishing company Banner of Truth Trust in the 1950’s.

As one author on the Puritans comments, “A new generation of Christians began to relish the written legacy of the Puritans in their quest for guidance and understanding. Demand began to grow for new editions of ‘the good old puritanical writings’.”

Dr. Joel Beeke, who along with Randall Pederson co-authored the book Meet the Puritans, gives nine reasons how one may profit from reading the writings of the Puritans. Those reasons are as follows.

One, Puritan writings help shape life by Scripture. The Puritans loved, lived, and breathed Holy Scripture. They relished the power of the Spirit that accompanied the Word. Their books are all Word-centered; more than 90 percent of their writings are repackaged sermons that are rich with scriptural exposition. The Puritan writers truly believed in the sufficiency of Scripture for life and godliness.

Two, Puritan writings show how to integrate biblical doctrine into daily life. The Puritan writings do this in three ways: To begin with, they address your mind. In keeping with the Reformed tradition, the Puritans refused to set mind and heart against each other, but viewed the mind as the palace of faith. The Puritans understood that a mindless Christianity fosters a spineless Christianity. An anti-intellectual gospel quickly becomes an empty, formless gospel that never gets beyond “felt needs,” which is something that is happening in many churches today.

Additionally, Puritan writings confront your conscience. The Puritans are masters at convicting us about the heinous nature of our sin against an infinite God. They excel at exposing specific sins, then asking questions to press home conviction of those sins. As one Puritan wrote, “We must go with the stick of divine truth and beat every bush behind which a sinner hides, until like Adam who hid, he stands before God in his nakedness.”

Also, the Puritan writers engage your heart. They excel in feeding the mind with solid biblical substance and they move the heart with affectionate warmth. They write out of love for God’s Word, love for the glory of God, and love for the soul of readers. Read Vincent Alsop’s, Practical Godliness.

Third, Puritan writings show how to exalt Christ and see His beauty. The Puritans loved Christ and exalted in His beauty. Puritan Samuel Rutherford wrote: “Put the beauty of ten thousand worlds of paradises, like the Garden of Eden in one; put all trees, all flowers, all smells, all colors, all tastes, all joys, all loveliness, and all sweetness in one. O what a fair and excellent thing would that be? And yet it would be less to that fair and dearest well-beloved Christ than one drop of rain to the whole seas, rivers, lakes, and foundations of ten thousand earths.”

If you would desire to know Christ better and love Him more completely, engage yourself in Puritan literature. Read Robert Asty’s, Rejoicing in the Lord Jesus.

Next time, we will continue to examine reasons for reading the literature by the Puritans.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Puritans: Five Major Concerns.

“The recent revival of interest in and commitment to the truths of Reformed theology is due in large measure to the rediscovery of Puritan literature. The Puritans of old have become the prophets for our time.”                                                                                            R.C. Sproul

Throughout the ministry and writings by the Puritans, five major concerns dominate their thinking. Each of the five were thoroughly considered in the vast volume of their work.

First, the Puritans were concerned with searching the Scriptures, organizing their findings and apply what they had learned in every area of life.

Second, the Puritans possessed a commitment to Trinitarian theology. They loved the electing grace of God, the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, and the applying work by the Holy Spirit. Their experiential Christianity was not an experience for the sake of experience. Rather, they examined how the experience of living for Christ stemmed from God’s work in them resulting in Him receiving the glory.

Third, the Puritans were committed to the local church. They believed worship should be biblically orientated, preaching should focus on the meaning of the biblical text and the fostering of Christian fellowship should never be taken for granted. These disciplines, they believed, ensured the well-being of the local church.

Fourth, the Puritans were not separatists from politics, but were engaged and involved in English government. They looked to Scripture for insight on the duties, rights, responsibilities and the authority of the king, Parliament and the citizens.

Fifth, the Puritans preached an individual, personal, and God centered conversion of the sinner. They agreed with Jesus when He said in John 3:3, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.” Therefore, they preached the biblical gospel, called the sinner to repentance and faith, rested in the Holy Spirit’s monergistic regenerating work in conversion, and to disciple the new believer in Christ in order for the new convert to grow in their faith. The Puritans agreed with James 2:17 that faith without works is dead and one’s faith in Christ should impact one’s home, work, church and culture.

Dr. J.I. Packer summarizes the Puritans this way: “Puritanism was an evangelical holiness movement seeking to implement its vision of spiritual renewal, national and personal, in the church, the state, and the home; in education, evangelism, and economics; in individual discipleship and devotion, and in pastoral care and competence.”

Take time today to evaluate how well you are committed to the previously mentioned five major concerns of the Puritans. May your concern for personal piety and biblical truth mirror theirs.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

Profiles of Courage: Why the Puritans?

“The Puritans [were] burning and shining lights. When cast out by the black Bartholomew Act, and driven from their respective charges to preach in barns and fields, in the highways and hedges, they in a special manner wrote and preached as men having authority. Though dead, by their writings they yet speak: a peculiar unction attends them to this very hour.”                                                                                                                 George Whitfield (1714-1770)

After yesterday’s introduction to the subject of the Puritans, you may be asking yourself this question: Why the Puritans? What possibly could we glean from a group of pastors, parishioners and churches who existed for a brief period of time 300-400 years ago? In England no less!

Dr. Joel Beeke explains, “Just who were the Puritan writers? They were not only the two thousand ministers who were ejected from the Church of England by the Act of Uniformity in 1662, but also those ministers in England and North America, from the sixteenth century through the early eighteenth century, who worked to reform and purify the church and to lead people toward godly living consistent with the Reformed doctrines of grace.”

Do the Puritans have anything to offer the church today from what they experienced, learned and wrote in their own day and time? I believe they do. I submit the Puritans, their personal history along with their valuable and voluminous writings, can contribute much to the health and stability of today’s evangelical church and the biblical gospel. When many churches, and pastors, are content to engage today in frothy Bible study and man-centered entertainment as a substitute for God-centered worship, the Puritans are a breath of fresh air in their singular devotion to the glory of God.

Let me remind you that the word “Puritan’ originated in the 1560’s as a bit of pejorative hurled at people who wanted further reformation in the Church of England. While some social historians think the term should be abandoned due to various ways it was used at that time, there are others who continue to defend the terms “Puritan” and “Puritanism.” The word “Puritan” originated from the Greek word katharos meaning pure.

Don’t misunderstand me. The Puritans were not perfect. They were men and women much like ourselves. They were susceptible to the same temptations we face. They struggled with the same issues we encounter. If this be the case, what then sets them apart for this special study?

First, the Puritans possessed and sought to foster a consistent and dynamic fellowship with God that shaped not only their thinking, but also their emotions and their wills. In short, their souls. Their grounding was in the God of the Bible: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The church today must return to such a “focus”, which in large measure it has forsaken for popularity and acceptance by the culture.

Second, the Puritans possessed a passion for God’s Word. They not only sought to know as much as they could from God’s Word, but they also wrote about their acquired knowledge of biblical theology in many books and published sermons. Theirs was a passion for biblical truth. As one author comments, “The distinctive character of Puritanism was its quest for a life reformed by the Word of God.” The church today must return to such a foundation”, which in large measure it has forsaken for popularity and acceptance by the culture.

Third, because of their common spiritual quest for God’s Word and unity in the Christian faith and gospel, the Puritans established a network of relationships among believers and ministers. The Puritans sought to apply God’s Word in every area of life. The church today must return to such a “fervor”, which in large measure it has forsaken for popularity and acceptance by the culture.

On author notes that, “Puritanism grew out of three needs: (1) the need for biblical preaching and the teaching of sound Reformed doctrine; (2) the need for biblical, personal piety that stressed the work of the Holy Spirit in the faith and life of the believer; and (3) the need to restore biblical simplicity in liturgy, vestments, and church government, so that a well-ordered church life would promote the worship of the Triune God as prescribed in His Word.”

It is obvious that the vision for life and ministry which consumed the Puritans in the 16th and 17 the centuries should be seriously considered by the evangelical church today in the 21st century.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

Profiles of Courage: The Puritans.

Occasionally, we will devote significant time and space to a category of posts entitled Profiles of Courage. A profile is a sketch or a summary of an individual’s life or a brief episode in a person’s life. Courage refers to doing what is right, even when facing opposition. It is synonymous with bravery, nerve, valor, or guts.

With this in mind, we will take a brief look at particular individuals in Scripture and church history who profile, or illustrate, a courage and conviction to stand for biblical truth. One such category of individuals are known as The Puritans.

There is a lot of confusion, as there often is when the subject is the evangelical church of Jesus Christ, regarding the Puritans. The pejorative designation “puritanical” is often used in describing people, or people groups, who are judgmental of others, legalistic and who seek to restrict an individual’s freedom. This term stems from a misconception of the Puritans. Additionally, most people attribute the Puritans to be people who only wore black and white, whose men and women respectively had weird hats and bonnets, and who burned witches at the stack in Salem, Massachusetts. Perhaps people may recall they, the Puritans, had something remotely to do with the Mayflower and the first Thanksgiving.

What many do not realize is the depth and breadth of biblical teaching and writings, many still in print, from the Puritans containing the vast volumes of sound and solid theological teaching.. What I hope to do in this series is to at least inform you who the Puritans were and how the Puritans still contribute to the overall health of biblical theology in the church today. I will also inform you of some wonderful books and web sites which provide introductions to this people group and their teachings.

A study of the Puritans involves not only who they were, but when they lived, what they accomplished and what they taught. As one author has commented, “History is not a popular subject. We cannot assume that those who are British are automatically well-educated in English History. It is rare for those outside Britain to know English history. How can we introduce overseas Christians to the best theological inheritance ever?

The Puritans were English Reformed Protestants in the 16th  and 17th  centuries who sought to “purify” the Church of England from its “Catholic” practices, maintaining that the Church of England was only partially reformed. They were an extended body of believers who ultimately were a result of the Protestant Reformation begun by Martin Luther and continued by John Calvin.

The Puritans, and Puritanism was founded as an activist movement within the Church of England. The founders, clergy exiled under Mary I, returned to England shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558.

As author Peter Toon explains, In America today “separation of church and state” is basic to both political and theological thinking. In contrast, in the sixteenth century in England the union of church and state was taken for granted as governed and guided by divine providence. In fact, the one definite thing that can be said about the English Reformation is that it was first of all an act of state. Central to it all was the assertion of royal supremacy, of king or queen, in ecclesiastical affairs. And the claim of royal supremacy was made explicitly not only by Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth I, but also implicitly by the Catholic Mary when she decided to reconcile the English church with the Roman papacy in 1553.

As with any movement, theological or political, there were seeds sown which germinated only after a significant period of time. The flowering of the Puritans only occurred after years of growth of reformed protestant churches in England, and with the subsequent persecution of those same churches and pastors by those opposed to such church growth.

It has been said, with some degree of accuracy I might add, that the church is its strongest when it has faced its fiercest opposition. Such could be said of the founding and flourishing of the Puritans.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

Knowing God: Final Thoughts?

This is the fiftieth article I have written about the subject of Knowing God. You would think that after this many blogs and posts, I would have exhausted the subject of what it means to know God. Hardly!

However, I have a profound sense of inadequacy regarding this particular subject. I know there is so much more to say and has been said better by pastors and authors much more gifted than myself. As another author writes, “Man cannot know himself without knowing God. And God cannot be known unless God freely reveals Himself to man. God has done this in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

I hope by now that you understand that knowing God is much more than just reciting facts about His character and His work through the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Knowing God is not about knowing about God.

Knowing God is understanding who He is, what He likes and dislikes in this interpersonal relationship He has created with sinners by grace alone, through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. Let me explain by using a personal example.

My wife Diana and I just recently celebrated our 42nd wedding anniversary. Where has the time flown? When I first met Di when we worked together at a grocery store, I became aware of certain facts about her. The longer I spent time with her in conversation, the more facts I learned. However, when our friendship turned to love for each other, I became strangely aware that knowing her was so much more than just knowing facts.

I can tell you when she is happy, sad, frustrated, troubled, joyful, contented and a whole range of other emotions. I know what she likes, and dislikes. I know that the few times in our marriage that she has called me on the phone crying, it is a big deal. Di doesn’t cry easily, but when she does, it is huge. I need to immediately drop what I am doing and attend to the matter at hand.

Here’s the question: do I, we, have that same inert sense of God? Do we immediately sense what pleases Him and what does not? Does the Word of God immediately come to our minds when we face the circumstances of life? Do we understand and comprehend about how God thinks about such circumstances? We should!

Begin this discipline: when faced with a decision, ask yourself what God, in His Word, says about the subject. If you do not immediately know the answer, then find the answer. Ask your pastor, mentor, or spouse about the issue at hand. Seek godly and biblical counsel. After a while, you won’t have to guess what God thinks, you’ll know because you are coming to a greater knowledge of God.

Dr. Michael Horton writes, “As with ourselves, God is best known by his involvement in personal relationships to which he attaches his authority. In other words, God is known as he reveals himself in Scripture, not as we “find” him ourselves. The question is not, “What should God be like, given our experiences or philosophical premises?” but “What has God actually shown himself to be like?”

May the Lord bless you as you continue to seek to know Him more and more.

Soli deo Gloria!