The Puritan View
Although the period of the Puritan Movement in this country was relatively short in time, its infleunce has lasted for some 500 years and that influence still remains today. Puritan faith and Puritan life were closely bound together, this can be seen best in the sermon literature that we are still privileged to read today.
Peter Lewis, in his book: "The Genius of Puritanism" writes:
From the despised "prophesying" of Elizabeth's day to the hounded conventicles of Restoration England, the Puritan preaching was a power in the land. It was by turns tolerated, encouraged and opposed; it was applauded, "refuted" and mocked; it was venerated and it was blasphemed - but it could not be, and never was ignored.
We have a great deal to learn from the Puritans, for instance they held that the pure Word of God was the criterion to which doctrine, worship, and church government must conform, most importantly, the proclamation of the Scriptures occupied the central position in their worship.
Dr Bruce Bickel records that the acual movement itself began around 1559 with the Act of Uniformity. In response to this attempt to make the English church more uniform in its ecclesiology, those who worked to purify and reform the church beyond what the government had established were called Puritans.
Peter Lewis states that:
"It began under Elizabeth 1 who suspected it, grew under James 1 who feared it, increased in power under Charles 1 and his Arch-bishop, William Laud, who despised it, gained a brief but august ascendency under Cromwell who honoured it, and ended under Charles 2 and his bishops who hated it".
Was that the destruction and failure of Puritanism? ...... the answer to that question stands in history ...... NO it didn't ... instead it in some way immortalised the way those people lived their Christian lives, and the standards that they lived by ...... Not only the Church, but individual Christians of today can learn a great deal from the Puritan movement to the enrichment of their own lives and Christian experience.
The Puritan View of the
1. Person and Work of Christ
The Puritans preached a salvation that was full and perfect, their message was one of the all-sufficiency and suitability of the person of Christ as the sole substitute for the sinner. They preached about who Christ was, what He had done, and what He was able to do. John Owen stated that the power that is in the Word of God consists in its efficacy to communicate the grace of God unto the souls of men. The grace of God was seen in the person and work of Christ as contained in the gospel.
John Owen said:
"There must therefore an image or representation of him be made unto our minds, or he cannot be the proper object of our faith, trust, love, and delight. This is done in the gospel, and the preaching of it; for therein he is "evidently set forth before our eyes as crucified among us" (Galatians 3:1).
Thomas Lye stated:
"The fulness of Christ's satisfaction is ... ... plain from the infinite worthiness of his person ... ... The great acceptableness of this sacrifice unto God proceeds from the dignity of the priest offering - the eternal Son of God, in whom God was infinitely well pleased ... ... Tell me, then, is there in Christ's humiliation an all-fulness of satisfaction to divine justice, yes, or no? If so, what need then is the least of this fig-leaf of human satisfaction? To what purpose do we light up a dim taper and a smokey candle, when we have before us the clear and full light of a mid-day sun? If Christ's satisfaction be of infinite price, why may it not serve for the expiation of the guilt of temporal, as well as eternal punishment? If there be an all-sufficiency in Christ's satisfaction, what need the supplement of ours?".
2. Of The Pulpit
To the Puritans the pulpit was an important aspect of their worship, they held that the Word of God was pure, therefore the proclamation of the Scriptures occupied the central position of their worship services. The importance of preaching consisted in the fact that it was the declaration by the preacher of the revelation of God, confirmed in the hearts of the believers by the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit, this was something that derived from their high view of God and of the Scriptures.
Richard Baxter said:
"It is no small matter to stand up in the face of a congregation, and deliver a message of salvation or damnation, as from the living God, in the name of our Redeemer. It is no easy matter to speak so plain, that the ignorant may understand us; and so seriously that the deadest hearts may feel us; and so convincingly, that contradicting cavillers may be silenced".
Richard Baxter stated the urgency of preaching in another way:
"Let the awful and important thoughts of souls being saved by my preaching, or left to perish and be condemned to hell by my negligency, I say, let this awful and tremendous thought dwell ever upon your heart"
William Bradshaw claimed to speak for the whole body of Puritans when he said:
"They hold that the highest and supreme office and authority of the Pastor, is to preach the gospel solemnly and publicaly to the Congregation, by interpreting the written word of God, and applying the same by exhortation and reproof unto them. They hold that this was the greatest work that Christ and his apostles did"
Thomas Watson wrote:
"It was by the ear, by our first parents listening to the serpent, that we lost paradise; and it is by the ear, by hearing of the Word preached, that we get to heaven. "Hear, and your souls shall live" (Isaiah 55:3)
3. Of Assurance
Many Christians today struggle with the matter of Assurance, often the difficulty of assurance arises from the fact we are prone to walk negligently and carelessly and therefore allow our defences to fall, once we do that Satan is ready to jump right in. If Satan cannot hinder us in our duties, then he will hinder us in our comfort, our well-being, that which brings relief from affiction and grief. He makes us doubt God therefore making assurance difficult that his own favour may be more highly prized.
Anthony Burgess explains how to get assurance:
(Spiritual Refining: A Treatise on Assurance - Published 1652)
a) Give all diligence to obtaining it; he that never doubts will never learn
b) Fruitfully, fervently, and actively walk in all the ways of holiness
c) Exercise humility and meekness; avoid all presumptions and self-righteousness
d) Watch against all known sin
e) Take heed of grieving the Spirit of God, or quenching the motions of it
f) Aquaint thyself well with the covenant of the gospel, with the precious promises revealed there, with the gracious condescension of God's love in Christ
Books by Puritan writers:
The Beatitudes - Thomas Watson
The Lord's Pray - Thomas Watson
The Ten Commandments - Thomas Watson
Foxe's Book of Martyrs - John Foxe
A Body of Divinity - Thomas Watson
The Christian Ministry - Charles Bridges
The Doctorine of Justification by Faith - John Owen
The Death of Deaths in the Death of Christ - John Owen
Heaven on Earth - Thomas Brooks
The Reformed Pastor - Richard Baxter
The Spirit and the Church - John Owen
Divine Thougths - Richard Baxter
The Christians Great Interest - William Guthrie
A Lifting up for the Downcast - William Bridge
A Puritan Golden Treasury - I.D.E. Thomas
The True Bounds of Christian Freedom - Samuel Bolton
Indwelling Sin in Believers - John Owen
Alleine's Alarm - Joseph Alleine
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment - Jeremiah Burroughs
The Mystery of Providence - John Flavel
(This represents a cross section of books avaiable from Puritan writers that are available, there are many more that could be added to the list, if you are looking for good sound guidance then you can do no better than read the Puritans.)
Many of the great hymns we enjoy signing came from the pen of Puritan Hymn-writers such as this one by Isaac Watts
"So let our lips and lives express
The holy gospel we profess;
So let our work and virtues shine,
To prove the docrine all divine.
Thus shall we best proclain abroad
The honours of our Saviour God,
When His salvation reigns within,
And grace subdues the power of sin.
Our flesh and sense must be denied,
Passion and envy, lust and pride,
While justice, temperance, truth and love,
Our inward godliness approve.
Religion bears our spirits up,
While we expect that blessed hope,
The bright appearance of the Lord:
And faith stands leaning on His Word".
"Adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things" (Titus 2 v 10)
(This hymn is found in Christian Worship: Number 856 - Page 401 Words Edition)
Joseph Alleine - William Ames
Richard Baxter - Thomas Boston
Thomas Brooks - Stephen Charnock
Oliver Cromwell - Philip Dodderidge
Jonathan Edwards - John Foxe
John Flavel - Thomas Goodwin
William Guthrie - Matthew Henry
John Owen - Matthew Poole
Samuel Rutherford - Richard Stibbs
Thomas Watson - Isaac Watts
(Apologies if your favourate Puritan is missing
there are many more who could be listed,
this is just a cross section)
A Puritan Compass That Leads to Doctrinal Truth
Sometimes it's just easy to lose sight of the forest through the trees, and so it is with the teachings of the bible as well. From the quill of the 17th century Puritan John Flavel, comes this excellent one-paragraph summary of the bible. It's "old truth" that we can use as a compass, in evaluating modern methods and movements:
"Whatever religion or doctrine condones or makes allowances for sin is not of Christ. The Doctrine of Christ everywhere teaches self-denial and mortification of worldliness and sin. The whole stream of the gospel runs against those things. Scripture emphasizes the 'holy' and the 'heavenly' (not the sinful and the worldly). The true gospel has not even the slightest tendency to extol corrupt nature, or feed its pride by magnifying its freedom and power. And it rejects everything that undermines or obscures the merit of Christ, or tries to give any credit to man, in any way. And it certainly never makes the death of Christ a cloak to cover sin, but rather it always speaks of it as an instrument that destroys it!"
Overlay John Flavel's template on any of the fads and debates that are so prevalent in the modern church, and you'll have a clearer understanding of which side is true and which side is an impostor.