You’ve no doubt heard the words “puritan” and “puritanical” countless times, almost always pejoratively. I have blogged through Leland Ryken’s Worldly Saints, and recommended it on several occasions, so I assume that many, if not most, of my readers understand that the common use of those words has little relation to the truth about the people we know as the Puritans. Many of you know who the Puritans were, what they believed, and how they lived. For those who don’t, or who want to know more, I recommend (in addition to Ryken’s indispensible book) Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke and Randall Peterson, which contains brief biographies of over one hundred Puritan writers, and “A Guide to Modern Reprints” of Puritan works.
The Preface provides a list of “five major concerns” addressed substantially in Puritan writing:
- Puritanism was at its core a concern to search the scriptures, collate their findings, and apply them to all areas of life. In so doing, the Puritans also aimed to be confessional and theological, and drew heavily on the labors of dedicated Christian scholarship.
- The Puritans were passionately committed to focusing on the Trinitarian character of theology. They never tired of proclaiming the electing grace of God, the dying love of Jesus Christ, and the applicatory work of the Holy Spirit in the live of sinners. Their fascination with Christian experience was not so much motivated by an interest in their experience per se as it was in their desire to trace out the divine work within them so that they could render all glory to their Triune Lord.
- In common with the Reformers, the Puritans believed in the significance of the church in the purposes of Christ. They believed therefore that the worship of the church should be the careful outworking and faithful embodiment of her biblical faith, and so Puritanism was a movement that focused on plain and earnest preaching, liturgical reform, and spiritual brotherhood. Likewise, the Puritans believed that there was an order or polity for the government of the church revealed in Scripture, and the well-being of the church depended on bringing her into conformity to that order.
- In the great questions of national life presented by the crises of their day, the Puritans looked to Scripture for light on the duties, power, and rights of king, Parliament, and citizen-subjects.
- In regard to the individual, the Puritans focused on personal, comprehensive conversion. They believed with Christ that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven” (John 3:3. So they excelled at preaching the gospel, probing the conscience, awakening the sinner, calling him to repentance and faith, leading him to Christ, and schooling him in the way of Christ. Likewise, the Puritans believed with James that “faith, if it hath not works, is dead being alone”(James 2:17). So they developed from Scripture a careful description of what a Christian ought to be in his inward life before God, and in all his actions and relationships in this life, at home, in the church, at work, and in society.
—Meet the Puritans (Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), xvii–xviii.