Posted in theology

Fun with the Puritans

By Elizabeth Prata

Mayflower replica, at Plymouth Mass. EPrata photo

I love the Puritans. These are the men of the faith who followed Martin Luther into a reformation of the church. Encyclopedia Britannica defines it as-

Puritanism, a religious reform movement in the late 16th and 17th centuries that sought to “purify” the Church of England of remnants of the Roman Catholic “popery” that the Puritans claimed had been retained after the religious settlement reached early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Puritans became noted in the century for a spirit of moral and religious earnestness that informed their whole way of life. (Source).

Far from being an esoteric area of study, I grew up in Rhode Island where Puritanism was all around. The puritans were real life to me. You couldn’t miss the giant statue of Roger Williams looming over Providence, which he founded, as well as the state. School field trips included visits to the Mayflower replica and Plymouth Village, a replica of the original settlement. Exiled Puritan rebel Anne Hutchinson founded Portsmouth the town next to Newport. As I read the plaques and saw the statues and visited the historical sites, I always wondered what on earth would make people leave their homeland for the sake of religion. Religion?! It floored me.

Now I know, of course, but these questions ignited my imagination and nestled a seed of religious interest that would later blossom in the timing of God.

I’d sort of been picking up bits and pieces about the Puritans as my elders would mention one, or when I came across a piece at Monergism (lots of free, edifying material there), or GraceGems (more great stuff), or Chapel Library (incredible ministry).

I read a few Puritan Paperbacks, a series of Puritan writings from Banner of Truth that present slightly modernized, lightly edited Puritan works. There’s also the Pocket Puritan series, even shorter, and a great introduction to these lions of the faith.

I enjoyed Tony Reinke’s Puritan Series, here is his blurb:

The Puritan Study was born out of two convictions. First, the faithful Puritan preachers offer much biblical wisdom to the 21st century. Secondly, the church aims to remain faithful to the expositional ministry of the Word. Without advocating an exposition that overlooks the insights of previous generations, nor placing an improper emphasis on Puritan literature over Scripture, the church needs to think about how we can complement our expositions of Scripture with the great Puritan literature. This conviction pushed me to rethink my own use of the Puritans and to re-build a Puritan library specifically suited for expositional preaching.

Reinke’s Main series posts

Part 1: The delights and pains of Puritan study
Part 2: The rules of a Puritan library
Part 3: The people of a Puritan library
Part 4: Why our effective use of the Puritans begins with our Bibles
Part 5: Print book searches
Part 6: Electronic searches
Part 7: Using the Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Part 8: To quote or not to quote?
Part 9: The strategy of building a Puritan library
Part 10: Concluding thoughts, part 1
Part 11: Concluding thoughts, part 2
Part 12: Q&A > Which Puritan should I start with?
Part 13: Photographs of the Puritan Library

I also enjoyed Derek Thomas’ lecture series Part 1 and Part 2 of Puritan John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I took it at Ligonier for pay but recently it came up again for free. These links are to the (currently) free series of part 1. Thomas’ soothing voice, cool accent, and calm demeanor really helped me open up the sometimes mystifying allegories and symbols Bunyan used in his tremendous work.

The City of Destruction
The Wicket Gate
The Interpreter’s House
The Cross & Sepulcher
The Hill Difficulty
The Palace Beautiful
The Valley of Humiliation
The Valley of the Shadow of Death
The Godless City: Vanity Fair
The Castle Of Giant Despair
The Delectable Mountains
The Celestial City

But my bits and bobs approach, as the British say, was good, but I wanted something more organized in my learning about the Puritans. This is where Media Gratiae came in.

I always buy myself something for Christmas (practical) and I get something for my summer break (since I don’t go on a vacation anywhere). I splurged on the Puritan streaming package from Media Gratiae. It was on sale for $50. It included the 2-hour Puritan documentary and all 35 short bios of various Puritans. I’d already bought the workbook (which is really a book) that accompanies the bios.

Each bio in the workbook has a timeline of the Puritan’s life, a famous quote, a Did You Know?, and the highlights of his legacy. Each entry ends with questions to ponder and a bibliography. It’s a great resource and easy to digest.

I am enjoying watching one of the bios each day, purposely going through slowly so as to make sure I absorb all the nuggets. Yesterday was about Matthew Henry, he of the famous Whole Commentary on the Bible. This list was presented as the principles by which he grounded his work:

  1. That religion is the one thing useful.
  2. That divine revelation is necessary to true religion.
  3. That divine revelation is not now to be found nor expected any where but in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament.
  4. That the scriptures of the Old and New Testament were purposely designed for our learning.
  5. That the holy scriptures were not only designed for our learning, but are the settled standing rule of our faith and practice.
  6. That therefore it is the duty of all Christians diligently to search the scriptures, and it is the office of ministers to guide and assist them therein.

Good stuff, eh? It’s why I like studying these men. As Reinke said we don’t study them to the exclusion of the Bible itself, but their work was important. The Lord raised them up for a reason. In fact, when The Great Ejection occurred, the time when Puritan reformers were banished, jailed, or martyred, it ended up actually being a good thing. Since these men weren’t pastoring or preaching…they wrote. It’s why we have such a body of work from them today that remained preserved.

This essay has been an attempt to spark your own curiosity for the Puritans, and to offer some solid resources in which to browse. I hope you enjoy! Do you have a favorite Puritan? Or do you enjoy another era from Church History? Let me know in the comments. 🙂

Author:

Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.

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