The Decline of Faith in England…PostPuritanism

Postpuritanism and the Decline of English Christianity

Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was Britain’s foremost Puritan political leader and continues to be a controversial figure. Cromwell was primarily a soldier and politician.

He was certainly not without faults but was seeking to lead Britain into a period of moral advance and of Christian faith.

Cromwell‘s contribution to the evolution of democracy is significant.  He sought to curtail the whim or greed of the monarch, for the ultimate good of the people.  Having finally broken the absolute authority of the English Monarchy he was himself offered the crown by the English Parliament, which he refused.

Nevertheless, after his death with the Restoration of the Monarchy and the Act Of Uniformity in 1662 pre-Puritan and pre-Reformation influences returned. Cromwell’s body was dug up and posthumously executed! But the desire and the possibility of democracy had been established in puritan hearts – and was, indeed carried to the ‘New World’ by the Pilgrims.

Donald Drew, in a lecture entitled ‘England before and after John Wesley’ wrote the following:
‘Following the death of Cromwell and later that of his son Richard, Charles Stuart, the son of Charles I, returned from exile to become Charles II.

From the beginning of 1661, throughout his reign, punitive and vicious anti-puritan legislation reached the Statute Book…

These stabbed at the heart of Puritan legislation, religion, education and culture. Nearly one-fifth of all British clergy – those who opposed the Act of Uniformity – were expelled from the Church of England.

In their stead, cavalier place-seekers were installed. The overall result was the near extinction of biblical thinking and conduct amongst most clergy.

The strangulation of Puritanism and the suffocation by Deism had tragic consequences that expressed themselves during the first half of the eighteenth century.

A succession of archbishops and bishops lived luxuriously, neglected their duties, unashamedly solicited bishoprics and deaneries for themselves and their families. Parish clergy followed suit.’ (Quoted in Missionary Conspiracy, Letters to a Postmodern Hindu by Vishal Mangalwadi, Good Books, U.P. India p.260f)

It was at this time that many fled to the Netherlands and a brave company of believers set out for the ‘New World’ to form a country based on religious freedom, later to become the United States of America.

Those who didn’t flee could do little else than pray fervently for a mighty outpouring of the Spirit; indeed, for a Great Awakening to come.

And that’s when the story really picks up!

Read the next post, ‘The 18th Century Awakening in Europe and America’

For more on Cromwell visit http://www.olivercromwell.org

© 2009 Lex Loizides

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Worry and Trust – Wisdom from the Past to Help you Today

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

The Bible encourages us not to worry. It’s a bit different from ‘Don’t worry – be happy’ because the source of our contentment is in the character and sovereignty of God. But still, we need to know the calming voice of God.

Philippians 4:6 says
‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ (NIV)

Proverbs 12:25 says
‘Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down,
but a good word makes him glad.’ (ESV)

As we finish our brief look into Jeremiah Burroughs excellent work, ‘The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment’ I hope you will find ‘a good word’ which will lift you out of worry and into worship.

So let’s travel back three and a half centuries and see what the prevailing Christian counsel was for troubled souls then…

On Anxiety, or ‘Fretting’
‘When you are in a ship at sea which has all its sails spread with a full gale of wind, and is swiftly sailing, can you make it stand still by running up and down in the ship?

No more can you make the providence of God alter and change its course with your vexing and fretting; it will go on with power, do what you can.

Do but understand the power and efficacy of Providence [the planned and protective care of God] and it will be a mighty means helping you to learn this lesson of contentment.’ (p.112-113)

On Learning from Life’s Tough Experiences
‘I make no question but you find it so, that your worst voyages have proved your best.’ (p.214)

How a fretting disposition can lead us into further problems
‘Contentment delivers us from an abundance of temptations. Oh, the temptations that men of discontented spirits are subject to! The Devil loves to fish in troubled waters.’ (p.126)

On the Unreasonable Nature of Discontent
‘Has God converted you, and drawn you to his Son to cast your soul upon him for all your good, and yet you are discontented for the want of some little matter in a creature comfort?’ (p.142)

On not becoming Bitter with God when things don’t go well
‘Oh, my brethren…retain good thoughts of God, take heed of judging God to be a hard master, make good interpretations of his ways, and that is a special means to help you to contentment in all one’s course.’ (p.225)

On the Goodness of God in all of Life
‘A believer…is set apart to the end that God might manifest to all eternity what his infinite power is able to do to make a creature happy.’ (p.147)

God will look to you, and see you blessed if you are in the work God calls you to. (p.217)

On not becoming Materialistic
‘Be not inordinately taken up with the comforts of this world when you have them.’ (p.226)

Should the Believer be an Overcomer or a Worrier?
‘The spirit of a Christian should be a lion-like spirit; as Jesus Christ is the Lion of the tribe of Judah (so he is called) so we should manifest something of the lion-like spirit of Jesus Christ.’ (p.148)

Read the next post, ‘The Decline of Faith in England – PostPuritanism’

All quotations are taken from ‘The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment’, Banner of Truth edition, which you can purchase here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Wealth, Comfort and the Gospel – A Puritan Perspective

Wisdom from Old Times – Prosperity and Adversity from a Puritan Perspective

How focused should we be on material success and wealth? How focused should we be on eternity? Should the fluctuation of our material comforts have a significant influence on our experience of peace, or should we be able to set our hearts on the future grace to be revealed at Christ’s coming?

These are questions addressed in one of the most beautifully named Puritan books, ‘The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment’.

Jeremiah Burroughs
Jeremiah Burroughs

This short work was first published in 1648 by Jeremiah Burroughs. Burroughs was yet another mighty Puritan teacher/preacher educated at Emmanuel College at Cambridge University, England. After graduating, Burroughs served in churches in East Anglia, England and then in Rotterdam, Holland.

Some of his insights and comments are challenging. I don’t like some of them! But maybe it’s the ones I don’t like that should instruct me the most!

If you are facing difficult times at the moment then it may be that you will find strength and help in some of the wisdom from the 17th Century.

On God as the Source of true Peace
‘The good of my life and comforts and my happiness and my glory and my riches are more in God than in myself.’ (p.54)

‘If the children of God have their little taken from them, they can make up all their wants in God himself.’ (p.65)

‘Every comfort you have is a forerunner of those eternal mercies you shall have with God in Heaven.’ (p.59)

‘If you will only have contentment when God’s ways suit with your own ends, you can have it only now and then, but a self-denying man denies his own ends, and only looks at the ends of God and therein he is contented…The lesson of self-denial is the first lesson that Jesus Christ teaches men who are seeking contentment.’ (p.90-91)

On the Unchanging Nature of Human Desire
‘The world is infinitely deceived in thinking that contentment lies in having more than we already have.’ (p.45-46)

‘So if we come to understanding in the school of Christ we will not cry, ‘Why have I not got such wealth as others have?’, but, ‘The Lord sees that I am not able to manage it and I see it myself by knowing my own heart.’’ (p.102)

On how Affliction may Help and Prosperity may Hurt
‘You do not find one godly man who came out of an affliction worse than when he went into it; though for a while he was shaken, yet at last he was better for an affliction.
But a great many godly men, you find, have been worse for their prosperity.’ (p.50)

On Trusting God in Troubled Times
‘We must not have hearts hurrying up and down in trouble, discontent and vexing, but still and quiet hearts, if we [want to] receive mercy from the Lord. If a child throws and kicks up and down for a thing, you [will] not give it him when he cries so…

Even though, perhaps, you intend him to have what he cries for, you will not give it him till he is quiet, and comes, and stands still before you, and is contented without it, and then you will give it him. And truly so does the Lord deal with us.’ (p.124)

‘God is doing you good if you could see it, and if he is pleased to sanctify your affliction to break that hard heart of yours, and humble that proud spirit of yours, it would be the greatest mercy that you ever had in all your life.’ (p.181-2)

‘By contentment we come to give God the worship that is due to him.’ (p.119)

On the Bible as a Source of Comfort
‘There is no condition that a godly man or woman can be in, but there is some promise or other in the Scripture to help him in that condition.’ (p.69)

God has provided for us in His word and in Himself. In all the various trials we face we need to exercise faith in Him, either to be content in our need or to see the necessary breakthrough come.  As Burroughs says, there’s no circumstance in life that we face but that some passage of Scripture can speak to us and help us through.

Read the next post on ‘Worry, Trust and Wisdom from the Past to Help you Today’

All quotations are taken from ‘The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment’, Banner of Truth edition, which you can purchase here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Puritans on Hell and How to Avoid it

The English Puritans have a reputation. Within our popular culture, it’s not a good one!

These ‘Old Calvinists’ didn’t really hold back, and when they felt the souls of men and women were in danger. They cried, and called, and declared and wept – to try and turn people from sin to Christ.

Here is Ralph Venning again, urging his readers to change their beliefs and lifestyle. This is as ‘pure puritan’ as it gets, and while some of the statements are strong, they represent the passion of the Puritan preachers of the 17th century accurately.

venning
On the Weakness of Punishment over the Power of Sin
‘Even the flood, which washed away so many sinners, could not wash away sin; the same heart remains after the flood as before.’ (p.46)

On the Deceitfulness of Sin

‘[Sin] It is like the pleasure of the man who receives much money, but it is all counterfeit.’ (p.210)

On the Eternal Consequences of sin
‘Sin costs dear, but profits nothing. They make a bad purchase who buy their own damnation.’ (p.201)

On Hell
‘The torments themselves will be universal. It will not be merely one or two torments but all torments united. Hell is the place of torment itself (Luke 16.28). It is the centre of all punishments, sorrow and pain, wrath and vengeance, fire and darkness’ (p.84)

The Deceitfulness of Sin
‘Sin disappoints men; they have false joys but true miseries.’ (p.131)

On the Need to put our Trust in Jesus Christ
‘No matter how much you have, and how much you use it, [sin] will never satisfy, and therefore must vex you. No satisfaction, no profit! A man’s aim is satisfaction (Luke 12.19), but the eye is not satisfied with seeing nor the ear with hearing (Ecclesiastes 1.8). Now if these things cannot satisfy the senses (Ecclesiastes 6.7), much less can they satisfy the souls of men.’ (p.203)

‘Sin cannot fill up the boundless and infinite desire which is in the heart of man, but disappoints it.’ (p.207)

On the Goodness of God in the Gospel
‘The goodness of God leads you to repentance; he might have driven you into it by terrors, but he gently leads you…God waits to be gracious, and is patient…
He might have called and knocked at your door once and then no more, but he has stood and knocked and begged, and [has] given you space and means (Revelation 2.21; Luke 16.31)…If, then, you do not repent, it is a greater affront to God than was your former sin.

On Finding Salvation at last!
‘Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out’ (Acts 3.19); they shall be as if they had not been…God looks upon men, and…if anyone repents, he will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light (Job 33.27,28).
Indeed, God is not only merciful, but if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1.9). How this obliges us to repent!’ (p.218-219)

All quotes are taken from ‘The Plague of Plagues’ Banner of Truth edition, now published as ‘The Sinfulness of Sin’.

Read the next post on ‘Wealth, Comfort and the Gospel – from a Puritan Perspective’

You can purchase ‘The Sinfulness of Sin’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Puritans and Sin

Ralph Venning
Ralph Venning

The Main Problem of the Human Condition
Generally speaking, the puritans have been collectively dismissed as harsh and even obsessive in their views on personal morality! The very word ‘puritanical’ gives you the idea! But let’s not be too quick to write these guys off.

The puritans had a passion for the Bible, a passion for the Church and a passion for seeing the gospel impact every area of life.

They also had a frank view of the primary problem confronting mankind which they unashamedly declared to be sin.  To a puritan who was committed to Biblical thinking this was a clear as day.

Mankind’s primary internal problem was sin, their primary enemy was sin, and their most significant hindrance in his relationship to God was sin.

The solution to this problem was not to be found in a strict morality but in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross. He died for sin, taking the weight of the just penalty of sin upon Himself, for our benefit. He did this so that, by repentance and faith, we might be forgiven and reconciled to God.

The hostility between God and Man would end, and sin could be defeated at last. And because He overcame both sin and death, we too might live a life pleasing to God.

The Plague of Plagues
It’s not altogether surprising then, to find amongst a bookshelf of puritan writings a volume entitled ‘The Plague of Plagues’ (1669), a startling assault against sin and its damaging effects on mankind.

Indeed, Ralph Venning, its author states that he was writing against sin because sin ‘is against man’s good and happiness.’

Venning, like Brooks, was educated at Cambridge University and pastored in London. He, like Brooks and others, was fired from his position in the Church of England, and became a minister of an Independent Church in London.

Here are some edifying examples of Venning’s clarity on the subtle dangers of sin. In urging his hearers to decide for Christ and holiness, he also restores clarity to the essential nature of mankind’s struggle against God’s goodness.

‘It cannot but be extremely useful to let men see what sin is: how prodigiously vile, how deadly mischievous and therefore how monstrously ugly and odious a thing sin is.’ (p.18)

‘It [sin] gives out false reports of God and goodness.’ (p.35)

‘Shall I not plead for God and your soul, and entreat you to be on God’s side, and to depart from the tents of wickedness? Poor soul! Can you find it in your heart to hug and embrace such a monster as this? Will you love that which hates God, and which God hates? God forbid!’ (p.36)

‘Oh, look to yourself, for sin, notwithstanding all its flattering pretences, is against you, and seeks nothing less than your ruin and damnation.’ (p.37)

‘Sin in the Christian is ‘a self civil war.’ (p.43)

‘Sin is the burden of every good man’s soul.’ (p.126)

All quotes are taken from Ralph Venning, The Plague of Plagues, now published as ‘The Sinfulness of Sin’ (Banner of Truth).

Read the next post on, ‘The Puritans on Hell and How to Avoid it’

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Tender Care of the Puritan Pastor

heaven-on-earth

Perhaps we have become accustomed to rough preaching. Perhaps we don’t listen as carefully unless we are shocked by an abrasive style. Perhaps our senses are dull through the constant overload of information.

I invite you to come and bask in the warmth of the pastoral care of the much-loved Puritan Thomas Brooks. Let this first passage from his outstanding book, ‘Heaven on Earth’ enliven you to the treasures of puritan literature.

And if you are a leader in the church, perhaps these words will refresh you once again, in your high calling, and in God’s own love for His Bride.

Brooks’ opinion of Christian Believers
‘Beloved in our dearest Lord: You are those worthies of whom this world is not worthy. You are the princes that prevail with God. You are those excellent ones in whom is all Christ’s delight. You are His glory. You are His picked, culled, prime instruments which He will make use of to carry on His best and greatest work against His worst and greatest enemies in these later days. You are a seal upon Christ’s heart…You are the anointed of Christ…You have the greatest advantages and the choicest privileges to enable you to try truth, to taste truth, to apply truth, to defend truth…You have the next place to Christ in my heart…’ (from his introduction to ‘Heaven on Earth’)

On non-believers needing to be convinced of sin

‘Men must first see their sins, they must be sensible of their sins, before they can repent of their sins…Till he sees he is out of the way, he walks still on.’ (p.221)

‘The sweetest joys are from the sourest tears; penitent tears are the breeders of spiritual joy.’ (p.222)

On why the Christian loves Jesus

‘The true bred Christian loves Christ for Christ; he loves Christ for that internal and eternal worth that is in Him.’ (p.239)

On Prayer
‘As a painted fire is no fire, a dead man no man, so a cold prayer is no prayer…Cold prayers are as arrows without heads, as swords without edges, as birds without wings: they peirce not, they cut not, they fly not up to heaven. Cold prayers do always freeze before they reach to heaven.’ (p.261)

‘Christ hath a a full purse, a noble heart, and a liberal hand.’ (p.264)

‘The tears of the saints have such a kind of omnipotency in them, that God Himself cannot withstand them.’ (p.316)

On Final Perseverance
‘That ship will never be split upon the rocks, whose anchor is in Heaven.’ (p.282)

The supremacy of the Spirit in growth of the believer

‘Nothing makes the heart delight more in the love, study, practice, and growth of holiness, that in the glorious testimony of the Holy Spirit.’ (p.303)

All quotations and page references are taken from Heaven on Earth, Banner of Truth.

Read the next post on ‘The Puritans and Sin’

You can purchase ‘Heaven on Earth’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Puritan Call to Holiness

Thomas Brooks (1608-1680)

The 1666 Great Fire of London
The 1666 Great Fire of London

We continue the edifying journey into the thinking and theology of some of the great Puritan writers.

Thomas Brooks was educated at Cambridge, and pastored a London church. The church facility was the first church building to burn down in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

However, by that time Brooks had moved on. Like so many of his contemporary evangelicals he was removed for leadership by the Government in 1662 as a result of the Act of Uniformity. The Act was an attempt by Parliament to reverse Puritan influence and control leadership in the Church of England.

And so, with some 2000 other Puritan Pastors, the law of the land propelled him into ‘non-conformity’. Unlike Joseph Alleine, he was not imprisoned.

His first wife died in 1676 and he later remarried. An observer notes: ‘she spring-young, he winter-old’ (Alexander Grosart, Works of Brooks, Vol 1, p. 35, cited in ‘Meet The Puritans, by Dr. Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson).

He died in 1680 and was buried in a non-conformist cemetery.

On resisting sin

‘The pleasure and sweetness that follows victory over sin is a thousand times beyond that seeming sweetness that is in the gratifying of sin.’ (p.120)

On not grieving the Holy Spirit

‘You will not grieve you guests, your friends, but courteously and friendly entertain them; why then do you make so little conscience of grieving the Holy Spirit who alone can stamp the image of the Father upon you, and seal you up to life and glory?’  (p.153)

On continuing to be faithful to God

‘God is the same, and the commands of the gospel are the same, and therefore thy work is the same, whether it be night or day with thy soul, whether thou are under frowns or smiles, in the arms or at the feet of God.’ (p.81)

On wealth

‘As the bird hops from twig to twig, so do riches hop from man to man.’ (p.115)

On Faith
‘Faith brings an invisible God, and sets Him before the soul.’ (p.201)


All quotations and page references are taken from Heaven on Earth, Banner of Truth.

Read the next post, ‘The Tender Care of the Puritan Pastor’

You can purchase ‘Heaven on Earth’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Puritan Priorities – A Passion for Souls continued…

Joseph Alleine urges repentance and faith in Christ
Joseph Alleine urges repentance and faith in Christ

Joseph Alleine, one time Chaplain of Corpus Christi College at the University of Oxford, pleads with believers and non-believers alike. He urges believers to share the good news with those around them who as yet don’t understand the truth of the gospel. To those not yet safe, not yet at peace with God, he urges them to awake and seek God for His mercy in Jesus Christ.

It’s been a long time since a hero from Oxford sounded such a clear and distinct call. These quotes give us a good sample of Puritan Passion.

On the importance of Evangelism
‘Would it not grieve a person of any humanity, if in a time of raging plague,
he should have a remedy that would infallibly cure all the country
and recover the most hopeless patients,
and yet his friends and neighbours
should die by hundreds around him,
because they would not use it?’ (p.101)

On the need for a decision about whether to follow Christ
‘Set the world, with all its glory, and paint, and gallantry,
with all its pleasures and promotions, on the one hand;
and set God,
with all His infinite excellencies
and perfections on the other;
and see that you do deliberately make your choice.’ (p.108)

On Hell, and our need to escape it by trusting Christ
‘O how fearful would the cry be if God
should take off the covering from the mouth of hell,
and let the cry of the damned
ascend in all its terror among the children of men!

And of their moans and miseries,
this is the piercing, killing emphasis and burden:
‘For ever! For ever!’

As God liveth that made your soul,
you are but a few hours distant from this,
except you be converted.’ (P.132)

Next time we will hear from the great Puritan Pastor and physician of souls, Thomas Brooks.

(All quotes are taken from Joseph Alleine, ‘Alleine’s Alarm’, Banner of Truth Edition, 1978)

Read the next post, ‘The Puritan Call to Holiness’
You can Purchase Alleine’s Alarm, now titled ‘a Sure Guide to Heaven’, here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Puritan Priorities – A Passion for Souls

St Mary Magdalene, Taunton, where Joseph Alleine served
St Mary Magdalene, Taunton, where Joseph Alleine served

Inspirational Quotes from Puritan Works
I propose, over the next few posts to quote from those puritan authors who have had an impact on me.  This merely serves as an introduction and is by no means exhaustive.

Spurgeon’s description of the works of Puritan pastor Thomas Watson is in many ways characteristic of much Puritan literature:

‘There is a happy union of sound doctrine, heart-searching experience and practical wisdom throughout.’ (Introduction, A Body of Divinity, Thomas Watson, Banner of Truth)

And the mighty Evangelist of the 18th Century, George Whitefield, wrote in 1767, ‘For these thirty years past I have remarked that the more true and vital religion hath [increased] either at home or abroad, the more the good old Puritanical writings…have been called for.’
(Quoted in J.I Packer, A Quest for Godliness, The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, p.46 )

Joseph Alleine
Alleine (1634-1668) was chaplain of Corpus Christi College, Oxford University, and later served as assistant Pastor in Taunton, Somerset, England. He was also a keen evangelist. As with about a thousand other faithful Puritan pastors, he was fired and turned out of the Church of England in 1662, and was later imprisoned for continuing to preach the gospel. He died aged only 34.

These quotes are taken from his incredible book, ‘An Alarm Call to the Unconverted’ (BOT edition), which has recently been republished as ‘A Sure Guide to Heaven’. You can certainly feel his evangelistic passion in these few quotes, and they also provide a good example of puritan thinking and style.

Man like a choice instrument
‘Unconverted man is like a choice instrument that has every string broken or out of tune.’ (p. 52)

On the futility of religion to appease God
‘You can no more please God than one who, having unspeakably offended you, should bring you the most loathsome thing to pacify you; or having fallen into the mire, should think with his filthy embraces to reconcile you.’ (p. 55)

On continuing in sin
‘If you have a false peace continuing in your sins, it is not of God’s speaking, and therefore you may guess the author.’ (p.56)

‘To save men from the punishment, and not from the power of sin, were to do His work by halves, and be an imperfect Saviour.’ (p.65)

‘You cannot be married to Christ except you be divorced from sin.’ (p.107)

On the spiritual condition of those not yet made alive in Christ
‘In a word, he carries a dead soul in a living body, and his flesh is but the walking coffin of a corrupt mind that is twice dead.’ (p.82)

On preaching about Hell
‘I would not trouble you, nor torment you before the time with the thoughts of your eternal misery, but in order that you may make your escape.’ (P.100)

Read the next post here

You can purchase ‘A Sure Guide to Heaven’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Shaping the Culture – The Literary Legacy of Puritanism in English Life

English Literature
Exactly why has England produced such a feast of literature? Why does literature, plays, novels, books, poetry, journalism remain England’s primary artistic expression?

While acknowledging the massive influence of British creativity in the rock and pop scene since the 1960’s, it is still literature that is the primary artistic bestowal of the Brits to the English speaking world.

Jeremy Paxman, BBC journalist and author, in his brilliant and fascinating study of ‘the English’ suggests it was the impact of the Reformation which was then diligently applied, as we have seen already, by the Puritans that led to this phenomena.

paxman-on-english
Replacing the visual with the written word
He writes,
‘If this was the moment when the English cultural tradition cut itself off from the rest of Europe, you could not find a more striking signal of the new direction in which English creativity was to turn than the tearing down of altar screens and their replacement in many churches by bare boards listing the ten commandments.

Here, literally, was the replacement of the visual by the verbal…The English not only came to a new way of appreciating the Word, they came to an appreciation of words.

We cannot know whether there would ever have been an English Titian, Raphael of Michelangelo. But we are sure that the Reformation and its aftermath threw up William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, John Donne, John Bunyan and John Milton.

The literary tradition that followed them has become the most sustained and distinguished in the western world…the English certainly became a people obsessed with words…

The contrast [between their relative lack of English enthusiasm for great classical composers like Handel and Elgar] with the English love of words could not be starker.

It shows itself in the absurdly over-productive British publishing business, which turns our 100,000 new books a year – more than the entire American publishing industry.’ (Jeremy Paxman, ‘The English, A Portrait of a People’, Penguin, p.109, 110)

The Puritans in a very direct way influenced English culture around the preaching, teaching and reading of the gospel. And, at least in some measure, we have them to thank for the rich literary heritage England enjoys.

Read the next post, ‘Puritan Priorities – a Passion for Souls’

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Mighty Outpourings of the Spirit – Puritanism in Ireland

Carrickfergus, the home town of James Glendinning
Carrickfergus, the home town of James Glendinning

The breakout of passionate evangelistic preaching in the 1620’s in Ireland was accompanied by the power of the Spirit.

The ‘least gifted’ minister sparks a revival!
The eccentric puritan James Glendinning began preaching in Ulster and God seemed to touch the peoples’ hearts. The people began to respond despite Glendinning’s rough style (his sermons, we’re told, tended to focus primarily on the judgement and wrath of God).

One rather uncharitable author writes,
‘God often works by weak instruments, that the glory may be all His own. Of the ministers who had settled in Ulster, James Glendinning was the least gifted, yet God made use of him to begin the revival.’ (Matthew Kere, The Ulster Revival of the Seventeenth Century, 1859)

Glendinning was encouraged to relocate to a more remote place, and went to Oldstone near Antrim.

Andrew Stewart, an eye-witness of the awakening, described the preacher and the work in this way:

‘He was a man who would never have been chosen by a wise assembly of ministers, nor sent to begin a reformation in this land, yet this was the Lord’s choice to begin with him the admirable work of God, which I mention on purpose that all men may see how the glory is only the Lord’s, in making a holy nation in this profane land, and that it was not by might, nor by power, nor by man’s wisdom, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.’ (quoted by Kere)

‘Behold the success!’
Iain Murray also quotes the eye-witness Andrew Stewart’s report:
‘Behold the success! For the hearers finding themselves condemned by the mouth of God speaking in His word, fell into such anxiety and terror of conscience that they looked on themselves as altogether lost and damned;

and this work appeared not in one single person or two, but multitudes were brought to understand their way, and to cry out, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do to be saved?’

I have seen them myself stricken into a swoon with the Word; yea, a dozen in one day carried out of doors as dead, so marvelous was the power of God smiting their hearts for sin…

And of these were…some of the boldest spirits, who formerly feared not with their swords to put a whole market town in a fray; yet in defence of their stubbornness cared not to lie in prison and in the stocks.’ (Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope, Banner of Truth, p.30)

‘The people had a vehement appetite for the Word…no day was long enough, no room large enough!’

Robert Blair, another contemporary witness wrote,
‘So mightily grew the Word of God, and His gracious work of conversion was now spread beyond the bounds of Down and Antrim, to the skirts of neighbouring counties, whence many came to the monthly meetings…

The Lord was pleased to bless His Word, the people had a vehement appetite for it that could not be satisfied: they hung upon the ministers, still desirous to have more; no day was long enough, no room large enough.’ (ibid. p.31)

These eye-witness testimonies show us that although the puritan movement was concerned with personal holiness, it was intentionally evangelistic. It was a ‘revival’ movement. In fact it was the fruit of Holy Spirit empowered evangelism that created sanctified lives.

The Christian preaching that laid such significant cultural foundations in Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the 17th Century was preaching accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Their goal was not only the individual sanctification of those already converted, but the transformation of the nation through gospel preaching, ie, through actually communicating convincingly with the non-believer.

Any impulse that over-focusses on sanctification to the detriment of actual evangelism is already adrift of the missional impulse of both Reformers and Puritans.

And the gracious Head of the Church, while changing us by grace, is still recruiting us into His mission to ‘seek and to save that which is lost.’ (Luke 19:10)

Read the next post, on ‘Shaping the Culture – the literary legacy of the Puritans’

You can purchase Iain Murray’s ‘The Puritan Hope’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Pentecostal Power of the Puritan Movement

The Church Building in Irvine, where Calvinist David Dickson ministered in the power of the Spirit
The Church Building in Irvine, where Calvinist David Dickson ministered in the power of the Spirit

Demonstrations of the Spirit’s Power
The central role of the power of the Holy Spirit was a key factor to the growth of the Evangelical Churches of the Puritan era.

This shouldn’t surprise us when we consider that Paul himself said, ‘My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.’ (1 Cor 2:4-5 NIV)

The power of the working of the Holy Spirit has always been God’s means of authenticating His gospel to the hearts of those who hear.

What is truly amazing for anyone who examines the statements of those who witnessed the immense popularity of the ‘new’ puritan movement is the similarity of the scenes with – wait for it – early Salvationism, or early Pentecostalism.

Evangelistic Orthodoxy
Although we understand that the activity of the Third Person of the Trinity is promised and therefore to be expected, His immediacy – when He breaks in – His breathtaking glory and descending power, amaze us and delight us and surprise us!

As we shall see in future posts about the 18th century, God seems to delight in pouring out His mighty Spirit in the evangelistic arena, thereby causing His word to triumph and large numbers of men and women to come to faith in Christ!

And, indeed, we’ll see that the power of the Spirit becomes a prominent and normative feature in the subsequent global spread of Christianity – and He still is, even today!

Robert Traill
Robert Traill

Puritanism in Pentecost!
Writing in 1682, Puritan preacher Robert Traill says,

‘Formerly a few lights [preachers] raised up in the nation did shine so as to scatter and dispel the darkness…in a little time;

yet now when there are more and more learned men amongst us, the darkness comes on apace?

Is it not because they were men filled with the Holy Ghost and with power; and many of us are only filled with light and knowledge…?’
(From Traill’s Works Vol 1, p.250, quoted by Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope, Banner of truth, p.2)

An outpouring of the Spirit in Irvine, Scotland under the ministry of David Dickson was described by locals as ‘the Stewarton Sickness’ as people were filled with the Spirit of God.

Robert Fleming, an eye witness, writes,
‘It was most remarkable, where it can be said (which diverse ministers and Christians yet alive can [testify to]) that for a considerable time, few Sabbaths did pass without some evidently converted, and some convincing proofs of the power of God accompanying His word;

yea, that many were so choked and taken by heart…the Spirit in such a measure convincing them of sin, in hearing of the Word they have been made to fall over, and thus carried out of the church, who after proved most solid and lively Christians…

Truly, this great spring–tide…was not of a short time, but for some years…[and] did advance from one place to another, which put a marvellous lustre [ie, brightness, glory] on these parts of the country, the savour whereof brought many from other parts of the land to see the truth of the same.’ (ibid p.28)

This kind of statement is absolutely typical of true revival. But I must pause for fear of writing too much.

There’s more. Read the next post, Mighty Outpourings of the Spirit in Puritan Ireland

You can purchase Iain Murray’s ‘The Puritan Hope’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Birth of Modern Revival – Puritan Preaching in Scotland

16th Century Scottish Reformer, John Knox
16th Century Scottish Reformer, John Knox

Iain Murray, in his classic, ‘The Puritan Hope’, points out that the Puritan era was a period of many local revivals. He writes,

‘Following as it did so closely upon the Reformation it is not surprising that the Puritan movement in England believed so firmly in revivals of religion as the great means by which the Church advances in the world.’ (The Puritan Hope, Iain Murray, Banner of Truth, p.3)

16th Century Breakthrough

In 1559 a general revival broke out in Scotland. The conversions were so rapid that John Knox wrote, ‘God did so multiply our number that it appeared as if men had rained from the clouds.’ (ibid p.5)

Describing the spiritual hunger of the Scottish people he adds, ‘Now forty days and more, hath God used my tongue in my native country, to the manifestation of His glory…The thirst of the poor people, as well as of the nobility here, is wondrous great…’ (ibid p.5)

One Scottish church historian writes ‘in Scotland the whole nation was converted by lump; and within ten years…there were not ten persons of quality to be found in it who did not profess the true reformed religion, and so it was among the commons in proportion. Lo! Here a nation born in one day!’ (James Kirkton, The Secret and True History of the Church of Scotland, p.21-22)

The promise of Revival in the Seventeenth Century

This amazing receptivity of the people to powerful gospel preaching did not die out in the century to follow. A fairly compelling example of what we might call ‘revival’, or at least ‘revivalistic, is captured by a description of a powerfully anointed sermon from 1630.

Arthur Fawcett quotes James Robe as saying,

‘The omission of our worthy Forefathers to transmit to posterity a full and circumstantial account of the conversion of 500 by one sermon at the Kirk of Shots in the year 1630…I have heard much complained of and lamented.’ (Arthur Fawcett, The Cambuslang revival, Banner of Truth p.5)

Clearly Scotland, in the generation following the mighty John Knox and the many other ‘Scots Worthies’, was ripe for the gospel. Multitudes were swept into the Kingdom of God and the culture of the nation was definitively shaped by the Bible.

For more on Revival click here

Read the next post, The Pentecostal Power of the Puritan Movement

You can purchase Iain Murray’s The Puritan Hope’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Puritans – A Passion for Truth

A Passion for Truth
Generally speaking, Puritanism can be described as an attempt to practically and pastorally apply the Biblical truths re-discovered by the Reformers to all areas of life.

In a sense, Puritanism was an inevitable result of the Reformation.  Having re-established the Bible as the guide for faith and practice rather than the rituals and superstitions of medieval priesthood, the Puritans wanted to restore the church along Biblical lines. A recurring phrase in puritan literature when any dispute is raised is ‘To the law and to the testimony!’ from Isaiah 8:20.

The rediscovery the great truths of Justification by Faith alone in Christ alone, and the new reality of the Priesthood of all Believers had radical implications for how the church should look. Many felt that they themselves had ‘turned from idols to serve the true and living God.’ (1 Thess 1:9).

This resulted in a desire to rid themselves of corruption in both church and society generally, as well as a specifically individualistic approach to holiness, pastoral care and evangelism.

These influences inevitably had an impact on the established church in England. And, just as importantly, in terms of later global impact, this passion produced thriving independent churches as the Puritan pastors pressed for more conformity to the New Testament and less emphasis on tradition.

Martyn Lloyd Jones put it like this:
[Puritanism]..’is a concern about the nature of the church.  It is a desire for full and complete reformation. It is something that started with objection to ceremonies and vestments but developed into a full doctrine of the church…The Puritan could no longer be satisfied with a partially reformed church but desired a fully Reformed church.’ (D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, The Puritans, Banner of Truth p.256)

A Passion for Godliness
Today, as we read the Puritan writings, it seems remarkable that such a movement was so popular. Their painstaking attention to detail is astonishing, especially in connection with personal inward holiness. They genuinely sought to live to the glory of God in all things. The Pastor became a physician of souls.

But even with the dangers of introspection and legalism, the Puritan leaders’ warmth of spirit and fervency in their pursuit of the presence of God in every area of life continued to prove that this was indeed a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit.

Next time we’ll have a brief look at Puritanism and revival and how the Holy Spirit began to enable some to bring the gospel with power to their generation.

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Puritans – Judgemental Joy-killers or Evangelical Nation Builders?

The much-loved puritan author, John Bunyan
The much-loved puritan author, John Bunyan

Almost any Dictionary of the English language will give you two definitions of the word Puritan.

The first should tell you that they were a group of English Christians in the late 16th and 17th Century who were convinced that the English Reformation was not effective enough and who wanted to bring about a true reformation, or restoration of the church along New Testament lines.

The second will say something like this (eg, the Oxford American Dictionary) ‘a person with censorious religious beliefs, especially about pleasure and sex’.

Censorious means ‘severely critical of others’ and is from the Latin ‘censor’, which meant, basically a judge (magistrate).

So that’s why there aren’t many Christians stepping forward and wanting to identify themselves as judgemental, severely critical, pleasure-denying ‘puritans’!

Re-learning words
But, as with the generally undeserved negative feelings the word ‘Calvinist’ provokes, so we need to re-learn this word ‘puritan’, even though we know that ‘puritanical’ is probably past saving.

NB The Compact Oxford English Dictionary has ‘self-indulgence’ rather than ‘pleasure’, which is more accurate as the puritans were not against pleasure as such (deriving pleasure from the creation, pleasure in the presence of God etc) but they certainly were negative about self-indulgence.

The wonderfully articulate Thomas Watson
The wonderfully articulate Thomas Watson

English Puritanism is important in Christian history because of the wider influence the Puritans had on the church in many nations especially in relation to the massive revivals of the 18th century and the missionary outreach of the 19th century.

So we will take a brief look at these ‘restorationists’, these radical reformers, who wanted to purify the church of every unscriptural trapping and fancy and bring the word of God to the people of England.

Read more in ‘Puritans and a passion for Truth’

© 2009 Lex Loizides