The Puritans



When the 16th-century Reformation took place three distinct sectors of reformation developed: the German, the Swiss (including France) and the English. Of these three the weakest and least hopeful was the English. At first opposition was fierce. 277 Christian leaders were burned to death at the stake during the reign of Queen Mary. She earned the title \'Bloody Mary\' during her reign from 1553 to 1558. Thankfully her reign was short. Yet it was out of the shed blood and burned ashes of the martyrs that the cause of Christ grew and prospered. It was during the reign of Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603) that the Puritan movement was born. Godly ministers multiplied through the nation.

These ministers supported each other in a godly brotherhood. At first the Puritans received the name Puritan because they sought to purify the National Church of England. In later times they were called Puritans because of the purity of life that they sought. They set out to reform the Church of England. Their desire was to conform the national Church to the Word of God in government, worship and practice.

Queen Elizabeth was head of the national Church and she opposed and blocked reformation. When James I (who reigned from 1603 to 1625) came to the throne there was hope that now reform would progress. Instead the struggle intensified. It did not improve when Charles I came to the throne in 1625. Ministers began to despair of improvement and some left for America where a new race of Puritans developed. The situation came to a climax when civil war broke out during the 1640s. During that time Oliver Cromwell became the supreme governor in place of the King. When Cromwell died there was no one suitable to replace him. The nation returned to the monarchy. Charles II came to the throne.

The struggle in the Church was renewed with even more conflict than before. An act of Parliament was passed which required conformity to rules which the Puritans simply were unable to follow. In 1662 over 2,000 ministers and leaders in the Church of England were forced to leave. Rather than compromise their consciences they left. Historians regard the Puritan period as coming to an end in 1662. However it was after 1662 that the Puritans wrote some of their finest expositions. John Bunyan was imprisoned for twelve years after 1662. It was in prison that he wrote Pilgrim\'s Progress.

Two Puritans who lived through this later period require special mention.

John Owen (1616-1683) is called \'The Prince of the Puritans\'. He was a chaplain in the army of Oliver Cromwell and vice-chancellor of Oxford University, but most of his life he served as a minister of a church. His written works run to 24 volumes and represent the best resource for theology in the English language. On several important subjects such as the Holy Spirit, mortification of sin and apostasy, he is unexcelled.

Richard Baxter (1615-1691) was a prolific writer and included in his works is The Christian Directory which consists of a practical detailed application of the gospel to every aspect of life. This is probably the most comprehensive exposition of its kind ever written.

In Baxter\'s exposition of the Christian life we see the Puritan idea that grace is to permeate nature.

During the pre-Reformation time grace and nature were separated. This is the concept of a two storey universe. Upstairs is spiritual and holy. Downstairs is sinful, fleshly and unholy. For example the clergy were forbidden to marry as though marriage were earthly and therefore sinful. Luther partly reformed this and brought grace alongside nature. For example he married an ex-nun, Katherine. John Calvin went further and taught that grace must permeate nature. The earthly must be sanctified by the heavenly. The Puritans went further still and taught in more detail than Calvin that biblical principles must be applied to every aspect of life. There are biblical principles or biblical ethics for marriage, the bringing up of children and the home, for teachers and university professors, medical doctors, lawyers, architects and artists, for farmers and gardeners, politicians and magistrates, for businessmen and shopkeepers and for men of commerce and trade, for military men and for bankers. To the Puritans the dichotomy