Portrait of Cotton Mather, a Puritan Minister from New England, by Peter Pelham
This portrait is in the public domain in the U.S.
When you think of the Puritans, what comes to mind? For many of us it goes something like this: the Puritans were a dour, drab people who were legalistic and prudish. As is often the case with stereotypes, much of that information is just wrong!
When studying American Colonial times, make sure you take time to familiarize yourself and your children with the facts about the Puritans.
We must picture these Puritans as the very opposite of those who bear that name today: as young, fierce, progressive intellectuals, very fashionable and up-to-date. They were not tee-totallers; bishops, not beer, were their special aversion. –C.S. Lewis
The depth and maturity of their walk with the Lord was amazing, and they profoundly influenced not only Reformed Christian thought in this country, but also the American culture at large.
During the late 1600s, the Puritans were a group within the Church of England who desired to “purify” or reform the Church by restoring it to a “pure” New Testament theology and worship. Although the Church of England had previously undergone a reformation, it still had retained a more ritualistic worship than the Puritans desired.
Moreover, the Puritans felt that Scripture had total authority over the Christian life, and that within God’s word could be found the answers to all of mankind’s problems.
The Puritan Legacy
Characteristics of the Puritans that influenced generations coming after them:
- Belief that just as the Church is under the authority of Scripture, so should families, education of children and the government also be ordered by God’s Word
- Dedication to scholarship of the Bible
- Focus on family worship and personal devotions
- A remarkable work ethic and frugal, self-reliant lifestyle
- Belief that the gospel’s purpose was not only to bring souls to salvation, but also to help man come to a better understanding of who he is in Christ: that salvation does not come by any work that man can do, that it is totally a work of God.
Following is a meditation from a collection of Puritan prayers called the Valley of Vision. I hope it speaks to you as it did me.
Resting on God
O GOD MOST HIGH, MOST GLORIOUS,
The thought of Thine infinite serenity cheers me,
For I am toiling and moiling, troubled and distressed,
but Thou art for ever at perfect peace.
Thy designs cause Thee no fear or care of unfulfillment,
they stand fast as the eternal hills.
Thy power knows no bond,
Thy goodness no stint.
Thou bringest order out of confusion,
and my defeats are Thy victories;
The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
I come to Thee as a sinner with cares and sorrows,
to leave every concern entirely to Thee,
every sin calling for Christ’s precious blood;
Revive deep spirituality in my heart;
Let me lie near to the great Shepherd,
hear His voice, know its tones, follow its calls.
Keep me from deception by causing me to abide in the truth,
from harm by helping me to walk in the power of the Spirit.
Give me intenser faith in the eternal verities,
burning into me by experience the things I know;
Let me never be ashamed of the truth of the gospel,
that I may bear its reproach,
see Jesus as its essence,
know in it the power of the Spirit.
Lord, help me, for I am often lukewarm and chill;
unbelief mars my confidence,
sin makes me forget Thee.
Let the weeds that grow in my soul be cut at their roots;
Grant me to know that I truly live only when I live to Thee,
that all else is trifling.
Thy presence alone can make me holy, devout, strong and happy.
Abide in me, gracious God.
from The Valley of Vision: a Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett, published by The Banner of Truth Trust
Wow! So deep!
If you enjoyed this post, you might also be interested in reading this poetry lesson plan post: Anne Bradstreet: Puritan Poet.
More resources about the Puritans: Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were, by Leland Ryken; A Quest for Godliness: the Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, by J. I. Packer; and an inexpensive Kindle e-book, Puritan Prayers & Devotions, by Various Puritans.