Bad Press Among the Puritans

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Puritans have often faced criticism for their perceived legalism and hypocrisy, yet they held fascinating beliefs among the early religious groups. They aimed to purify institutionalized Christianity intellectually, morally, and spiritually, basing their standards on the Bible. The Westminster Confession of Faith serves as a comprehensive and concise expression of their ideology (Gatis 1). Their goals encompassed aligning their entire lifestyle with God’s word, firmly asserting their ideology in accordance with the Bible. The Puritans held great reverence for the Bible, considering it inspired by God and submitting themselves fully to its teachings (Brow 4). They believed that adhering to this foundation would protect them from falling into heresy. The Holy Scripture served as their bedrock, upon which they constructed their theology, society, and government. Puritan ideology encompassed a strong belief in Calvin’s Institutes, covenant relationships, and a theocratic system.

The Puritans followed the religious teachings of John Calvin, particularly the Westminster Confession of Faith. Their beliefs centered on humanity’s inherent sinfulness and salvation through Christ’s righteousness, regardless of one’s actions. Similar to Calvin, they believed that it was impossible to know one’s fate in this earthly life. The core ideas found in the Westminster Confession of Faith also reflect Calvin’s theology but are presented more succinctly compared to his extensive Institutes.

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Calvin’s first point addresses the total depravity of man, also known as the inherent sinfulness of man. This concept is easily supported by biblical evidence. The Westminster Confession, in Chapter 6, describes this as “original corruption,” which makes man completely averse to good and inclined towards evil. This corrupt nature leads to all actual transgressions. The Bible is clear that all men are sinful from Adam, and throughout history and within current culture, human nature reveals the absolute wickedness of the heart. Jeremiah 17:6 further emphasizes this by stating that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, beyond comprehension.

The Puritans strongly believed in the concept of unconditional election, which is the next point in Calvin’s teachings. In Chapter 10 of the Westminster Confession, it directly states that God calls and brings out of the state of sin and death all those whom He has predestined to life. This calling is solely due to God’s limitless and special grace. It is important to note that no amount of works can lead one to heaven, as works have no effect in this regard, as stated in the confession. Nevertheless, Chapter 10 also acknowledges that good works, when done in obedience to God’s commandments, serve as evidence of a true and active faith. While these good works are indeed fruits, some argue that promoting them as proof of election could be misinterpreted as promoting salvation through works alone (Packer 136). To gain a full understanding, one must continue reading to the next point, which states that those who are not elected can never come to Christ. With unconditional election, it is inevitable that some will end up in hell. In other words, Christ’s atonement for sins is limited. Preaching that only certain elected individuals can reach heaven would have detrimental consequences. From my perspective as a researcher, the Bible clearly contradicts the notion of limited atonement, as it states that Christ died for all. Some individuals may want to add two words in the margin – Christ died for all (the elect) – but this seems to be a serious misinterpretation.

The concept of irresistible grace emphasizes the overwhelming power of God’s grace, which surpasses everything else. Calvin believed that once God chose someone to be part of His chosen ones (the elect), they could never completely or ultimately lose the gift of God’s grace and would persevere until reaching heaven. This idea is also mentioned in Chapter 17, stating that only those specifically chosen by God will receive irresistible grace.

The Puritans had a unique belief centered around the concept of the covenant, which greatly influenced their church and state. They held a conviction that went beyond what most individuals are willing to do today, regarding their commitment to Christ and each other. The Puritans often referred to Psalm 50, specifically verse 5, which highlights the binding nature of covenants among believers. Understanding the covenant was crucial in Puritan doctrine.

According to the Westminster Confession, the Puritan idealists developed the concept of two covenants established by God with humanity. However, humans were unable to fulfill the first covenant based on good works. As a result, God graciously established a second covenant through which salvation could be attained. Jesus’ two greatest commandments taught the Puritans about covenant relationships: wholeheartedly loving God (the vertical aspect of the covenant) and loving others as themselves (the horizontal aspect).

In accordance with Marshall and Manuel (167), once someone experienced God’s grace, they were expected to accept Him as their Lord and Master. The authors also highlight the importance of having a vertical component in the covenant that must come first (168). However, there is also significant emphasis on cultivating horizontal relationships here on earth. Jesus later emphasized the significance of loving one’s neighbor as oneself while upholding these covenants.The covenant requires individuals to prioritize others before oneself and symbolize an ideal society, loving others to the best of their abilities. This aspect goes beyond theological concepts and deeply impacts the community. The word “covenant” itself conveys a shared understanding within the community about what is right and wrong (Gatis 4). Consequently, it fosters a society where there is a connection between God and people as well as among people themselves. The covenant is unbreakable; it functions both as a promise and an obligation that needs to be fulfilled (Gatis 4). According to Leithart (2), it was believed that God made agreements with nations in order to create a worldwide theocracy and establish His kingdom on earth.

The Puritans held the belief that they could establish God’s kingdom on earth during their lifetime, despite acknowledging their own sinful nature. Their objective was to build a society governed by God’s laws and with God as the supreme authority. They aimed for extensive adherence to the Bible across all aspects of life, including individuals, families, churches, courts, executives, and legislatures. This pursuit was seen as both a divine command and a biblical prophecy. To attain national godliness which seemed unattainable, the Puritans embraced a set of clear steps. However, due to their limited understanding of total depravity, they ultimately failed in their endeavor to recreate Zion on earth.

In conclusion, the Puritans had a noble intention, even though they were unsuccessful and are often criticized for it. Nevertheless, they deserve respect for their beliefs. The modern Christian lacks the same admirable commitment in pursuing impossible goals. However, it is important to recognize the dedication required to love God and others as they did. Nowadays, one might doubt if anyone possesses enough conviction to work towards establishing God’s kingdom on earth. Cleansing a country’s spiritual state is a challenge that requires an exceptional group of individuals.

Published in 1980 by Thomas Nelson Publishers in Nashville, the Holy Bible (NKJV) is a sacred text.

Puritanism. 30 September. 1999.

Westminster Confession of Faith, AD 164. 3 October 1999. Grace Presbyterian Church of Redding, California.

Brow, Martin. In Defense of the Puritans. Fire and Ice. 3 October 1999

Gatis, George Joseph. Puritan Jurisprudence: A Study in Substantive Biblical Law. Contra Mundum. 3 October 1999

Keesee, Timothy and Mark Sidwell. United States History for Christian Schools. Bob Jones University Press: Greenville, South Carolina, 1993.

Leithart, Peter J. Puritan Coventalism. Contra Mundum. 3 October 1999
Marshall, Peter and David Manuel. The Light and the Glory. Fleming H. Revell Company: Old Tappan, New Jersey, 1977.

Packer, J.I. wrote a book called “A Quest for Godliness: the Puritan vision of the Christian Life” which was published by Crossway Books in Wheaton, Illinois in 1990.

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Bad Press Among the Puritans. (2018, Aug 31). Retrieved from

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