Category: Puritans

Puritans on penal substitution

In chapter 15 of The Atonement Debate (2008), Stephen Holmes gives an account of British evangelical accounts of the atonement, with special reference to the doctrine of penal substitution.

Holmes argues three points:-

  1. Evangelical preachers and writers have generally insisted upon substitutionary understandings of the atonement, but with much less emphasis on penal substitution.
  2. Evangelicals have usually taught penal substitution as one of a number of metaphors relating to the atonement.
  3. Evangelicals usually accepted penal substitution without controversy until about 1800. 

Of the preaching of the word

I here reproduce the wise words of the Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God on this subject, as found here.

Preaching of the Word, being the power of God unto Salvation, and one of the greatest and most excellent Works belonging to the Ministry of the gospel, should be so performed, that the Workman need not to be ashamed, but may save himself, and those that hear him.

It is presupposed…that the Minister of Christ is in some good measure gifted for so weighty a service, by his skill in the Original Languages, and in such Arts and Sciences as are handmaids unto Divinity, by his knowledge in the whole Body of Theology, but most of all in the holy Scriptures, having his senses and heart exercised in them above the common sort of Believers; And by the illumination of Gods Spirit, and other gifts of edification which (together with reading and studying of the Word) he ought still to seek by Prayer, and an humble heart, resolving to admit and receive any truth not yet attained, when ever God shall make it known unto him.…

Wanted: prophetic discernment

In Micah, chapter 2, the prophet suddenly turns from a message of stern warning to one of hope.  It strikes me that to know when people are living under God’s frown, and when they are living under his frown requires a level of discernment that we might characterise as ‘prophetic’ .

In this connection, I was interested in a note concerning the Puritan Nicholas Byfield.  He ‘was known for his excellent scholarship, judgment, and aptitude, in addition to his ministerial skills.…

The Puritan path of piety

In mapping the path of piety (that is to say, godliness), the Puritans focused on four particular areas:-

  1. the first steps – conviction and conversion, leading to assurance;
  2. the fight – against the world, the flesh, and the devil;
  3. the fellowship – communion with God through prayer, and with other Christians through ‘conference’ (talking and sharing);
  4. the finish – dying well, in faith and hope, with all preparations made and a clear and quiet conscience as one prepares for the final momentous meeting with the Father and the Son.

Original sin


‘Original sin’, like some other terms (‘total depravity’, ‘unconditional election’, ‘limited atonement’, irresistible grace’ come immediately to mind) requires careful definition if it is to provide useful service in theological discussion.

For Calvin, original sin is

a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God’s wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:19). 

The mutual love of husband and wife

Richard Baxter spells out the mutual love that a husband and wife must have for one another:-

I pray you, next tell me my duty to my wife and hers to me.

The common duty of husband and wife is,

1. Entirely to love each other; and therefore choose one that is truly lovely.… ;and avoid all things that tend to quench your love.

2. To dwell together, and enjoy each other, and faithfully join as helpers in the education of their children, the government of the family, and the management of their worldly business.…

Puritans on male leadership

According to J.I Packer, the Puritans advanced four arguments confirming the rightness of male leadership as adumbrated in Milton’s ‘he for God only, she for God in him’:-

  1. The argument from creation: the man was made first, then the woman, and the woman was made to benefit the man as a suitable helper for him.
  2. The argument from the story of the Fall: the woman was first in the transgression, and God decreed in judgement that henceforth her husband should rule over her.

Conviction precedes conversion?

It has often been thought, in evangelical circles, that Christian conversion is normally preceded by intense conviction of sin and awareness of one’s perilous state outside of Christ.  This has been documented Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley in their recent book, Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ, and is discussed here by Donald Macleod.

The template is summarised by Jonathan Edwards: ‘God makes men sensible of their misery before he reveals his mercy and love.’  It is true that thinkers such as Edwards taught that there was a great variety in the degree of conviction that people experienced.  …