Lord Macauley once described the Puritans as ‘perhaps the most remarkable body of men which the world has ever produced.’ This lofty evaluation sits ill with the common notion (prevalent even amongst Christians) of the Puritans as ‘comic and pathetic in equal degree, being naive and superstitious, primitive and gullible, superserious, overscrupulous, majoring in minors, and unable or unwilling to relax’. This latter quote is from J.I. Packer, who has done much to rehabilitate the Puritans and to commend their godliness as a model for believers today.
But who were the Puritans? Packer summarises as follows:-
‘Puritans were Englishmen (some of whom eventually went to America) who embraced whole-heartedly a version of Christianity that paraded a particular blend of biblicist, pietist, churchly and worldly concerns.
1. The biblicism was that of William Tyndale the Bible translator; it led the Puritans to move with Tyndale into a reformational doctrine of justification by faith and to move beyond him by setting this doctrine in the frame of a sharply-etched Augustinian-Calvinist account of God’s sovereign grace drawing faith, love, and holiness out of spiritually impotent sinners.
2. The pietism was that of John Bradford, the Marian martyr, who pioneered the Puritan discipline of keeping a journal as a kind of private confessional in order to spur himself on the the “heart-work” of self-knowledge, self-watch, daily repentance for daily shortcomings, and methodical praise and prayer.
3. The churchly concern was that of John Calvin, for whom the glory of God in his people’s corporate life was always the goal, and the faith, form, and fidelity of churches at home and abroad was a matter of unending care.
4. The worldly concern was that of John Knox, who saw the blessing of national reformation as entailing both God’s call to model communal godliness for all to see and God’s threat of judgement should this not be done.’
(Packer, Among God’s Giants, 433f – numbering added)