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The Story of the Puritans by Errol Hulse


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The Story of the Puritans
by Errol Hulse

“Almost no one reads their writings now.” So wrote William
Haller in 1957 in his book, The Rise of Puritanism. His comment
was true then. It is not true now. Since 1957 there has taken place a
Reformed theological renewal which has its roots in Puritan books.1
In addition to the extensive publishing achievement of the Banner
of Truth in the UK and Soli Deo Gloria publishers in the USA,
there are other publishing houses in the business of reworking and
publishing the Puritans.
Included in the republication of Puritan writings is the translation of Puritan expositions in other languages. For instance,
Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment has
recently been published in Albanian, Arabic, French, Indonesian,
Korean, Persian, Portuguese, and Spanish.2
The need for a popular
historical background into which we can readily set the Puritan authors is one of the reasons for this presentation. I would urge
newcomers to the Puritans to memorize the names and dates of the
monarchs for the 16th and 17th centuries. The time grid is essential.
Each monarch put his or her own peculiar stamp on that part of the
story. Compared to the monarchy today, the kings and queens of
that era seemed to wield supreme authority. In fact their powers
were ill-defined. He/she had no standing army, was often short of
money, and had to govern bearing in mind the goodwill of the landowning classes who were the natural leaders in society.
In his A Short History of the English People, J. R. Green declared, “No greater moral change ever passed over a nation than
passed over England during the years which parted the middle of
the reign of Elizabeth to the meeting of the Long Parliament (1640-
1660). England became the people of a book, and that book the Bible.”3
This may sound exaggerated, but we can be sure that what
Green meant is that the Puritans eventually came to wield a spiritual
influence well beyond their proportion, for they always formed a 11
minority. It will help to see the story in perspective by recalling that
the population of England in 1500 was about two million and in
1600 approximately four million. As for religion, in spite of enforced church attendance, it is doubtful whether more than a quarter
of the population of England during that period could be said to
have any religion at all.4
It is interesting to observe that the population of England is now about 48 million and has 13,000 parishes
with 10,000 clergy, 8,000 of whom are paid. This general observation needs to be remembered not only for the whole time that we
will be viewing, but even more so today when those who profess
and practice the Christian Faith constitute probably less than ten
percent. Ralph Josselin in his Essex parish did not celebrate communion for nine years, and when he did in 1651, only 34 qualified!
Josselin spoke of three categories of parishioners—first, those who
seldom hear preaching; second, those who are “sleepy hearers;” and
third,“our society,” a small group of the godly.5
Nominalism has always characterized the great majority of Anglicans. It was so then as it is now. By about 1600 the number of
Puritan ministers had increased to about ten percent, that is about
800 of the 8,000 Church of England clergy. By 1660 this proportion
had increased to about twenty-five percent. Between 1660 and 1662
about 2,000 were forced out of the National Church.6
Before the Reformation the English Church was Roman Catholic. In character it was “a collection of practices, habits and attitudes
rather than an intellectually coherent body of doctrine.”7
The Protestantization of England was essentially gradual, taking place slowly
throughout Elizabeth’s reign, “here a little and there a little,” and
very much in piecemeal fashion. From about 1600 growth accelerated. At the time of Henry VIII’s breach with Rome, England was
officially completely Roman Catholic. In 1642 it is estimated that
not more than two percent was Catholic, but ten percent of the peerage was still so. Throughout the period I will outline, England was a
sacral society. Everyone was required to conform to the Church of
England. This resulted in “recusants,” who refused to attend the
Church of England services, either for Puritan reasons or out of loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church. From 1570 to 1791 this was
punishable by a fine and involved many civil disabilities. Recusants
tended to lie low and keep out of trouble. It was during the period
1640 to 1660 that Christian denominations surfaced: Presbyterians,
Congregationalists, Baptists, and Quakers (all these together representing only about five percent of the population).8
The Toleration 12
Act of 1689 marked the end of the Church of England’s claim to be
the single all-inclusive Church of the English people, although it
remained the Church established by law.
Who Were the Puritans?
In 1568 there were “many congregations of the Anabaptists in
London, who called themselves ‘Puritans’ or ‘the unspotted lambs
of the Lord’”.9
It has been widely accepted that the word “Puritan”
first came into use in connection with these groups.
10 It was during
the Elizabethan period (1558-1603) that the Puritans grew increasingly as a distinct brotherhood of pastors who emphasized the great
centralities of Christianity: faithfulness to Scripture, expository
preaching, pastoral care, personal holiness, and practical godliness
applied to every area of life. The word “Puritan” began to be used
to refer to these people who were scrupulous about their way of life.
“The godly” or those who were not nominal were dubbed Puritans.11
Those who cared about the gospel (gospellers) and who sought to
propagate the gospel were Puritans. As the Scriptures warn, the
godly can expect to bear reproach for their holy way of life. The
godly of that time were derided as killjoys and nick-named “Puritans.”
A new meaning developed and this came about through the
Arminian/Calvinist controversy.*
Those ministers in England who
subscribed to the doctrines of grace were called Puritans. When
submitting a list of names for preferment (promotion), the dogmatic
Arminian Archbishop William Laud placed a “P” beside the Puritans thus warning against their convictions, and an “O” beside
others for orthodox as Laud interpreted that term, conveying the
meaning that they were acceptable.
The word “Puritan” has been used much as a term of derision.
In 1641 Henry Parker complained that “papists, bishops, court flatterers, stage-poets, minstrels, jesting buffoons, all the shameless
rout of drunkards, lechers, and swearing ruffians, and many others
took delight in deriding people as puritans.” 12
We will tell the story of the Puritans in three parts:
For a more complete explanation of this controversy, see the “Doctrines of Grace
in the Gospel of John” course, available from Mount Zion Bible Institute
at the address on the back cover.13
i William Tyndale and the Supremacy of the Bible
The first feature of the Puritan movement was a love for the
Word of God. Before the rise of Puritanism ignorance of the Word
of God was widespread. In 1524 William Tyndale (c. 1495-1536)
made a brave decision to defy the law forbidding Bible translation
and the law forbidding Englishmen to leave the country without
Born in Gloucestershire, Tyndale was educated at Oxford
where he gained his MA in 1515. Thereafter he came into conflict
with the local clergy who avowed their loyalty to the Pope and tradition in preference to the teachings of the Bible. Tyndale was
appalled by the prevailing ignorance and in an argument with an
opponent asserted in the home of his patron Sir John Walsh at Little
Sodbury in Gloucestershire, “If God spare my life, ere many years,
I will cause that a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of
the Scripture than thou dost.”
On the Continent Tyndale was hounded from one place to another. Eventually he was betrayed and suffered in prison. At
Vilvorde, near Brussels, in 1536 he was put to death by strangling
and burning. Thus ended the life of one of England’s greatest heroes.
William Tyndale was a talented theologian. His theological
writings were gathered and published in 1572. Tyndale’s work represents a formative contribution in the development of Protestant
Christianity especially on the central issue of justification by faith
alone, by grace alone, which can be seen in a competent reply made
to Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), English Lord Chancellor, who
wrote books against Tyndale.
Tyndale succeeded in translating and printing the New Testament plus the Pentateuch and the book of Jonah. These were
smuggled back into England. The ex-friar Miles Coverdale (1488-
1568), an associate of Tyndale’s, turned to Switzerland for protection. There, using Tyndale’s work, he translated the whole Bible. 14
Henry VIII approved this translation. By 1537 two editions had
been published in England. Later the 1560 Geneva Bible became a
favorite Bible with the Puritans. Between 1579 and 1615 at least 39
editions of the Geneva Bible were printed in England. A predestinarian catechism was included in the Geneva Bible and there were
marginal notes.13 For instance, the locusts of Revelation 9:3 were
identified as bishops and archbishops, monks and cardinals.14
ii The Role of the Martyrs and the Crucial Ministry
of John Foxe the Martyrologist
During the short reign of Edward (1547-1553), the Protestant
position was consolidated. At the death of Queen Mary (1553-
1558), England was technically re-aligned with Rome. It was during
the reign of Mary, nick-named “Bloody Mary,” that more than 270
Protestant martyrs were burned at the stake. Included among these
were artisans and ordinary people. Among those put to death for
their faith were leaders of great stature like John Bradford, as well
as distinguished bishops including John Hooper, Hugh Latimer,
Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.
Thus, under Mary, some of England’s noblest sons lost their
lives. The gruesome scenes of human bodies burning alive were
etched into the minds of the people and must be the primary influence molding the Puritans who followed from 1558 to 1662 and
beyond. The effect of this to turn the people from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism is beyond calculation. During her reign Mary
was Rome’s greatest asset in England. Since her death her memory
has always been Rome’s greatest liability in England.15
The testimony of the martyrs was extraordinary. Their impact
was greatly increased through the writing industry of John Foxe.
Born in Lancashire in 1517, Foxe began studies at Oxford, aged
16. His studies were instrumental in his conversion by the time he
had earned his MA. Because of his Protestant convictions Foxe suffered acute poverty. Scholars in those days depended on wealthy
patrons to give them lodging and meals in exchange for teaching
services. Unable to find such a position in London, Foxe nearly
starved to death. One day he sat disconsolate in St. Paul’s churchyard. A stranger came up to him and placed a generous sum of
money in his hands. Three days later he obtained a position in the
home of the Earl of Surrey at Reigate where he taught the Earl’s
children. 15
When Mary came to the throne, Foxe left for the Continent
where he joined English refugees—first at Frankfurt and then at
Basle. He had already begun to collect materials for his work on the
martyrs from the time of the apostles to the martyrs under the reign
of Queen Mary. Foxe’s work eventually expanded to 1,700 folio
pages. Foxe was essentially a literary man, meticulous in detail. His
reliability for accuracy has been questioned but not refuted. A much
expanded Book of Martyrs was published in 1570. It was placed in
the cathedrals and in parish churches and in the halls of public
companies. Never had such a work on such a scale appeared in English before, certainly never at such a moment. Daniel Neal declares,
“No book ever gave such a mortal wound to Popery as this; it was
dedicated to the queen, and was in such high reputation, that it was
ordered to be set up in the churches where it raised in the people an
invincible horror and detestation of that religion which had shed so
much innocent blood.”16 Along with the Bible, Foxe’s Martyrs became a family book in many homes.17
Foxe’s Acts and Monuments was the principal practical means
of turning England to Protestantism. The powerful testimony of the
Marian martyrs in their agonizing deaths moved hearts and turned
minds to consider the reasons which inspired such faith. In addition
Foxe’s writing was used to instill into Puritanism the ideal of the
Christian hero: the person who bears faithful witness to Christ, even
to death. It was glorious to them that the martyrs could triumph over
the last and most dreaded enemy. Dying well was part of the Puritan
mentality. We see this in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress description
of the various characters who come to cross the river of death. Remember Mr. Despondency? His last words were: “Farewell night,
welcome day!”
Foxe immortalized the dying sayings of the martyrs such as
Bishop Hugh Latimer’s words to Bishop Ridley when they suffered
together at the stake: “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play
the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in
England, as, I trust, shall never be put out.” A memorial stands at
the spot in Oxford where this took place.
John Foxe inspired and promoted the idea of England as an
elect nation, a people set apart from all others, a people specially
called to preserve and promote the Word of God.1816
iii The Lutheran and Genevan Reformation Movements,
especially the Example of John Calvin
Momentum for reform came to England from the writings and
example of the Continental Reformers as a whole. Martin Luther
(1483-1546) was the dominant early influence, but later John Calvin (1509-1564) exercised a profound effect in England. Calvin’s
style of preaching straight through text by text, book after book in
Scripture, and his example of reformation at Geneva impressed the
English refugees. There were about one hundred English refugees
in Geneva at the time of Mary’s reign of terror. These refugees
caught the vision for the complete reformation of the Church in its
form of government and its form of worship. Several of the refugees who returned at the time of Elizabeth’s accession were given
high and privileged office in the Established Church. To their disappointment they realized that radical reform would be blocked.
In due course the vision of a church reformed after the Genevan
pattern and made Presbyterian was taken up by Thomas Cartwright
(1535-1603), a popular teacher at Cambridge. Cartwright’s lectures
on the Acts of the Apostles in 1570 made a tremendous impact and
encouraged attempts to bring about reformation in church government. Two of his disciples, John Field and Thomas Wilcox, in 1572
wrote in detail on this theme under the title An Admonition to Parliament. This was forceful and uncompromising writing but
exceedingly unpopular with the government. Field and Wilcox soon
found themselves in prison.
When Cartwright was challenged and charged with error, he answered by drawing up a statement which summarizes the issues as
1. Archbishops and archdeacons (the Episcopal system) ought to be
2. The officers of the Church should be patterned on the New Testament model. Bishops, or elders, should preach and deacons
take care of the poor.
3. Every church should be governed by its own minister and elders.
4. No man should solicit for ecclesiastical preferment.
5. Church officers should be chosen by the Church and not the State. 17
BROTHERHOOD (1558-1603)
When Elizabeth rode into London on 23rd November 1558, she
was twenty-five years old. Exceptional in her ability to measure
political forces, she grasped well the emotions and desires of her
people. More than any other Tudor monarch, she controlled Government and Church policy. She spoke Latin, French, and Italian
fluently and could read Greek. Elizabeth resolved to work for the
establishment of a strong united nation with one united National
Church. William Cecil, Elizabeth’s chief minister, believed that
“the state could never be in safety where there was toleration of two
At the time of Elizabeth’s accession to the throne, the contest
between Catholicism and Protestantism to win the hearts of the
people was undecided. Most were ready to conform either way.
Elizabeth’s administration was moderately Protestant. She excluded
fully committed Roman Catholics but neither were there any from
the Genevan camp. Elizabeth maintained a balance between the
Roman Catholic and Protestant constituencies. Even in the matter of
marriage she kept everyone guessing. Marriage to a foreign prince
would have enormous political and religious implications. In any
event she never married. She was less violent than her half-sister
Mary. Nevertheless, at least two Anabaptists were burned at the
stake in 1575, and Separatist leaders such as Greenwood, Barrowe,
and Penry were executed by hanging in 1593.
The Pope excommunicated Queen Elizabeth in 1570. This
strengthened opposition to the Pope and assisted the Protestant
cause in England. In 1588 a massive effort was made by Spain to
invade England. The Spanish Armada consisted of an impressive
fleet of 130 ships intended to convey 50,000 soldiers as an attacking
force. The Armada suffered an overwhelming defeat. Less than half
the Spanish ships returned home. This event further strengthened
the Protestant party in England since the English then, as now, prize
their nationhood. They resented the threat from Roman Catholic
Spain, a nation notorious for the Inquisition, a most hideous and
devilish system of persecution.
To appreciate the conditions under which the brotherhood of
godly Puritan pastors labored, it is important to understand the Acts 18
of Supremacy and Uniformity and the new Prayer Book which were
imposed upon England in 1559. The effect of the Act of Supremacy
was to declare Elizabeth to be “Supreme Head of the Church of
The way in which we worship God is a sensitive issue and it is
not surprising that pressure for ministers to wear the surplice (a
loose white over-garment) caused resentment. Most conformed for
the sake of peace. Others refused. A Manchester curate preached
“that the surplice is a rag of the pope and a mighty heresy in the
church and he who maintains it cannot be saved!” A minister appearing before the Bishop of Lichfield in 1570 called it “a polluted
and cursed mark of the beast” and warned that thanks to the use of
“such rags of antichrist the people will fall away from God into a
second popery that will be worse than the first!”19 The application of
the laws enforcing conformity varied from place to place. Many
bishops had little desire to persecute ministers who after all were
The inception of the Puritan movement is found in a spiritual
fellowship of gifted pastor/preachers that emerged in the 1580s and
1590s. Some of the best known were Richard Greenham, Henry
Smith, Richard Rogers, Laurence Chaderton, Arthur Hildersam,
John Dod, John Rogers, and William Perkins. Puritans multiplied
through the work of these leaders who became famous not only for
their preaching but as physicians of the soul. I will describe briefly
four leaders of the brotherhood.20
Firstly, there was Richard Greenham (1531-1591). Greenham
left the academic atmosphere of Cambridge where he had been a
tutor in 1570 to take up pastoral work in the humble village of Dry
Drayton about five miles from Cambridge. There he labored for
twenty years, only preaching away occasionally. Greenham was a
pastor par excellence, a physician able to discern the deep experiences of the soul, an expert in counselling and comforting. He
constantly rose, winter and summer, at 4 am. He refused several
lucrative promotions and abounded in acts of generosity to the poor.
Young men came to live at Dry Drayton, forming a “School of
Christ” devoting themselves to the Scriptures and to the outworking
of the Word in their own souls and the souls of others. Why should
a village situation be exciting? The answer is that here we see a microcosm of a wider work—the rooting of the gospel in rural
England. Richard Greenham was criticized for his Nonconformity
and the manner in which he conducted worship services. He was 19
passive in his resistance. He did not wish to argue about things he
regarded as adiaphora, that is, things indifferent. He preached
Christ and him crucified and simply pleaded for tolerance that he
should continue to be a faithful minister of Christ. He enjoyed the
friendship of men of influence who always managed to put in a
good word for him and thus keep him out of trouble.
Secondly, there was Richard Rogers (1550-1620). In 1574
Richard Rogers became a preacher of God’s Word in the village of
Wethersfield, there to labor for the conversion of souls but also to
work at mortification of sin in his own soul. Like Greenham, he
kept a school in his house for young men.
Having first committed himself to the rigors of the godly life,
he wrote in detail on practical godly living. This was called The
Seven Treatises, a work which went through seven editions before
1630. His close friend and neighbor, Ezekiel Culverwell, expressed
the wish that readers of the book could have seen its author’s practice with their own eyes and heard his doctrine with their own ears.
Here we see illustrated a fascination with the essence of godliness.
Rogers kept a diary and from it can be seen a man walking as
closely as possible with God. One of his series of expositions
gained fame, namely, discourses on the book of Judges.21
We should not imagine that Rogers led an easy life being
waited on by servants so that he could give himself to spiritual exercises. Besides the care of his immediate large family, we read of
him that “he did regard it as his duty to meditate, study and write
but at the same time he carried on no less conscientiously the activities of a householder, a farmer, a figure in the countryside, a
preacher, a pastor, a reformer and the head of a boarding school.”
Thirdly, there was William Perkins (1558-1602). William Perkins labored at Cambridge with remarkable effect. Combined in
him, to a remarkable extent, were the spiritual qualities and ministerial skills typical of the brotherhood. He excelled both in the pulpit
and with the pen, keeping the university printer busy with many
books. More than those of any other minister of his time, his published works were found on the shelves of the generation that
followed him. He was the first to write a full exposition on the subject of preaching in The Art of Prophesying.
22 Typical of the
Puritans, Perkins’ approach to preaching was essentially applicatory. In preparation he considered the needs of every kind of hearer
in the congregation. Although he died so young, his writings ex-20
ceeded in quantity and quality all other Puritan authors up to that
William Perkins was no ivory tower academic. For example, he
made it his business to obtain permission to minister to the prisoners in jail. He won souls to Christ from among them just as he did
among the huge crowds who came to hear him preach at St. Andrews. It is said of him that his sermons were, at one and the same
time, all law and all gospel: all law to expose the shame of sin, and
all gospel to offer a full and free pardon for lost sinners. His was an
awakening ministry which stirred lost souls to see the reality of
eternal condemnation. Perkins was so gifted in eloquence that it was
said that the very way he uttered the word “damn” made sinners
Perkins died young. His loss was sorely felt.
Fourthly, there was Laurence Chaderton (1537-1635). Laurence Chaderton lived to be almost a hundred years old. He
published little. He came from a wealthy Roman Catholic family by
which he was “nuzzled up in Popish superstition.” He suffered disinheritance when he embraced the gospel and Puritanism. A wellknown benefactor of that time was Sir Walter Mildmay who
founded Emmanuel College at Cambridge. Sir Walter chose Chaderton to be master of that college which position he filled for forty
years. He was a lecturer for fifty years at St. Clement’s Church,
Cambridge. When he eventually came to give up his lectureship at
St. Clement’s, forty ministers begged him to continue, claiming that
they owed their conversion to his ministry. There is a description of
him preaching for two hours when he announced that he would no
longer trespass on his hearers’ patience, whereupon the congregation cried out, “For God’s sake, sir, go on! Go on!”
The growth of Puritanism was due to pastors of this kind whose
lives and godly example captured the imagination of many. However, as we have seen in the case of William Perkins and Laurence
Chaderton, the role of Cambridge University was tremendous in
advancing Puritanism. Puritan endowed colleges such as Emmanuel
and Sidney Sussex produced a steady supply of talented Puritan
pastors and preachers.
In tracing the rise of Puritanism we must reckon too with the
role of lectureships. In market towns magistrates engaged their own
preachers and organized weekday sermons. Lectureships were established which were a means of by-passing the system of
conformity to the Prayer Book and church ceremonial. Richard 21
Rogers of Wethersfield and Henry Smith at St. Clement Danes in
London officially acted as lecturers. Between 1560 and 1662 at
least 700 clergymen held lectureships at one time or another in
London. Of these at least 60 percent were Puritans.23 The patronage
of nobles and gentry played an important role in the advance of the
Puritan movements. Wealthy patrons supported and protected Puritan preachers.
During Elizabeth’s reign the place of prophesyings loomed
large. These were meetings for preaching expository sermons and
discussion which became very popular. Elizabeth felt threatened
and sought to suppress the prophesyings. Archbishop Edmund
Grindal refused to carry out her will and argued in favor of the
prophesyings. For his faithfulness he was suspended from office for
the last seven years of his life and confined to his house for most of
that time. In May 1577 the Queen herself sent letters to the bishops
ordering them to suppress the prophesying meetings.
from 1603 to 1662
This period from 1603 to 1662 was turbulent, a time when conflict between Crown and Parliament came to a climax in the civil
war. Religious pluralism surfaced in the 1640s. The story of the
Puritans reached its apex in this period, especially as is seen in the
Westminster Assembly. It is vital to know the history which we will
now sketch in five phases.
James I
Charles I and Archbishop Laud
Civil War and the Rise of Oliver Cromwell
The Puritan Ascendancy
The Restoration of the Monarchy and the Decline of Puritanism.
James I
Elizabeth I died in 1603. She had purposed to make England
great, and in that she saw success to considerable measure. Despite
her personal tantrums, sulks and irrationalities, her reign was a period of political stability, especially so in the light of what was to
follow in the mid-17th century. As already noted, at the beginning 22
of the 17th century the Puritans represented about ten percent of the
body of Church of England clergy.
The Puritans fostered high hopes that James (James VI of Scotland, James I of England), coming from Presbyterian Scotland,
would herald Church reform. They were sadly disappointed. A petition known as the Millenary Petition, believed to represent about
1,000 Puritans, was presented to James I on his way from Scotland
to London. This petition urged reformation and led to the conference known as the Hampton Court Conference. This took place on
three separate days in January 1604 at Hampton Palace in London.
James was highly intelligent. He understood well the intricacies of
Church government. He believed in the “divine right of kings,” that
is, to disobey the king is to disobey God. James had every intention
of maintaining supreme power having had enough of cantankerous
Presbyterians in Scotland. It was clear as daylight that the Puritans
wished to “Presbyterianize” the Church of England. As the Hampton Court Conference went on, so King James became more and
more bad tempered. He made dogmatic assertions such as, “No
bishop, no king!” and “Presbytery agrees as much with monarchy as
God with the Devil!” And to the Puritan divines he said, “You had
better hurry up and conform or you will be harried out of the land!”
The conference ended in a right royal flurry of bad temper! The
King was agreeable to a new translation of the Bible known as The
Authorized Version (or King James Version) which was completed
in 1611. Otherwise, concessions were few and insignificant.
Between 1604 and 1609 about eighty clergy were deprived of
their livings for their non-conformity, most of these before 1607.
The bishops had been told to persuade rather than coerce subscription to Anglican practice. In Parliament, the godly campaigned for
the reinstatement of deprived ministers.24
King James sent delegates to Dort. Held in 1618-19 in The
Netherlands, the Synod of Dort is an important event in the history
of the Christian Church. The conference affirmed the orthodox Calvinist position on the sovereignty of God over against the tenets of
Arminianism. James supported the Calvinist position against the
Arminians. Subsequently he became ambivalent on the issue. In
1624 Richard Montagu published an anti-Calvinist treatise with the
title A New Gagg for an Old Goose. This was part of an increasing
trend toward Arminianism in the National Church (of England).2523
Charles I and Archbishop Laud
James I died in 1625. Charles I, handsome, dignified, chaste,
was enthroned king. However, unlike Elizabeth and his father
James, he lacked political skill and especially so in the art of keeping checks and balances which is essential in politics. Charles
married Henrietta Maria, sister of the reigning French king Louis
XIII. Maria was an ardent Roman Catholic. She meddled with state
affairs. This created constant suspicion among members of Parliament and in the nation. These suspicions were mixed with fear as
the cause of Protestantism on the Continent of Europe was receding
which placed many Protestants in danger.
William Laud became Charles’ trusted adviser. From the time
of the accession of Charles to the throne in 1625 Laud was exercising power, but this was formalized when he became the archbishop
in 1633. James had warned Charles that Laud did not understand
the Scottish people: “He kenned not the stomach of that people.”
This was a warning which Charles did not heed. Laud was hostile in
every way to the Puritan teaching. One of his first acts as archbishop was to encourage games and pastimes on the Lord’s Day
which antagonized the Puritans. He was an avowed Arminian with
its emphasis on free will and rejection of predestination. Laud was
superstitious. He embraced the outward forms of Roman Catholic
worship but rejected the authority of the Pope. His idea of what he
called “The Beauty of Holiness” consisted of rituals and ceremonies. To this day many Anglican churches have altars at the east
end. Although the Canon law always refers to “the holy table,” the
idea of the altar is perpetuated. The message of an altar is that of
sacrifice. Laud believed the altar was “the greatest place of God’s
residence upon earth—yea, greater than the pulpit.”26
The famous historian Lord Thomas Macaulay (who did not
comprehend the spirituality of the Puritans) certainly had the measure of William Laud and wrote of him, “Of all the prelates of the
Anglican Church, Laud had departed farthest from the principles of
the Reformation, and had drawn nearest to Rome… He was by nature rash, irritable, quick to feel for his own dignity, slow to
sympathize with the sufferings of others, and prone to the error,
common in superstitious men, of mistaking his own peevish and
malignant moods for emotions of pious zeal. Under his direction
every corner of the realm was subjected to a constant and minute
inspection. Every little congregation of separatists was tracked out
and broken up… .”27 Macaulay’s hyperbole accurately depicts the 24
zeal of the persecutors, but we can be thankful that by no means all
separatist assemblies were broken up.
As Archbishop, Laud wielded power to arrest and imprison
those who would not conform. He used a court called the “Star
Chamber” to interrogate and persecute. An example of the cruelty
of Laud is seen in the case of a Dr. Alexander Leighton, father of
the well known bishop Robert Leighton. Without any defense or
right of appeal, Leighton was sent to Newgate Prison. When
brought before an arbitrary court he was condemned to have his
ears cut off, his nose slit on both sides, be branded in the face with a
double “S S” (sower of sedition), be twice whipped, be placed in
the pillory, and then be subject to life imprisonment! When this outrageous sentence was pronounced, Laud gave thanks to God!28
Other well-known characters who received similar barbaric treatment were William Prynne, John Bastwick, Henry Burton and John
Bitter persecution was waged against the Puritans. Between
1629 and 1640, 20,000 men, women, and children left for New
England including seventy-nine ministers, twenty-eight of whom
returned when conditions improved at home.29 Many made their
exodus through The Netherlands. Among the most famous leaders
to settle in New England were Thomas Hooker, John Cotton, and
Thomas Shepard. The role of William Ames (1576-1633) is noteworthy. He was a Puritan whose principal ministry was exercised in
Holland, but his writings were very popular in New England. The
Marrow of Theology was his most influential book.
Charles ruled the country without Parliament from 1629 to
1640. Administration was maintained through county courts. Political power lay largely in the hands of about 60 noblemen or peers,
very wealthy aristocrats who owned most of the land. Below them
were the gentry. When the Civil War began in earnest in 1642,
peers and gentry were about evenly divided in their loyalties to the
Civil War and the Rise of Oliver Cromwell
When Laud attempted to enforce the Church of England Prayer
Book and Liturgy on Presbyterian Scotland in 1638, it was like
striking a match to dry gunpowder! This is highlighted by a famous
incident in St. Giles Church, Edinburgh. Jenny Geddes, infuriated
by a pompous dean in a white surplice walking down the aisle to
announce the reading, took hold of her stool and hurled it at him! In 25
today’s idiom she cried out, “You miserable upstart! Will you say
mass in my ear?” Jenny’s example greatly heartened others to resist
imposition of popish rituals which they hated.
In 1638 Charles mobilized an army to subdue Scotland, but the
English army was soundly defeated and in 1639 a truce was negotiated.
Tensions between Parliament and the king increased. Demonstrations in London against royal authority and popery were quickly
put down. The king tried to assert his own authority over Parliament. On January 4th, 1642, with a band of armed men he entered
the House of Commons in order to arrest the leader of Parliament
John Pym and four other leaders. This backfired. The five had been
forewarned. Just in time they escaped by barge down the River
Thames and hid in the city. This action by the king incited much
more opposition to himself. A revolution was brewing. For his own
safety Charles was obliged to leave London. By May 1642 he had
set up his headquarters in York.
The first battle of the Civil War which ensued took place at
Edgehill in October 1642. This resulted in a draw. At first there
seemed to be a balance of power between the Royalists (Cavaliers)
and the parliamentary forces (Roundheads). In an attempt to break
what was a military deadlock Parliament signed the Solemn League
and Covenant with the Scots.
In January 1644 a Scottish army crossed the border. In July
1644 the battle of Marston Moor was fought and won by the combined armies of Scotland, Yorkshire (led by Sir Thomas Fairfax),
and the Eastern Association led by Oliver Cromwell and the Earl of
Manchester. It was Oliver Cromwell’s role and success in this battle
that created his military reputation and won his soldiers the nickname “Ironsides.”
This victory was not followed up. Some of the Parliamentary
leaders, especially that of the Earl of Essex, were weak and indecisive. Parliament realized that a more determined and resolute
leadership was needed. Victory could not be achieved without better generals and the reorganization of the army. Cromwell blamed
one of the leaders, the Earl of Manchester, for retreating instead of
attacking the enemy. Manchester made a reply which is very revealing because it shows what was at stake if the Roundheads were to
lose this war to the Cavaliers: “If we beat the King 99 times yet he
is King still, and his posterity, and we are his subjects still; but if 26
the King beat us once we should be hanged and our posterity undone.”
In 1645 the army was reorganized as the New Model Army.
The commander-in-chief was Sir Thomas Fairfax, only thirty three
years old. His cavalry general was Cromwell. In the Civil War battles from this point forward it was Cromwell’s military discipline
and strategies that proved decisive. Lord Macaulay describes Oliver
Cromwell as one who feared God and was zealous for public liberty. He writes: “With such men he filled his own regiment, and,
while he subjected them to a discipline more rigid than had ever
before been known in England, he administered to their intellectual
and moral nature stimulants of fearful potency… Fairfax, a brave
soldier, but of mean understanding and irresolute temper, was the
nominal Lord General of the forces; but Cromwell was their real
head… Cromwell made haste to organize the whole army on the
same principles on which he had organized his own regiment… That
which chiefly distinguished the army of Cromwell from other armies was the austere morality and the fear of God which pervaded
all ranks. It is acknowledged by the most zealous Royalists that in
that singular camp no oath was heard, no drunkenness or gambling
was seen, and that during the long dominion of the soldiery, the
property of the peaceable citizen and the honour of women were
held sacred.”30
Cromwell surrounded himself with men of prayer. He led his
men into battle personally. He possessed an astonishing ability to
measure the morale of his soldiers and knew just the right moment
to strike for victory. Cromwell fought many battles and never lost
one. When we remember that he did not train in a military academy
but was his own architect in warfare, he must go down as one of the
greatest generals of all time. Roman Catholic author Lady Antonia
Fraser in her biography31 says of Cromwell as a strategist: “To
achieve what was necessary to do, and achieve it perfectly is a rare
distinction whatever the scale: it is that which gives to Cromwell,
him too, the right to be placed in the hall of fame.”
The Puritan Ascendancy
Archbishop Laud was imprisoned by Parliament in 1641 and
executed by beheading for treason at the Tower of London in January 1645. Government of the Church by bishops was abolished in
1646. Progressive victory for Parliament in the war brought a new
set of problems. There was a division in Parliament between the 27
Presbyterians and the Independents. The Presbyterian majority in
Parliament disliked and feared the army in which the Independents
dominated. There was unrest in the army due to unpaid wages. In
1647 Charles negotiated a secret treaty with the Scots which led to a
renewal of civil war. Charles’ duplicity led to the army bringing
him to trial, and on January 1649 he was executed as a traitor to the
Commonwealth of England.
Charles II was recognized in Scotland. The army supporting
him was defeated by Cromwell at the battle of Dunbar in 1650. Exactly a year later armies in favor of Charles II were routed by
Cromwell at Worcester. That victory for Parliament ended the Civil
War. Charles II escaped to France. Cromwell became the Lord Protector and ruled through Parliament. He was a firm believer in
religious liberty and was in that respect ahead of his times.
On 12 June 1643, Parliament passed an ordinance calling for an
assembly of learned and godly divines for the settling of the Government and Liturgy of the Church of England. On 1 July the
Westminster Assembly convened, the first of 1,163 meetings until
February 1649. There were 151 nominated members, 121 of whom
were divines, and 30 laymen. The Assembly completed the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms
and the Directory of Public Worship. The influence of these materials, particularly the Confession, on subsequent generations around
the world has been immense. Congregationalists in 1658 and Baptists in 1677 embraced the same Confession making amendments
which would constitute about ten percent of the whole.
The depth and quality of leadership among Puritan pastors in
the mid-17th century is unique in the history of Christ’s Church in
England. Some of the better known Puritans of this time were Robert Bolton, Robert Harris, Jeremiah Burroughs, and William Gouge.
Among the more famous Puritans who lived through the period
1640-1660 and beyond, whose works have been republished in entirety or substantially in our generation, are Thomas Goodwin,
Thomas Manton, Stephen Charnock, John Owen, Richard Baxter,
John Bunyan, John Flavel, William Bridge, David Clarkson,
George Swinnock, Richard Sibbes, and John Howe. Of the leaders
involved in the Westminster Assembly, William Gouge is one of
the best known. He sustained the longest and most powerful ministry, possibly ever, in the history of London. Edmund Calamy whom
some esteemed as the leader of the Presbyterian party stands out.
He preached frequently to Parliament. Hanserd Knollys and Henry 28
Jessey were Baptists. Their biographies have inspired Baptists in
recent years.32 In addition to the immortal works of John Bunyan,
The Pilgrim’s Progress*
and The Holy War, there are many famous
books which continue to be republished. Thomas Watson’s Body of
Divinity is one example and Baxter’s Reformed Pastor is another.33
The Restoration of the Monarchy and the Decline of Puritanism
In 1658 Cromwell died. It was soon evident that Richard
Cromwell could not fill the leadership role of his father. To avoid
further upheaval the option to restore the monarchy was pursued. At
Breda in Holland Charles II promised to respect tender consciences.
When he came to power that desire was soon over-ruled by fierce
urges for revenge among the Anglicans who now had the upper
hand. From 1643 to 1654 about 34 percent of the 8,600 parish
clergy had suffered harassment of some kind as well as ejection for
legitimate reasons of incompetency but also for giving support to
the royalist cause or for popery.34
In January 1661 Thomas Venner, a leader of the Fifth Monarchy movement, became prominent. He had on a previous occasion
been arrested for planning an insurrection against Cromwell and
been spared execution. Led by Venner, about fifty followers terrorized parts of London. Twenty-two people were killed. Wild
elements and civil disorders by fanatics of this kind played into the
hands of the ruling Anglicans. They did not discriminate. Anarchy
provided an excuse for the authorities to clamp down on all Nonconformists. In vain the Baptists dissociated themselves from Venner. On January 10, 1661, a royal proclamation was passed
forbidding all meetings of “Anabaptists, Quakers, and Fifth Monarchy men.” Within a short time over 4,000 Quakers were
imprisoned. Armed soldiers dragged Baptists out of their beds at
night and thrust them in prison. This was the time when Bunyan
spent twelve years in prison. He survived. Many did not.
There followed legislation against all Nonconformity known as
the Clarendon Code, so named after the Earl of Clarendon.
In 1662 an act was passed which required strict conformity to
the Church of England. If clergymen had not been episcopally ordained they were required to be re-ordained. Consent was required
to every part of the Book of Common Prayer. Every minister was
* A 48 page condensation is available from Chapel Library.29
required to take an oath of canonical obedience and to renounce the
Solemn League and Covenant.
These demands had a devastating effect on the Puritans whose
consciences could not submit to these conditions. Estimates vary
but is reckoned that about 2,000 were forced out of their livings.35
Included were some in teaching posts. We can only guess how
many Puritans chose to remain in the National Church in spite of
the pressures to conform.36 Included among those who remained
was the famous William Gurnall, author of The Christian in Complete Armour.
1662 marks the beginning of decline for the English Puritans.
The period which follows is known as the era of “dissent.” The last
well-known Puritans to pass from this world were John Howe who
died in 1705 and Thomas Doolittle who died in 1707.37
1662, then, is an important turning point in the story of the Puritans. The influence of their preaching waned then, but their writing
ministry continued. Some of the most valuable Puritan treatises
were penned in the post-1662 period. An example is that of John
Owen. For instance, his monumental commentary on Hebrews, his
book on indwelling sin, and his exposition of Psalm 130 were written after 1662. John Owen deserves the title “Prince of the
Puritans.” His entire works of 25 volumes probably constitute the
best repository of reliable theology in the English language. He is
viewed as the theologian of the Puritan movement.38
Why did the Puritan movement decline sharply after 1662? Persecution of Dissenters was severe and relentless. Nonconformists
were barred from the universities and this had an adverse effect on
the standards of the ministry. The cogent spiritual unity which had
been characterized and encouraged by the growing spiritual brotherhood of the Puritan pastors during the reign of Elizabeth and
which had flowered in the ascendant Puritan movement which followed, declined after 1662. In 1672 the king issued a Declaration of
Indulgence which for a short time eased the lot of Dissenters and
Roman Catholics.
A principal reason for the decline of the Puritan Movement was
their loss of unity. Dr. Lloyd-Jones placed the main blame with the
Presbyterians. Instead of holding fast to the unity spelled out so
clearly in passages like John 17, Presbyterian leaders resorted to
political expediency. They lost sight of spiritual constraints. 39
A further reason contributing to the decline of Puritanism in the
latter part of the 17th century is the fact that when the famous lead-30
ers whose books we enjoy today passed on there were very few of
similar caliber to take their place.
An Explanation of the Puritan Story
In an article published in the Evangelical Quarterly in 1980, J. I.
Packer described Puritanism as a movement of revival.40 He carefully defined what he meant as revival. I would argue that measured
in terms of the 18th century awakening, the story of the Puritans as
I have outlined it was not a revival in spectacular “Whitefieldian”
fashion. There were some remarkable preachers like Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, and John Rogers and lesser known pastors like
Samuel Fairclough of Kedington (not far from Cambridge) and his
son Richard of Mells (a village in Somerset)—men with powerful
awakening ministries who reaped rich harvests. But it would be difficult to show that this was typical of all the Puritans.
The explanation of the story of the Puritans is that here we have
a race of preacher-pastors who believed in expounding and applying
the whole counsel of God’s Word with all the hard work that requires. This was a labor in which they sought the closest
conjunction of the Holy Spirit with the Word.41 Sometimes more,
sometimes less, the Holy Spirit did breathe upon the Word and he
breathed new life into dead souls. The Puritans did not seek a new
age of wonders, signs, and miracles. Their view of a church is that a
church rises or falls as the ministry of the Word rises or falls in that
church.42 Essentially they believed in breaking up fallow ground. In
this general character the Puritans are an example to every succeeding generation of pastors whether they be pastors laboring at home
or in remote areas where the indigenous people are receiving the
Word for the first time.
The Legacy of the Puritans
As we view the whole story of the Puritans in perspective, we
can point to three Puritans who lived at the apex of the movement
and offer a present-day definition. Puritanism is John Owen for profundity and reliability in theological formulation, Richard Baxter
for evangelistic and pastoral zeal, and John Bunyan for compelling,
powerful preaching. Note how different these three are. This is a
reminder that for the most part the mainline Puritans were tolerant
over differences (whereas fundamentalists today are not). 31
The Church of England has never recovered from the Ejection
of 1662. From time to time there have been exceptional leaders like
Bishop J. C. Ryle (1816-1900). Ryle followed the emphases of the
Puritans and wrote in the style of the Puritans. His well-known
book with the title Holiness*
is typical and expounds the Puritan
doctrine of progressive sanctification. But enthusiasm for Puritanism is rarely found in the Church of England.
The legacy of Puritan theology and devotion has from time to
time given birth to extraordinary preachers and leaders. Such was
Charles Haddon Spurgeon correctly described as an heir of the Puritans. Another exemplar of Puritanism is Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones,
who recommended Puritan books and followed them in his theology
and style of expository preaching. In his leadership of pastors Dr.
Lloyd-Jones was similar to the founders of Puritanism: William
Greenham, John Dod, and Laurence Chaderton. As was the case
with leading Puritans, Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ pulpit ministry formed the
basis of his writings which have been influential round the world.
The Puritan testimony of godliness and sound doctrine is more
relevant than ever as we approach the end of the millennium. The
English Puritans gave England the Christian family and the Lord’s
Day. They were balanced Calvinists and left us an example of a
stable doctrine of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Preserved through their writings is the biblical doctrine of sin—which
in this era of postmodernism we are in danger of losing entirely.
Added to this was their view of the moral law as binding, not for
salvation, but as a principle of conduct for the regenerated heart to
glorify God in the obedience of faith. The Puritans call us to a robust prayer and devotional life. They remind us of the importance
of keeping the heart with all diligence and of the reality of spiritual
warfare and the need to be watchful.
The Puritan hope for the future growth of the Church was Godcentered and founded on promises that cannot fail. The Puritan doctrine of the last things inspired prayer, motivated effort, inculcated
endurance, and strengthened patience. One of the first to implement
this outlook in practice was the Puritan John Eliot. In 1631 at the
age of 27 he sailed for Massachusetts. He became pastor of a new
church a mile from Boston. Burdened for the Indian tribes, he set
himself to master Algonquin. He began at the age of 40 and eventually translated the entire Bible into Algonquin. Converts were made,
* Available from Chapel Library, or also with a study guide from MZBI.32
churches planted, and Indian pastors trained. By the time of his
death, aged 84, there were many Indian churches.
Puritanism is eminently biblical and balanced in its proportion
of doctrine, experience, and practical application. For that reason it
is very attractive to the godly. Of its future place in the world who
can tell? If the mainline Puritans were correct in their biblical optimism, we can be assured that the whole earth will be filled with a
knowledge of Christ’s glory as the waters cover the sea (Hab 2:14),
and as the prophet declares…
“My name will be great among the nations,
from the rising to the setting of the sun.
In every place incense and pure
offerings will be brought to My name,
because My name will be great among the nation,
says the LORD Almighty.” – Malachi 1:11