Puritan Papers Volume I, 1956-59: A Review Article

A Conference downgraded

     Puritan Papers brought back memories of my early years in England as a new born Christian and the help which I received from the teaching of the Puritan Conference up to 1964 and my continued interest during my later sojourn in Sweden and Germany. When the Puritan Conference ended in 1970, my interest waned. The Westminster Conference became more narrow in spiritual scope but broader in political and denominational tub-thumping. It radically redefined Puritanism. The shutting out of Jim Packer, one of my first mentors in Christ, was a tragic move on the part of John Knox-like Martyn Lloyd Jones. It bordered on an excommunication and forced Jim to find his sphere of influence elsewhere with some drastic consequences. These consequences Robert Godfrey back-projects as the reason for the 1970 break-up.

     This downgrading raises a major question not answered adequately by the Puritan Paper’s mixture of gold and dross, namely, who were the true Puritans?

When is a Puritan not a Puritan?

     The roughly three stages in the development of the term start with the writings of the English Reformers. Here, we find the term used as a synonym for the so-called Precisians who believed that true conformity to Christian principles was reflected in strict adherence to externals, rules and regulations drawn up in Books of Discipline. The term was holy negative and described those whom we might nowadays call parsimonious Pharisees. Happily during the Edwardian and Elizabethan golden age of the English church, Continental Reformers such as Bucer, Calvin, Martyr, Bullinger, Gualter and Zanchy, and after a while, even Beza, joined hands with the Reformed Church of England in condemning their practices.

     When John Foxe found that these Precisian enemies of the Reformed Church of England, in their efforts to discredit him, were persecuting his son Samuel, and his fellow-reformer Lawrence Humphrey, President of Samuel’s college, Magdalan, he protested at their puritanising of externals instead of preserving Christian doctrinal and spiritual norms, exclaiming:

“I marvel the more what turbulent genius has so inspired these factius puritans, that violating the laws of gratitude, scorning my letters and prayer to them, despising the intercession of the president himself, they practice this monstrous tyranny against me and my son, without warning or reason given. I grant my son is not so pure and free of all blemish as are those thrice pure puritans; nevertheless in these blemishes of his I have not yet found any mote so great as the greater beams which one may perceive in their characters.”

     However, the term ‘Puritan’ caught on and was soon used positively in the sense Richard Baxter applied to his father, a man who lived a godly life according to the Scriptures. However, during Martyn Lloyd-Jones struggle with Anglicanism, he tended to back-project the Anglican Church of his day onto the history of Puritanism which led him to the conclusion that Anglicans could not be Puritans. Lloyd-Jones thus redefined the word in his writings of 1970-72 as indicating a Presbyterian, a Separatist and a Dissenter with strong revolutionary and anti-Anglican leanings. He thus post-dated the rise of Puritanism from the 1540s to the Presbyterian uprising a hundred years later.

     If we redefine Puritanism in Lloyd-Jones terms we would find few Puritans before the Great Rebellion as Presbyterianism was almost non-existent, and few Puritans at and immediately after the Rebellion as the Presbyterians were neither separatists nor Dissenters. When they became such, they immediately developed Arianism and Unitarianism. Even pre-Rebellion Thomas Cartwright could not be called a Separatist and in Scotland, John Knox demanded the death penalty for ‘idiots’, his term for Separatists and Dissenters. Herein he resembled Cartwright who demanded the death penalty for non-Precisians, even should they repent! Yet, paradoxically, Lloyd-Jones picks out Knox and Cartwright, two rigid uniformitarians, as his ideal ‘pioneer’ Puritans.

     Any sensible and edifying use of the term Puritan must leave all squabbling over one’s favourite church order, colour of gowns or attitude to political revolution, and must return to a positive definition of a Puritan as one who lives close to God in Christ and is guided by God’s Word, whether he be Anglican, Presbyterian, Congregationalist or Baptist. Sadly, though these Puritan Papers are often of first rate quality, they leave out the bulk of English Puritans, most of Scotland’s Puritans, and almost all Continental and North American Puritans. Yet they include characters as ‘Puritans’ who render the title most inappropriate.

The book is divided into four parts:

Part One: The Wisdom of Our Fathers

     Iain Murray commences this section with an excellent, experimental study of election, from the testimonies of Puritans from the 1630s onwards. However, these doctrines were held by Christians throughout the history of the Church and by Anglican Puritans such as Tyndale, Hooper, Latimer, Bradford, Nowell, Jewel, Parker, Grindal, Sandys, Abbott and Usher. Even later Episcopalian Puritans such as Perkins and Leighton contributed greatly to our understanding of election. An overview of Puritan teaching on election would have been helpful.

     Jim Packer, on the witness of the Spirit in Puritan teaching, emphasises the inward testimony of the Spirit in the Christian’s life so that he is not only guided externally by the Spirit through the Word but inwardly motivated and empowered for the work of the Great Commission. Packer deals most helpfully with problems such as the relationship between assurance, knowledge and faith.

     G. A. Hemming portrays the Puritan way of healing troubled souls. His words on recognising true conversion in oneself and others is very helpful. Here, again, I missed reference to the earlier Puritans such as Jewel and Foxe, who had a softness and mildness in them which was fatherly and motherly in one and which was lacking in some of the later more ‘objective’ Puritans.

     Earnest Kevan presents John Ball as teaching that the New Covenant differs from the old merely in administration, and not substance. He denies that there was a covenant of works with fallen man. This reviewer always considered it Arminian-Fullerite teaching to argue that when Adam broke the covenant of works, God dropped it, too, because fallen man was not in a position to keep it, i.e. where there is no contract, there is no obligation to fulfil it. Unbelieving man’s sin, however, does not annul his obligations before God but puts him under the curse of the Law that he has broken. Paul, in Rom. 10:5 echoes Lev. 10:28 in acknowledging that the commandment which was meant for life, brought him death, but he glories in the fact that the covenant is fulfilled in him by the righteousness of another. The covenant of works is not abrogated by man but fulfilled in the incarnate Christ. Kevan distinguishes between the law as a covenant and the law as a rule of life. The former is done away with by Adam in Eden but the latter is the lot of Christians. What then was the state of men, believers or not, Jew or Gentile between Adam and Christ? If believers are still under the law, whether it be a covenant or a rule, they are not, we presume, under grace. Dr Kevan emphasises that though new life is not gained by law-keeping, it is experienced by it. Surely any idea of experiencing righteous life other than through Christ smacks of legalism and Neonomianism.

     E. Braund’s portrayal of Mrs Hutchinson reveals a woman experiencing her new life in Christ by contemplating her own vileness in contrast to what Christ has done for her and living close to her Saviour in adoration which motivated every other factor of her life. It is refreshing to find Hutchinson warning against trying to find God via analytical theology which really means striving to press the Infinite into a human system. True theology is divine truth as it is revealed by God in his Word who is otherwise savingly unknowable.

     O. R. Johnston’s paper on Richard Greenham and the trials of a Christian touches the heart as it is about the sinful desires, delusions, and doubts that we all share. Greenham applies the Word to this darker side of the Christian’s life in a most realistic, profoundly doctrinal way. But what about the joys of being in Christ?

Part Two: Servants of the Word

     Jim Packer writes refreshingly on the Lord’s Day. Many ‘Reformed’ men have recently dropped all Sabbath-keeping, arguing dubiously that what the Bible calls the sign of the eternal covenant, established before the Mosaic Law, is to be regarded as a thing abolished with the Mosaic ceremonies. Not been topical in the 1950s, Packer does not deal with this problem.

     Geoff Thomas, a Baptist, deals with the Savoy Conference, providing a number of surprises. He defends the quite outlandish theology and discipline of Richard Baxter, in spite of Baxter’s extreme position against Baptists. However, Thomas exaggerates Baxter’s position against the Prayer Book as he used the Reformed Book, as it was then called, regularly in Commonwealth times though threatened with death for doing so. Thomas’ calling Archbishop Sheldon a Laudian was a Red Herring idea as Sheldon’s adversaries on the other side upheld the State-Church principles of Laud far more than he did. Sheldon scolded the King for taking matters into his own hands, and the Presbyterians and Independents for appealing to Parliament rather than settling the matter on an inner-church basis. We must also remember that it was initially the Presbyterians, robbed of their power by the Independents, who called Charles II back.

     Johnson in his paper on Shepard’s Parable of the Ten Virgins, warns us of the manifold snares and hair-splittings in the work of his subject but, instead of simply summarising Shephard’s sermon, he ties himself in knots striving to interpret it, leaving the reader wondering if the fault of complexity lays at Johnson’s rather than Shepard’s door. Shepard presents the Ten Virgins as a type of the external Kingdom of Christ with the wise virgins representing the wheat and the foolish girls the tares. Johnson, however, calls this external Kingdom the Virgin Church, i.e. a church with whom Marriage has not yet taken place. Those wise virgins who do their duty and accept the free offer of the gospel thus become the post-marriage true Bride and those who do not presumably remain virgins.

     Turning to justification and sanctification, Johnson argues that the two cannot be separated as whom God calls, he equips. Johnson, however, spoils this Scriptural position by claiming that it is hypocritical to look upon oneself as vile as this would really mean that one does not see a work of grace in one’s own life. Surely the ability to recognise one’s vileness is a sure sign that grace is working in that person’s life. To argue with Paul that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more does not mean that we should pretend that abounding sin is no longer in the flesh.

     Owen Watkins on Bunyan’s Christian experience gives an excellent account of the work of grace in Bunyan’s life. Bunyan, contrary to Johnson, shows how spiritually healthy it is to keep the Old fleshy Man in view, though rejoicing in the new spiritual Life. Victory is only such when it is obvious who has been defeated.

     W. Young on the Puritan principle of worship highlights church government more than his subject. Calvin was not the originator of the regulative system (Scripture only) as claimed. Calvin drew from Christian usage in other times and lands. He also reacted against the English Precisians rejection of certain Prayer Book forms, (joined by Bullinger, Gualter, Martyr and even Beza), explaining that he did not use them in Geneva because of the weaker brethren in his church. In viewing Continental forms as being superior to English, Young does not take into account that they developed in a political atmosphere strongly against liberty of thought and practice which was certainly not the case under Edward VI and, though Elizabeth never reached Edward’s forthrightness, her Settlement gave a freedom of religion not known within the enormous Continental area influenced by Charles V.

     Young gives the impression that after rejecting what they thought was the High Church worship of the Anglican Reformers, his Presbyterian Puritans substituted it by a rigid system of High Church discipline, which, alongside and co-equal with doctrine was seen as an expression of saving faith. This is a deplorable idea but Young apparently approves of it. He concludes with a discussion as to whether or not hymn-singing is according to the regulative principle and ends on the same compromising note for which he rejected the Anglicans.

     Braund on Puritan daily life presents us with an unbelievable picture of his subject. Their behaviour was ‘an ordered round’ of ‘ordered hearts’. On awakening, all prayed and meditated individually for four hours before assembling for Family Worship. Then followed seven periods of prayer throughout the day, which had not to be rushed. At the close of day, the family again assembled for Evening prayer. Meanwhile the Bible was studied, commentaries read, alms given, sinners led to Christ and we presume that the ministers preached. Did all these seemingly affluent Puritans let their servants do all the domestic and occupational chores whilst they spent some ten hours per day ‘ordering’ themselves? This is an insult to lives such as that of the Dudleys, Witherspoons, Cottons and Mathers who could – and did – build houses, milk cows, plough furrows, mend their boots and salt their peas, beans and meat for winter provisions. Whatever the popular view of the Puritans, most were hard workers both in domestic and spiritual areas.



Part Three: A Goodly Heritage

     Here, Packer finds his own contemporaries pale copies compared with the spiritual and experimental sides of the Puritans. He outlines the aims of the Puritan Conference, namely to apply the same divine truths that the Puritans held to the world of 1959. Paul Cook follows on the life and work of a Puritan minister, dealing first with the nature of the calling and the qualifications for it, which include both spiritual and educational gifts. He then deals with the personal life and work of a minister. Though Cook tells us that Puritans were Calvinists, he will not accept staunch Calvinist Whitgift as a Puritan but, astonishingly, Arch-Arminian John Goodwin! On the Puritans at prayer, in their study and in counselling, Cook is excellent.

     Next, Parker on interpreting Scripture, finds the heart of Puritanism where the Scriptures are applied to the needs of the people. The Puritans could teach in this way because they had a sound view of the nature of the Scriptures and right view of man. This essay is Parker at his best

     D. Mingard on William Guthrie and a saving interest in Christ highlights the inner searching that occurs when the sinner is confronted with his need of a Saviour. This searching, repenting side of conversion he feels is sadly lacking in much modern evangelism. Guthrie emphasises the need of a damning law-work to break down the soul’s false sense of righteousness before Christ’s grace-work is applied.

     F.K. Drayson on Stephen Charnock and divine sovereignty teaches that God’s sovereignty is the foundation of true religion. He deals also with false claims that if God is all sovereign he must then be an unprincipled tyrant, unjust and the author of sin. Drayson’s answers, given from Charnock, show all claims to respect man’s agency in salvation, and the idea that God merely provides salvation but man must apply it to his heart, are certainly not ‘Puritan’.

     D.R. Woodridge on Richard Baxter’s social and economic teaching is a diplomatic move as, according to more than Jim Packer, Baxter’s theology is ‘disastrous’. Yet Baxter was as chameleon-like in politics as he was in theology. Woodridge stays clear of both Baxter’s extremes, presenting some sound socio-economic common sense on choosing an occupation, dealing with business and wealth, and, less applicable today, managing servants. In all matters, we are told, we must honour and serve God in our earning as in our spending. Sound advice!

     Morgan Llwyd was a totally unknown name to this reviewer and Gruffyd’s introduction to the man’s life and witness left him ashamed that he has never learnt Welsh and pleased that Llwyd left the Fifth Monarchy men when he grew in grace and Scriptural awareness. However, Llwyd’s cosmology and mysticism as an older, though perhaps not maturer Christian, reminds one rather of ancient Druidic cosmological soteriology and not merely of Llwyd’s ‘pure uncontrolled speculation’ as Geraint Gruffyd claims. Though we might agree with Llwyd that much of the Puritanism of his day was intellectual and outward only, one wonders why this most fascinating man was placed in a book on the Puritans with whom he seems to have nothing whatsoever in common.



Part Four: How Shall They Hear

     P. E. Hughes’ very superficial opening essay on Calvin’s life contains hardly a word about his preaching, which the section-title suggests is the topic. Packer moves on from this disappointing start to deal with the Puritan view of preaching which saw man fully incapable of doing anything towards his own salvation which was purely a matter of grace according to God’s free purpose. Packer recommends and lists good Puritan books on sin, the office and work of Christ, faith, conversion, the covenant of grace, and works on hypocrisy and nominal Christianity. He then goes on to emphasise the comprehensive nature of true Puritan preaching, in its emphasis, aims, sufficiency and demands. Indeed, Parker’s ideal Puritans were men who had “a thirsty desire of Men’s Conversion and Salvation.”

     T. E. Watson’s essay on Andrew Fuller contra Hyper-Calvinism is a real surprise as this Christian has been praised and blamed for much that he was not but to call him a Puritan must have crossed few minds. Moreover, far from being the opposite to Hyper-Calvinism, it is often forgotten that Fuller grew up in and pastored a Hyper-Calvinist church and though he confessed to abandoning such notions, still kept some of them throughout his life, such as his belief that the full gospel, including the doctrines of grace, ought to be preached to believers only. Speaking to the unconverted was thus merely in terms of ‘moral suasion’.

     Watson has done little research into the background of his subject and merely accepts Fuller’s theological and historical mistakes without question, thus perpetuating myths concerning Gill and Brine although his closest friend John Ryland Jr showed Fuller was wrong and ideas of imputation though Abraham Booth said they proved that Fuller was lost. Watson tells us that Fuller’s ‘A Gospel Worthy’ launched him into ‘a sea of controversy through which he had to sail for the rest of his life’, which is quite true and shows how very few of Fuller’s contemporaries supported him. What modern supposedly ‘Moderate Calvinists’ have made of Fuller has little to do with the man. Fuller brought ideas of presenting the gospel and law duties into disrepute as he stressed human ability in salvation, following the New Divinity rationalists who believed that faith could come by obeying law duties. Fuller’s un-Biblical idea that God cannot hold the sinner accountable for his sins if he is so fallen that he is insensible to God’s voice is not even New Divinity but old heresy and his idea that we have the same moral powers without the Holy Spirit as with is worse than anything the Arminians ever concocted.

      Downham’s brief discourse on discipline, regarding its necessity, objects, action and models carries some fine ideas, though his historical backing is shaky. The British Reformers were not all in agreement with Calvin’s methods of disciplining, especially in the example given by Downham concerning spiting the sheep to chastise the goats, which led to Calvin’s three year ban from the Genevan Church. Even Beza had to call Calvin to order on the Interimist and Adiaphorist controversy and English Non-Conformists such as Sampson, Whitehead, Becon and Lever felt compelled to rebuke Calvin for his lack of clear thinking and action in siding with the worst offenders. Though Downham easily gains his point that church discipline is necessary, he does not tackle the relationship between discipline, doctrine and faith, and the problems the Puritans he quotes had in separating the soteriological from the traditional.

     Lloyd-Jones’ closing essay on revival emphases that it is a special work of the Spirit and cannot be produced by the whiles and wishes of the evangelist. Yet Lloyd Jones looks upon revival as a post-Reformation phenomenon, arguing that it never took place in Roman Catholicism and the Anglican Church. Surely the Reformation itself proves Lloyd-Jones wrong and also the revivals of past history in England and Europe which occurred almost every century from the birth of the Church. The Fourteenth century in England saw great revivals of religion. Here again, we see the Welshman’s disdain for the non-Celtic, expressed so bluntly in his most prejudiced book The Puritans. Whitefield, Conyers, Hervey, Middleton, Toplady Venn, Hawker and the Welsh Anglicans all witnessed a true revival in their areas of service. Has Lloyd-Jones forgotten Wycliffe and the Lollards? Lloyd-Jones earliest dating for his revivals is the 1620s in Ireland from whence he takes us up to the 1860s in Wales. Surprisingly enough, though he departs radically from the Puritan era, Lloyd-Jones hardly mentions the Great Awakening. Is this because it happened in England? Lloyd-Jones wrote in the seventies on what he calls the ethnology of revival in terms that would rightly be called racist today.




     The book is a student’s and seeking-soul’s nightmare. Its authors fall-out with one another and even the individual pages fall out because of cheap copy-shop gluing. There is no index of any kind added, nor bibliography apart from very few books quoted in the essays. There are a mere 18 footnotes in the whole book. These lectures were helpful in the 50s as few had delved into the Puritans in detail. Since then research has gone on in leaps and bounds and our view of the Puritans has been widened and deepened considerably, especially relating to the earlier, more non-conforming Puritans who did not err into Precisian and political paths. Secondary works on the Puritans by Brook, Martin, Collinson, Packer etc. are readily available. but if readers wish to understand Puritanism, this reviewer would recommend original works which are now to be had cheaply both as books or CDs. Such works are often stylistically high above the level of the papers under review and often, such as those of Jewel, Grindal, Davenant, Owen, Perkins, Gill, Huntington and Hawker (if we use the time-span of these papers) most readable and even entertaining in a most spiritual sense.