As I reflect on Thanksgiving and its Puritanical influence, I cannot help but wax sentimental about the Puritans themselves. These men and women were dedicated to developing a culturally contradistinctive lifestyle in line with biblical teaching that extended not just to Sunday morning services or “holy days” but to every single aspect of their lives. They were a people, as George McKenna describes, that, “shared a strong emphasis upon reform, which meant not only changing people’s personal habits but changing institutions and practices they regarded as sinful.”[1] Their particular vision of all-encompassing Christian living entailed reforms with regard to improving the treatment of prisoners, vindicating the rights of American Indians, and abolishing slavery.[2]

I believe contemporary American Christians, as we scan the current cultural/political landscape, would benefit greatly from remembering some of the practical aspects of the Puritan worldview. Here are six facets of their worldview to contemplate this Thanksgiving (excerpts taken from A Puritan Theology by Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones):

Facet 1: Biblical Outlook

“The Puritans urged people to become Word-centered in faith and practice. They regarded the Bible as an authoritative and trustworthy guide for testing religious truth, for guidance in matters of morality, for determining the form of the church’s worship and government, and for help in every kind of spiritual trial. ‘We should set the Word of God always before us like a rule, and believe nothing but that which it teacheth, love nothing but that which it prescribeth, hate nothing but that which it forbiddeth, do nothing but that which it commandeth,’ said Henry Smith (1560-1591) to his congregation. And John Flavel (1628-1691) wrote, ‘The Scriptures teach us the best way of living, the noblest way of suffering, and the most comfortable way of dying.’”[3]

Facet 2: Pietest Outlook

“William Ames (1576-1633), a renowned Puritan who authored a classic book titled The Marrow of Theology, defined theology as ‘the doctrine or teaching [doctrina] of living to God.’ For Ames, theology was a divine-human encounter that is not merely speculative but culminates in a practical end—the alignment of the human will with the will of a holy God. Ames went on to say that everything in the study of theology is related to practical godly living. He said, ‘This practice of life is so perfectly reflected in theology that there is no precept of universal truth relevant to living well in domestic morality, political life, or lawmaking which does not rightly pertain to theology.’”[4]

Facet 3: Churchly Outlook

“Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians abundantly justifies the Puritan conviction that no Christian is called to be a lone ranger for God. We are born again into a church family; we were made for fellowship, and we are to live in fellowship. Believers are to identify with the church and become part of the church, bending their prayers and efforts to advancing the well-being of the church in every way, for the church is the center of the purposes of God… Their goal was to please God through holy worship. The question was never, ‘What do I want in worship?’ but always, ‘What does God want in worship?’”[5]

Facet 4: Warfaring Outlook

“William Gurnall (1616-1679) reminded us that Satan’s army is aggressive, malignant, cruel, and too powerful for us to fight in our own strength, yet we cannot compromise with Satan or surrender to him, nor need we be dismayed if we are in Christ… The Christian life is not a middle way between two extremes but a narrow way between precipices. It involves living by faith through self-denial and waging a holy war in the midst of a beckoning yet hostile world. And what a war it is, for the world does not fight fairly or cleanly, does not agree to cease-fires, and does not sign peace treaties.”[6]

Facet 5: Methodical Outlook

“It is misleading of course, to describe the Puritans as reformed monks because they lived in the world, enjoyed God’s creation, married, raised families, and saw this as part of their Christian calling. Yet their approach to the structure of personal Christian living emphasizing order, method, planning, and the wise use of time does invite comparison with the ideals of the monastery and its rules. There is also something methodical about the Puritans and their passion for holiness. Lewis Bayly’s (c. 1575-1631) The Practice of Piety: Directing a Christian Walk, That He May Please God is one example of this. Bayly tells you what to meditate about as you rise from your bed, as you get dressed, then as you have breakfast, and so on throughout the day. To most of us in a free-spirited day, this methodical aspect of Puritan living seems over the top. Perhaps in some cases it was. But we can learn from the Puritans that our lives ought to be more disciplined than they are.”[7]

Facet 6: Two-Worldly Outlook

The two-worldly Puritan view of life, which includes both this world and the world to come, is explained at great length in Richard Baxter’s (1615-1691) first devotional treatise, The Saint’s Everlasting Rest. This book was a bestseller in Baxter’s day as well as a major contributing factor to the Puritan’s meditation on heaven… The Puritans lived to the full in this life, but as they did so they kept an eye fixed on eternity. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) wrote, ‘O God, stamp my eyeballs with eternity!’… If we would be true pilgrims in this life for God, we must be active pilgrims for the life to come. It is said that some believers are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly use. That could not be more wrong with regard to the Puritans, who show us that we can be of no earthly use unless we are heavenly minded.”[8]

[1] George McKenna, The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 10.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 845.

[4] Ibid, 848-849.

[5] Ibid, 850-851.

[6] Ibid, 852-853.

[7] Ibid, 855.

[8] Ibid, 855-856.

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