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"Ryken's Worldly Saints offers a fine introduction to seventeenth-century Puritanism in its English and American contexts. The work is rich in quotations from Puritan worthies and is ideally suited to general readers who have not delved widely into Puritan literature. It will also be a source of information and inspiration to those who seek a clearer understanding of the Puritan roots of American Christianity." -Harry Stout, Yale University "…the typical Puritans were not wild men, fierce and freaky, religious fanatics and social extremists, but
"Ryken's Worldly Saints offers a fine introduction to seventeenth-century Puritanism in its English and American contexts. The work is rich in quotations from Puritan worthies and is ideally suited to general readers who have not delved widely into Puritan literature. It will also be a source of information and inspiration to those who seek a clearer understanding of the Puritan roots of American Christianity." -Harry Stout, Yale University "…the typical Puritans were not wild men, fierce and freaky, religious fanatics and social extremists, but sober, conscientious, and cultured citizens, persons of principle, determined and disciplined excelling in the domestic virtues, and with no obvious shortcomings save a tendency to run to words when saying anything important, whether to God or to a man. At last the record has been put straight." -J.I. Packer, Regent College "Worldly Saints provides a revealing treasury of primary and secondary evidence for understanding the Puritans, who they were, what they believed, and how they acted. This is a book of value and interest for scholars and students, clergy and laity alike." -Roland Mushat Frye, University of Pennsylvania "A very persuasive...most interesting book...stuffed with quotations from Puritan sources, almost to the point of making it a mini-anthology." -Publishers Weekly "With Worldly Saints, Christians of all persuasions have a tool that provides ready access to the vast treasures of Puritan thought." -Christianity Today "Ryken writes with a vigor and enthusiasm that makes delightful reading-never a dull moment." -Fides et Historia "Worldly Saints provides a valuable picture of Puritan life and values. It should be useful for general readers as well as for students of history and literature." -Christianity and Literature
I serve a precise God. - RICHARD ROGERS
Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." So said a modern debunker of the Puritans.
But a contemporary of William Tyndale, often considered the first Puritan, gave exactly the opposite assessment. Thomas More, the great Catholic, found the Protestant religion of Tyndale overly indulgent. He described its adherents as people who "loved no lenten fast" but instead "eat fast and drink fast and lust fast in their lechery." Their theology, according to More, erred in the direction of making the Christian life too easy: "I could for my part be very well content that sin and pain and all were as shortly gone as Tyndale telleth us: but I am loathe that he deceived us."
Puritanism, we are told today, "damages the human soul, renders it hard and gloomy, deprives it of sunshine and happiness." This charge would have come as quite a surprise to the Quaker George Fox, a contemporary of the Puritans who despised their "ribbons and lace and costly apparel," their "sporting and feasting."
When authorities such as C. S. Lewis, Christopher Hill, and A. G. Dickens say such things as the following, it will pay us to keep an open mind to the possibility that we have been seriously misled regarding the Puritans:
We must picture these Puritans as the very opposite of those who bear that name today.
Very few of the so-called "Puritans" were "Puritanical" in the nineteenth-century sense of that word, obsessed by sex and opposed to fun: "Puritanism" of this sort was largely a post-Restoration creation.
When you think about Puritanism you must begin by getting rid of the slang term "puritanism" as applied to Victorian religious hypocrisy. This does not apply to seventeenth-century Puritanism.
In the introduction that follows, I have attempted under a variety of formats to suggest the main outlines of the Puritan "mind" or "temperament" or "spirit." The purpose of this overview is to provide a landscape that the remaining chapters will fill in with details. The opening chapter states my "thesis"; the rest of the book is documentation.
"Everybody Knows That the Puritans Were ..."
No group of people has been more unjustly maligned in the twentieth century than the Puritans. As a result, we approach the Puritans with an enormous baggage of culturally ingrained prejudice. As an entry into the subject, therefore, I propose that we take a brief look at the usual charges against the Puritans, noting the truth or falseness of those charges.
The Puritans were against sex. Ridiculous. An influential Puritan said that sexual intercourse was "one of the most proper and essential acts of marriage" and something in which a couple should engage "with good will and delight, willingly, readily, and cheerfully." Another began his list of the duties between husband and wife with "the right and lawful use of their bodies or of the marriage bed, which indeed is an essential duty of marriage."
The Puritans never laughed and were opposed to fun. Only partly true. The Puritans were serious people, but they also said such things as this: "God would have our joys to be far more than our sorrows"; "there is a kind of smiling and joyful laughter ... which may stand ... with the best man's piety"; Christians "may be merry at their work, and merry at their meat"; "joy is the habitation of the righteous." Thomas Gataker wrote that it is the purpose of Satan to persuade us that "in the kingdom of God there is nothing but sighing and groaning and fasting and prayer," whereas the truth is that "in his house there is marrying and giving in marriage, ... feasting and rejoicing." William Tyndale described the Christian gospel as "good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man's heart glad, and maketh him sing, and dance, and leap for joy."
The Puritans wore drab, unfashionable clothes. Untrue. The Puritans dressed according to the fashions of their class and time. It is true that black carried connotations of dignity and formality (as it does today) and was standard for clothes worn on Sundays and special occasions. But daily dress was colorful. The American Puritan William Brewster wore a blue coat, a violet coat, and a green waistcoat. Anthony Wood described how John Owen looked during his days as vice-chancellor at Oxford University: "hair powdered, cambric band with large costly band strings, velvet jacket, breeches set round at knees with ribbons pointed, and Spanish leather boots with cambric tops." Russet or various shades of orange-brown were the most common color for clothes, but surviving inventories also show many items in red, blue, green, yellow, purple, and so forth.
The Puritans were opposed to sports and recreation. Largely false. A book-length study has shown that the Puritans enjoyed such varied activities as hunting, fishing, a form of football, bowling, reading, music, swimming, skating, and archery. A Puritan pastor said regarding recreations that Christians should "enjoy them as liberties, with thankfulness to God that allows us these liberties to refresh ourselves." It is true that the Puritans banned all recreation on Sundays and all games of chance, gambling, bear baiting, horse racing, and bowling in or around taverns at all times. They did so, not because they were opposed to fun, but because they judged these activities to be inherently harmful or immoral.
The Puritans were money-grubbing workaholics who would do anything to get rich. Generally untrue. The Puritans were obsessed with the dangers of wealth. In fact, they would hardly get off the subject when discussing business. Lord Montagu told his son, "Travail not too much to be rich.... He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own soul." "Remember that riches are no part of your felicity," wrote Richard Baxter; "riches are nothing but plentiful provision for tempting corruptible flesh." "I had rather be a miserable saint than a prosperous sinner," wrote Thomas Adams. On the positive side, the Puritans did believe that work was a moral virtue, that idleness was a vice, and that thrift or deliberate underconsumption for the sake of moderation and avoiding debt was a good thing.
The Puritans were hostile to the arts. Partly true, but not as true as most moderns think. The misunderstanding stems from the fact that the Puritans removed music and art from the churches. But this was an objection to Catholic worship and ceremony, not to music and art themselves. The Puritans removed organs and paintings from churches but bought them for private use in their homes. In a treatise stating the usual objections to musical instruments in church, John Cotton added that he did not "forbid the private use of any instrument of music." Oliver Cromwell removed an organ from an Oxford chapel to his own residence at Hampton Court, where he employed a private organist. When one of his daughters was married, he engaged an orchestra of forty-eight to accompany the dancing. While confined to prison, John Bunyan secretly made a flute out of a chair leg.
The Puritans were overly emotional and denigrated reason. Nonsense. They aimed at a balance of head and heart. "Man is a rational creature, and apt to be moved in a reasoning way," wrote Richard Baxter. "The believer is the most reasonable man in the world," wrote Samuel Rutherford; "he who doth all by faith, doth all by the light of sound reason."
Puritanism was an old-fashioned movement that appealed only to people over seventy suffering from tired blood. Exactly wrong. Puritanism was a youthful, vigorous movement. C. S. Lewis calls the early Puritans "young, fierce, progressive intellectuals, very fashionable and up-to-date." The Puritans "thought young," whatever their chronological age. The youthfulness of Elizabethan Puritans was a common taunt against them by their Anglican enemies; in 1583 Archbishop Whitgift said condescendingly to a group of Puritan ministers, "You are ... but boys in comparison of us, who have studied divinity before you ... were born." An Anglican bishop was alarmed by the way in which the Puritans had "drawn divers young ministers" into their ranks, while at St. Albans it was the "young men and young women" who made a practice of "gadding" to the neighboring parish where the Puritan William Dyke preached. One anti-Puritan father arranged for his son to be educated by a Puritan "to sicken him of Puritanism," only to find that his son became a Puritan.
The Puritans were repelled by the human body and the physical world. Not true, except for a few Puritans suffering from psychological aberrations. Increase Mather wrote in his diary, "Jesus Christ intends to bestow eternal glory on my body as well as my soul, and therefore he will not deny unto me so small a matter as bodily health." William Ames declared, "Our bodies are to be offered to God, Rom. 12:1, and God is to be glorified in our bodies." As for the physical world, the Puritans said such things as this: "grace is hid in nature ... as sweet-water in rose leaves"; "God hath given us several senses that so we might enjoy the delights of them all"; "this world and the things thereof are all good, and were all made of God, for the benefit of his creature."
Excerpted from Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken Copyright © 1990 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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