I believe the best way to see the Puritans is as those who did for the Church and Christian Life what the Reformation did for the Gospel and Theology. Between 1550 and 1700 they sought for, as their name indicates, purity in the Church of England and in the hypocritical religiosity of their day. They engaged their culture for the Gospel and the Gospel for their own life and family. They were radicals for sure, but first and foremost, in preaching the glory of God to their own souls. They pursued God in His Word, and they labored to work out Godliness in every area of life … and they wrote more than seems humanly possible during their time. Some of the notables: John Owen, Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Thomas Watson, and Thomas Goodwin. Their influence crossed the Atlantic and became a major force in the early Americas at the pen and ministry of Jonathan Edwards during the time of the Great Awakening. These giants were pastors and theologians who cared about the Church and the souls of men. The Puritan movement, in all its forms, was essentially a movement for church reform, pastoral renewal, evangelism, and revival. Man, who doesn’t want to see all of that! If you’re interested in reading a great survey of the Puritans, check out J.I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness where I also am drawing the following description of the passions of these men as pastors.
1. Physicians of the Soul
They trusted the Word of God and its healing power for the souls of men. “Truth obeyed will heal,” was a clear teaching of the Puritan pastor. No matter what the age, maturity level, or spiritual condition – the Word of God understood and applied was the remedy. This is not to paint the Puritans as careless or superficial teachers of the Bible, as though by throwing a Bible verse at someone and telling them to memorize it they will be “better”. Packer says they were as “humble-minded and warm-hearted as they were clear-headed, as fully oriented to people as they were to Scripture, and as passionate for peace as they were for truth.” They have coined a phrase that I love in describing pastoral ministry – “the care of souls.” And in a day were psychology and medications become the primary remedy for the soul, the Puritans do well to remind us that the Word still has power to heal the souls of men. All that to say, as a pastor, as your pastor, I care about your souls. I see my role as one who applies the ointment of the Scripture to bring health to our souls, not just knowledge to our minds. The Church is a hospital, there are no perfect people, and anyone can relapse at any time, therefore we all must grow skillful in examining our own hearts and applying the remedy of Gospel truth for the care of souls.
Healed to Heal,