Monday, June 9, 2014

The Puritans in America, Book Two

This is a continuation of my study of the Puritans in America, and the next two books cover the problems the Puritans accepted when building churches in New England.  My previous review is Book One: Mourt's Relation, which covers the Pilgrim's experience in the 1620s.

By the way, the Pilgrims, men and women who came over from England in the Mayflower, were Separatists, though Puritan; but the Puritans who came later, were considered non-Separatists.


The Second Book

The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop follows the life of John Winthrop, one of the founders of the Massachusetts Bay colony during the 1640s. The author, Edmund Morgan, explains that one of the greatest issues facing the Puritans was how to live pure, godly, and righteous in a world that was not pure, godly, or righteous.  They struggled with how to abandon England, the Church, and other fellow Christians without looking like Separatists.

The Puritans believed that "a man's duty to God was to work at his calling and improve his talents like a good and faithful servant.  If he could do it better in New England than in old, that was a good reason for moving."  They could not save England, at least not while they were in England, but they would establish a new "government in exile" where Protestantism would thrive and spread; then maybe they would return and rescue England.

The Puritans Rejected Utopia

The Puritans believed every nation had a duty to obey and please God, which England was not, and that was why it was failing. Because they believed in self-government, it was essential to have godly citizens.  In America, they would punish every sin because every sin unpunished would invite the wrath of God upon them. But the pressure to uphold a pure society was burdensome, given man's disposition to sin.

Separatism, the desire for factions to break away from the world and set up their own little utopias, was one of the biggest threats in Massachusetts; and it was John Winthrop's aim to prevent that from happening.   Separatists were self-righteous.

Remember Anne Hutchinson? 

Stories teach us that Anne was thought to be a witch, or just a woman holding Bible study at her home, when the leaders ignorantly expelled her.  Being governor of Massachusetts Bay, however, Winthrop and other community leaders decided to remove Anne because she practiced a very dangerous form of separatism: nihilism.  She and others were dividing the church and spreading lies.

First they brought her before the court to explain her "entertainment of seditious persons, holding Bible studies at her home, and insulting ministers," and she intelligently justified every charge; hence, the court was ready to only censure her.  But when she arrogantly responded with false prophecy and more heresy, Winthrop believed that if they did not punish Hutchinson, the Lord would punish Massachusetts.  And so, she was sent to Rhode Island, just as others (who threatened the stability of the experiment ) went before her, or followed her.

The New England Mission 

There were other trials, of course, but this was the principle objective of the Puritans:
...to found a society where the perfection of God would find proper recognition among imperfect men; that men might worship as God commanded, where they might obey His laws in peace and be punished when they disobeyed, where they could live in the world as God required but not lose sight of the eternity that lay beyond it.  
The purpose of New England was to show the world a community where the laws of God were followed by church and state - as nearly as fallible human beings could follow them. 
It proved a difficult challenge, and it was not without personal burdens, but John Winthrop never ceased working toward this goal.  In the end, he had been able to avoid the seeds of separatism and held the church and community together.

Coming next:
Book Three: Visible Saints

This book count towards:

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