Puritans, Sin and Satan

Puritans, Sin and Satan

In my spiritually formative years, when I was a student at London University 1970-73, I recall a conversation with the very spiritually minded leader of the Christian Union. At the time, there were zealous students influenced by the emerging Charismatic movement as well as by the Puritans. My friend expressed the view that rather decide between one or the other, one could /should embrace both.

Who were the Puritans and what did they stand for is a huge subject, but for this presentation I go with Wikipedia: “The Puritans were English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who sought to purify the Church of England of Roman Catholic practices, maintaining that the Church of England had not been fully reformed and should become more Protestant. Puritanism played a significant role in English history, especially during the Protectorate. Puritans were dissatisfied with the limited extent of the English Reformation and with the Church of England’s toleration of certain practices associated with the Roman Catholic Church. They formed and identified with various religious groups advocating greater purity of worship and doctrine, as well as personal and corporate piety. Puritans adopted a Reformed theology, and in that sense they were Calvinists (as were many of their earlier opponents). In church polity, some advocated separation from all other established Christian denominations in favour of autonomous gathered churches. These Separatist and Independent strands of Puritanism became prominent in the 1640s, when the supporters of a presbyterian polity in the Westminster Assembly were unable to forge a new English national church”.

Again, I want to keep my remarks brief about the Charismatic Movement, controversially influential for many in my early days as a Christian, but note according to Wikipedia: “The charismatic movement in Christianity is a movement within established or mainstream Christian denominations to adopt beliefs and practices of Charismatic Christianity with an emphasis on baptism with the Holy Spirit, and the use of spiritual gifts (charismata). It has affected most denominations in the US, and has spread widely across the world. The movement is deemed to have begun in 1960 in Anglicanism, and spread to other mainstream protestant denominations, including Lutherans and Presbyterians by 1962 and to Roman Catholicism by 1967. Methodists became involved in the charismatic movement in the 1970s. The movement was not initially influential in evangelical churches, and although this changed in the 1980s in the so called Third Wave, this was often expressed in the formation of separate evangelical churches such as the Vineyard Movement – neo-charismatic organisations that mirrored the establishment of Pentecostal churches. Many traditional evangelical churches remain opposed to the movement and teach a cessationist theology”.

Oceans have flown under the proverbial bridge since my spiritually idealistic, enthusiastic student days and it is not my intention to persuade my readers to become a Puritan, or a Charismatic, or somehow, like the President of the London University Christian Union during my time there as a student, combine the two. As I have recently reflected, we live in days of great deception, not just by those who aren’t Christian but included are spiritually minded and mainly doctrinally sound Christians, including several who are in “leadership” and are widely looked up to. This is not the time to shame individuals or do an exposé, but suffice to say it is not just enough to reject and have nothing to do with false teachers but recognise even true teachers, people I highly respect, whose teaching I find helpful, don’t just fail to teach what God would have us know but are sometimes in error, often ever so subtly. Often it is a matter of “chew the meat and spit out the bones”, i.e. take in a great deal of information and selectively disregard some of it as invalid or inapplicable. Also, I have often seen good Christians wrongly elevate favoured Christian teachers to nigh god like status.

There is a brother in my church who has wisely said on a number of occasions: that no group or individual has ever grasped all what God has been revealing, while ruefully noting that all too often they do! Comparing today’s Puritan and Charismatic leaders with their pioneer predecessors fifty years earlier, many have lost their way – the Puritans becoming cessasionist and the Charismatics woke. But God will not be denied in His designs for a glorious church and why He continues to refine and the thoughts that follow matter.

All this begs the question: where can the sincere seeker after of truth find it (and is one I have touched on in a number of my blogs). Sometimes, it can be found in unlikely places, including less familiar parts of the Bible. It got me recently revisiting some of the Puritan writers. While there are those still who highly regard some of the Puritans of old, it is not something encouraged by many sections of the church, including those who are exercised by social justice issues, getting along with others irrespective of their theological understanding or lack of, and overriding woke concerns, such as LBGT inclusion, Black Lives Matter and the Climate Emergency, who see in Puritans kill joys, rather too intense and judgmental, who failed to attach due importance to the aforementioned concerns, as well as an assortment of anti wokers, who have other ideas of what true spirituality should embody. It is interesting when Jesus spoke of the work of the Holy Spirit: “when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” John 16:8, he placed significant importance concerning something that many in today’s church overlook or down play – but not so with the Puritans.

I still smile when recalling in my student days coming home with a book written by a Puritan, whose title gave cause for much mirth by my late mother. “The Plague of Plagues was first published in 1669, four years after the Great Plague of London, and the author, Puritan Ralph Venning, was very much impressed by the events that took place, that he decided to wrote a book with the aim of defining sin and describing it. Venning went on identifying the causes and effects of man’s sinfulness. The details provided by the author are astonishingly clear and biblical, especially for the modern mind. When arriving to the application, Venning wrote: “As to the sinfulness of sin, I have indeed handled it most fully, as it is against man’s good and happiness.”About the author: Ralph Venning (1622-1674) was an English nonconformist preacher. He was born in Devon, England, served as a preacher for about 25 years, being educated Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Venning died March 10, 1674, in his fifty-third year”.

While I may return to Plague of Plagues, I am just completing reading another book by a Puritan writer that has an equally intriguing title. “Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices is a Christian classic written by Thomas Brooks in the middle of the 17th century. The book uses the scriptures to provide excellent advice to Christians on how to avoid the schemes and temptations that could lead to Satan. Thomas Brooks was a non-conformist Puritan preacher and Christian author. Brooks became a minister at Thomas Apostle’s Church in London after the First English Civil War. Brooks is now best remembered for his books including the Christian classic Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices”. It is not an easy ready but a worthwhile one. The book is full of Bible references and if looking outside the Bible to illustrate points, goes to the classics. If I can sum up the author’s argument, it would be that Satan has all sorts of devices to entrap the Christian believers but there are (precious) remedies to combat these devices that said believers are counselled to employ if they are intent on living lives that are pleasing to the Almighty who they claim to want to honour and glorify in all they do, think, say etc.

I wonder sometimes how these two Puritan authors, and there were several others who thought along similar lines, would fare if transported to our current time, and whether or not my favourable impressions of them would be enhanced or I would be disappointed, as I have been with so many of the movers and shakers in today’s church in their response to the issues of the day. Of course, my opinions are hardly relevant and what matters is to be doers of the Word more than hearers. What does matter is that we take seriously all the teachings of the Bible, many that were so ably presented to us by the Puritans. 400 years later, their thoughts are still pertinent.  

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