If ever thou hadst experience of this day of power, these visitations of Christ upon
thine own spirit, I suppose thee to be one who hast embarked many prayers for the success of the gospel in those dark corners of the earth, to strengthen thy faith, enlarge thy heart, and assure thy soul that God is a God of hearing prayers1 This is a fragment of a preface in a pamphlet written by Thomas Shepard (1605-1649), The Clear Sunshine of the Gospel breaking forth upon the Indians in New England. He was a puritan minister in New England, North America and this book was introduced by eight prominent Puritans in England and offered to the Parliament and people of England. It is an account of the origin and progress of the mission work among the Indians. This is the first experiment of the protestant propagation of the Christian belief among the heathens.
It is a well known fact that the Reformers and their successors concentrated their work on doctrine and practical church issues. It was their aim to remodel the church according to New Testament rules. They were not focussed on matters as church extension and world mission. Their ecclesiology was one of their high priorities in which they expended much energy.
Who were the Puritans? They were exponents of a movement which arose in the Church of England in the last decades of the sixteenth century. Their aim was to promote ‘the New Testament pattern of personal piety, sound doctrine and a properly ordered Church-life’. 2 They were promoters of a godly life and of the practice of personal piety in their daily devotions as well as in church and in society. In the first place they were people of ‘spiritual experience’. As Packer says: ‘In the Puritans’ communion with God, as Jesus Christ was central, so Holy Scripture was supreme (…). Knowing themselves as creatures of thought, affection, and will, and knowing that God’s way to the human heart (the will) is via the human head (the mind), the Puritans practised meditation, discursive and systematic, on the whole range of biblical truth as they saw is applying to themselves’. 3 Their ministers were ‘Physicians of the Soul’. Their writings were mostly devotional en practical guides for a biblical Christian life, with a great stress on the applying work of the Holy Spirit. Symptomatic for these themes is the second title of The Seven Treatises, written by an early Puritan, Richard Rogers: Containing Such Directions as it is gathered out of the Holy Scriptures, leading and guiding to true happiness, both in this life, and in the life to come: and may be called the practise of Christianity...4 It is out of the order in this lecture to describe their ideals for purity in church and worship. Their struggle for it is worth reading and studying. 5But I will lay stress on their movement as ‘A Movement of Revival’. This is their exclusiveness. They were soul winners longing for revival, revival of heart, of life, of church, and of society. An example of the fulfilling of their efforts we see in the ministry of Richard Baxter in Kidderminster from 1641 to 1660. Let’s hear to his account of revival:
When I first entered on my labours I took special notice of everyone that was humbled, reformed or converted; but when I had laboured long, it pleased God that the converts were so many, that I could not afford time for such particular observations…families and considerable numbers at once (…) came in and grew up I scarce knew how. 6 In this way the Puritans built on the framework which was laid by the Reformers such as John Calvin. They tried to deepen and to analyse pneumatic subjects, not in a theoretical but in a practical sense. Their spirituality was heart felt and experimental.