There’s no doubt that modern-day Britain uses that word as an insult. Of course, it was first coined as an insult back in the late 16th Century. It was used to describe those who wanted to see the Church of England purified from all Papist additions. The Puritans are most closely associated with Cromwellian England and are universally painted as boring kill-joys who wore bad clothes and banned Christmas.
With all the cultural baggage that we carry around with us, it’s a real shock to actually encounter the real Puritans through their writings and discover their warm, lively characters.
In 2008 I joined in with blogger Timmy Brister’s Puritan Reading Challenge. I’d read Richard Baxter’s Reformed Pastor and it challenged and changed my view of the pastoral office. I wanted to read more of these old guys. Could they have something to say to us in the 21st Century?
The answer was an emphatic: “Yes!”
Thanks to the PRC I came across the work of Thomas Watson. He was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and was minister of St Stephen’s Church, Walbrook. He signed up to the Westminster Confession but he didn’t sign up to regicide and was imprisoned by the Commonwealth. You’d think that he would have no problem with the Act of Uniformity but in 1662 he was ejected with 2000 other ministers from the Church of England. He continued to preach and minister in the following years.
The first work of his I read was “The Godly Man’s Picture Drawn with a Scripture Pencil”. I would read it on the Sheffield tram and spend half the journey lost in thought as his writing forced me to look at myself to see where I was falling short. But Watson is not a hectoring Puritan. His writing is full of imagery and illustrations that are so practical that he is a delight to read.
He also wrote “A Body of Practical Divinity” which is published in three volumes. The volume on the Lord’s Prayer has been a wonderful resource in my current sermon series.
If you want an introduction to the Puritans then you can’t go wrong with Watson.
For more on Watson’s Life and Works click here