The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘Puritanism

Plain Puritan preaching

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Joel Beeke offers some insights on plain preaching, Puritan style, which addressed the mind with clarity, confronted the conscience pointedly, and wooed the heart passionately. Not a bad model . . .

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 16 August 2012 at 16:21

Posted in Pastoral theology

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Reading glasses

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Ryan McGraw gives us some stimulating thoughts on our reading of history, after himself reading The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism. His key contention is that we are better equipped to understand and appreciate the Puritans when we have a full-orbed view of them, not merely a narrow and sometimes overly-biased or myopic one. He concludes:

For my part, while I seek to benefit and to learn from history, I find that I am better equipped to do this in proportion to my knowledge of what actually happened, rather than viewing events entirely through idealized devotional literature. I do not mean to disparage such literature, but rather to supplement it with a more robust and full view of history.

The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism is a useful place to begin in order to better understand the origins, culture, development, and scope of Puritanism. The better you understand the Puritans and the national and international factors that made them who they were, the more your souls will profit from reading them.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 26 October 2010 at 08:48

Puritan preaching

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Joseph Steels asks and seeks to answer these questions:

But what exactly is Puritan preaching? How may it be properly distinguished from other forms of preaching? Why has its influence been so palatably [sic] felt by succeeding generations?

It is an interesting and carefully-researched answer, and worth chewing over. Perhaps that is why he uses the word palatably rather than palpably?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 28 August 2010 at 10:00

Simplicity in worship

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The Thirsty Theologian (HT: Nathan Bingham) provides an excerpt from Leland Ryken’s book, Worldly Saints, showing the Puritan’s understanding of simplicity in worship:

[T]he Puritans simplified church architecture and furnishings. They took images and statues out of churches. They replaced stone alters with communion tables. The multiroom floor plan became a single, rectangular room. The walls were painted white. The physical objects that would have caught one’s eye upon entering a Puritan church were a high central pulpit with a winding stairway to it, a Bible on a cushion on a ledge of the pulpit, a communion table below the pulpit, and an inconspicuous baptismal font.

All this simplicity should not be interpreted as an attempt to avoid symbolism. It was the symbol of Puritan worship, and it was a richly multiple symbol. Here in visual form was the Puritan aversion to idols and human intervention between God and people. Here was a sign of humility before God and His Word. Here was a sign of the essentially inward and spiritual nature of worship. Here was a reminder that God cannot be confined to earthly and human conceptions, that he is transcendent and sovereign. By calling their buildings “meeting houses,” moreover, Puritans stressed the domestic aspect of worship as a spiritual family meeting with their heavenly father.

This triumph of simplicity was not necessarily unaesthetic. The simple is a form of beauty as well as the ornate. Horton Davis calls the simple beauty of Puritan church architecture “a study in black and white etching, rather than the colored and multi-textured appearances of Anglican . . . churches.” A study of Puritan vocabulary shows that “naked” was one of their positive words when applied to worship. In the Puritan Church, the individual worshiper stood “naked” before the light and purity of God’s word and presence. An authority on church architecture writes about Puritan churches, “Clean, well-lighted, they concentrated on the essentials of Puritan worship, the hearing of God’s Word, with no distractions.”

This is a delightful description of what I consider to be something akin to the ideal environment for new covenant worship (sans winding staircases and the like, and certainly involving a proper baptistry rather than a font).  Contrary to those (on various sides of various divides) who are getting hung up on the cultivation of atmosphere and the employment of ornate liturgies (and, yes, I know that at that point I am going outside the immediate scope of the quote), there was a development of thought and practice in the decades following the Reformation, and this was part of the result.  It is the practical effect of the conviction that the most important thing in worship is God himself, and that we desire no stimulants that might replicate some of the subjective effects of the presence of God without knowing its reality.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 2 October 2009 at 14:43

Lavenham: battleground of William Gurnall

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KelvedonStambourneColchesterLavenhamDedham ∙ Maldon

Lavenham signLavenham houseLavenham is a beautiful Suffolk village.  It is characterised by an abundance of half-timbered houses, and every street – especially those around the market place – speaks of a rich medieval and Tudor history.  Lavenham owes its prominence and wealth to the wool trade of the 15th and 16th centuries, which was the foundation of the fortunes of its richest and most generous benefactors.  Some of that wealth can be seen in the massive and impressive “wool church,” St Peter and St Paul, which marks out the village as one travels toward it.  The prominent tower (141 feet, or 43 metres, the highest of a village church in Britain) was known during the Second World War as “Thank God tower” to the airmen of USAAF Station 137 – flying in to Lavenham airfield on return from bombing missions, it was one of the first identifiable indications that they were safely home.

St Peter and St Paul, Lavenham - 'Thank God tower'

St Peter and St Paul, Lavenham, tower

My interest in Lavenham lies in the fact that it was the place in which William Gurnall plied his holy trade.  Gurnall was the author of the magnificent volume, The Christian in Complete Armour (Banner of Truth; also in three volumes and online).  I do not underestimate the value of the book when I suggest that you should sell your second-best pair of trousers in order to become its owner.

Gurnall was born in 1617 at the thoroughly Protestant town of King’s Lynn, Norfolk.  Gurnall might well have heard godly and faithful preachers during his formative years.  Here he would also have developed that familiarity with the sea, sailors and shipping which provided the foundation for the regular appearance of nautical illustrations in his writings.

He was educated at the free grammar school of his native town, which had two scholarships to the eminently Puritan Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in its gift.  Gurnall received a nomination to one of these scholarships in December, 1631.  He graduated B.A. in 1635 and M.A. in 1639.  There is little known of him for the succeeding five years, though there is a suggestion that he officiated as curate at Subury, not far south of Lavenham.  He was made rector of Lavenham in 1644, doubtless a good living.  During the period of his service there, men such as John Owen, Stephen Marshall, and Matthew Newcomen would have been at one time or another living within twenty miles.

St Peter and St Paul, Lavenham

After the Restoration, Gurnall the Puritan nevertheless continued Gurnall the Churchman: he signed the declaration required by the Act of Uniformity 1662, remaining with the Church of England when multitudes of faithful men were turned out, unable for conscience’ sake to remain within.  The reasons are unknown.  It is plain that Gurnall’s theological sympathies were with the Puritans; his ecclesiastical commitment kept him within the Church of England.  This, surmises J. C. Ryle, probably led to his being ostracised by both sides.  Ryle also notes unsubstantiated and possibly malicious “floating traditions” that suggest that his ministry lost its power and saw little blessing after 1662.

Gurnall died on 12th October, 1679, and was buried at Lavenham (the precise spot is not known).  The evidence suggests that he had always been a man of weak health.

The Christian in Complete Armour was first published in three volumes, dated 1655, 1658 and 1662.  It consists of sermons on Ephesians 6:10-20 delivered by Gurnall in the course of his regular ministry: in dedicating it to his hearers, he calls it “a dish from your own table ” (1:1).  All the indications are that Gurnall was an effective, earnest, appreciated minister of the gospel.  St Peter and St Paul is no mean building, and it is suggested that it would have been very full during Gurnall’s sermons.  A sixth edition of his work was published in the year he died, indicating a ready appreciation of its quality.  It is, in essence, a training manual in Christian warfare.  Weighty in every sense, Gurnall is sober, balanced and insightful, never failing to make piercing practical application of his text.  His style is relatively easy, full of illustration, well-organised, and clear, with some wonderful pithy declarations scattered throughout.

Gurnall says:

The subject of the treatise is solemn, A War between the Saint and Satan, and that so bloody a one, that the cruellest which ever was fought by men, will be found but sport and child’s play to this.  Alas, what is the killing of bodies to the destroying of souls?  It is a sad meditation indeed, to think how many thousands have been sent to the grave in a few late years among us by the sword of man; but far more astonishing, to consider how many of those may be sent to hell by the sword of God’s wrath. It is a spiritual war you shall read of, and that not a history of what was fought many ages past and is now over; but of what now is doing, the tragedy is at present acting, and that not at the furthest end of the world, but what concerns thee and every one that reads it.  The stage whereon this war is fought, is every man’s soul.  Here is no neuter in this war.  The whole world is engaged in the quarrel, either for God against Satan, or for Satan against God (1:2-3).

Charles Haddon Spurgeon commented:

Gurnall’s work is peerless and priceless; every line is full of wisdom; every sentence is suggestive.  The whole book has been preached over scores of times, and is, in our judgment, the best thought-breeder in all our library.  This ‘Complete Armour’ is beyond all others a preacher’s book: I should think that more discourses have been suggested by it than by any other uninspired volume.  I have often resorted to it when my own fire has been burning low, and I have seldom failed to find a glowing coal upon Gurnall’s hearth.  John Newton said that if he might read only one book beside the Bible, he would choose ‘The Christian in Complete Armour’, and Richard Cecil was of much the same opinion.  J. C. Ryle has said of it, ‘You will often find in a line and a half some great truth, put so concisely, and yet so fully, that you really marvel how so much thought could be got into so few words’.  Happy Lavenham, to have been served by such a pastor!

Note that at the time of writing the church has no rector.  There was no sign of Gurnall’s work in the little shop within the building (Joyce Meyer made an appearance, though!), and I hope to correct that, if I am able.  However, the sign below I found on the wall of the church.  It is a prayer that those who love the truth for which Gurnall stood and still stands might invest with the best meaning in seeking God’s continued blessing upon this church and its ministry.  You might pray that Lavenham would be made happy by another true Christian who will preach the gospel of Christ in all its saving and sanctifying excellence, and equip his people once more for the best fight in the world.

St Peter and St Paul, Lavenham, request for prayer

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 11 June 2009 at 12:55

Seeking substance

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This week has been odd.  I am still snatching at that strange beast called paternity leave, while trying to cover a few bases.  My firstborn son has been having more issues at night than my newborn son, which leaves me with very broken sleep and a fair amount of weariness.  I am also trying to get ahead of the game with some tasks around the house (so the fence that got kicked in last weekend has now been fully replaced, which is nice – it’s actually a vast improvement on the old situation).

puritan-galleryAnyway, the long and short of it is that I have been feeling weary and dull this week.  I have felt the need to have my soul fed on good food.  When I am feeling flat, there is not always a great deal modern that appeals to me.  When I am looking for something to do me good, I look not for something light and quick, but substantial and solid.  I suppose it is like feeling a real hunger, when the spiritual equivalent of McDonalds or Burger King won’t cut it, neither will the new-fangled theological counterparts of an alfalfa, guava and bean-curd wrap from some recent high-street start-up.  I want meat – real spiritual steak, nourishing and dense.  It does not need to be easy to ingest and digest, but rather substantial and profitable once ingested and digested.  I do not need tonnes of the stuff, either – but enough to satisfy my heart and mind and soul.

I want something careful, reasoned, solid.  I want the truth, extensively and pithily, well-ordered and engaging, assured and enjoyed, known and felt.  I want high views of God the Father, ardent views of God the Son, devoted views of God the Ghost.  I want the overwhelming simplicities of the truth and I want its entrancing intricacies.  I want the uplifting and humbling of true worship.  I want my head in the clouds and my feet upon earth.  I want sure guides with clear eyes and warm, pastoral hearts.  I want Jesus Christ applied to my soul in the power of God’s Spirit.  I want my mind touched and my heart fired.  I want my sins exposed and rebuked, my graces cultivated and catalysed, my thoughts directed and instructed, my feelings trained and raised, my Saviour exalted and made glorious in my eyes.

Where do I turn?  Generally, to the Puritans.  I might occasionally head for their forebears – Calvin, Knox, Luther, and the like will sometimes do it for me.  I might seek out their successors – men like Fuller, Spurgeon, Thornwell, or Warfield.  But I will most usually turn to those men of God who represent, in many ways, a high water mark for Biblical Christianity in the United Kingdom.  A few pages of their Scripture-saturated prose will generally give me something to walk away with, however weary and dull I might have been.

This week, it was Stephen Charnock on regeneration with a few propositions explaining the necessity of the new birth.  Nothing staggering, but all soaked in Scripture, pressed down and running over with the realities of God himself.

When my soul desires something of God, after the Bible, I look for someone who will bring the Bible to bear on my soul.  These men of God do so time after time.  Oh, for more of their kind, and more of their spirit.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 20 November 2008 at 18:29

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