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The Influence of the Puritan Preaching on Mission Movements

      

Iain H. Murray states that the Puritan movement in England believed so firmly in revivals of religion as the great means by which the Church advances in the world.  It was through the influence of the movement which changed the spiritual direction of England and Scotland so rapidly from hundred years ago, making them Bible-reading nations and witnesses to a creed so unflattering to human nature (1971:3).
 

The Influence of the Puritan Preaching
on Mission and Revival Movements

        The Puritans in their preaching, devotional writings, and theology at once gave a significant influence on the rise of Great Awakenings and provide a launching pad for modern mission movement.  Charles E. Hambrick-Stoue discusses:

Richard Baxter (1615-1691), known for his irenic temperament,   nevertheless, brought a message of immediacy and ultimacy, and both warning and promise.  The very title of one of his devotional works reprinted (the 32nd edition!) in Boston has a distinctively Great Awakening tone:  A Call to the Unconverted to turn and live.  The Words on the page can be imagined from a new England pulpit: “I beseech thee, I charge thee, to hear and obey the Call of God, and resolvedly to turn, that thou must live.  But if thou will not…I summon thee answer for it before the Lord” (1993:285-86).

            
        D. M. Lloyd-Jones reveals that Spurgeon, the greatest preacher of the nineteenth century, literally lived upon the Puritans.  He says, “No man knew the works of these people better than Charles Haddon Spurgeon” (1962:9).

Missions by the beginning of the eighteenth century were being directed more and more to the non-church goer and to the heathen.  As in seventeenth century Puritanism, the urgency and necessity of personal conversion was thrust into the foreground.  No unconverted man enters heaven or escapes hell.  Thousands of unconverted, indifferent, and uncertain people became converted (Rooy 1965:316).

Paul Pierson (1997) states that Puritanism had significant impact in its devotional and theological writings on Pietism in Germany.  Again, Moravianism was developed out of Pietism.  Here he observes that Puritanism initiated a chain mission movement in that the first Western missionaries came from Puritanism, Pietism as well as Moravianism.  These movements again had a major impact on Evangelical revival.[1]   

Murray indicates the influence of Puritan mission theology on George Whitefield, the great preacher in America from England.  In the transmission of the Puritan inheritance from the seventeenth century to the pioneers of the new missionary age which dawned at the end of the eighteenth, the connecting links were, supremely, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards.  In the late 1730’s it was from such Puritan as Matthew Henry’s Commentary that Whitefield learned much of his theology; his subsequent thirteen crossings of the Atlantic, his preachings to Negroes and to all classes of hearers witnessed to his contemporaries and to following generation what that theology could inspire (1991:135).     

Murray also discusses the impact of the influence of Puritan preaching upon William Carey, the Father of modern mission movement.  William Carey was by upbringing a latitudinarian Anglican who, after his conversion, became a dissenter.  Yet it was Thomas Scott, an Anglican of  Whitefield’s school, who did much to mould his convictions in the early years of his Christian life.  He was the author of several books, including a History of the Synod of Dort.  This was the international Synod convened in the Netherlands in 618 to counter the rise of Arminianism,  and the five ‘heads’ of doctrine affirming the effectual redemption and find salvation of final salvation of all whom God has chosen become known to history as the Canons of Dort (:144-45).
 


 

Richard Baxter’s Influence on Mission

Richard Baxter had several direct contacts with the mission worker for the Indians in New England.  From 1656 to at least 1682, Baxter corresponded with John Eliot who worked among the Indians, showing his great interest in his work.  He was also eager to assist in securing of the new chapter of the Corporation for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England in 1666-1662.  Again, his Call to the Unconverted was translated by Eliot and printed at the cost of the organization (Rooy 1965:69).

Baxter’s preaching and writings influenced many other key leaders and missionaries.  Quoting Rooy:

The father of  John and Charles Wesley heard Baxter preach and
said that his sermons seemed to glow with ‘a strange fire and pathos.’  Young John Wesley asked Philip Dodderidge for advice on reading.  Dodderidge pointed to Baxter as the ‘highest in his esteem’ and his ‘particular favorite.’  Wesley later thanked God for the discovery of Baxter’s Aphorisms of Justification, of which he published an extract in 1745.  Both John and Charles Wesley as well as Spurgeon, were influenced by Baxter's Reformed Pastor (:69).     

Baxter’s missionary influence extended beyond the bounds of his life and that influence touched at many points the great missionary movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (:70).

 

Puritan Hope and Missionary Endeavor

     Murray argues that Puritan  belief on Christ’s work and kingdom gave rise to the first major missionary endeavor of English Protestantism in the period prior to the Civil War led to the emigration of some 15,000 persons to the shores of New England between 1627 and 1640.  Among the number were many ministers who had been at Cambridge in the time Sibbs and they were not slow to see their spiritual responsibility toward the heathen in the New World.  The seal of the colonists of Massachusetts Bay, who arrived and settled in 1628, had on at a North American Indian with the words proceeding from his mouth, “Come over and help us.” Murray quotes Nehemiah Adams, saying: “This device on the seal of their colony published to the world the fact that they regarded themselves as foreign missionaries to North America.  This was also the case with their brethren of the Plymouth Colony who arrived eight years before” (1991:92-93).

     When the Pilgrim Fathers came to Plymouth, New England of North America, they arrived cherishing an instrumental vision of God’s mission.  Marshall and Manual describe it in their work, The Light and the Glory: “The Puritans had cherished a “great hope and inward zeal” of at least playing a part, if only as a stepping stone of others, in carrying forth of the Light of Christ t o remote parts of the world (1977:109).

     Murray observes that the Puritan hope was so influential in the origins of what was to become a hundred and fifty years later, worldwide missionary endeavor.  The hope is prominent throughout the missionary tracts published in the 1640’s and 1650’s.  It is expressed in characteristic terms in the preface to Thomas Shephard’s The Clear Sunshine of the Gospel Breaking Forth upon the Indians in New England, 1648, where twelve prominent English Puritans address their words ‘To the Right Honorable the Lords and Commons, Assembled in High Court of Parliament.’  The initial blessing upon the work among the Indians, they  write, is only a pointer toward what is yet to come:

The utmost ends of the earth are designed and promised to be in time the possessions of Christ….   This little we see is something in hand, to earnest to us those things which are in hope; something in possession, to assure us of the rest in promise, when the ends of the earth shall see his glory, and the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdom of the Lord and his Christ, when he shall have dominion from sea to sea, and they that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him (Ps. 22:27; Rev. 11:15; Ps.72:8-11).  And if the dawn of the morning be so delightful, what will the clear day be?  If the first fruits be so precious, what will the whole harvest be?  If some beginnings be so full of joy, what will it be when God shall perform his whole work, when the whole earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea (Isa.11:9, 10) and east and west shall sing together the song of the Lamb? (1991:144-45).

 

The Puritan’s Missionary Thrust in America

The seventeenth century Puritans saw the planting of the church in America as a great step forward.  This was God’s work.  Their calling was to claim the land and possess it for God.  Their sense of the oneness of life and the Lordship of Christ made them sure that this was a sacred calling (Rooy 1965:322).[2]

Best known of the Puritan missionaries to the Indians was John Eliot (1604-1690), whose biography, written, by Cotton Mather, was to have far-reaching influence.  Eliot crossed the Atlantic in 1631 to minister to English settlers.  He was more than forty when he began to study Algonquib—the difficult language of the Indians of Massachusetts (1991:93).  Cotton Mather comments, ‘Being by his prayers and Pains thus furnished, he set himself in the year 1646 to preach the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ among these desolate outcasts’ (1852, 1967:562).

Eliot’s work—its thoroughness, hardships and Christ-centerdness became an epic story.  Of his preaching, Mather says, ‘there was evermore much of Christ in it.’  He became also a pioneer Bible translator, completing Genesis in 1661 (Murray 1991:93).

Eliot even prepared an apology or a statement, advocating the ordination of the Indians.  He was far-sighted missiologically in that he stated that Englishmen, law, and language can be a hindrance to the Indian church.  Also the Mayhew family—four generations—walked on Martha’s Vineyard among “Indians.”


The Puritan Heritage in the Great Awakening

Lloyd-Jones maintains that the history of 1662 was the mainspring behind the Evangelical Awakening of the eighteenth century or, at least, it helped to sustain it.  He discusses the influence of the Puritan preaching on the rise of the Great Evangelical Awakening:

        Look at the next century, the eighteenth century, and the great Revival, the great Evangelical Awakening, associated in the country with people like Whitefield and the Wesleys, Daniel Rowland and Howell Harries, and others, and in America with Jonathan Edwards….They read them (the works and writings of the Puritans), they studied them; and, sometimes, it is rather amusing to notice in some of their journals, they record not only that they read the works of those Puritans, but even charged one another with actually preaching sermons of the Puritans without acknowledgment! (1962:9).

        Proponents of the revival in New England drew upon long established English and seventeenth century American Puritan devotional practices and patterns of spiritual experience both to fuel and guide the Great Awakening in their region.  These efforts took place locally in the pulpit and in the context of personal work (Hambrick-Stowe 1993:280-281).

        Among the books published during the period of the Great Awakening are found an astonishing number of reprints of seventeenth century devotional tracts and manuals.  Many of these were old favorites by English Non-conformist giants, such as John Owen, John Flavel, John Bunyan, James Janeway, Benjamin Keach, Thomas Gonge, Thomas Doalittle, Willians Burnitt, Richard Baxter, and many others, all of whom died before 1710 (281).

        Reprinted seventeenth century books gave voice to the central theme of the Great Awakening, the rebirth of the soul from sin.  Thomas Gong (1609-1681) whose The Young Man’s Guide was republished in 1742, argued: “It is necessary to be converted, that so thou mayst live.  Thou dyest without Remedy, thou dyest without Money, if thou turn  not.”  The directness associated with New Light preaching could readly be found in the classics (285-286).
 

The Publication of the English Puritan Writings
During the Great Awakening

Hambrick-Stowe depicts Puritan Devotional Practices in New England.

Proponents of the revival in the New England similarly drew upon long established English and seventeenth century American Puritan devotional practices and patterns of spiritual experience both to fuel and to guide the  Great Awakening in their region.  These efforts took place locally in the pulpit and in the context of pastoral work.  On and broader, regional scale, New Light leaders specifically promoted the revivals of the 1730's and 1740's through their use of print media (1993:281).

Hambrick-Stowe again observes that Puritan preaching has influences on the Great Awakening Preachers in many ways.  Puritans seeking to promote the revival through their own revival of evangelistic preaching with renewed emphasis on the “use of terror” and the immediate call for repentance and faith, found support for their “innovations” in the writings of their Puritan forebears (:286). 

Jonathan Edward’s Puritan Approach to Preaching

According to Packer, Jonathan Edwards was a true Puritan in his approach to preaching.  Like his seventeenth century predecessors, he preached with a threefold aim: to make men understand, feel, and respond to gospel truth.  Like them, he set out the matter of his sermons according to the threefold ‘method’ of proposition, proof, and application—‘doctrine, reason, and use’, as the Puritans called it.  Like them he studied plainness of style, concealing his learning beneath a deliberately bold clarity of statement. 

Jonathan Edward’s Concert of Prayer is also the reflection of his Puritan conviction that not human methods but only sovereign grace could reach the sinner.  With this conviction, he made urgent prayer necessary for the progress of the gospel.  His Concert of Prayer proved to be one of the greatest factors in awakening the Protestant churches to their mission calling (Rooy 1965:321).


 
 

[1] Pierson, Historical Development of the Christian Movement.  Audio Tape 10.

[2] Rooy, however, feels that no enough establishment of the Indian church was done.


  © This article is an excerpt from Dae Ryeong Kim's paper, "The Missionary Proclamation of the English Puritanism,"