Friday, April 20, 2007

'The Discovery of Puritanism, 1820-1914' - a review

Even were it not one of the key secondary texts for my research, Raphael Samuel's 'The Discovery of Puritanism, 1820-1914: A Preliminary Sketch' [in Revival and Religion Since 1700, Essays for John Walsh, eds. Jane Garnett and Colin Matthew (London: Hambledon Press, 1993) (201-248)], would be a fascinating read for me, or probably any other researcher of Puritanism or the nineteenth century. As someone studying both, I take the liberty to introduce it to you.

Samuel's central concern is the rise of Puritanism's reputation and influence during the nineteenth century, especially in Britain, although America is mentioned.

He begins with the obligatory paragraph on the difficulties of defining and describing Puritanism, but infuses even his preliminary analysis with humour and surprising breadth (I won't spoil it for you). His brief survey of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century attitudes to Puritanism is lucid and erudite, and he powerfully illustrates reasons for the changes in early nineteenth-century attitudes. [He is not, of course, as comprehensive as Blair Worden, who may fairly be called the expert on these things. See in particular his Roundhead Reputations: The English Civil Wars and the Passions of Posterity (London: 2001)]. Samuel examines literary, political and religious strands of Puritanism's influence in the nineteenth century, particularly highlighting the significance of Thomas Carlyle's Cromwell. He describes Puritanism as surprising Carlyle by being an English analogue to the Scottish Covenanting tradition (214).

He goes on to observe the downturn in English Nonconformity at the end of the nineteenth century, and with it the decreasing influence of Puritanism. The most original and interesting part of Samuel's article, as far as I am concerned, is 'Part II' (224-247), where he describes the influence of Puritanism as an attitude, coming out of all that he has already discussed, on nineteenth-century society. This includes a 'service and sacrifice' rationale for the late Victorian overseas settlement (228), and the puritan influence on socialism (229), social reform (233), and late-century movements like theosophy (244).

If any of us were in danger of doubting the abiding legacy of the English puritan movement, this article certainly offers a powerful antidote. Highly recommended.


It is Friday. I had a spare hour. I did some searching on Wikipedia. Here is a sample of what I found what I found:

Frederick Chopin’s first composition was performed publicly when he was 7.
Mozart wrote his first symphony when he was 8.
Albert Einstein was reading Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and Euclid's Elements at age 10.
Andrew Gray was an accomplished puritan preacher at the age of 20 (he died at 22).
William Wilberforce became a Member of Parliament at age 21.
Jeffrey Marx won a Pulitzer Prize at age 23.
Stephen Crane wrote The Red Badge of Courage when he was 24.
George Whitefield was preaching open-air revivals in Georgia at 24.
Charles Lindbergh was Time Magazine’s man of the year at age 25.
William Lawrence Bragg won a Nobel Prize in physics when he was 25.
John Calvin wrote the first edition of the Institutes when he was 26.
At age 27, David Brainerd baptized his first Native American convert, Tashawaylennahan.
William Carey (who read Edwards’ bio of Brainerd) preached the “Deathless Sermon” at age 31.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote The Cost of Discipleship at age 31.
Alexander “The Great” conquered the known world before he died at 32.
Rigoberta MenchĂș Tum was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize at age 33.
William Tyndale did most of his work in his thirties.

I am almost 31. Lets get to work.

(Some of the facts came to mind as I was reading other entries. Not all are on Wikipedia. For example, the one on Calvin came from my reading in B.B. Warfield's Calvin and Calvinism today).

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Great moments in early modern printing

Title page of the 1536 edition of William Tyndale's A treatyise of the iustificacyon by faith only, otherwise called the parable of the wyked Mammon (click on the page for a higher-res version).

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

On i-Pods and Providence

My walks through the streets of Edinburgh normally have a soundtrack. That is the beauty of the i-Pod: I create the accompaniment to my day. The white buds hang lightly in my ears, filling them with everything from Brahms or Grainger to Wesley or Watts. On clear evenings, nothing injects gravitas into a walk to Tesco (a grocery store) like the first forty-five seconds of Percy Grainger’s “Colonial Song.” Pedestrians become noble protagonists in a thousand one act plays. Every gesture is replete with meaning. Storefronts are displays of the human condition. Postmen are harbingers of love and loss.

Then the battery dies.

Wistful ears are hijacked by inharmonious chatter and viscosity-plagued bus engines. My protagonists become annoying obstacles to a tidy stroll. Postmen just bring bills. In short, I lose the drama that I had so enjoyed with the aid of a soundtrack.

This experience is not limited to i-Pod junkies. People experience it every Sunday at about 12:15. The sermon concludes and our minds abandon the things above for the things at hand. The doors open and the noon day sun seems to say, “And then there is this world...” Something like a battery dies and we surrender the drama.

But what if we could infuse every situation with meaning without plagal cadences? Is there a way to persistently celebrate the dramatic spiritual dynamic underpinning all of life? The puritans thought so. Many puritan divines had a handle on the drama of life. Their appreciation for the nobility (and iniquity) of the human drama did not come from a choir or an i-Pod. It came from a settled belief that God’s providence was real, and his plan was unfolding before their eyes.

As a caveat, puritan attempts at “tracing the hand of God” could saunter into excess. For example, Thomas Beard's The Theatre of God's Judgments (1597) is a catalogue of events which Beard interprets with a confidence akin to ‘third person omniscience.’ He rightly expounds on scriptural examples of God’s wrath on sinners. Yet, he ventures further into second hand historical accounts of the death of notorious sinners and mines them for God’s purposes. It is always a bit disconcerting when someone seems to know exactly what God is doing in every given situation. Therefore, when I say ‘celebrate the dramatic spiritual dynamic,’ I do not mean that we are infallible interpreters of what God is doing moment by moment.

But we can celebrate what we do know. There is a difference between knowing what God is doing and knowing that God is doing it. We cannot perfectly parse world events. But come tsunamis, birthdays, or unyielding depression, we can know that God is working all things for the good of those who love him, those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). That is the kind of drama that many puritan divines cultivated. They had an interpretive motif which linked world events to God’s covenant love toward his elect. Our hope does not rest in our ability to unravel the divine tapestry (lets not take our cue from Beard here). Rather, like many other puritan exemplars, we ought to wrap ourselves in it and know it was made for our good.

So tonight as I walk to Tesco, I wonder if Romans 8:28 could be my soundtrack? If so, I will see pedestrians as beings made in His image. As I navigate the chaotic sidewalks, I will know that each step is ordered. Life would not be as dramatic as a Beethoven symphony suggests. It would be much more so.


How much is assurance worth to you?

Continuing with highlights from Richard Rogers's Seven Treatises (1603): here's an inspiring passage on the benefits of Christian assurance. Rogers cites the words of a fellow minister he knew and admired (William Perkins? Richard Greenham? ... he doesn't say) who once discovered the benefits of having a thorough assurance of God's love in Christ, and resolved to maintain his grasp on it every day thereafter.

So many exhortations come at the Christian today, but how often are we told to nurture assurance? Rogers's account is worth reflection:

... I will rehearse a speech of a godly Christian preacher, and one that deserved to be heard, whom I have oft been present with, when he uttered the same.

"While I was persuaded verily," said he, "that I have faith, but yet held it not by the surest grounds, I was glad from time to time, to think that I had it: holding my persuasion thereof, by such evidences as I had before enjoyed, rather than I could tell, for the time present, what sure warrant I had of it: but I took no great pain to confirm it by daily meditating on the promises, neither bestowed any more diligence in and about that, than upon other duties, and therefore was distracted oft times, and unsettled exceedingly.

But when I saw more clearly, how gainful and beautiful a grace it is, and how I must live by it, having no less need of it, than of the air to breath in, I sought more certain ground of it, and that with greater care than I had before. And since I knew that I had it by more infallible arguments and testimonies, I could never be weary of looking to and increasing it (as I had learned how), but for some years space have done, and do every day nourish and strengthen it, and I recreate myself in thinking what benefit I have by it; until my gain thereby, and pleasure therein, do keep me there with delight, more than in all pastime; and the labor which I bestow about it, is so far from toil or wearisomeness, that it is my greatest solace: neither do I think or feel myself to be armed to the well-going through the affairs of the day, before I have prepared myself thereto, by refreshing my soul with considering God’s abundant love and favor towards me, and rest upon it as my own. But when I have done it, I am (by good heed taking) cheerful, and in good estate, all the day after: and so I am (in reverence be it spoken)," said he, "persuaded, that I shall continue to do ..."

"For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith."

1 John 5:4


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