The history of the Puritans has always been a fascinating subject to Reformed and Presbyterian believers. This is partly because the Puritan experiment (as it is sometimes called) has entered into the warp and woof of our own country’s national heritage, and partly because the history of the Puritans is part of our own ecclesiastical history, though admittedly indirectly.
The author takes issue in some respects with current thinking about Puritanism in this country as represented, e.g., by Perry Miller, an acknowledged authority on the subject. His book is intended to give a more balanced view of the Puritans. It is my judgment that the author succeeds admirably. He has written an interesting and enlightening book which is easily read and which will give the reader a good idea of what Puritanism in this country, especially in the 17th century, was all about.
The book treats many different aspects of the life of these “pilgrim fathers.” It defines Puritanism “as primarily a reformist movement comprised of individuals who took issue with the Church of England in matters of polity, style, and to a lesser extent doctrine, and who desired to discard ‘Romish’ practices, to exercise congregational autonomy and authority, and to build their society on the Bible as the final authority” (pp. 11, 12).
The book gives some information on the background of the Puritan movement in England and the biblical basis for Puritan life and thought. It deals with the theology of the Puritans, their church structure in preaching, government, and polity. It describes the life of the Puritans in their piety and social ethics. It speaks of their views of education, culture, and recreation. It concludes with two chapters on challenges in Massachusetts to the Puritan way, in which are discussed the history of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson with her antinomian ideas, and the legacy they left us.
As one reads the book, one is struck by how near to us the Puritans were in many matters of doctrine and life. They were Calvinistic in their doctrine; their worship was much like ours—although they practiced purity of worship in some respects; they resembled what we hold true in matters of family church life, and walk in the world. In their early years, according to the author, they even held a sound view of the assurance of salvation (pp. 85-87). One feels a deep kinship with them on these matters.
There were, however, significant differences. In the light of covenant conceptions current in Puritan circles, they held to an external and internal covenant, something which was to give them grief in later years. Already early in their history (and this too was in keeping with current Puritan ideas), they held to what is basically an Arminian conception of preparationism, i.e., the view that the Spirit of Christ works generally in the hearts of all who hear the gospel a certain preparatory grace which made the hearer more susceptible to the preaching (pp. 85-87). In church polity they held to a strict congregationalism which was characteristic of the “Separatist” brand of Puritanism. And in keeping with their whole purpose of coming to this country, they held to a certain post-millennialism.
While their views of the church were originally sound (they held, e.g., to the idea to which Calvin also held, namely, that the visible church was composed of more than the company of elect), these views changed over the years. More and more they tended towards the view that the church ought to be composed only of the company of the elect. In keeping with that conception, they began to require various testimonies of one’s experiences to judge whether a given applicant for membership was truly an elect and worthy of church membership (pp. 101, 102).
It was this view which led to their well-known view of the “halfway covenant.” Many, while baptized in the church, could not give a satisfactory account of their conversion. Yet they were married and had children which needed to be baptized. To accommodate this, the notion of a “half-way covenant” was introduced. It referred to the fact that some were “half-way” into the covenant by virtue of their baptism, but were not yet “all the way” into the covenant because they could give no account of their conversion.
Christian high schools ought to have this book in their libraries, and those of our readers who de sire to know mom of these American Puritans can very profitably add this valuable work to their home libraries.
Of late, evangelical Protestantism has been looking into the biblical teaching on divorce and remarriage. One reason has been the appallingly high rate of divorce and remarriage among professing evangelical Christians. Francis Schaeffer pointed to this scandalous situation in his The Great Evangelical Disaster: “Do we not have to agree that even much of the evangelical church…has bent Scripture at the point of divorce to conform to the culture rather than the Scripture judging the present viewpoints of the fallen culture? Do we not have to agree that in the area of divorce and remarriage there has been a lack of biblical teaching and discipline even among evangelicals?” (p. 63). Carl F.H. Henry mentioned it in his autobiography, Confessions of a Theologian: “While evangelicals seek to penetrate the culture, the culture simultaneously makes disconcerting inroads into evangelical life. This is specially evident in the widening notion that divorce and remarriage are simply matters of free moral choice” (p. 388). At the evangelical “Intemational Council on Biblical Inerrancy” in Chicago in 1986, some publicly confessed with shame of face that the divorce rate in the evangelical churches is the very same as in the surrounding society.
Divorce and Remarriage is one of the most recent evangelical examinations of Scripture’s teaching on the subject. Four theologians present their position. Laney holds that Scripture forbids all divorce and all remarriage (the exception clause in Matthew 5 and in Matthew 19 is supposed to refer to “marriages” that are invalid because they are incestuous relationships). Heth explains Scripture to allow for divorce in the case of adultery, but absolutely to forbid remarriage while the original mate is living. Edgar argues for divorce and remarriage in the case of the fornication (“illicit sex”) of one’s mate and in the case of desertion. And Richards, a sheer antinomian in this area of Christian life, thinks that all divorce and all remarriage are sinful, but that the grace of God permits and justifies remarriage for any and every reason: “Persons who divorce for any reason do have the right to remarry” (p. 243).
It is interesting that two of the four maintain that the Bible forbids all remarriage while an original mate is still living.
Adding to the liveliness of the book is the immediate response to each of the positions by the other three.
Some of the authors share serious weaknesses. One is the failure to define marriage. One cannot treat divorce without having first established from Scripture what marriage is by institution of God. This is not true of Laney and of Heth. Laney begins by denying that marriage is merely a legal agreement. “Marriage could be defined as God’s act of joining a man and a woman in a permanent, covenanted, one-flesh relationship” (p. 20). Exactly!
Another weakness is the notion that believers under the new covenant may still appeal toDeuteronomy 24:1-4 as a ground for their remarrying after divorce. As though Jesus did not ascribe those goings-on under the old covenant to Moses’ tolerating them because of the hardness of Israelite hearts! As though Jesus did not at once direct attention to the will of God at creation from which the behavior described in Deuteronomy 24deviated! And as though Jesus had never cut off all appeal to Deuteronomy 24 by the New Testament Christian by His own lordly, “And I say unto you…” (Matt. 19:7-9).
Yet another persistent error is the stubborn refusal of evangelical writers to recognize that, “is not under bondage” (Greek: doulooo) in I Corinthians 7:15 is a completely 9 different word from “is not bound” (Greek deoo), so that the apostle is not teaching there that a believer deserted by an unbeliever is no longer bound in marriage and therefore free to remarry.
In his zeal to prove that marriage is dissolvable, Edgar overlooks that I Corinthians 6:16 does not say that sexual union with a prostitute makes the two one flesh. (His argument is that the one-flesh bond of marriage is as much dissolvable as the one-flesh union of a man with a prostitute.) Paul does not, however, say that the union of a man with a prostitute is one flesh. Rather, he says that it is a “one-body” relationship. This is serious enough—a dark parody of marriage. But it is not the establishment of a one-flesh union, that is, a genuine marriage. For this, more than sex is required.
As soon as Edgar has argued for the permissibility of the remarriage of the “innocent party,” Richards asserts “the contradiction of holding that an innocent party is unmarried, and free to marry again, but a guilty party is somehow still ‘married,’ thus can never marry again” (p. 212). He then insists on the right of all to remarry, guilty as well as innocent. Indeed, he expressly states that an imaginary “Tom” may remarry for the fourth time and, I must assume, for the fortieth time.
There are two possibilities for a Protestant church at the end of the 20th century: either no remarriage or remarriage for all, regardless of the reason for the preceding divorce. Most of the Protestant church, evangelical as well as liberal, is enthusiastically or grudgingly practicing the latter today. And the practice is at the same rate as the practice of the ungodly world. That this is abomination to the God of Scripture and transgression against the will of Christ and the apostles, he who runs may read.