The Puritan Faith

English: Lesson 30

The views of Cotton, Winthrop, and Rowlandson regarding the Puritans’ errand in the wilderness.

The Puritan faith amongst Cotton, Winthrop, and Rowlandson is one that is so strong that even through one horrible episode after the other, that would have broken most people; their faith made them stronger and more sure in the Lord. Each of their books has its distinct difference but are all written in the Puritan view, which is a call to go out and reveal salvation to the world through preaching.

John Cotton’s book, God’s Promise to His Plantation, is a sermon of hope for those leaving Europe for the New World. It is full of quotes and bible verses that show how God will plant them in a new land in which they will prosper. He most certainly saw the fear and doubt of the people and from that, he wrote a message of hope for them.

“Now because many may either not know, or do not consider upon how full a ground and warrant out of the word of God that undertaking (which was the occasion of this Sermon) hath hitherto proceeded, I thought good (Courteous Reader) leave being with some difficulty obtained of the Reverend Author to present unto they view and consideration, that which may in part give thee satisfaction in this particular” (Cotton, pg 2).

The examples that Cotton gives to his readers are for them to take and apply to their personal situation. Cotton, like many people, believed that it was their God-given duty to go inhabit new lands and to preach the gospel. Questions that he answered were; how do I know God has appointed me to a certain place? What is it for God to plant a people? What course would you have us take? All these Cotton answers with a Bible verse and then an explanation.

“Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and I will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more” (2 Sam. 7. 10).

“Daily bread may be sought from far” (Prov. 31. 14).

“He hath appointed the times, and places for our habitation, that we might seek, and grope after the Lord” (Acts 17. 26-27).

So, Cotton’s message is there to encourage and give them a firm foundation to stand on and say this is why we are going. And he does this through a very Puritan structured sermon and belief that it is necessary to be in a covenant relationship with God and that God has chosen to reveal salvation through preaching.

John Winthrop had a different idea than Cotton. Rather than a sermon of hope, he gave a message that took the form of a manual. The Puritans that would be leaving for the New World were going to a place that had no order whatsoever. There were no laws, no hierarchies, and no social order that was established in Europe. Winthrop knew that they had to make the rules, the only question was how? He came up with 4 main rules; the two rules of social cooperation: justice and mercy, and the two systems of law: nature and grace (moral law and gospel).

“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt 7:12).

“Love your enemies… Do good to them that hate you” (Matt 5:44).

Winthrop thought it better not to tempt God into performing miracles to save you and your neighbour, but give charity to all so everyone can survive. In this way, Winthrop’s book, A Model of Christian Charity, is a manual on how to survive economically, socially, and spiritually in a place where there is no order. Like Cotton, he gives plenty of bible verses for the Puritans to use when faced with the question to give or not to give. The answers he gave to such difficult questions like, what rule shall man observe in giving in respect of the measure? were answers in terms of their Puritan beliefs, “If the time and occasion be ordinary he is to give out of his abundance. Let him lay aside as God hath blessed him. If the time and occasion be extraordinary, he must be ruled by them; taking his withal, that then a man cannot likely do too much, especially if he may leave himself and his family under probable means of comfortable subsistence.” 

Mary Rowlandson, although not a preacher like Cotton and Winthrop, was the wife of a preacher, and held a very strong Puritan view. Her memoir, Captivity and Restoration, was not only a fascinating story of her time held hostage by the natives but a testimony of how her faith increased by being challenged in every possible way. The theme of the book is best described by her, “Yet the Lord still showed mercy to me, and upheld me; and as He wounded me with one hand, so he healed me with the other.”  This is a very Puritan statement, where God is credited with all, the hurting and the healing. Rowlandson through thick and thin, through starvation and death, does not ever complain or say, why me Lord? Instead, she views it as a challenge of her faith and that her being sent out into the wilderness was to increase her faith in God.

In conclusion, Cotton, Winthrop, and Rowlandson all viewed their calling to be sent out into the wilderness as their duty as Christians, and that it would be a test of their faith in God. They knew that there would be great challenges, but they found the answers they needed in the gospel so that they could go into the wilderness with a foundation and confidence in God.

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