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Puritanism: A Legacy Disdained by Historians and Sullied with the Devil’s Victory in Salem

Just as with the theology of sexuality, what the Reformers began, the Puritans elaborated.17 An early example is the pioneer work of the merchant John Browne, who specialized in trade with Spain. In 1591 he published a textbook for aspiring merchants. It included practical advice on dealing with foreign merchants, rates of exchange and the like, all interspersed with a biblical perspective:

The Godly and diligent man shall have prosperitie in all his wayes: but he that followeth pleasure and voluptuousnesse, shall have much sorrow before he die… If thou wilt prosper well pray: if thou wilt have blessings, restore what thou hast evil gotten: if thou wilt have joy of thy labors, be single in thy tongue and eye, use no lying, nor deceit …18

What is noticeable of Browne is that he took the promises of the Book of Proverbs literally and seriously—without allegory—as operating in everyday life for earthy goals. Browne had rediscovered the literal meaning of the Hebraic precepts and advised their use as principles of successful business. Significantly, opposition to the new layman’s prayer books and manuals came from the clergy who believed these works were too “worldly” and not sufficiently concerned with theological matters—a touch of the Pharisaic to be sure.19

In fact many Puritan ministers held on to the traditional Medieval view, shared with the Ancient World, that a mercantile life was ungodly. The early Puritan pastors of New England often railed against the merchants in their communities and contrasted them to the “honest” farmer. It took a generation of more biblically attuned Puritan theologians to see this attitude was unbiblical.20 Among them was William Perkins (1558-1603), Puritan theologian and Cambridge professor. He became the most influential and widely read of Elizabethan theologians. In his work A Treatise of the Vocation or Calling of Men, written about 1600, there would be no Christian gentlemen, such as Don Quixote, who did not work. Honest labor, including merchant’s work, was essential to righteousness, and idleness was a sin:

Sloth and negligence in the duties of our callings are a disorder against the comely order which God hath set in the societies of mankind, both in church and commonwealth. And, indeed idleness and sloth are the causes of many damnable sins. The idle body and the idle brain is [sic] the shop of the devil.21

The writings of William Perkins were among the most often imported for the personal and pastoral libraries of the colonies. His and other works like it established the work ethic for the American colonies.

The net result of Puritan theology on work was revolutionary. For the first time in Christendom since the Fall of Rome, a merchant was given a “pass” as an honorable profession. Further, they were given specific guidance as to honorable behavior in commerce that overrode the Medieval suspicion of profit.22 This had the revolutionary results in bringing about the expansion of the economies of England, New England and the Netherlands (where Puritan influence was strong) and later the rest of Northern Europe.23

Great theologians, bad politicians

The English Civil War (1642-1645) pitted King Charles I against the parliamentary forces. The parliamentary army was composed mainly of Puritans and other devout Protestants. Under the brilliant military leadership of Oliver Cromwell, who was strongly Puritan, the parliamentary army won, and ultimately captured and beheaded Charles.

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Category: Church History, Pneuma Review, Summer 2013

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include Quenching the Spirit: Discover the Real Spirit Behind the Charismatic Controversy (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015), and The Public Prayer Station: Taking Healing Prayer to the Streets and Evangelizing the Nones (Emeth Press, 2018). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He continues in his healing, teaching and writing ministry and is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook

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