The following articles are a transcription of two hand-written essays I wrote for my exams in Modern Church History. ~Nate Wilson


The Stuart Puritans and the Westminster Confession of Faith

The Stuart Puritans were a movement during the Scotch-ancestry Stuart kings of England (1603 James I – 1699 Wm. & Mary) who wished to purify the Anglican church. They were derisively labeled "Puritan" by the Anglicans in the 1550’s. They focused on the Bible and on education, in opposition to the traditions within the Anglican church, many of which were Roman Catholic in origin.

The period between 1640 and 1662 contained both the climax and the low point of their history. Despite persecution by the first two Stuart kings, James and Charles I, in the years leading up to 1640, the Puritans had gained an upper hand in the English Parliament. When Oliver Cromwell’s forces defeated the king’s army, Parliament was free to govern the country without interference from the Anglican king. They immediately called what is known as the "Long Parliament" and passed the "Root and Branch Declaration" of 1640, outlawing Anglicanism and calling for an assembly in Westminster that would hammer out a Puritan form of the church for the country. The Long Parliament later executed the troublesome Archbishop Laud for his Catholic-leaning ways and persecution of Puritans. They approved a set of 121 ministers from throughout the land together with 30 representatives of parliament to form the Westminster Assembly in 1643.

The English Assembly worked on revisions of the "39 Articles" and was then joined by 5 Scotch minister-advisors. Together they hammered out a confession of faith based on Scripture as the foundation, a directory for public(k) worship, and a Larger and Shorter Catechism, which they brought back to Parliament in 1648 and which was ratified. This made England an officially Presbyterian country! Cromwell, a Congregationalist, wasn’t pleased with this development, so he called on his buddy, Pride, to purge the Presbyterians from Parliament, then he executed Charles I and proclaimed himself "Lord-Protectorate" of England.

Well, the Presbyterians went to the heir of the throne, Charles II, who declared that he would be more religiously tolerant (Breda 1660), so Cromwell was deposed and Charles II enthroned in England. Unfortunately, Charles II was more Anglican than he had let on, and he really clamped down on the Puritans with a set of laws known as the "Clarendon Code," the most galling of which was the "Act of Uniformity" of 1662, which forced all English churchgoers to be Anglican and to use the Book of Common Prayer with its Romanish form of worship. Non-conformists were persecuted severely and thrown into prison.

The Clarendon code resulted not only in persecution of the Puritans, but also in squelching the hope of a truly reformed Anglican church. Through the prison sentences of notable Puritan pastors, however, it afforded a rich literature from men such as John Bunyan, who spent their time in prison writing books! Another bright side of the Clarendon code is that its severity hardened the opposition to Anglicanism and eventually led to more toleration... some 26 years later, the persecution was lifted when the more tolerant William and Mary took the throne.

During this time also, there was an assembly of Congregational-polity Puritans, such as the great John Owens, whose minority status at the earlier Westminster Assembly prevented them for getting their way in the Presbyterian Westminister Confession. They met in Savoy and worked out a confession modeled after the W.C.F. with the notable exceptions of a congregational church polity and a post-millennial eschatological stance.



Revival vs. Revivalism: A comparison of the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings

True revival is an extraordinary work of God in renewing the lives of believers and saving the lost. It happens periodically, often in conjunction with Biblical teaching, but more as a result of God’s will. The period with which we’re dealing saw two revivals, one at the turn of the 18th Century, and one at the turn of the 19th, respectively called the First and Second Great Awakenings. At issue is the legitimacy of a movement centered in the Second Great Awakening called "Revivalism." Revivalism may be said to differ from revival in that it is not considered as basically an extraordinary act of God but rather as a planned event by men. To further contrast the concepts of Revival and Revivalism, let us take a brief look at the histories of the two Great Awakenings.

Beginning in the 1670’s, God visited the United States with revival. Historians point to a civic meeting (in which people believed God was judging them for their sin) as a catalyst for this revival in which there was a national call for prayer and repentance. Great preachers like Stoddard, Whitefield, Frulenghuysen, and Jonathan Edwards followed this up with clear, Biblical, doctrinal preaching. Thousands of colonists were converted and renewed in their faith, and the level of Christian obedience to the Bible rose. This first Great Awakening can truly be called revival.

Beginning in the 1780’s, after the war for Independence had somewhat distracted the colonists from a focus on spiritual life, another Great Awakening took place, beginning somewhat like the first one, with a national calamity of war, unified prayer, and follow-up by great preachers like Dwight, Lyman, and especially Asahel Nettleton, who believed in God’s sovereignty in revival and in teaching sound doctrine.

On the Western frontier, however, it was a different story. Revivalist preachers like Stone, Campbell, and especially Charles Finney were paying less attention to the traditions of the church and its doctrines and becoming enamoured with a sensational movement. The focus of these Revivalist preachers was on conversion (rather than sanctification) and on experience, such as physical actions connected with conversion decisions, jerks, and other sensational physical... and emotional experiences. Preaching was designed to elevate crowds of people into an emotional excitement and use psychological pressure to get them to perform the outward acts of conversion. Finney freely admitted a Machiavellian stance that he would use whatever methods "worked" to get people saved.

The Second Great Awakening left a mixed bag of results. Bible schools and seminaries were founded, and there were thousands of conversions, but there were serious theological problems as a result. The multiplication of frontier churches with untrained pastors (particularly in the Methodist and Baptist traditions) left them susceptible to false doctrines. However, the longer-standing New England churches took the lead in... socialization of the Gospel, chasing after issues like Temperance and embracing the incipient liberalism in the exemplary atonement taught by the New Haven theology. Furthermore, the legacy of the Second Great Awakening appears to be more church splits than ever with the Cumberland Presbyterians, Campbellites, New Schoolers, and (whether or not it can be directly attributed to revivalism) the split between North and South.

I believe that we should seek for revival, but beware of revivalism. We should pray and hope for God’s blessing of revival and we should teach and preach the Bible and pure doctrine. We should not, however, do this by focusing on physical and emotional hype and ignorance of Biblical teaching.

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