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Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were

  • by Leland Ryken
Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were

“Worldly Saints” by Leland Ryken provides us with an excellent study of both American and English Puritanism, of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Ryken’s book is educational: Ryken’s honest exposition of Puritans’ theology and daily conduct lifts Puritanism from a historical fog and from the fallacies, which are often wrongly attributed to the Puritans. J. I. Packer is right, “… the typical Puritans were not wild men, fierce and freaky, religious fanatics and social extremists, but sober, conscientious, and cultured citizens, persons of principle, determined and disciplined… At least the record has been put straight.”

Ryken’s book is specific: Ryken’s chapters include specific aspects about Puritan life, marriage, work, family, preaching, education, etc. which are loaded with quotations from Puritan writers. These are refreshing, since the author sheds light not only on their sermons, which were long “godly and learned”, but also on the doctrines of marriage, work, vocation, money, and education. It is refreshing to read that Puritans viewed work not as the result of the fall, but as a gift of God. All men are called to work steadily for the glory of God. The preacher’s calling is no different from the calling of the shopkeeper. Their view of marriage also is most biblical. For example, Puritan preacher John Wing wrote concerning husband’s love to his wife that it “must be the most dear, intimate, precious and entire that heart can have toward a creature; none but the love of God… is above it, none but the love of ourselves is fellow to it, all the love of others is inferior to it” (p. 51). At the same time, Puritans recommended that spouses could prepare for the rigors of marriage, “by limiting the expectations” and remembering that “you marry a child of Adam” (p. 51).

Ryken’s book is influential: It is almost impossible to read these chapters without being confronted with the reality of the Puritan’s faith, the faith that penetrates every aspect of life. Puritans did not compartmentalize their lives, for them there was no disjunction between sacred and secular. “All creation so far as they were concerned, was sacred, and all activities, of whatever kind, must be sanctified, that is done to the glory of God” (p. xii). They view whole life, whether it was family worship, work, rest, and social gatherings integrated onto one act of worship. “The Puritan’s believed that all of life is God’s. This enabled them to combine personal piety with a comprehensive Christian worldview. Beginning with the premise that the Bible is a reliable repository of truth, the Puritan had a basis from which to relate their Christian faith to all areas of life—to work, family, marriage, education, politics, economics, and society.” (p. 221).