This Thanksgiving weekend and last, I dusted off a two-part sermon series I had not given for many years, entitled, “America: God Shed His Grace.” It was a look at The Separatists (more popularly known as the Pilgrims) and The Puritans. I had not forgotten, but was surprised again, how spiritually stimulating this series was for me. The Puritan’s convictions, energy, and passion reinvigorated my heart.
To use an analogy, the Puritans are not unlike the great Redwoods of northern California. Some of these massive trees are over 360 feet tall and some trunks are more than 60 feet around. They are the largest living things on the face of the earth. I’ve seen the Redwoods. Once I drove a 33-mile road winding through Redwood groves fittingly called “Avenue of the Giants.” The Puritans were a breed of giants that once walked on the earth. When we compare our lives to them, suffer my overuse of the analogy, we are Japanese Maples.
The modern stereotype of the Puritans is one of being blue-nosed killjoys in tall black hats; a somber sin-obsessed, witch hunting bigots, which one modern author writes, “…whose main occupation was to prevent each other from having fun and whose sole virtue lay in their furniture.” Such books as The Scarlet Letter and Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem Witch Trials, called The Crucible, carry an image of the Puritans as a people preoccupied with sin and guilt. There is no doubt that the Puritans took sin seriously, far more seriously than we do today, but they had good reason. They knew that success or failure in the new colony would be based on God’s favor or blessing. Success for these new arrivals hung in the balance and sin could bring utter failure.
It was the Puritans that gave us the source documents for the Declaration of Independence, “The Protestant Work Ethic,” The Christian Home, and integrity in the work place. It was from the Puritans (as well as the Pilgrims) that we were given the separation of powers and an entrepreneurial spirit that has become synonymous with being an American.
What was it that made them so powerful, so energetic, so successful?
The answer in one word, maturity. Maturity is a compound of wisdom, goodwill, resilience, and creativity. The Puritans were mature, we are not. We are spiritual dwarfs. They are giants. As J.I. Packer describes them,
They were great souls serving a great God. In them clear-minded passion and warm-hearted compassion combined. Visionary and practical, idealistic and realistic too, goal-oriented and methodical, they were great believers, great hopers, great doers, and great suffers … Spiritual warfare made the Puritans what they were. They accepted conflict as their calling, seeing themselves as their Lord’s soldier-pilgrims.
I was energized as I restudied them. I found myself convicted by my often-foggy thinking, complaining attitudes, and shallow beliefs. I was impassioned to live more wholeheartedly with greater vision and deeper theology. I was, above all else, thankful. Thankful that the Puritans came to America. I was thankful that, though obscured at times, their beliefs are still embedded in the fabric of our national identity.