The Puritans

While somewhat different from the Continental Pietists, the English Puritans were also known for their focus on the practical, the importance of regular selfexamination, a longing for holiness and a desire for higher standards of morality and attention to duties. Conversion narratives and emphases upon rebirth or being born again are also prominent, as can be seen in the host of personal diaries of Puritans from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Puritans were a controversial bunch. The name ‘Puritan’ itself began as negative term, and these fervent believers were also called ‘Precisians’, for their emphasis upon precise and exacting devotional practices. The fact that they were not always welcome in England meant that Puritans were constantly on the move. This gave them opportunities to spread their understanding of faith and the life of faith. They influenced Reformed thought in the Netherlands, particularly through William Ames (1576-1633), and also left an indelible mark upon religious life in the American colonies. The English Puritan John Winthrop (1588-1649) even received permission to set up a Puritan colony in Massachusetts Bay. Winthrop envisioned that this religious community would serve as a ‘City upon a Hill’ (Mt 5.14) which could show the nations what a Christian commonwealth truly looked like.[1]

  • [1] See John Winthrop’s famous 1630 sermon preached aboard a ship bound for the New World, ‘A Modelof Christian Charity’, in Wayne Franklin, Philip F. Gura and Arnold Krupat (eds), The Norton Anthologyof American Literature, vol. A, Beginnings to 1820 (New York: Norton, 2007), pp. 165-185.
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