Intro to Puritanism

Lecture Notes



  1. What comes to mind when you hear the word “puritan”?
  2. What are the generally accepted dates of the puritan period and why?
  3. Who are the puritans? What was their mission?


            Note this quote from K. T. Erikson’s The Wayward Puritans: “The main purpose of the puritan experiment in those early days was to show that men could govern themselves in a political state exactly as they governed themselves in a church congregation—that the Bible could serve as a competent instrument of law, that sainthood could provide a feasible basis for citizenship, and that the ministers could act as the final moral authority in civil as well as spiritual matters” (72).


  1. What was the role of the church and minister in puritan culture?
  2. Note the five basic points of orthodox puritan belief:


(1)  Total depravity: All people are born in original sin, and can do nothing about their condition. They are depraved since Adam’s fall. Humankind has a sinful nature and creates disharmony; they are a source of wickedness and evil.

(2)  Unconditional election: God saves (or elects) some, and damns others. Election is predestined. “The elect” are guaranteed salvation. Predestination of foreknowledge is based on God’s divine purpose and plan.

(3)  Limited atonement: Christ did not die for us, but rather for only those who God has chosen to be saved (or “elected”).

(4)  Irresistible grace (or “covenant of grace”) God gives grace (unmerited favor and mercy) freely (therefore “free grace”). It is irresistible; it cannot be earned. Grace is a gift, not a reward for behavior. No outward proof is necessary to earn God’s grace. (The puritan Anne Hutchinson believed in the covenant of irresistible grace.)

(5)  Perseverance: The elect remained saved or will “persevere” because God has promised. The elect can never be “lost” since salvation is by the will of an omnipotent God. One cannot get “unsaved” by his or her sins or rejection of faith.


  1. Note other terms and concepts:

(1)  Visible saint: A person who knows that he or she is elected to salvation because of a conversion experience when the saving grace of God entered their hearts. Visible saints showed by their behavior that their whole way of living was based on serving God. Church membership was limited to visible saints.

(2)  Justified person: One chosen (or “elected”) for salvation by God.

(3)  Sanctification: Proof that one is justified (or “elected” by God). Proof is exhibited by living a life of good works and outward proper moral conduct. One might also receive a “sign” of sanctification (such as wealth) that would signify one’s election. One’s minister, in private counsel, could help a puritan determine a sign.

(4)  Covenant of works: Belief that good works and outward moral conduct and conformity will earn one his or her justification (opposed to the view of covenant of free grace).

(5)  Antinomianism: A belief that extolled salvation gained by faith and the intuitive revelation of God’s freely given grace—not salvation gained through good works. Good works are not an indication of salvation. Antinomianism is an extreme form of the covenant of grace: since the elect are guaranteed salvation, the church’s role is obsolete. The puritan Ann Hutchinson was an antinomianist.


  1. What kinds of literature did the puritans produce?
  2. Characterize the puritan writing style. Also note the following quotes from puritan:

(1)  “[I will] manifest a plain style; with singular regard unto the simple truth in all things.” (William Bradford, History of Plymouth)

(2)  “Plainness for matter and manner of expression is the thing that I consciously endeavor.” (Thomas Hooker)

(3)  “God’s altar needs no polishing.” (Cotton Mather, sermon)


  1. What was the puritan’s view of fiction, poetry, and drama? Note the following quotes from puritan ministers:

(1)  A man may be said to commitith sin when he imagineth, deviseth, and plotish sin as a Poet in his fictions.” (John Cotton, sermon)

(2)  “Engross all your application. Beware of boundless and sickly appetite for the reading of poems . . . but especially preserve your souls from the dangers that may incur with the Muses that are no better than harlots.” (Cotton Mather, sermon)


  1. What was the puritan view of women writers? Note in particular the passage from John Winthrop’s History of New England on Anne Yale Hopkins (? – 1698), whom we assume to be a writer (perhaps a poet). No works of hers survive.


“[April 13, 1645] Mr. Hopkins, the governor of Hartford upon Connecticut, came to Boston, and brought his wife with him, (a godly young woman of special parts) who was fallen into a sad infirmity, the loss of her understanding and reason, which had growing upon her diverse years, by occasion of her giving herself wholly to reading and writing, and had written many books. Her husband, being very loving and tender to her, was loath to grieve her; but he saw his error, when it was too late. For if she had attended her household affairs, and such things as belong to women, and not gone out of her way and calling to meddle in such things as are proper for men, whose minds are stronger, she had kept her wits and might have improved them usefully and honorably in the place God had set her. He brought her to Boston, and left her with her brother, one Mr. Yale, a merchant, to try what means might be had here for her. But no help could be had.”


  1. Who are our major puritan writers and what were their contributions?
  2. What causes, as expressed in the literature read in this unit, caused American puritanism to decline?
  3. What is the “Great Awakening”?


No books have been added to this reading list.