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Elizabeth and the Rise of the Puritans

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
March 30, 2023 12:01 am

Elizabeth and the Rise of the Puritans

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 30, 2023 12:01 am

Under Elizabeth I, England once again became a Protestant nation. But some Christians were concerned that several unbiblical practices in the church still needed to be changed. Today, Michael Reeves introduces the Puritans.

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This is the Lord's doing and it is marvelous in our eyes. It was with those words from Psalm 118 verse 23 that young Princess Elizabeth apparently greeted the news that Queen Mary had died and that she was now Queen.

The Queen of England known as Bloody Mary is now dead and her younger sister, a Protestant, is now Queen. What will happen next? That's what we'll discover today on Renewing Your Mind. Hi, I'm Nathan W Bingham and I'm glad you're with us today. All week, Michael Reeves has been taking us back to the English Reformation. He's been introducing us to various kings and queens and showing us how the Lord has used them to fuel reformation and advance the spread of the gospel. Well, today he's going to introduce us to a new chapter for England with a new queen and the rise of a new movement.

Here's Michael Reeves. This is the Lord's doing and it is marvelous in our eyes. It was with those words from Psalm 118 verse 23 that young Princess Elizabeth apparently greeted the news that Queen Mary had died and that she was now Queen. And no wonder she was relieved.

Almost miraculously, she'd survived the Holocaust of her sister's reign and the country could now be reclaimed for Protestantism. King Henry's younger daughter Elizabeth was very much a chip off the old block. She was relentless, imperious, energetic. She had a quicksilver mind capable of lightning-fast repartee.

You did not want to argue with her. And she had enough political cunning to survive Mary's reign without slipping up. And being who she was, everyone knew she was going to reintroduce Protestantism. After all, her mother was Anne Boleyn, the very reason for Henry VIII's split with Rome. And since Rome refused to recognize Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn, Rome believed that Elizabeth was illegitimate and therefore couldn't be Queen. So to be Queen, she had to be Protestant.

But it wasn't just she was forced to it. Elizabeth, it so happened, was Protestant by personal and deeply held conviction. Within a year of becoming Queen in 1558, Elizabeth had undone all of Mary's religious reforms and a new act of supremacy declared Elizabeth to be supreme governor of the Church of England. Note the slight difference to Henry's title. He was supreme head of the Church in England. But this title supreme governor was meant to be slightly less irritating, both to Catholic ears and to Protestants who didn't believe a woman could be head of the of the Church.

But the really important point was that now, once again, the monarch, not the pope, was in control. And on top of this, a new prayer book was provided. And again, its distinctive theology really shows where things are at. You remember the two prayer books that Cranmer had written, 1549 and 1552, and the movement between them. Well, this next prayer book, the first prayer book of Elizabeth's reign, was very much like Cranmer's second prayer book, just toned down a little bit.

So Cranmer's second prayer book in 1552 had prayed for deliverance from the pope, had referred to the pope's tyranny and all his detestable enormities, quite strong language, anti-Catholic language, and that was toned down. Once again, it was the words used at the giving of the bread in communion that were really revealing of where this theology was at. So when you were given bread in this new 1559 prayer book service, you would hear these words, the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for you, preserve your body and soul unto everlasting life.

Recognize those words? Those are exactly the words from the 1549 first more Lutheran prayer book. Then you would go straight on to hear, take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving, exactly the words from the second prayer book. And that's what Elizabeth's prayer book was going to be. It was a compromise between the two, a compromise between the more Lutheran first prayer book and the more reformed Swiss second prayer book. And that was exactly the sort of Protestantism that Elizabeth wanted to see. It was daringly, unmistakably Protestant, but it was neither one brand of Protestantism nor another. It was, well, if Henry had introduced a very English as opposed to Roman Catholicism, Elizabeth wanted to produce a very English, but neither Lutheran or Calvinist Protestantism. It would be its English Protestantism. So under Elizabeth, England was to be a united Protestant nation. And that meant everyone would have to go to church where everyone would be presented with the same non-specific Protestantism. You didn't have to agree with it. So Catholics, for example, were allowed to believe whatever they wanted to believe. You just had to turn up. And if you didn't turn up, there was a very hefty fine for you to pay. So there was an option and some rich nobles were able to pay that.

They were loyal Catholics and they had the money to pay this fine for not going to an Anglican church. But as one of the Queen's contemporaries put it, the Queen does not care to make windows into men's souls. That's not what she was interested in. She wanted conformity. She wanted to unite the nation under herself and her faith. Now, it would be a mistake to think that Elizabeth was merely a shrewd politician with no actual interest in theology.

That wasn't the case. Elizabeth was personally a convinced Protestant. She read the New Testament in Greek every day. She read the Bible in English regularly. She prayed in English. And for example, when a bishop, when she'd just become queen, a bishop happened in her private chapel to raise the bread.

He raised the bread in the Catholic way, raising it so that it might be worshiped as the very body of Christ. Elizabeth stormed out and forbade any repeat of such behavior at her coronation, specifically ordered that a Protestant preach at her coronation. And secretly for fear of war, she would financially aid Protestants abroad.

She was very much a Protestant. Now, knowing her personal beliefs, English reformers shared sly winks with each other as they saw this very moderate Protestantism rolling out because they thought, here's the old game again, rolling Protestantism out slowly so that people can get acclimatized to it. And so the reformers thought, well, this is just the beginning, isn't it?

It's a good start. It came as quite a shock to them to realize Elizabeth saw this was her final word on the matter. She made a settlement and she was going to stick to it. And as far as Elizabeth was concerned, the matter of religion in England was now decided. It was to be English, mere Protestantism. And as for those who'd been off in Geneva with advanced ideas of how to reform the church, she had very little time for them. She was adamant, England will be Protestant, but it's no time for Protestant idealism.

And one of her reasons was political. She knew that if England looked too ideally Protestant, too extremely Protestant, it might provoke anti-Protestant feeling on the continent and threaten the safety of England. Spain or France might invade.

Indeed, one day Spain would invade. This was the moment for the beginning of Puritanism, which is really where I've been wanting to get us to, to understand Puritanism. This was where Puritanism began. Puritanism began when Elizabeth established the Church of England with her own peculiar, non-specific Protestantism.

You see, all Protestants were delighted to see England recovered from Mary's Roman Catholicism, of course. But those who would soon be called Puritans simply couldn't settle for what Elizabeth had created. Now, it wasn't that any of them wanted to leave the Church of England. There were some who left the Church of England in these early days, the 1560s, but they're generally not called Puritan.

There are other terms for them. But it was still a church. They wanted to be part of it. But the Puritans believed this new church in England was too wishy-washy by half. And it was in need of a good deal more reforming. And so many of them, they'd seen, for example, how things could be in Calvin's Geneva.

And it's, well, rather today, the English, they look at the train system in Switzerland and they long for such efficiency. And so the English in that day looked at Elizabeth's Church of England, and they looked at Calvin's Geneva and shook their heads and thought, can't it be better? And so, for example, Church of England ministers were still called priests. And the Puritans thought, does that not suggest to everyone that they're there to offer a sacrifice? They still wear priestly vestments, which suggests they're there to do the old Roman Catholic things rather than to hold out scripture, the word of God. The sign of the cross was still used at baptism. Surely, the Puritans thought. That just encourages people to think of baptism as a ritual.

Well, here's an interesting one. Wedding rings. The Puritans opposed the use of wedding rings. And this is an interesting one because you get to see how something the Puritans opposed in their day has a validity that doesn't necessarily carry with time. And so it's not always useful to say, the Puritans said this, and we should necessarily agree or disagree with them. So you can see I'm wearing a wedding ring, which would have horrified the Puritans, but I actually agree with their arguments.

Here's the argument. It was believed in Catholicism that there were seven sacraments. Not just two, but seven sacraments.

Marriage was one of them. And these sacraments, of which marriage was one, are ways in which God gives his grace. But to each sacrament is attached an external sign.

Water and baptism, bread and wine and communion. The marriage ring was considered to be the external sign in marriage. And so the Puritans thought, if you give a wedding ring, does it just not cry out to everyone? You think marriage is a sacrament?

For the time, I think that was a very good argument. No one thinks like that anymore, of course. There are also other things, for example, practices such as confirmation happened in the Church of England, and the Puritans asked, where's that in the Bible?

Confirmation. And the trouble was, Elizabeth, while she was a Protestant, she disliked what she called newfangledness. She liked the old ways. She liked the old ways. And the sort of things that the Puritans squirmed at, she just thought were inconsequential.

She thought they were just being fussy. In her mind, the matter of religion in England was settled. England was Protestant, no more need to be said. For the Puritans, the very idea of a religious settlement undid a fundamental Protestant conviction that the church must continually be reforming, becoming ever more purified and reformed by the Word of God.

So you can never at any point say, we've now got there. And it wasn't just how things looked on a Sunday. No Puritan could consider the work of Reformation complete when the majority of its population still had little or no understanding of justification by faith alone. And if they don't understand that, the Reformation's definitely not complete. The Reformation was about not just transforming church order, but more transforming individual lives, achieving not just an external Protestantism, but an internal heartfelt evangelicalism. One famous Puritan of a later generation, Richard Baxter, said this. He said, alas, can we think that the Reformation is wrought when we cast out a few ceremonies and change some vestures and gestures and forms?

Oh, no, sirs. It is the converting and saving of souls that is our business. That is the chiefest part of Reformation. Now, the seed beds for it all were the universities, especially Cambridge. Cambridge was a particularly powerful place for the Puritans, where influential dons or professors like Lawrence Chadderton took the view that the universities were there for the raising up of preachers, for the training, the education, the raising up of pastors and preachers.

And so in his college, Emanuel College, Cambridge, Chadderton wouldn't allow fellows to stay there for too long because you'll be wanting to go out and get yourself a pulpit, won't you? Now, partly because of those university connections, Puritans tended to know each other. They'd often been at university together, and so they would know when they headed out to pastoral ministry.

They would tend to know other Puritans in their area. And so before long, a practice had grown up of gathering for what were called prophesying. I wonder if you can guess what a prophesying would be. Well, a prophesying was a moment where, from an area, ministers would gather together, and they'd come at one point, and they'd all preach in turn. And then the ministers would discuss their sermons with each other. And so ministers would come and learn how to be better preachers by talking with each other and critiquing each other's sermons. And the people would come and get a month's worth of sermons in one day. And these were really wildly popular things, as people would travel for miles in an age where travel was slow and difficult to get such a hefty serving of preaching. And the well-to-do often did all they could to help sponsor these events. They'd give the preachers dinner and wine and put them up and enable these things to happen. And they were very, very happy. They were very, very happy.

And they were very, very significant. Here were moments where doctrine was freely discussed with reference to the Bible. It wasn't simply handed down from on high.

And can you see how dangerous that sounds to the authorities? Well, one of the effects of such freedom of discussion was that ten years or so into Elizabeth's reign, by the 1570s this was, a generation had grown up that was less patient of waiting for reform. They discussed doctrine freely, and they were willing to have stronger views. So many began arguing that real reformation meant that every church operated should have direct biblical warrant. This started to be a popular view.

It could get a little strong at some point. For example, there was one person who argued that the minister should stand in one spot as he ministered. For Acts 1 says that Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples. There should be two Sunday services because in Numbers we read that there were two burnt offerings each Sabbath.

But you see the logic going on there. Some also wondered if this model of the prophesying was actually how the church should operate. Get rid of bishops and have instead groups of clergy meeting together and deciding how the church in their area should work. In other words, they were starting to advocate Presbyterianism, a Presbyterian form of church government. Now, that sort of talk sounded extremely dangerous, seditious, and anarchic to those in control in the government. And so when a professor of divinity at Cambridge University put on a series of lectures arguing for a Presbyterian form of church government, he was quickly removed from his position. And Elizabeth began to see these prophesies are dangerous.

And she wanted to put an end to the whole menace. She asked her archbishop of Canterbury to suppress all prophesies. This archbishop actually, as a thoroughgoing evangelical, his name is Edmund Grindel, he couldn't countenance muzzling the word of God. So he refused the queen, which is a brave move. He was immediately put under house arrest at Lambeth Palace where the archbishop of Canterbury lives and couldn't do any more.

But his successor was much more happy to order people in how they should behave. And the lines were starting to be drawn between a younger Puritan generation more impatient for reform and the government more and more intolerant of such extremes. And then something rather foolish happened. In 1588, someone we don't know who, under a pseudonym, put out a series of scurrilous tracts against the bishops. It was clearly a pro-Puritan, anti-bishop series of tracts. And they were outrageous. So they accused the archbishop of holding orgies in Lambeth Palace called bishops, dung hills, servants of Satan, that sort of thing. It was very foolish mud slinging.

It was never going to be productive. And more than ever, Puritanism was now associated with anarchy. And the hunt for the secret press now happened. The hunt to find where these tracts had come from. And it turned into an excuse to hunt down dangerous nonconformity in any Puritan preacher's home. And within a few short years, a legal clampdown on Puritanism was in place. In 1593, the parliamentary act against the Puritans.

And now in the 1590s, the last decade of Elizabeth's reign, it became a very difficult time for many Puritan leaders because of this backlash. Among the Puritans' most bitter enemies were the playwrights. Puritans had a number of grievances with playwrights, because the theaters of the day, in many ways, functioned as the brothels of the day. And there were no female actors. Everyone on stage was a male, meaning any female part had to be played by a man. And men dressing up in women's clothes, the Puritans thought, is just opening a dangerous door.

So the connection with brothels, the cross-dressing. The Puritans tended to not like, one of them referred to one particular playwright who we'd all have heard of. He referred to his plays as the very pomps of the devil.

And playwrights don't like hearing that sort of thing about their masterpieces. And so the Puritan was made a standard figure of fun in the plays. Think then of William Shakespeare. This was his heyday in the 1590s, and he was a playwright.

This was his heyday in the 1590s. And think if you know Twelfth Night, the Puritan, Malvolio. The Puritan becomes a standard figure of fun, and such lampooning lasted well. It set the image of the Puritan very nicely in people's minds as this bitter, twisted old thing that you have. And people liked this slant on the Puritans because they didn't like having their alehouse and theater habits challenged by the Puritans. These were dark days for the Puritans. But a number of them would hang on in the knowledge it wouldn't be long before James VI of Scotland, the real Calvinist, would be king of England.

For he was in line next. England's history is anything but dry. And how can it be when we recognize that all of history is ultimately God's work to redeem a people for himself? I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and you're listening to Renewing Your Mind. All week, Michael Reeves has been surveying the English Reformation, and today we began to get just a glimpse of this group of people known as the Puritans. But the complete series, the English Reformation and the Puritans, really digs in deeper, zooms in on particular figures of the Puritan movement, including Richard Sibbes, Thomas Goodwin, and John Owen. And we'll send you this complete series on two DVDs for your donation of any amount. You can give your gift today at or by calling us at 800-435-4343. You'll receive digital access to all 12 messages, as well as a digital study guide. So give your gift at Tomorrow, get to know the Puritans even more, a group of people not content simply with Reformation in the church, but those who wanted Reformation of the heart. I look forward to you joining us then here on Renewing Your Mind. you
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-04 00:00:24 / 2023-04-04 00:09:03 / 9

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