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Posts Tagged ‘English Reformation’

William Perkins and the Puritans

July 24, 2017 Leave a comment

From the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary comes this recent conference — about the life and works of William Perkins.  This set of five messages, including one from Sinclair Ferguson and another from Joel Beeke, considers Perkins’ life, writings, and the great influence he had on the English Puritan era.

Perkins’ life was relatively short – died at age 44, apparently from kidney stones – yet spanned the years of the Elizabethan age (1558 – 1602) as a transition between the 16th century Reformation on the European continent and the later English Puritan era.  The conference lectures consider the historical period, including Perkins’ own life – a rather rough person in his youth, similar to the young John Bunyan, but then saved and greatly used of God – and the chain/link of believers who were influences on Perkins, then to Perkins’ students and down to the next generation.  Perkins, a late 16th century supralapsarian English theologian and Cambridge scholar, wrote many early Puritan writings, which have recently been published in electronic format.  Several volumes are available now in Kindle format on Amazon; earlier this year, Challies’ Kindle deals  listed the first volume on special sale, and so I have this volume in my queue for future reading.  Sinclair Ferguson noted the relative scarcity of Perkins’ works in the late 20th century, as he described his trip to South Korea in 1990, meeting believers there — and his amazement at finding Perkins’ books available there but not to be found in Great Britain.

I previously learned of William Perkins from a J.I. Packer series on the Puritans which I listened to a few years ago.  These five conference lectures provide much more information, to build on that summary overview from Packer.  Perkins’ works include his perhaps best-known “golden chain,” as well as “a case of conscience” about the believer’s assurance, and “The Art of Prophesying” (the term used in the sense of preaching, the proclamation of the Word of God).  Conference lectures even include a “15 reasons for why you should read William Perkins.”  He especially influenced the Puritans, and is worth our reading as well.  A 2015 article from the Australia Gospel Coalition even lists William Perkins among the “Five Theologians You Should Know.”

 

 

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The Early English Reformation (Carl Trueman Reformation Series)

January 9, 2015 4 comments

In Carl Trueman’s Reformation series (see previous post), I am now going through the English Reformation section, and again pleased with the level of detail not found in most church history series.

Aside from the well-known facts about England’s Reformation – the basics about John Wycliffe as the “morning star” of the Reformation, and the political event of King Henry VIII’s desire for the pope to grant a divorce, Trueman fills in many more details for the overall background of that Reformation. A starting question, a “debate” among scholars, concerns the issue of how much of the English Reformation was done from the top-down imposed on the people, versus how much came from the grass-roots level of the people influenced by Wycliffe (the Lollards). The short answer is that we really don’t know the full extent of Lollardy among the people, though some areas of it have been researched. We can look at the statements in people’s wills, since in medieval times these usually included Catholic wording with reference to Mary and other saints, etc.; but not everyone wrote wills, so we don’t have that large of a sample. We can also look at cases of heresy trials. But not everyone who was tried for heresy was actually part of any organized “Lollard” type movement; some may have simply had great hatred for the Pope or his bishops or even the local priest. We do have record of “sporadic but significant” Lollard influence, including in Trueman’s home area of Gloucestershire, as well as in Kent and in the mid-lands.

As for Wycliffe himself, though he correctly understood basic Christian doctrine including justification by faith, he also advocated what is now called “Erastianism” (named for 16th century Thomas Erastus): an idea also advocated by Italian city-states during the later Middle Ages, that local government should rule over the church (though instead of the Catholic Pope). Wycliffe defined the church as the sum total of all the elect; then, in agreement with the medieval teaching, taught that no one could have assurance of their salvation, no one could know if they were of the elect – and therefore the Pope himself could not know if he was predestined and therefore the Pope could not know for certain if he was a member of the church – and therefore the Pope could not claim any powers related to the church.

England’s early “proto-Reformation” of the late 14th and early 15th centuries, including the lay preaching and the Wycliffe Bible translation in the hands of the Lollards, led to a negative association for the government officials: Bible translation equals political radicalism. The result was a delay in official English translations, and translations from the original Hebrew and Greek texts, until relatively late. Germany had its first German translation of the Bible in 1466 without any political controversy, while England’s first official translation, authorized and from the original Hebrew and Greek, did not come until 1539 (the “Great Bible” Coverdale, three years after Tyndale was martyred).

England’s first experience of the 16th century Reformation began in the 1520s and 1530s with the radical Anabaptist groups, as well as with a gathering of intellectuals at Cambridge: the White Horse Inn reading group. Unlike today’s popular online radio show and ministry website of that same name, the original White Horse Inn was not exclusively or particularly Protestant but more humanist, with the influence of Erasmus during his years there; the group included a few later “semi-Protestants” including Thomas Bilney, who came to a basic understanding of justification by faith yet still affirmed the Pope’s authority, the Mass and transubstantiation, yet was burned at the stake as a Protestant in August 1531. Protestant members of this group included Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, who would later be martyred together on the same stake. However, a few members of the White Horse Inn would become the ardent Catholic defenders against the Protestants in the 1550s.

From the top-down side of England’s Reformation, Trueman points out the history of England’s political view of national sovereignty versus the Pope, including many laws passed by England’s parliament in the 14th century against the promotion of papal laws and authority – laws sometimes worded quite vaguely so as to allow the English government to reject whichever laws introduced by the Pope that they disliked. Another interesting fact: the men that Henry VIII recruited for assistance with his legal problems with the Pope, came from the White Horse Inn group.

 

Church History: The 17th Century Baptists

October 7, 2014 3 comments

Occasionally I listen to church history series (see this previous post), and lately I have appreciated some more in-depth church history messages focused on a particular time period: the beginnings of the Baptists in England, early 17th century. One such series is available on Sermon Audio, four parts on the “17th century Baptists”.

Among the highlights, some history that was new to me:

The “General Baptists” (Arminian) and “Particular Baptists” (Calvinists, with “particular redemption”) began at about the same time (the General Baptists a generation earlier), but arose from different groups and continued in separate paths through this time period. The General Baptists apparently never crossed paths with, or “converted to” the next generation’s “particular baptists.”

The Church of England’s 39 Articles (1563) were Calvinistic, expressing the Sovereignty of God; it was this Anglican history that J.C. Ryle later appealed to, the 39 Articles, in referring to his church (Anglican) as Reformed. William Laud (appointed Archbishop by Charles I in 1633) put forth his “aggressive Arminianism,” telling English preachers that they could not preach anything of Calvinism – that which the country’s own articles clearly affirmed.

The interesting history and development of the “JLJ” church, a London congregation founded and first led by pastor Henry Jacob, in the early 17th century during the reign of King James I, and continuing through the 1640s with two subsequent pastors, John Lathrop, and Henry Jessey. The church began as an “illegal” church, not officially registered with the King James’ Anglican church, yet for custom and citizenship sake the church members would take their infants to Anglican churches for the “proper” English baptism. Under the persecution of Charles I and archbishop Laud in the 1630s, the congregation considered the question: was it acceptable to have your child baptized in the Anglican church? A first group split-off from the JLJ church in 1633, determining that they could not do so. Another group split-off in 1638, with church member John Spilsbury, this time over the question of whether infants should be baptized at all, determining that baptism was instead for adult believers. It is important to note as well that the church “splits” during this time were not ugly events such as are familiar in our day, but were done harmoniously with agreement and appreciation of conscience, that some members believed differently about an issue, and so the group would split off with the goodwill and blessing of the main church.

Up to this point, apparently believers baptism was done by sprinkling or pouring. Indeed, Christians in England had never seen baptism by immersion. In the late 1630s to 1640, the men at the JLJ church had regular weekly meetings to consider the mode of baptism, and even sent one member to Holland to observe the practice of baptism by immersion being done there by the Mennonites. Then, the JLJ church held the first English baptismal by immersion service, in January 1642: 53 members were baptized in the Thames river, at a time of year that was quite cold and with little sunlight.

The first London confession followed in 1644, and by 1649 the Particular Baptist churches in England were sending forth church plants to Wales.  The years 1649 to 1660 were peaceful, the interregnum and Cromwell’s rule, followed by great persecution resuming under Charles II beginning in 1660.  It was during this later time that many preachers, not “state licensed”, were imprisoned for years (including John Bunyan’s imprisonment for 12 years) and some died in prison.

The “17th century baptists” audio series includes this overall history, as well as biographical sketches of several key Baptists (including John Spilsbury and William Kiffin) and details about some of the early baptist churches.  . This series plus articles, such as listed below, tell of many interesting events from English and American baptist history.

Additional resources for 17th century Baptist history: