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Puritanism

Dr Johnson's definition of 'Methodist' as 'a new kind of Puritan' contains a vital truth. Both Samuel and Susanna Wesley came from Puritan, Dissenting stock, whose influence was not obliterated by their conversion to High Church Anglicanism. Susanna ordered her Epworth family life according to a careful 'method', with set times for teaching her children, prayer and meditation, and keeping a spiritual journal. She read Puritan authors, notably Richard Baxter, and drew up 'Rules' for family governance.

After 1738, John Wesley rediscovered this Puritan tradition and injected it into his Methodism. It is the English Puritans who are most fully represented in his Christian Library. Like the mainstream Puritans, he sought to reform the Church of England from within, and therefore empathized strongly with the Dissenting clergy forced out of the Church in 1660-62. He relished the 'Practical Divinity' of the great Puritans and used part of Baxter's Reformed Pastor as a manual of pastoral practice for his preachers. His Covenant Service was derived from the Puritans Joseph and Richard Alleine, but transformed from an individual act of devotion into a corporate act of the worshipping community.

Quotations

'Early Methodism is by some hasty observers deemed to have sprung from Puritanism. It is more correct to say that Wesley as a theologian and preacher, was the outcome of the old Anglicanism represented by Nelson, Bishop Wilson, and Dr. Horneck, and by William Law in his early days. The old Methodists… had indeed a few usages which resembled Puritan usages. They disapproved of gay clothing, and of luxury of living. They believed so firmly in an all-directing Providence that they acknowledged God in all their ways, even in their common daily life, and would not make any engagement without adding, "If the Lord will". Then their common use of Scriptural language was observable - it was not mere mannerism, still less was it cant. It was the natural result of a close and familiar knowledge of the words of Holy Writ.'

R. Denny Urlin, Father Reece (1899), p.91

Sources

  • E. Benson Perkins, 'A New Puritanism', in Methodism: its Message for To-day (1931)
  • Frank Baker, 'Wesley's Puritan Ancestry', in London Quarterly and Holborn Review July 1962 pp.180-86
  • John A. Newton, Methodism and the Puritans (1964)
  • R.C. Monk, John Wesley: his Puritan Heritage (1966)
  • John A. Newton, Susanna Wesley and the Puritan Tradition in Methodism (1968)
  • Trevor Staniforth, 'John Wesley's Puritan Roots', in Wesleyan Perspectives: papers presented to the Wesley Fellowship in 1998 (Ilkeston, 1998)

Entry written by: JAN
Category: Subject

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