Friday, April 23, 2010

The Legalistic Tendencies Of The Puritans (Part 1 of 2)

Part 1 - by Terry Rayburn
(Part 2 is here)

Since there are certainly a large number of Christians who read the Puritans, I wanted to make some comments about the Puritans in order to bring attention to a form of Legalism that they are prone to, largely because of their Covenant Theology.

No one likes to pick on such esteemed men as the Puritans, but Grace is too important to neglect the subtle spiritually-detrimental influence that the Law-based message of the Puritans can bring on an unsuspecting reader.

The following link is to a fairly representative message from Thomas Watson, entitled "A Godly Man Is A Lover of the Word":

I urge you to read it before reading comments by me in this post ("The Legalistic Tendencies of the Puritans, Part 1"), and by my wife Michele in the next post (Part 2).

Part 1, Comments by Terry:

Warning: Sin-centered Christians will not like the following comments. But sin-centered Christians love warnings, so I knew it would be an attention-getter :)

Watson, like other Puritans in general, thought he was being Christ-centered by being sin-centered.

This is a result of his not cutting straight (rightly dividing) the Word of Truth.

He didn't understand that the Old Covenant was made obsolete by the New (Heb. 8).

He didn't understand that sin shall no longer be master of us because we are no longer under Law but under grace (Rom. 6:14).

While he acknowledges grace in a vague way, his *focus* is on himself and his sin. This is unbiblical under the New Covenant.

Our *focus* is to be on Christ, and walking by His Spirit. Keeping our eyes on Him, fellowshiping with Him. Not examining our spiritual navel 24 hours a day to see if we're more sinless than we were yesterday, and wringing our hands and hankies when we're not.

"If we walk by the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16). The love of Christ constrains us to walk this way, and the love of Christ is grown in our hearts and minds as we look on Him, not our fleshly wretchedness.

And the Puritans didn't get it, because they were reactionaries, reacting to a decadent immoral secular English church. And they reacted with a law/sin-focused life and study.

They rightfully gloried in the greatness of God, and this is the one value of reading the Puritans, but it's a big mistake to go to them for tips on Christian living.

They are the Emperor who has no clothes. Greatly admired, almost worshiped like they were Christ himself, they were Law/Sin nerds who never got out of Old Covenant thinking, and into the bright light of Gal. 5:1, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage."

And yet, I mean no disrespect to them as men. They were influenced by their peers and their times.

But we are in another time, friends. A time in which we have an opportunity to bring the light of the New Covenant to a generation of believers who still think that their performance is the point.

A time when we can shake off "Religion" and replace it with Christ Who is our Life (Col. 3:4), and leave "Religion" for the World.

A time in which we can build true "...fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 Jn. 1:3), because "...the blood of Jesus Christ His son cleanses us from all sin." (1 Jn. 1:7)

We all want "true revival". But true revival is happening now in the hearts of those who understand the radical nature of Grace, who understand the freedom which is in Christ, and I don't mean Antinomianism.

The Performance-Based Believer can never have the revival he thirsts for, because his *focus* is himself, and he doesn't even know it.

He thinks he still has a wicked heart, and doesn't realize that he's been given a *new* heart, a heart of flesh to replace the heart of stone. (He has no idea what Paul means in Rom. 7:17, when he says, " is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.")

His goal in a good sermon is to be "convicted", so that he can head back to his laboratory of Performance and maybe get it right this time.

"Tetelestai!" It is finished! He has done it! Life conquered Death! Our sins, beloved are *all* forgiven. We are free to take our eyes off of ourselves and put them on the Author and Finisher of our Faith.

And the Catch-22 is that then we will sin less.

And it's all of Grace.

That's the New Covenant.


feetxxxl said...

very good.

we were created very good. it is not for believers to be distracted from that very goodness, an essence that we cannot change, but can only deny or distance ourselves from thru(sin) service to powers and principalities,flesh and the world.

it is thru grace thru faith in christ that we can embrace that very goodness.

"apart from me you can do nothing."

the law being solely, to make us aware of not godloving ourselves and our neighbor.

"anything without love is nothing and gains nothing."

it is not for us to keep our eyes on the puritans but instead on christ.

as john adams said all history is lost. our impressions about the puritans is basically culturally created and bears little resemblance to what actually happened.

Terry Rayburn said...


Thank you, but I see some confusion in your writing.

When you say, "we were created very good", if you are referring to the creation of man in Genesis, you are right.

But when Adam sinned, that changed, and when you and I were born, we were born with the sin nature we inherited from Adam.

That made us very "not good", which is why we needed a Savior, Who is Jesus Christ, Who died for our sins on the cross, and Who rose again from the dead.

Your promotion of homosexuality on your blog is a direct denial of the Word of God.

Not just the clear teaching of the immorality of homosexuality from the Old Testament, but see Romans Chapter 1:26-28, part of which says,

"For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind..."

If you are a born again believer, I would urge you to begin by honestly recognizing the reality of this awful sin.

You can't change yourself, but God can.

His grace covers every sin, but only for those who are born again and believe in Jesus (and therefore His Word).

Don't fool yourself as thinking you can believe in Jesus, but not believe His Word.

If you conclude you are not born again, I would urge you to take God at His word, and to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, as Savior, Lord, and Truth-teller (even when the truth is the evil of homosexuality).

Jesus Himself said only the sick need a physician. This means that if one considers themselves already "good" (without being born again), who needs a Savior?

As always, if I've misunderstood you, don't hesitate to let me know.

In any case, your statement is very true, "It is not for us to keep our eyes on the Puritans, but instead on Christ."

Thanks so much for your comments.

Terry Rayburn said...


I don't like to delete comments, but I perceive that you are not interested in truth, but only in the legitimizing of your sin.

I hoped you would engage Romans 1, which clearly depicts homosexuality as "unnatural", "indecent", and deserving of a "due penalty".

Instead you have scattered out a bunch of pieces of your sinful agenda like a lunchbag of confetti.

I'm neither willing to pick up every little piece and address its absurdity, nor want to subject my readers to it.

This is not new "dialogue" for me.

I'm well aware of a rise in so-called "Christian" homosexuals, and I've observed one thing they have in common -- a propensity for spewing out a whole lot of smoke to cloud the clear biblical truth.

Aside from the fact that it's way off-topic for this post (which I don't mind that much usually), it's as though I cited a scientific fact which supports creationism, and was answered by a copy-and-paste edition of Darwin's Origin of Species.

Terry Rayburn said...


You are no longer welcome on this blog.

Your lawless spirit is shown by your continued diatribe.

Any further comments will be deleted and reported as spam.

Romans Twelve One said...

I am not sure if you dear people are reading too much Jon Zens and not enough Scripture or what. Clearly the Scripture you DON'T read is the OT, since you seem to have jettisoned it in your passion to be "NT Christians." And really now, the hyperbole that the puritans bring a "subtle spirituality - detremental influence...on an unsuspecting reader." Indeed? The puritans are dangerous but you are sound and will rescue us? No kidding? My friends, the Puritans I know, they have stood the test of time, their value is clear and proven - but WHO are you? May I urge a reading of Lloyd-Jone's work on the Puritans? Perhaps it will sober you up from your antinomian high. Christian regards. David L.

Terry Rayburn said...

Romans Twelve One,

Your "you dear people" "friends" and "Christian regards" are obviously disingenuous. Spare me.

1. Mohammed has stood "the test of time".

Hopefully that's not your test of validity, but you didn't offer a single comment related to my post.

2. You obviously don't know what antinomianism is, but like many legalists you sling the word out as though it proves some point.

As a sidenote, you mention Lloyd-Jones. But it was he who said (and I paraphrase) that if you are not occasionally labeled "antinomian" by foolish legalists who don't know what it even means, then you should question whether you're really preaching the Gospel of Grace.

3. I love the law of God, because it provides me knowledge of, and insight into, the One I love, and is right and good.

But born-again Christians are not "under the law" as a means of earning God's love and favor, let alone justification.

ALL our sins are already forgiven, past, present and future, irrespective of the law (which I repeat, I love).

Should we sin, then, because they're forgiven? Of course not.

4. Your attitude, and your implied doctrine (I say implied, because you haven't stated any Scriptural truth) make it clear to me that you are in bondage to legalism.

I pray the Lord will open your mind to the glorious grace of (yes, I know this will set your teeth on edge) the New Covenant of our Lord Jesus Christ, who loves us and gave Himself for us, so that we died to the law.

Do we even believe the same gospel of salvation by grace through faith, not of works (Eph. 2:8,9)?