The Legalistic Tendencies Of The Puritans (Part 1)

thomas_watsonPart 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”:

http://www.puritansermons.com/watson/watson2.htm

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, “…it 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.

4 thoughts on “The Legalistic Tendencies Of The Puritans (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: The Legalistic Tendencies Of The Puritans (Part 2) |

  2. Thank you both for this post. I have been a reader of the puritans for years. But about 3 years ago I let them go because I couldnt fit their view of sanctification with what I read in scripture. Thank you again

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