The Puritans wanted to purify their nation's church, the Anglican Church, or Church of England.
To the Puritans of the 17th Century, the new Church of England was too much like the Roman Catholic Church they had broken away from during the Reformation. They also saw corruption in the leadership and immoral living. To the Puritans, obedience to the Lord Jesus was the most important thing. Their ideas of freedom would fuel the independent spirit and love of liberty in America.
John Winthrop (1588-1649), a devoted Puritan, left England in 1630 to create a godly commonwealth in the New World. John had a beautiful vision of a colony completely centered around Jesus and His Word, a City on a Hill.
A wealthy Puritan lawyer, he was creative in his financing and founding of the colony. First of all, the New England Company was granted land between the Charles and Merrimack Rivers. A year later, this company received a royal charter and a name change: Massachusetts Bay Company. The group of Puritans who were moving to the New World became stockholders and bought up all the stock. You had to be going to the New World to own stock. So the Massachusetts Bay Colony was the only colony in the New World that was not subject to a board of trustees or governors back in England. Isn’t that neat? In 1630, John led a group of settlers to the mouth of the Charles River—Boston was born!
Before boarding the ships, Puritan Pastor John Cotton preached to the departing folks. His sermon, "God's Promise to His Plantation," urged the departing Puritans to be a shining light in the New World, preach the Gospel to the Native Americans, obey the Lord, make the Lord their strong tower, and enjoy the blessings of God who has sovereignly led them to settle in a new land.
Eleven ships sailed from England with their flagship Arabella in the lead. These ships carried almost 1,000 Puritans along with livestock, possessions, supplies, and food.
What Puritans Believed
Puritans did not adhere to one set of beliefs, but were a collection of Anglican Church members who wanted to purify the church from within. They were not Separatist, like the Pilgrims, who wanted to separate from the Church of England to have their own local congregations.
In 1643, the English Parliament called on English pastors to come together at Westminster Abbey to iron out differences and arrive at agreement on faith and doctrine. Three years later, in 1646, a Statement of Faith, or Confession, was drawn up to concisely communicate the beliefs of the Anglican Church. This Westminster Confession was only the standard for the Church of England for a few years, but is still widely held by Scottish and other Presbyterians around the world. It is an important document in Christendom and was agreed to by many Puritans.
Some Puritans were Congregational and other more Presbyterian in local church government. The Congregationalists elected their leaders. The whole church voted in elders and deacons every few years, but they voted on many issues as a congregation instead of just the leaders deciding on issues. The Presbyterians government was more like Anglican or Roman Catholic church government, except that leaders were elected and not appointed. Elders made decisions for the whole congregation.
These beliefs of church government influenced political government in the colonies and later in the brand new United States of America.
City on a Hill
Anyway, these Puritans settled into life in Massachusetts Bay Colony (later to become Boston) and got to work building houses, building a church, planting fields, and choosing leaders. John Winthrop set the example of hard work by taking on the most menial tasks as an example for the others to follow. Because of his example, everyone pitched in to do the rough and dirty work.
Factories were built. Products were sold to England and other nations. Ships were built, starting a prosperous shipbuilding industry. The colony prospered. More and more people streamed to the New World, setting in Boston and many of those folks were Puritans.
The Puritans were strict about law and morality. You had to be a church member to vote and to be a church member you had to have a conversion testimony. In the early days, you would find a group of men and women who loved the Lord, lived upright lives, worked hard, enjoyed peaceful relationships with others, and lived out their faith as shining lights.
Famous British Puritans
Famous American Puritans
Our Heritage from the Puritans
Puritans refused to compromise on important issues of faith. Their faith was based on the Word of God. They articulated their beliefs in speeches, books, pamphlets, hymns, and poetry. They were not swayed by persecution or harassment--they stood on the Word of God and shared it with others.
Puritans lived to please God, not people. They were not selling themselves, trying to be popular. They stood firmly in their faith with a heart to live a life to glorify God. Nowadays, people want to be "relatable" or "fit in with the world." Oh, to be like the Puritans and only want to live for the glory of God, setting a standard for the world, rather than trying to imitate it.
Puritans valued family. They married for life and saw children as a blessing from God. They wrote books on childrearing and worked hard to teach their children the Scriptures. Children memorized Scripture and worked alongside parents doing chores, farming, or running a business. Children grew up to value morals, hard work, and the Word of God.
Puritans established communities based on covenant with a balance of individual liberty and work toward the common good. They valued personal autonomy and responsibility, but they also worked together to bless the community. They came together to create schools, but the parents made the decisions about what would be taught. They held town meetings to discuss issues and make decisions. They spent all day at church on Sundays, even bringing their dinners and eating together as families.
Puritans saw corporate political freedom as dependent on strong personal faith in Jesus Christ. They understood that knowing Jesus Christ and reading His Word stirs up an understanding of true liberty. The Bible also affirms the value of all people because they are made in the image of God which means that you don't only want to protect your own freedom, but the liberty of all those made in the image of God.
Puritans gave us the Puritan work ethic. The Bible talks about working hard as a virtue and to do all work as if you are working for the Lord. This motivated the Puritans to work hard which led to financial success in business. However, the Puritans didn't just work hard at their job, they worked hard at church and in their communities.
So much of the virtuous habits of the Puritans has been woven in the fabric of American culture and for that we are grateful.
God bless you and God bless America!