Inspired by the leadership of John Calvin, the English Puritans believed in original sin and predestination. Man's relationship with God was based on special contracts or covenants. In the early 1600s, a group of Puritan separatist known as Pilgrims migrated to North America to establish a new Christian Commonwealth. Their dispute with the Church of England was over excessive hierarchy and unnecessary ritual that prevented man from communicating with God directly. The Pilgrims were followed by a larger Puritan migration between 1630 and 1640. Life in the New World was harsh, but their ideology helped them shape a new society.
John Calvin was inspired by Martin Luther, who initiated the Protestant Reformation. Calvinists perceive God as supreme in human affairs, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. According to Calvinism, God controls everything and everyone. Although God predetermines who would be saved or damned, there is no way to ensure one’s salvation. Salvation is awarded through faith, rather than good works alone. Like their Calvinist predecessors the Puritans sought to live a moral life and honor God.
According to the idea of original sin, every person is a sinner by virtue of being human. Original sin is derived from the book of Genesis in which Adam, the original human, disobeys God. Thus, all people are depraved sinners. The implications of original sin are harsh and suggest that no matter how many good works a person may perform in his lifetime, it will not necessarily lead to salvation. Puritan theology maintains that God’s grace could only be bestowed by God.
Puritans believed that God pre-determined all events in the world long before they happened. For example, if God planned an earthquake on a given day, there was nothing anyone could do to prevent the event. Puritans also believed in unconditional election meaning that God chose who would be welcomed into heaven. To the Puritans predestination and unconditional election implied that evil in the world is part of God's overall plan and must be accepted.
A covenant refers to a contract between God and God's "elect". Three main covenants were central to Puritan theology, the Covenant of Works, The Covenant of Grace and the Covenant of Redemption. The Covenant of Works referred to God’s promise to provide Adam and his progeny eternal life in exchange for obedience. The Covenant of Grace is an agreement based on faith and requires man to be held responsible for his sins. According to the Covenant of Redemption, God agrees to allow Christ to take responsibility for man’s sins.
- Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were
- Perry Miller, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province
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