Puritanical Beauty: the beginning

Puritanical Beauty, and the Beginning of a Series of Posts.

My first introduction to the world of Puritans was in public school English and History classes, and it left the usual bitter taste in my mind.  Ugh. Can anything good come out of such a movement as Puritanism? I think that was the idea most of us gleaned. It was offered, and we took it on without question, and moved on.  I’m thankful to have encountered many good teachers in my life since who have challenged me to read more deeply, read more “promiscuously” and to read without committing logical fallacies (such as thinking our era has the corner on truth while all preceding generations were much more ignorant, or thinking that one essay by one Puritan defines all people with that label).

This new series of posts will be aimed at introducing the beauty, goodness and truth in Puritan writings. I will highlight my favorite authors, and what I have learned from them on many spiritually encouraging topics. I do not mean to imply that I agree with every Puritan’s theology, or philosophy; nor do I believe they were “better” than all current teachers in the faith. I do agree with J.I Packer, that they are the Redwoods of the faith, and we dogwoods ought to learn from them (more on that in future posts). In my own reading I have noticed so much that could be spoken anew to the church today, so I hope to encourage you to read more promiscuously by not prematurely shunning such giants in the faith.

In the past fourteen years I have been delightedly reading the Puritans.  In honor of Valentines’ Day, for whatever that is worth, I’m posting a bit about the Puritan’s views on intimacy, love, marriage, and sex.  The very word “puritanical” was coined to show how prudish they were, and opposed to pleasure, intimacy or anything beautiful or enjoyable.  So could we learn anything from them concerning a flourishing, enjoyable, intimate marriage? Indeed.

From the book Sex, and the Supremacy of Christ:

The Puritan doctrine of sex was a watershed in the cultural history of the West.  The Puritans devalued celibacy, glorified companionate marriage, affirmed married sex as both necessary and pure, established the ideal of wedded romantic love, and exalted the role of the wife…[redemption] from our loneliness.  …They clearly disagreed with the medieval Roman Catholic preference for virginity… 1

The Puritans were teaching in contrast to the Roman Catholic background that viewed all sex as sinful, even within marriage; and viewed women as less worthy of respect than men. Outside of the church, culture was showing that sex was cheap, lewd, and had no parameters.  The Puritans believed God had a glorious purpose for sex in marriage and sought to teach that. Their writings leave much behind, no details of their marriage beds, but journals and letters full of beauty and essays and sermons full of encouragement toward a vibrant, pleasing marriage.  Puritan teaching encouraged married couples to enjoy one another as a foretaste of heaven, knowing this comfort and delight was not to be made ultimate, but also not to be disregarded or trampled upon as did the Roman Catholics teachings. (For more on this, read pages 247-258)

This first post in the Puritanical Beauty series closes with a portion of poem, perfect for reflection on such a “romantic” day.  These lines were penned by a Puritan wife, written to her recently deceased husband. Enjoy!

My dearest dust, could not thy hasty day

Afford thy drowszy [sic] patience leave to stay

One hower [sic] longer: so that we might either

Sate up, or gone to bedd [sic] together? 2

  1. Mark Dever, “Christian Hedonists or Religious Prudes? The Puritans and Sex” in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 268.
  2. Mark Dever, “Christian Hedonists or Religious Prudes? The Puritans and Sex” in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 252.

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