Many of us love the works of the Puritans for many things, but hopefully this love does not blind us to their faults. It was Oliver Cromwell who once noted that every sect in his day cries for toleration, but once they have it, they will not give it to any other body of believers. He knew the heart of all too many of his fellowRead More
Jan Stievermann’s new book is “the most important book ever written on biblical scholarship in early American history,” according to Douglas Sweeney, Professor of Church History and the History of Christian Thought at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Prophecy, Piety, and the Problem of Historicity looks at how Cotton Mather struggled to read the Hebrew Bible as Christian scripture in the early modern era in a way that seemed intellectually honest and also, at the same time, spiritually satisfying. Prof. Sweeney says the work is “simply must reading for all who work on early modern Christianity.”
Ryan Hoselton, who is working with Prof. Stievermann on a dissertation on Mather and Jonathan Edwards, sat down with him to ask him a few questions about his work on Cotton Mather:
Hoselton: Some readers may find it curious that a German has devoted so much time and energy to studying Cotton Mather, and American religious history in general. What drew you to this field?
Stievermann: Some of it is biographical coincidence. Studying American literature and culture, I was lucky enough to have good teachers who believed in the crucial importance of religion, and especially New England Puritanism, for understanding the cultural and social life of the U.S. So reading the Magnalia and other texts by Mather was very much part of my training as an Americanist.
Later my fascination deepened for different reasons. Studying the Puritans and their different heirs gives you a very wide range of modern Protestant thought and culture, from strict Biblicism, creedal conservativism, revivalism to ultra-liberal. Mather’s religious and intellectual life is incredibly complex and complicated and well-worth studying.
Hoselton: What is the Biblia Americana project and what fruit has it yielded so far?
Stievermann: The “Biblia Americana: The Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testament Illustrated” was supposed to be Cotton Mather’s magnum opus of biblical interpretation. Because he couldn’t find the necessary patronage, his manuscript was left unpublished. It’s more than 4,500 folio pages. Mather’s heirs bequeathed the manuscript to the Massachusetts Historical Society after the the American Revolution. It has slumbered in the archives almost untouched for more than two centuries.
Since 2010, Mohr Siebeck has started to publish what will be a 10-volume scholarly edition, amounting to about 10,000 pages in print. The scholarly edition is not only making the “Biblia Americana” readily available in transcription for the first time, but also, by virtue of extensive introductions, annotations, and translations, is facilitating access to its rich contents. In the past, the work had been largely unapproachable to most modern readers. Mather frequently uses early modern forms of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and he was engaging in dialogue with very specific, now often forgotten, debates and traditions.
Led by Reiner Smolinski (General Editor) and myself (Executive Editor), the Biblia Americana edition thus resembles an archaeological project in early American religious and intellectual history. An international team of experts is recovering and piecing together, shard by shard, the lost world of Mather’s biblical interpretation. We’re attempting to bring his thoughts back to life by placing the Biblia Americana within its larger discursive environment.
Four volumes have been published so far: Genesis (2010, ed. Reiner Smolinski), Joshua-Chronicles (2013, ed. Kenneth P. Minkema), Ezra-Psalms (2014, ed. Harry Clark Maddux), and now Proverbs-Jeremiah (2015, ed. Jan Stievermann). There has also been a collection of essays on Cotton Mather and the “Biblia America” (2010) that came out of a conference marking the launch of the editorial project. The positive reception of the published volumes is an encouraging sign that the scholarly community is beginning to recognize the importance of the “Biblia Americana” manuscript as a great untapped resource.
Hoselton: There’s been much attention given to Jonathan Edwards’ exegesis, recently. Why does Mather’s biblical interpretation deserve our consideration as well?
Stievermann: Now that Edwards’ exegetical writings are published in the Yale edition of the Works of Jonathan Edwards, his biblical interpretation has finally received the attention it deserves, including in Douglas Sweeney’s 2015 monograph, Edwards the Exegete. We hope to see the same for Cotton Mather. The “Biblia Americana” is a treasure trove, not only for early American studies, but also for scholars interested in the development of Protestant theology and biblical interpretation during a decisive period of intellectual change in the early modern Atlantic world.
The “Biblia” holds special potential since it’s the first serious engagement of an American exegete with critical-historical methods in biblical scholarship. With surprising breadth and depth, Mather discusses, among many other things, questions regarding the inspiration, composition, transmission, canonization, and historical realism of the biblical texts.
As one of the very first theologians in the British colonies, he pondered the quintessentially modern questions surrounding the Bible. He tackles issues that continue to concern those who seek to harmonize academic inquiry with a traditionalist faith. Mather was fully convinced that his “Biblia” offered just such a harmonization and effectively defended the authority and unity of the canon as well as the basic legacy of 17th-century Reformed theology.
Mather’s commentary is also an early attempt to reconcile a traditional Protestant biblicism with the emerging natural sciences and the philosophical challenges of the early Enlightenment. The “Biblia” pioneered a highly learned but apologetically-oriented type of biblical criticism especially invested in a new kind of factualist evidentialism, which would later flower among evangelicals. Thus, the “Biblia” can contribute much to a deeper understanding of the transformations of New England Puritanism into early evangelicalism.
Tomorrow: Part 2.
By Obbie Todd
In June 1805, from Kettering, England, pastor Andrew Fuller wrote to American theologian Timothy Dwight concerning Fuller’s honorary diploma from Yale College. Fuller had attained considerable renown across the Atlantic for his treatises, owing much to the theological heritage bequeathed to him by Dwight’s grandfather, Jonathan Edwards. In this small letter, the reader discovers not only Edwards’ influence upon Fuller, but upon Fuller’s band of missionary compatriots as well: “The writings of your grandfather, President Edwards, and of your uncle, the late Dr. Edwards, have been food to me and many others. Our brethren Carey, Marshman, Ward, and Chamberlain, in the East Indies, all greatly approve of them.”
The legacy of Jonathan Edwards prospered and grew in the theology and missiology of Andrew Fuller. In his defense of evangelistic Calvinism and puritanical piety, the man Charles Spurgeon called “the greatest theologian” of his century called upon the works of Edwards to meet a post-Reformation scholasticism beginning to relinquish its dedication to Scriptural principles. For all of his doctrinal and metaphysical influence, the “theologian of the Great Commandment” stirred Fuller to an even deeper spirituality with his Life of David Brainerd (1749), a biography of an American missionary to the Delaware River Indians. Fuller’s Memoirs of the Rev. Samuel Pearce (1800) bears striking resemblance to Edward’s work in many ways, giving credence to Chris Chun’s assertion that “Fuller’s main contribution was to expand, implicate, and apply Edwardsean ideas in his own historical setting.”
It is important to remember that while the two men lived in the same enlightened century, they also occupied both poles of it. Andrew Fuller was born in Soham, England in 1754: the year that Edwards’ Freedom of the Will was published and four years before Edwards’ death. Thus to say that the Congregationalist and the Particular Baptist were contemporaries would be false. However, their historical proximity was beneficial for Fuller, as he faced the same eighteenth-century rationalism as his predecessor. Edwards indeed lived on in his writings, serving to fuel Fuller’s theological aims years after his death. (Edwards’ Freedom of the Will was recommended to him by Robert Hall of Arnsby in 1775) Fuller responded forcefully to those who questioned his allegiance to Edwards: “We have some who have been giving out, of late, that ‘If Sutcliff and some others had preached more of Christ, and less of Jonathan Edwards, they would have been more useful.’ If those who talked thus preached Christ half as much as Jonathan Edwards did, and were half as useful as he was, their usefulness would be double what it is.”
Edwards’ Freedom of the Will helped him reconcile evangelistic preaching with the divine sovereignty of Calvinism. In his second edition of The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation (1801), Fuller acknowledges his debts to Edwards’ Freedom of the Will in distinguishing between natural and moral inability. In addition, Edwards not only aided Fuller in his response to the High Calvinism of John Gill and John Brine, but his Religious Affections equipped Fuller to refute Sandemanianism (“easy-believism”) as espoused by Archibald McLean. Fuller boasted that Edwards’ sermons on justification gave him “more satisfaction on that important doctrine than any human performance which I have read.”
Still, the name of David Brainerd was one Fuller held in high esteem. At Fuller’s funeral, friend John Ryland, Jr. could not help but mention Edwards’ famous biography: “If I knew I should be with…Fuller tomorrow, instead of regretting that I had endeavored to promote that religion delineated by Jonathan Edwards in his Treatise on Religious Affections and in his Life of David Brainerd, I would recommend his writings…with the last effort I could make to guide a pen.” Such a reference to Brainerd in Fuller’s funeral was apropos for a man who had served as the founding secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society since 1792. Fuller had dedicated himself to the Great Commission since his disillusionment from the Hyper-Calvinism of his childhood pastor John Eve that neglected to invite sinners to repent and believe in the Gospel. Men like Jonathan Edwards had aided Fuller in returning to the Scriptures.
It was in his last year at Soham that Fuller wrote A Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation (1786), but his removal to Kettering in 1782 would spell the beginning of a ministry set against “false Calvinism,” sparking the dawn of a movement. According to John Piper, Fuller helped initiate the first age in modern missions. (Hudson Taylor’s founding of the China Inland Mission in 1865 would begin another.) Here in the Northamptonshire Association of Baptist Churches, Fuller would meet the likes of John Ryland, Jr. of Northampton, John Sutcliffe of Olney, then a little later Samuel Pearce of Birmingham and William Carey of Leicester.
Fuller’s famous relationship with Carey forged a now-legendary mission to India in which Fuller would “hold the rope” for Carey back in England. And Fuller regarded Pierce so highly that he wrote his Memoirs of the Rev. Samuel Pearce (1800) to serve as a paradigm of piety. The “seraphic Pearce” (1766-1799) has since been dubbed “the Baptist Brainerd” due to the strong correlation between the two men. According to Michael Haykin, it is important to note “Fuller’s clear indebtedness to what is probably the most popular of the American divine’s books, namely, his account of the life and ministry of David Brainerd (1718-1747).”
Without a doubt, The Life of David Brainerd was a central document to the modern missions movement. Fuller began work on the Memoirs not long after hearing of Pearce’s death while on a fund-raising trip in Scotland for the Baptist Missionary Society. The news brought Fuller to tears…and action. The idea for Pearce’s biography was not a new one, but the proper window and impetus had been supplied. Fuller desired to show the world a remarkable example of Christian spirituality and support Pearce’s widow Sarah and her five children. The end product would be a biography that paralleled Edwards’ Brainerd in many ways, beginning with the very purpose it was written.
For Fuller, “The great ends of Christian biography are instruction and example. By faithfully describing the lives of men eminent for godliness, we not only embalm their memory, but furnish ourselves with fresh materials and motives for a holy life.” This sounds remarkably like the beginning to Edwards’ biography of Brainerd: “I am persuaded every pious and judicious reader will acknowledge, that what is here set before them is indeed a remarkable instance of true and eminent Christian piety in heart and practice – tending greatly to confirm the reality of vital religion, and the power of godliness – that it is most worthy of imitation, and many ways calculated to promote the spiritual benefit of the careful observer.”
Important to note is that, in addition to the passionate evangelism and suffering of both Brainerd and Pearce, Fuller and Edwards both spend much of their biographies depicting the last months of their subjects – indicating that this was a significant part of the story they wished to tell. Nothing displayed Christian piety more than the passionate earthly exits of both men. And Fuller’s model clearly follows Edwards’. As Tom Nettles insightfully observes, “Intimate acquaintance with the ideas of a great theologian tends to make the student a wise and sensitive pastor. Fuller took the difficult ideas of Edwards, digested their spiritual implications and used them for the good of souls.” What the natural-moral inability distinction and religious sensibilities generated for Fuller’s polemical soteriology, the piety of David Brainerd did for Fuller’s own spiritual devotion.
Despite his never serving as an international missionary for the Baptist Missionary Society, Pearce’s zeal for evangelism is something Fuller wished to capture. Pearce once wrote to William Carey expressing his excitement at the prospect of serving with him abroad: “I should call that the happiest hour of my life which witnessed our both embarking with our families on board one ship, as helpers of the servants of Jesus Christ already in Hindostan.” Despite the vast gulf in continents, the strongest commonality between Pearce and Brainerd was their greatest mutual desire: the Gospel.
Samuel Pearce stood next to William Carey on the conviction that Matthew 28:19-20 was still in effect for Christians everywhere: “I here referred to our Lord’s commission, which I could not but consider as universal in its object and permanent in its obligations. I read brother Carey’s remarks upon it; and as the command has never been repealed – as there are millions of beings in the world on whom the command may be exercised – as I can produce no counter-revelation – and as I lie under no natural impossibilities of performing it – I conclude that I, as a servant of Christ, was bound by this law.” Quotes like this one leave little doubt that the Memoirs of the Rev. Samuel Pearce packaged Fuller’s invitational Calvinism in biographical form.
With an ocean and decades between them, Brainerd and Pearce fixed their eyes upon the same target: the heathen. From an early age, Brainerd held a special place in his heart for the lost, and he pleaded with God to be sent on His behalf: “My great concern was for the conversion of the heathen to God; and the Lord helped me to plead with him for it.” Brainerd’s Godward focus continually directed him to the lost, not simply for their sake, but for his God’s: “Oh that all people might love and praise the blessed God; that he might have all possible honour and glory from the intelligent world!” Likewise, Samuel Pearce, who fought off Antinomians in his own Birmingham congregation, worked diligently to seek out those same heathen: “O how I love that man whose soul is deeply affected with the importance of the precious gospel to idolatrous heathens!”
Tom Nettles provides keen insight into the true depths of Edwards’ influence upon Andrew Fuller’s world: “Fuller and his entire circle of friends found within Jonathan Edwards the key to a peculiar theological perplexity that vexed their souls and virtually the entire Particular Baptist fellowship.” The faith and reason of the “public theologian” had emigrated from Northampton, Massachusetts to Fuller’s Northamptonshire Association, re-shaping the Great Commission for its late eighteenth-century context. While his Freedom of the Will helped Fuller reconcile the pastoral responsibility to plead for sinners and divine sovereignty to draw them, Edwards’ Life of David Brainerd served as the prototype in Andrew Fuller’s Memoirs of the Rev. Samuel Pearce, M.A.–a devotional biography meant to illustrate evangelical piety.
The purpose, subject, and style of the respective biographies correlate to such a degree as to leave no doubt of Edwardean influence upon the missional thought of Andrew Fuller. In his book Andrew Fuller: Model Pastor-Theologian, Paul Brewster locates evangelism as the overarching theme of Fuller’s ministry: “Fuller’s greatest legacy among the Baptists: to support a missionary-oriented theology that helped foster deep concern for the salvation of the lost.” (106) Thanks to the life of David Brainerd and the pen of Jonathan Edwards, the modern missionary movement was born in the evangelism of Andrew Fuller.
Drs. Michael Haykin and Matthew Barrett were recently interviewed by Dr. Fred Zaspel of Books at a Glance. Click here to listen or read a transcript of the interview, as they discuss the Puritans, John Owen, and the Christian life.
Recently, Pilgrim Radio interviewed Dr. Matthew Barrett and Dr. Michael Haykin on their newly released volume, Owen on the Christian Life: Living for the Glory of God in Christ. This work, part of Crossway's Theologians on the Christian Life series, explores how Owen's theology informed his deep piety in a way that proves instructive for Christians today.
Listen to this interview for more information on this exciting new release.
By Michael A.G. Haykin
Matthew Henry (1662-1714), who died June 22 exactly three hundred years ago, is rightly remembered as a leading figure among early eighteenth-century Dissent. His devotional commentary on the entire Bible, the Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, was the first such work in English and is a prism of late Puritan piety. If one wishes to get a good feel for the thinking of late seventeenth-century Puritanism read Henry on the Bible. By the early Victorian period this work had gone through some 25 editions and is still in use today. It is well known that George Whitefield, the tercentennial of whose birth will be celebrated later this year, used this exposition widely in his ministry and prayer life. Henry 's twenty-five year ministry in Chester bore other fruit as well: a sterling witness in a degenerate age, the edification of God's people under his charge and about 30 other publications that ministered to the church at large both in his day and subsequent ages. A conference on his ministry and thought will be held July 14-16 this year at the University of Chester, England. Dr Ligon Duncan is to be one of the speakers.
Michael A.G. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.
By Ryan Patrick Hoselton
One of the few things I remember from my freshman philosophy class is learning about the syllogism. The syllogism is a logical tool used to deduce a conclusion from a major and minor premise (for example: A: All students wear red. B: John is a student. C: Therefore, John wears red). You’ve probably seen it before, but have you seen it used as a formula for holy living?
The Puritan theologian William Ames (1576–1633) believed that the syllogism—when used rightly—offered considerable moral guidance, for it contained the “force and nature of conscience (I.3).” Ames defined the human conscience as “man’s judgment of himself, according to the judgment of God of him (I.1).” The syllogism provided the means for the conscience’s operation of accusing, excusing, and comforting the moral agent. It consists of three elements:
- The Proposition: The proposition fulfills the role of the major premise. The Latin term Ames employed is synteresis, meaning a source for principles of moral action.Ames also referred to the proposition as a “light” and a “law.” God’s will and commandments furnish this “storehouse of principles.” While nature can often lead men and women in moral living, God’s revealed will is the only perfect rule of conscience, illuminating mankind’s moral duty (I.4–7).
- The Witness: the witness, which Ames also termed the “index,” “book,” “review,” or “assumption,” functions as the minor proposition. The witness is a subjective statement about the self for the purpose of considering one’s moral condition in reference to the proposition. It measures the moral agent alongside the law. The moral state of the human will is compared with the standard of God’s will (I.21–25).
- The Conclusion: the conclusion, also referred to as the “judgment,” derives partly from the proposition and partly from the witness. In the conclusion, “God’s commandment and man’s fact are mutually joined together.” The conclusion passes the sentence, or “application,” of either comfort or condemnation for the man or woman in light of the major and minor premises (I.28–32).
In sum, “in the Proposition God’s Law is declared, and in the Assumption, the fact or condition of man is examined, according to that Law; so in the Conclusion, the sentence concerning man is pronounced according to his fact…by virtue of the Law that hath been declared” (I.28).
Ames provides two examples. The first delivers accusation but the second comfort:
1. [A] “He that lives in sin, shall die” [B] “I live in sin” [C] “Therefore, I shall die”
2. [A] “Whoever believes in Christ, shall not die but live” [B] “I believe in Christ” [C] “Therefore, I shall not die but live (I.3)”
For Ames, the objective of the syllogism was to assist men and women in assessing their moral condition in light of God’s commandments and in conforming their wills to God’s will. Ultimately, it shows us how desperately short we fall, pointing to our need to rest faith in the Christ who followed God’s will perfectly.
 William Ames, Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof (London, 1639). You can access the text at this link.
Ryan Patrick Hoselton is pursuing a ThM at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife Jaclyn, and they are the parents of one child.
By Michael A.G. Haykin
It was Oliver Cromwell who once noted that every sect cries for toleration, but once they have it, they will not give it to any other body of believers. He knew the heart of all too many of his fellow Puritans only too well.
A good example would be Nathaniel Ward (1578–1652), a graduate of that bastion of Puritanism, Emmanuel College at Cambridge, and one of the foremost Puritan ministers in Essex. After Ward came to New England in the 1630s he wrote The Simple Cobler of Aggawam in America (London, 1647), in which he refuted the charge that the New England Puritans were “a Colluvies of wild Opinionists” and stated that “all Familists, Antinomians, Anabaptists, and other Enthusiasts [i.s. fanatics], shall have free liberty to keep away from us,” for they were “adversaries of [God’s] truth” and as such deserved no toleration. Ward was convinced that religious toleration was a stratagem of the devil so as to “disstate the truth of God.” In fact, his “heart naturally detested” “tolerations of divers religions, or of one religion in segregant shapes.”
We love the Puritans for many things, but not for this, and we thank God there were other Puritans like Cromwell who were of a different mind.
I have another thing against Ward: he did not like the Irish. He described them as the “very Offal of men, Dregges of Mankind,” and went so far as to pray for the soldiery of Cromwell’s Irish campaign: “Happy is he that shall reward them [the Irish] as they have served us, and Cursed be he that shall do that work of the Lord negligently, Cursed be he that holdeth back his Sword from blood: yea, Cursed bee hee that maketh not his Sword starke drunk with Irish blood” (“A Word of Ireland” in The Simple Cobler of Aggawam in America). He is obviously reacting to stories of Irish atrocities in killing Scots Presbyterians in northern Ireland. But such imprecatory prayers breathe a spirit utterly foreign to the Spirit of Christ.
Michael A.G. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.
By Evan D. Burns
The Puritan John Owen argued that preachers must have “experience of the power of the truth which they preach in and upon their own souls.... A man preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul.” So his resolution was: “I hold myself bound in conscience and in honour, not even to imagine that I have attained a proper knowledge of any one article of truth, much less to publish it, unless through the Holy Spirit I have had such a taste of it, in its spiritual sense, that I may be able, from the heart, to say with the psalmist, ‘I have believed, and therefore I have spoken.’”
Would that the Holy Spirit raise up more preachers who would resolve never to preach a text unless they have already tasted its spiritual sense.
 Owen, Works, XVI: 76.
 Works, X: 488.
Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons. They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.
By Nathan A. Finn
If you spend much time studying Baptist history and thought, you know that a perennial debate concerns Baptist origins, early theological influences, and any bearing those topics might have on the nature of Baptist identity. Some scholars argue that Baptists are second or third generation reformers who are rooted in a mostly puritan identity. Barrie White and Tom Nettles come to mind as exemplars of this view, which is the majority position among historians. Other scholars argue that Baptists, though clearly emerging from English Separatists, are at least influenced by the evangelical wing of the Radical Reformation. William Estep and Ian Randall are two representatives of this school of thought. Still other historians argue that Baptists are evangelical restorationists: Doug Weaver makes this case. Some Baptist scholars opt for an eclectic or polygenetic approach to this question, notably Curtis Freeman.
I wonder to what degree one’s own theological and/or spiritual presuppositions play into how a scholar views this issue. Granted, none of the aforementioned categories are Landmark, so presumably their historiographies aren’t totally theologically driven. Still, does one’s understanding of issues like predestination, ecumenism, church and state, and church and culture affect where one “lands” on this question? I think this is at least possible in some cases.
For my part, I can see why different scholars champion each of these approaches. The historical genesis of the earliest English Baptists was most definitely in English Separatism and by the time of the Civil War the English Baptists were thinking in broadly puritan categories. However, at least some of the earliest General Baptists and perhaps a few of the earliest Particular Baptists had some affinity with some Anabaptists. And, of course, both Anabaptists and Baptists held to baptistic ecclesiologies, which would at least lend itself to the understandable (if not always charitable) assumption that the groups were connected in some ways. Baptists on the whole might not be restorationists, but there is no doubt there is a restorationist streak among some Baptists—how else does one explain the spiritual pilgrimages of John Smyth and Rogers Williams or the existence of the Independent Baptist movement? These factors are why I resonate with a more polygenetic approach to early Baptist theological identity, while still holding to English Separatist historical origins.
How do you think we should think about Baptist origins and/or identity? Are we puritans who got straightened out on the sacraments? Are we the more respectable wing of the Radical Reformation? Are we sane restorationists? Or, especially since the early eighteenth century, are we really just dunking evangelicals? I’m thinking out loud more than I am making any particular arguments, so I would love to hear your thoughts about this question.
Nathan A. Finn is associate professor of historical theology and Baptist Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also an elder at First Baptist Church of Durham, NC and a fellow of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies.