Principles of Puritan Ideology and their Significances in the literary works

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The 16th century witnessed a religious uprising causing immense religious alterations. This trend in religious anxiety and anarchy began with the protestant reformation and continued to the next century leading to the emergence of the Puritanism. The protestant’s beliefs in the nature of God and humanity can be summarized into unconditional election, total peravity, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance (Hofmeyr 8).  

Puritans believe that an all-powerful and benevolent God is in their lives, always punishing their wrongs and rewarding their good deeds. They also perceive God as a very judgmental character who will uses discipline and mercy whenever he deemed necessary. Michael Wigglesworth for instance constantly refers to God as the “judge” in his poem “The Day of Doom”. Furthermore, God’s fiery and judgmental nature is particularly handy in foregrounding Wigglesworth’s belief in the poem as it majorly focus on the expected return of Christ to pronounce Judgement upon all humanity. He writes that the Mountains smoak, the “Hills are shook, the Earth is rent and lacerate” (Wigglesworth’s 47), this line implies a sense of desperation in the face of the creator who is anxious to pass judgement on his subjects.

The puritans believed that God is an all-powerful being with an unconditional election. This is evident in Wigglesworth’s descriptions of the devastation of the physical Earth in the end days (Wigglesworth’s 59). Although the puritans fear the second coming of Jesus Christ and subsequently the retributions that will follow his judgment, they also profoundly adore and highly regard Gods power and will thus eagerly submit their faith to him. Verses form the poem “The Day of Doom” goes on to describe the types of people who will be cast in eternal flames of hell and the reasons why. Unworthy people in God’s eyes according to the puritan beliefs are Native Americans, children too immature to read the bible, and the mentally challenged (Wigglesworth 16). This is because they are incapable of understanding Puritan beliefs. Other people that Wigglesworth identifies as unwelcomed to God‘s kingdom are evildoers, non-believers, and people who are not predestined to attain salvation (Wigglesworth 17). These sermons by Wigglesworth and other Puritans reveal the predestination nature of God where he has unconditional election on who he saves.

Puritans belief of God‘s changeless intervention in their lives is another important ideologies in the Puritan belief structure. This puritan belief is significantly featured in Mary Rowlandson’s work titled “A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson”. Mary describes the devastation that her town experience at the hands of Native Americans and subsequently her captivity among Native Americans (Rowlandson 151). The most important belief that is prevalent in this work is God’s benevolent nature as He defends Mary through her adversities. Mary also alludes that her slaughter and punishment is God’s will thus showing the rough nature of the puritan God. It also reveals God’s interventions in the daily lives of puritans (Rowlandson 162).

The puritanism influences are also evident in the conclusion chapters of the Mary Rowlandson’s work where she summarizes her beliefs by writing that once God calls upon individuals to carry on his works or to enter salvation, they cannot resist (Rowlandson 243). Rowlandson cites God’s irresistible grace throughout the entire article attributing every angle, facet, and phase of her experiences to God’s will. In the work she clearly state that although it was Gods will to put her through tribulations, it was also God’s grace to help her through the panics of those trials. Nonetheless, the idea of God “transporting her through” her challenges only asserts that God is responsible for imprisonment however he was actively watching over her through her imprisonment (Rowlandson 252).

Bunyan’s book “The Pilgrim’s Progress” outlines Puritanism’s most important ideologies, which alludes that humans beings completely lack control over their fate, and that it is only through predestined grace and unconditional election by God can they be saved (Hofmeyr 24). However, Bunyan gets into a debate of faith where he states that ignorance and puritanism travels together (Hofmeyr 45). While ignorance explains that believing in Christ is paramount to salvation, Christian values are clear that it is not just believing in Christ that guarantees salvation rather the good deeds of the person (Jordan). Ignorance an equation of puritanism, further believes that the life choices of person on earth whether moral or immoral do not hider his/her access to Heaven as long as they are God’s chosen ones. Christian finds these beliefs to be outrageous and demeaning of the religion and God himself (Hofmeyr 48).

Another crucial belief of Puritans was their approach on human nature, which is strong grounded on their belief in God and life after death. Puritans considered human beings to be having ingrained evil tendency hence they placed heavy emphasis on afterlife. Some Puritans were so convinced of their evil nature that they thought living a sinful life was a greater evil than taking one’s own life (Hambrick-Stowe and Charles 67) A mortal being had to live according to the ways that pleased God failure to which the person risk receiving God’s wrath and punishment. Therefore, a Puritan’s life is centered on pleasing God. If one failed to live in spiritually accepted ways, they risked bringing sorrow and affliction upon their minds and hearts and ultimately greater grief and sorrow (Hambrick-Stowe and Charles 69). Hambrick-Stowe and Charles further writes that, “It is not by their own hands (humans) that they could make themselves better, only by God's providence” Puritans however, believed that most people would burn in eternal flames and that it was every individual’s responsibility to please God in the mortal life. Similarly, people predestined for salvation risked eternal damnation if they do not show responsible behavior (Hambrick-Stowe and Charles 104).

Another critical cardinal point of dissension in the puritan belief system is the assumption that the adult human male is by nature a beastly animal with raw instinctive aptitudes, which must be contained through God’s authorization (Fulford 13). In John Winthrop famous essay “On Political Authority and Liberty”, he describes God‘s purpose concerning the governing of people as well as the core element of being reelected as the leader or ruler. The essay also provides illustrations of the puritanism’s belief on adult male‘s rambunctious nature. Winthrop further reveals God’s perception of adult male’s more overriding, natural self-governance when he writes, “This sort of autonomy is that great enemy of truth and peace, that wild animal, which all of the regulations of God are dead set against, to keep and repress it” (Fulford 28). The type of autonomy that Winthrop is referring to is the adult men’s self-determination and ability to acquire whatever they please (Fulford 40).

Works Cited

Fulford, Tim. “Landscape, Liberty and Authority: Poetry, Criticism and Politics from Thomson to Wordsworth”. Vol. 30. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Hambrick-Stowe, Charles E. The practice of piety: Puritan devotional disciplines in seventeenth-century New England. UNC Press Books, 2013.

Hofmeyr, Isabel. “The Portable Bunyan: A Transnational History of The Pilgrim’s Progress”. Princeton University Press, 2004.

Jordan, Peter. "Science and the Reformation: Historiographical Soundings."Science & Christian Belief 29.2 (2017).

Rowlandson, Mary. Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. BoD–Books on Demand, 2018.

Wigglesworth, Michael. “The day of doom: Or, A poetical description of the great and last judgment: With other poems”. American News Company, 1867.

December 12, 2023




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