Moses And Christ — The Place Of Law In Seventeenth-Century Puritanism -- By: Mark W. Karlberg

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 10:1 (Spring 1989)
Article: Moses And Christ — The Place Of Law In Seventeenth-Century Puritanism
Author: Mark W. Karlberg

Moses And Christ — The Place Of Law
In Seventeenth-Century Puritanism*

Mark W. Karlberg


The era of Puritanism has long been past, yet the theological and moral issues which the Puritans debated remain with us. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries marked the period of Puritanism’s religious and cultural dominance in England and America. Though clearly a demonstration of the powerful working of the Spirit of God in that period of the church’s history subsequent to the formative age of the Protestant Reformation, it was not without its failures and limitations. Of no minor significance were the numerous misunderstandings concerning the doctrine of the moral law (summed up in the Decalogue) entertained by various factions within Puritanism itself. But the eventual passing of Puritanism from the scene could hardly be attributed to a lack of inner strength and vitality.1 Its demise was more directly the result of the spread of Enlightenment thought in the second half of the eighteenth century. The challenge of modernity in society at large proved too difficult to surmount. By the nineteenth century the impact of Reformed orthodoxy in society and culture was significantly reduced. Granted the positive contributions and the enduring values of Puritanism, historical investigation requires critical, though sympathetic, assessment of the movement. As a study in the history of ideas this present essay relates Puritan theology to the broader social and political concerns of the day. In so doing, we are acknowledging the fact that Puritan theology and society are part of one seamless fabric.

*Some grammatical and spelling changes have been made in the quotations from the early Puritan writings. For the sake of uniformity, the terminology “Covenant of Works” and “Covenant of Grace” have been capitalized throughout.

Puritan doctrine was essentially Calvinistic. In the several diverse ecclesiastical traditions — anglican, presbyterian, independent, baptist, and methodist2 — there was a shared commitment to Calvinistic soteriology, notably adherence to the doctrines of sovereign, decretive election and saving faith as God’s gift of grace that is unmerited and irresistible. (The Reformed understanding of salvation is concisely summed up in the Canons of Dort, formulated in 1619.)

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