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Puritan Worship, Images of God or Images of Christ by Leland Ryken

Articles on Puritan Worship and the Regulative Principle

Today, many Christians are turning back to the puritans to, “walk in the old paths,” of God’s word, and to continue to proclaim old truth that glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no new theology. In our electronic age, more and more people are looking to add electronic books (ePubs, mobi and PDF formats) to their library – books from the Reformers and Puritans – in order to become a “digital puritan” themselves. Take a moment to visit Puritan Publications (click the banner below) to find the biggest selection of rare puritan works updated in modern English in both print form and in multiple electronic forms. There are new books published every month. All proceeds go to support A Puritan’s Mind.

The word-based faith of the Puritans and their disdain for religious images has led some to conclude that theirs was an abstract religion, offering nothing concrete to enliven the imagination. But, while the Puritans did do away with all physical images, their worship was hardly lacking in imagery. As Ryken puts it, they “expected the verbal imagination to do the work that Catholic/Anglican worship had placed on the visual and aural imagination.” Ryken likens Puritan worship to the plays of William Shakespeare, who “was content with the scantiest of stage props and built scenery and imagery into the texts of the plays themselves.” Likewise, Puritan sermons contained ample imagery to engage the mind.

Puritan worship services . . . were far from being devoid of images and symbols. These were simply embodied in the sermon instead of visible to the eye in the church sanctuary. To test that thesis, I once randomly opened three books of Puritan sermons that a student had just brought in to my office. Here are the specimens that greeted me:

The sinner is a bramble, not a fig tree yielding sweet fruit. . . . A wicked man, like Jehoram, has “his bowels fallen out” (2 Chronicles 21:19). Therefore he is compared to an adamant (Zachariah 7:12) because his heart does not melt in mercy. Before conversion the sinner is compared to a wolf in his savageness, to a lion in his fierceness (Isaiah 11:16). . . . [Thomas Watson, The Beatitudes, 143.]

Adam’s posterity has not been so numerous as his sins. A little cloud, no bigger than a man’s hand—so it seems at first—grows and spreads to cover the whole hemisphere. The water at first seemed little and shallow, swells more and more from the ankles to the knees, from the knees to the loins, from there to the head until it grows into such a great river that it cannot be passed over. In this way grows sin. . . . It is as a snowball that grows bigger by rolling in the snow. [Ralph Venning, The Plague of Plagues, 165.]

The law may chain up a wolf, but it is the Gospel that changes the wolfish nature; the one stops the stream, the other heals the fountain. [Samuel Bolton, The True Grounds of Christian Freedom, 84.]

No worship service that includes such appeals to the imagination can be said to be excessively abstract.

Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 125–126.

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