“There’s Something Happening in the US”

            Last week, I received one of the weekly emails from my good friend, Geoffrey Thomas, who was reporting on a trip to the US. He mentioned that another friend of his and mine, and a mentor to us both, Iain Murray, had often commented to him through the years, “There’s something happening in the US.” That was a comment on the way the Lord was working in the US in bringing people to Christ and honoring the truth. I must agree that all things considered there has been something happening in the US and there has been for a long time. But now something is also happening in the US and a lot of it is not very good. That begs the question: Why is/was this something happening in the US? Of course, nothing good happens apart from the working of the Holy Spirit. While acknowledging that truth, I think there are two main reasons that something has been happening in the US over the past 300-400 years.

First, there were Puritans who came to America who were instrumental in the founding of this nation. At one time, ¾ of the citizens of the colonies were people who were influenced by or members of a Reformed church. A great deal of that is owing to the large number of Puritans who fled to America. After the completing of the Westminster Confession of Faith in 1648, Charles II became King of Scotland from 1649 to 1651, but lost a battle to Oliver Cromwell at Worcester on September 3, 1651, as a result of which he had to flee to Europe for his safety. During his exile, England was officially a commonwealth, but it did not last. Then in 1660, Charles II was restored to the throne and became king of England, Scotland, and Ireland. The reign of Charles II under the restored monarchy was not a happy time for those three countries. Indeed, it was a terrible time with religious persecution spreading throughout Great Britain. Puritans, especially, were persecuted by Charles II as he had Parliament pass the Act of Uniformity requiring all churches to conform to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and all the ceremonialism therein. Most Puritans could not agree to that requirement. Thus, many famous Puritan ministers lost their positions, including Thomas Watson, Thomas Manton, John Flavel, Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Edmund Calamy, and Thomas Brooks. The Act of Uniformity required such conformity by August 24, 1662, which is infamously known as Black Bartholomew’s Day. There were at least 2,000 ministers who were ejected from their pulpits. Some of them fled to Holland and then to America; others fled to America after being paraded through the streets in manacles as criminals; and, still others were imprisoned or killed. It was a most terrible time in Great Britain. J. C. Ryle wrote about that time:

An injury to the cause of true religion in England which will probably never be repaired. . . a more impolitic deed never disfigured the annals of a Protestant church.[1]  

J. B. Marsden was even more descriptive of those times:

Within five years of the ejection of the two thousand Nonconformists, London was twice laid waste, first by pestilence and then by fire. . .  But other calamities ensued, more lasting and far more terrible. Religion in the Church of England was almost extinguished and in many of her parishes the lamp of God went out.[2]    

Most people associate the Puritans with England, but not with America. The Puritans certainly began in England and many of them were members of the Church of England. Yet, the founding of America can be rightly described as a Puritan experiment. In the US today, most references to our Puritan founding fathers are critical. I have often heard people decry the Puritans and describe them pejoratively as witch hunters. Yet, if you are a Christian in the US today you can be thankful for the Puritans who fled from England to the New World. They brought with them the spirit of Puritanism and Separatism. The Puritans who remained in the Church of England became more and more ineffective, especially if they conformed to the Act of Uniformity. There were many advocates for reform in Roman Catholicism before the Protestant Reformation, but what happened to those ministers? Prior to Luther, they were killed and the Church was not reformed. The Reformation came when people left the Church and started Protestant churches. Throughout Church history, there has never been a time when a denomination has been purified from within. The true spirit of Puritanism must also be Separatist or it eventually ends in failure. Yet, there are those who call themselves modern-day Puritans who keep trying to reform from within without separating and then they go to their graves without ever seeing that joyful day come. So, the Puritans who came to America were not ministers who were committed to remaining within the Church of England and trying to affect reform in that way. No, they were Non-Conformists who migrated to America and they went outside the camp to meet Christ and His people. Alexis De Tocqueville in Democracy in America certainly got it right when he wrote that he found the secret of America was in their churches, but I think he failed to fully understand what that ‘secret’ was. The secret was that there was a particular type of evangelical Christianity preached there—it was both Puritan and Separatist. It was Protestant; it was Puritan; and, it was Separatist. That is what I am today and have been for 50 years. I am an evangelical Christian of Protestant, Puritan, and Separatist convictions. That is what evangelical Christianity in America has been for the past 300 to 400 years. That is one of the two leading reasons the US has been a great nation and it is the ‘secret’ of American Exceptionalism. .

Second, Protestant, Puritan, and Separatist Christianity in America has also advocated the need for continued revivals of God’s grace (but not supporters of ‘revivalism’ wherein revivals are considered something that can be worked up through the  use of certain methods. True revival is sent down by God—not worked up by man—and must be earnestly sought through prayer.) Over the past 40 years, American Christianity has placed less and less emphasis on the necessity of revivals. Even evangelical and reformed denominations have tried to go main stream. Yet, that is not the spiritual heritage of evangelical Christianity in the US. From the 1730’s to early 1750’s, there was a great revival that swept through the American colonies. It was called the Great Awakening. One of the leaders of the Great Awakening on both sides of the Atlantic was George Whitefield, ordained as a Church of England minister. In the colonies, Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Blair, and Samuel Davies, among others, were leaders in that Great Awakening. An interesting fact that is often overlooked is that the ministers on both sides of the Atlantic who were involved in the Great Awakening were mostly forced to leave their former denominational connections and  to start new denominations. John Wesley left the Church of England and founded the Methodist Church. Whitefield left the Church of England to become a Calvinistic Methodist. Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Blair, Samuel Davies and many other Presbyterians in the American colonies were forced out of the Presbyterian Church due to their support for the revival and became New Light Presbyterians. So, what we learn from the Great Awakening is that the heartbeat of evangelical Christianity in the colonies and America was Protestant, Puritan, Separatist, and supportive of God-sent Revivals. That emphasis on the necessity of revivals has dominated the evangelical and reformed type of Christianity in America for most of the last 250 to 300 years. Now, prayer for revival has almost ceased in all of evangelical Christianity in America—even in non-reformed denominations that believe revival is under the control of man.

The best models of evangelical Christianity in England and Scotland have also been Protestant, Puritan, Separatist, and supportive of God-sent Revivals. The greatest ministers in the history of evangelical Christianity in England and Scotland have been solidly in favor of all those. McCheyne and Bonar, among others in Scotland, threw in their support with the Free Church of Scotland when the Disruption happened in 1843. The Free Church supported all four of these descriptions of evangelical Christianity. Charles Spurgeon was of the same opinions and we see that in many ways, especially during the Down-Grade controversy. And, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones emphasized the same things—Protestantism, Puritanism, Separatism, and God-sent Revivals. Anyone familiar with his writings and ministry knows that to be the case. Thus, true evangelical Christianity has been characterized by those four things. For the most part, the US has had more of that type of Christianity than has England, Scotland, or other European nations over the past 300 years, especially over the last century. And I think the reason why that is so is because the American colonies were founded by Puritans in many respects and when Puritanism began to fade God sent revival through the Great Awakening. The effects of that great period have begun to fade in America today and we need reviving once again. Cultural Marxism, which is anti-God in reality, has begun to infiltrate evangelical denominations in the US and all across the globe. Therefore, we must pray: “O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years” (Habakkuk 3:2). And we must be willing to be Protestants, Puritans, Separatists, and supporters of God-sent revival.

Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church

www.vanguardpresbytery.com Donations may be sent to Vanguard Presbytery at: PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540.                   

[1] Sermons of the Great Ejection (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1962), 9.

[2] Ibid., 8.

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