Despite the numerous hardships the first Puritan colonists endured on the desolate and flint-edged shores of New England, their chief joy (wrote one of the colonists) “lay not in the increase of Corne, or Wine, or Oyle.” What “rejoyced the Heart of this People much” was the decision of between 80 and 90 Puritan ministers to join these colonists in their self-chosen exile from England, “preaching with all instancy the glad Tidings of the Gospell of Jesus Christ.”

In that age only the tiniest minority of the people could read. An even tinier minority possessed the means to buy books. So public preaching was the clearest and most direct method for Puritanism to appeal to people’s hearts and minds.

Furthermore, preaching was considered an almost-supernatural activity and an indispensable means of receiving divine grace. “The preaching of the Word is the Scepter of Christ’s Kingdome, the glory of a Nation, the Chariot upon which life & salvation comes riding,” Stephen Marshall told Parliament in November 1640. Only the preaching minister, added a note from the Geneva Bible (the Bible of American Puritans), had the authority to “open the gates of heaven with the word of God, which is the right key.”

Whatever else the word Puritan meant in the 1600s in England and the New England colonies, it meant the priority of preaching in the life of a Christian community.

All Manner of Preachers

Of the 300 or so English Protestant ministers who can be readily identified as Puritans in the Church of England in 1630, as many as a third of them (some with their entire congregations) joined the great Puritan migration to Massachusetts and its daughter colonies, Connecticut and New Haven. These preachers came in all varieties.

Thomas Hooker, who emigrated ...

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