At this time of year, it is appropriate to remember our spiritual (and perhaps physical) forefathers. New England’s first white settlers were those who separated from the worldy Church of England (Separatists). These “Pilgrims” landed in 1620. Another group tried to purify the worldy Church of England (Puritans). But a mere ten years later, the colony was infused with a great migration of Puritans who had finally given up on the Church of England. Two thousand Puritans emigrated in 1630 alone. Both of these groups brought with them a rich emphasis on the daily walk of the believer. We can do well to imitate them. The following notes are from Christian History Magazine, Issue 41,
The Puritans sought a living relationship with Jesus Christ through public worship and private “devotions.” Private devotions took place in secret exercises, private conferences, family devotions, and private meetings.
“Secret” or “closet” exercises. Alone, the Puritans meditated and prayed just before sleep at night, upon rising in the morning and on Saturday in preparation for Sunday. At night they would review their day’s behavior, repent of sin, and give thanks for the blessings. In addition, there were special sessions of self-examination on a birthday, New Year’s day or some remarkable act of Providence.
Private conference. Believers were specifically instructed to seek out “much conference, especially with Ministers and other experienced Christians.” These conferences were designed to solve problems and strengthen individuals and families in grace.
Family devotions. The Puritans rightly viewed the family as a “little church,” so family devotions were essential. “Families are the nurseries for church and commonwealth; ruin families and ruin all.” This third private exercise ideally occurred in the morning before work, before meals and in the evening. The Bible was read chapter by chapter, a psalm was sung and prayers (using a devotional) were offered up.
Neighborhood prayer meeting. Congregations formed groups for women, young men, girls, tradesmen, and ministers. Meetings were held in homes weekly or biweekly. “We pray, and sing, and repeat sermons, and confer together about the things of God,” explained John Eliot, a founding pastor and missionary to the Indians.
In addition to these exercises, the Puritans were known to keep track of their spiritual state and experiences through journals. New Englanders were also highly literate and considered reading a means of grace. Religious publications – sermons, tracts, catechisms, and devotional manuals–were best sellers.
What strikes me almost 400 years later is how little has changed. While technology has changed our physical life, the means of nourishing our spiritual life remain the same. What this article does so well is specify those means so clearly. Make use of these means of building up your own soul and the soul of those around you that were used by the founders of our country.