Dae Ryeong Kim's Papers

A Research Paper for a Topic of Mission History

guest book

Sermons|   Preaching Aids |   Missions & Evangelism Bookstore Christianbook.com



       Historically, the English Puritanism provided a launching pad for modern Protestant mission movements.  In fact, behind this missionary thrust was their theology which inspired, motivated, and guided these missionary thrusts. 

        It was also in the era of the English Puritanism that we find a classical example of preaching that that effectively reached the hearts of the audience outside as well as inside the Church.  Again, it was out of the well of the Puritan mission theology that their powerful preaching sprang out.

Theology of Partnership with God in Redemption

        Paul Pierson observes that in the colonial period those Puritans had interesting theology which led them into mission.  As seen in the Pilgrim’s Progress, they had theology of partnership with God in redemption.  With them, to be a Christian was more than to accept God’s gift.  To be a Christian was to be involved in the partnership with God in redemption.[1]  

        With Puritans, God in his divine sovereignty asks more than individual souls.  Every structure of life must be subject to His will.  Here was the heart of Puritan mission in England and in America.  Sidney H. Rooy states, 'The divine mission asks the redemption of the soul, the perfection of society, and the accomplishment of history' (1965:325).  In short, the Puritans strove to attain the realization of Christ’s rule among the nations.

        The message of the Scripture is Jesus Christ.  The Puritans emphasized that by His death Christ has procured grace for all men.  What the Puritans called common or universal grace brought blessings for every man and woman.  This enables them to perform formal action of approval to the Christian faith.  Universal grace is sufficient for salvation in the sense that God will give the special grace to find salvation, provided man and woman faithfully do what he or she can in order to seek it (:312). 

The Puritan’s Goal of Mission

         The Puritan’s goal of mission was “simply the conversion of souls.  No matter was greater, since this was God’s concern in sending his Son.  Jesus was the greatest soul-winner that ever lived, and Paul followed his example” (Rooy 1965:316-317).   This idea is strongly expressed in Richard Baxter.  For him, the immediate goal of the mission was primarily the conversion of unbelievers, to be followed by the establishment of churches which were to live in unity with one another.  He emphasized that the eternal kingdom, indeed begun here in a spiritual way but fulfilled in eternity.  Through the work of conversion and the unity of believers, God’s Kingdom would come.  The fulfillment of history comes in eternity.  Love begun on earth is fulfilled in heaven.  Fellowship with believers on earth becomes communion with the saints of all history.  The grand design of history is the reconciliation and saving of lost mankind (:155).

        Rooy argues that the sense of urgency for conversion was motivated not primarily out of ‘fear motive,’ but ‘love motive.’

The sense of urgency for conversion was frequently heightened by an appeal to the last judgment, especially by Baxter, Eliot, and Edwards.  However, this fear motive remained secondly; Baxter stated this explicitly, Eliot turned Indians to constructive action, and Edwards’ judgment sermons constituted but a small part of his preaching.  Rather, love for the sinner and concern for his present and eternal state provided the basic motivation in the attempt to secure his conversion.  The love of God constrains me, says Baxter, to seek the conversion of my neighbor.  When I thus love my neighbor, my own love for God grows (1965:314).

        Thus, coming to New England, the Puritans believed that their mission was to convert the native Americans or the Indians as they called them.[2]

The Missionary Motives

       The primary motive for mission was to glorify God.  They believed that God is glorified when the Kingdom is advanced.  Here we find the direct relevance of glorifying God and mission.[3] 

        Second, there was a soteriological motive.  The soteriological consideration that men must be brought to personal conversion dominates the Puritan message.  The practical use of doctrine was at the heart of Puritan preaching.  The direct application of spiritual truth to men’s situation was the Puritan purpose in preaching.

        The Puritan’s soteriological motive stems from their anthropological considerations.  The utter lostness of man apart from God and the utter impossibility of salvation apart from grace were problems calling for resolution.  In this respect all men, whether the Lawyers at Grey’s Inn or the Indians in America, were alike.  Sibbs and Baxter were as deeply filled with compassion for their hearers and as vitally concerned for their souls, as Eliot, Mather, and Edwards were.  There was no distinction here between Jesus and Indians, between unbelievers in the church and those outside (Rooy 1965:314).

        Pierson remarks that, in the Puritan view of humankind, “Every person is sinner, but every person has full potential to be the child of God and full human being.” [4]  He comments that the evangelical awareness—that we are lost in sins, and we are all equal—provided the Puritans with the motivation to carry the gospel across races to the non-Whites, to non-Europeans.

        Pierson also suggests that the Puritans had the high view of the church.  They saw the Church engaged in warfare against evil.  The mission was to plant the church throughout the world.[5]  This they did when the first English Puritans came to America in the seventeenth century.

        Finally, as Pierson remarks it, there was an eschatological motive.  The Puritan hope had an eschatological anticipation, the coming of Christ and the final victory of the Church in this evil world.  They believed that when Christians come from the far ends of nations will be the time of the fulfillment for the prophecy for the coming Kingdom.

The Role of the Church for Missionary Advance

       For the Puritans the church had a double nature.  First, she was the mystical body of Christ, the communion of all true believers.  Membership in the church, in this sense, did not depend upon attendance at the preaching, and the sacraments or living holy life, though all of these were considered important.  Rather, membership in the body of believers depends upon faith as fulfillment of the covenant of sovereign grace, knowing God experimentally.  Second, there is the organized form of the church which bears the divine sanction and call.  To her are entrusted the ordinances of furthering and consolidating the advances of Christ’s kingdom.  The church thus has a twofold character: as gathering of the members of the body, and as means to further the gospel (Rooy 1965:317-318).

       The Puritans had a high view of the church.  Baptism implies to them warfare.  They saw, therefore, struggle against the evil as their mission on the earth.  When the English Puritans came to New England in the seventeenth century, they came with the vision to build ‘New Zion’ in the wilderness.  They believed that their task was to show to the world what the lives of men and women in covenant with God should be. [6]

Minister as Missionary Pastor

       Rooy observes that for the Puritans the mission duty of the institutional church is carried by ministers.  God has appointed them primary agents in redemption.  Ordinary ministers are ambassadors of God to their parishes.   Their duties are not only to the church members; rather, if necessary, these should be neglected and the unbelievers sought out (1965:320).  As Richard Baxter puts it, “True pastors and bishops of the church do thirst after the conversion and happiness of sinners, and spend their lives in diligent labors to these ends…” (1888: II. 157).

       The Great Commission of Christ (Mt. 28:19, 20) makes it evident that part of the minister’s work is “to teach, convert, and baptize men, to bring them out of the world into the church” (Baxter 1888: 1. 639).  This commission was not restricted to the apostles (:639-640).[7]

The Puritan’s Mission Principle—Baxter’s View

        In the first principle, God is Lord of the mission.  For Baxter, the radical nature of man’s depravity makes redemption apart from divine grace an utter impossibility.  Without Christ’s redeeming death, no one can be saved. Without the Spirit’s regenerating work, no men can believe.  Divine initiative indicates divine willingness; divine sacrifice secures the gracious covenant; and the divine gift of repentance accepts the divine invitation (Rooy 1965:149).

        The second principle is that the divinely appointed means accomplish the mission.  Baxter accentuates the primary significance of the proclamation of the gospel.  He, however, introduces two significant qualifications.  First, he introduces the general, unfixed minister who becomes the missionary beyond parish bounds in the homeland or in foreign lands, alongside of regular, fixed ministers of the churches. Rooy comments that his new and broader view of the ministerial office in English Puritanism made him possible to suggest some methods for reaching heathen nations (:150).

        The third principle is the willing response of man to the gospel as the object of the mission, which Baxter dramatically set forth by his unceasing call for conversion.  The emphasis of his appeal in his early ministry was upon repentance from sin, and later upon contemplation of God’s graciousness, but throughout his life conversion of men was made his earnest business (151).

        Fourthly, believers in general have a call to participate in the mission of the Church. For Baxter, the believer’s plain and urgent duty through the church, weak and struggling as it is, is to witness to unredeemed humanity at home and abroad (Rooy 1965:102).[8]

        As Rooy remarks:  “Here is where the theology of missions must begin and where it shall end. Those who bear Christ’s name must bear his character.  He is the divine Redeemer.  His followers must be redeemers too, the means through Christ’s Spirit to save and to heal” (1965 :327- 328).

Methods of Spreading the Gospel

        The first method by which the gospel is spread is the witness of every redeemed person.  Regular ministers are witnesses to the gospel in their parishes.  And general ministers (missionaries) go out to seek the unconverted wherever no churches are, at home or abroad (Rooy 1965:153).

        Second, promoting the public good, doing well to men’s bodies and loving men as men will accomplish good for their souls.  A full knowledge of the ignorant and unbelieving condition of the world is necessary.  So is responsible stewardship of our gifts and prayer.   Missionaries with philological abilities might learn foreign languages and teach natives so they might spread the gospel (:153).           

        Third, the brokenness of the church has hindered the gospel more than anything else.  Unless concord and peace come to the church, we are unfit to recover the world and convert unbelievers.  The love of Christians to one another is almost as needful as preaching to win the world to Christ (:153).

        Fourth, the unity of the church and the conversion of unbelievers alike require putting the essential truths first.  We must agree upon and teach what is necessary to salvation first; then we can go to other things.  The Great Commission gives the proper order: preach the gospel; baptize; teach all things (:153).

        For Baxter, the communicative nature of the faith results in the spread of the gospel.  Thankful worship and joyful service speak for all to hear.  As light comes into the world by the sun, so good comes by the Christian.  Christian must love their neighbors, shine as lights, preach by blameless lives, light the way like candles, speak of their faith, pray for conversion, and communicate goodness.  A silent Christian is a contradiction in terms (:155).

Mission in a Context of Nominality

        Rooy observes, “The ‘extensive interest’ of the church (as Baxter calls it) has a double dimension: the unbeliever and the non-Christian world.  Both are objects of the believer’s witness at home and the church’s witness abroad” (1965:119).

Rooy summarizes Baxter’s description of nominalism in England of the seventeenth century:

In England where the gospel abounds more than in any other Nation
in the world, hosts of the common people live in sensuality and
religious unconcern.  Men forget that prayerless families make powerless lives.  Religiously uninstructed children and servants are too often brought up by cursing householders, indifferent hypocrites, and worldly drunkards[9] They abuse of money and time in outright sins of immorality and drunkenness, in useless play-books and feigned histories, in willful laziness and slothfulness of spirit, while the soul remains under God’s curse and while God’s work is undone, is self-deluding blindness (1965:119).[10] 

        Baxter asserts that it is required for pastors “to convert these seeming Christians to sincerity, because such seeming Christians may be visible members of our churches."  He affirms that “many such are usually in the church” and “we have therefore ground enough to deal with them for their conversion."  Again, he stresses, “The work of conversion is the great thing we must first drive at, and labour with all our might to effect” (1888: IV. 381).


        The mission theology of the English Puritans has implications for missionary proclamation in our days.  There is a parallel between the historical context of the English Puritans and that of our days.  We have, as they had, the missionary task to proclaim the eternal gospel in a changing society.  As they were, we are in a time of social change.  We are moving from modern to postmodern world, from the twentieth to the twenty-first century.  And, like them, we are facing nominality as an emerging mission frontier.  In this chapter, we have observed the five ingredients of the Puritan's mission theology that has implications for missionary proclamation in our days:

        The puritans had theology of partnership with God in redemption.  With them, to be a Christian was more than to accept God’s gift.  To be a Christian was to be involved in the partnership with God in redemption.

        Second, their emphasis on transformation.  The Puritans strove to attain the realization of Christ’s rule among the nations not just by winning the souls but also by transforming the society.

        Third, their emphasis on transformation.  The Puritan’s goal of mission was simply the conversion of souls.  No matter was greater, since this was God’s concern in sending his Son.

        Fourth, their unity of exposition and application in preaching.  The direct application of spiritual truth to men’s situation was the Puritan purpose in preaching.

        Finally, their emphasis on evangelistic outreach.  The church has a twofold character: as gathering of the members of the body, and as means to further the gospel.

        In short, the Puritans by their mission theology brought new focus on God as well as new dynamics in preaching.  Indeed, The Puritan's mission theology is relevant to us in that these are exactly what we need for the revival of the Christian faith in our days.

[1] Pierson, Historical Development of the Christian Movement.  Audio Tape 12.

[2-6] Refer to the printed manuscript of the article.

[7] See also Rooy 1965:98 for further discussion.

[8] See also Baxter 1888 vol. 1:81, 254.

[9] See also Baxter 1888 vol. 2:119.

[10] See also Baxter 1888 vol. 1:22, 56, 310-313.

  © This article is originally an excerpt from Dae Ryeong Kim's paper, "The Missionary Proclamation of the English Puritanism."


Research Notes | Missiology Bookstore | Favorite Links