keeping an eye on the tree and the forest

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Ezekiel’s Vision of the Glory of God


The Puritans had a wonderful imagination. This is the picture of Ezekiel’s vision from the Geneva Bible, first published in 1560, which was the standard Bible for English speaking Puritans. If we wanted to be real purists, we could say that this is the “Authorized Version”. The Puritans hated the KJV, and it’s funny that people still hold on to such outdated translations.

In either case, a picture like this boggles my mind almost as much as the text of Ezekiel 1:

1Now it came about in the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, while I was by the river Chebar among the exiles, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. 2(On the fifth of the month in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s exile, 3the word of the LORD came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and there the hand of the LORD came upon him.) 4As I looked, behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire. 5Within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form, 6Each of them had four faces and four wings. 7Their legs were straight and their feet were like a calf’s hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze. 8Under their wings on their four sides were human hands. As for the faces and wings of the four of them, 9their wings touched one another; their faces did not turn when they moved, each went straight forward. 10As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle. 11Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each had two touching another being, and two covering their bodies. 12And each went straight forward; wherever the spirit was about to go, they would go, without turning as they went. 13In the midst of the living beings there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches darting back and forth among the living beings. The fire was bright, and lightning was flashing from the fire. 14And the living beings ran to and fro like bolts of lightning. 15Now as I looked at the living beings, behold, there was one wheel on the earth beside the living beings, for each of the four of them. 16The appearance of the wheels and their workmanship was like sparkling beryl, and all four of them had the same form, their appearance and workmanship being as if one wheel were within another. 17Whenever they moved, they moved in any of their four directions without turning as they moved. 18As for their rims they were lofty and awesome, and the rims of all four of them were full of eyes round about. 19Whenever the living beings moved, the wheels moved with them. And whenever the living beings rose from the earth, the wheels rose also. 20Wherever the spirit was about to go, they would go in that direction. And the wheels rose close beside them; for the spirit of the living beings was in the wheels. 21Whenever those went, these went; and whenever those stood still, these stood still. And whenever those rose from the earth, the wheels rose close beside them; for the spirit of the living beings was in the wheels. 22Now over the heads of the living beings there was something like an expanse, like the awesome gleam of crystal, spread out over their heads. 23Under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward the other; each one also had two wings covering its body on the one side and on the other. 24I also heard the sound of their wings like the sound of abundant waters as they went, like the voice of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army camp; whenever they stood still, they dropped their wings. 25And there came a voice from above the expanse that was over their heads; whenever they stood still, they dropped their wings. 26Now above the expanse that was over their heads there was something resembling a throne, like lapis lazuli in appearance; and on that which resembled a throne, high up, was a figure with the appearance of a man. 27Then I noticed from the appearance of His loins and upward something like glowing metal that looked like fire all around within it, and from the appearance of His loins and downward I saw something like fire; and there was a radiance around Him. 28As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face and heard a voice speaking.

Mark Dever is the only guy I have ever heard preach on this text, at the Shepherd’s Conference at Grace Community Church (MacArthur’s church). Oh that we would ponder the depths of this vision and fall on our faces!

The Puritans and Education


The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the neerest by possessing our souls of true vertue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection.

–John Milton, Of Education

The topic of the Puritans and Education intersects with many other Puritan subjects.  Theology, philosophy, vocation/calling, ministry, preaching, family, and law are all factors, and it may be said that education is birthed out of all of these.  The current inquiry will first survey the educational life of a Puritan raised child to adulthood, and then examine the higher education model of Harvard College in its educational/philosophical context.

Family Origins

There is no doubt that the educational life of a Puritan began in the home.  In keeping with an ideal covenant household, the salvation of the children and their spiritual well being was at first place in the heart of every godly parent.  They universally understood, as Milton illustrates above, that education was a means to that end. Therefore, they believed that the education of their children in religion was their premier duty.  They would often imagine the horrors of what their children might say of them if they went to hell on account of their negligence in education:

They will follow thee up and down in that ever-burning lake with direful curses and hideous outcries, crying out continually, “Woe unto us, that ever we served such a wicked wretched master, that had no care of the salvation of our souls, took no course to save us out of these fiery torments!”  Even thine own dear children, in this case, will yell in thine ears, world without end, “Woe and alas, that ever we were born of such accursed parents, who had not the grace to teach us betimes the ways of God, to keep us from our youthful vanities, and to train us up in the paths of godliness!  Had they done so, we might have lived in the endless joys of heaven; whereas now we must lie irrecoverably in these everlasting flames.  Oh!  it was the fault of our own parents’ unconscionable and cruel negligence, that all our life long struck full deep in our souls, and hath now strangled them with everlasting horror.

Thus, they sought to catechize their children as soon as possible and instruct them in the Scriptures.  This included daily devotions, either in the morning or around the dinner table, and sermon discussion/application.

Elementary Schools

Although parents sought to educate their children in Religion, they were less effective in teaching them to read.  Because of “the great neglect of many parents and masters in training their children in learning and labor and other employments which may be profitable to the commonwealth,” the Massachusetts Bay Colony established an early law (1642) mandating the parental duty of teaching children to “read and understand the principles of religion and the capitall lawes of this country” (Massachusetts School Law; see p.19 in Selected Documents Section of Notebook).  Apparently, this law was “not well observed” because it left this responsibility up the parents, and it gave way for the “Old Deluder, Satan, Act” (1647).   This gave towns of fifty families the responsibility of offering a free, public education so that children could learn to read.  This is where the New England Primer and varieties of hornbooks would be used as tools.  It is evident from early legislature and these tools that reading and the Scriptures were closely connected.  It was also around this age, before the age of five, that girls started needlework.  Girls were not educated beyond this point.

Grammar Schools

The purpose of grammar schools was to train boys for the university.  If boys lacked ability in elementary school, they would work with their parents until or while they learned a trade.  In grammar school, the subjects were English grammar, Latin, and Greek.  Boys that could make it through would be in grammar school for about seven years.  According to the exact accounts kept by the Boston Latin School (1712), the first three years were spent learning Latin “accidence” and works in Latin like Aesop’s Fables, the fourth year Erasmus’ Colloguies, Ovid de Tristibus, etc., the fifth year Cicero, more Erasmus and Ovid, the sixth year more Cicero  and Ovid along with Lucius Florus and Virgil, and the seventh year Cicero, Justin, Isocrates, Homer, Virgil, Horace, Persius, and the Greek Testament.  Every college hopeful was to master Latin because that was all that was spoken in the university classroom.

Higher Education at Harvard

Higher education was certainly the matrix of Puritan thinking.  This is evidenced by the influence that William Perkins and William Ames had in their respective university posts.  Concordantly, much thought was being spawned on the best Christian approach to scholarship in their time (1590’s-1630’s).  The predominant notion among influential Puritan minds was that of educational “integration”.  Works, such as Alexander Richardson’s Rule of Encyclopedia, John Alsted’s Encyclopedism, Ames’ Technometry, and John Comenius’ Pansophism advocated an integrated “circle of knowledge” from which to view the world.  Among their common convictions was the use of logic as a means to truth, along with Scripture and Nature, setting them apart from their Reformation predecessors.  Thus, given the Puritan movement toward technologia, the integration of a unified system of truth, and the emigration to the new world, it was inevitable that a school would be birthed in order to practice such integration; Harvard College.  Although Harvard was modeled after Cambridge, as well as the University of Paris, it was unique in its curricular structure, in that metaphysics was left out of the six “arts” (logic, grammar, rhetoric, mathematics, physics, and theology).  This is because technologia took the place of metaphysics, fulfilling the “roles normally assigned to metaphysics of defining ontology, epistemology, cosmology, and anthropology”.   Such commitment to educational integration is evidenced by the motto on the seal of Harvard, Veritas, “Truth,” which is inscribed over three books, representing nature, Scripture, and logic as the three “books of truth”.  Admission to Harvard consisted of an interview with the president, with no applications to fill out or essays to write.  Normally he would flip to a passage in the Greek New Testament, expecting a translation of the chosen passage and an exegesis.  He would also do the same for some work in Latin, and would also test the mathematic skills of the prospective student.  According the New England First Fruits (1643), which has a section, “In Respect of the College, and the Proceedings of Learning Therein,” the times and subjects of learning for matriculated students were as follows:

The second and third day of the week, read Lectures, as follows.
To the first year at 8 o’clock in the morning Logic, the first three quarters, Physics the last quarter.
To the second year, at the 9th hour, Ethics and Politics, at convenient distances of time.
To the third year at the 10th.  Arithmetic and Geometry, the three first quarters, Astronomy the last.

The first year disputes at the second hour.
The 2nd year at the 3rd hour.
The 3rd  year at the 4th every one in his Art.
The 4th day reads Greek.
To the first year the Etymology and Syntax at the eighth hour.
to the 2nd at the 9th hour, Prosodia and Dialects.

The first year at 2nd hour practice the precepts of Grammar in such authors as have variety of words.
The 2nd year at 3rd hour practice in Poesy, [with] Nonnus, Duport, or the like.
The 3rd year perfect their Theory before noon, and exercise Style, Composition, Imitation, Epitome, both in Prose and Verse, afternoon.

The fifth day reads Hebrew, and the Eastern Tongues.
Grammar to the first year hour the 8th.
To the 2nd Chaldee [Aramaic] at the 9th hour.
To the 3rd Syriac at the 10th hour.

The first year practice in the Bible at the 2nd hour.
The 2nd in Ezra and Daniel at the 3rd hour.
The 3rd at the 4th hour in Trostius New Testament.

The 6th day reads Rhetoric to all at the 8th hour.
Declarations at the 9th.  So ordered that every Scholar may declaim once a month.  The rest of the day vacat Rhetoricis studiis.  The 7th day reads Divinity Catecheticall at the 8th hour, Common places at the 9th hour.

The first hour reads history in the Winter,
The nature of plants in the Summer,
The sum of every Lecture shall be examined, before the new Lecture read.

Puritan Attitudes toward Children


The Puritans view of life was God-saturated and focused on His glory as the chief end of all things. This is due primarily to their adherence and embracing of Reformed Theology. They held firmly to the sovereignty of God in all of life, as He has foreordained all things that come to pass, and what we consider the “doctrines of grace.” But the under girding of the doctrines of grace that really forms their attitudes toward children and parenting is the concept of the covenants[1]: the covenant of works, the covenant of redemption, and the covenant of grace. The covenant of works was the covenant that God made with Adam in Eden that if Adam would obey all of God’s commandments, he would have eternal life. The covenant of redemption is that covenant that God the Father made with Christ that if Christ would remain in obedience to the Father , the Father would give Him a people to redeem for Himself. The covenant of grace is the covenant that God makes with every believer and their children upon faith that He will give them eternal life and be their God. Although these covenants may not be clearly outlined in Scriptures, nonetheless the Puritans used this as their grid or system through which to view the rest of Scripture.

Such theology produced a few different attitudes toward children. As covenants included both blessings and cursings, so children were seen as mixed blessing.[2]  John Robinson said that “[Children] are a blessing great, but dangerous.”[3]  They would affirm Psalm 127, that children are a blessing from the Lord, but that they also bring heartaches physically and spiritually from their birth until eventual marriage. This impressed upon them, though, the importance of their responsibility to their children as belonging to God: “Puritan attitudes toward children were rooted in the conviction that children belong to God and are entrusted to parents as a stewardship.”[4]  Thus they owned their children just as they own any other earthly thing, as a stewardship from God. The difference in “owning” their children with owning any other thing is, however, that their children’s souls are eternal and that is what they were accountable to God for. Also, they were not to love any other thing they owned the way they loved their children. They tried to keep a balanced view of loving their children. Excessive affectionate smothering, or “doting”, of their children was looked down upon.[5]  They observed that even apes killed their young with hugging.[6]  They did not want to be cold toward their children but rather impartial.[7]

[1] “The essence of a covenant is the idea of contractual obligation. The framework of covenant theology increased rather than decreased the Puritans’ sense of parental responsibility for their children.” (Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints, p.79).

[2] This idea is perceived best by Daniel Doriani: “Children are a potential blessing in the eyes of godly brethren but the final evaluation of their status depends on their spiritual qualities, not their number or health…The “potential blessing” theme most often occurs in passages where preachers exhort parents to perform their moral and spiritual duties.” (“The Godly Household in Puritan Theology”, 1560-1640, p.391).

[3] The Works of John Robinson, Boston: Doctrinal Tract and Book Society, 1851, Vol. 1, p.244

[4] Ryken, Worldly Saints, p.78

[5] “The extreme in the excess is too much doting upon children: as they do who so unmeasurably love them, as they make reckoning of nothing in comparison of children.” (William Gouge, Of Domestical Duties, Amsterdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Ltd., 1976 [Facsimile, published earlier in London: J. Haviland, 1622], p.500).

[6] ibid.

[7] “Wherefore remember that the parently love must be extended equally to your children. Do not like eagles, which turn some out of their nest, and bring up other some.” (Paul Bayne, An Entire Commentary upon the Whole Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1866, [published earlier in London: M. F., 1643], p.361

The Uniqueness of the Puritan Ideal for the Family


For the next few posts, I’m going post a paper that I did in college on the the Puritan concept of parenting for a class on Puritanism. The title will simply be the heading of each section in the paper. Below is the introduction that about the uniqueness of the Puritan ideal for the family.

Through the demise of modernism, with its false presuppositions and conclusions, most of the world has lost touch with the richness of the Puritan experience. One aspect of their experience that has been misperceived greatly is their concept of family and parenting. This is even true among evangelicals today. Some stereotypes may be that parents beat their children excessively; or that they demanded perfection from their children; or that they sheltered their children from the world; or that wives were their husbands’ servants; or that they arranged all of their children’s marriages. A closer look at the norms of the movement will show that these stereotypes indeed are false. As a matter of fact, there seems to be no group in Church history since the early Church that emulates biblicity and theological depth in their approach to the family. Amidst the smog-saturated air of contemporary family theory and practice, one can look back and breathe the fresh air of Puritan family theology and practice. Prime examples of this are what they saw as the purpose for the family and its leadership.

The Puritans viewed the family as a small church.[1] It was to be the very backbone of the local church. Its sole purpose was to advance the glory of God by instruction in the Word of God, walking in holiness, and worship.[2] This concept should not be foreign to any evangelical today. However, most evangelicals do not embrace this in their families. This purpose of the family being the glory of God means everything. Leland Ryken notes:

What is important about viewing the purpose of the family as the glory of God? In the long run it determines what goes on in a family. It sets the priorities in a spiritual rather than material direction. It determines what a family does with its time and how it spends its money.[3]

This vision and purpose for the glory of God in the Puritan family lasted because it was branded in the consciences of parents and produced a God-centered direction in everything the family did.

One of the areas in which we go wrong today in the pursuit of a God-glorifying household, and which the Puritans focused on like a laser, was the spiritual leadership of the father in the home. They recognized God’s design; that, like the church, the family consists of fallen people and needs the shepherding of a man of God.[4] As the “governor” of the household, the husband/father/master had the duty of leading the family in worship. Oliver Heywood described it as acting as a priest in the family, a role that consisted of the four duties of the Old Testament priest:[5]

1. To instruct the people in the principles of religion, and their duty to God and each other

2. To manage the holy offerings and sacrifices for atonement (confess the sins of the family)

3. To intercede for the people (to stand between the dead and the living)

4. To bless the people

A man that didn’t lead his household was looked upon by the Puritans as a fool and scoundrel, worthy of all scorn. This outlook on family leadership was so overwhelming that it became principle even to the non-Christians that lived in the Puritan communities.

The ideals for the family mentioned above set the stage for an examination of Puritan parenting and child rearing. Parenting is something that the Puritans took very seriously and practiced with sobriety; and for good reasons. It is evident in a historical inquiry of Puritan parenting and child rearing that the root of their understanding and practice was not theoretical but theological. Theology fed and permeated Puritan parenting.

[1] “A holy family is place of comfort, a church of God…Oh that God stir up the hearts of people thus to make their families as little churches, that it might not be in the power of rulers or pastors that are bad to extinguish religion, or banish godliness from any land!” (Richard Baxter’s “The Poor Man’s Family Book” in The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1996, Vol. 4, p.230, 231).

[2] “The household is as it were a little commonwealth by the good government whereof God’s glory may be advanced, the commonwealth…benefited and all that live in that family may receive much comfort and commodity.” (Robert Cleaver, quoted by Daniel Doriani in “The Godly Household in Puritan Theology, 1560-1640”, Ph.D. diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1985, p.52).

[3] Leland Ryken,Worldly Saints,(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), p. 74.

[4] “It was the husbands responsibility to channel the family into religion; to take them to church on the Lord’s Day, to oversee the sanctifying of the entire day in the home; to catechize the children, and teach them the faith; to examine the whole family after each sermon, to see how much had been retained and understood, and to fill any gaps of understanding that might remain; to lead the family in worship daily, ideally twice a day; and to set an example of sober godliness at all times and in all matters.” (J.I. Packer, The Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990], p.270).

[5] The Whole Works of Rev. Oliver Heywood, (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1999, published earlier in London: John Vint, 1825), Vol. 4 “The Family Altar”, pgs. 309-311