The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry

By Perry Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
THIS WORLD AND THE NEXT

1. THOMAS SHEPARD, 1605-1649

[Congregational and Independent Puritans developed their conception of the church covenant and the social covenant out of a more fundamental exposition of the covenant as a universal term for describing the innermost personal relationship between the Christian and Jehovah. Also, the covenant became their way of conceiving the relationship of the creator to the created universe.

This "federal theology" was not so much a separate or self-contained system--in doctrinal theology, all Puritans were what we call "Calvinists"--as it was an idiom, taken both from the Old Testament and from contemporaneous legal thinking, for expounding the mystery of the election and perseverance of the saints. In the middle of the eighteenth century the revivalists, led by Jonathan Edwards, subordinated or obliterated this covenant phraseology, invoking a more stark assertion of absolute decree; In the modern rediscovery of the Puritan concept theologians have found not a forgotten system of rhetoric but a theme central to both the Old Testament and to Protestantism. It no longer seems a curious oddity of the Puritan mind, but a serious effort to formulate the connection between finite man and absolute God, even though too many Puritans tended to debase the cosmological vision into a guarantee for personal security.

Such time as New Englanders had for abstract speculation, and most of the doctrinal portions of the sermons, were devoted to the covenant. In detail, it is too technical for brief discussion, but Thomas Shepard's preface to the

-143-

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The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Contents iii
  • Title Page v
  • Foreword ix
  • Chapter One - History 1
  • Chapter Two - State and Society 78
  • Chapter Three - This World and the Next 143
  • Chapter Four - Personal Narrative 225
  • Chapter Five - Poetry 265
  • Chapter Six - Literary and Educational Ideals 320
  • A Brief Bibliography 336
  • Index 341
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