“The Sweetness of Christianity Is in Its Pronouns”: Luther's Influence on 17th-Century Puritan Devotion

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 3:30 PM
Mile High Ballroom 4B (Colorado Convention Center)
Tom Schwanda, Wheaton College
Luther demonstrated the complexity of all historical figures.  While some Puritans spoke of him in soaring superlatives or as a paragon of godliness others ignored him.  Bishop Joseph Hall honored him as a “heroicall spirit,” clearly an epithet to his faithfulness amid persecution of the Western Catholic Church.  Later in time Ralph Venning celebrated him as “Divine Luther” reflective of his spiritual wisdom that was derived from prayer.  More broadly Luther was celebrated for both his theology and character.   Central to the spiritual freedom of the German Reformation was Luther’s emphasis upon justification by faith through grace.  This liberating truth prompted one Puritan to proclaim, “the sweetness of Christianity is in its pronouns.”  The emphasis on pronouns elevated the personal responsibility of faith that was common among Puritan writers.  Significantly Luther’s theology of the cross also influenced the development of the school of affliction as a central means of formation of faith that stressed the discipline of self–denial amid the shifting political climate.  Luther’s proclamation of law and gospel was yet another central emphasis that influenced Puritan devotional texts.  Other Puritans quoted Luther with approval that more could be learned through prayer than equal efforts at study.  This was more reflective of the seventeenth century centrality of experimental piety than anti-intellectualism.  This paper traces the Puritan reception and use of Luther across the seventeenth century and probes the ways his theology and life of prayer shape the devotional literature of such key representatives as Bishop Joseph Hall, Richard Sibbes, George Swinnock, Thomas Watson, Isaac Ambrose, Richard Baxter and John Bunyan.
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