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Puritanism Covenant And The Perfect Society In New England

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Puritanism Covenant and the Perfect Society in New England

When the Puritans came to New England, they came to settle with a clear society in mind. Not only would this society be free from the persecution that they endured in Old England; it would be free to create what the leader of the religion referred to as a "perfect" society. In their attempt to escape the persecution they had come so accustomed to, they set up their own rigid belief system based on the inclusion of the human soul and the exclusion of everything else as being unimportant (Wolff 14). The belief system of the Puritans allowed for several different types of theologies, two of which are the Covenant theology and the Paradise theology.

The Covenant Theology is, in fact, the theology upon which the Puritan sect of religion is based upon. In essence the word covenant means agreement, contract or promise. The term "keeping the covenant" can mean many things. In the Puritan belief system, the phrase can mean keeping the covenant of marriage, keeping the covenant of the church, or keeping the covenant to God.

In Puritan society, keeping the covenant of marriage was contractual (Johnson 107). The ideal marriage was taken directly from the bible; the wife should have only three purposes. The first purpose of the Puritan wife should be "friend," the Puritan wife should be a constant companion to her husband until they both reach old age. The second purpose of the Puritan wife is "lover," meaning that relationship must be consummated. Finally the third purpose of the Puritan wife is "servant" (Johnson 110).

However, it was also believed that the Puritan marriage should be made up of three factors that should be exhibited by both parties and one factor exhibited by one party, the husband. The husband and wife should always be friends, companions, and lovers (Johnson 110). However, instead of the wife being the "servant" to her husband, for by no means should she have been a slave, the husband instead should have the ultimate authority over every member of his household (110).

The theology of keeping the covenant to the church stated that the people not only must keep their promise to the Church, but the Church must also keep its promise to the people. The first priority in the Puritan organization is the people's promise to the Church. It was the head of the household's duty to get everyone to worship on time and ready for the sermon. It was also the head of the household's responsibility to make sure that the house was ready to worship God and that there would always be time for private instruction on the Bible, which the man of the household would give (Johnson 115). Inside the Church, the one at the head of the congregation took the responsibility of the "spiritual well being" of the community. The minister had the ultimate power to be the spokesman for God, wielding that power with threats of fire and brimstone (114). After the minister, there were several gentlemen that saw to the everyday well being of the congregation and made sure that the doctrine of the religion was followed (114). However, Puritanism not only suffered a spiritual crisis, but also a civil crisis as well (Robinson 743). The Puritans set there own expectations so high that it seemed as though no one could follow them, thus leading to the possibility of a breakdown, which had already begun earlier in Old England with Oliver Cromwell leading the revolution that called for "Religious Tolerance" (Robinson 743, Coffee 962 - 3) And in 1675, Increase Mather was the first Puritan preacher to abruptly shift the Puritan church experience. He not only revitalized the church, but gave them what they needed most, a new authority from the church (Robinson 744). Mather's reinvention of the Puritan belief system at the time, helped stave off the changes that were occurring in England (744). Mather worked very hard to keep the Puritan way of life relatively untouched by the "new" religions that were being practiced in New England, keeping the promise of church discipline and church influence that the Church had made to its members (744) which led to "better educated, more orderly, and a more reasonable" congregation (740).

Finally, there is the covenant between the Puritan and God. This promise also extends both ways, from the pious to God, and from God to the people who worship. The Puritan's promise to God was to believe in God's absolute sovereignty (Zaret 377). According to Zaret, John Calvin, a prolific Puritan leader, stated, "We dream not of a faith which is devoid of good works. Because we know that God regards not the outward appearance, we must penetrate to the very source of action, if we see how far works avail for righteousness" (376). Calvin even goes so far as to state that "'salvation is no longer shrouded by the divine veil but illuminated for all determined to clasp it'" (381), leading the congregation to believe that God has shown them the path to Heaven, should they choose to follow it. However, the promise made by God to man is slightly less concrete, "God only does covenant ... man is the party assumed" (380). This statement could leave a Puritan to believe that yes, God made a promise, but it may not be specifically to the individual; the promise may have been to mankind in general. This line of thinking would then, of course, lead to the following train of thought:

"All the gracious promises of the Gospel are not only promises



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