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The Puritan Hope: A Study in Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy Paperback – June 1, 1971
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'The author reaches new heights, presenting a winsome portrait of the Puritan divines, focusing upon their extraordinary vitality and the understanding of history which undergirded it.' --James M. Boice
'I think it is a fine piece of work and the chapter dealing with the imminence of the advent (N.T. sense of imminence) in relation to other data of an exegetical and historical nature is masterful.' --John Murray --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
From 1956, Iain H. Murray was for three years assistant to Dr Lloyd-Jones at Westminster Chapel and there, with the late Jack Cullum, founded the Banner of Truth Trust in 1957. He left Westminster in 1961 for a nine-year pastorate at Grove Chapel, Camberwell. With the world-wide expansion of the Trust, Iain Murray became engaged full-time in its ministry from 1969 until 1981 when he responded to a call from St Giles Presbyterian Church, Sydney, Australia. Now based again in the UK, he and Jean live in Edinburgh. He has written many titles published by the Trust, in whose work he remains active. He is still writing. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Much of what passes for prophecy among Christians today is more like divination, and is very fatalistic. However, real prophecy is about God fulfilling His promises. The former is entertainment, and promotes a spectator's view of prophecy. Real prophecy, in contrast, gives hope to ones life by connecting our past, present, and future to God's sovereign plan. As such, real prophecy inspires a Christian to live by the Spirit and work with confidence that God is accomplishing His purpose. Murray's expounds on this much more in this book.
This theological influence of the Puritans permeated the great missionary societies of the 18th and 19th centuries. That is, the Puritans believed in the success of their missionary efforts, which would cover the earth with the knowledge of the Lord. Thus their theology did not view the world as a place, which would become more dangerous and evil through time, but more Christlike, since the outpouring of the Spirit would lead sinners to Christ. Again, this outpouring of the Spirit would one day eventually include the nation of Israel, since the Jews would be included in the New Covenant when the fullness of the Gentiles was completed. Thus they understood Romans 11 in the most literal sense. At this time, the second advent of Christ would occur, and usher in the timeless eternal state. In a footnote at the end of the book, Murray refers to this view as Post-Millennialism, which word actually only occurs once in his book.
Thus the hope of the Puritans was full realization of the New Covenant on earth, when the Spirit of God would be poured on all mankind; when the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth "as the waters cover the sea"; and when the nation of Israel, which many believed would be restored to Palestine, would embrace Christ as their savior, and thereby become part of Christ's body. Their outlook on the world was not cynical, but hopeful.
As a covenant theologian, Murray acknowledges throughout the book his own bias again any interpretation of the Bible, which includes any future, unfulfilled prophecy. Thus Murray is humble, when he acknowledges the influence of the Puritans, which was based on a literal fulfillment of future, but as yet unfulfilled prophecy. The Puritans viewed the world not as the kingdom of Satan, but as the Kingdom of Christ. This influence of hope brought the gospel not just to the heathen nations, but the Jewish people living in Germany, Syria, and Budapest in the 18th century. And of course, the influence of the Puritans spread to the great mission expeditions to Africa and India as well, which were led by men, who were devout adherents of Puritan theology.
For example, William Cary took the gospel to India and alone translated the Bible in the several native languages. According to Murray's research, one of the great influences on the life of Cary was his understanding of the Synod of Dort, which clarified the doctrine of Election. That is, Cary was instigated to bring the gospel to the heathen nations, because God elected some, but not all. Contrary to popular arguments against Calvinism, the doctrine of election, as understood through the Synod of Dort, actually prompted Cary to take the gospel abroad. Murray also mentions John Livingston, who took the gospel to Africa. One moving passage is the death of Livingston, who is found dead by African natives on his knees in prayer. He left his wife and family in England, in order to bring the gospel to Africa. Murray brings great solemnity to his book in his narrative about these two great men, who gave their lives for the cause of Christ.
Thus Murray therefore paints in wide brushstrokes both the spiritual and sociological impact of the Puritan movement. Their influence precipitated the great awakenings, the great revivals, and the great missionary expeditions of the 18th and 19th centuries, and in fact Murray ascribes the ascendency of the United States in world history to the blessings bestowed by God because of the Puritans. That is, God blessed the English speaking peoples because of the influence of the Puritans on Christian theology in general, and therefore to the development of the United States in particular, where Puritanism thrived. Murray is very careful to point out, that during these great awakenings and revivals and missionary expeditions, there were no charismatic expressions of the Holy Spirit. Instead, there was a spirit of mourning and great conviction of sin, which brought sinners to Christ.
There was one major weakness in the book, and that was Murray's assertion that the Puritans did not view the second coming of Christ as immanent. (That is, the earth had neither yet experienced the outpouring of the Spirit, nor had the knowledge of the Lord covered the earth, and thus the Lord could not return to the earth otherwise.) Murray provides his own theological reasoning why believers should not believe in the second coming of Christ as immanent. He cites the example of Peter, who was told that he would die before Christ's second coming (John 21:18-19), and yet Peter embraced the spiritual hope of Christ's second coming (2 Peter 3:12). What Murray does not indicate, is that when Christ told Peter that he would die before his return, the same exemption was not applied to John, who was also present with Christ and Peter at the time. That is, while Peter would die before Christ's second coming, the same did not apply to John (John 21:22-23). Murray omits this nuance, and of course there are numerous references in the gospels and even the Apostle Paul, which Murray ignores. That is, believers of all ages are to live as though the Lord would return as a thief in the night, and this Murray denies.
Finally, Murray describes the descent of Puritanism, and lays blame at the feet of the dispensational movement, which took root in the United States in the late 19th century. Unlike Puritanism, dispensationalism viewed unfulfilled prophecy in negative terms, that is, the world would progressively become worse. (The antichrist would commandeer a reunified Europe, and would ally and then betray the nation of Israel, which then will have been politically reestablished in Palestine.) Murray posits, that the negative outlook of the dispensationalists killed the Puritan hope. Murray makes very brief mention of modernism and theological liberalism at the end of the 19th century, which denied divine intervention in human history and even the Bible. He asserts that dispensationalism did more damage to the Puritan hope than either modernism or theological liberalism.
In summary, The Puritans took a literal interpretation of the Bible regarding the future of unfulfilled prophecy, which assumed the inevitable success of the gospel message to the farthest parts of the earth. Thus they tended toward a postmillennial outlook of history. That is, world evangelism would first bring the heathen nations and then the Jews into the body of Christ through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. While Puritans believed in the role of the future antichrist, this person would not thwart the inevitable victory of the gospel and its power in the world, and therefore this outlook was positive. Christ would come to a world conquered by the gospel through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. When dispensationalism made its debut in the 19th century, the negative overcame the positive. Thus dispensationalism killed the puritan ideal of consummating the New Covenant on earth according to Murray. That is, the dispensationalist believed the coming of Christ would occur before the consummation of the New Covenant on earth, which is premillenialism.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book for reading. This book will provide the reader a fresh perspective on how we interpret the Bible, and how that interpretation affects the way we understand the world, and therefore the way we live our lives. No matter what theological persuasion the reader may have, Murray underscores the gravity of our responsibility to share the gospel with all peoples. The example of the Puritans is that we should not second guess our Lord, when he commands us to share the gospel to the ends of the earth. We must love the unsaved world, which belongs to the Lord. When we obey the Lord, and trust in his word through faith, he will bless us. That is the Puritan hope.
I find it encouraging that some of the chief Puritans branched off from the main concerning how God will finally wrap things up, to advance a pre-millennial view instead (Thomas Goodwin, William Bridge, Jeremiah Burroughs, p. 53.) It encourages me to learn that, for it means that I am in some good Puritan company when it comes to having been deceived into falsehood. Mr. Murray is kind and fair to include the facts that prove this divided opinion existed among significant Reform-Calvinists of that day. How difficult it is, even for thinking men, to choose an end-times option, is further evidenced by Mr. Murray’s testimony of his gradual conversion from pre-millennialism, and by a selection of Spurgeon’s inconsistent remarks on things yet future. Maybe Mr. Murray goes too far, then, when he says that pre-millennialists are “on the outer fringe of orthodox Protestantism” (p. 40.) They are not on the fringe anymore. They may be on the fringe considering the larger scheme of Christian thought through the centuries. Maybe this is what Murray means.
If we make an assessment strictly by the quotes included, the Puritans laid little or no emphasis on the millennium as such, but on the revival of national Israel that is connected with it, and on the residual blessings that crop out from that, to the Gentiles. (Pre-millennianism says that this Jewish revival will happen just as the millennium is about to be established by the visible Lord on the ground; post-millennianism also says that it will be an event leading into the millennium, but in which Christ will be present only in Spirit.) That all good men agree that Israel’s jubilee is coming, though they disagree about the means that will initiate that outpouring of the Spirit (one group says by the corporeal presence of Christ glorified; the other says by preaching Christ)—this is what I am relieved to learn. The Puritans did not coalesce the Church and Israel so much that they believed national Israel to be completely lost and irrecoverable. I bought this book to resolve that question.
I was convinced once or twice that Mr. Murray is post-millennial—then unconvinced again. Maybe, like me, he is a rare amillenniast. He remarks that the post-millenialists of the 18th and 19th centuries went too far “when they spoke of the world being conquered by holiness for a thousand years before the Second Advent in language inconsistent with what Scripture elsewhere declares of the mixed spiritual conditions which will remain until the end” (xviii.) Yet he appears to endorse that view which is inconsistent, in the words of David Bogue (b. 1750): “In order to introduce the millennium, many thousands of ministers like them [‘Knox in Scotland, and Whitefield in England’] will God raise up, and send forth into the harvest, and he will crown their labours with extraordinary success. From a multitude of such labourers in every country, what may not be expected!” (p. 234.) Anything like worldwide conversion or lasting peace seems to be, in this progressively evil and faithless world, an extremely untenable hope—while prophecies that things will get worse seem to fit the situation exactly. Do we really have reason to hope for more than local revivals? I disagree with any position that says we do. Regardless of what Mr. Murray’s position is, the Puritan hope seems pretty close to what Bogue said, with or without mention of a millennium. Roughly, the Puritan timeframe is between Knox and Whitefield. Lloyd-Jones would slice it finer than this. The following fact speaks to the reason of the Puritans’ declining hope and influence, “Of the four hundred ministers ejected from their churches in 1662 only ninety survived to see the first General Assembly of the reconstituted Church in 1690” (p. 110.) I have assumed that the Puritans were post-millennial. In any event, “it is a mistake to treat as synonymous the Puritan and postmillenial view of unfulfilled prophecy” (xviii.) The Puritan hope was not “a naturalistic view of inevitable progress in history…but great outpourings of the Spirit in the future” (p. 51.)
Two themes run through this book—this detailed and very interesting book which ‘grew out of an address’ (xxiii): the interpretation of prophecy, and revival. A word from Robert Fleming (1630-1694) on the preaching of David Dickson in Irvine, Scotland will show why a study of revival is necessary: “I must here instance a very solemn and extraordinary outletting of the Spirit, which about the year 1625…whilst the persecution of the church there was hot…some convincing proofs of the power of God accompanying his Word; yea, that many were so choaked and taken by the heart, that through terror the Spirit in such a measure convincing them of sin, in hearing of the Word they have been made to fall over, and thus carried out of the church, who after proved most solid and lively Christians” (p. 28.) Revival history is good to show the sham that goes on in so many of our churches today. Unlike our charismatics who are ‘slain in the spirit’ by who knows what, only to rise from that to resume their lives unfazed, the persons referred to in the quote fell down by the Spirit with a sense of sin and lived godly after that. But while we must be wary of counterfeit spirits, we must be careful to recognize that where the word of God is, revival can break out, even by the reading of an Anglican litany: “As Rowland read the words…’By Thine Agony and bloody Sweat, by Thy Cross and Passion, &c.’…many fell to the floor, suddenly seized by an awareness of their state as sinners, while others gave with tears the appointed response, ‘Good Lord, deliver us’” (p.116.) So while reading about revival helps us in judging the spirits, it also guards us from judging too rashly. A third thing it does is encourage us by reports like the following by Whitefield, “There were undoubtedly upwards of twenty thousand people…All night in different companies, you might have heard persons praying to, and praising God. The children of God came from all quarters: it was like the Passover in Josiah’s time” (p. 119.) Such a thing is to be hoped and prayed for. It can happen again. But can a revival like that sweep throughout the earth to convert virtually everyone, as some of the Puritans believed, by the preaching ministry of mortal men? Or is a blessing on a world scale to be expected only by the appearance of the Lord himself? This book seems to beg for a choice between these two hopes.
The Puritan Hope is both a toil and a joy to read. Prophetic interpretations are hard to track. Frequent recapitulations help. Iain Murray’s end times’ belief is never plainly stated. Clearly it is not pre-millennialism in any form. The data is all fascinating in spite of a diffuse, though not thick, cloud of ambiguity.