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The Puritan Hope: A Study in Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy Paperback – June 1, 1971
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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.
Besides the biography/history, Murray gives a chapter to expounding Romans 11 as promising God's worldwide blessing during history, and a chapter--which had a tremendous impact on me the first time I read it--on why, no matter how good things get before Jesus comes back, His return is still something we greatly desire. Resurrection bodies, new heaven and earth wherein righteousness dwells--yes! I was considering eschatology when I read it; I didn't become a postmil while reading it, but it helped get me ready to see the light. (For several dozen other postmillennial prooftexts, search my article "Postmillennialism helps prayer.")
He MAY have written too little about the Moravians, who were active in missionary work before Carey. His style is sound enough, but not outstanding; easy enough to read, but not great fun for most people. So four stars; but I warmly recommend it. (Around 300 pages.)