Puritan Sayings (1)

One of the interesting things I have discovered in my reading is a link between the Puritans and contemporary sayings. Statements that we put on bumper stickers, repeat to ourselves and others, or use to teach biblical truth—I have found these, some almost verbatim, in puritan writings. I will share one of them with you in this article.

Do you remember the WWJD craze from the 1990’s? WWJD stands for “What Would Jesus Do?” and was plastered everywhere: wristbands, mugs, T-shirts, bumper stickers, necklaces and earrings. The start of WWJD movement is generally attributed to Janie Tinklenberg, a youth leader in Holland, Michigan. After reading and then discussing Charles Sheldon’s book, In His Steps: What would Jesus do? with her youth group, she abbreviated the subtitle and had them printed on wristbands. The rest, as they say, is history.

Asking the question, what would Jesus do, however, did not originate with Charles Sheldon. Two hundred years earlier, Edward Reynolds was exhorting his hearers to do the same. Reynolds (1593-1676) was an important member of the Westminster Assembly, vice-chancellor of Oxford University and after the restoration, Bishop of Norwich. In his work, The Life of Christ, Reynolds elaborated on “the doctrine of our conformity in holiness to the life of Christ.” At one point, he warned against “a will holiness,” that is, governing our lives according to our own rules and ways. Instead, he gave this advice: “Whatever action therefore you go about, do it by rule; enquire out of the Scriptures, whether Christ would have done it or no,—at least, whether he allow it or no.” Reynolds added the qualification “at least, whether he allow it or no,” because he understood that there are some things that are “lawful and expedient with us, which were not suitable unto the person of Christ.” One example that he gave is marriage. Reynolds then gave concrete illustrations of how to use this rule (WWJD) in everyday life. He wrote:

“When thou art tempted to looseness and immoderate living, ask thy conscience but this question, Would Christ have drunk unto swinishness, or eaten unto excess? Would he have wasted his precious time at stews [brothels], stages, or taverns, or taken delight in sinful and desperate fellowship? Did Christ frequently pray both with his disciples, and alone by himself,—and shall I never, either in my family, or in my closet, think upon God? Did Christ open his wounds, and shall not I open my mouth? Was his blood too precious to redeem, and is my breath too good to instruct, his church? Was Christ merciful to his enemies, and shall I be cruel to his members? Again, For the manner of Christ’s obedience; Did Christ serve God without all self-ends, merely in obedience, and to glorify him; and shall I make God’s worship subordinate to my aims, and his religion serve turns? Shall I do what I do, without any love or joy, merely out of slavish fear, and compulsion of conscience? Thus if we did resolve our services into their true originals, and measure them by the holiness of Christ, and have him ever before our eyes, it would be a great means of living in comfort and spiritual conformity to God’s law.”

If he had been a youth leader, if he had been surrounded by the proper marketing team, and if the technology had existed, then Edward Reynolds may have been the one to spark a popular trend!


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