The Puritans: The Second Generation Reformers

The Puritan age was a golden era of church history. Few generations have ever been assembled on the stage of human history were more devoted to godly living than the Puritans. Randall Peterson notes, “As seers of Divine truth, and as surgeons of human souls, the Puritans remain peerless.” The Puritans were second-generation reformers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, who stood upon the shoulders of the first generation reformers who lived in the first part of the sixteenth century, such as Luther, Calvin, Beza, and others. The essential doctrines of the Reformers were the truths embraced by the Puritans.

Who were the Puritans? They were devout men within the Church of England who sought to purify its doctrine and practice. For this reason, they were given the name “Puritan.” Their name came from their efforts to “purify” the Church of England both its theology and methodology. They also sought to “purify” themselves and society. They were sound in doctrine and strong in their zeal for God. Few men and women were ever raised up by Christ to serve the church who were more godly than the Puritans. Above all, the Puritans were distinguished by their unwavering loyalty to the authority of God’s Word.  

The Puritan age was a golden era of God-centered, Christ-exalting living. For them, the traditions of men, including the beliefs and practices of the Church of England, must yield to the supreme authority of Scripture. As such, the Puritans became the new champions of sola Scriptura—Scripture alone—and followed in the footsteps of the Reformers.

English Puritanism began as a reform movement in the early years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, who assumed the British throne in 1558. Protestant exiles had been driven out of England under the Catholic Queen Mary. After Mary was removed from her throne, these exiles returned to their homeland and brought a desire of political, cultural, and spiritual reform. These Protestants sought a further reformation of government and of church liturgy than had been implemented, earning the derogatory epithet “Puritan.”

As a latter part of the Reformation of the sixteenth century, the Puritans were fiercely committed to Scripture. They believed that the Reformation in England had not gone far enough. So, these spiritually-minded men—pastors, theologians, and laymen—attempted to bring the Church of England to yet further conformity to Scripture.
While in European exile, these fleeing Englishmen learned a distinctly God-centered lifestyle from John Calvin in Geneva. Many foreigners crowded into this Swiss refuge during Calvin’s tenure were Protestants from England. These men and women were forced to flee England because of the bloody reign of Mary Tudor. In the providence of God, their exile for many of them led them to live in Geneva, where they attended the English-speaking church pastored by John Knox. They returned to England with the zealous intent of completing the Reformation in England by teaching ‘the true knowledge of God’s Word which we have learned in this our banishment,’ and so they did.


Learn more about the Puritans on our 2016 Scottish & English Reformation Study Tour with Dr. Steven J. Lawson and OnePassion Ministries. Find out more information about the tour by clicking the banner below.

Steven J. Lawson is the President of OnePassion Ministries. Dr. Lawson is also the Professor of Preaching at The Master’s Seminary and Teaching Fellow with Ligonier Ministries. The author of numerous books and articles.