Discipleship in the Puritan Era - Part Two

This is part 2 of the 2-part series, “Discipleship in the Puritan Era” by Winfield Bevins Keeping the Sabbath Holy The Puritans are well known for keeping the Sabbath.[1] They believed the Sabbath was a command not an option. They knew the spiritual significance of keeping the Sabbath day holy. The Westminster Confession described the Sabbath in the following way:

This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations; but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

The Puritans can teach contemporary Christians a lot about Sabbath rest. Throughout the Bible God promises rest to His people. The biblical word for rest literally means to cease from work.[2] Rest is the reason why God commanded us to keep the Sabbath. Jesus said that the Sabbath was created so that man may have rest and not man for the Sabbath. Even doing a good work for the Lord can be a distraction if there is no time to rest. Ministers are burning out at an unbelievable rate. Nearly 90% of pastors feel overworked and 50% of those who go into fulltime service drop out in 5 years.[3] Spiritual burnout occurs when pastors don’t give themselves time to rest from their daily routine. Puritans were a great example for spiritual rest because they kept the Sabbath day holy.

The Lord’s day is not for idleness.[4] The Puritan’s observance of the Lord’s Day was not a time of solitary retreat and inactivity; rather it was a time spent doing spiritual work in the company of family. Baxter, said, “Persuade the master of every family to cause his children and servants to repeat the catechism to him, every Sabbath evening, and to give him some account of what they have heard at church the day.”[5]

Family Ministry Lastly, the Puritans emphasized the value and importance of family ministry. The Christian family was one of the hallmarks of the Puritan era and one of their greatest legacies.[6]

J.I. Packer said of the Puritan family:

“It is hardly too much to say that the Puritans created the Christian family in the English-speaking world. The Puritan ethic of marriage was to look not for a partner whom you do love passionately at this moment, but rather for one whom you can love steadily as your best friend for life, and then to proceed with God's help to do just that. The Puritan ethic of nurture was to train up children in the way they should go, to care for their bodies and souls together, and to educate them for sober, godly, socially useful adult living.”[7]

The puritan pastor Richard Baxter knew the importance of family ministry. He said:

“We must have a special eye upon families, to see that they are well ordered, and the duties of each relation performed.  The life of religion, and the welfare and glory of both the Church and the State, depend much on family government and duty.  If we suffer the neglect of this, we shall undo all…. I beseech you, therefore, if you desire the reformation and welfare of your people, do all you can to promote family religion.”[8]

The Puritans believed that their home was their church. They knew the call to “make disciples” begins in the home. In his farewell sermon, Jonathan Edwards said, “Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church, consecrated to Christ, and wholly influenced and governed by his rules. And family education and order are some of the chief means of grace.”[9] Fathers in particular had a spiritual responsibility to pastor their wives and children. Thomas Doo Little said:

“Masters of families ought to read the Scripture to their families and instruct their children and servants in the matters and doctrines of salvation. Therefore, they are to pray in and with their families. No man that will not deny the Scripture can deny the unquestionable duty of reading the Scripture in our houses, governors of families teaching and instructing them out of the Word of God.”[10]

Husbands and wives had a spiritual responsibility to help disciple one another. Richard Baxter spoke of the spiritual duties of husbands and wives toward each other:

One of the most important duties of a husband to his wife and a wife to her husband is to carefully, skillfully, and diligently help each other in the knowledge and worship, and obedience of God that they might be saved and grow in their Christian Life…Watch over the hearts and lives of one another, judging the condition of each other's souls, and the strength or weakness of each others sins and graces, and the failings of each other’s lives, so that you may be able to apply to one another the most suitable help….Do not discourage your spouse from instructing you by refusing to receive and learn from their corrections…Join together in frequent and fervent prayer. Prayer forces the mind into sobriety, and moves the heart with the presence and majesty of God. Pray also for each other when you are in secret, that God may do that work which you most desire, upon each other's hearts.[11]

The Puritan believed that it was a parent’s spiritual responsibility to disciple and teach their children about the faith. This meant that the home was the primary place of learning the Bible and moral instruction and that it was important for children to begin learning about God and the Bible at home. The Bible tells parents, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).  Puritan discipleship began in the home, by spouses loving each other with the love of Christ and by teaching, loving, and disciplining their children for the glory of God.

[1] Erroll Hulse, “The Puritans and the Recovery of the Lord’s Day.” 666.

[2] W.E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 969.

[3] H,.B. London &  Neil Wiseman, Pastors at Risk. Victor Press. 1993.

[4] J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness. 239.

[5] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, 101.

[6] See the Westminster Directory of Family Worship. 1647.

[7] J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness. 239.

[8] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor. 226.

[9] Jonathan Edwards, “Farewell Sermon.” Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume One. http://www.ccel.org/e/edwards/works1.i.xxvi.html.

[10] Thomas Doo Little. Puritan Sermons 1659-1689, Being the Morning Exercises at Cripplegate, Vol 2, Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts , 1981. 216.

[11] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, 178.


Dr. Winfield Bevins serves as lead pastor of Church of the Outer Banks, which he founded in 2005.  His life’s passion in ministry is discipleship and helping start new hurches. Winfield speaks at conferences and retreats throughout the United States on a variety of topics. He is the author of dozens of articles as well as several popular ebooks including Grow: Reproducing through Organic Discipleship. He recently wrote Creed: Connect to the Basic Essentials of the Christian Faith which is now available through NavPress.

Winfield has a doctorate from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He lives in the beautiful beach community of the Outer Banks with his wife Kay and two daughters where he loves to surf and spend time at the beach with his family and friends.