The Practice of Piety

The Practice of Piety: Puritan Devotional Disciplines in Seventeenth-Century New England

Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe
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  • Book Info
    The Practice of Piety
    Book Description:

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    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1131-0
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Part I. Puritanism Considered as a Devotional Movement

    • Chapter One New England Devotional Practice: Four Vignettes
      (pp. 3-22)

      The study of Puritan devotion is first of all the study of people, not ideas. To be sure, seventeenth-century New Englanders were men and women whose lives were guided by a system of religious belief. But the theology is inseparable from those who believed in it. Further, Puritan theology was designedly experiential in nature. The Reverend John Eliot, in the portion of a sermon I have quoted in the epigraph to this book, was not primarily preaching dogma. He was exhorting all to practice the spiritual exercises he and others regularly engaged in. Cotton Mather used the sermon quotation to...

    • Chapter Two “The Better Part: Heart Religion”
      (pp. 23-53)

      A devotional revival swept Europe from the late sixteenth through the seventeenth centuries. The aim both of Protestantism, with its new emphasis on the availability and authority of the Bible, and of the Counter-Reformation, in its various fresh expressions of spiritual discipline, was renewal of personal religious experience. In both Reformed and Roman Catholic spirituality the seventeenth century inaugurated “the cult of the Sacred Heart,” though in different ways. Priests and pastors alike urged a personal and well-cultivated relationship with Christ. Publication of popular religious tracts, and especially devotional manuals advising men and women of every secular vocation how to...

    • Chapter Three Puritan as Pilgrim
      (pp. 54-90)

      The principal metaphor running through Puritan spirituality and devotional practice was the pilgrimage. Pilgrimage was already a common concept in the Middle Ages. The term had long been used to connote not only a geographical pilgrimage to a shrine but also, on a deeper level, the journey of the soul to God. Puritans in the seventeenth century used the metaphor to structure their understanding and experience of the life of the spirit. Of the four vignettes in the first chapter, the idea of a journey from sin through the wilderness to final glory is stated specifically in two of them,...

  5. Part II. “The Way of Godly Conversation”

    • Chapter Four The Ordinances of Public Worship
      (pp. 93-135)

      The Puritan devotional pilgrimage was a mystical journey in Christ, frequently leading to experiences of union with Him. But New Englanders were not mystics if that term implies abandoning life in society or earthly, historical means for reaching God. Puritans clung to the traditional “means of grace,” including ecclesiastical “ordinances,” and to the concept of “the Church,” through which God mediated Himself. Thomas Shepard preached that “the visible Church of God … is the kingdom of Heaven upon earth.” The people of New England were led to find their salvation in the rituals performed in and endorsed by the Church....

    • Chapter Five Private Devotion: Neighborhood, Family, Conference
      (pp. 136-155)

      In his delineation of “the way of godly conversation” John Eliot encompassed much more than public worship. The system of formal religious exercises that constituted the private devotional life of New Englanders could also be considered as means of grace, according to Eliot. These exercises included reading of Scripture and other devotional books, various types of meditation, prayer, psalm singing, the keeping of a diary or other spiritual records, and “conference,” or consultation, with a spiritual counselor. Everything believers did in their “daily walk” required what Eliot and the devotional writers called “spiritual armour.” Every aspect of life’s pilgrimage could...

    • Chapter Six Private Devotion: Secret Exercises
      (pp. 156-194)

      Important as family prayer was in the pattern of Puritan devotional life, a deeper and more intimate practice of devotion lay at the very heart of New England spirituality. “Secret,” or “closet,” devotions were considered imperative, mandated by Christ Himself: “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:6). Secret exercises were the most powerful channels through which grace might flow, whereby New Englanders attained their highest reaches of mystical experience. If sleep was...

  6. Part III. “Constant Preparation for Glory”

    • Chapter Seven Pilgrimage as Preparation
      (pp. 197-241)

      The devotional practices of New Englanders are best described as exercises in preparation for salvation. Though God accomplished salvation in conversion, Puritans knew that they would not attain full salvation until the soul was perfectly united with Christ after death. The devout looked toward death as the final barrier. Death was at once a source of anxiety and a source of hope, both impelling and attracting New Englanders to greater piety. If the vignette of Samuel Sewall illustrates the role of anxiety, those of Thomas Shepard and Anne Bradstreet exemplify the importance of hope as a motive. John Cotton preached...

    • Chapter Eight “The Travelling Interest of Christ in This Wilderness”: The Devotional Crisis of the Second Generation
      (pp. 242-277)

      The problem of continuity and identity that faced the second generation in New England, the children of the founders, was at its base a devotional crisis. With the passing of parents and leaders; with the distinctly American experience of the second generation; with the virtual disappearance of the Exodus-like flight from England, which had been the setting for the spiritual pilgrimage; and with the decline in conversions relative to population growth, the question that troubled New Englanders most deeply was the devotional one. How could people be nurtured in the faith that had motivated their parents? The spiritual images and...

    • Chapter Nine The Puritan Contemplative
      (pp. 278-288)

      The passage from John Eliot’s sermon that forms the epigraph of this book delineates the essentials of Puritan devotional life. Eliot (and Mather, who wrote about him) was concerned with spiritual conversation beyond conversion, what Hooker and Shepard referred to as growth in grace after implantation into Christ. The ministers presented spirituality in dynamic terms, most characteristically as the soul’s progress on a pilgrimage to heaven. Puritans understood the pilgrimage of life as the way of the soul’s preparation for glorification. But the various acts of devotional preparation brought their own penultimate rewards. Union with Christ in heaven might be...

  7. General Index
    (pp. 289-296)
  8. Index of Biblical References
    (pp. 297-298)