I forget how exactly, but a few months ago I ran across this book and bought it on impulse.After reading just the first couple pages, I knew I had met, as it were, a dear friend. There are few books that I have run across that double for windows to let in heaven’s air, but this little volume was such a book. In light of a generation of Christians growing up with the understanding that things are going from “bad to worser,” the Puritans’ interpretation of prophetical matters that this book presents might seem obscure and foreign. Iain Murray, the author, makes a compelling case that the Puritans’ view of the future was far more biblical, hopeful, and optimistic than our most common modern viewpoints.
The main takeaway for me from this book is summed up by the Spurgeon quote that concludes the book: “Oh! Spirit of God, bring back thy Church to a belief in the gospel! Bring back her ministers to preach it once again with the Holy Ghost, and not striving after wit and learning. Then shall we see thine arm made bare, O God, in the eyes of all the people, and the myriads shall be brought to rally round the throne of God and the Lamb. The Gospel must succeed; it shall succeed; it cannot be prevented from succeeding; a multitude that no man can number must be saved.” Murray, by and large, lets the voices of the Puritans themselves do most of the talking, and while they weren’t entirely uniform in all their beliefs, they were profoundly united in their optimistic view of the success of the Gospel in the earth, aided by powerful Spirit-born revivals that would bring about large numbers of converts. They believed that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Is. 11:9).
The confidence of the Puritans was that if they were faithful in preaching the biblical Gospel and praying for the Spirit’s influence upon lost mankind, God was certain to break forth as showers of living water as upon a desert land (Is. 44:3 & Ez. 34:26). Their view of revival was not that of the modern notion of signs, wonders, and other less-savory activities that are frequently and falsely called revival in our generation. Rather, they knew that God had promised the success of the Great Commission and that He would hasten to perform His word and bless the Church with mighty movements of grace resulting in the true wonder of the conversion of souls to Christ.
Furthermore, this book presented a most compelling, inspiring, and invigorating description of the motivation behind the great missionary endeavors of the late 18th and 19th centuries. Missionaries of that generation were less concerned with cultural “sensitivity” and walked with a great persuasion that they went into the pagan lands as ambassadors of a risen and reigning King, and they were coming to demand allegiance to that King by proclaiming the message of the Gospel: “repent and believe” in the Lord Jesus. This is not to say that they were arrogant men; quite the contrary—they were men of deep humility who walked with the knowledge that apart from the power of the Spirit of God being poured out from on high, all their work was futile. Therefore, they labored mightily in prayer and the Word so as to compel the heathen to Christ. Alexander Duff, in one of his last sermons, imploring the Church of Scotland to give more men and money to the cause of the missionary enterprises, is quoted as fervently declaring: “Let us press forward—resolved that we shall not desist or pause in our onward cause and career of victory till [Christ’s crown] be triumphantly planted on the last citadel of the hitherto unconquered realms of heathenism.”
It was their view of unfulfilled prophecy that compelled the Puritans forward to spread the Gospel far and wide. For God had promised and could not lie, and so they were only obeying the commission given from their Lord to “Go and preach!” Their confidence that the work of the Gospel would be successful enabled them to suffer long and much for the cause of Christ and His Kingdom. Names like David Livingstone, William Carey, John G. Paton, David Brainerd, Henry Martyn, Robert Moffat, and many more fill the role of those who cherished this hope that Christ had conquered and would conquer yet more by the spread of the Gospel, and therefore their labor was not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).
A real treat about this book is that it is brimful with powerful quotes from some of my favorite authors in Christian history, and it is a refreshing contrast to the “doom-and-gloom” and even despair that so often mark our modern prophetical discussions and thus taint our Gospel proclamation. While the book does not so much advocate for one particular eschatological view, it does present the more biblical and historic Christian view of “end times” prophecy, viz. that there will be greater and more profound revivals than we have yet seen, the Jews will be converted and brought into the Church, and then the end shall come.
I highly recommend this book. It is sure to convict us for our laziness in the cause of the Gospel, compel us to labor in prayer and tears for the salvation of the Jews, inspire us to test contemporary and popular views against the Word of God, and encourage us that Christ is the conquering King. The Church, though she has and will suffer much, is triumphant, and must begin operating in the power and authority of her Head, Who is King of kings! We must not think that “end-times prophecies,” Gospel preaching, Spirit-born revivals, missionary work in heathen lands, and prayer for the conversion of Israel are disconnected. Rather, we ought to live with a confidence that God’s promise––to accomplish His Kingdom purpose by blessing His Church (as she labors near and far) with mighty revivals of godly religion and the salvation of the Jews––will be fulfilled!
This is the hope that fueled the Puritan movement. We would do well to study these mighty men of God and learn from their wisdom. They knew, and it is a lesson we ought to learn, that some seasons of history are seasons of sowing and others of reaping. It is not for us to determine whether we are given the privilege of either sowing or reaping. However, whether sowing or reaping, we must be faithful to hold stedfast to the same Gospel that they believed and preached; and if we be in a sowing season we must labor to raise up men who will study the Word diligently, preach it with all boldness, and live lives of reverence and godly fear before a thrice-holy God. This will certainly bring about a great harvest of souls, for God has promised to bless such labor. This is what the Puritan hope was . . . that Christ was indeed victorious! And how could the Church fail when she holds His commission upon this earth? As the old hymn reminds us:
The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against both foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.
To read the first four chapters of “The Puritan Hope” for free click here.