Providential Role in History

D&C 111

The_Puritan_by_Augustus_Saint-GaudensUnderstanding of the Covenant on the LandThe Lord himself has placed His stamp of approval on the faithfulness of the Puritan fathers who settled Salem Massachusetts. In recent years the history of of these righteous founding settlers has been maligned. Revisionist historians have misrepresented the Puritan fathers focusing only on occurrences like the Salem Witch Trials. It is analogous to judging the entire history of Mormonism by the Mountain Meadows Massacre. In contrast the Lord declared the “ancient inhabitants” and “founders” of Salem Massachusetts, the Puritans that are so often misrepresented, to be a “treasure . . . for the benefit of Zion.” 1 Joseph Smith was commanded by the Lord to “inquire diligently concerning the more ancient inhabitants and founders of [Salem Massachusetts]” 2 and that in due time He would gather out from the descendants of these worthy forebears a faithful seed that would be a benefit to Zion.

The Puritans understood in a small way the part they were playing in the unfolding of the marvelous works of God in the Last Days. Through inspiration they gained a vision of the future of America and an understanding that those that “possess it shall serve God or shall be swept off; for it is the everlasting decree of God.” This promise they clearly articulated. John Winthrop prophesied that if the people kept their promises and lived worthy lives they would be a light to the world:

. . . we shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when he shall make us a praise and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantations: the lord make it like that of New England: for we must Consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; 3

Conversely, Winthrop prophesied that if the people forgot the Lord and did not keep the covenant of this land:

. . . we shall be made a story and a byword through the world, we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of god and all professors for Gods sake; we shall shame the faces of many of Gods worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into Curses upon us ‘till we be consumed out of the good land whether we are going: 4
Thus stands the cause between God and us. We are entered into Covenant with Him for this work. . . . Now if the Lord shall please to hear us, and bring us in peace to the place we desire, then hath he ratified this covenant and sealed our Commission, and will expect a strict performance of the articles contained in it; but if we shall neglect the observation of these articles . . . [and] shall fall to embrace this present world and prosecute our carnal intentions, seeking great things for ourselves and our posterity, the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us; be revenged of such a [sinful] people and make us know the price of the breach of such a covenant. 5

Puritan Principles

The excerpts below were taken from John Palfrey’s “History of New England” – 1859


Henry Mosler - Pilgrim's Grace“The word had been but lately made the common property of the Reformation. The preparation of interpreting it possessed by the best scholars of the day was inadequate, and the judicious application of such learning as existed wad disturbed by the rashness of enthusiasm and novelty. The Puritan searched the Bible, not only for principles and rules, but for mandates, – and, when he could find none of these, for analogies, – to guide him in precise arrangements of public administration, and in the minutest points of individual conduct. By it he settled cases of conscience, and in this casuistry his learning and ingenuity were largely employed. His objections to the government of the Church by bishops were founded, not so much on any bad working of that policy, as on the defect of authority for pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons, not primarily because it tended more to edification, but because Paul had specified their offices by name, He took the scriptures as a homogeneous and rounded whole, scarcely distinguished between the authority of Moses and the authority of Christ. The positions of violent antagonism, into which he was brought by passing circumstances, led him to resort for guidance even more readily to the Old Testament than to the New. The opposing party in the State was associated in his mind with the Philistine and Amorite foes of the ancient chosen people; and he read the doom of the king and his wanton courtiers in the Psalm which put the ‘high praises of God’ in the mouth of God’s people, ‘and a two-edged sword in their hand, to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron.’ His theory of municipal law aimed at the emendation of the traditional system of his country by an adoption of provisions promulgated to a people of peculiar position and destiny, in a distant age and land; he would have witchcraft, Sabbath-breaking, and filial disobedience weighed in the judicial scales of the Hebrew Sanhedrin. His forms of speech were influenced by this fond reverence for the Bible. The history of the Israelitish tribes was his favorite storehouse for topics of argument and eloquence, and he named his children after the Christian graces, still oftener after the worthies of Palestine. . .The Puritan was a Scripturist, – a Scripturist with all his heart, if, as yet, with imperfect intelligence. . . He cherished the scheme of looking to the word of God as his sole and universal directory.

High Standards

puritansThe Puritan was a strict Moralist. He might be ridiculed for being over-scrupulous, but never reproached for laxity. Most wisely, by precept, influence, and example, – unwisely by too severe law, when he obtained the power, – he endeavored to repress prevailing vice, and organize a Christian people. When he insisted on a hearing, villainous men and shameless women, whose abominations were a foul offence in the sight of God, and of all who revered God, were flaunting the royal drawing-rooms. The foundations of public honor and prosperity were sapped. . . Writers who assailed his religious position, at the same time echoed his complaints of the prevailing immorality. ‘The court of this king (James I) was a nursery of lust and intemperance. . . To keep the people in their deplorable security, till vengeance over took them, they were entertained with masks, stage-plays, and all sorts of of ruder sports. Then began murder, incest, adultery, drunkenness, swearing fornication, and all sort of ribaldry, to be not concealed, but countenanced vices, because they held such conformity with the court example.’ The Puritan’s mistake at a later period was, that he undertook by public regulation what public regulation can never achieve, and, by aiming to form a nation of saints, introduce hypocrites among them to defeat their objects and bring scandal on their cause, while the saints were made no more numerous and no better. But, at the time to which the preceding narrative relates, nothing in his course was apparent but the eminently upright and Christian purpose. What there was of a practical indiscretion and error, was to be made manifest in the experiment of a later period.

Political principles

puritans (1)“If he construed his duties to God in the spirit of a narrow interpretation, that punctilious sense of religious responsibility impelled him to limit the assumptions of human government. In no stress, in no delirium, of politics, could a Puritan have been brought to teach, that, for either public or private conduct, their is some law of man above the law of God. Penetrated with the opposite conviction, he found himself enforced, at last, to overset the Stuart throne. Service which he believed the authority of God claim, he saw himself forbidden by human authority to pay. That issue, presented to him, made him in politics a casuist, an innovator, the architect of a new system. From the time when the problem, with which for a while he struggled, was worked out, governments over British race were to rest on the public consent, and to be administered for the public benefit. Such was the brightness of the light to which he made his way through many scenes of darkness. 6“In politics, the Puritan was the Liberal of his day.

Criticism of Puritans

The Scarlet Letter

One of the tools that has shaped our modern view of the Puritans is the widely acclaimed novel, The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  It rewrote the history to the point that now if we look into the thesaurus Puritan synonyms are primitive, strict, holier-than-thou, prudish, snobbish, self-righteous, crude and so forth.  These new stereotypes have been passed down and added upon.

The motive behind The Scarlet Letter was anything but historical accuracy.  Hawthorne detested the strict morality and Biblical lifestyle of the Puritans.  He changed the spelling of his name and wrote The Scarlet Letter to purge his ancestral past or at least distance himself from the character and foundation laid by the Puritans.  It is also of note that Hawthorne held Transcendental and communal leanings and was involved in Brook Farm.

Interestingly, the Scarlet Letter has recently become a symbol of atheism.  In fact, the red, italicized ‘a’ is becoming one of the most popular symbols for non-belief in current usage.  This use originated in 20077 when it was chosen by Richard Dawkins and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science in it’s Out Campaign.  The Out Campaign’s focus was encouraging atheists to speak out8 and openly acknowledge their unbelief in God.  The atheists know that Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter was instrumental in dismantling our pure Christian founding.

The Crucible

Another distortion of the Puritans is The Crucible, written by the atheist Arthur Miller.  Miller’s intent was to compare the Puritans during the Salem Witch Trials to the House Un-American Activities Committee, the anti-communists to witch hunters.  It isn’t difficult to understand why Miller would have a problem with  Puritanism.  He was a pro-communist adulterer and yet we go to him to learn the character and history of the moral, hard working Puritans.  It is like going to Hitler to learn about Jews.

Puritan Defense

We all have heard stories of how vindictive, cruel and austere the Puritans were.  It is true that they followed the Bible, including the Old Testament, with exactness and thus they were strict against wickedness.  In the early pages of the Book of Mormon it is pointed out repeatedly that the laws were also strict, even exceedingly strict against wickedness.  In our modern loose-on-morals and soft-on-crime society this can seem strange.

Was there a warm, forgiving side in America’s foundation as well? John Winthrop, known as the father of New England and elected more than ten times as the governour of Boston is an example of Puritan justice, law and mercy.

During one of the hard, long winters in Boston, wood was scarce and the Puritans were literally struggling to survive. During this time, a man gave Governor Winthrop private information that a certain man had, at times, stolen wood from the Winthrops wood pile. Winthrop responded by saying, “Is that so, call the man to me and I’ll cure him of stealing.”  The man was conducted to the court, and Winthrop’s cure was in these words, “Friend, it is a severe winter and I doubt you are provided with wood, therefore please supply yourself wood from my wood-pile till this cold season is over.” He then turned to his friends and asked if that would not end the stealing.

According to Cotton Mather, John Winthrop, was a zealous enemy to all vice but he inflicted judgement on lawbreakers in the city based on the motive behind the crime.  If a law was broken partly in ignorance, he would endeavor to teach the individual the law and it’s purpose. However if a leading or “learned” man was the offender, the governor would inflict strict discipline. All laws were observed by no man more than by Winthrop himself. (see the John Winthrop wiki for more information)


The Puritans modeled their feast days after the sacred feasts in the Old Testament including Passover, First Fruits, Tabernacles and others.  These were holy days, the very reverse in most instances of our modern holidays.  They were days of prayer, sabbath worship, giving of alms and thanks to God.

Related Wiki Articles

New Jerusalem and the Early Colonists

American Israel

Samuel Sewall

John Winthrop

John Eliot

Christian Foundations of American Universities

Related Resources


A Model of Christian Charity


RESTORATION: What role did the Reformation play in preparing the world for the Restoration of the Gospel?

  1. D&C 111:2
  2. D&C 111:9
  3. John Winthrop’s A Model of Christian Charity, 1630 , spelling corrected
  4. John Winthrop’s A Model of Christian Charity, 1630 , spelling corrected
  5.  John Winthrop’s A Model of Christian Charity, 1630 , spelling corrected
  6. The above excerpts are from John Palfrey’s “History of New England” – 1859
  7. http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2012/09/27/the-religious-wear-crucifixes-stars-of-david-but-have-you-seen-atheists-secular-pendant/
  8.  http://store.richarddawkins.net/products/scarlet-letter-a-ceramic-necklace-and-earrings-set-black
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