Saturday, January 3, 2009

Life in Puritan Banbury

I love the picture painted in this introduction to Willem Teellinck's Redeeming the Time about life in the Puritan town of Banbury, England.

Teellinck gives a revealing pen-picture of his stay at Banbury in the early part of his life. He tells how each person in the family rose early, and first prayed to the Lord and read a chapter of His Word, the servants in the house being allowed time to do the same.

Having begun the day like this, each person followed his calling till noon, and then the whole household assembled, young and old, and read together a chapter from the Bible, then kneeled together in prayer, at table, the Lord's blessing having been sought on the meal prepared, they spoke together of what each one had noted in the chapter read. Sometimes they also had questions before them, which each person in turn could raise a day or two before, and to which they would then answer at table, according to the gifts he possessed. After the meal they sang a psalm together, and so returned to work. Then they went through the same procedure before and at the evening meal.

Towards bedtime, they went over the course of the day between God and themselves alone -- some did this before supper -- and so committed themselves to God by prayer.

During the week, they went to hear any sermons that might be preached. On Saturday afternoons the servants and children were taught by question and answer method.

On the Lord's Day, they assembled before the sermon, read a chapter and prayed, and then hastened to the place of worship, and listened hard -- for they knew they must either ask or give an account of what they had heard; some took notes of the sermon. Returning home, each one considered in his conscience how the sermon applied to himself, and asked God's blessing on it; at the table at mid-day they discussed the sermon, and after singing a psalm each went to his own room to prepare by holy contemplation and prayer for the afternoon service; and so they assembled in the place of worship, each trying to be early. Afterwards they either discussed together these things, or spent the time in private consideration.

Toward evening the whole household assembled and went over the sermon together; the servants and children questioned to see how attentive they had been, and how much they had grasped; any point with particular application to the family or any member of it was taken up; and resolves were made to walk more according to the Word. So the preaching of God's Word was to them a light unto their feet and a lantern to their path.

So they spent their days, with regard to their spiritual exercises, regularly without interruption, winter and summer, the whole year through.

When they went anywhere for a walk they usually tried to have with them a companion capable of commenting on a chapter or a psalm, and many in Banbury then had a special gift that way.

So they showed that there was no need to creep into a cloister to live a holy life; that a Christian can very well follow his calling and at the same time serve his God acceptably; they knew that the Lord Christ did not pray in vain that His heavenly Father would not take the righteous out of the world, but preserve them from the evil.

And what fruits were there in holy living? well, their Christian walk among their fellow-men convinced even their bitterest foes that they did what they did wholeheartedly; they saw faith working powerfully through love, in their straight-forward business dealings; in their giving to the poor; in visiting and comforting the sick and oppressed; in true education, convincing the erring, punishing wickedness, reproving slackness, encouraging the devout -- all this with a ready sympathy, joy, comfort and happiness that was outstanding proof that the dear Lord was with them of a truth.

Household life was characterized by strict simplicity of furnishings, clothing and food, which by no means excluded generosity; at least once a week, preferably on a Sunday, some poor godly folk, at least two, were entertained at their table. Lodging guests were always welcomed lovingly to their simple fare, and were expected to take part in the daily worship of the home. Order and regularity ruled in all things. The head of the household was the one to engage in prayer, which he described as 'the soul of everything, like the ability to suck which God has created in babes.'

Anyone visiting the home on Saturday would be struck with the calm -- a contrast to the busy activity of that day in other families. Everything needful was done on Friday so that the family, servants included, could prepare themselves on Saturday for a sober celebration of the sabbath.

Teellinck carefully maintained discipline at home; if there was something serious to punish, he did it 'under four eyes', never in anger, but in great calmness; and did not hesitate to apply the rod, or withhold food -- but confessed he preferred other means to encourage what was right, by praise of word or deed; for he quaintly says, 'God confirms the third commandment with a threat, but the fifth with a promise.'


  1. Thank you for that picture of Puritan life!
    What, though, does he mean by "four eyes?"

  2. You're welcome! 'Under four eyes' is an expression can have different meanings. One meaning is 'in private,' that is, discretely, just him and the person being disciplined. Another meaning would be 'with a another,' that is, bringing perhaps the mother or some other responsible person to witness, albeit discretely. And another meaning 'wearing glasses,' which could have a literal meaning, that is, after he has taken time to calmly put on glasses rather than discipling in anger; or, figuratively, putting aside anger and putting on a calm demeanor for the task at hand. I can't say for sure which meaning may be intended, but I put those forth for consideration. I hope this helps. Blessings!

  3. I've just stumbled onto your blog and have enjoyed reading your posts. As a lover of the puritans I especially liked this on the puritan way of life. When I read 'under four eyes' the only thought that sprang to my mind was that he disciplined his children before his own eyes and before the eyes of God, as it were, and in the fear of the Lord. Perhaps this is not the meaning, but I thought I would share it with you anyway! At least it made me think how we need to be more conscious of the 'eyes' of God upon us in all that we do, something which the puritans were so well aware.

  4. Amen! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Blessings!