Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Far from being killjoys, Puritans aimed to do all to the glory of God, so they not only worked hard but played hard, when it was appropriate to do so. Below is a snapshot of Puritan views on recreation in general and particularly with respect to the Lord's Day.

William Burkitt, A Help and Guide to Christian Families, p. 27:

It being impossible for the mind of man to be always intent upon business, and for the body to be exercised in continual labours, the wisdom of God has therefore adjudged some diversion and recreation (the better to fit both body and mind for the service of their Maker) to be both needful and expedient: such is the constitution of our bodies, and the complexion of our minds, that neither of them can endure a constant toil without some relaxation and delighting diversion. As a bow, if always bent, will prove sluggish and unserviceable; in like manner will a Christian's mind if always intent upon the best things: the arrow of devotion will soon flag, and fly but slowly towards heaven. A wise and good man perhaps could wish that his body needed no such diversion; but finding his body tire and grow weary, he is forced to give way, and choose such recreations as are healthful, short, and proper to refresh both mind and body.

William Perkins, The Order and Causes of Salvation and Damnation in The Works of William Perkins, Vol. 1, pp. 57-58:

Recreation is an exercise joined with the fear of God, conversant with things indifferent, for the preservation of bodily strength and the confirmation of the mind in holiness (Eccl. 2.2; Isa. 5.12; 1 Cor. 10.9; Luke 6.25; Deut. 12.7). To this end hath the Word of God permitted shooting (2 Sam. 1.18); musical consort (Neh. 7.67); putting forth riddles (Judges 14.12); hunting of wild beasts (Cant. 2.15); searching out or the contemplation of the works of God (1 Kings 4.33).

James T. Dennison, Jr., The Market Day of the Soul: The Puritan Doctrine of the Sabbath in England, 1532-1700, Appendix 2: The Puritan Attitude Toward Recreation, pp. 174-176:

Appendix 2

The Puritan Attitude Toward Recreation

The Puritans were not opposed to recreations per se. Lawful ("honest") recreations were encouraged on the other six days of the week. Bownd's remark was typical: "I am not of that minde...to thinke that men should never take delight, and that all recreation were sinfull..."1 However, even honest recreations were to be suspended on the Lord's day because they interfered with the proper sanctification of the Sabbath.2 The Puritans also cited Isaiah 58:13-14 in defense of their position; God had clearly revealed His opposition to taking one's own "pleasure" on the Sabbath.3

Some would counter the Puritan arguments with the observation that recreation was not possible on any day other than Sunday.4 The Puritan reply is significant: "If men will allow seruants recreations, let them allow part of their owne time, and be liberall in that which their owne, and not in that which God hath giuen them no such warrant to bestow on their seruants."5

Labor was not to be exploited. Men were to be allowed honest recreations Monday through Saturday.6 Though the general rule was that Sunday was playday, people did find time for sport on week-days; witness Bridenbaugh's remark: "...young men who would 'endure long and hard labour in so much that after twelve hours hard work they will go in the evening to football, stoole ball, cricket, prison-base, wrestling, cugel throwing, or some such like vehement exercise.'"7

Richard Baxter maintained that the argument from lack of spare time on week-days was a "sad argument to be used by them that by racking of rents do keep them (laboring people) in poverty."8 The Puritan protest against Sabbath profanation was also a protest against overwork on the other six days of the week.

But the truth is, it is not the minds of poor laboring men, that are overworked and tired on week-days, but it is their bodies; and therefore there is no recreation so suitable to them as the ease of the body, and the holy and joyful exercise of the mind, upon their Creator, and their Redeemer, and their everlasting rest.9

1 Bownd, Sabbathum Veteris, p. 271; cf. Dudley Fenner, A Short and Profitable Treatise, of lavvful and unlavvful Recreations; William Perkins, 1558-1602: English Puritanist, ed. by Thomas F. Merrill (Nieuwkoop, 1966), pp. 217-22 with extracts from Perkins' The Whole Treatise of Cases of Conscience, Book 3.
2 Elton, An Exposition of the Ten Commandments, pp. 54-56; George Walker, The Doctrine of the Holy Weekly Sabbath (London, 1641), p. 157; Richard Baxter, The Divine Appointment of the Lord's Day, pp. 440, 444-445.
3 Cf. Nicolas Bifield (Byfield), The Beginning of the Doctrine of Christ, or, A Catalogue of Sinnes (London, 1636), p. 63.
4 For a survey of the relative truth of this point, see Carl Bridenbaugh, Vexed and Troubled Englishmen, 1590-1642 (New York, 1968), pp. 109-118.
5 John Dod and Robert Cleaver, A Plaine and Familiar Exposition of the Ten Commandments (London, 1628), p. 140.
6 Percy Scholes (The Puritans and Music in England and New England (London, 1934), pp. 104-111) mentions the provisions of a bill presented to Parliament in 1647 which allowed every other Tuesday to be designated as a holiday. Scholes' judicious treatment of the Puritan attitude toward recreation is refreshing as well as accurate; cf. also pp. 302-331. Compare Hugh Martin, Puritanism and Richard Baxter (London, 1954), pp. 101-106.
7 Bridenbaugh, Vexed, p. 115.
8 Baxter, Divine Appointment, p. 444.
9 Ibid., p. 445.

1 comment:

  1. Would that we would acquire such balance in our lives. I speak for me personally, of course.