The Reformation and Puritan Attitudes toward the Jews

The Reformation was in part precipitated by the rediscovery of the Bible as the inspired Word of God and the final authority in matters of faith and doctrine. The translation, publication and free access to the Bible among the laity created a major paradigm shift in popular thinking. Within the Church of England, for example, a large Bible written in English was placed in every parish church, the priest and people required to share the cost. Interpretation was no longer the exclusive prerogative of an ecclesiastical hierarchy. The study of the Biblical texts in their original languages, Hebrew and Greek, was also encouraged. From pulpits right across Europe the Bible was increasingly taught in its historical context and in its plain literal sense.

Every Sunday called to his mind the ancient history and lost property of the 'glory of all lands', while the existing ruin and desolation of the country gave testimony to the truth of the Bible and the certainty of the promised blessings... The biblical descriptions of the Holy Land contribute no less to the propagation of which which (sic) we may call the Zionist idea.44

A new postmillennial assessment of the place of the Jew within the future purposes of God emerged, especially through the writings of Theodore Beza, John Calvin's successor in Geneva, and Martin Bucer in Strasbourg.45 In his Institutes, Calvin stressed that divine blessing was associated with their covenant obedience.

(Salvation depends on God's mercy, which He extends to whom He pleases [Romans 9:15-16]; ...there is no reason for the Jews to preen themselves and boast in the name of the covenant unless they keep the law of the covenant, that is, obey the Word.

Nevertheless, when Paul cast them down from vain confidence in their kindred, he still saw, on the other hand, that the covenant which God had made once for all with the descendants of Abraham could in no way be made void. Consequently, in the eleventh chapter (of Romans) he argues that Abraham's physical progeny must not be deprived of their dignity. By virtue of this, he teaches, the Jews are the first and natural heirs of the gospel, except that by their ungratefulness they were forsaken as unworthy - yet forsaken in such a way that the heavenly blessing has not departed utterly from their nation. For this reason, despite their stubbornness and covenant-breaking, Paul still calls them holy [Rom. 11:16]. Despite the great obstinacy with which they continue to wage was against the gospel, we must not despise them, while we consider that, for the sake of the promise, God's blessing still rests among them.46

Peter Toon traces the development of these ideas from the Continent to Britain and America.

...the word 'Israel' in Romans 11:25ff., which had been understood by Calvin and Luther as referring to the Church of Jews and Gentiles, could be taken to mean 'Jews', that is non-Christian Jews whose religion was Judaism. Beza himself favoured this interpretation of Romans 11 and he was followed by the various editors of the influential Geneva Bible, which was translated in Geneva by the Marian exiles during the life time of Beza. In the 1557 and 1560 editions short notes explained that 'Israel' meant 'the nation of the Jews' but in later editions (e.g. 1599) the note on Romans 11 stated that the prophets of the Old Testament had predicted a conversion of the nation of the Jews to Christ. Through this Bible and the writings of the Puritans (e.g. William Perkins, Commentary on Galatians, and various books by Hugh Broughton) the doctrine of the conversion of the Jewish people was widely diffused in England, Scotland and New England.47

Ian Murray describes the place of the Jews within the emerging Puritan postmillennial eschatology.

The future of the Jews had decisive significance for them because they believed that, though little is clearly revealed of the future purposes of God in history, enough has been given us in Scripture to warrant the expectation that with the calling of the Jews there will come far-reaching blessing for the world. Puritan England and Covenanting Scotland knew much of spiritual blessing and it was the prayerful longing for wider blessing, not a mere interest in unfulfilled prophecy, which led them to give such place to Israel.48

Samuel Rutherford, the Scottish theologian, for example, longed for the conversion of the Jews. In a letter written in 1635 he eulogised,

O to see the sight, next to Christ's Coming in the clouds, the most joyful! Our elder brethren the Jews and Christ fall upon one another's necks and kiss each other! They have been long asunder: they will be kind to one another when they meet. O day! O longed-for and lovely day-dawn! O sweet Jesus, let me see that sight which will be life from the dead, thee and the ancient people in mutual embraces.49

In 1615 Thomas Brightman produced what Peter Toon has described as, 'the first important and influential revision of the Reformed, Augustinian concept of the Millennium' predicting the conversion of the Jews.50 Sharif describes Brightman as 'the father of the British doctrine of the Restoration of the Jews.'51

In His Apocalypsis Apocalypseos, meaning, 'A Revelation of the Revelation', Brightman taught that the Turkish empire would be brought to an end followed by 'the calling of the Jews to be a Christian nation,' leading to 'a most happy tranquility from thence to the end of the world'. In 1635 he completed a commentary on Daniel 11-12 which he sub-titled, 'The restoring of the Jewes and their callinge to the faith of Christ after the utter overthrow of their three enemies is set forth in livelie colours.' Brightman not only believed the Jewish people would come to faith in Jesus Christ, he was also convinced of 'the rebirth of a Christian Israelite nation' which would become 'the centre of a Christian world.'52

Brightman's preaching and writings attracted considerable attention and his views became influential even in British government circles. In 1621, Sir Henry Finch, an eminent lawyer and M.P. developed Brightman's views further and published a book entitled, The World's Great Restoration or the Calling of the Jews, and of all the Nations and Kingdoms of the Earth, to the Faith of Christ. In it he argued,

Where Israel, Judah, Zion and Jerusalem are named [in the Bible] the Holy Ghost meant not the spiritual Israel, or the Church of God collected of the Gentiles or of the Jews and Gentiles both... But Israel properly descended out of Jacob's loynes. The same judgement is to be made of their returning to their land and ancient seats, the conquest of their foes... The glorious church they shall erect in the land itself of Judah... These and such like are not allegories, set forth in terrene similitudes or deliverance through Christ (whereof those were types and figures), but meant really and literally the Jews.53

Other reformers such as William Perkins, Richard Sibbes and John Owen were equally convinced that one day the Jews would be brought to faith in Jesus Christ and for this they prayed earnestly.54 This conviction of the conversion of the Jews was so universally embraced that it was written into the Westminster Larger Confession and Congregationalist Savoy Declaration of 1658. The latter affirmed,

We expect that in the latter days, Antichrist being destroyed, the Jews called, and the adversaries of the kingdom of his dear son broken, the churches of Christ being enlarged and edified through a free and plentiful communication of light and grace, shall enjoy in this world a more quiet, peaceful and glorious condition than they have enjoyed.55

Similarly, the Westminster Directory of Public Worship called upon clergy to pray, for the Propagation of the Gospell and Kingdome of Christ to all nations, for the conversion of the Jewes, the filnesse of the Gentiles, the fall of Antichrist, and the hastening of the second coming of the Lord.56

In 1649 Ebenezer and Joanna Cartwright, English Puritans living in Amsterdam sent a petition to the British Government calling for the lifting of the ban on Jews settling in England and also assistance to enable them to move to Palestine.

That this Nation of England, with the inhabitants of the Netherlands, shall be the first and the readiest to transport Israel's sons and daughters on their ships to the land promised to their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for an everlasting inheritance.57

Sharif observes that this was the first time human intervention was sought to realise a Jewish Restoration rather than the reliance on God to accomplish it.58

Jonathan Edwards was probably the most influential American writer of the 18th Century. In his history of the Church written in 1774, As a convinced postmillennialist, Edwards spoke of the overthrow of Satan's kingdom epitomised in the Pope, Islam and 'Jewish infidelity',

However obstinate [the Jews] have been now for above seventeen hundred years in their rejection of Christ, and however rare have been the instances on individual conversions, ever since the destruction of Jerusalem... Yet, when this day comes, the thick veil that blinds their eyes shall be removed. 2 Cor iii.16. And divine grace shall melt and renew their hard hearts... And then shall the house of Israel be saved: the Jews in all their dispersions shall cast away their old infidelity, and shall have their hearts wonderfully changed, and abhor themselves for their past unbelief and obstinacy... Nothing is more certainly foretold than this national conversion of the Jews in Romans 11.2.59

Sharif offers this summary of the importance of the Reformation and Puritanism for the emergence of more explicit Christian Zionist aspirations in subsequent generations.

To the Christian mind in Protestant Europe, Palestine became the Jewish land. The Jews became the Palestinian people who were foreign to Europe, absent from their Homeland, but in due time were to be returned to Palestine... Manifestations of early non-Jewish Zionism were thus neither isolated incidents nor espoused only by religious eccentrics and outsiders... A voluminous religious literature on the role and the destiny of the Jews spread rapidly during the 17th Century and, by its millenarian nature, never fell out of vogue. Many millenarians were rebuked, persecuted and sometimes even executed for their heretical beliefs. Nevertheless, their writings helped to entrench the notion of a Jewish Restoration to Palestine. It was not long until the more practical questions, as to when and how Restoration was to take place, began to gain importance.60

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