The City on a Hill
Chapter 48 - American Puritans' Optimistic View of End Times
Current events influenced many Puritans to believe they were living in the last days, a time of both great apostasy and also possible triumph for the Gospel. With government policies vacillating between targeting them with hostility (Bloody Mary and Archbishop Laud) and tolerating them (Elizabeth and Cromwell).
Several obscure and early, but influential Puritans advocated a historical view of the millennium - that it would begin on a given calendar year and run exactly 1000 years - instead of the usual view of Augustine and Edwards that the millennium began at Christ's resurrection and continues until His return.
Three hallmarks of Puritan thought on end times were that (1) Catholicism and especially the pope were the anti-Christ, (2) the certain conversion of the Jews at the end, and (3) the future glory of the church. Many connected the last one with the new world and New England. Perhaps the Puritans could establish a society in a new place that would show the old world how it's done, since things were going so roughly for Puritans in the old world.
Work to convert Indians prospered for a time. John Eliot converted over 1000 in an area of about 3600. The first complete Bible printed in the new world was in their language. But King Philip's War in 1675 wiped them out, with both Indians and colonists attacking them. Eliot had some strange ideas about the Millenium and about the Indians being the 10 lost tribes of Israel, but his evangelistic efforts were commendable.
The Puritan hope invigorated preaching, mission efforts, cultural reform, personal piety and general hope in a very trying historical time. We ought to recover it today.
Were the Puritans post-millennial? Not in the modern sense. Beeke/Jones remind us at the end that such categories hadn't been invented yet. Their views were perhaps too influenced by current events (who was on the throne or in power). We, too, often define our views on eschatology by our outlook on the government or culture today, instead of our interpretation of Scripture. But their hope in God's triumph and conquest over evil in the world is a needed breath of fresh air. We have to reject setting dates for end times events, while still believing Scripture's relation of such events has real relevance for us today. "For Puritans, the cessation of special revelation does not imply that God left His church without a seasoned word for the present hour" (775).
So we find end-times tendencies both to avoid and to imitate in the Puritans.