THE PURITAN STUDIES CONFERENCE (1950-53): INTRODUCTION AND 1950 CONFERENCE
The Puritan Conference was started in December, 1950, by Dr Lloyd-Jones and Dr J.I. Packer, as a study group of the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research. It was first held in the Church Parlour at Westminster Chapel, with about thirty attending. Those who came had already acquired an interest in the Puritans. The Evangelical Library had doubtless played a part in creating this unusual interest, besides the influence of the Chairman, Dr Lloyd-Jones, and the Organiser, Dr Packer. I was at that first Conference at the invitation of my pastor, Dr Lloyd-Jones. By the time of the second Conference I had sought out Jim Packer when I went to Oxford in the Autumn of 1951, and he asked me to become the Secretary (which position I held up to 1960).
I did not make any notes of the first Conference, but extensive ones of 1951, 1952 and 1953, which I still have. As it was not until 1954 that the papers were reproduced, these notes are the only source of information available and I am glad to have been asked to reproduce them. I do have some recollections of the 1950 Conference. I can recall clearly a paper given by Dr Lloyd-Jones on 'Puritan Preaching'. It dealt with Thomas Goodwin's exposition of Isaiah 50:10-11, on the subject, 'A Child of Light Walking in Darkness, and a Child of Darkness Walking in the Light'. It had a stunning effect upon me which lasted for some time. I had not appreciated the biblical doctrine of Assurance, and the Puritan view was shattering. The other subjects were 'Historical and Theological Introduction', by Jim Packer; 'The Puritan Use of the Old Testament' by O.R. Johnston; 'The Christian Life' by J.B.L. Gee; and 'Pastoral Theology' by Laurie Binder. Two other sessions were given by Dr J.I. Packer. For me, it was like entering another world where God's people were engaged in spiritual warfare at a level I knew little of.
GENERAL FEATURES OF EARLIER CONFERENCES
It may be of interest for readers to know certain aspects of earlier conferences that did not appear in reports. Numbers grew from about thirty to double that in three years, then they reached a peak of 400 registrations in 1959. The reports helped the growth of the numbers. In later Conferences there were more present for individual papers, such as those given by Dr Lloyd-Jones and Dr Packer, but this was clearly the largest overall. The Conference had proved a blessing to so many that news had travelled far and wide, and the response had gathered momentum. In 1958 the report of the conference was printed for the first time. It was entitled A Goodly Heritage. Earlier years (1954-57) had been duplicated. At this time a growing number of Reformed books became available. Mr Grier had kept a witness going for decades through his bookshop in Belfast, and for some years had been sending across to England American books from Reformed publishing houses. Jay Green's 'Sovereign Grace Book Club' was selling over fifteen titles of Puritan reprints at this time, and Arthur Pink's books were being republished and publicised. The Banner of Truth had recently begun publishing books and the magazine had itself been in circulation for several years. As books were printed and reports circulated the interest widened, and the need to attend the Conference in order to learn about the Puritans diminished. Numbers began to decline slowly. They held at about 250 to 300 for some years, but latterly dropped to 150 to 200. This was not due, however, to a lack of interest but to the availability of help elsewhere. I gave up the Secretaryship after the 1960 Conference since I felt that things were going so well and were absorbing so much time I needed to concentrate more on my pastoral work.
The 1959 Conference was the last to be held under the auspices of the Tyndale Fellowship. The Conference had grown out of all proportion from its early beginnings as a study group. Furthermore, it had become a strong influence in the life of Evangelicals in the country. The Tyndale Fellowship felt that it would be better for the Conference to separate. It was obvious that a distinctively Calvinistic Conference that was having so much influence could not be allied to a body that by virtue of its very nature and work took no clear position on the Doctrines of Grace without causing some embarrassment. The I.V.F. represented all Evangelicals. The Puritan Conference, in the very nature of things, was Reformed. It was felt, therefore, by the Tyndale Fellowship, and by the Committee of the Conference, wiser to follow separate courses. It was better for the Conference to run independently than to be held under the auspices of a body that was broadly Evangelical. A clear voice could be raised without anyone suggesting that because of the broader Evangelical umbrella they did not have any brief to speak in the way that they did.
Of those who came to the Conferences just over half were ministers. A large number were students. Others came, including a sprinkling of ladies. The vast majority were Baptists and Independents; some were Anglicans and a few were Presbyterians. The Brethren were noticeably absent, with the exception of the late Percy Ruoff. His presence had always adorned the Conference and his comments were sure to provoke a useful discussion. He would often ask questions which others were too timid to ask, because they were a little provocative. It was inevitable that the intimacy of the earlier Conferences was lost as it grew in size.
Those in attendance were generally, but not always, sympathetic to the Puritans, but one incident stands out as indicating how few fully grasped the doctrines of grace. It was during Dr Packer's paper on Richard Baxter in 1952 that dwelt at some length on the fact that Baxter did not hold to the doctrine of Particular Redemption, but followed the view of a French Seminary at Saumur, believing that it 'hindered evangelism' and dishonoured God. Baxter differed from the vast majority of Puritans in this, as in other things. This provoked some discussion in which the Chairman pointed out that if you really believe in Universal Atonement you are confronted with the question, 'Will sin be punished for people whose sin has been atoned for? This cannot be.' I remember that Dr Lloyd-Jones was the only one at the Conference in 1952 prepared to defend the doctrine of Particular Redemption (the proper outworking of substitutionary atonement). Later, this point of doctrine was generally adopted by Reformed men in England. However, the incident reveals a haziness of thinking in the early days while there was a general appreciation of the Puritans and a desire to learn. Dr Packer later saw Particular Redemption after reading John Owen's Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Dr Lloyd-Jones, many years later, reminded me of this occasion when he stood alone on the subject of Particular Redemption. It should be recorded that, in those earlier years, it was not easy to be labelled a Calvinist or, more often, a 'Hyper-Calvinist'! There was a stigma, but it meant much to be 'Reformed' in those days. Men held these views by conviction - the doctrine was not received second-hand or through books. There was a sense of expectation in those early years. It was such an experience to discover the depths of the Puritans, and the Chairman's applications were always a particular blessing.
Puritan Principles: Puritan and Reformed Studies Conference 1951-54: Notes of 1951-53 Papers: Abstract of 1954 Papers.
(December 2003) 86 pages.