How were the Puritans motivated to "do something" as they believed in predestination and the "covenant of grace"?According to my sources, the Puritans believed in predestination (Calvinist sense,...

How were the Puritans motivated to "do something" as they believed in predestination and the "covenant of grace"?

According to my sources, the Puritans believed in predestination (Calvinist sense, i.e. that everything was ordained by God) and also maintained that you could become an Elect/Saint by God's wills only (Irresistible Grace).

As far as I've understood it, the tenet of a "covenant of grace" is based on the belief that an individual cannot influence God's decisions in any way, i.e. that leading a good life would not lead to one becoming an Elect and that leading a "bad life" would not stop one from being an Elect one God has preordained your status before/at birth.

I was now wondering why the Puritans were motivated to maintain their constant strife for self-improvement and keep the strict rules their society imposed on them (and how the ministers were even able to impose these strict rules if earthly behavior did not influence the afterlife).

Thank you for your help!

Expert Answers
lfawley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This was actually one of the troublesome aspects of the Puritan faith that ultimately led to its decline. At first, in the new world, the Puritan colonists clung together because they were making their way in a new, undeveloped, hostile environment. They clung to each other and to the church. They followed God's law because they were conditioned to do so. Also, ministers were people who had felt God's call, and they were given free reign to interpret God's word. How they interpreted it could motivate the people to follow them. Also, God was painted for them as working in their everyday lives, the afterlife non withstanding. In his "Of Plymouth Plantation" William Bradford tells of the trip over on the Mayflower. He relates the tale of a young sailor who was overconfident and who began to mock the other passengers when they began to get sick at sea. He always bragged about his own health and talked of tossing the bodies of the sick overboard and stealing their possessions. As it turned out, however, this young man was the first to sicken and actually die; thus his was the first body tossed to the sea. This was seen as proof that God was just and that he enacted punishment against the wicked. So, even if your final destination was predetermined, God could also work for or against you in this life based on how you behaved.  However, as time went on and they started to do well for themselves and become prosperous they started to question a religion that believed that only an elect and predetermined few were saved. They started to move away from the small space occupied by the original colonies and explore the vast and seemingly endless frontier that went on for eternity to the west. They started to rely more on themselves and less on God. When they no longer needed the security of church and community to survive, and even more so when they came under the influence of more recent immigrants who did not follow the Puritan laws, they began to drift away from the church. This is one of the reasons why the Salem witch trials occurred. By banding the people together against a common enemy, witchcraft, the churches were able to bring people back into the congregation for safety and security.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To me, there are two reasons:

  • They believed in the "national covenant."  This said that God would deal with their society as a whole based on how well it obeyed his laws.  If the Puritans allowed people to behave wrongly, God might not punish the people who misbehaved, but he would punish the society that allowed the misbehavior.
  • The other thing was that they believed that their behaviors might show whether they were saved or not (not cause their salvation, but show it).  So they wanted to act in the right ways so that they could feel that they were saved.  It was sort of like a comfort thing to make them feel better.