No Guarantees of Ease
Out of all the stories about Puritan women that I came across in my research over the past several years, Agnes Beaumont’s was by far the weirdest. At the beginning of her record of events that she kept of a difficult time of her life, we see her describe a disagreement with her father about her going to a Baptist church, a real social faux pas of her day. But just when you think the drama has resolved, another trial pops up, and then another, until you start to wonder whether the entire story was made up! When I first read it, at one point I thought to myself, “How do we even know this story is true, since we only have one person’s account of it?” But after a lot of research and pondering that age-old question of whether or not we can trust historical accounts or even our own memories of events in our personal lives, I concluded that yes, it seems like all of this did really happen.
Have you ever gone through a series of dramatic events in your life and started to wonder whether you were trapped in an alternate reality, one where you’re the main character of a soap opera with some really bad writing? There have been one or two times in my life I felt that way as I faced heartbreak after heartbreak after heartbreak until I started to think I was just doing life wrong and it was all my fault—I was the only common denominator, after all!
In 5 Puritan Women: Portraits of Faith and Love, Jenny-Lyn de Klerk shows how the lives and writings of Agnes Beaumont, Lucy Hutchinson, Mary Rich, Anne Bradstreet, and Lady Brilliana Harley encourage the beauty of holy living and provide practical wisdom for the home and the church.
As Beaumont knew well, there are no guarantees of ease in this life, and sometimes we must face several serious difficulties all in a row, even when it feels like we really don’t deserve to. In the absurdity of life this side of eternity, we need something real, something stable, and something that makes sense that we can cling to in times when we are confused and suffering. If you read Beaumont’s story, you’ll see that in all of the crazy twists and turns that it took, there is one constant—she continually remembers and applies Scripture to each little aspect of each big trial she goes through. She finds meaning in everything. Hardly half a day can pass without her seeing a parallel in the Bible for what she was feeling or what someone said to her or what happened around her. When she felt rejected by her father, she thought of Psalm 27:10. When she was desperate for a way to right her wrongs, she remembered 1 Corinthians 10:13. And when she was afraid of going outside by herself at night, she took strength from Isaiah 41:10.
The intricacies of our life stories are not a curse but a blessing, once we see how God speaks to us in particular ways.
Once we remember that Beaumont was a Puritan, this comes as no surprise—applying Scripture to every aspect of life was one thing the Puritans excelled at and are remembered throughout history for. They not only believed that Scripture was inspired by God and without error, but also that it gives us all the wisdom we need in the exact place, time, and situations we find ourselves in, even when they are truly unique to only ourselves. Just as Beaumont’s story was so unique that at times it seems too wacky and weird to even be true yet the light of the word was able to pierce each dark corner of each crazy turn it took, so, too, can it illuminate our path, even when it is not the one we wanted or we can’t see the way forward.
The intricacies of our life stories are not a curse but a blessing, once we see how God speaks to us in particular ways. Thus, at the end of it all, Beaumont proclaimed, “Oh, it cannot be expressed with tongue what sweetness there is in one promise of God when he is pleased to apply it to the soul by his Spirit.” According to Beaumont, these specific promises “turn[ed] sorrow into joy, fears into faith . . . weeping and mourning into rejoicing,” so that she was led to actually “thank God for trouble when [she] ha[d] found it” because it “dro[ve] her nearer to himself”1. And if we stop to consider what God is saying to us in our circumstances, every step of the way, we will be able to say the same.
- Agnes Beaumont, The Narrative and Persecutions of Agnes Beaumont, ed. Vera J. Camden (East Lansing, MI: Colleagues Press, 1992), 37-38.
Jenny-Lyn de Klerk is the author of 5 Puritan Women: Portraits of Faith and Love.
We need more of the Puritan focus on the Word of God.
Spiritual warfare made the Puritans what they were. They accepted conflict as their calling, seeing themselves as their Lord’s soldier-pilgrims.
We can’t really understand Puritanism at all—that movement so concerned with genuinely loving God in their communities, churches, and families,—without understanding the part played by Puritan women.
Jenny-Lyn de Klerk talks about why it’s worth exploring the lives and theological insights of Puritan women who have often been overlooked.