I really shouldn’t play favorites, but if I’m being totally honest, Lucy Hutchinson is my favorite female Puritan. There are many reasons for this. First, though Hutchinson was a proper genius and I am lightyears behind her in terms of intelligence, I can relate to her love of literature, studying, and being alone. When Lucy Apsley was a little girl, she quickly realized that she did not enjoy doing the “girl” activities she was supposed to be doing and gravitated towards her brother’s books. Soon, she surpassed them in Latin, started ditching her younger playmates to eavesdrop on the grownups of the house, and grew into a beautiful young woman—one who really just wanted to read in solitude as much as possible.
I also relate to the way she found her husband, or, should I say, how her husband found her. After seeing a pile of Latin books lying around in Apsley house, he asked Lucy’s sister to whom they belonged and she said they were Lucy’s. He was determined to meet her as soon as he could, and you could say they had a meet-cute over books. Not surprisingly, their married life was filled with studying, discussing ideas, and teaching their children.
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.
I also love Lucy Hutchinson because she interacted with the work of my favorite male Puritan, John Owen. Showing her interest and prowess in theology and Latin, she attended his sermons for a time and also translated one of his books into English. The technicality of her own theological treatise, On the Principles of the Christian Religion, explains why she seemed to be interested in intellectual elites like Owen.
But more than anything else, I love Lucy Hutchinson for her depth of thought and beautiful writing style. Hutchinson had a knack for writing, but not writing about just anything—writing about God, doctrine, and spirituality. If you’ve ever taken a theology or Bible class and had to put something down on paper about God, you know that, at times, this can feel like an impossible feat, nevermind writing about relating to the perfect, eternal Creator as a finite human being with a limited brain and vocabulary. Yet, Hutchinson was able to seamlessly synthesize these two tandem points.
In her Principles, you’ll find her waxing eloquent on God’s nature on one page and speaking prophetically about the Christian life on the next. After opening with a description of God as the “most free, most absolute,” the “first cause” and “ultimate end of all things,” the one whose being is “in and of himself, and is to himself and all his creatures all-sufficient,” she later applies these heady ideas to the down-to-earth aspects of being in a relationship with God and others. In my favorite passage, she argues that Christians are not thankful enough to God for the many blessings of life on earth because they do not love their fellow human beings enough. If they did, says Hutchinson, they would finally see just how amazing it is that God has given water, air, plants, animals, seasons, and unique, hand-picked blessings to every single person so that “even those who lie under the heaviest outward pressure have infinite cause of thanks” (Principles, 198, 273).
Christians are not thankful enough to God for the many blessings of life on earth because they do not love their fellow human beings enough.
Just as it was then, so is this still a good word for us today. Not only is this point a reality check for those who have unwittingly believed and perpetuated the stereotype of the Puritans as hating the world and wanting to be entirely separate from society in general—thus committing the exact error Hutchinson laments above—it is also a timely reminder for those of us who, for whatever reason, are tempted to associate godliness with some kind of modern practice of shunning. According to Puritans like Lucy Hutchinson, loving God and godliness—a priority for this group of Christians as much as any other and perhaps even more—did not mean hating other people, either openly or secretly. In fact, it could not include this, since it was not only harmful to our relationships with others but even our relationship with God, the one who created them and us.
So I hope that if you were coming to the writings of Puritan women with (or perhaps avoiding them because of) misconceptions like this one, that you will rather give them a chance, because you will certainly find inspiring ideas that you can integrate into your own spirituality, and perhaps, like me, you’ll even find a real favorite, someone who you can not only relate to on a personal basis but also learn from in a way that enriches your life and the lives of the people around you.
Jenny-Lyn de Klerk is the author of 5 Puritan Women: Portraits of Faith and Love.
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.
Puritans 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.