A Review of
5 Puritan Women: Portraits of Faith and Love
Jenny-Lyn de Klerk
Reviewed by C.S. Boyll
It is rare to find a book about 17th Century Puritan women that encourages 21st century believers by their words and deeds. Historian Jenny-Lyn de Klerk’s 155-page 5 Puritan Women: Portraits of Faith and Love packs a lot of biographical instruction for contemporary life. Writer and Professor Karen Swallow Prior observes in the preface, “… their testimonies, even in their uniqueness and interesting detail, remind us that God’s truths and faithfulness never change.”
De Klerk, a Crossway book editor who specializes in Puritan spirituality, uses resources like letters, court records, journals, biographies, and a theological treatise to show how each Puritan practiced their faith within their family and community. De Klerk chooses a pastoral second-person voice to address the reader. The common thread between the five women she portrays shows how each applies spiritual disciplines to their relationship with Christ, especially when disaster comes.
The five Puritans are:
Agnes Beaumont (ca. 1652-1720): As a young Christian, she rode to church pillion-style on John Bunyan’s horse resulting in her being falsely accused of adultery and of killing her father.. It was hiding God’s word in her heart that guided her through the relentless gossip and prolonged court trial.
Lucy Hutchinson (1620-1681): This geeky prodigy, who later became a mother of eight, wrote a theological treatise for her newlywed daughter, which was shared with extended family and friends. Hutchinson emphasized the importance of fellowship and corporate worship.
Mary Rich (1624-1678): As the wealthy Countess of Warwick, she had a faith which resulted in many years of verbal abuse from her husband, even from his sick bed. Despite their marital conflict, Rich’s husband entrusted her to manage their affairs, and she excelled as a philanthropist and caretaker of her estate. She coped with her afflictions by practicing daily two-hour meditations.
Anne Bradstreet (ca. 1612-1672): De Klerk shines light not only on Bradstreet’s famous poetry, but her prayer life and homemaking, addressing Bradstreet’s numerous moves, deaths of children and grandchildren, and the loss of her home by fire.
Lady Brilliana Harley (ca. 1598-1643): During the English Civil War while her husband and children were stuck in the London area, Harley courageously defended her Brampton Bryan Castle against a lengthy siege. Her hundreds of letters to son Ned offered more than a glimpse into her life as a Christian doing what needed to be done during a time of war. Sadly, ill-health took her life before she could reunite with her family.
De Klerk summarizes: “Overall, each woman had [struggles] that weighed them down, some of which could not be overcome….Yet, what we can see now, with the privilege of history and looking back on the entire drama of each woman’s life is that their stories are ones of success! Sure, lots of bad things happened; in fact, something in each of their stories—finances or relationships or health—was always going wrong….But through their devotion to God, they were able to import to the people most important to them the greatest gift anyone could receive—spiritual loving care. And it is the same for us” (136-137).
Cynthia Schaible (C.S.) Boyll writes from Colorado Springs. Because of her German American ancestry she had relatives who fought on opposite sides of World War II. Her website is wwwcsboyll.com.
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior
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