The Puritans Covenant With God As Revealed

The Puritans? Covenant With God, As Revealed In Narrative Of The Captivity & Restoration Of Essay, Research Paper

The Puritans? Covenant With God, As Revealed in Narrative of the Captivity & Restoration of

Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

When one thinks of the Puritans, images are conjured of Pilgrims sharing a Thanksgiving

feast with their Indian neighbors. The Puritans settled in New England to exercise their religious

freedom to worship God in their own devout (and some believed) overly zealous way. They were

going to tame the savage Indian beasts, and all would live happily ever after. At least, that?s what

the myth would have us believe. However, real life bears little resemblance to its mythical

depictions, and the actual relationship between the English colonists and the Indian settlers was

always uneasy at best. When cultures eventually collided in the late seventeenth century, there

was inevitable bloodshed. The cornerstone of the Puritan religion is that believers were the

chosen people of God, and it is this unique relationship and its resulting covenant which is at the

heart of Mary Rowlandson?s harrowing 1682 memoir, Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration

of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson.

A ?divine providence? special covenant had been articulated in Governor John Winthrop?s

?A Model of Christian Charity? (Gleason hhr4-2.htm). The special relationship between Puritans

and God was described as, ?We are entered into Covenant with Him. … we shall be as a city upon

a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us? (Gleason hhr4-2.htm). In order to satisfy this covenant,

Winthrop believed that Puritans had an obligation to serve as the ideal Christians, exercising

unwavering faith, regardless of the traumatic situations which confronted them. God would

provide guidance and protection in return, which would allow these ?chosen? souls triumph over

adversity (Gleason hhr4-2.htm). Mary Rowlandson?s narrative personifies this devotion to God,

and while not always understanding God?s plan, the believer is always unquestioning.

Mrs. Rowlandson?s narrative begins in February of 1675, when a group of Indians, led by

King Philip, descended upon Lancaster, Massachusetts, and attacked the English settlers living

there, including Pastor Joseph Rowlandson, his wife Mary, and their children. Mary recalled that

when her sister was dead and that Mary was wounded, ?She said, ?And Lord, let me die with

them,? which was no sooner said, but she was struck with a bullet, and fell down dead over the

threshold. I hope she is reaping the fruit of her good labors, being faithful to the service of God

in her place? (299). Mary reasoned that her sister?s covenant with God had been satisfactorily

fulfilled, so she was now free to join her Creator.

Mary didn?t blame the Indians for being taken captive. Instead, she regarded it as God?s

test of her loyalty. The Puritans may have considered themselves God?s chosen people, but this

meant that much was expected of them. When assessing the mass destruction of her home in the

aftermath of the Indian attack, she reasoned, ?Come, behold the works of the Lord, what

desolations he has made in the earth? (299-300). As Mary, whose foot had been injured by a

bullet, carried her critically wounded child in her lap, she mused, ?But the Lord renewed my

strength still, and carried me along, that I might see more of His power… Oh, I may see the

wonderful power of God, that my Spirit did not utterly sink under my affliction: still the Lord

upheld me with His gracious and merciful spirit, and we were both alive to see the light of the

next morning? (301). As long as Mary had her faith, she truly believed that she could overcome

any adversity, including the death of her beloved child. After all, it was the preservation of her

relationship with God, which was of paramount importance, and took precedence over any and all

earthly ties, no matter how intimate.

Her Indian captors constantly moved Mary from place to place, and despite her injury and

subservient status, she was occasionally given special consideration. Mary attributed this

compassion to God, not to the benevolence of the Indians. According to Mary, ?By the

advantage of some brush which they had laid upon the raft to sit upon, I did not wet my foot

(which many of themselves at the other end were mid-leg deep) which cannot but be

acknowledged as a favor of God to my weakened body? (306). A special relationship with ?the

man upstairs? inevitably results in special treatment, which seems to defy conventional

explanation. Mary believed God was keeping His ever-watchful eye firmly affixed to her, and

would never give her a greater hardship than she could bear.

This exclusive relationship the Puritans maintained with God is also evident in Mary

Rowlandson?s observations about the Indians, and their success in their battles with the English.

She wrote, ?I cannot but take notice of the strange providence of God in preserving the heathen…

On that very day came the English army after them to this river, and saw the smoke of their

wigwams, and yet this river put a stop to them. God did not give them courage or activity to go

over after us. We were not ready for so great a mercy as victory and deliverance? (306).

Incredibly, despite being separated from her family, and witnessing the deaths of her sister, child

and neighbors, Mary did not believe that she had suffered enough for her sins against God. In her

fleeting moments alone, when she could read the Bible one of her charitable captors secured for

her, Mary realized that her comfortable old life made her lose sight of her Puritan role as a

?chosen? person to follow in God?s footsteps. She became more influenced by superficiality than

by spirituality. The Indian attack and her subsequent capture was the ?jolt? into reality both Mary

and her fellow Puritans needed, as they retraced the journey of the historical Israelites.

While nonbelievers may well have perished under similarly harrowing circumstances, Mary

Rowlandson, miraculously, persevered. Whenever her situation looked particularly bleak,

something would happen which would enable her to overcome. Mary?s covenant with God

became her sustenance. She would find charity in the most unlikely places. As she recalled in her

memoir, ?As I was eating, another Indian said to me, he seems to be your good friend, but

he killed two Englishmen at Sudbury, and there lie their clothes behind you: I looked behind me,

and there I saw bloody clothes, with bullet-holes in them. Yet the Lord suffered not this

wretch to do me any hurt? (321). Mary?s message is clear: Her Indian attackers were not evil in

and of themselves. They were merely messengers of God. When one does not live up to his or

her contractual obligations, sooner or later, there is ?pay-back time.?

Mary Rowlandson was spiritually ?content? to bide her time until her God was satisfied

that she had paid sufficient penance for her waywardness. Amazingly, although she frequently

demonstrated her unflappable allegiance, the God Mary depicted in her narrative was not always

the traditional ?loving father? figure. He would inflict hardship on his people if He contended

they had significant strayed from His teachings. It was God and His ?over-ruling hand? (324)

which was halting the English from defeating the Indians. As Mary observed, ?It was thought, if

their corn were cut down, they would starve and die with hunger, and all their corn that could be

found, was destroyed, and they driven from that little they had in store, into the woods in the

midst of winter; and yet how to admiration did the Lord preserve them for His holy ends, and the

destruction of many still amongst the English! strangely did the Lord provide for them; that I did

not see (all the time I was among them) one man, woman, or child, die with hunger.. yet by that

God strengthened them to be a scourge to His people? (324-325).

Mary Rowlandson?s faith was eventually rewarded by her release and reunion with her

family. The Indians had served their purpose as the devices of punishment for the sinning

Puritans. Now, it was time to bring the nightmare to its end. Upon her release, a ?redeemed?

Mary had written, ?Blessed be the Lord… for great is His power, and He can do whatsoever

seemeth Him good… Now I have seen that scripture also fulfilled….If any of thine be driven out to

the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee… And thine God will

put all these curses upon thine enemies, and on them that hate thee, which persecuted thee (328).

Although this story had a happy ending, at least for Mary Rowlandson and her surviving

family members, one must wonder what kind of God the Puritans worshipped, almost fearfully,

rather than freely. The emphasis was clearly more on rigid conformity to morality than it was on

compassion to humankind. All that was important was that the sinning Puritans were shown the

error of their ways; everything else was insignificant. The Indians mattered not; they were a

means to an end, not the end itself. The ?end,? was a happy one, at least for the English who had

survived the massacre, for they were spiritually held accountable for their covenant with God.

But is being one of God?s ?chosen people? worth the price the Puritans were expected to pay?


Gleason, Caroline. ?The Chosen People of God: Mary Rowlandson?s Captivity Narrative.? (25

Aug. 1997). (1 Aug. 1999).

Rowlandson, Mary. ?Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson.? In

Baym, Nina (General Editor). The Norton Anthology of American Literature (Fifth

Edition, Volume 1). New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1998, pp. 298-330..


Gleason, Caroline. ?The Chosen People of God: Mary Rowlandson?s Captivity Narrative.? (25

Aug. 1997). (1 Aug. 1999).

Rowlandson, Mary. ?Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson.? In

Baym, Nina (General Editor). The Norton Anthology of American Literature (Fifth

Edition, Volume 1). New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1998, pp. 298-330..



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