Puritanism and Providence
Free will and predestination
Puritanism: other key concepts
        Covenant of grace
        Covenant of works
        Natural depravity
Providence in Defoe's writings
Web Resources on Religion
Defoe Syllabus


Puritanism started in the sixteenth century as a movement to reform the Church of England. Puritanism accepted the interpretations of John Calvin (1509-64) on the nature of man, free will and predestination, and other basic concepts. Puritanism became, after the restoration of Charles II as king in 1660, nonconformity and split into three major denominations–the Presbyterian, Congregational, and Baptist sects. The Puritans saw God as the awesome Father-God of the Old Testament and emphasized His majesty, righteousness, and control of the universe to achieve His just ends. God's maintaining and directing everything in the universe is God's Providence. By extension and over time, the word came to have other meanings associated with this one, e.g., God Himself and the lot assigned by God.

In his Bible Dictionary (1897), Matthew George Easton describes Providence in this way:

Providence literally means foresight, but is generally used to denote God's preserving and governing all things by means of second causes. God's providence extends to the natural world, and the affairs of men, and of individuals. It extends also to the free actions of men, and things sinful, as well as to their good actions.

As regards sinful actions of men, they are represented as occurring by God's permission, and as controlled and overruled for good . God does not cause or approve of sin, but only limits, restrains, overrules it for good.

The mode of God's providential government is altogether unexplained. We only know that it is a fact that God does govern all his creatures and all their actions; that this government is universal , particular, efficacious, embraces events apparently contingent, is consistent with his own perfection, and to his own glory.

God reveals His will in many ways, like the Bible and natural forces and law In the words of William Cowper (1731-1800), "God is his own interpreter, and he will make it plain." Puritans actively sought to learn God's will. To fulfill this duty, they read the Bible; listened to sermons; studied daily events; analyzed nature for signs; paid particular attention to out-of-the-ordinary events like earthquakes and material prosperity, which were called remarkable providences; and reviewed the events of their lives and the state of their souls, usually by recording them in a diary and looking for patterns and spiritual meanings. .


The concept of God's Providence is related to free will, predestination, and grace. Christians generally accept the position that God predestines or elects the good to salvation; the fate of sinners regarding salvation and damnation is an open issue. The Puritans, however, accepted Calvin's belief in double predestination:
By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every person. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1599)
In other words, God predetermines who is to be damned (also called reprobation) and elects who is to be saved (also called regeneration). Also God is actively and directly involved in the affairs of nations and of individuals. The efforts to explain how man can have free will and be predestined have taxed theologians for thousands of years and there is no general agreement on the matter. Calvin denies that there is a conflict; he bases his interpretation on the concepts of God's grace, the agency of the Holy Spirit (it carries God's grace to the elect), and man's natural depravity.
... the grace of God (as this name is used when regeneration is spoken of) is the rule of the Spirit, in directing and governing the human will. Govern he cannot, without correcting, reforming, renovating, (hence we say that the beginning of regeneration consists in the abolition of what is ours;) in like manner, he cannot govern without moving, impelling, urging, and restraining. Accordingly, all the actions which are afterwards done are truly said to be wholly his. Meanwhile, we deny not the truth of Augustine's doctrine, that the will is not destroyed, but rather repaired, by grace - the two things being perfectly consistent, viz., that the human will may be said to be renewed when its vitiosity and perverseness being corrected, it is conformed to the true standard of righteousness and that, at the same time, the will may be said to be made new, being so vitiated and corrupted that its nature must be entirely changed. There is nothing then to prevent us from saying, that our will does what the Spirit does in us, although the will contributes nothing of itself apart from grace. (Institutes of the Christian Religion)


Covenants, in theology, are the promises which God makes to human beings and which are recorded in the Bible. The Puritans emphasized the covenant of works, which was in the control of human beings, and the covenant of grace, which was in God's power to bestow. There are many other covenants, such as the covenant of redemption, the agreement between God the Father and the Son concerning the salvation of man. The covenants or God's promises not only make clear to men and women what their duties are but also force them to face their inferiority--because of their corrupted natures, they are incapable of fulfilling their duties to God. The covenants did not affect just the Puritans' religious life: "This emphasis on contractual relationships became a controlling metaphor for Puritans in their social as well as their religious thought" (Francis J. Bremer, Encyclopedia of Religion).

The covenant of grace is God's promise to send his Spirit to the elect so that they believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. The basis of this covenant is the frequently repeated statement in the Bible, " I will be your God, and ye shall be my people." This covenant restores man to a normal relation with God. Left to themselves, men and women would continue to reject or rebel against God; their refusing salvation means that Christ died in vain. But since the covenant of redemption promises that Christ's suffering would redeem humanity, God sends the Holy Spirit to the elect to enable them to repent, to have faith, and and to be eligible for eternal life.

The Puritans saw grace as a gift from a kind and loving God; human beings were unworthy to receive salvation because of their depraved natures. As Augustine comments, "You are nothing in yourself, sin is yours, merit God's. Punishment is your due; and when the reward shall come, God shall crown his own gifts, not your merits."

The covenant of works is God's promise to Adam. In return for perfect obedience, he would merit God's reward. The reward in this covenant does not result from grace; rather, it is a debt owed to Adam for keeping his part of the covenant. Unfortunately, Adam failed to keep the covenant and "after the fall, the free gifts on which salvation depends were withdrawn, and natural gifts corrupted and defiled" (Calvin).

Glorification unites the soul with God after death; also, the elect will form a community of saints.

Grace. See the covenant of grace.

Justification is conversion or being born again. Justification, which is the mark of election, rehabilitates depraved human nature; however, conversion does not overcome it, so that the individual may relapse into unregenerate behavior. The abililty to persevere in righteousness is bestowed by God and is given as He pleases.

Natural depravity refers to human nature; that is, every human being is by nature corrupt and perverted as a result of Adam and Eve's fall. Calvin is unsparing in his description of natural depravity,

the mind of man is so entirely alienated from the righteousness of God that he cannot conceive, desire, or design any thing but what is wicked, distorted, foul, impure, and iniquitous; that his heart is so thoroughly envenomed by sin that it can breathe out nothing but corruption and rottenness; that if some men occasionally make a show of goodness, their mind is ever interwoven with hypocrisy and deceit, their soul inwardly bound with the fetters of wickedness.
It is because of natural depravity that human beings are, in Calvin's words, "the authors of their own destruction."

Regenerate or regenreated describes the converted individual; regeneration is, a sovereign gift of God, graciously bestowed. Only God can determine who should be saved In their fallen state, men and women may mistakenly think that they can reform at will and return to God; this delusion counteracts God's plan and denies God's omnipotence. As Dr. Warfield says, ''Sinful man stands in need, not of inducements or assistance to save himself, but precisely of saving; and Jesus Christ has come not to advise, or urge, or woo, or help him to save himself, but to save him." The individual is passive during this transforming process. The glory is all God's.

Sanctification is leading the life of a saint out of gratitude for God's grace.

The term unregenerate describes the individual who has not experienced God's assisting grace and conversion and so continues to be alienated from God.

Vocation is God's call to social, economic, civil, and religious roles or behavior. Individuals must use their talents, which come from God, wholeheartedly in fulfilling a call; however, they must not carry their behavior to extremes. Richard Baxter (1615-1691) explains the danger of excessive behavior, "Overdoing is the most ordinary way of undoing."


Providence is an important concept for Defoe, who was raised a Puritan and remained one throughout his life. His religious belief is one of the few consistencies in his life. The depth of his belief in Providence is suggested by the fact that the Oxford English Dictionary (the OED) illustrates three different meanings for the word with quotations from his writings:
  1. The foreknowing and beneficent care and government of God (or of nature); divine direction, control, or guidance.
  2. Applied to the deity as exercising prescient and beneficent power and direction.
  3. An instance or act of divine intervention; an event or circumstance which indicates divine dispensation. Special Providence, a particular act of direct divine intervention.
Crusoe refers to Providence throughout the novel; his shifting from one meaning to another as occasion warrants is reflected in his sometimes capitalizing the word and sometimes not.


If you would like more information on religious topics, you could start by exploring some of these sites:

Bible Study Tools
      A collection of reference works: a Bible, encyclopedias, dictionaries, concordances, commentaries, and histories.

Sola Scriptura! A Reformed Theology Resource
      A discussion of theological topics, ranging from God and Calvinism to The Covenant and Eschtology. Articles by different writers and perspectives.

The Victorian Web
      An authoratative site with a clear, detailed summary of the history of Christianity in England. It makes clear the development of the various Protestant sects, including Puritanism, their differences, and their changes over time.

Day 1 (W, Sept. 4) Introduction
Day 2 (M, Sept. 9) Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, “Preface” - "I Build My Fortress"
    Overview of Daniel Defoe
    Overview of Robinson Crusoe
    The Sources of Robinson Crusoe
    Alexander Selkirk
Day 3 (W, Sept. 11) Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, "The Journal" - "I Am Very Seldom Idle"
    Increase Mather, Remarkable Providences
Day 4 (T, Sept. 17)

Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, "I Make Myself a Canoe" - "I See the Wreck..."

Day 5 (W, Sept. 18)

Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, "I Hear the First Sound..." - "We Quell..."
Religion in Robinson Crusoe
Web paper due (1-2 pages)

Day 6 (M, Sept. 23)

Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, "We Seize the Ship" - "I Revisit My Island"
Robinson Crusoe as Economic Man