Learning Church Commitment from Lucy Hutchinson

by Jenny-lyn de Klerk July 20, 2021

One of the greatest benefits of learning from Christians in past eras is that it changes you as a person.

Thus, even if you can explain who historical figures were and what they did, you know in your heart that this explanation is a bit of a sad attempt to paint a picture of real humans who, like yourself, are just too complex and wonderful to describe in words. If I attempted to write what I have learned from the Puritan author, poet, and theologian Lucy Hutchinson, I could not perfectly communicate all that it entails. The best advice I could give is to read her yourself, and be changed yourself, and yet, I have to try.

I think on a regular basis about how Hutchinson fully appreciated the importance of committing to care for the church despite its weaknesses, and how she had a deep sense of personal responsibility to do this as a lay person and mother. This comes through best in her theological treatise, “On the Principles of the Christian Religion,” which Hutchinson wrote for her daughter Barbara, after she married and moved away to start an independent life as an adult in order to reinforce her love bond with the church. Something that parents today may take less seriously, Hutchinson lost sleep over, as she described this document as: “a testimony of my best and most tender love to you who cannot consider the age and temptations you are cast upon without great thoughts of heart and earnest prayers for you.”[1] Yet, she was not only concerned for Barbara but also Barbara’s own children and employees, to whom Hutchinson instructed her to pass the faith. Interestingly, Hutchinson wrote this document during the most burdensome time of her life, when, after her husband died, she was left to secure financial stability for herself and her children.

It is remarkable to think about how Hutchinson wrote her most theologically technical document for this purpose and at this time, and it is equally striking to see how, in it, she continually recognized both the difficulties of church life and the necessity of maintaining love between fellow believers. For example, she told Barbara:

Sects are a greate sinne and Christians ought all to liue in the vnity of the spiritt and though it cannot be but that offences will come in the Church yet woe be to them by whom they come. It is the Apostles rule that wee should not haue the faith of Christ with respect of persons and he warns vs that wee should not follow them further then they are followers of Christ Loue is the bond of perfectnesse and they that breake the Communion of saints walke not charitably and will be accountable to God for it…In his name therefore I beg of you to study and exercise vniversall loue to euery member of Christ vnder what denomination soeuer you find them.[2]

Elsewhere, in one of her statements of faith, she similarly affirmed that the catholic church is made up of believers who are united by the same Spirit and love and added, “all whose true members vnder what errors or weaknesses souer they be I desire to owne as brethren and sisters in Christ and to exercise towards them all offices of charity.”[3] Hutchinson claimed that though the visible church contains true believers and hypocrites, it is so beneficial to meet together that each member is required to uphold this as best they can. Thus, she also suggested that it was convenient for Christians in the same neighbourhood to gather together, since they had so many opportunities to care for one another in practical ways by living near each other.

After a year of being prevented from fulfilling some of our regular duties of meeting together as believers, the goodness of coming together, taking care of one another, and owning each other as family despite weaknesses, rings true from Hutchinson’s writings. The truth is, before 2020, there were many things that threatened to loosen our love bond with the church, and there will be more in years to come. What Hutchinson inspires me to do is recognize my own neediness for these people, renew my commitment to them, and encourage others to do the same—through personal contact or other ways—whether it be those in my own local congregation, those in my neighbourhood who are part of a different denomination, or those who live in other areas of the world, who are perhaps suffering or are in danger. Whatever difficulties and temptations arise this year, I hope you can think of Hutchinson as your own mother, a spiritual one, pleading with you to walk charitably instead of becoming lax or finding excuses to argue and divide.

[1]  Hutchinson, “On the Principles of the Christian Religion,” in The Works of Lucy Hutchinson, vol. 2, Theological Writings and Translations, part 1: Introductions and Texts, ed. Elizabeth Clarke, David Norbrook, Jane Stevenson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 2:193.

[2] Hutchinson, ‘Principles,’ Works, 2:191.

[3] Hutchinson, ‘My owne faith and attainment,’ Works, 2:119.


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