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A Review of The Irish Puritans: James Ussher and the Reformation of the Church

Through this study of 17th century Irish church history, the author draws out points especially applicable to readers from a Reformed perspective.

  • Byron Snapp,
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Ireland is seldom considered on our map of countries greatly impacting people for the gospel. Through this study of 17th century Irish church history, the author draws out points especially applicable to readers from a Reformed perspective.

After briefly surveying the origins of Ireland 's inhabitants in the 17th century, Gribben focuses attention on Bishop James Ussher. As this volume unfolds, the reader understands the importance of such focus.

Ussher was born in 1581 and converted at ten. He learned and grew to love Reformed theology taught to him by two blind aunts. He was the most distinguished of the early alumni of the College of the Holy Trinity, a Puritan stronghold.

It early became apparent that God had gifted him in academics and scholarship. This was accompanied by an imperfect desire to work with fellow believers. It was an imperfect desire because upon being presented with an Irish translation of the Bible, he did not want it in the hands of the people. Rather, he wanted them to learn English and listen to the preaching in English.

God allowed Archbishop Ussher to live during a time of political and religious turmoil in the British Isles. Although opposed to the Roman Catholics, he did support the monarchy. This was true even when Laud's ecclesiastical Arminian appointments made great inroads into Irish doctrinal thinking. This also remained true when the King and Puritan parliament were at war with one another.

The Irish church had written a fine confession of faith in 1615, which later became an excellent resource for the men at the Westminster Assembly. However, the Puritans did not promote their cause as they could have. They became more attentive to issues of ecclesiology and eschatology rather than to the need of evangelism. Through all of this, Ussher remained resolute in his principles and actions. He desired charity and ecumenicity rather than divisive infighting over every point of doctrine.

Due to the Irish Civil War that began in 1641, Ussher fled to England , never to return to Ireland . From a distance he suffered through the Irish Civil War and the later attacks in Ireland by Cromwell's unruly army. Ironically, the Puritans, although opposed to his office of archbishop, admired Ussher. They appreciated his sound doctrine. Cromwell made sure that Ussher continued to receive his subsidies. He was often allowed to preach in Oxford . By God's grace, a number were converted through his preaching. The Archbishop died at the age of seventy-five.

This volume teaches the reader much more than Irish church history. It insightfully shows the ramifications that resulted from Reformed infighting. Such infighting greatly hindered evangelism. Even today Ireland remains in deep darkness and in need of the gospel.

The author has included the Irish Articles of 1615 as an appendix.

This historical work does not avoid telling the flaws of the Irish Puritans as well as recounting their strengths. Modern readers are reminded to look at their own lives in light of scripture so that they, by God's grace, will not make the same errors as their spiritual forefathers.

  • Byron Snapp

Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia.  He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina.  He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren. 

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