Copyright - R. Paul Stevens 2000.
the idea that the whole of our life is a response to the summons of God and not merely a matter of self-directed development. William Perkins (1558-1602), while little known, deserves a modern hearing because he is the only Puritan[iv] author to describe calling in a systematic way.[v] Thus sections of his Treatise of the Vocations [vi] written around the turn of the seventeenth century,[vii] are paraphrased in an imaginary conversation between Perkins[viii] and a twentieth-century Baby-Boomer (that demographic population bulge of people born between l946 and l964)[ix] in order to contrast one modern view of vocation with a Biblical view. The endnotes offer a few clarifying comments and corrections of the imbalance of the Puritan view of calling.
[i]. In his masterful treatment of work and calling, Paul Marshall follows Basil Hill's definition of Puritan as "restlessly critical and occasionally rebellious members of the Church of England who desired some modifications in church government and worship, but not those who removed themselves from the church. in "Work and Calling: Puritan and Dissenters", Chapter 4 in Callings: Spirituality, Work and Duty in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century England (unpublished manuscript, Toronto, l991),p.1.
[ii]. Os Guiness, "Vocation and Calling", an audiotape produced by The London Institute of Contemporary Christianity, London, U.K., June 5-9, l989.
[iii]. These two words mean substantially the same thing, though in modern usage "vocation" has been identified with career, and "calling" with religious service or the work of a professional minister.
[iv].Ian Breward notes that "Perkins himself showed little sign that he thought of himself as anything other than a normal and loyal member of the Church of England. He repudiated the label of 'puritan' except for those who believed that it was possible to live without sin in this life, and felt that it was possible to live without sin in this life." Ian Breward, ed. The Work of William Perkins (Appleford, England: The Sutton Courtenay Press, l969), p. 15.
[v]. Marshall, op. cit., p. 8. Earlier Protestant writers had used the concept of vocation to reflect critically on the medieval idea that vocation had little to do with ordinary life in this world. Perkins used the doctrine of vocation to expound the Calvinist distinction between general and particular calling and to provide a firm link between justification and sanctification. He had the further interest of providing in the Gospel a firm foundation for social stability and societal responsibility. Breward, op. cit., p.443.
[vi]. William Perkins, "A treatise of the Vocations, or Callings of Men, with the sorts and kinds of them and the right use thereof," in The Workes of that Famous and Worthy Minister of Christ in the University of Cambridge, Mr. William Perkins. London: John Legatt, 1626. This has been reprinted, with some portions deleted, in modern English in Ian Breward, op. cit.
[vii]. No precise date can be assigned to the Treatise.
[viii]. I have five reasons for making Perkins' thoughts available: First, Perkins is thoroughly biblical as he defends his views by biblical principle and text. Second, Perkins provides vocational counselling as he is concerned with how vocational decisions are made. Third, his Treatise is practical, concerned with real issues of living in the world. Fourth, Perkins is lay-oriented as he makes no distinction in dignity in the calling of the non-clergy laity and the clergy. Finally, Perkins is oriented to the heart and is concerned to evoke a deep personal spirituality that will result in the transformation of character.
[ix].Paul C. Light, Baby Boomers. New York: W.W. Norton Company, l988.