With the collapse of presbyterian efforts to effect structural change in the Church of England in the 1590s, reformers were forced to realize that only widespread and sustained popular support could bring about further reform of the church. It is in this last decade of Elizabeth's reign that Christopher Hill sees the emergence of what he calls a “new Puritanism” designed to nurture such a broad base of support for further reform. This “new Puritanism,” which emphasized preaching and the cultivation of an individual piety rather than ecclesiastical reorganization, “with the household as its essential unit rather than the parish,” could also be described as a return to earlier values that had characterized Puritanism before the rise of the presbyterian party. Whether one chooses to interpret the trends of the late 1590s as “new” or “old,” what is important is that reformers by 1600 were making extensive use of both pulpit and press as instruments for influencing the hearts and minds of the English laity. An examination of the more frequently reprinted works of practical divinity in the first generation of the seventeenth century (which included much sermon literature) ought to reveal the themes that reformers hoped would strike a responsive chord with English readers.
Surveying such publications from the 1580s into the early 1600s, we may be surprised to find that two of the most popular works were Protestantized versions of Catholic works: Thomas Rogers's translation of De imitatione Christi (1580) and Edmund Bunny's A Booke of Christian exercise, appertaining to Resolution (1584), adapted from Robert Parsons's First Book of the Christian exercise (1582).