William Ames on the Heidelberg Catechism

This book is a very interesting book. For one thing, it is a Puritan’s (and Ramist’s!) commentary on the Continental Heidelberg Catechism. This means that there was definitely cross-pollinating going on in the time of the post-Reformation. For more, see the excellent introduction by Joel Beeke and Todd Rester (pp. xii-xxxii). Ames was one of the Puritans invited to the Synod of Dordt. The introduction gives a brief sketch of his life and work, including an excellent discussion of Ramism (pp. xvii-xviii). This volume is the inaugural volume in the series Classic Reformed Theology. There is an excellent introduction to the entire series by R. Scott Clark. The series intends to “produce and provide critical English translations of some of the more important but generally neglected texts of the orthodox period.” One can only say a hearty amen to that!

The commentary itself is not quite what we would expect, however, in a catechism commentary, for he does not primarily comment on the catechism itself, but rather on a passage of Scripture upon which that Lord’s Day of the Catechism was based. So, for instance, Lord’s Day one is a commentary on Psalm 4:6-8, wherein is shown that the Psalmist’s “highest good… is located in God’s favor towards him” (p. 5), an excellent summary of question 1 of the HC. In other words, this book would be an excellent study in moving from Scripture to Catechism, seeing how the Catechism is based on the Word.

Just to take a few ideas from the book, under Lord’s Day 23 on justification, he says several helpful things: “People are justified either by nature, or by law, or by the gospel, but they can be justified neither by nature nor by the law” (p. 116); “In the resurrecting of our Head, Jesus Christ, from the dead, we have all been justified virtually, in whatever manner all of His posterity had been virtually sinners in Adam’s sinning” (p. 117). This latter quotation is especially important, as it proves that the connection between justification and resurrection is not original with Gaffin, however much he emphasized it. In fact, the connection is quite old.

So there is significant historical interest in this book, as a specimen of cross-pollination of the British and the Continental streams of Reformed theology; it is of interest systematically, when considered from the perspective of moving from text to catechism, and it is of interest theologically simply in what it says. I recommend it.

6 Comments

  1. July 2, 2009 at 10:53 am

    […] 2, 2009 in Classic Reformed Theology | Tags: Classic Reformed Theology, William Ames At GB. You can order your copy of William Ames on the Heidelberg Catechism at The Bookstore at […]

  2. Lee said,

    July 2, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    Thanks for the book recommendation. You can be sure I am going to order that one.

    Although I want to point out that this does not prove cross-pollination. William Ames was living in the Netherlands, which means he interacted with the Heidelberg regularly. If you want to argue that Ames influenced other British Puritans, then you have a good case. But that is not cross-pollination, that is just the Continential Reformed position pollinating the British Reformed position. There is no proof of the pollination going the other direction.

    Just being difficult.

  3. greenbaggins said,

    July 2, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Yes, I know you think that the Westminster divines and the Puritans had nothing EVER to offer the Continentals. Of course, Ames being a theological ADVISOR to the Synod of Dordt already meant that the Continentals were paying attention to what happened over in jolly old England.

  4. Lee said,

    July 3, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Of course one could debate exactly how much they listened to Ames. Ames wanted to go easy on the Remonstrants and even did not think they were heretics. As Ames said, “The position of the Remonstrants, as held by most that favor it, is not properly a heresy but a dangerous error in the faith, tending to heresy.”

    That is not exactly what the Synod decided in the end.

  5. BWS said,

    July 3, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    I hate to draw attention away from this new edition and improved translation, and to discourage people from buying it. But you can read an old English edition (1659) on google books. Isn’t this the same book? The old title is “The substance of Christian religion.” Maybe you can just see for yourself what it is like in the old edition, and then buy the new one for its easier reading and better editing :).

  6. Lee said,

    July 5, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    Thanks BWS. You just saved me some money.


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