Since someone gifted me a copy of the newly released A Puritan Theology, by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones, my goal is to read 1.5 chapters a week so that I can complete all 60 chapters by the end of summer. Since my conversion in the mid 80’s I have experienced a growing affection for the Puritans and their heart-searching, soul-stirring practical theology. What a blessing this book has already been!
Chapter 3 introduces the reader to “The Learned Doctor William Ames” of whom the authors state, “Few men had as much influence over Reformed theology on either side of both the English Channel and Atlantic Ocean…in his day, his writings were deemed fundamental for ministerial training in New England…Ames wedded doctrine and life to promote practical piety and the purity of the church” (41).
Let me summarize what I learned into a few important reminders/points that are applicable to our understanding of counseling and the heart of man.
William Ames’s lifelong concern was that sinners experience true conversion as opposed to a mere religious profession of faith. Following his own conversion and “profound spiritual transformation, Ames declared that ‘a man may be…a well-carriaged man outwardly, expressing both the sense and practice of religion in his outward demeanor: And yet not be a sincere hearted Christian’” (42).
William Ames’s major theme was The Godward Life. “The opening statement of the Marrow [his most famous work, The Marrow of Theology] is remarkably simple and terse: ‘Theology is the doctrine of living to God.’ This statement…declares the practical orientation of Ames’s system of Christianity—a faith of the whole man, not just the intellect, will, or affections. It demonstrates Ames’s passion for practical, vital Christianity that integrates thought and action…‘Men live to God when they live in accord with the will of God, to the glory of God, and with God working in them’ (citing 1 Pet 4:2, 6; Gal 2:19-20; 2 Cor 4:10; Phil 1:20). ‘The revealed will of God ought to be the rule of our life’” (46).
The will of man, not merely his intellect, must be converted by the Holy Spirit. “Ames wrote, ‘The will is the proper and prime subject of this [regenerating] grace; the conversion of the will is the effectual principle in the conversion of the whole man….The principle subject of observance [obedience] is the will, as it is in living faith (Phil 2:13).’ Faith involves ‘an act of the whole man—which is by no means a mere act of the intellect, but the act of the will in believing the gospel is that which, by the Spirit’s grace, makes knowledge saving. Saving knowledge, therefore, differs from mere knowledge by involving the wholehearted commitment of the will’” (47). “Ames emphasized that the enlightenment of the mind was insufficient to produce conversion because the corruption of the will must be overcome. As a result of the conquest of the will, men called by God trust Christ ‘freely but also surely, unavoidably, and unchangeably’” (48).
True faith in God and obedience to His will go hand in hand. Faith and obedience “comprise the fountainhead from which Ames’s entire theological system flows…After defining faith as ‘the resting of the heart on God’ and setting forth faith as an act of the whole man, especially the will, Ames discussed the object of faith, which is God.” The sufficiency of God overcomes man sin and “condemnation is overturned by restorative grace through redemption” (49).
Ames says “the sign of true obedience is submissively placing God’s will ahead of the will of the creature, even when that will does not appear to work toward the creature’s advantage. This is accomplished by exercising the disciplines of an obedient life—humility, sincerity, zeal, peace, virtue, prudence, patience, temperance—and by avoiding practices that hinder an obedient walk, such as drunkenness, sins of the heart, and sins of the tongue” (52-53).
If you and I spend time today meditating on Hebrews 11 we will be impressed by the connection between faith and obedience.
A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones is published by Reformation Heritage Press.