Review of Ames’ Marrow

Ames, himself an English Puritan living in the Netherlands, gives us a manual that will become the dominant intellectual book in New England for several centuries (I hope at this moment we can bury the nonsense that Reformed theology is just the 5 Points found in John Calvin).


Ames’ manner of presentation reflects his commitment to Ramist logic, and thus Ames’s writing is remarkably clear and easy to read. We don’t agree with Ames in every point, but this is a very useful manual and will repay careful study.

Key themes

Faith is more than assent, but also designates “an act of the will” (1.2.3-5). For Ames, since faith “must consist of a union with God,” it can’t be mere assent (18).

Ames has an outstanding discussion of God and his essence, particularly of “ideas in God.” He has the standard arguments for God’s decrees, and seems to point towards a gentle supralapsarianism, but its definitely muted compared to Perkins.

Much has been made of Ames’ voluntarism, and he certainly does place the will in a more prominent role than earlier divines, and it certainly “cashes out” in his ethics.

Questions and criticisms

Is it true that “living well is more important than living happily” (1.1.8)? Is Ames breaking from the Aristotelian eudaimion tradition at this point?

Ames argues that the kings are not subject to Christ, but to God (1.19.31). Maybe he means by this that Christ is properly king and head of the church. Fair enough, but Revelation 1.4-5 says that he is also rulers of the kings *on earth.*

While as a good Presbyterian I would have liked to see Ames mention rule by elders and presbyteries, his stuff on church govt is still quite good. I disagree with him on what he left out, not on what he actually said.


This text is a fine snapshot of pre-Westminster Puritanism. More importantly, it would become the standard textbook in New England for almost 200 years. It’s been accused of being a “checklist,” but even so, that adds to his value. Accordingly, Ames is very clear on what he means.


4 thoughts on “Review of Ames’ Marrow

  1. Pingback: A Reformed Scholastic Reader | American Tory

  2. Pingback: The Rise of Reformed System: Intellectual Heritage of William Ames | Har Mo'Ed

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