The Supremacy of God in the Theology of Samuel Rutherford (Richard)

Richard, Guy M. The Supremacy of God in the Theology of Samuel Rutherford. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008.

Given that Samuel Rutherford is the most important Scottish theologian of all time, one must ask why there is so little written about him. The same question applies to his many yet-untranslated works.  John Coffey’s standard-setting biography did much to address the problem, but it didn’t deal with his theology in full depth. There are quite a few hagiographical works about him, but they do little in the academic realm.

Rutherford’s Examen Arminianismi function as a systematic theology, as he viewed Arminianism as an attack on the whole of Christian doctrine.  Some areas, like his focus on the doctrine of God and the human will, are beyond compare.  His supralapsarianism demands to be taken more seriously.  That’s not to say he is always fair to his opponents, nor does he always give an in-depth analysis.  Earlier, I had asked why there isn’t much work on or translated by Rutherford these days.  I think I might know the answer. Turretin is still the gold standard.  Regarding divine justice, John Owen seems to have given the definitive response to Rutherford–and most of Owen’s stuff is already in English.


EA: Examen Arminianismi

Key Theological Terms

Archetypal: the infinite knowledge God has of himself (26).

Ectypal: the theology which is available to the finite capacities of humans.

Duplex cognito Dei: the distinction between the knowledge of God the creator and the knowledge of God the redeemer (33).

Theologia archetype et ectypa

Like the rest of the Reformed tradition, Rutherford holds to natural theology (Divine Right, 66)..  As Richard states, “For Rutherford, natural theology not only exists, but it serves at least two important functions as well, as we will see–it renders all people without excuse before the divine tribunal; and it acts as an instrument in apologetics” (32).

Arminius, by contrast, on Rutherford’s reading, collapses the natural knowledge of God back into the supernatural knowledge with its doctrine of prevenient grace (36). Indeed, “all knowledge of the divine is supernatural.” This means, in the Arminian view, men and women already have supernatural knowledge of God prior to grace.

According to Richard, Arminius “redefines the scholastic distinction between theologia archetype et ectypa.” This means he collapses “Deus abscondita into Deus revelaturs” (42).

Scripture and Causes

Efficient cause of Scripture: God himself.
Formal cause of Scripture: divine truth
Final cause of Scripture: to teach us God’s holiness
Material cause of Scripture: subject matter

Doctrine of God

Rutherford inherited and upheld the traditional model of divine simplicity.  He did so, however, as an adherent of the nominalist schola Augustina moderna. Doing so allowed him to give a new angle on the traditional problem of divine simplicity: given that God’s attributes are identical, how can we distinguish them?  Rutherford notes that they aren’t “real distinctions (different res), nor are they formal distinctions…but they are distinctions of reason” (81).

From this He makes several deductions:  1) God isn’t perfectible; 2) He has being from himself

Rutherford’s rebuttal of Arminius on the Trinity is highly illustrative for us today. Arminius said the Father is ‘the source of the whole Deity’ (WJA, II, 693). This sounds like the Greek East, but the Eastern Fathers made sure that they weren’t saying that the Father is the source of the Son’s essence, only of his hypostasis. Arminius’s view is subordinationist.

The Knowledge of God

God’s own knowledge is twofold

Knowledge of himself.

Knowledge of objects outside himself

Simple Intelligence.  This is his natural knowledge. Knowledge of possibles.

Knowledge of Vision. This is God’s knowledge of all actuals.

Both Arminius and Rutherford held to a loosely Thomistic framework.  Arminius, however, denied that God’s knowledge involved causality (92).

Rutherford’s problem with Middle Knowledge is “that it makes the creature or fate the first cause of all things and the divine will the second cause, because God looks out of himself to see what free creatures would do before he makes his decree” (92). 

The Voluntas Dei

Although Rutherford is a voluntarist, this does not mean that the will functions independently of the intellect (95). The divine intellect logically precedes the will.  The intellect, though, does not “make” the will do anything.

Voluntas ad intra et ad extra

Ad intra: the divine will in God
Ad extra: the divine will towards objects outside of God.

Potentia absoluta et ordinata

Rutherford makes a distinction between omnipotency and sovereignty.  Omnipotency refers to the potentia absoluta.  The latter refers to the potentia ordinata. Regarding his absolute power, God can do all that is logically possible.  His decree limits this.  God’s immutability “restrains his potentia.”  Richard highlights a difficulty with this: if God’s immutability limits his sovereignty ad extra, why can’t other attributes do the same (99)?  I think there might be a way for Rutherford to get around this.  Will and intellect are primarily faculties, not attributes.  Moreover, take an attribute like mercy.  It’s easy to understand how the will acts.  It’s not clear how mercy qua mercy would act. In fact, the will would have to act for mercy to act.

Voluntas beneplaciti et signi

The voluntas beneplaciti is “the decree of God by which he determines all things” that come to pass (103).  The voluntas signi is the revealed will. These aren’t contradictory. He doesn’t command x and non-x at the same time.  However, he can permit something be done by his voluntas beneplaciti that he does not approve by his voluntas signi.

Premotion and the Voluntas efficiens et permittens

There is one more distinction. This allows Rutherford to maintain the free decisions of creatures. The voluntas efficiens is “the first and highest cause of all positive existents” (105).  This is the doctrine of physical premotion.  Richard footnotes a useful diagram by Van Ruler (“New Philosophy to Old Standards).

Prime Cause
a / \ c
Secondary Cause – Effect


Richard argues that Rutherfold has a supralapsarian framework with infralapsarian language. With the supralapsarians, Rutherford says election is prior to every other divine decree, “but [he] says nothing about reprobation” (118). (This is in the context of an unpublished mss.: University of Edinburgh Library, La.II.394, p.5). With this established, the rest of Rutherford’s comments on election are fairly standard among the Reformed.

He does speak of reprobation.  It has two acts. God passes over and withholds “efficaciou grace” (120).

He does have a positive argument for supralapsarianism. With others like Twisse, Rutherford says the “end must be acknowledged both first in intention, and last in execution” (121). God first decrees those who are to be saved, and then he decrees the means.  It would make no sense “decreeing the means to accomplish salvation before decreeing salvation itself.” 

Rutherford anticipates the argument that Turretin makes against supralapsarianism: does it make sense to speak of a decree about possible men?  Rutherford responds that “everyone who believes in the traditional doctrine of creation ex nihilo also makes a non-entity the object of the divine decree” (127).

The Atonement of Christ

Rutherford argues God is not obligated to exercise divine justice towards his creatures (134). Divine justice is an attribute ad intra. God’s will is hierarchically prior to justice. In other words, nothing ad extra can force God to exercise mercy. Lest this sound too severe, Rutherford does concede that there is a “relative necessity for him [God] to do so [i.e., act mercifully]” (135). 

This raises the other controversial issue for Rutherford on the atonement: could God have forgiven sinners apart from the death of Christ?  In terms of potentia absoluta, he could have.  Nonetheless, he has decreed potentia ordinata to forgive sinners by the death of Christ.

John Owen, by contrast, sees the justice of God as “the universal rectitude and perfection of the divine nature’, which is antecedent to all acts of his will’” (Owen, Works, X, p.498, quoted in Richard 136). Divine justice, then, is “the totality of the divine perfections.”  Carl Trueman has convincingly argued Owen’s case.  For Owen, the acts of God’s justice must conform both internally and externally (Trueman 93).


The material on covenant theology is fairly standard, so only a few comments will suffice. The covenant of redemption is “the relational context in which the decrees are given” (146). Richard has a good section on the nature of human willing. Does God’s grace violate man’s will?  No. Grace doesn’t “compel the will to act against its desires. It changes its desires” (174).


This isn’t merely a book on Samuel Rutherford. It is also a primer on Reformed categories.

Trueman, Carl. “John Owen’s Dissertation on Divine Justice: An Exercise in Christocentric Scholasticism.” Calvin Theological Journal 33 (1998), 87-103.

The Rise of Reformed System: Intellectual Heritage of William Ames

Van Vliet, Jan. The Rise of the Reformed System: The Intellectual Heritage of William Ames. London: Paternoster, 2013.

Jan van Vliet sees William Ames as the connecting link between William Perkins, the Father of English Puritanism, and the Westminster Confession, the high point of Puritan theology.  

The Pactum Salutis

Calvin: God “compacted within himself” (Institutes 3.21.5)

Ames: “This agreement between God and Christ” (Marrow 1.24.3).

Ames “moves covenant theology forward significantly” by explaining that God’s governance is two-fold, general and specific (Van Vliet 34).  His general governance includes the law of nature. It also includes, and this is important, how creatures respond to God in reason and obedience.

Key idea: “Ames holds to a covenant of grace that is one-sided and absolutely unconditional” (39).  Anticipating some of Cocceius’s developments, he sees biblical history unfolding in a way that progressively removes the works typology.

Ames’s Voluntarism

If one wants to speak of voluntarism, there are certain parameters that must be followed.  No Reformed theologian, certainly not Ames, believed that voluntarism was God’s raw will–a crude divine command ethic. Neither intellectualism nor voluntarism had in mind any “idea of huan thinking, willing, or acting outside of grace” (60).

Ames wants to unify head and heart.  It’s not that he prioritizes will over intellect.  Rather, he places both in the heart.  There is first a “passive receiving of Christ [whereby] a spiritual principle of grace is generated in the will of man” (Marrow, 1.26.21-25).  It is Ames’s contention that the mere enlightening of the mind doesn’t take away the corruption of the will..  It seems this is problem with intellectualism: the will can’t follow a renewed mind if it itself is corrupt.

Van Vliet has an extended discussion on how Ames’s voluntarism dovetails with his Ramism (72-78).


Both Ames and Perkins drew heavily upon medieval ethics.  This is even more acute with Ames in light of his emphasis on covenant and obedience. Casuistry, however, isn’t simply rule-making.  It involves nuanced and technical discussions on the nature of the soul and the human person, beginning with man’s conscience.  Conscience “is man’s judgment of himself, according to the judgment of God of him” (115). Conscience either accuses or excuses.  That is why medieval accounts of conscience as a moral habit are inadequate.  Habits don’t accuse.

Van Vliet gives a nice picture of the Puritan model.

Major Premise/Proposition.  This is the law, usually taken from Scripture.

Minor Premise/Assumption/Index. Assertion of the state of things.


Not to be missed, but perhaps not as obvious, is that Ames has moved “conscience” from the realm of “faculty” to that of “act” (118).

Nadere Reformatie

It is not surprising that there is a chapter on the Nadere Reformatie, given Ames’s sojourn in the Dutch Republic.  While his controversy with Maccovius is interesting, of particular important are those who came in Ames’s footsteps: Wilhemus a’Brakel and Petrus Van Mastricht.  

A’Brakel drew heavily from Ames’s casuistry with only slight variations.

Proposition: Knowledge of the will of God

Acknowledgement of God’s “cognizance of the action under review” (191).

Petrus Van Mastricht is interesting because he seems to be the connecting link between Ames and Jonathan Edwards.  I say “seems” because despite Edwards’ own high praise for Van Mastricht, Edwards’ own bizarre views aren’t present in Van Mastricht.  Van Vliet gives a good summary of Van Mastricht’s work. We will focus on his use of faith and the will.

Faith, as Van Vliet reads the Amesian tradition, “is a volitional act of reception” (221).  Van Mastricht concurs: “faith is an act of accepting God as the ultimate end or object and Christ as the only mediator” (221).

This book is a masterful summary of Ames’s theology.  My only quibble is that a bit more work could have been done on Ames’s view regarding obedience in light of an unconditional covenant.

The New England Mind: The 17th Century (Miller)

Miller, Perry.  The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1954.

One reads Perry Miller for the same reasons one reads Edward Gibbon: the delightful prose and the breathtaking scope of his topic. Never go to Miller for accurate doctrine.  He gets much of it wrong.  That might not be accurate, though.  Miller has read the primary sources, and there are many of them.  How well he understood them is another question.

On Predestination

“….penetration of God’s sovereignty into his [the Puritan’s] personality” (Miller 17).


“Virtue is not, as Aristotle and the scholastics said, a mean between two ends, but an extremity itself” (46).

Peter Ramus

Many Puritans considered him as dying “equally for the cause of logic and of Christ” (Miller 117). Missionaries would translate Ramus and condense him down so the Native Americans could read him alongside the Bible.

Aristotelian systems divided the whole of logic into three parts: simple terms, proposition, and discourse (122ff). A simple term contains the predicable.  The key is that its logic didn’t focus on method so much as learning the predicables.

To Ramus most of this was unnecessary memory work and didn’t actually train the student to use systems and methods. By focusing more on method than memorizing predicables, a Ramist was able to show how the terms are interconnected, something Aristotelians could not always do.

Logic is divided into invention and judgment.  “Invention is the part in which are arranged individual terms, the concepts, the arguments or the reasons, with which discourses are constructed; in judgment are contained the methods for putting arguments together”(128).

Arguments can be either artificial or inartificial.  An artificial argument is the facts as they are observable (e.g., fire causes heat).   The argument is embedded in the thing itself. An inartificial argument is one whose cause is not immediately apparent.

The most important point is that the syllogism serves the axiom, not the other way around. This removes the tendency, probably common among scholastics, to reduce everything to syllogisms.  In other words, “judgment is made immediately from axiom, mediately from syllogism” (135).

Ramus went even further.  He simplified the syllogism “into two modes, which he called the simple and composite” (136). A simple syllogism is one of the standard three figures.  A composite is something like a hypothetical or disjunctive syllogism.  Whereas Aristotle emphasized the square of opposition, Ramus introduced the opposition in a catalog of arguments.

Ames: “Contradiction in the composite syllogism always ought to divide the true from the false” (138).

“Method proceeds from universals to singulars.”

Miller suggests that the division between Aristotelians and Ramists is like the one between nominalists and realists, with the former seeing logic as a product of the mind (146).

Invention: an act of faculty intelligence performed according to the law of truth.

Ramism ran headlong into a problem: how can one really assert the identity between arguments and things (155)?  They denied that concepts were merely mental and subjective, which would seem to be nominalism.  Both the medieval nominalists and the Puritans (at least as Miller reads them) believed in an almighty, albeit arbitrary God. By putting rationality in the nature of things, Ramus allowed the Puritans a God without the chaos.

Ames illustrated how art (i.e., the rule of making and governing things to their ends) moves from God to man: the mind of God → enacted by God → clothed with objects and forms → extracted from objects by the human mind.

While he was a Ramist, much of William Ames’ theology is quite Thomist.  He asserted divine ideas or “platformes” in the mind of God.  The idea of a thing preexists in the mind of God. Especially as relates to “art,” these divine ideas are the radii of divine wisdom (167).

“Affections” are “the instruments of the will as it embraces or refuses a thing” (253).

Ramus didn’t so much as attack Aristotle on rhetoric; he simply got rid of the unnecessary parts.  Ramus’s students, especially ministers of the Word, saw that forcing a sermon to fit the grid of “praecisio, significatio, extenuatiom digressio, progressio, regressio, iteratio, dubiatio” was useless, if not actually impossible (315).  Ramus argued that the logical form (which the student would have already covered in the dialectic) could carry the weight of the “rhetorical” aspect.  Ramus said a student was better off imitating Cicero than trying to reproduce an Aristotelian manual.

This view on rhetoric led quite naturally to the “plain style” of Puritan preaching.  By plain style they didn’t mean “ignorant.”  They meant setting forth the “reasons” and “use” of a text.

The Covenant of Grace

Here is where Miller gets in trouble.  He writes, “Accordingly, between 1600 and 1650, English Puritans were compelled, in order to preserve the truths already known, to add to their theology at least one that hitherto had not already been known, or at least not emphasized, the doctrine of the Covenant of Grace” (366). This statement is false on every level.

Maybe he isn’t saying that, though. A few pages later, he mentions that the covenant of grace was in earlier Reformers.  What he suggests, I think, is that the Covenant of Grace took on a new practicality among the New England Puritans who also happened to be Ramist, Federalist, and Congregationalist all at once (374).

The problem is not that Miller hasn’t read the sources.  I dare say few have read New England Puritanism as intensely as he did.  He limits his vision, though.  He is completely aware of any developments/origins of covenant theology outside of North America and some aspects of Perkins and Ames.

Works of William Perkins vol 6

I want to thank R. Scott Clark at the Heidelblog for help making this review possible.

Perkins, William.  The Works of William Perkins vol. 6. Eds. Joel Beeke and Greg Salazar. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018.

One of the casualties inflicted upon the Reformed world by the Young, Restless, and Reformed crowd is the reducing of the Reformed faith to predestination.  A further casualty is misunderstanding the richness of predestination.  William Perkins corrects both. The latter half of the book is a refutation of Alexander Dickson’s hermetic memory techniques.  Perkins uses the teachings of Peter Ramus to refute them.

The Golden Chain

This is an early body of divinity.  In some respects it anticipates the structure of the Shorter Catechism. While some of his remarks on the doctrine of God echo the content in volume five, they are nonetheless worth repeating.  God’s nature is simple in that “whatever is in God is his essence” (Perkins 13).

A divine person is distinguished by a personal property, or its manner of subsisting in the divine essence (20). When God begets the Son, he begets him “within Himself” (21). Any subordination is ruled out, though one may speak of a logical ordering of the persons.

God ordained certain men to salvation to the praise of his glory (46). That is God’s decree.  It is not identified with the execution of it, which has three parts: the foundation (Christ), the means, and the degrees.  Because Christ is mediator, he is not subordinate to the decree of election, but only to the execution of it (48).


Perkins has some valuable discussion on the ten commandments, a few of which we will explore in detail.  Given his background, we are not surprised to see his responses to occultism.  He writes that “Albeit the devils cannot work miracles, yet may they effect marvels or wonders…by causing a thin body (as the air) to be thick and foggy…The foundation of magic is  a covenant with Satan” (82).

In the third commandment he sees a rebuke to astrology, which he identifies with magic (93).

In the seventh commandment he notes that having sex with the devil is a violation of it (125). Quite true. He also sees a violation in “effeminacy.”  That does not mean not acting like a manly manly man.  Rather, it is idle wantonness which stirs up lust.

I found it interesting on the eighth commandment that he says “idleness” is a violation of it, or living like you have no calling (133). Perkins rightly condemns usury (135), though he understands there are times when both can agree on something above the return.

I’m not sure his talk on “just price” works.  A “just price is then observed when as things prized and the price given for them are made equal” (138). This sounds good; it’s impossible to do.

On the sacraments I urge the reader to consult the charts in the book.

On fighting sin: if you are struggling with lingering sin, “accustom yourself to subdue the lesser sins, that at last you may overcome the greater” (200).

On Free Will

The Order of Predestination

The supreme end is God’s glory (305). The means of accomplishing this is creation and the permission of the fall. God’s will does not cause the fall. Rather, God did not give Adam his confirming grace.

To show that God doesn’t will evil, Perkins explains the complex taxonomy of the will. God either wills a thing itself (such as creation), or the event (sin).  He does not effect the event; rather, he doesn’t hinder it (322).

When God wills a thing, he either wills absolute (the good in itself), nil (wills that x doesn’t exist), or partly both (wills not the being but the event).

The human will is “a power of willing, nilling, choosing, refusing, suspending which depends on reason.  By ‘power’ I mean an ability or created faculty” (395). A will has the property of liberty whereby “it is free from compulsion or restraint, but not from all necessity”(396). Perkins has in mind the “necessity of infallibility” (396). God’s infallibility orders man’s will, yet there is no compulsion. God decrees the secondary causes by which the will naturally works (430).

God’s will is the “beginning or first cause of all things…and of all their motions” (397). God not only wills the being of all things, but their goodness as well. 

Regarding man’s act of willing, there are five moments (405);

1) action of the mind

2) deliberation of the means to accomplish (1)

3) a determination

4) the choosing to do or not do

5) the free movement

Even after the fall, man has all of the above.  What he often lacks is strength.

Perkins notes three graces that move in our conversion:

1) Preventing grace: God imprints a new light in our mind.

2) working grace: God gives to the will the act of well-willing.

3) coworking grace: God gives the deed to the will (424).

On Memory

This section is rather difficult because it relies on key Ramist distinctions (which Perkins doesn’t always explain) and he is dealing with rather bizarre occultists. Alexander Dickson, following the hermeticist Giordano Bruno, developed a mnemonic device.  That sounds innocent enough.  On first glance it looks stupid, but harmless.  There’s more going on.  Bruno and others believed they were tapping into the divine mind by means of sigils and mental locations.  That’s approaching rather dangerous ground.

It seems Dickson is saying that if you place items in mental locations, you can recall them better.  I think that is what he is saying.  It really isn’t clear, nor is it clear exactly how this works. Frances Yates explains it this way: Imprint on the memory a series of loci or places. Pretend you are using a spacious building. The places should form a series and be remembered in order.  Give each fifth locus some distinguishing mark.

The danger is when Dickson suggested a ready-made “building” for one’s memory: the Zodiac.  Now we are bordering on open magic.

Dickson’s memory chart.  This is actually Perkins’ analysis of Dickson.

(From McKim)

We rejoice that the works of William Perkins are now available and accessible.  This is a great volume because it takes predestination to the next level of understanding it rescues Reformed theology from the claim that it subordinates Christ to the decree of election.

Searching Our Hearts in Difficult Times (Owen)

Owen, John.  Searching our Hearts in Difficult Times.  Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2020.

Banner of Truth reformatted several treatises from volume nine of John Owen’s works. The material was compiled posthumously.  Notwithstanding, the first half appears to be a long Q&A session from a conventicle meeting.  This would have taken place at the end of Owen’s life and after the Great Ejection.  That’s important for a criticism I will make later. The second half are several jeremiads bemoaning the rise of Roman Catholicism in England.

The first half offers a number of litmus tests to see if you have grace in your heart and whether that grace is strong enough to enable you to persevere in times of trouble.  He begins on a strong note: “Put your faith to work in viewing him as he is represented in the gospel” (Owen 17). He warns of the danger of mere head knowledge (20), but intellectualism isn’t much of a problem for today’s church.

He fields a question on praying to Christ and whether it is lawful. He notes that “all our prayers to him as God and man in one person” (22).  When Christ is considered “absolutely, in his own person…he is the immediate and ultimate object of faith and worship.”  In such cases, as with Stephen, we may pray to him.  

Concerning his mediatorial office, though, “he is not the ultimate object of our faith and invocation.  Rather, we call upon God, the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ” (25).  Failure to note his mediatorship results in a contradiction: our faith would be on Christ and also on his mediation.  In conclusion, Owen notes “The Father is placed before us as the ultimate object of access in our worship; the Spirit is the effecting cause, enabling us this worship; the Son is the means by which we approach to God” (25).

Owen gives us a good guideline on rooting out habitual sin.  Simply because we have a particular sin or lust does not mean we have a habitual sin. A particular sin becomes a habitual sin when we give it a particular advantage (36).  If your soul is “grieved by it more than it is defiled by it,” then it probably isn’t a habitual sin (39). To the degree we consent, to that degree we are defiled.  

If you find arguments against a sin losing force, it is probably a habitual sin (40).  In other words, you are rationalizing.

Most of the book is quite excellent.  I don’t disagree with anything that is said.  I find it strange, however, that when he is speaking of renewing the grace and promises to us, he doesn’t mention the Lord’s Supper at all. To be fair, at this point in England finding reliable ministers might have made this impossible, and if so, then I don’t have any criticism of Owen. He does tell us to “labour to have the experience of the power of every truth in our hearts” (89). Formally, I have no problem.  The problem is “what do you mean by ‘experience’”?  We are starting to sound a lot like Martyn Lloyd-Jones and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Of course, we aren’t suggesting that Owen is presenting that.  This is where a robust view of the Supper fits perfectly.

Aside from those quibbles, this is quite a good read.

Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen (Ferguson)

Ferguson, Sinclair.  Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen.  Reformation Trust.

This book unites what never should have been divided: piety and scholastic rigor (and if you don’t like scholasticism, then John Owen isn’t for you.  Keep moving). Lawson’s preface is a bit on the nose in terms of the “long line of godly men.”  It reads like bedtime stories for the Young, Restless, and Reformed.  Notwithstanding, Sinclair Ferguson brings rigor and warmth to his subject.

We are treated with some crucial terminology regarding the Trinity and the Divine decree.

Opera trinitatis: the works of the Trinity, particularly that there is one external work.  As there is one divine will in the Trinity, all the persons are in the working.

Appropriationes personae: each person expresses his specific personhood both internally and externally.  As Ferguson points out, “There is a deep relationship between the dispositions and actions of each person of the Trinity and the nature of the Christian’s knowledge of and fellowship with that person. Our experience of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is shaped by the specific role that each plays in relationship to our lives and especially to our salvation.”

Communion with the Father

Scholastic methodology allows us to make distinctions concerning the phrase “God is love.” This ties in with the divine decree.  

  • Love of benevolence: God’s plan for our lives.
  • Love of beneficence: the love displayed in history that does good to all people.
  • the love of complacency: the love planned in Christ that we experience.

Conclusion: “Christ died for us because the Father loves us.”

Communion with the Son

Grace isn’t a substance.  It’s Jesus. The medievals said we have sacramental grace infused in us at baptism.  Our faith is later formed by perfect love, and this makes us justifiable.  Owen, as Ferguson says, combats this: “Through the work of the Spirit, the heavenly Father gives you to Jesus and gives Jesus to you.”

Conclusion: “It does indeed involve our understanding of who Christ is and what He has done; it also includes a willingness to give ourselves unreservedly to Him. But our communion with Him also enlivens and transforms the Christian’s affections.”

Communion with the Spirit

The same Spirit who kept Christ from corruption of sin in the Virgin’s womb also kept him from corruption in the tomb.

This is a nice primer on deep theology.  It can be read by a layman in one or two sittings.

Works of William Perkins, vol 5

Perkins, William. The Works of William Perkins, Volume 5. Reformation Heritage Books, 2017.

Recent Reformed theology can be sadly described as a generation arising “which knew not the scholastics.” To paraphrase Galadriel in The Fellowship of the Ring: Some things that should not have been forgotten were lost.

Perkins defines faith as “a supernatural gift of God in the mind, apprehending the saving promise with all of the promises that depend on it” (Perkins 11).

Doctrine of God

God is a spiritual essence. His nature admits of no composition or form (19). Concerning his nature, Perkins notes that “By nature is meant a thing subsisting by itself that is common to many” (24). A person is a thing or essence that subsists but is incommunicable.

Side note: Perkins says “plain reason will show there is a God” (494).

The whole Godhead is “communicated from the Father to the Son, and from both Father and Son to the Holy Ghost” (24). Because of this, we must have doctrines like eternal generation. We distinguish the Father by his personal property of begetting. Moreover, “We distinguish between generation itself and the manifestation of it (Ps. 2) (109).”

The personal relations are notionally distinct from the divine essence, but realistically (in the traditional sense of the term) one with it (27). This does not make a quaternity, as the persons are modes of the Godhead, not distinct entities.

Perkins anticipates and rebuts the wicked heresy of eternal subordination. He notes that the Father is not set before the Son “in regard of time or dignity….but in regard of order only” (28). Commenting on 1 Cor. 11:3, the Father is “head of Christ” only as he is “God incarnate or made manifest in the flesh and in respect of the office to which he willingly abased himself” (11). Concerning 1 Cor. 15:24, this means only that his kingdom shall cease in respect of the outward manner of administration” (111).

Continuing with his treatment of classical theology, Perkins discusses the inseparable operations. The actions of God are twofold, inward and outward. An inward action is one “which one person does exercise toward another, as the Father does beget the Son” (43).

His take on the Filioque is quite interesting. He argues that when a divine person sends another, he communicates his whole essence to him. If both the Father and the Son send the Spirit, then they communicate their one essence to him (308). As it stands it needs more argument, but it is an interesting idea.

God’s Counsel and Man’s Sin

God’s counsel does not hinder the will of man, “but only order and dispose it” (46). God’s counsel is necessary in regard to the highest cause, but contingent regarding secondary causes, which include the wills of man. Regarding Adam’s fall, God did not take away his free will; he only ordered it (86). “God is a moving cause of the wills of evil men” (87). This does not entangle him in the defect of evil.


Perkins has an excellent section on the theologia unionis. Christ was anointed by the Holy Spirit and his human nature received certain created gifts. The first is the “sanctification of the mass or lump which was to be the manhood of Christ” (126). The sanctification stopped the propagation of original sin and guilt. The second part infused holiness into the human nature.

Perkins has a good take on the autotheos controversy. In regard of the Son’s person, he is from the Father; in regard to the Godhead he is of himself.

On the Cross

When Jesus cried “why have you forsaken me?” did that entail Nestorianism? Did it imply a severing of the human nature from the divine nature? (This was always a danger latent in saying Jesus experienced hell). Perkins notes it in no way implied a severing. Rather, “the Godhead of the Father did not show forth his power in the manhood but did as it were lie asleep for a time, that the manhood might suffer” (188).

Death of the Body

The body dies when the soul is separated from it (83). When Christ died “his body and [human] soul were really and wholly severed” (197). This is common-sense. Perkins then adds a degree of precision that probably isn’t found elsewhere in the literature: “For as when he was living, His soul was a mean or bond to unite his Godhead and his body together, so when he was dead, his very Godhead was a mean or middle bond to unite the body and soul. To say otherwise is to dissolve the hypostatic union, by virtue whereof Christ’s body and soul, though severed from each other, yet both were still joined to the Godhead of the Son” (228).

The Fathers believed that Christ’s human soul was the middle point, or interface, between the divine nature and the flesh. This makes sense, as it is both created and immaterial. When Christ died, his Godhead held body and soul together.

Perkins realizes that “descended into Hell” wasn’t part of the Creed originally. He wants to avoid the idea that Christ accidentally (or maybe intentionally) got roasted a bit in his humiliation. Both sides kind of miss the point, though. The Creed collapsed several Greek words into the word “Hell.” Jesus probably raided Sheol or Hades. He didn’t go into Dante’s Hell. Even the passage in 1 Peter where the Spirit of Christ preached to the souls in prison isn’t referring to Hell. It would either be Taratarus or Sheol, not the lake of fire.

On Witchcraft

Perkins is unafraid to address hot topic issues. He argues, quite rightly, that Christ’s ascension protects believers from curses. He notes that “no witchcraft nor sorcery (which often are done with cursing) shall be able to hurt us” (259). Those not covered by the ascended Christ have no such protection. It is important to keep in mind that Perkins was once involved in the occult before he received better teaching.

The Church

The efficient cause of the church is God’s predestination. The formal cause is the mystical union (324ff). Of predestination, we note that the will of God appoints the estates of the creatures. (The following section is an exegesis of Romans 9). When God decrees something, there is no succession of moments. Nonetheless, we make logical distinctions. First, God purposes “what he will do and the end of all things.” The second is where he decrees the execution of the former (331).

God’s Will and Subordinate Means

Does God will evil? This seems to be the implication of predestination, yet it isn’t. Perkins notes three actions in God’s willing of a thing. God can absolutely will a thing as something he delights in. God can absolutely nill a thing. “There is also a third action which comes as a mean between the two former, which is remissly or in part to nill and will a thing” (356-357). God does not approve a thing, yet he wills the permission of it.

God’s willing of causes can be set in a hierarchical structure. A highest cause of a thing overrules all. As Perkins’s notes, this is God’s will (358). This is the cause of all things that have being. From this are secondary and tertiary causes. This allows Perkins to rebut something like Molinism. A thing cannot have hypothetical options before it even has being.

Side notes:

Perkins condemns the prayer lives of those involved in usury (436).

Perkins believes reading forms of prayer are lawful (468).

Following his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer is a poem in rhyming couplets. It’s surprisingly good. Not as good as Alexander Pope, to be sure, but still quite good overall.


While the work is structured around the Apostles’ Creed and so lends itself to a natural organization, Perkins’ Ramism, of which I am generally a fan, sometimes gets the better of him. His method is to set forth the doctrine, the uses, the benefits, and probably some other stuff. None of that is wrong, but by the time we get to the fourth or fifth “use,” itself probably a subdivision of a previous use, one sometimes forgets which article of the creed he is on.

While Perkins gives the classic formula of “the practical syllogism,” his take on assurance leaves much to be desired. We are told not to pry into heaven, which is true. Rather, he tells us “by signs and testimonies in ourselves to gather what was the eternal counsel of God concerning our salvation” (337). The syllogism itself isn’t wrong. I know Beza and Perkins take a lot of heat for it, but I like how Perkins frames it: “an application of the promises of the gospel in the form of a practical syllogism.” I’m just concerned that he leaves out one of the very places where Christ has promised to meet us: The Lord’s Supper. In his shorter catechism he rightly notes that the Supper strengthens us in our doubts (506). Very true. He just missed a good opportunity to tie it in here.

A Reformed Scholastic Reader

Bibliographies are my thing.  I haven’t read all of these, but I am in the process of doing so.  There is more to the Reformed faith than Calvin.  Calvin is good and writes better than most, but he wasn’t anything special back then. Bullinger outsold Calvin and Perkins outsold all combined.

Sadly, little of these writings were ever translated, with the result that classical Protestantism was reduced to the 5 Points.

Turretin, Francis.  Institutes of Elenctic Theology.  Start here.  Turretin teaches you how to think.

Ames, William.  Marrow.  I disagree with Ames’s voluntarism, but this was the most important theological text to make it to America.

Witsius, Herman.  Economy of the Covenants. This will guide you through issues on the Federal Vision, Kline, etc.

Clark, R. Scott.  Caspar Olevianand the Substance of the Covenant. Any doctrine that denies the inner/outer distinction of the covenant isn’t Reformed.

Rutherford, Samuel.  Trial and Triumph of Faith. Good defense of the Pactum Salutis.

Books I’ve Yet to Read

These are on my list.

Cocceius, Johannes.  Doctrine of the Covenant and testament of God.

Heidegger, Johannes. Concise Marrow of Theology.


You can’t speak on Reformed Scholasticism unless you can intelligently speak on these works.

Muller, Richard.  Post-Reformation Reformed Scholasticism.  The best work on the subject, hands down.

Preuss, Robert.  Post-Reformation Lutheranism.  The Lutheran version.

Oberman, Heiko.  The Harvest of Medieval Theology.  Look closely and you can tie in the Federal Vision.

Radicalism: When Reform Becomes Revolution (Hooker)


Hooker, Richard. Radicalism: When Reform Becomes Revolution. The Preface to Hooker’s Laws: A Modernization. Eds. Littlejohn, Brad. Marr, Brian. Belschner, Bradley. Lincoln, NE: Davenant Institute, 2017.

Hooker’s argument is that when you “want to reform the church according to the word of God:” given the lack of some clear precepts and patterns, you are going to have people who a) believe any deviation from the RPW is sin, b) some who believe a) will nonetheless have different practices, which leads to c) they, too, are necessarily in sin.  

On one hand he is correct.  This is exactly what happened in history.  On the other hand he completely misses his target.  He labels those who think like this as “Presbyterians,” since they are following Knox and Calvin.  Historically, however, at least in England, the true radicals were the Independents. Presbyterians in England (and Scotland!) never really had the political competence to hold on to power.

Here is a survey and structure of Hooker’s argument:

(1) The “Radicals” have nowhere shown that the Established are breaking God’s law in their liturgy.

(2) The radicals sought to get as far away from popery as possible.  This ultimately lead to getting rid of the Lord’s Prayer et al in the service.  Anyone who disagreed was “disobeying the will of Christ” (2.2).

(3) Instead of civil authorities having authority in the church, we have lay leaders who have close to the same amount of authority.  Further compounding the problem, and Hooker doesn’t specifically make this argument, what if leaders in the community, yet not actually holding office, are also church leaders? This isn’t all that different in the end.

(4) Hooker asks where Scripture teaches the entire “Presbyterian package” (2.7). You can’t point to verses that teach “rule by elders.”  That’s not the issue. The problem is where are the elders’ session to report to a presbytery which reports to the Assembly?  

(5) This next argument isn’t a knock-down argument, but the radical types need to consider it: how come no church body in history (over the long term and in the mainstream) ever held to Calvin’s type of government?  While Rome, EO, and Canterbury view bishops differently, they at least hold to episcopalian government as a given–and this was a given since the earliest days.

(6) Related to (4), we can’t say we are following Scripture simply because Scripture doesn’t give us an outline of First Presbyterian Church, Colossae.  Nor does it give us an order of worship.

Hooker’s arguments simply show the difficulties in some hyper-Reformed views.  He doesn’t in the preface give an argument for his own position, nor does he offer any knock-down logical arguments.  

Faerie Queene (Book IV: Friendship)


CS Lewis said to read Spenser was to grow in mental health.  I think I have figured out why. If you read Spenser with pencil and notes, you will become smarter.  Spenser is a brilliant poet, but he makes quite a few narratival mistakes. If you can keep track of what is going on, you will become a sharper reader.

Friendship is a stronger theme among the ancients and Renaissance than it is today. Friendship was essential for establishing a stable social order.  Perhaps it is no accident that the theme of Justice in Book V follows logically from the social implications of Friendship in Book IV.

While Book III of the Faerie Queene was magnificent, it’s fairly obvious that Spenser had lost control of the narrative.  We moved from False Duessa to various damsels in distress. Duessa, who had figured so prominently in every other book, was absent from Book III.  We see her immediately in Book IV.

Britomart has just rescued Aromet from Busirane’s Castle at the end of Book III.  This narrative begins with them horseback. The danger is that Britomart is still dressed like a male knight with an (unwed) damsel riding along.  This opens them to gossip, something Duessa and Ate will exploit.

The Fay’s three sons challenge Campbell for the hand of his sister Canace (Canto III). In this Canto Campbell marries Cambice, following Canace’s mediation of the battle between Campbell and Triamond, the latter whom she weds.  Spenser took an interesting scene from mythology on the fates and Triamond’s family. It seems the betrothals at the end of the canto, though, were quite forced. They are believable, to be sure, but some of the characters appear out of nowhere.

By the time of Canto 5, the ladies (and maybe some of the knights) are fighting for Florimell’s girdle (you need to think back to an early scene in Book 3).  This girdle represents what virtue gives to chaste love (V.3.1).

Cantos 7 and 8 describe what happened to Aromet.  Britomart was supposed to be watching her but fell asleep or something. In any case, Sir Scudamore tells the story of how he found her at the Temple of Venus.  It’s interesting to note that the past few books have ended in some major Castle or Temple.

Remember Florimell?  Probably not. Well, she’s back.  The book ends with the marriage of the rivers.  I’m not really sure what that was about.

Notes on some characters:

Sir Paridell is enslaved (unwittingly) to False Duessa.