William Ames on the Doctrine of the Scriptures

WilliamAmesPortraitDuring our Bible study tonight I will conclude our study of the doctrine of the Scriptures. Part of my preparation involved looking at key systematic theologies (primarily Bancroft, Berkhof, Enns, C. Hodge, McCune, Thiessen and sometimes Grudem and Strong).

While looking over the theology books on my shelf today, I noticed I neglected to look at The Marrow of Theology by the Puritan William Ames (1576–1633). He has some excellent points I’d like to share under the following headings—

Verbal Inspiration

Only those could set down the rule of faith and conduct in writing who in that matter were free from all error because of the direct and infallible direction they had from God. §2

In all those things made known by supernatural inspiration, whether matters of right or fact, God inspired not only the subjects to be written about but dictated and suggested the very words in which they should be set forth. But this was done with a subtle tempering so that every writer might use the manner of speaking which most suited his person and condition. §6

The Sufficiency of Scripture

All things necessary to salvation are contained in the Scriptures and also those things necessary for the instruction and edification of the church, 2 Tim 3:15–17. §15

The Authority of Scripture

Scripture is not a partial but a perfect rule of faith and morals. And no observance can be continually and everywhere necessary in the church of God, on the basis of any tradition or other authority, unless it is contained in the Scriptures. §16

Progressive Revelation

All Scripture was not committed to writing at one and the same time, for the state of the church and the wisdom of God demanded otherwise. But beginning with the first writing, those things were successively committed to writing which were necessary to the particular times. §17

The Univocality of Language

There is only one meaning for every place in Scripture. Otherwise the meaning of Scripture would not only be unclear and uncertain, but there would be no meaning at all—for anything which does not mean one thing surely means nothing. §22

The Perspicuity of Scripture

The will of God is revealed in such a way in Scripture that, although the substance itself is for the most part hard to conceive, the style of communicating and explaining it is clear and evident, especially in necessary matters. §20

The Scriptures need no explanation through light brought from outside, especially in the necessary things. They give light to themselves, which should be uncovered diligently by men and communicated to others according to their calling. §21

There is no visible power established in the church, royal or magistrative, for the settlement of controversies in theology. But the duty of inquiry is laid on men; the gift of discerning truth both publicly and privately is bestowed upon them; and an endeavor to further the knowledge and practice of the known truth according to their calling is enjoined—to all of which is joined a promise of direction and blessing from God. §23

Translations of Scripture and Providential Preservation

Among interpreters, neither the seventy who turned them into Greek, nor Jerome, nor any other such held the office of a prophet; they were not free from errors in interpretation. §28

Hence no versions are fully authentic except as they express the sources, by which they are also to be weighed. §29

Neither is there any authority on earth whereby any version may be made absolutely authentic. §30

God’s providence in preserving the sources is notable and glorious, for neither have they wholly perished nor have they been injured by the loss of any book or blemished by any serious defect—though today not one of the earlier versions remains intact. §31

From these human versions all those things may be known which are absolutely necessary, provided they agree with the sources in essentials. Hence, all the versions accepted by the churches usually agree, although they may differ and be defective at several minor points. §32

We must not rest forever in any accepted version, but faithfully see to it that a pure and faultless interpretation is given to the church. §33

The preceding selections are from pages 186–189 of John D. Eusden’s edition of The Marrow of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968). The symbol “§” refers to the particular section of the chapter.

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Author: Dan Greenfield

I am an undeserving sinner saved by God's grace through Jesus Christ, a happy husband, proud father of 6 great kids, pastor of Orwell Bible Church, Executive Secretary of the American Council of Christian Churches, and member of the Ohio Bible Fellowship .

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