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«BRTIRBT, 7, No. 1-2 (SpringIFaIl1997), 49-68 WILLIAM PERKINS, A RAM 1ST THEOLOGIAN? Paul Marshall INTRODUCTION Statement of the Problem We may ...»

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BRTIRBT, 7, No. 1-2 (SpringIFaIl1997), 49-68


Paul Marshall


Statement of the Problem

"We may declare that Puritans... derived their ideas from the Bible, from

Augustine and Calvin, Petrus Ramus and William Perkins."1 Many,

following Peny Miller, find that Peter Ramus had a great impact on English

and American Puritan theological thought. McKim notes that Ramism did not, "specifically color their (the Puritans) theology," but he quotes Ramus as saying "my zeal for logic invaded the realm of religion."2 Donald McKim's dissertation traced the evidence of Ramism in William Perkins' writings and found that Ong, Howell, Breward and Porter all underestimated the effect of Ramism on Perkins.3 What has been the influence of the Huguenot educator Peter Ramus on the early English preacher and theologian William Perkins? Donald McKim states, "The highly influential English Puritan, William Perkins,... advocated the Ramist principles and practiced them in his approach to exegesis."4 Although McKim's statement of Perkins' large dependence on Ramism, has been widely accepted, his evidence needs to be more thoroughly examined, since a familiarity with Perkins' writings would seem to discredit it.

Perkins had a great influence on the writers of the Westminster Confession, and since McKim must hold to that document as a 1 Perry Miller, The New England Mind' The Seventeenth Century (1939; rpt.

Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963), p. 7.

2 Donald McKim, Ramism in WilIiam Perkins (New York: Peter Lang, 1987), p. 122.

3 Donald K. McKim, "Ramism in William Perkins" (Unpublished Ph.D.Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, 1980), p. 2.

4 Donald K. McKim, "William Perkins' Use of Ramism as an Exegetical Tool," in

A Commentary on Hebrews 11(1609 Edition), ed. John H. Augustine (New York:

Pilgrim Press, 1991), p. 32.

Presbyterian, 5 Perkins is very important to him. While writing his dissertation on Perkins, he took time off to write a book on how Theodore Beza, Frances Turretin, John Owen and their friends had changed the Reformed movement from its salvi:fic view of scripture to a "scholastic" (inerrantist) one. 6 For McKim's hypothesis to hold true, he must show that the Westminster Fathers were not scholastics and he can do that by showing that Perkins was a Ramist. McKim's attempt to prove Perkins a Ramist, and therefore separate Perkins from the later "scholastic" or inerrantist Puritans, makes room for the doctrine of inspiration to be altered.

The influence of Ramus on Perkins can be viewed in three ways: ftrst, that Perkins was a Ramist in the manner of McKim; second, that Perkins was not a Ramist, but shared some characteristics because they were Protestants and contemporaries; and third, that Perkins may have used Ramist forms with non-Ramist content. This last view is parallel to Jill Raitt's conclusion that Theodore Beza used scholastic forms without having scholastic content. 7 Statement of Presuppositions People are influenced in many different ways: by reading a book or a book review, reading a magazine, a letter, hearing a formal speech or sermon, participating in a group discussion, having a private conversation, or overhearing another person's private conversation. However, some people arrive at similar conclusions at similar times without consulting one another. 8 Unless there is a paper trail of influence, it should not be established that one person had impact on another. This is a presupposition See below p. 10-11. Perkins could be called a father of the Westminster Fathers because of the influence of his writings and because so many Presbyterians were educated at Cambridge.

6 Jack B. Rogers and Donald K. McKim, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1979), xiii.

7 Jill Raitt, The Eucharistic Theology of Theodore Beza; Development of the Reformed Doctrine (Chambersburg, Penn.: American Academy of Religion, 1972).

8 An example of this is the discovery of the modem liquid propelled rocket. Herman Oberth (1923) and Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky (1903) both thought about the issue and reached similar conclusions independently. It was not until Oberth's work was published, 'that the Russian work was translated, and Tsiolkovsky received the recognition that he deserved.

that others may not share and Donald McKim is not faulted if he does not hold to it.

Jill Raitt's work, that there was not a large shift to Protestant Scholasticism after Calvin's death, is quite convincing. Thus inerrancy was not a scholastic innovation but the historic position of the church.

Statement of the Parameters

This paper deals with the effect, if any, of Ramism on William Perkins.

Since this is proposed in the work of Donald McKim and Perry Miller, their positions are closely evaluated. The secondary literature on Perkins is surveyed and a close reading of Perkins' work the Arte of Prophecying is considered.

Statement of the Procedure This paper examines the lives of William Perkins and Peter Ramus, presents a brief study of Ramist thought, and concludes with a presentation and evaluation of the argument of Ramist influence.

–  –  –

Contemporary Events Perkins (1558-1602) lived in a time when the Bible was just beginning to make strong inroads into the consciousness of the common people. Before his time the clergy and society were woefully unaware of the Scriptures.

John Wyc1iffe's transhltion9 had been made, but since it predated the printing press, it was not widely distributed. Wyc1iffe's followers, the Lollards, also had a great influence, but were persecuted. By Perkins' time the Bible was in wide circulation, although there was still some opposition to its use by those of the Catholic and Anglican High Church persuasion.

9 This translation was done by WycIiffe's followers around 1380-1392. Nicholas of Herford and John Purvey are usually considered to have done most of the work.

Finally, in 1582 the Catholics published their Douai-Reims annotated Bible, which entrenched an English Bible in the hands of the laity. 10 The study and preaching of the Bible is a Puritan distinctive.l1 Most importantly, the Puritans wanted change to continue beyond the point of the Refonnation. They wanted to eliminate many of the things that reminded them of "popery," such as bowing at communion. 12 While there was acceptance of the Bible, Puritans were subjected to constraints in the name of political expediency because Royal control of the churches was seen as essential for political stability. 13

The Life of William Parkins

There is not much known about the life ofWi1liam Perkins except for the few details in Thomas Fuller's books. 14 Perkins was born in 1558 to Thomas and Anna Perkins. They apparently had enough money to send him to Christ's College, Cambridge. At that stronghold of Puritan thought, he was tutored by Lawrence Chaderton, who was later described as "the pope of See John Knott, Sword of the Spirit: Puritan Response to the Bible, p. 137.

Peter Toon (Puritans and Calvinism [Swengel, Pennsylvania: Reiner Publications, 1973], p. 9) has noted six characteristics of the Puritans. First, there was a commitment to the Bible as the authoritative Word of the living God. Second, there was a belief in Reformed Theology. Some were federal theologians and some believed in limited atonement while others did not hold to either of these. Some can be called "Arminian Puritans" such as John Goodwin, but generally they were Reformed. Third, there was a desire for a restructuring of the Church of England on the principles of Reformed Theology. Fourth, there was a belief in the necessity of personal regeneration, justification by faith and sanctification by the Spirit. Fifth, there was a need for revival in the country at all levels. This was to be done by legislation, Bible teaching, personal holiness with fervent prayer and fasting. Sixth, there was a strong sense that the last days had come and that Christ would soon return.

12 Derek Wilson, The People and the Book: The Revolutionary Impact of the English Bible, 1380-1611 (London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1976), pp. 132,137.

13 Christopher Hill, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England (New York: Schocken Books, 1964), pp. 37ff.

14 Thomas Fuller, The Holy State and the Profane State (1642) and Abel Redivivus (1651)..

Cambridge Puritanism." 15 This tutor selection prompted widespread speculation that his family may have had Puritan leanings. Yet, this may not have been the case, since many tutors at the time were Puritans. 16 At Cambridge, Perkins did not always act like the ideal Christian scholar.

Rather, he is described by Fuller as taking "wild liberties to himself as cost him many a sigh in his reduced age.'m Fuller notes that Perkins' wild youth later gave him the ability to better deal with sinners. 18 He seems to have had some exposure to Astrology.19 Breward notes that Perkins' earliest works deal with the folly of Astrology.2o His work, Four Great Lyers, shows the futility of almanacs by printing four side by side and showing their great divergence. 21 As a result of his conversion, Perkins began to work with Cambridge prison inmates. He was an effective chaplain with sermons so popular that outsiders also came to hear him. 22 This led to his appointment as lecturer (preacher) at Great St. Andrews Church, Cambridge in 1584. 23 Fuller records that his simple preaching style, uncluttered by latin and heHenic quotations caused his ministry to be very well received by both the 15 See "Chaderton, Lawrence," Dictionary of National Biography (1885-1900) and Donald McKim, Ramism in WiIliam Perkins' Theology (New York: Peter Lang, 1987), p. 5.

16 The Puritans were, in general, a very well-educated group and tended to dominate university life with their intellectual gifts..

17 Thomas Fuller, Abel Redivivus (London, 1651), p. 432. Ian Breward (The Work ofWilliam Perkins [Appleford, Berkshire: Sutton Courtenay, 1970], p. 6) noted that there is a puzzling bequest of a Bible to his son-in-law John Hinde. It is possible that his seven-year-old eldest daughter was a child bride, but it appears more likely that he had an earlier illegitimate daughter.

18 Fuller, p.432.

19 See Thomas Fuller, The Holy State and the Profane State, ed. James Nichols (London, 1841), p. 80 and Fuller,Abel Redivivus, pp. 432-433.

20 Some of his works on the subject include, A Resolution to the Countryman, which contains theological and logical reasons against the use of almanacs; and A FruitfUl Dialogue Concerning the End of the World. This work deals with proper Christian thought in regard to the future.

21 Breward, Work, pp. 7, 114.

22 Samuel Clarke, A Marrow ofEcclesiastical Histone (London, 1654), pp. 416-417.

23 Fuller, Abel Redivivus, p. 433.

townspeople and the scholars. He sought to persuade people by the use of the scriptures, logic and emotional appeal, rather than weighty citations. 24 Perkins' ministry was very fruitful. In his short life he published the forty books that make up the J. Legatt edition of his works.25 He was a Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge from 1584 until 1595 when he resigned to marry Timothye Cradocke. In their seven years of marriage, they had seven children, but three died in childhood. At the end of his life, Perkins was afflicted with "the stone" that caused his death, October 22, 1602.

Perkins' Influence

William Perkins was a leader in English Puritanism, but although he was a friend to his tutor, the prominent Puritan, Lawrence Chaderton, Perkins did not consider himself a Puritan. 26 He was not a separatist, and attacked those who wanted to split or leave the Church of England. 27 Most think of

24 Ian Breward, Work, citing William Ames, Conscience, with the Power and Cases

thereof(1639), n. pag.

25 This edition is the The Workes of that Famous and Worthy Minister of Christ at the University of Cambridge, Mr. William Perkins (Cambridge: John Leggat, 1616This is number 19651 in Pollard and Redgrave's, A Short-title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland and Ireland 1475-1640. Vol.ill has 264 pages that are not numbered with the rest.

26 Breward (Work, p. 11) notes that Perkins did not associate with the Puritan ministers. He only had a small role as a persecution witness in a trial of Puritan. ministers in 1590-1591. Breward speculates, apparently correctly, that Perkins was less than totally transparent in his statements on Puritanism and his personal beliefs.

Breward's research finds support in the Commentary on Galatians (perkins, Works, n, 183) where Perkins allows for feigning. This feigning is defined as something that is not exactly what a person is thinking, but is not contrary to it. This is only allowed when it is "not to the prejudice of the truth, against the glory of God, and the good of our neighbor, and some convenient and reasonable cause." Perkins (Works, rn, 15B; I, 342) states that none can be called pure and so "puritan" is a "vile name" to apply to the godly.

Also, Breward (Work, p. 22) recorded that Perkins took the "anti-puritan" oath used to rid the church of Puritan sympathizers. It stated that no one should separate "themselves from the Church, ministry and the service of God."

27 See Breward, Work, p. 12.

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