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The Rise of Reformed System: The Intellectual Heritage of William Ames (Van Vliet)

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This unique and persuasive work establishes the significance of the thought of Puritan William Ames (1576-1633) in deepening and systematizing established Reformation teaching on Christian doctrine and life in a way that ensured its subsequent development through the early modern period and beyond. 


Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Situating William Ames: Culture, Corpus, Historiography
  3. The Federal Theology of William Ames
  4. The Voluntarism of William Ames
  5. The Legacy of William Ames in Johannes Cocceius
  6. From Thomas’ Casuistry to the Moral Theology of Westminster
  7. From Heidelberg to Westminster: William Ames
  8. The Nadere Reformatie and William Ames
  9. Amesian Contours in the Thought of Wilhelmus a Brakel and Petrus van Mastricht 



Jan van Vliet is Professor of Economics at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. He is a member of the Kuyper Translation project. 



'This is a masterful treatment of the thought of the great Puritan theologian William Ames. It sets out winsomely how, through the tools of covenant thinking and Ramist logic, Ames accomplished his goal of making Calvinism a properly experiential religion, and theology a system of practical instruction in "living unto God." It demonstrates how Ames served as the crucial link between his forebears in the Reformed tradition—especially John Calvin and William Perkins—and his successors in Puritanism and the Dutch Second Reformation. Clear, comprehensive, and marked by thorough scholarly command, the volume will be valued by novice and specialist alike.' - James D. Bratt, Professor of History, Calvin College, Michigan, USA

'In this scholarly monograph Jan van Vliet ably supplements Keith Sprunger's classic work on William Ames, giving us a fuller understanding of this influential Puritan theologian. Van Vliet carefully argues that Ames provides an example of how the graciously given covenant can be held together with an unapologetic call for the believer's vibrant response of obedience. But this study covers far more than just Ames; the reader is taken through the necessary background behind his theology (e.g., Calvin, Perkins) and given nuanced treatment of his influence (e.g., van Mastricht, Edwards). This work offers a helpful contribution to Puritan studies.' - Kelly M. Kapic, Professor of Theological Studies, Covenant College, Georgia

'Jan van Vliet has given us so much with his comprehensive and wise work on William Ames. It is much more than a highly competent treatment of a meaningful episode in the history of the Reformed church—it helps us think clearly today about what is most important for us in our living for Jesus Christ. Ames believed that the important part of the sermon is its application for life—how many understand that today? Application to life based on solid work in understanding God's Word, isn't that exactly what we want and need today? Is faith understanding the truth? Or is desiring to do what God commands also important? There Ames went the crucial step further: understand, desire and then do! Isn't the gospel a true comfort, but Ames knew it as joy! Is Jesus your own Savior—why not add, the Savior of your church, all of you together! Most basic of all, what is it that God does in your salvation, what must you do—in what sense is the New Covenant conditional? The answers Ames gives are very deep, very helpful, just what we all need to know and believe. This is a remarkable and most necessary work. Saturate your mind and heart in it—and then do something with it.' - D. Clair Davis, Professor of Church History and Chaplain, Redeemer Seminary, Texas

'A fine study of William Ames, the "learned doctor" of 17th-century English and American Puritanism and continental Reformed theology. He always taught - and practiced - that "theology is the doctrine of living to God." Van Vliet has given us the most thorough study of Ames to date and skillfully placed him into the context of his times.' - Keith L. Sprunger, Oswald H. Wedel Professor of History Emeritus, Bethel College, Kansas

'The Rise of the Reformed System is a major contribution to Post-Reformation historical theology. Dr. van Vliet's thesis is that Ames left an influential legacy of experiential Calvinism in his covenantal marriage of sovereign grace and human obedience. The book traces the lines of influence linking Ames to a panorama of major Reformed theologians, including Calvin, Perkins, Cocceius, van Mastricht, Brakel, and Edwards. It also explores and offers a carefully nuanced perspective on Ames's "voluntarism" and ethics. Students of history, Puritan theology, and Reformed systematics will benefit from van Vliet's scholarship. We are in his debt for this book which helps to bridge the gap between Dutch and English-speaking scholarship on Reformed, experiential orthodoxy.' - Joel R. Beeke, President, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Michigan

'This is an astute and ambitious study of William Ames, among the most influential of English Puritan theologians. Its great strength is that it locates Ames within the broad sweep of the Reformed tradition from Calvin to Edwards, showing how his writings powerfully shaped its covenant theology, ethics, and experiential piety. The book will prove especially useful to English speaking readers, for it opens up the Dutch context in fascinating ways.' - John Coffey, Professor of Early Modern History, Leicester University, UK

'Jan van Vliet's thorough intellectual history of William Ames documents the significance of this important Puritan theologian for the rise and development of the Reformed system. Arguing that Ames' contribution to Reformed thinking has been undervalued, van Vliet splendidly shows how the Amesian double emphasis on covenant theology and piety stands in continuity with the likes of Calvin and Perkins, and how it influenced subsequent Reformed leaders such as Cocceius and Edwards. Van Vliet's study convincingly conveys the thought and influence of Ames who called the church to an experiential Christianity which held doctrine and godliness together. Such an emphasis is still of vital importance for the Reformed faith today.' - John A. Vissers, Professor of Historical Theology, Knox College, University of Toronto, Canada

'My colleague Jan van Vliet has written a very interesting and intriguing study on the Puritan William Ames and his federal and volitional theology. He enhances the value of his book by delineating the influence Ames exerted on both Dutch and American Reformed experiential theology. Heretofore, nearly all Dutch researchers have assumed that Ames left little mark on the landscape of the Nadere Reformatie after his death in 1633. Van Vliet, however, is convincing in demonstrating that leading men of the Nadere Reformatie, such as Wilhelmus à Brakel and Petrus van Mastricht, were indebted to Ames on crucial points of their theological views. And these were not the only figures within the Nadere Reformatie to owe Ames a debt! In America, moreover, Jonathan Edwards was similarly influenced. This book will not, of course, be the last word on the topic, but not a single future researcher will be able to take the liberty of ignoring the results of the investigation that van Vliet submits in this book.' - W.J. op 't Hof, Affiliate Professor of the History of Reformed Pietism at VU University, Amsterdam, the Netherlands