1902 Encyclopedia > William Ames

William Ames
English theologian

WILLIAM AMES, D.D. In the Latinised form of Amesius this distinguished English theologian is now better known on the Continent than in our own country, through works that were a power in their day, and are not yet spent of their force. He was born at Ipswich, Suffolk, in 1576. He received an excellent education at the grammar school of Ipswich; and proceeded next to the university of Cambridge, where he was entered of Christ's college. From the outset, as to the latest, he was an omnivorous student. Entering half-carelessly into the church where the great Master William Perkins was the preacher, he was, under the sermon, roused and alarmed in such fashion as was not rare under so burning and intense an orator as Perkins. Like another Nicodemus he visited the vener-able preacher, and was taught and comforted so as never through life to forget his interviews with the "old man eloquent." Perkins having died at a ripe old age, was succeeded by one of kindred intellect and fervour, Paul Bayne, and his friendship also was gained by Ames. He proceeded B.A. and M.A. in due course, and was chosen to a fellowship in Christ's college. He was universally beloved in the university. His own college (Christ's) would have chosen him for the mastership; but a party-opposi-tion led to the election of a Dr Carey, who at once sought a quarrel by arraigning Ames for disapproving of the sur-plice and other outward symbols. Not succeeding by threats of expulsion, which were illegal and powerless, the master resorted to transparent flattery. Ames stood firm, was led to re-examine former opinions, and the result was that more absolutely than ever he decided against con-formity. Nevertheless, he preached in season and out of season, and always with profound impression. One ser-mon became historical in the Puritan controversies. It was delivered on St Thomas' day, before the feast of Christ's nativity, and in it he rebuked sharply Lusory Lotts and the " heathenish debauchery " of the students during the twelve days ensuing. His exposures and scathing denun-ciations won thunders of applause, but there were sheathed in them lightnings of wrath among the High Church party. He was summoned before the vice-chancellor and whole senate of the university. He appeared, and in presence of as brilliant an assembly as ever met in the congregation-house, defended himself triumphantly. Nonconformity, admittedly in lesser things, was regarded as excluding him from the Church of England. He left the university, and would have accepted the great church of Colchester in Essex, but the relentless bishop of London refused to grant institution and induction. Like furtive persecution awaited him elsewhere, and at last he passed over to Holland. To leave England was not so simple or easy a thing then, and Ames had to disguise himself for safety. His disguise was singularly timed, for it produced an incident that has long been worked into the very fabric of church history in Eng-land and Holland. Coincident with his arrival at Rotterdam a congress of theologians—Remonstrant and non-Remon-strant—was being held. Ames went into the meeting in his "habit of a fisherman, with his canvas slops about his body, and a red cap on his head." As the debate pro-ceeded, the English visitor rose and craved permission to oppose Grevinchovius—a theologian long since in oblivion, but a tower of strength in heresy at that day—in Latin. The Remonstrant champion was rather taken aback at first; but jeered and flouted the plain countryman, "like an-other Goliath scorning David." The question was the old-new one of the " self-determining power of the human will to spiritual good, without any need of the previous effica-cious operations of divine grace." Ames bore his op-ponent's gibes at his dress, and overwhelmed him with his logical reasoning from Phil. ii. 13, " It is God that worketh in us both to will and to do." The fisherman-contro-versialist made a great stir, and from that day became known and honoured in the Low Countries. Subsequently Ames entered into a controversy in print with Grevin-chovius on universal redemption and election, and cognate problems. He brought together all he had maintained in his Coronis ad Collationem Hagiensem—his most master-ful book, which figures largely in Dutch church history. At Ley den. Ames became intimate with the venerable Mr Goodyear, pastor of the English church there. While thus resident in comparative privacy he was sent for to the Hague by Sir Horatio Vere, who appointed him a minister in the army of the states-general, and of the English soldiers in their service, a post held by some of the greatest of England's exiled Puritans. He married at the Hague a daughter of Dr Burgess, who was domestic pastor of Vere. On his father-in-law's return to England, Ames succeeded to his place. It was at this time he began his memorable controversy with Episcopius, who, in attacking the Coronis, railed against the author as having been " a disturber of the public peace in his native country, so that the English magistrates had banished him thence; and now, by his late printed Coronis, he was raising new disturbances in the peaceable Netherlands." It was a miserable libel. Mr Goodyear being present in the lecture-room when Epis-copius vented his malice, there and then rebutted his charge against his absent friend. None the less did the controversy proceed. Ultimately Ames reduced the Re-monstrants to silence. The Coronis had been primarily prepared for the Synod of Dort, which sat from November 1618 until May 1619. At this celebrated synod the posi-tion of Dr Ames, if an extremely. honourable, was a peculiar one. The High Church party in England had in-duced the king to interfere and bring about his removal from the Hague, on the ground of his nonconformity; but he was still held, deservedly, in such reverence that it was arranged he should attend the synod informally. Through-out its sittings Dr Ames appears to have been the most active and influential of the foreign divines. It is a sorrowful fact that, from 1611-12 onward, Ames was interfered with harassingly by the High Church party in England. Twice over, when chosen professor, the most envenomed opposition was led from England. He was kept from the university of Leyden; and when later in-vited by the state of Friesland to a professoriate at Franeker, the persecution was renewed, but this time abortively. He was installed at Franeker on 7th May 1622, and de-livered a most learned discourse on the occasion on " Urim and Thummim." He soon brought renown to Franeker as professor, preacher, pastor, and theological writer. He prepared his Medidla Theologica for his students. His Casus Conscientiae followed. Both these treatises left their mark on the thought of the century. His " Cases of Con-science" was a new thing in Protestantism. The work shows much insight into human nature, and may be favourably compared with the bulkier Ductor Dubitantium. Having continued twelve years at Franeker, his health gave way, and he contemplated removal to New England. But another door was opened for him. His English heart yearned for more frequent opportunities of preaching the gospel to his fellow-countrymen, and an invitation to Rotterdam gave him such opportunity. His friends at Franeker were passionately opposed to the transference, but ultimately acquiesced. At Rotterdam he drew all hearts to him by his eloquence and fervour in the pulpit, and his irrepressible activity as a pastor. Home-controversy engaged him again, and he prepared his Fresh Suit against Ceremonies— extrinsically having the distinction of being the book which made Richard Baxter a Nonconformist. It was posthu-mously published. He did not long survive his removal to Rotterdam. Having caught a cold from a flood which drenched his house, he died in November 1633, in his fifty-seventh year.

Few Englishmen have exercised so formative and controlling an influence on continental thought and opinion as Dr Ames. He was a master in theological controversy, shunning not to cross swords with the formidable Bellarmine. He was a scholar among scholars, being furnished with extraordinary resources of learning. His works, which even the Biographia Britannica (1778) testifies, were famous over Europe, were collected at Amsterdam in 5 vols. 4to. Only a very small proportion were translated into his mother tongue. His Lectiones in omnes Psalmos Daviclis (1635) is exceedingly suggestive and terse in its style, reminding of Bengel's Gnomon, as does also his Commentarius utriusque Epist. S. Petri. His "Replies" to Bishop Morton and Dr Burgess on "Ceremonies" tell us that even kinship could not prevent him from '' contending earnestly for the faith." (John Quick's MS. Icones Sacrae Anglicanae, who gives the fisherman anecdote on the personal authority of one who was present; Brook's Puritans, vol. iii. pp. 405-8 ; Winwood's Memorials, vol. iii. pp. 346-7; Neal's Puritans; Fuller's Cambridge (Christ's College); Sylvester's Life of Baxter, part i. pp. 13, 14; Biogr. Brit., vol. i. pp. 172-3 ; Mather's New England, book iii. ; Palmer's Nonconf. Memorial; Mosheim's Eccles. Hist., who mistakenly calls him a Scotsman ; Hanburg, s.v. ; Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, vol. vi., fourth series, 1863,
pp. 576-7.) (A. B. G.)

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