(The Marrow of Theology)
The Medulla was the principal required textbook
in the Ivy League in the American Colonial Period. One cannot adequately
grasp the intellectual climate of New England without understanding the
concepts in this book. The following two sections on the Decrees of God
and Predestination highlight the central peculiarities of Puritan theology.
Ames was unequivocal in stating that God controls the universe and that
humans do not "change" or "determine" God's behavior in any way.
The Decree and Counsel of God
A middle knowledge1
by which God is imagined by some to know by hypothesis before the decree
of his will that certain things will be, if such and such free causes meet
such and such conditions -- knowledge of this kind cannot stand with the
absolute perfection of God. For it supposes that events will happen independently
of the will of God and also make some knowledge of God depend on the object...
That conjectural knowledge which some attribute to God about future
contingencies2 is plainly
incompatible with the divine nature and perfection...
God's act of willing does not properly depend upon the act of the creature.
And it is not right, under the name of "antecedent will," to attribute
to God that imperfect willing which is called "wishing" in the schools.
This does not agree with an omniscient, omnipotent, and infinitely blessed
Therefore the opinion which holds that God wills something antecedent
to the acts of the a creature and consequent to the acts does not will
the same but something else, is not to be allowed. This makes the will
of God mutable and dependent upon the act of the creature, so that as often
as the act of the creature is changed, God's will itself is changed...
In whatever God wills he is universally effectual; he is not hindered
or frustrated in obtaining what he wills. For if he should properly will
anything and not attain it, he would not be fully perfect and blessed...
The will of God is partly hidden and partly revealed,3
Predestination is a decree of God concerning the eternal condition of
men which shows his special Glory.
It is called Predestination because there is a sure determination of
the order of means for the end. Because God determined this order by himself
before any actual existence of things, it is called not simply destination,
It is called a decree because it contains a definite sentence to be
executed under firm counsel. In the same sense it is also called a purpose
and a counsel, because it sets forth an end to be reached as a result of
The basis of Predestination is unmovable and indissoluble (2 Tim. 2:19).
On that basis the number of the predestined (not only the amount, but also
the persons themselves) is certain with God not only in the certainty of
his foreknowledge but in the certainty of the means he has ordered. (Luke
Predestination does not rightly presuppose that either its end or object
exists; rather it causes it to exist. Predestination orders that it should
be. (I Peter 1:20)
Hence it depends on no cause, reason, or outward condition, but proceeds
purely from the will of Him who predestines. (Matt. 11:6, Romans 9:16)
Hence it is not proper, nor does it agree with Scriptures, to appoint
any previous quality in man which might be considered the formal cause
of predestination. No condition in man decides that others should be excluded.
It is sufficient only to understand that men, equal among themselves, are
the object of the decree; the difference inherent in the decree does not
depend upon man, but the differences found in men are the result of the
There is properly only one act of will in God because in him all things
are simultaneous and there is nothing before or after.4
So there is only one decree about the end and the means, but for our manner
of understanding we say that, so far as intention is concerned, God wills
the end before the means (Romans 8:30). As for execution, however, he first
wills the means and then directs them to their end (2 Thess. 2:13)...
There are two kinds of predestination, election and rejection or reprobation...
Election is the predestination of certain men so that the glorious grace
of God may be shown in them (Eph. 1:4-6)...
Reprobation is the predestination of certain men so that the glory of
God's justice may be shown in them (Rom. 9:22).
1. "Middle Knowledge" was a doctrine championed
by the Jesuit theologian, Molina, which attempts to deal with the problem
that God's foreknowledge implies that the future is determined. Molina
suggests that the actions of the creatures are logically prior to the decree
of God. Ames considered Molina's approach nonsense. The "Middle Knowledge"
doctrine has become the mainstream theological way of handling this problem
among 20th century Christians (see e.g., William Lane Craig, The Only
Wise God). Puritans such as Ames were content accepting the implications
of God's foreknowledge.
2. The "Future Contingencies" doctrine was developed
in the middle ages among such thinkers as William of Ockham, De Prędestination
et de Pręscientia Dei et de Futuris Contingentibus (On Predestination
and on Foreknowledge of God and On Future Contingencies). These Scholastics
toyed with the idea that God bases his decisions on his foreknowledge of
what He knows creatures will do independently. Ames rejects that notion
because it makes God's actions responsive to the creatures' choices rather
than vice versa.
3. This distinction, formerly know as the decretive
will/preceptive will was explicated by the scholastics, but strongly stated
by Luther (in De Servo Arbitrio), and later detailed in Turretin's Institutes.
4. An Augustinian concept detailed in Augustine's Confessions,
Books 10 & 11.