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Puritan Memoirs - William Ames

Puritan Memoirs - The Life and Death of Some Reformed Ministers

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The life and death of Dr. William Ames.

THIS learned divine was born in the county of Norfolk, in the year 1576, and educated in Christ college, Cambridge, under the famous Mr. William Perkins. Having received the truth of the gospel, he became zealous in its defense, avowing his decided opposition to every kind of error and iniquity, but most especially against the delusive doctrines, the idolatrous ceremonies, and widespread corruptions of the Church of Rome. About the year 1610, having been for some time fellow of his college, he preached a sermon at St. Mary’s church, in which he severely reprehended the idle practice of playing at cards and dice. This gave great offence to many of his hearers, and the more especially, because he was well known to be inimical to the ceremonies of the church. Mr. Ames, observing that the storm was gathering around him, found it necessary to quit the university, in order to prevent His expulsion. Previous to his departure, he was called before Dr Carey, master of the college, who urged him to wear the surplice; and that he might convince his understanding, and bring him to a compliance, he quoted the words of the Apostle—” Put on the amour of light;” that is, said the doctor, the white surplice! But this very learned argument carried no conviction to the mind of the young man, who had resolved that no earthly consideration whatever should induce him to defile his conscience by such sinful compliance. He therefore resigned his fellowship, forsook the university, and soon after this to escape the indignation of arch­bishop Boncraft, found it requisite to leave the kingdom;: fife sailed for Holland, and, on his arrival, was chosen minister of the English church at the Hague. But there, in a foreign country, under the wings of the Dutch government even there the inveterate resentment of the prelates pursued him. He was but a short time comfortably settled at the Hague, when Abbot Boncraft’s successor that he might not be outdone by the severity of his predecessor, wrote to Sir Ralph Winwood the English ambassador at the court of the Stadtholder, urging him, by all means, to procure his removal. Abbot’s letter, dated March 12th, 1612, concludes by saying, “I wish the re­moval of him to be as privately and as dearth carried as the matter will permit. We are also acquainted what English preachers are entertained in Zealand; and whereunto, in convenient time, we hope to give a redress.” Hard indeed was the lot of the nonconformists under these intolerant churchmen, and Mr. Ames had his share shaken down, and running over; nor did Abbot’s resentment end here. When he was on the point of being chosen divinity professor at Leyden, his election was prevented by means of the archbishop, and by the interference of the ambassador; and so long as Mr. Ames had any prospect in view, he was never satisfied till his purposes were defeated, and his hopes destroyed. Accordingly, the same unworthy maneuvers were attempted, when he was chosen, by the States of Friedand, to the above office in the university at Franeker; but happily without success; for in spite of the malice, and even the madness of his persecutors, Dr. Ames filled the divinity chair, with universal approbation, for the space of twelve years. He attended at the synod of Dort, and, from time to time reported the debates of that venerable assembly to king James’ ambassador at the Hague. Dr. Ames was famous for his con­troversial writings, especially against the Arminians, Bellarmine, and the English ceremonies; which, in point of concise, ness and perspicuity, were unequalled by any of his time. But his health was on the decline; he had great difficulty in breathing, so that he expected every winter would be his last. The air of Franeker he began to consider too sharp for his constitution; and being, at the same time, desirous to preach the gos­pel to his countrymen, he accepted an invitation to the English church in Rotterdam, and resigned his professorship.

Upon this change of situation, Dr, Ames wrote his Fresh Suit against Ceremonies; a work of distinguished merit, which greatly enhanced the reputation of its author for talents and erudition. In the preface of this work he states the controversy thus: “We hold the institutions of Christ to be, in every respect, sufficient for all the purposes of divine worship; and that the word of God is the alone standard in matters of religion. The prelates, on the other hand, would have us allow and practice certain human contrivances, rites, and ceremonies in Christian worship. We therefore desire to be excused, holding them unlawful. Christ we know, and are ready to embrace every thing that cometh from him. But these ceremo­nies in divine worship we know not, and cannot receive; and, says he, I am now more than ever persuaded, that such relics are, and monuments of superstition, never did any good, but incalculable evil.” He did not live, however, to publish it himself; but his editor says concerning him, that in this valu­able work Dr. Ames pleads the cause of truth, both succinctly and perspicuously, as indeed he does most admirably in all his writings. His works manifest him to have been a lamp of learning and arts, a pattern of holiness, and a champion for the truth.

Dr. Ames did not long survive his removal to Rotterdam. His constitution had already been greatly undermined. He found the air of that place of no real advantage, and determin­ed to remove to New England; but his asthma returning, put an end to his life at Rotterdam, where he was buried, November 14th, 1633, aged fifty-seven years. In the following spring his wife and children embarked for New England, carrying along with them his valuable library, which, at that period, was a no­ble acquisition to the colony. His son William, returning to England afterwards was one of the ejected ministers of 1662. “Dr Ames (says Granger) filled the divinity chair with admirable ability; so great was his fame, that numbers, from remote nations, put themselves under his tuition; but he was much bet­ter known abroad than even in his native country. He was a solid, learned, and judicious divine. In doctrine a strict Calvinist. In matters of discipline and church government, an In­dependent.” Mr. Mather styles him the profound, sublime, irrefragable, and angelical doctor and doubts whether he left his equal on earth. Fuller has classed him amongst the learned writers and fellows of Christ college, Cambridge. He seldom preached without shedding tears; and, on his deathbed, had wonderful foretastes of heaven. Speaking of Dr. Ames as a writer, particularly on the moral science, the learned Mosheim says, “That by a worthy and pious spirit of emulation, he was excited to compose a complete body of Christian morality. He says he was a native of Scotland, and that he was the first among the reformers that began to treat morality as a distinct science, to consider it abstract­edly from its connection with any particular system of doctrine, and to introduce new light, and a new degree of accuracy, into this master science of life and manners. The attempt, says he, was laudable, had it been well executed; but the system of this learned writer was dry, theoretical, and subtle, much more adapted to the instruction of students, than the practical direction of private Christians.

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