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Medulla Theologica
(The Marrow of Theology)

William Ames

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 nature.

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 Deut. 29:29.


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, but predestination.

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 deliberation...

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 10:20).

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 decree...

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.

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