I have recently been involved as a co-editor of a volume on William Perkins’s theology. When Reformation Heritage Books completed its publication of the ten-volume Works of William Perkins (2014-2020), it seemed fitting to produce a companion volume that would aid interested readers in accessing the wealth of material in Perkins’s works.
In Faith Working Through Love: The Theology of William Perkins (2022), various strands of Perkins’s theology are discussed in twelve thematic chapters. Each chapter cites Perkins’s works from the RHB edition rather than the seventeenth-century editions that have long-been the standard point of reference among scholars. In this way, the work is intended to aid readers in accessing Perkins’s works for themselves, whilst also making a significant contribution to scholarship on Perkins.
What is in the book?
Wyatt Graham’s chapter on the Trinity demonstrates that Perkins held a Catholic and Reformed doctrine of God. It focuses on Perkins’s commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, and highlights the way that Perkins combined concerns for biblical exposition and for theological tradition.
Raymond Blacketer’s chapter on the Work of Christ highlights the grounding of salvation in the person of Christ, and provides a rich discussion of Perkin’s account of Christ’s saving mission.
My own chapter focusses on Sin, Grace, and Free Will, all of which are central themes in Perkins’s theology and practical divinity. It takes a stance on complex recent scholarly argument on the nature of free choice in Perkins’s thought (relating to matters of ‘synchronic contingency’ and ‘compatibilism’), and hopefully makes these complicated matters digestible and – dare I say it – edifying. Perkins’s account of sin and grace is thoroughly Reformed, biblical, and insightful in practical ways.
Where Blacketer’s chapter focusses on Jesus’s mission, J.V. Fesko’s chapter focuses on Perkins’s account of the Reformed ordo salutis (Order of Salvation), namely the way in which Jesus’s work savingly applies to sinners. Where some authors have tried to set the doctrine of union with Christ and the ordo salutis against one another, Blacketer demonstrates that both concepts are unified in Perkins’s account of how salvation works. Closely related to this, Joel Beeke lays out Perkins’s account of the Experience of Salvation, namely Perkins’s account of the steps of conversion and how Christians arrive at full assurance of salvation.
Matthew Hartline offers an edifying discussion of Perkins’s Eschatology focused on his sermons on Revelation 2-3. There is virtually nothing available elsewhere on Perkins’s eschatology, so this in itself makes this chapter an important contribution.
David Barbee examines Perkins’s account of the church, which defended the validity of national Protestant churches (such as the Church of England), and highlights Perkins’s shrewd sense of proportionality in various kinds of disagreements on ecclesiological issues. This chapter is fittingly followed by Andrew Ballitch’s rich exposition of Perkins’s account of the Ministry and the Means of Grace, highlighting the centrality of Scripture in Perkins’s vision of ministry.
Roger Revell’s chapter on Perkins’s Ethics offers the reader a point of entry into Perkins’s voluminous material on case divinity, as well as discussions of Perkins’s view of Christian freedom, and of the grounding of Christian ethics in divine law.
Dee Grimes discusses Perkins’s account of Vocation, a central aspect of Perkins’s vision of society which touches upon virtually every aspect of life and upon salvation itself. Following this, Stephen Yuille expounds Perkins’s account of Marriage and Family, the central institution of society’s wellbeing, focussing on the “one flesh principle” at its heart.
Finally, Simon Burton offers a sophisticated discussion of Perkins’s Ramist methodology. Whilst this subject is doubtlessly the most obscure and esoteric for many readers, it is central to Perkins’s methodology and worldview, and is the context within which Perkins’s early treatises on memory, and the structure of his works, are to be understood. It will serve readers well as they seek to navigate the more foreign aspects of Perkins’s worldview.
What is not in the book?
You’ll notice from the is not a comprehensive work on Perkins’s theology, but rather a series of focused discussions on important themes. More work remains to be done.
However, what this set of essays does do is make a valuable contribution to scholarship on Perkins, puritanism, and early modern Reformed thought, whilst simultaneously offering interested readers an invaluable point of entry into Perkins’s many works. Notwithstanding my personal bias as an editor and contributor, I think this book is well worth the time of anyone interested in learning more about Perkins or puritanism.