New In Print: William Perkins On Galatians

perkins-works-2-galatiansWilliam Perkins (1558–1602) is one of the most important of the English Reformed writers of the late 16th and early 17th centuries and yet he is among the least read in the modern era. One reason for this is because his works have been out of print for so long. Some select works, e.g., The Golden Chain and The Art of Prophesying have been readily available in recent years but most of his work has been available only via microform or via images through Early English Books Online. His relative absence from our bookshelves and our libraries belies his significance. Perkins was one of the most important voices in the development of English Reformed theology and piety. He was a conforming Anglican minister and theologian. His theology was thoroughly Reformed but he remained associated with Church of England until his death. He was a fellow in Christ’s College Cambridge and preacher in Great St Andrews (1584–1602). He was a major influence on the congregationalist Reformed theologian William Ames (1576–1633), who took Perkins’ theology and piety to the Netherlands and, in turn, whose theology and piety was transmitted to the American colonies.

In his own time and in the 17th century Perkins’ works were widely read in the British Isles and across Europe. He was an important influence on the theology and piety of the Westminster Assembly. Indeed, we might think of him as a bridge between the European Reformed theology of the 1560s and the English Reformed theology of the mid-17th centuries. To switch metaphors, he sounded many of the same notes and sang many of the same tunes. This volume is an excellent example of Perkins’ approach to Scripture, to theology, and to piety. Like Calvin, Olevianus, and many others in the Reformed tradition, Perkins was a theologian of the double benefit or the twofold grace of Christ: justification and sanctification. As Paul Smalley writes in his preface to this volume, for Perkins, “The apostle sets forth two principal benefits of the Gospel: namely, justification by faith in Christ alone and sanctification by the Spirit of Christ.” That is just right and it illustrates the fundamental unity of Reformed theology among the mainstream, orthodox,  confessional Reformed theologians which was manifested in the 1560s in the Belgic and French Confessions, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Second Helvetic Confession and would become the foundation for the Westminster Standards.

Perkins was a solid, thoughtful, and pastoral expositor of Scripture. This is a hefty volume from which students and preachers alike will benefit. Thanks to RHB for bringing this important collection back into print.

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  1. Commenting on chapter 4, the difference between Sarah and Sinai, Perkins writes, “The two testaments are the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, one promising life eternal to him that does all things contained in the law, [and] the other to him that [sic] turns and believes in Christ.” (Pg302) Granting there is debate whether Perkins held a covenant of works with Adam or if it was only at Sinai, an issue which I have not yet worked through, the point stands that he clearly sees a works element present at Sinai that contrasts with the gospel.

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