Cornerstone and Compendium

A Brief Forewarning of the Author  concerning His Purpose

I do not assume that I know all the thoughts of my critics. Yet, the age being what it is, I foresee several points which will be brought against my well-intentioned endeavor, and I propose now briefly to meet the chief objections.

Some people, including those not unlearned, dislike this whole manner of writing, that is, of placing the main body of theology in a short compendium. They ask for great volumes in which they may establish themselves or wander about as they will. But I intend this for all those who have neither the ample leisure nor the great skill to hunt the partridge in mountain and forest. Their situation calls for showing them the nest itself, or the seat of what they are pursuing, without ado.

Others do not dislike the manner as long as the chief heads are treated in a broad rhetorical way — they think that details cannot be handled point by point. Yet when language flows on in a swift stream, carrying with it many things of many kinds, the reader can catch and hold fast to very little. He cannot find a resting place. But when certain directions are laid down, the reader has at every step, as it were, a spot marked where he may set his foot.

There will be some who condemn the precision of method and logical form as curious and troublesome. But we wish them sounder reason, for they separate the art of learning, judging, and memorizing from those things which most deserve to be learned, known, and memorized.

On the other hand, there will be those who desire a more exact use of the art of logic. These I could not satisfy fully even if I would, because of my own imperfection; neither would I, even if I could, because of the shortcomings of others.

I imagine also that there will be not a few who believe that to set forth such teachings as these, after the labors of so many learned men in the same vein, is superfluous, and doing only what has been done before. I should be of the same opinion if anything of this kind were available which pleased everyone in all respects. I hope it will not be judged that I expect to please all by this work. My hope is, however, that at least two or three may presently come upon this endeavor and find in it something which is better suited to instruct, to stir conviction, than what they have found in the more learned writing of others. If this proves a sound conjecture, I shall consider that I have been well paid for my labor.

I expect to be accused of obscurity by those who are relatively unskilled in theology. I wish they would learn from Cyrus that the sight of the sun’s rays…shining through a window loses its charm if the window is too large…A contracted light, although it may appear small, is more enlightening (if a man comes near and observes) than one which is, as it were, dissipated by too much enlargement.

The dryness of the style and the harshness of words will be criticized by the same persons. And I confess that I share that heresy which bids me, when teaching, not to say in two words what may be said in one and which allows me to choose the key which best opens the lock. The key may well be of wood if the golden key does not work.

Finally, if there are some who desire to have practical matters better explained, especially those of the latter part of this Marrow, we shall attempt, God willing, to satisfy them in a special treatise, which I mean to write, dealing with questions usually called ‘cases of conscience.’ [I omit the footnote here–CD]

If there are some who criticize or desire other things, I ask that they candidly give me their thoughts, so that I may make just apology or due amendment” (William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, pp. 69-70).

This preface by William Ames is not an implicit promotion of him as a true Christian. I found it of interest in the adapted context of reading and writing about matters of eternal weight, consequence, and significance, and the best or most optimal way to go about it. This weighty matter of the essential gospel doctrines of Jesus Christ revealed in Scripture as compared to how these essential doctrines are revealed or written about in “church” or theological history. The essential Stone of Stumbling which multitudes of “mature and balanced” theological builders have rejected and penciled-in as an optional add-on, is the very Corner Stone.

“Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?”(Matthew 21:42)

Do the tolerant Calvinists of customary consumption realize that they are the counterparts of these builders?