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“This is a well-designed, carefully documented and argued study of a major seventeenth-century British Reformed theologian whose work has been sadly neglected until very recently. Snoddy offers one of the most significant monographs on Ussher since the major biographical work of the nineteenth century. The book is a careful and balanced piece of work that sets Ussher into his historical context, deals with the relevant primary and secondary literature, and sheds significant light on Ussher’s thought. Snoddy’s work offers considerable new insight into the on-going reappraisal of theology in the early modern era, solidly contributing to the demolition of the so-called ‘Calvin against the Calvinists’ thesis.” –Richard Muller, P.J. Zondervan Professor of Historical Theology, Calvin Theological Seminary

“James Ussher was one of the most important Protestant theologians of the seventeenth century, whose writings exercised profound impact on the evolution of English puritanism even as his friendship and reputation were claimed by prominent defenders of the Catholic faith. In this exceptional work of historical theology, Richard Snoddy elucidates the thinking of a key but complex figure in the construction of Reformed orthodoxy.” –Crawford Gribben, Professor of Early Modern British History, Queen’s University, Belfast

“James Ussher was a seventeenth-century Irish polymath whose range and subtlety has posed a considerable challenge to those trying to explain and interpret his work.  Richard Snoddy meets the challenge triumphantly in this study of Ussher’s theology of salvation.  Not only does he place Ussher convincingly in his contemporary context, he also demonstrates the surprisingly diverse range of views on this important topic contained within seventeenth-century Calvinism.” –Alan Ford, Professor of Theology, University of Nottingham


It Is Finished!

April 3, 2011

I handed in my doctoral thesis this week.

It is entitled Quicunque Vult: The Act and Object of Saving Faith in the Thought of James Ussher.

God’s Puritan

January 31, 2011

‘Gods Puritan’, claimed Ussher, ‘is hee, that Purifies himself as God is Pure’. This is the only positive use of the term that I can find in the surviving sermons, the word usually being placed in the mouth of the detractor or in the apprehensive thoughts of the double-minded who fear that zeal for good works will attract nicknames. In context, Ussher was speaking of the spotless purity of Christ in his active obedience on our behalf. No charge of sin could be made against him, neither sins of omission nor commission. Christ’s perfect righteousness is that with which one must be clothed to stand before God’s judgement. This is one of many reminders in Ussher’s sermons that one must not rely on one’s own good works for acceptance with God but keep looking to Christ. It is also possible, perhaps, to hear faint reverberations of taunts about Puritan self-righteousness behind this subversion of that odious name.

Ussher on Public Prayer

January 7, 2011

Ussher says:

The Spirit of Prayer stands not in the readines of invention, or volubility of Speech: that is a Gift: but a Com[m]on Gift: a worke of witt, and Exercise, A worke of the minde, not of the Heart: a man may bee as Reprobate as Judas for all that.

A Set forme gives more liberty to my Affections, then an Extempory Prayer: for an Extempory Prayer sets my witts more a worke, then my Heart: for while I am busy about invention, what I should say, and How I should say, my Heart cannot earnestly Attend the thinge: This is the devils greatest Policy, to bring in Prophanenes to men…to take away Set formes of Prayer, brings in the devils Harvest: for by this meanes not the tenth Part of the kingdome will Pray.

A vaine Superstition is crept in amongst us, to thinke that God is pleased with variety of Phrases, and multiplicity of words: God lookes to the language of the Heart… I would have thee doe Both: mingle a Set forme, and Extempory Prayer togeither: in Private Speake thyne owne words: God will beare with thy Broken language in Private: not so in Publiq[ue], hee will not beare thy Tautologies, and vaine Repititions: God will bee Honoured in Publique: In Private, put thyself upon Extempory Prayer upon emergent occasion…

I call not that Extempory Prayer, when there is Premeditation Before hand.

He suggests taking a set form, fixing on some point, and then adding your own words, a practice that he has found helpful.

An Inconvenient Truth

May 21, 2010

For a friend:

Ussher is preaching his way through creation and fall at Covent Garden  in the early 1640s and is making the point that through eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil Adam and Eve came to know evil by experience. By eating of the tree ‘they should haue Experimental Knowledge of that Euill, w[hi]ch should be greiuous unto them: now, they knew what was Good, But By Eatinge of this Tree, they should know what misery was’. Clear enough. What is priceless is his illustration:

‘A Scholler may declare against maried life, beinge a single man, and doe it well: But when hee comes to the Experimental knowledge of houshold inconueniences, then hee can speake more fully of it to his greife’.

I’m assuming that Phoebe wasn’t in the congregation that morning!

Quite some time ago I came across a great line in a sermon of Ussher’s from 1650 on the subject of death. He covers the usual themes – the inevitability of death, the way in which Christ’s work subverts its power, etc. Then he says:

‘Death is, as the Red Sea was to the Israelites, to destroy his Enemies, And to give him passage to the land of Promise’.

What a wonderful image, capturing the aspects of salvation and judgement. Succinct. Powerful. So there I was thinking what a good turn of phrase came from Ussher’s pulpit. Some time later I was reading Lewis Bayly’s The Practice of Piety (circa 1611) and found these words:

‘And as the Red Sea was a gulf to drown the Egyptians to destruction, but as a passage to the Israelites to convey them to Canaan’s possession, so death to the wicked is a sink to hell and condemnation, but to the godly the gate to everlasting life and salvation…’

Preachers have always stolen one another’s best illustrations. This is one of the factors shaping the discourse of puritanism – one finds more than a shared outlook but a shared discourse. The same analogies and illustrations come up again and again, the same way of making a point. And the traditionary lines are there to trace back into the medieval and patristic periods.

My question now is…where did Bayly get it from??

Oh Dear! Again!

March 27, 2010

I persevered with John F. H. New’s Anglican and Puritan: The Basis of Their Opposition, 1558-1640 (Stanford, 1964). He discusses King James I’s distaste for the Remonstrants and then informs us that ‘he [King James] sent a handpicked delegation, headed by the Irish theologian James Ussher, to oppose them at Dort’ (p. 14). I have been working on Ussher for over 3 years! How could I have missed this!?