Faith Working through Love: The Theology of William Perkins

Written by Joel R. Beeke, Matthew N. Payne, and J. Stephen Yuille, eds Reviewed By Eric Beach

In the past decade, historians and theologians have shown an increased focus on the thought of the English theologian William Perkins (1558–1602). From W. B. Patterson’s book on Perkins’s thought (William Perkins and the Making of a Protestant England [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018]), to Andrew Ballitch’s work on Perkins’s interpretation of Scripture (The Gloss and the Text: William Perkins on Interpreting Scripture with Scripture [Belligham, WA: Lexham, 2020]), to Richard Muller’s treatise on Perkins’s understanding of the human will (Grace and Freedom: William Perkins and the Early Modern Reformed Understanding of Free Choice and Divine Grace [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020]), scholars are demonstrating a renewed interest in Perkins. Additionally, the recently completed multi-volume publication of The Works of William Perkins (WWP) adds to the renaissance of Perkins scholarship. The publisher of WWP released a “companion volume” of essays entitled Faith Working through Love: The Theology of William Perkins (preface). This companion book contains 12 essays focused on elements of Perkins’s thought. Almost all the different authors represented have written on Perkins elsewhere. Matthew Payne, Stephen Yuille, and Joel Beeke—each an editor and contributor of Faith Working Through Love—have rightly earned their reputation as experts on Perkins. Payne and Yuille’s other recently released book—The Labors of a Godly and Learned Divine, William Perkins: Including Previously Unpublished Sermons (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2023)—is superb and required reading for every Perkins’s scholar.

Faith Working through Love has much to commend it. First, it proffers a close reading of Perkins’s corpus. In each chapter, the author engages at length with WWP. Second, some chapters offer fresh and ground-breaking contributions to the field of Perkins’s scholarship. For example, the final chapter on Perkins and Ramism is a remarkably learned treatise that upends parts of the established view of Perkins and Ramism. Third, other chapters pave new ground as they study largely neglected themes in Perkins’s corpus. For example, Matthew Hartline’s discussion of eschatology traces and Wyatt Graham’s chapter on the Trinity trace themes in Perkins’s thought that have largely escaped the attention of scholars.

Instead of listing the many additional positive points in Faith Working through Love, I will offer two comments in the spirit of advancing Perkins’s scholarship and aiding in reading the volume under review. First, the book and scholarship on Perkins could have been helped with an account of Perkins’s historical context aimed at Perkins’s life and works. Perkins’s social, cultural, political, and theological context profoundly shaped him. An opening chapter could have been added that would have better helped readers understand Perkins’s life, context in Cambridge, and milieu in late Elizabethan culture.

Second, the book contains a few assertions about Perkins’s thoughts that could benefit from additional context. For example, Roman Catholics are repeatedly referred to as “Catholics” (e.g., p. 1). Or, chapter authors speak of “the Catholic view” (e.g., p. 122) in referring to the Roman Catholic view. Throughout Perkins’s corpus, he spoke of Roman Catholics thousands of times. However, only in a tiny minority of times did he label them as “Catholics.” Instead, he typically referred to them as “Roman Catholics,” “papists,” or other similar terms. This difference between “Roman Catholics” and “Catholics” was not an insignificant linguistic distinction. Instead, it represented a crucial part of Perkins’s thinking about the nature of Christian catholicity and the errors of Roman Catholicism. Also, David Barbee adumbrates Perkins’s “list of the marks of the church. Perkins identifies only three” (p. 130). In fact, Perkins put forward at least four different lists of marks that collectively presented five (potentially six) different marks of a church (WWP 2:309; 4:217; 5:378; 5:384).

Despite these small issues, I want to make clear that this book is an important, helpful, and largely accurate work that deserves wide readership. Faith Working through Love makes a strong contribution to the study of Perkins. The book should prove useful to a wide range of readers, including scholars of Perkins, English Puritanism, and Elizabethan England; and theologians, pastors, and laity alike.

Eric Beach

Eric Beach
University of Oxford
Oxford, England, United Kingdom

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