Little is known among us about the Irish Reformed theologian and churchman, James Ussher (1581-1656) than that he determined from his biblical studies that God created the world in 4004 B.C. This is unfortunate. Crawford Gribben supplies our lack in the well-written, interesting book, The Irish Puritans.
Ussher was a significant Calvinist in his day. As archbishop of Armagh, primate, or leader, of the Irish [Protestant] Church, he worked at making Ireland Calvinistic. He was a defender of the Reformed faith against the Roman Catholicism that dominated Ireland and against the Arminianism that was taking over the Anglican Church through Laud. A great scholar, his 10,000 volumes became the basis of the library of Trinity College Dublin.
The time of Ussher’s life was the period of dramatic history in Great Britain. Around the middle of the seventeenth century, first Parliament and Scotland withstood Charles I and then Cromwell and his New Model Army defeated and executed Charles and put the Scots in their place. Ussher was involved in this history. As an Anglican archbishop and as a Reformed Christian, Ussher supported the monarch.
Ussher and the movement on behalf of the Reformed faith in Ireland, which movement the author chooses to describe as Puritan, are the subject of the brief, but thorough study, The Irish Puritans. The author is research fellow in the Center for Irish-Scottish Studies at Trinity College Dublin.
Ussher’s greatest and lasting accomplishment was authoring the Irish Articles (1615). This confession, “agreed upon by the Archbishops and Bishops, and the rest of the Clergy of Ireland in the Convocation holden at Dublin in the year of our Lord God 1615, for the avoiding of Diversities of Opinions, and the establishing of Consent touching true Religion,” is a solid, full statement of the Reformed faith. These 104 articles were influential in the formulation of the Westminister Confession of Faith some thirty years later.
Article 12 of the Irish Articles confesses double predestination: “By the same eternal counsel, God hath predestinated some unto life, and reprobated some unto death: of both which there is a certain number, known only to God, which can neither be increased nor diminished.”
Articles 26 and 27 teach that all works done by the unbeliever “are not pleasing unto God” and are “sinful.” Among these deeds, all of which are alike sinful, “some [are] far more heinous than others.”
In Article 80, coincidentally numerically the same as the great article in the Heidelberg Catechism condemning Roman Catholicism, the Irish Articles identify the Bishop of Rome as Antichrist: “that man of sin, foretold in the holy scriptures, whom the Lord shall consume with the Spirit of his mouth, and abolish with the brightness of his coming.”
The Irish Puritans includes the full text of the Irish Articles as an appendix.
In North America, the book is available from Evangelical Press, P.O. Box 84, Auburn, MA 01501