Help Heavenward, Octavius Winslow. Published by the Banner of Truth Trust, paperback, 195 pages, £4.25, Obtainable from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom.
The purpose of this useful work is indicated by its subtitle, Guidance and Strength for the Christian’s Life-Journey. Octavius Winslow was well qualified to write such a guide. He was a spiritually-minded man, a caring pastor, an earnest preacher, and a very productive writer (many readers are already familiar with his work, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul).Help Heavenward has 11 chapters, with such titles as: “The Ransomed Returning Home”, “Progressive Meetness for Heaven”, “The Burdened Gently Led by Christ”, “Bonds Loosed”, “Human Care Transferred to God”, “Backsliders Returning” and “Our Father’s House”. Each chapter is not only based on a text of Scripture, but the text is used throughout the chapter. The style of writing is very attractive – quite poetic at times – for Winslow was an expert wordsmith.
There are a few points of content to which one might take exception. In referring to justification the author confusingly uses in one paragraph the term “work” as well as “act”, and then speaks of sanctification as an “act” as well as a “work”. We feel too that some of his conclusions about the nature of heaven go rather further than Scripture would warrant. However, this work has been helpful to many. We found the chapters, “Trial – a Help Heavenward” and “Self-Communion” to be especially helpful.
Winslow says about trial, “We would have a more vivid conception of the power of affliction as an ingredient of holiness if we kept more constantly in remembrance the fact that all the afflictive, trying dispensations of the believer are covenant dispensations. . . . They are among the ‘sure mercies of David’. . . . They are, in virtue of the covenant of grace, transformed into blessings, and work spiritually for their good. Just as the mountain stream coursing its way meets some sanative mineral by which it becomes endowed with a healing property, so afflictions, passing through the covenant, change their character, derive a sanctifying property, and thus become a healing medicine to the soul.”
Regarding self-examination he says, “Commune with your own heart as to its real and habitual fellowship with God. . . . There is so little self-examination touching prayer, that our devotions glide into a cold, abstract formality, and petitions and supplications which should be as swift arrows shot from the bow of faith entering into the presence of God, congeal as icicles upon our lips. O, look well to the state of your heart in the matter of prayer; it is the true, the safest test of the spiritual condition of your soul! See that your devotions are the utterances of the Spirit, sprinkled with atoning blood and offered in the lowly, loving spirit of adoption, the breathing of a child to God as your Father. This is fellowship, and all other is but the name.”
We cannot forbear giving a final flavour from the chapter, “The Swelling of Jordan”: “Doubtless to the eye of the children of Israel, as they stood upon its banks surveying the promised land beyond it, the intervention of Jordan was an object of gloom and terror. And as its waters, dark and cold, rose and swelled, and broke in mournful cadence at their feet, as if in anticipation chanting the sad requiem of their death, we can easily imagine the question arising in many a sinking heart, ‘How shall I do in the swelling of this Jordan?’ Ah, how many who bend in sadness and trembling over these pages, to whose sick-chamber or dying-bed they will travel, are resolving in their anxious breasts the question, ‘How shall I be able to meet death, how pass over this swelling flood, how may I meet this last, this latest, this most terrible crisis of my being?’ Be still, these fears!”
He then goes on, showing how that the ark of the covenant, borne upon the shoulders of the priests, was a glorious type of the Lord Jesus. “Christ, our divine Ark, has already clave the waters of Jordan, for he has passed through death in advance of his people. And still the Ark is with them. Never was the departure of a believer unattended by the presence of Jesus. Delightful thought! Christ our Ark will divide the dark waters as we pass, will go before, will go with us, will be our rearward, and thus encircled by Christ, amid the swelling of Jordan, we will fear no evil. What more is needed than the sensible presence of the Saviour to raise the heart superior to the fear of death, and to bear the soul tranquilly across the river? Fear not then, believer, you will see His smile, you will hear His voice, you will feel His hand, and His conscious presence will enfold you as you pass.”
May this new edition of Help Heavenward prove to be a timely aid to many pilgrims on their journey to the Celestial City.
(Rev) N M Ross
Justification Vindicated, Robert Traill, published by the Banner of Truth Trust, paperback, 95 pages, £3.75, obtainable from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom.
This work can be found in the first volume of the Works of Robert Traill under the original title, A Vindication of the Protestant Doctrine Concerning Justification from the Unjust Charge of Antinomianism. Its republication in the popular Puritan Paperback series is most welcome.
Robert Traill was born in 1642, the son of a Scottish Covenanter of the same name. He was persecuted for his adherence to the National Covenant and fled to Holland, where he studied divinity. He returned to London in 1670 and was settled over a charge in Kent. In 1677 he was apprehended in Edinburgh and imprisoned on the Bass Rock. After his release, he returned to London, first to assist Nathaniel Mather, and then to minister to a separate Scottish congregation. He died in 1716.
The work under review was produced in 1692 in the form of a letter to a fellow minister. He rebuts the charge that he and other divines were teaching Antinomian doctrine. Antinomianism is the false and dangerous view that believers are free from the law, not only as a covenant, but also as a rule of life. It involves serious error also in the areas of imputation, union with Christ, and faith. The real freedom which believers have from the law as a covenant has always been central to the preaching of Protestant divines and was emphatically asserted by Paul in his Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians.
In the time of Robert Traill, however, a new error had arisen which undermined that freedom. Neonomianism teaches that believers are under a “new law” which is less demanding than the moral law, and that their obedience to it contributes to their justification. This was, and is, vigorously opposed by genuine Reformed divines as an Arminian error which detracts from the only righteousness by which a sinner can be justified in the sight of God: that of the Lord Jesus Christ. Traill wrote to attack Neonomian error as well as to defend himself and others from the charge of Antinomianism.
James Buchanan gives a very useful summary of this controversy in his work on Justification. He states that Traill and those he was defending would be more accurately termed Anti-neonomians than Anti-nomians. Buchanan also points out that the errors of both Antinomianism and Arminianism appeal to the heart of the natural man, which is ever contriving ways to justify himself and, at the same time, to free himself from the restraints of the law of God. In his defence, Traill uses the cogent and scriptural argument that the true believer is known by his fruit. He says of “the party suspected of Antinomianism” (which he was defending and which included himself): they “are more strict and exact in examining those that offer themselves unto their communion, as to their faith and holiness, before their admitting them. . . . As to their conversation, they are generally of the more regular and exact frame” (page 6).
The accuracy and clarity with which the great Protestant doctrine of justification is stated makes this book a valuable contribution to the treatment of the subject. It is also a very good example of a controversial work in which there is no sign of bitterness. Traill demonstrates that believers are personally concerned in this great doctrine and it is therefore to be defended with great zeal and with the utmost care. This is no less true today and, as the publishers point out, tendencies among so-called Evangelicals to gloss over the differences between Rome and the Reformed Church for the sake of ecumenism require the latter to “champion again the doctrine of justification by faith” (page x). The publishers have provided a brief introduction to the work and helpful footnotes throughout.
Traill explains his aim in publishing his work: “Plainly and briefly [to] give some information to ordinary, plain people who lack either time or judgement to peruse large and learned tractates about this point of justification, wherein everyone is equally concerned”. If this republication rekindles an interest in, and an understanding of, the doctrine of justification and of its central place in the whole scheme of salvation, Traill’s aim will be achieved. The arrangement of the work into eight chapters is the work of the publishers and is, on the whole, a success. The attractive design and easily-read print of Puritan Paperbacks are well known and this work will be a useful addition to the bookshelves of Christian readers.
(Rev) David Campbell