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An A-Z of Christian Truth and Experience, Drawn from Some of the Leading Writers of the Christian Centuries, compiled by J Graham Miller, published by the Banner of Truth Trust, hardback, 144 pages, £10.95.
This book consists of brief quotations arranged under about 180 headings, ranging from Ability (“When God calls us to any charge, He also gives us the ability to accomplish that which he has commanded” – John Calvin) to Zeal (“A zealous man in religion . . . burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God’s glory. If he is consumed in burning, he cares not for it – he is content” – J C Ryle).
The compiler, a New Zealander, has also been a minister and Bible College teacher in both Vanuatu and Australia. For many years he has written out striking quotations from a wide variety of Reformed writers and this book is the result. And a very worthwhile book it is, suitable for picking up when only a few moments are available or when the brain is too weary for more sustained reading. It has to be said that a small number of quotations are from non-Reformed writers (for example, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Emil Brunner). However, these quotations in themselves are, with possibly one exception – from D L Moody – quite unexceptionable. But one’s fear is that by including such writers in a Banner book, some readers may be misled into thinking that these men’s works are generally scriptural. There is a small number of quotations in another category, exemplified by the statement from the canons of the Council of Trent about the mass, which are clearly included only to draw attention, by way of warning, to a particular error. It might have been wiser to have labelled these appropriately.
Mr Miller is clearly particularly fond of Calvin; a disproportionate number of quotations come from the pen of the Genevan Reformer. But no one, surely, will complain about that. Indeed he has previously produced a similar, but larger, volume devoted solely to Calvin; it is entitled Calvin’s Wisdom.
To whet the reader’s appetite, a few further quotations are given, selected almost at random:
“Our father Adam left the whole family with a conscience full of guilt, and a heart full of unsatisfied desires.” Thomas Boston
“The design of Christ, when He takes believers into union with Himself, is to purge and cleanse them absolutely and perfectly.” John Owen
“Pardon cannot be understood unless we distinguish the guilt and demerit of sin from its dominion and defilement. . . . It is only by pardon that guilt can be cancelled; not by repentance, or even by regeneration.” Hugh Martin
“I would rather have the smallest portion of humility and love than the knowledge of an archangel.” Henry Martyn
“All truth is known to be truth by its tendency to promote holiness.” Charles Hodge
“There is nothing more deadly than to lean to our own wisdom. Satan has so many devices by which he deludes and blinds men’s minds, but there is not a man who knows the hundredth part of his own sins.” John Calvin
“God’s directing and commanding will can by no good logic be concluded from the events of Providence.” Samuel Rutherford
“A man cannot be totally humbled until he comes to know that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsel, endeavours, will and works, and absolutely depending on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of another . . . God only.” Martin Luther
“He that falls into sin is a man; that grieves at it is a saint; that boasts of it is a devil.” Thomas Fuller
“The unity of the Godhead required that as the extent of the Father’s gift and the extent of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, such also must be the extent of the atonement or reconciliation effected by the Son.” James Haldane
“Conscience is pacified by nothing which does not pacify the justice of God.” George Smeaton
A Guide to Prayer, by Isaac Watts, published by the Banner of Truth Trust, hardback, 192 pages, £5.95.
The author is no doubt well known to readers as the writer of hymns and a zealous advocate for their use in public worship, but that is not something mentioned in this book. The occasion of writing, however, arose out of another controversy. There was a division in the Church in England in the eighteenth century over the reading of prayers, as distinct from extempore prayers. The author sets out the case very clearly in favour of the latter as being by far the more profitable, and an exercise which others besides ministers should seek to engage in.
This is not however another “how to pray” book. Watts defines prayer as: “The conversation God allows us to maintain with Himself above while we are here below . . . in which the soul of a saint often gets near to God, experiences great delight and, as it were, dwells with his Heavenly Father for a short time before he comes to heaven”. The whole book is written in this reverent and devotional strain. “Prayer”, he says, “is so great a part of religion that every degree of assistance in it will always be welcome to pious minds”.
The book comprises five short chapters and is worth reading for the first chapter alone – “The Nature of Prayer”. He divides prayer into nine parts: invocation, adoration, confession, petition, pleading, professions, thanksgiving, blessing, Amen or conclusion. This chapter provides much food for thought to all who are truly concerned that prayer be a spiritual exercise.
In the second chapter, entitled, “The Gift of Prayer”, Watts gives many useful instructions “so that our prayer should be both acceptable to God and a delightful and profitable exercise to our own souls”. One quotation should suffice to clarify the author’s method of dealing with the subject: “Besides the general acquaintance with God and with yourselves that was prescribed in a previous section, labour after the fresh, particular and lively sense of the greatness and grace of God, and of your own needs, sins and mercies, whenever you come to pray”. In this chapter he deals with such practical issues as the length of prayer, quotations from the Word of God in prayer, and family prayer. His directions for grace before and after meals are particularly apposite. Few will read this without finding themselves corrected.
In chapter 3, “The Grace of Prayer”, Watts deals with what he calls “the internal and spiritual part of their duty [prayer]. Among the graces that belong to the whole work of prayer are these: (1.) Faith in the being of God and the perfect knowledge – and His gracious notice – of all that we speak in prayer. (2.) Gravity, solemnity and seriousness of spirit. (3.) Spirituality and heavenly-mindedness should run through the whole of this duty.” These quotations will, we trust give the flavour of how the author handles the subject.
In chapter 4 he deals with the Spirit of Prayer, reminding his readers that no amount of instruction, teaching or practice is of itself enough without the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of grace and of supplications. All believers are convinced of this, yet in this chapter also there is much that is instructive.
In the final chapter he sets out “Persuasive Arguments” to learn to pray. Again a quotation will point the reader to the author’s way of thinking: “The first argument I shall draw from the purpose and dignity of this gift. There is such a thing as correspondence with heaven, and prayer is a great part of it while we dwell on earth.”
The book is not an easy read, but it was never meant to be. Neither is it necessary to read it all at once. To dip into it from time to time and to meditate on the author’s thought will, we think, yield practical and spiritual help to all those who feel the need to cry, “Lord, teach us to pray”.
(Rev) D J MacDonald
1. Both books reviewed here are obtainable from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom.