A Review Article on Vol. 5 of Charnock’s Works
Rev. Roderick MacLeod, Tarbert
The Works of Stephen Charnock – Volume 5 – Truth and Life. Published by The Banner of Truth, 1997, hardback, 592 pages. Price £12.95, but available at £11.00 from The Free Presbyterian Church Bookroom, 133 Woodlands Road, Glasgow, G3 6LE. (The other four volumes of Charnocks’s Works are also available there).
STEPHEN CHARNOCK (1628-1680) was a Puritan minister in Dublin and London. His written works amount to five volumes. In this, the fifth volume, there are nineteen discourses on most useful and interesting subjects, and also the indexes for his whole Works. The Banner of Truth have published this volume and two others: Volume 3, The New Birth, and Volume 4, The Knowledge of God. Volumes 1 and 2 are published by Baker Book House. The works of Charnock are well worth the time it takes to read them, and one feels on sure ground when reading this godly author. We are greatly indebted to the publishers for producing these volumes.
We commend this volume, Truth and Life, for in our opinion commendation is what it demands. The Puritans were doctrinal, practical and experimental in their preaching; this Puritan was no exception. We think the material in the volume is so nicely balanced in this respect by its editor that it might almost have been entitled The Believer’s Treasury of Doctrine, Practice and Experience but the simpler title, Truth and Life, says much the same thing.
The first two discourses, “The Necessity of Christ’s Death” and “The Necessity of Christ’s Exaltation”, are based on the text, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory,” and explain many precious aspects of the Covenant of Grace. We are told that there was no “ought” laid upon Christ until He was appointed and voluntarily undertook to perform all that was necessary for the salvation of elect sinners. The plight of man as most miserable on account of sin is painted in the most sombre hues: sin cannot go unpunished, it is impossible but that “justice should flame out against sin”. The author (following the scriptural pattern) reverently contemplates the attributes of God pleading their respective cases concerning miserable, apostate man: “Justice had at least an equal plea with Mercy. If Mercy pleaded for pardon, Justice as strongly solicited the punishment of the sinner. The remission of the offence would appear more charitable; but the vindicating the public laws and punishing the offence would appear the more righteous.” He proves at length that nothing could make satisfaction for the sin of man but the sufferings of Christ. He shows how the God-man Christ was the fittest and only One capable of effecting the salvation of men. “Had He not been mortal, He could not have undergone the punishment sin had merited; and had He not been divine, He could not have given a reparation equivalent to the damage by sin.”
Many more pearls from every page of this volume might be added to these. Many people today have an aversion to doctrine, to the extent that they will speak proudly against the Confession of Faith and Catechisms. What they demand is “devotion”. The true believer, on the other hand, knows that devotion requires to have doctrine as a sure foundation. Without the doctrine of Scripture, devotion is vague and open to the errors and misconceptions of the imagination. Devotion that is not enshrined within the limits of biblical doctrine will be governed by the chaff which sentimentalism supplies.
The author leads us from the state of Christ’s humiliation to His estate of exaltation. “Ought not Christ to suffer” must be followed with “and to enter into His glory” entering as a Priest to His temple and as a King to His throne. We then read of the intercession of Christ and His various dealings with His people, and their subsequent experiences, in these discourses: “of Christ’s Intercession”, “of Afflictions”, “of Mercy Received”, “of Mortification”, “A Discourse Proving Weak Grace Victorious”, “of the Pardon of Sin”, and “of The Chief Sinners being the Objects of the Choicest Mercy”.
Having been shown the Lord Jesus Christ in His priestly garments to expiate the sins of His people we are now shown Him in His kingly vesture to break His and their enemies to pieces. Are any perturbed by the present state of the church? Why are her enemies so strong? Why is proud ungodliness, heresy, Romanism, and Islam on the advance and Reformed Christianity so apparently weak and silent? In “A Discourse on the Fifth of November” Charnock uses the history of Pharaoh in the days of Moses to show what are the purposes of the wicked regarding the church of Christ, and what is the end of her enemies. Their purpose is her destruction: “they break down the carved work thereof at once with axes and hammers” (Psalm 74:6). But in a warning to the nation especially to the ungodly and scorning academics, ecclesiastics and rulers the author shows that the power of a people is more wasted by opposing the interests of the church than by its conflicts with any other enemy. It is a timely warning for our nation today. The destruction of the church’s enemies is sudden: with respect to them death and hell are said to “ride upon horses” (Rev. 6:8); their judgement is severe, universal, irrecoverable, and just. Christ’s kindness to His people makes Him ride in majesty against their enemies (Psl. 45:4).
In “A Discourse of the Church’s Stability” and ” A Discourse of The Removal of the Gospel” the author shows that what is built upon the Rock of Ages cannot be moved by storms. “The gospel church is a perpetual society established by the highest power in heaven or earth.” In the fires of the enmity of the world she might burn but shall not be consumed. Her enemies might cut down her branches, but then she shall grow as the vine, invigorated by the lopping. The Prophet, Priest and King of the church will always have a people to instruct, to cleanse and to intercede for, and to subdue to Himself and defend. We are exhorted not to be discouraged by the darkness of our day.
However, this encouraging doctrine should not induce self complacency. The promise of stability does not belong to “any particular church in the world . . . Particular churches have been corrupted by superstition and idolatry, rent by heresies, and scattered by persecutions.” The doctrine dealt with in the chapter entitled “The Removal of the Gospel” is that “God doth often remove the gospel upon provocations”, and that this is “the severest judgements He can inflict upon an unworthy people”. God may remove His presence and ordinances from a provoking people to another people. “When God departs, judgements succeed. When the glory of God was gone up from the first cherub to the threshold of the house, the angels were commanded to execute the destructive sentence against the city” (Ezekiel 9:3,4,5). “When the things of Jerusalem’s peace were hid from her eyes, the destruction of their city followed . . . because they knew not the time of their visitation” (Luke 19:42,44). We are warned that when “a people have forfeited their church privileges by barrenness and wantonness, and God in justice strips them of their ornaments, He will have another people, which He will form for His glory and fit for His residence; that the rejection of carnal Israel was the preamble for the appearance of a spiritual; that the light of the kingdom of the Messiah shone all the brighter for the spiritual bleakness of the Jewish church which was being dissolved. Sion is not so fixed in one place but that the cords may be loosed through the unbelief of the people, and the tent pitched in another ground. . . God hath no other intention in removing the gospel and unchurching a nation, but the utter ruin . . . of that nation.” What a solemn, timely warning to guilty Britain! (Matt 21:43).
Other discourses are “of the Sinfulness and cure of Thoughts” where the disease is diagnosed, and the remedy applied; and “A Discourse of Delight in Prayer” which shows that “without cheerful prayers we cannot have gracious answers . . . God accepts the heart only when it is a gift given, not forced . . . delight is the marrow of religion”. The author demonstrates that cheerfulness which arises from the Holy Spirit, from a blood-sprinkled conscience, from believing expectation, from a sense of former mercies, and any other divine source is indeed the marrow of religion.
The prayerful consideration of the contents of this volume doctrine, instruction in righteousness, godly experience, encouragements and most timely warnings cannot fail to be a means of blessing, under the blessing of the Holy Spirit of Him who is here exalted. We believe that these discourses are calculated to revive in the souls of the godly a faith in the supreme triumph of their King. “But thou, O LORD, shalt endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations. Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof. So the heathen shall fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth thy glory. When the LORD shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory. He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer” (Psl. 102:12-17). May the reading of this volume, which we highly commend, move readers to say, “Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens” (Lam. 3:41). “Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them; I will increase them with men like a flock” ( Ezk. 36:37 ). Here are truths, were they impressed upon our minds, which would bring down, chasten, and sanctify, and which would comfort and encourage the heart.