Faith and Justification, Works of Thomas Halyburton, vol 1, published by the James Begg Society, hardback, 368 pages, £12.99, obtainable from the F P Bookroom.
Born in 1674, Halyburton was the son of a Perthshire minister who had been ejected in 1662 because he would not give up his Covenanting heritage. Although the younger Halyburton went to an early grave after a ministry of only 12 years, Hugh Martin rated him one of “the two greatest theologians that Scotland has ever produced” (the other was William Cunningham). And Rabbi Duncan spoke of him as “a minor John Owen”.
This volume begins with some doctrinal chapters, among them an essay on the nature of faith – the ground upon which faith assents to the Scriptures – and another on the question as to whether regeneration or justification is first in order of nature. The larger part of the book is occupied by 10 sermons, most if not all of which were preached at communion seasons. Rev Hugh Cartwright, in his introduction to this volume, states, “The sermons reveal the Biblical source and experiential and practical applications of Halyburton’s theology. Readers will find that he is concerned to expound the doctrine of his text and to confirm it from other Scriptures. His preaching is Scriptural, takes account of the context, is doctrinal and methodical and packed with matter. It is his concern to exalt the free grace of God and humble the sinner before His mercy seat. He applies truth to character, experience and practice and shows its relevance to the various conditions of his hearers. Primarily, his preaching is Christ-centred, and evidently that Christ whom he proclaimed to others was One whom he himself knew and loved.”
Many readers may find it best to begin with the sermons before they tackle the opening chapters, which contain a few rather demanding passages. Throughout the volume, we are treated to solid spiritual food from a giant of the past. Mr Cartwright comments that “the combination of sanctified intellect and gracious experience found in Halyburton provides us with material which illustrates” remarks made by the editor of an earlier edition of these Works: “Experimental religion . . . is neither more nor less than the practical application of the great truths of religion to the particular cases of individuals . . . the practical efficacy of Christian doctrine exemplified in the heart and on the life . . . Christianity brought home to ‘men’s business and bosom'”.
Some quotations may give an indication of the quality of the spiritual fare provided in this volume: “It is impossible for any unrenewed man to wish seriously for that heaven where holiness and happiness are for ever linked together. In a word, ye are not meet for it; for it is only the viewing of the Lord’s glory that changes us into His likeness, and so makes us meet for ‘the inheritance of the saints in light’ (Col 1:12).”
“Believers . . . will rather question themselves, and their own ignorance, than impeach the divinity of the Scriptures.”
“Saw ye never Jesus? Then ye never saw any sight worth seeing; ye never saw anything that could ease you of the burden of guilt which, though ye do not feel the weight of it at present, yet will sink you into hell, if He take it not off you. Ye never saw any that can go between you and wrath, the wrath of God that is ready to break forth into a flame against you, and burn you in the lowest hell; ye never saw any that can redeem you out of the hand of the devil, who reigns in the children of disobedience, or subdue those rebellious lusts that war against our souls; in fine, ye never saw any that could save your souls, and what is a man profited, if he gain a world, and lose his own soul?”
“Nothing will please a hungry man save meat, nor a thirsty man drink. He that would despise rubies, when starving for hunger, will greedily grasp at a piece of the bread. And this is the glory of divine manifestations, that they ever exactly meet the necessities of the people to whom they are made. That which makes people desert any way they have been in, is the finding it fail them in their need, and not answer in their case, but the Lord reveals that what they now need is to be found in Him; and this makes them cheerfully abide by Him. And though, at present, they know not what these things mean, yet afterwards they come to know more clearly, and this makes them stable.”
“When sin becomes very hateful unto us, a great progress is made towards its mortification.”
This is the first of what is intended to be a series of volumes. To have the first volume of such a respected divine in print once more is a great boon. We look forward to having the rest of Halyburton’s works republished.