Fiction v. Scripture?

“Words are powerful things and none can be more injurious than many to be found in fiction. For the reason stated in the second part of the book, I believe the Bible is not fiction.”

From Iain Murray’s latest book, The Undercover Revolution (p. viii), his argument that, based upon the undermining of British ethics by fictional lit in the 19th and 20th centuries, fictional literature poses a danger to the non-fiction genre of Scripture.

All words, even fictional words, are powerful, mind-shaping tools—either powerfully bad (The Shack) or powerfully good (C.S. Lewis). Murray tips his hat to good fiction on the first page, but I don’t think this is enough. Few literary genres provide more untapped potential for the spread of the gospel in the 21st century than fiction. May the Church run towards the genre of fictional literature and celebrate those who use fiction to communicate eternal truth.

2007 Sermons of the Year

The end of December is an ideal time to reflect on God’s blessings from the past year. And today I am reminded of some specific memories from the Spring.

The Banner of Truth invited me to attend their minister’s conference in Grantham, Pennsylvania. To my surprise, when I landed in the Harrisburg airport I was kindly chauffeured to the conference in the same car as Dr. Sinclair Ferguson and Dr. Derek Thomas. It was a memorable 45 minutes, as the two men laughed over funny pulpit experiences. Ferguson’s humor had me rolling the entire trip, like the time he bought some marmalade as a gift for his wife and attempted to bring it through airport security. The gift was confiscated. Apparently, he concluded, the United States is fearful of being attacked by marmalade. The story seemed especially funny with the punch line packaged in a thick Scottish accent.

The conference at Messiah College was sunny and hot. Derek Thomas took a chance of speaking without a jacket on, and his friends caught word over at Reformation21. Dr. Thomas took the brunt of some public correction and perhaps lost points with Mississippi Presbyterians and “British Lloyd Jonesites.” The heat was too intense for a jacket. I think I was wearing jean shorts.

At the end of the first night of messages I experienced the now-famous Ferguson walk through the conference bookstore. The bookstore was stuffed with onlookers, and Ferguson wove his way around the tables of Banner treasures, holding up specific volumes long enough to expound their value in the library of a “gospel minister” (another phrase that sounds great with the Scottish accent). Among others, he lifted Iain Murray’s 2-volume biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, B.B. Warfield’s Faith and Life, Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry, J.C. Ryle’s The Upper Room, and Gerhard Vos’ Biblical Theology. Every book he mentioned was drastically cut in price and snatched up quickly. He began the walk through the bookstore with a memorable preface. When he graduated seminary, the really useful books printed by Evangelical publishers could easily fit on one shelf. In other words, we are blessed to have so many excellent volumes available today.

Overall, I had great roommates in the shared dorms. We shared a lot of laughs, ate some wonderful food, and met several new friends. The format of the conference was a bit more formal than I’m used to, but experiencing the Holy Spirit’s work in different settings and formats is always encouraging. And my time with Steve was encouraging and edifying, especially the late drive from the conference to the Banner of Truth warehouse in Carlisle, PA. Because of a tight schedule, time allowed only a midnight tour of the Banner warehouse. It was a conference highlight.

These conference memories come back because last week (after I released my top books of the year), I received an email from a reader (Dean) inquiring about my list of favorite messages I’d heard this year. My “Now on my iPod…” on the sidebar spikes listener interest and some assume that I compile a lot of audio messages (which I don’t). But I like the idea, and off Dean’s advice I set out to complete a top-10 list of favorite messages from 2007. As much as I tried, the list never came together for me. Next year I’ll take note of favorite messages throughout the year (as I do in compiling favorite books).

Despite being unable to complete a top 10-list, there is no debate over my top two favorite messages from 2007. Sitting in an oak pew in the balcony of a hot Pennsylvania chapel, I remember frantically writing down notes in a Moleskine as I absorbed every word from Ferguson’s two messages. It was the first time seeing Ferguson in person, and his messages struck deep because he turned my attention to the Cross in a way I had not previously considered.

Taking his cue from Titus 2:11-15, Ferguson expounded how our sanctification is the purchase of the Cross. In other words, when we consider our personal growth in holiness, we should be reminded that Christ purchased this sanctification for us. It was a stirring message, and I left with a deeper appreciation for the Cross.

I could explain both messages in detail, but I’ve already written summaries and your time would be best spent listening to the audio for yourselves. Enjoy.

“Our Holiness: The Father’s Purpose and the Son’s Purchase” (Titus 2:11-14)
by Sinclair Ferguson
May 29, 2007
Blog summary
Download MP3 (1:02:31, 35.8 MB)

“Our Holiness: Abiding in Christ’s Love” (John 15:1-11)
by Sinclair Ferguson
May 30, 2007
Blog summary
Download MP3 (1:07:52, 38.5 MB)


Related: Transcripted excerpt from the first message titled Supporting the imperatives to holiness.

Related: Transcripted excerpt from the second message titled No such ‘thing’ as grace.

The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement by George Smeaton

tsslogo.jpgLast week we played the game, Who is George Smeaton? To be honest, I had not heard of him until recently. Now I know more about the 19th century Scottish theologian and that’s all thanks to the input of TSS readers, the most knowledgeable blog readers on the planet (illustrated by the fact that many of them roast their own coffee beans). Helpful input came flowing from Scottish readers and Brazilian readers and really from readers all over. So thank you!

As you now know, Smeaton’s two books on the atonement serve as the foundation for Jerry Bridges’ new book, The Great Exchange: My Sin for His Righteousness (Crossway: 2007). In the foreword, Sinclair Ferguson says Smeaton’s volumes should be on the shelves of every preacher. “They are treasure troves,” he writes.

Just yesterday in the mail arrived my copy of Smeaton’s 1870 work, The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement (the second volume, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement, is currently out of print). As expected, the Smeaton volume was beautifully bound by the Banner in this 1991 reprint featuring a Smyth-sewn binding and cloth cover (remove the unsightly dust cover to see this delicious goodness). The text is a facsimile reproduction of the 1870 edition (see picture). There are brief Scriptural and topical indexes in the back.

To my pleasant surprise, the volume contains a lengthy appendix covering the history of the atonement from the first century through the Reformation period (pp. 479-544). Smeaton begins his historical study this way, “We find, when we make due allowance for erratic tendencies, either of individuals or of sects, through all this time, one harmonious testimony to divine justice and the judicial aspect of Christianity” (p. 480).

As time allows, I plan to write a fuller review, but this quote from the introduction to Apostles’ is a great one, illustrating the ever-present tendency within the church to neglect the doctrine of the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ. The quote stresses our need to linger often at the Cross in our studies, never assuming the importance of the Cross. Written 130 years ago, it’s ever fresh today.

“The design of this work is mainly to demonstrate, in the only way in which this is to be done, the pure biblical doctrine of the atonement. But polemical references are by no means withheld; that is, applications, necessarily brief, of ascertained truth to germinant errors, especially to those subtle forms of error which, in an evangelical guise, and not seldom with exegetical appliances, tend wholly to subvert the elements of substitution and penal visitation, which constitute the very essence of the atonement. It is a remarkable fact that since the Reformation no article has been so much impugned in every variety of form. Till recently this was uniformly done by a class of men who had forfeited all claim to be regarded as either evangelical in sentiment or biblical in doctrine. Within recent memory, however, a new phenomenon has presented itself to the attention of Christendom — a sort of spiritual religion or mystic piety, whose watchword is, spiritual life, divine love, and moral redemption, by a great teacher and ideal man, and absolute forgiveness, as contrasted with everything forensic. It is a Christianity without an atonement; avoiding, whether consciously or unconsciously, the offence of the cross, and bearing plain marks of the Rationalistic soil from which it sprung; and it has found a wide response in every Protestant land.”

George Smeaton, The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth: 1870/1991), vi.

A Banner Day for the Banner of Truth

tsslogo.jpgA Banner Day for the Banner of Truth

… Where did all these Calvinists come from? In his third post Mark Dever says in large measure they are the result of the publishing efforts of The Banner of Truth. Indeed my life-changing introduction to men like Horatius Bonar, Octavius Winslow, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, Richard Sibbes, John Flavel, John Bunyan, Thomas Brooks, John Newton, B.B. Warfield, John Murray and Martyn Lloyd-Jones were all books published by the Banner! So a heartfelt and much deserved “thank you” to the men and women of the Banner who (for several decades) have laid a foundation for my precious reformed

… If you think the Banner just launched off the ground in widespread financial success I would entrust the very interesting Banner magazines from 1955-1959 (published in book format). Iain Murray was walking by faith that God would bless the printing of Puritan works. It was an act faith and of doctrinal conviction. The very first Banner magazine opened with these words: “There are many today who regard truth and error as matters of small consequence; if a man lives rightly, they say, it matters not much what his beliefs and opinions are” (p. 3). A firm commitment to the doctrinal foundation promoted by the Banner of Truth in 1955 is central to why the practice of Calvinism flourishes today. Read these earlyBanner of Truth magazines and watch Banner of Truth grow from a seed. It’s an amazing and fruitful work of God’s graciousness!

… For one more week (until July 21st) the Mongerism Books Banner of Truth mega sale continues. Be sure to check it out if you are interested in any of the Banner of Truth sets.

… And in related news: No baby yet (due date was Tues.), but when that child arrives they will be garbed in Banner gear (my wife and I found transferable clothing stickers and printed off the Banner logo). Whether a girl or boy we do not know, but a Banner Baby most certainly!


Spurgeon Autobiography

tsslogo.jpgGood Monday morning, friends! I just posted my review of Spurgeon’s autobiography over at Take Up And Read (hosted by … The Banner of Truth just released their Summer 2007 catalog and you can download it here (1.7 MB) … More exciting things to come this week including the first TSS podcast next Monday (Deo Vo lente). Stay tuned to TSS and more importantly keep your eyes fixed on the precious Savior that gives us life, forgiveness, righteousness, wisdom and hope! – Tony

Comparing the Letters of Newton, Chalmers and Rutherford

A comparison:
The Letters of Newton, Chalmers and Rutherford

Few books minister more effectively to my soul than compilations of letters written by spiritual giants. These private letters reveal a private concern for particular souls. They are intended to comfort the downcast and encourage frail sinners on the brink of eternity to set their minds on things above.

Over the past year we have seen a sharp rise in the printing of these treasured letters. The most substantial projects from the Banner of Truth in 2007 thus far have been the publishing of the Letters of John Newton and Letters of Thomas Chalmers. These join the Banner’s monumental production from last year, Letters of Samuel Rutherford. So at the Shepherd’s Scrapbook we pulled out the scales to compare the three Banner volumes. Here are the raw statistics.

The covers and statistics make the three appear very similar but there are noted distinctions between them.


Because topics change from page to page, the most important factor in using the volumes of published letters is a good topical index. If you are preaching on assurance, you want to access the topically relevant letters quickly. The Letters of Samuel Rutherford published last year included a short but very useful topical index to all the letters (pp. 715-717). Unfortunately, neither of the two newer volumes were published with a similar straight topical index. But like Rutherford, the Newton volume does have a short topical summary in the table of contents. So for example, we know from the table of contents that the first published letter from Newton to Mrs. Wilberforce covers two topics: “Scriptural views of sin” and “Looking to Jesus.” These short topical summaries of each letter are very useful to navigate the mass of letters quickly. The Chalmers volume has none of these topical guides.


As we have come to expect from Newton (1725-1807), his letters are filled with rich spiritual content that has proven timeless. Each letter is tenderhearted, sincere and conveys principles of relevance for the Christian today. These 128 letters are only a tiny selection from his writings, but they are a well-chosen selection. Rutherford (1600-1661) is rightly considered the most famous letter writer in all of church history. Charles Spurgeon considered Rutherford’s letters to be “the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men.” It takes little imagination to see why. The letters of Chalmers (1780-1847) are noticeably short. While there are letters that rise to the spirituality of Rutherford and Newton (see excerpt below), many seem to have their greatest value as records of history. It appears this volume of letters may have been intended to be read alongside Chalmers’ Memoirs by those familiar with his life. A number of letters include details about financial accounts and other historical details. It’s worth noting that the original editors of Chalmers’ letters strove to publish them in chronological order whereas Newton’s letters are printed without concern to chronology. This reveals a subtle but important distinction between the purposes of the two works.


Both Newton and Chalmers are very easy to read. Readers unfamiliar with Puritan literature should know that Rutherford is much older and a bit tougher to read. A helpful glossary of difficult terms is found on pages 718-733 (apparently even for a reader in 1891, help was needed to refresh the language of 1661). All three volumes are high quality facsimile reproductions.


The Newton volume includes only a very brief biography. Both the Rutherford and Chalmers volumes come with length biographical introductions. Rutherford’s was written by Andrew Bonar in 1891 and Chalmers’ by Iain Murray in 2007. Chalmers was used greatly in the revival of the Gospel in Scotland, and the biography by Murray is outstanding.


When it comes to spiritual letter writers, John Newton and Samuel Rutherford are in the Reformed Hall of Fame. It’s great that these two works are indexed topically in a way that will make them very easy to use in sermon preparation and for topic-specific devotional times. That within one year, the Banner of Truth has managed to publish these works in Smyth-sewn binding and beautiful cloth covers is itself a grand accomplishment that will serve the church for many decades.

My concluding recommendations for readers looking to pick up and read some spiritual letters this Summer: Chalmers’ letters are often spiritual but will be tougher to navigate due to lack of thematic summaries and index we see in the other two. Start with Newton and then move on to Rutherford. For those more interested in historical letters, return to Chalmers. In all three cases, your heart will be truly blessed as you read letters from three able physicians of the soul.


All three volumes can be purchased directly from The Banner of Truth.


EXCERPT: taken from the Letters of Thomas Chalmers (Banner of Truth; 2007). Chalmers apparently received a letter from a woman who feared that she did not see enough of her own personal sin to draw near the Savior. He writes,

“I would first, then, say to you, that you are not to wait till you have mourned enough for sin ere you accept the Savior. You complain that you have not such deep views of sin as experienced Christians speak of; but how did they acquire them? They are the fruits of their experience in Christ, and not of their experience out of Christ. They had them not before their union with the Savior. It was on more slender conceptions of the evil of sin than they now have that they went to Christ, that they closed with Him, and that they received from His sanctifying hand a more contrite spirit than before — a more tender conscience than before. Do as they did; wait not till you have gotten their deep sensibilities till you go to the Savior. Go to Him now; go to Him with your present insensibility; bring it before Him as part of your disease, and He, the Physician of souls, will minister to this and all other diseases. But, generally, you complain that you are ignorant of how to go — how to believe. Now, this has long been a stumbling-block to many; their thoughts are how they are to believe, when their thoughts should be what they should believe. They look inwardly for the work of faith, when they should look outwardly for the object of faith. ‘For every one thought,’ says Richard Baxter, ‘that he casts downwardly upon himself, he should cast ten upwardly and outwardly upon Jesus, and upon the glorious truths of the Gospel'” (letter 240, page 301).