Banner goes miniature. Banner goes gargantuan.

tsslogo.jpgThe recent wave of releases from Banner of Truth added two books to my library – one the smallest book in my library, the second, the largest and heaviest book in my library.

Remember to lift with your legs when you pick up the mammoth, 100-ounce(!), Works of Andrew Fuller (Banner of Truth: 2007). And at 11.25-inches tall, it’s also the tallest book in my library. You can afford this volume by canceling your gym membership. You won’t need the gym. Just crisscross your arms over this tome on your chest while doing sit-ups. Guaranteed sculpted abs! Put this volume in a backpack and you’re ready for walking lunges. The Banner is one infomercial away from a real publishing breakthrough.

Which is funny because in the same box arrived a wee little 3-ounce book titled The Loveliness of Christ: Extracts from the Letters of Samuel Rutherford (Banner of Truth: 2007). Don’t judge this book by its density.

Here is a brief look at where these new Banner titles weigh into my library:

Heaviest books (single volumes)

  • 100 oz. – The Works of Andrew Fuller (Banner of Truth)
  • 71 oz. – A Christian Directory by Richard Baxter (Soli Deo Gloria)
  • 71 oz. – Systematic Theology by Robert Duncan Culver (Christian Focus)
  • 70 oz. – Archeological Study Bible (Zondervan)
  • 67 oz. – An Old Testament Theology by Bruce Waltke (Zondervan)
  • 62 oz. – An Exposition of Hosea by Jeremiah Burroughs (Reformation Heritage)
  • 57 oz. – Christ Crucified by James Durham (Naphtali Press)

Lightest books (each with weighty content, of course)

  • 7 oz. – The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul (Reformation Trust)
  • 4 oz. – Christ Our Mediator by C.J. Mahaney (Multnomah)
  • 3 oz. — The Loveliness of Christ by Samuel Rutherford (Banner of Truth)

Both fresh Banner titles look great and please join us later in the week when we look at them individually. But tomorrow we look at Waltke’s new 67-ounce, An Old Testament Theology (Zondervan: 2007).

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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.

New Perspectives and the Cross

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Book announcement
The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ
by Cornelis P. Venema

A number of excellent responses to the challenges of the NP(s)P debate have been published in the past two years and more are expected this Fall. The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ by Cornelis P. Venema (Banner of Truth: 2006) is one example of a thorough response written for a broad readership. Venema (PhD. Princeton) currently serves as President and professor of doctrinal studies at Mid-America Reformed Seminary.

The first quarter of the book lays out the Reformed perspective on Paul (pp. 27-92), the second quarter lays out the new perspectives on Paul and the century-old roots behind the current NP theology (pp. 93-142). The second half is a critical assessment (pp. 143-307). In part, Venema concludes:

One of the most vexing features of the new perspective is its failure to explain the connection between the justification of believers and Christ’s atoning work. In the Reformation perspective on Paul, there is a close and intimate connection between Christ’s obedience, cross, and resurrection, and the benefit of free justification which believers derive from their union with him. Christ’s objective work on behalf of sinners (his death for their sins and his resurrection for their justification) constitutes the basis of the verdict which justification declares. Since the sinless Christ bore the sins of his people upon the cross and was declared righteous before God in his resurrection, believers now enjoy through union with him a new status of acceptance and life in fellowship with God. The righteousness of God, which is revealed in the gospel and received through faith, is demonstrated in God’s judgment upon sinners in the death of Christ and in God’s vindication of sinners in Christ’s resurrection.

In the Reformation perspective on justification, the revelation of God’s righteousness in the work of Christ provides a sure basis for the acceptance of sinners joined to him by faith. Justification is the subjective benefit granted to believers on account of the objective work of Christ on their behalf. The righteousness of God requires that sinners be set right before God. In order for this to occur, their sins must be atoned for and their righteousness established.

However, in the new perspective, no comparable account is provided of the intimate conjunction between Christ’s saving work and the believer’s justification. Justification merely identifies those who belong to the covenant family of God, but no adequate explanation is provided as to why this identification required nothing less than the cross and resurrection of Christ on their behalf. The new perspective offers no satisfactory account of Paul’s emphasis that believers are justified by the blood of Christ (Rom. 5:9) or through the redemption and propitiation he provided (Rom. 3:23). Nor does the new perspective’s explanation of the righteousness of God explain why Paul insists that, were righteousness to come through the law, Christ would have died in vain (Gal. 2:21).

The point of these observations is not to suggest that advocates of the new perspective have no doctrine of atonement or explanation of Christ’s representative death and resurrection. The point is that, unlike the Reformation perspective on Paul, the new perspective offers no coherent theological explanation of the interrelation between Christ’s work on behalf of his people on the one hand, and their enjoyment of the benefit of that work on the other.”

– Cornelis P. Venema in The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ: An Assessment of the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul (Banner of Truth: 2006) pp. 303-304 (emphasis is mine).

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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 learning.bot.jpg

… 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 Monergism.com). … 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.

Index-ability

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.

Content

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.

Readability

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.

Biographies

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.

Conclusion

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.

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

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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).