Counting Others More Significant

Jeremiah Burroughs (c. 1600–1646) was an outstanding Puritan preacher and writer. He wrote the following in his book Excellency of a Gracious Spirit, a quote that made its way inside a very good new biography on the man by Phillip Simpson, A Life of Gospel Peace (RHB, 2011):

Rejoice in the good of others, though it eclipses your light, though it makes your parts, your abilities, and your excellencies dimmer in the eyes of others. Were it not for the eminence of some above you, your parts perhaps would shine more brightly and be of high esteem. Yet to rejoice in this from the heart, to bless God from the soul for His gifts and graces in others, that His name may be glorified more by others than I can glorify it myself; to be able to truly say, ‘Though I can do little, yet blessed be God there are some who can do more for God than I, and in this I do and will rejoice’—this is indeed to be able to do much more than others. This shows a great eminence of spirit.

New Biographies For Little Kids, And Big Kids, And Parents

In the mornings before I leave for work, we take time to read as a family. Of late we have been working through the Christian Biographies For Young Readers series (Reformation Heritage Books). We first read the John Calvin bio (2008) then moved on to Augustine (2009) and now finally on to John Owen (2010). The series is beautifully illustrated and the storyline (by Simonetta Carr) provides quite a lot of detail, just enough to provide historic context for the value of these three men in Church history. The publisher anticipates adding future bios to this series that will include Lady Jane Grey, Athanasius, John Knox, Jonathan Edwards, and others [John Bunyan please!]. The books are around 64-pages in length and can be read in about 30–40 minutes or 50 minutes if you gawk at the excellent paintings and random historical pictures. In that brief time the family gets a poignant introduction to the men and women God has used in building his Church over the centuries—which is especially helpful when most of your kids are named after dead preachers to begin with.

Look Much And Consider Much

In 1670 Puritan William Greenhill (1591–1671) published his long sermon: “Being against the Love of the World.” Our friends at Reformation Heritage Books will reprint the sermon next year under the title Stop Loving the World. This excerpt is pulled from the forthcoming title, pages 71–72 (posted with permission):

If you would have your heart removed from the things of the word, behold the crucified and glorified Lord Jesus Christ.

Set Christ crucified often before your eyes, and look on Him with the eye of faith. “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14). That is, “I look on Christ crucified, and by the eye of faith I can see Him hanging there, and all the glory of the world stained there. Is all the world comparable to Christ? There is the King, the High Priest, the Mediator, the great Prophet. There is the Heir of the world crucified. There is His blood running down. He has laid down His life for sinners, and to take my heart off from the world.” If you look on a dead man, it deadens your spirit. What will looking on Christ do then? It will deaden your heart toward the world if you look on Jesus Christ crucified. “I am crucified to the world,” said Paul.

Then look on Christ glorified, and your heart will be raised above the world. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1–2). Christ has died, risen, and gone to glory. If now you are risen out of the state of sin, transferred from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, you will have your heart where Christ is. Consider Christ in this way: “There is my Head, my King, my Husband. There is my Redeemer, the one who is a thousand times better than the world. Therefore, I will not set my heart on things of the earth, but on things above. How glorious it is to see the King in His glory!”

Look much, and consider much of Christ crucified and glorified.

New Reading Guide to Calvin’s Institutes

You’re a nerd when you read with two books open at the same time and just for fun and not because you have a class paper due. That’s me. When I read Scripture I keep a commentary open at my side. When I read poetry like John Donne’s Holy Sonnets I keep this commentary at hand. Even when I read The Lord of the Rings I keep this commentary at arms reach. I’ve come to appreciate commentaries, summaries, annotated guides, really any secondary literature by scholars more familiar with the original source before me. And over the years this practice has been deeply rewarding.

Few original sources are more enriching than John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. It’s a very important work in the history of the reformed church, but it’s also old (first published in 1536), it’s foreign-born (written originally in Latin and French), and it’s quite long (1,600 pages). A good companion guide is essential. In the past I’ve used competent guides like T.H.L. Parker’s Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought.

But no guide summarizes Calvin’s points more concisely or more clearly than J. Mark Beach in his new book Piety’s Wisdom: A Summary of Calvin’s Institutes with Study Questions (RHB, 2010). This 352-page summary can be read as a stand-alone introduction to the life and theology of Calvin or it can be read as a chapter-by-chapter summary guide for readers committed to reading the entire Institutes.

Beach is a seminary professor but this book originated from pastoral convictions, a desire to connect the Christians of his congregation to the riches of Calvin. This was a high task—and a very difficult one—but a task Beach masterfully fulfills. The work oozes with theological conviction, biblical references, and pastoral sensitivities. I would say it surpasses other guides in its field but I’m not sure there are other guides written specifically to benefit the local church.

In the preface Beach explains the origin of the book:

Some years ago when I was serving as pastor to a congregation of believers in Pella, Iowa, I proposed to the adult study group that we study Calvin’s Institutes. I was encouraged by how many were interested in the project. But I also saw furrowed brows. Some asked, “You’re not expecting us to read all the way through the Institutes, are you?” At that moment I tasked myself with writing a synopsis of Calvin’s two big volumes.

He goes on to detail the purpose of his work:

This book does not aim to be a book for Calvin scholars. I am not trying to present a fresh vision on Calvin or his works. Nor am I seeking to commandeer Calvin to win some modern, theological fight. The goal of this synopsis is more modest in the academic sense but no less important in the churchly sense, namely, to present Calvin as a teacher of biblical truth and thus to instruct believers today in the faith they profess. This book therefore is directed to all persons who want to read Calvin’s theology but find themselves short on time and too overwhelmed to study the bulky volumes that comprise the Institutes.

Any pastor who wants his church to benefit from the Institutes should take a look at Piety’s Wisdom. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the endorsement from a leading authority on reformation-era theology, Richard A. Muller:

Mark Beach’s Piety’s Wisdom provides a finely done summary and analysis of Calvin’s Institutes that should be of considerable service to Christian laity, pastors, and students in coming to terms with the thought of the Genevan Reformer. Beach writes clearly and concisely, and with considerable insight into Calvin’s thought. The book includes a short biographical sketch and a contextual introduction to the Institutes. It stands as one of the best and most trustworthy introductions to Calvin presently available.

You can preview the first 32 pages here (PDF).

Currently the book can be purchased only through the publisher’s website. It sells for $15. UPDATE: It will be available from Westminster soonly ($15).

Highly recommended.

Flavel on Mystical Union with Christ

At the very heart of Puritanism is the saints’ mystical union with Christ. We are in Christ! He is our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, our redemption. From this union to Christ we experience all the blessings and delights of communion with God and find spiritual vitality for obedience, prayer, ministry and sacrificial love. This powerful union is mystical because we cannot see it with our eyes. It is a spiritually-revealed truth.

Puritan John Flavel is certainly one of the most valuable (and perhaps one of the more overlooked) of the Puritans. The theme of mystical union with Christ is threaded throughout his entire ministry and now a study of Flavel on this theme has been published titled The Inner Sanctum of Puritan Piety: John Flavel’s Doctrine of Mystical Union with Christ by J. Stephen Yuille (RHB).

John Flavel (1628-1691) had an eventful life on the run as a nonconformist preacher (see Beeke’s bio of Flavel here). He is remembered for his books The Mystery of Providence, The Method of Grace, Christ Knocking at the Door of the Heart, The Fountain of Life, and Keeping the Heart. His complete works are still in print and available from the Banner of Truth in six volumes ($99). These works remain strikingly valuable for contemporary readers (read my full review here.)

Back to our specific theme. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “If you have got hold of this idea [i.e., mystical union with Christ] you will have discovered the most glorious truth you will ever know in your life.” It is glorious because it reminds us that in all things, at all times, Christ is central to our lives. All of our spiritual vitality and life comes through Christ. Christ is the “Head” from whom the whole Body is nourished, knit together and grows (Col. 2:19). Paul’s phrase for Christ is simply “who is your life” (3:4) and says our lives are hidden in Christ (3:3). This glorious truth of being united to Christ is at the core of the Christian life.

And Flavel “got hold” of this idea. It became central to his ministry and from this center flowed his understanding of pursuing obedience, prayer and communion with God. Now, Yuille has taken the highlights of Flavel’s teaching on this theme and systematized them into one short volume (128 pages).

Yuille covers the full spectrum of the doctrine in this book. I have taken the index and provided it to the right. The comprehensiveness of this volume does not make it unreadable or overly academic. Yuille was a prof at Toronto Baptist Seminary, but he is a pastor, too. And this book shows the intellectual awareness of a scholar and the experiential sensitivities of a pastor.

Whether this is your introduction to the full scope of the mystical union with Christ, or your introduction to John Flavel (or both!) this short work will richly bless your soul. Yuille has well-captured the precious truth of our union with Christ through the ministry of a first-rate Puritan.

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Title: The Inner Sanctum of Puritan Piety: John Flavel’s Doctrine of Mystical Union with Christ
Author: J. Stephen Yuille (forward by Michael A. G. Haykin)
Table of Contents: scanned and posted online [click here]
Boards: paperback
Pages: 128
Topical index: yes
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
Year: 2007
Price USD: $12.00/$9.00 from RHB
ISBNs: 9781601780171

A Conversation with Jonathan Edwards

I’m not alone in saying that Jonathan Edwards was likely the greatest theological mind in American history. Yet for a man who carefully dissected his terms, and frequently lamented the limitations of the English language in allowing him to express his thoughts (!), Edwards can be frustratingly complex and often too deep for many readers. So what is the best entry point into Edwards’s theology?

One book I return to frequently is A Conversation with Jonathan Edwards by Gary Crampton (Reformation Heritage Books). Crampton assembled the book in a Q&A format, posing theological questions and then writing answers, which are citations of direct quotes from the works of Edwards. Crampton book, which is just over 200 pages, provides a comprehensive overview of Edwards’s theology in way that I find very engaging. Chapters include Edwards thoughts on man, knowledge, Scripture, God, angels, man, soteriology, the Church, the family, eschatology, and heaven and hell.

I use A Conversation with Jonathan Edwards as an index and field guide to the  complete works of Edwards now available online from Yale University. Using Crampton as my map, I can more easily and efficiently find my way around Edwards’s works and locate specific writings in a snap.

Partly because it was produced by a small publisher (RHB), I don’t think this book has received the publicity it deserves. But if you are looking for a jumpstart into the theology of Edwards, or if you would like a map to help you sift through the online works of Edwards, this may be the best single volume overview available. I highly recommend it.

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Title: A Conversation with Jonathan Edwards
Author: Gary Crampton
Boards: paper
Pages: 202
Topical index: no (it’s arranged topically)
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
Year: 2006
Price USD: $16.00 / $12.00 from publisher
ISBNs: 1892777762