Sunday, November 30, 2014

Samuel Rutherford: Lover of Christ

Samuel Rutherford: Bitesize BiographySamuel Rutherford: Bitesize Biography by Richard M Hannula
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first came to know Samuel Rutherford from the lovely little collection of extracts of his letters called The Loveliness of Christ. When given the opportunity to review this biography and learn about the man who wrote those letters, I jumped at it.

In keeping with the series, Hannula recounts the key events of Rutherford’s life with brevity. He sketches in the historical background, including the Reformation brought to Scotland through John Knox, and growing tensions between king and Kirk. Rutherford was academically gifted, and it was at university that he experienced conversion. And what shines out most from his life also dominates this book: love for Christ. Hannula knows well how best to capture the life of an effusive communicator of Christ’s love—let the dead speak! This little biography is filled with delicious quotes that touch the heart almost 400 years after they were first written.

“Since He looked upon me,” Rutherford could write of his conversion, "my heart is not my own; He hath run away to heaven with it” (22). Of his call to minister at Anwoth: “The great master-gardener, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in a wonderful providence, planted me here, where, by His grace, in this part of His vineyard I grow” (44). Rutherford experienced much suffering. His wife died in her early twenties, and eight of his nine children perished in childhood. “When I am in the cellar of affliction I look for the Lord’s choicest wines” (47).

He became known for his preaching, even though he didn’t look or sound the part. “He was short, slight and preached in a high pitched voice—some described it as ‘shrill’. But he vividly set Christ before his congregation, helping them to see Jesus Christ preaching, healing, bearing his cross, reigning in heaven and interceding for them” (32).

The heart of most of his sermons was “the cross of Jesus Christ and the glories of the Saviour” (32). “One man said that when Rutherford preached about Christ, it looked like he would fly out of the pulpit for joy” (33). “Every day,” he testified, "we may see some new thing in Christ; His love has neither brim nor bottom” (34).

In order to keep this review brief like the book itself, I will close with two things I appreciated about it. First, Hannula gives a balanced treatment of Rutherford’s life that includes his shortcomings. It is reassuring to discover that even the godliest saints had to battle pride all their life (but unsettling to realize they had a lot more reason for it!). "‘You must in all things aim at God’s honour;’ he counselled a friend, ‘you must eat, drink, sleep, buy, sell, sit, stand, speak, pray, read, and hear the Word, with a heart-purpose that God may be honoured." (106). Additionally, he “was naturally hot and fiery” (114)!

Second, I enjoyed the soft spot Rutherford has in his heart for youth. “There is not such a glassy, icy, slippery piece of way between you and heaven as youth” (37). "'O what a sweet couple, what a glorious yoke are youth and grace, Christ and a young man!’ he said.” "‘I entreat you now, in the morning of your life,’ Rutherford once counselled a young man, ‘to seek the Lord and His face. Beware of the folly of dangerous youth — a perilous time for your soul.’"

His legacy today lies not in his books, but in his writings not intended for the public—his letters (135). He had opposed their publication because he didn’t want people to think higher of him than they ought (136). Spurgeon called them “the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men” (137).

Which warrants one more quote: "‘Believe Christ’s love more than your own feelings,’ he advised a parishioner. ‘Your Rock does not ebb and flow, though your sea does.’” (54).

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

1 Samuel For You

1 Samuel for You1 Samuel for You by Tim Chester
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If Phil Campbell is right that “clarity is the new black” (Saving Eutychus, loc 539), and if even the Apostle Paul thought that “making it clear” is how he ought to speak (Col. 4:3-4), then Tim Chester’s new book, 1 Samuel For You, is indeed for you! Clarity of thought and expression is a commodity that Chester offers in abundance in all his books, and this one is no different.

And yet, clarity does not come at the expense of substance. He is quick to point out Hebrew puns and chiastic patterns in the narrative structure. Thorny apologetic questions are given brief but sober treatment (the command to destroy the Amalekites is ethical cleansing rather than ethnic cleansing [loc 1387]). And rich forays are made into the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures (the mountain separating David from his pursuer Saul leads David to sing of God in the Psalms as his Rock) as well as into the NT.

Take the chapter on David versus Goliath, for instance. Here we find that the Hebrew word for Goliath’s armour is “scales”. David, like Adam, must face the snake. He had already tamed the lion and the bear, and now, as a small fulfillment of God’s promise in Genesis 3:15, he lops off the head of the serpent (Goliath). Following this on into the NT Chester writes, “Jesus is the true Adam, crushing the snake and taming the beasts [referring to Mark 1.13]. Jesus is the true Israel, trusting God, defeating giants and securing our inheritance” (lo 1813).

Clarity is also achieved by allowing 1 Samuel to speak powerfully to our lives today. The rather domestic story of Hannah and her barrenness yields this encouragement:

Maybe you have made gospel choices which mean you cannot afford the lifestyle of your neighbours. Maybe you have chosen to give your time to serve others rather than indulging yourself. Maybe you have served on a children’s camp instead of going on holiday…Maybe you have taken on a draining pastoral situation. Maybe you have made choices that mean you face hostility. You speak for Christ even though it will harm your career or ruin your day. Maybe you are childless like Hannah and have chosen not to accept fertility treatment that would mean unused human embryos are destroyed. The message of Hannah’s story and Hannah’s song is this: It is worth it. (loc 302)

Not only is this book marked by clarity. It is also marked by Christ-centeredness. In each chapter Chester follows legitimate paths, not of his own making, from 1 Samuel to King Jesus.

We see how the apostles and early Christians went to 1 Samuel and the psalms of David to show that Jesus was the Christ, not in spite of all his sufferings, but because of them (loc 2355). “So when the early church wanted to prove that the despised and rejected One was in fact God’s true King, this is where they went” (loc 2366).

1 & 2 Samuel contain 20 chapters on the life of David while he was king. But they also include 20 chapters on David before he became king. In 1 Samuel 23 to 26, David faces three tests to skip the suffering and hardship and come into the glory of kingship on his own steam. (loc 2521). Jesus too will be tempted to skip the suffering bit and go straight on to his glory. David refuses to shed Saul’s blood; Jesus “does come to his kingdom through bloodshed, but the blood which was shed was his own.” (loc 2642).

If our King had to go through suffering before glory, we should expect no different. However,

Too often, we expect to be able to get on in our careers without our faith creating problems for us. Too often, we expect to be able to share our faith without facing opposition. Too often, we expect God to solve our problems and take away our suffering. In other words, too often we actually expect glory now without suffering. (loc 2424-2436)

I’ll leave you with Chester’s summary of the book of 1 Samuel, and then with one of my favourite quotes:

In this sense, the whole of the history of God’s people and of the world, from the coming of the first Adam to the return of the second Adam, is captured in the tale of the two kings that is the book of 1 Samuel. (loc 3155)

“Where is the glory or the weight? It is around Eli’s waist.” (loc 639)

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Show Them Jesus

Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to KidsShow Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids by Jack Klumpenhower

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A wonderful book helping parents and teachers to teach the gospel to kids. Author is himself a layman but has come up with numerous brilliant ideas for communicating Jesus including the God report card. This book will help with

    * finding easy ways to get to Jesus from various Bible stories
    * setting up a gospel environment (doesn't believe in a rewards system)
    * guiding teachers to live by the gospel themselves. He incl many examples from his own life of his idolatry in ministry...sounded like he was talking about me. Very encouraging
    * getting to the root of sin beneath the sin

Sometimes I thought his moves to Jesus left room for improvement, but just as many times I was surprised by his insight. Heavy emphasis on grace...something I still struggle with because I think the NT is clear that God's love does change in some way towards us when we sin, etc.

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Gospel Assurance and Warnings

Gospel Assurance and WarningsGospel Assurance and Warnings by Paul Washer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This appears to be the third book written in the author’s Recovering the Gospel series. The book is divided into two parts, the first on biblical assurance, and the second on gospel warnings.

The author situates his topic as matter of heaven or hell. He is concerned about a doctrine of easy believism that “opens the door for carnal and unregenerate people to find assurance of salvation by looking to the apparent sincerity of their past decision to accept Christ, even though their manner of living contradicts such a profession,” (loc 219). “Contemporary evangelicalism,” he states, “has been grossly affected by a ‘once saved always saved’ teaching that argues for the possibility of salvation apart from sanctification,” (loc 1793).

In the first part he goes through the numerous tests given in 1 John to examine ourselves to see if our profession in genuine. Tests such as whether we walk in the light, confess sin, keep God’s commandments, etc (there is a helpful summary list given at the end of Part One [locs 2911-2]).

If Part One primarily focuses on 1 John, Part Two goes through the conclusion to Jesus’s famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:13-27. Here we learn that today’s preacher, like the Lord Jesus himself, must give his listeners gospel warnings as well as gospel promises, and that “the idea that it is easy to be saved is totally foreign to the Scriptures,” (loc 3281). “It seems that the evangelical community no longer views conversion primarily as a supernatural work of God wrought through the miracle of the new birth” (loc 4277).


I agree with Washer’s overall message in the book. A changing life and submission the Lordship of Christ are not optional for the true Christian.

I also agree with him on interpretation of specific texts. He rightly interprets the distinction in 1 John 1:5-7 as being between those who are converted and those who are not. And in Matthew 25.31-46 the hungry, homeless, and naked are indeed “believers who are suffering for the sake of a good conscience before God and their loyalty to Christ,” (loc 1268).

But I do have some criticisms of the book. While I can appreciate that the author is dealing with somber truths, the book’s style does come across as repetitious (perhaps because it’s based on a collection of sermons [loc 51]) and a trifle pedantic.

Moreover there is repeated mention of the ills and shortcomings of evangelicalism. I completely agree with Washer’s assessment, but that didn’t stop me from wondering if he could have achieved the same effect with less recourse to the familiar “modern evangelicalism” refrain. This plus a few more positive and energetic appeals to the transforming power of the gospel would have gone a long way to fulfilling the author’s hope: that in his book readers would “rediscover the gospel in all its beauty, scandal, and saving power” (loc 111).

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Reckless Abandon

Reckless Abandon: A modern-day Gospel pioneer's exploits among the most difficult to reach peoplesReckless Abandon: A modern-day Gospel pioneer's exploits among the most difficult to reach peoples by David Sitton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is my conviction as a mission leader, rather than encouraging this generation of young believers to pad their IRA retirement accounts, we should be pointing them towards packing their own coffins with a few belongings as they set sail for the strongholds of Satan in the 10 / 40 Window countries. (201)

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Martin Luther

Martin Luther: A LifeMartin Luther: A Life by Martin E. Marty

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since then your serene majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the Pope or in the councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.” And possibly, “I cannot do otherwise, here I stand…May God help me. Amen.” (68)

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Think Slow

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of GodThink: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“This book is a plea to embrace serious thinking as a means of loving God and people. It is a plea to reject either-or thinking when it comes to head and heart, thinking and feeling, reason and faith, theology and doxology, mental labor and the ministry of love."   

Purpose of mind “The main reason God has given us minds is that we might seek out and find all the reasons that exist for treasuring him in all things and above all things.” (15)

Definition of loving God with mind: "our thinking should be wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things.” (83)

Quote on relativism:

Relativism enables pride to put on humble clothes and parade through the street. But don’t be mistaken. Relativism chooses every turn, ever pace, every street, according to its autonomous preferences, and submits to no truth. We will serve our generation well by exposing the prideful flesh under these humble clothes. (113)

Also cites Chesterton in fn 6 “We are on the road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.”

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Eyes Wide Open

Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in EverythingEyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything by Steve DeWitt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What if we were to realize that every sunset viewed, every sexual intimacy enjoyed, every favorite food savored, every song sung or listened to, every home decorated, and every rich moment enjoyed in this life isn’t ultimately about itself but is an expression and reflection of God’s essential character? Wouldn’t such beautiful and desirable reflections mean that their Source must be even more beautiful—and, ultimately, most desirable? (8)

“Alice must grow small if she is to be Alice in Wonderland” (57, G. K. Chesterton)

Good stuff on how all art is sacred. Key question is whether it is true. However, as cross is source and standard of beauty, he could have shown how we evaluate all art and culture from the cross, as in Php 4.8-9.

God is "unbearably beautiful"! (179).

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Packer on Evangelism

Evangelism & The Sovereignty of GodEvangelism & The Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Clarifies relationship between God’s sovereignty, man’s responsibility, and Christian’s evangelistic duty. Aim is to dispel notion that belief in God’s sovereignty will hinder evangelism (7-8)

Charles Simeon’s conversation with John Wesley (13-14): following is an excerpt

“Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance…and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.”

Impersonal evangelism!

And therefore the indiscriminate buttonholing, the intrusive barging in to the privacy of other people’s souls, the thick-skinned insistence on expounding the things of God to reluctant strangers who are longing to get away—these modes of behavour, in which strong and loquacious personalities have sometimes indulged in the name of personal evangelism, should be written off as a travesty of personal evangelism. Impersonal evangelism would be a better name for them! 81-2


What, then, are we to say about the suggestion that a hearty faith in the absolute sovereignty of God is inimical to evangelism? We are bound to say that anyone who makes this suggestion thereby shows that he has simply failed to understand what the doctrine of divine sovereignty means. Not only does it undergird our evangelism, and uphold the evangelist, by creating a hope of success that could not otherwise be entertained; it also teaches us to bind together preaching and prayer; and as it makes us bold and confident before men, so it makes us humble and importunate before God. Is not this as it should be? We would not wish to say that man cannot evangelize at all without coming to terms with this doctrine; but we venture to think that, other things being equal, he will be able to evangelize better for believing it. (125-6)

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