BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · Theology

The Eternity of Hell Torments – Jonathan Edwards (1739)

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingThe doctrine of hell is under attack.  The opposition to eternal punishment is more diverse than one might expect as unbelieving philosophers and some pastors in the emergent church seek to extinguish this doctrine once and for all.

In the 18th century, people opposed hell as well.  Yet it was taught with more faithfulness and fervency than most pulpits in these days.  Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, The Eternity of Hell Torments is a fitting example of this faithfulness and fervency.

The text is Matthew 25:46 – These shall go away into everlasting punishment.  Two initial observations are advanced:

  1. The duration of the punishment on which they are here said to enter: it is called everlasting punishment.
  2. The time of their entrance on this everlasting punishment.

The doctrine as also set forth:

The misery of the wicked in hell will be absolutely eternal.

With the presuppositions and doctrine in place, Edwards moves forward by advancing four key points.

1. It is not contrary to the divine perfections to inflict on wicked men a punishment that is absolutely eternal.

Edwards argues that sin deserves such a punishment, namely, “that sin is heinous enough to deserve such a punishment, and such a punishment is no more than proportionable to the evil or demerit of sin.”

It is not contrary to God’s mercy to inflict eternal punishment on sinful men. Indeed, “It would be a great defect, and not a perfection, in the sovereign and supreme Judge of the world, to be merciful in such a sense that he could not bear to have penal justice executed.”

2. The eternal death which God threatens, is not annihilation, but an abiding sensible punishment or misery.

The Scripture never hints at the God-dishonoring doctrine of annihilation – a doctrine that surfaces in Edwards day and is even more popular now.  The argument against annihilation is clearly articulated here.

3. This misery will not only continue for a very long time, but will be absolutely without end.

Edwards utilizes several exegetical, grammatical, and biblical  arguments to point readers to the reality of eternal punishment.  “Such expressions,” says the Puritan divine, “are used to set forth the duration of the punishment of the wicked, as are never used in the scriptures of the New Testament to signify any thing but a proper eternity.”

4. Various good ends will be obtained by the eternal punishment of the wicked.

Edwards presents four good ends of eternal punishment:

  • Hereby God vindicates his injured majesty.
  • God glorifies his justice.
  • God hereby indirectly glorifies his grace on the vessels of mercy.
  • The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever.

He notes, “The sight of the wonderful power, the great and dreadful majesty, and awful justice and holiness of God, manifested in the eternal punishment of ungodly men, will make them prize his favor and love vastly the more; and they will be so much the more happy in the enjoyment of it.”

Application

In typical Edwardsean fashion, the author concludes by setting forth three important points of application:

  1. Be entreated to consider attentively how great and awful a thing eternity is.
  2. Do but consider how dreadful despair will be in such torment.
  3. That you may effectually escape these dreadful and eternal torments, be entreated to flee and embrace him who came into the world for the very end of saving sinners from these torments, who has paid the whole debt due to the divine law, and exhausted eternal in temporal sufferings.

And Edwards directs the attention of every reader to Christ and his gospel:

Justice therefore never can be actually satisfied in your damnation; but it is actually satisfied in Christ.  Therefore he is accepted of the Father, and therefore all who believe are accepted and justified in him.  Therefore believe in him, come to him, commit your souls to him to be saved by him.  In him you shall be safe from the eternal torments of hell.

 

JONATHAN EDWARDS

The True Excellency of a Minister of the Gospel – Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingIn this masterful sermon, Jonathan Edwards sets forth what sets apart
a minister of the gospel.

He establishes his doctrine at the beginning of the sermon:

‘Tis the excellency of a minister of the gospel to be both a burning and a shining light.

Six propositions guide the doctrinal assertion:

  1. I would show that Christ’s design, in the appointment of the order and office of ministers of the gospel is, that they may be lights to the souls of men.
  2. I would show what is implied in their being “burning lights.”
  3. I would show what is implied in their being “burning lights.”
  4. I would show that it is the proper excellency of ministers of the gospel to have these things united in them, to be both burning and shining lights.
  5. I would apply these things to all that Christ has called to the work of the gospel ministry, showing how much it concerns them earnestly to endeavor that they may be burning and shining lights.
  6. Show what ministers of the gospel ought to do that they may be so.

The sermon shines brightest in the first proposition as the Puritan divine explains the three-fold use of light, namely – to discover, to refresh, and to direct.

Indeed, pastors have a weighty responsibility, especially in the preaching task to show forth the light of the gospel in ways that are understandable, and in keeping with the truth of God’s Word.

 

BOOK REVIEWS

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers – Dane Ortlund

Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 221 pp.

Dr. Dane Ortlund has gained a reputation for writing Christian books that are solid, edifying, and gospel-centered. His newest work, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Suffers is No Exception. Ortlund uses Matthew 11:29 as the basis for his writing:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

The author writes, “This book is written for the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty. Those running on fumes.” Ultimately, Ortlund is jealous to draw the attention of readers to the heart of Jesus Christ.

23 chapters await readers who will be captivated, encouraged, and loved y their Savior. Some readers will need to readjust what they have previously learned about Jesus and move in a more biblically oriented direction. Ideally, this book should be read one chapter at time, in a devotional sort of way. Such an approach will allow the mind to be sufficiently instructed and the heart to be filled with encouragement.

A few citations will give a sense of the tone and direction the book takes:

Jesus is not trigger-happy. Not harsh, reactionary, easily exasperated. he is the most understanding person in the universe.

The Jesus given to us in the Gospels is not simply the one who loves, but one who is love; merciful affections stream from his innermost heart as rays from the sun.

It is impossible for the affectionate heart of Christ to be over-celebrated, made too much of, exaggerated.

Jesus Christ is closer to you today than he was to the sinners and suffers he spoke with and touched his earthly ministry.

If God sent his own Son to walk through the valley of condemnation, rejection, and hell, you can trust him as you walk through your own valleys on the way to heaven.

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers is packed with heart-warming scholarship and Christology that moves the soul. It is eminently practical and encouraging from start to finish. It will prove to be one of the most important Christian books in 2020!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

BOOK REVIEWS

Steal Away Home – Matt Carter & Aaron Ivey

chMatt Carter and Aaron Ivey, Steal Away Home, Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2017, 294 pp. $14.60

Church history is filled with stories of courage, adventure, adversity, and persecution. From the exile of Athanasius, the martyrdom of John Rogers and William Tyndale, or Luther’s trial at Worms, these stories are well-known and we are quick to pass them along to the next generation.

Steal Away Home by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey is a tale that will be new to many readers, however.  It was certainly new for me! The story involves two men from backgrounds that have very little in common. C.H. Spurgeon was the Prince of Preachers, a refined man with a rich theological heritage who occupied the pulpit in Victorian England. He was well-known around the world. He was a best-selling author and recognized by thousands. Thomas Johnson was a simple slave boy who was unjustly shackled in colonial America. He was known by few and treated like an animal. His slave master worked him to the bone on the Virginia tobacco fields.

Jesus Christ liberated Thomas Johnson. He freed him from the power and the penalty of sin. President Abraham Lincoln rescued Thomas Johnson from the sin of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln regarded as the crowning achievement of his presidency, liberated Thomas from his slave master. Jesus Christ liberated Thomas from the slave master of sin.

Through a series of Providential events, Thomas Johnson found himself at the front door of C.H. Spurgeon in London. After his training was complete, he and his wife made their way to Cameroon, West Africa in 1879.

PERSONAL TAKEAWAYS

Steal Away Home is a work of historical fiction. It becomes clear at the outset, however, that the authors spent many hours researching the details of this intriguing story. My hope is that a few personal takeaways will prompt many people to enter rich world of the 19th century and absorb some life-altering lessons.

1. The Humanization of C.H. Spurgeon

I have been reading Spurgeon and books about the Prince of Preachers for almost thirty years. This book brilliantly captures the essence of Spurgeon and is not afraid of revealing his warts, weaknesses, and worries. It is a breath of fresh air for anyone who is under the false notion that the famous preacher from London lived a life of ease. Spurgeon’s doubt and lifelong battle with depression is highlighted and his fears are revealed.

2. The Horror of Slavery

Most Americans recognize that slavery is a perpetual “black eye” on our nations’ history. But few understand the gravity of what these innocent African Americans endured. Carter and Ivey masterfully reveal the pitiful nature of slavery through the eyes of Thomas Johnson. Sympathetic readers will feel genuine grief as they walk with Johnson and experience the horror of his chains.

3. The Hallowed Ground of Friendship

Steal Away Home reminds readers of the importance and value of friendship. The friendship fostered by Spurgeon and Thomas is grounded in grace and nurtured by honest communication, genuine fun, rich encouragement, and biblical accountability. Like David and Jonathan, these two men are examples of friendship that glorifies God. Indeed, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Indeed, friendship is hallowed ground that too few men tread upon.

4. The Hope of the Gospel

Finally, this story shows how the gospel operates in the real world. Apart from grace, Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson were dead in trespasses and sins, without hope and without God. Indeed, apart from grace, Spurgeon and Johnson were both spiritual slaves. Both men, however, were set free as they cast their hope on the Lord Jesus Christ. In the course of their very different earthly paths, they wound up on the same spiritual path, which ultimately led them both to the Celestial City!

Steal Away Home encouraged me personally and moved my soul in ways that most books only hope to do. Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey stepped up to the plate and hit the ball out of the park.  Their work will no doubt be a contender for book of the year.  I commend their work wholeheartedly!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Apologetics and Worldview · BOOK REVIEWS · Philosophy · Theology

A History of Western Philosophy and Theology – John Frame (2015)

frameThe Word of God is emphatic about our role as we enter the marketplace of ideas. The apostle Paul sounds the warning in Colossians 2:8 – “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Scripture instructs Christ-followers, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ …” (2 Corinthians 10:4–5, ESV).

John Frame maintains and promotes such a mindset in his latest offering, A History of Western Philosophy and Theology (HWPT). The discipline of philosophy, which is defined as “the disciplined attempt to articulate and defend a worldview,” is broken down into three subdivisions including metaphysics, epistemology, and value theory. Readers familiar with Frame’s work will immediately recognize his commitment to perspectivalism, a powerful grid for thinking which includes three perspectives: normative, situational, and existential. This commitment has been clearly articulated and defended in his Lordship series, a series of books which are essential tools in every pastor’s library.

HWPT is dedicated to Dr. Cornelius Van Til, whose influence is evident throughout the book. Readers who are entrenched in Van Til’s methodology will quickly recognize themes such as the Creator-creature distinction and the charge that non-Christian thought lapses into the intellectual bankruptcies of rationalism and irrationalism.

On a large-scale, HWPT leads readers on a fascinating journey that educates, contextualizes, and warns.

Education

Frame has a reputation for educating not only his Seminary students but a rather broad reading audience. HWPT is no exception. The author gives readers an up-close look at the history of western thought. Unlike the typical tour of philosophy and theology, Dr. Frame provides readers with the proper lens with which to view such ideas. The book is built on the immutable, authoritative, infallible, inerrant Word of God. Readers are alerted in advance that the author carries certain presuppositions, above all – an allegiance to sacred Scripture. The author clearly reveals the presuppositions which guide his writing and inform his worldview:

As a Christian, I am committed to a worldview that comes from the Bible: God the Creator, the world as his creation, man made in his image, sin and its consequences as our predicament, Christ’s atonement as our salvation, his return as the consummation of all things.

Such an admission is rare in the world of philosophy. Frame’s candor should be respected and greatly appreciated by believer and non-believer alike.

Context

HWPT stands alone by contextualizing the various philosophic movements and the thinkers who represent those movements. The author helps readers understand how various philosophers influence future generations and worldviews. Such an approach is greatly needed, especially among undergraduate students who often see philosophy in bits and pieces instead of a unified whole.

Warning

The most helpful aspect of HWPT is the warning extended by Dr. Frame, a warning that takes Colossians 2:8 and 2 Corinthians 10:5 to heart. The author demonstrates how various philosophers have influenced generations and have contributed to the erosion of the Christian mind. These thinkers, most of whom continue to rule from the grave are exposed and for their futile thinking, which generally follows Van Til’s charge of being rationalistic and irrational at the same time.

I commend HWPT to pastors, Bible College students, Seminary students and Christ-followers who have a passion to see the picture in the world of philosophy and theology. HWPT is a serious book for serious Bible students. It is a book that I will return to again and again. May God use John Frame’s latest work to glorify the great God of the universe and encourage a new generation of Christian theologians, philosophers, pastors, and leaders.

Soli Deo Gloria!

I received this book free from the publisher.   I was not required to write a positive review.

BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · Theology

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief – John Frame (2013)

a frameHow does one review a systematic theology by one of the leading minds of the evangelical world?  How does one summarize the thoughts of a 1,100-page book that towers with truth; a book that takes readers to the top of the theological mountain?  Anyone who attempts to read and devour Systematic Theology by John Frame will be faced with such questions.  Indeed, while the oxygen is scarce at the top of this theological peak, readers will be delighted to enjoy the view that Dr. Frame presents.  As one might expect, every branch of systematic theology is explored.  The author invites readers on a journey which introduces them to God who relates to creatures as their covenant Lord.  The three lordship attributes are articulated throughout the book – control, authority, and presence.

Several thoughts help capture the essence of this incredible book.  While some will be put off by such thoughts, my hope is that a majority of readers will be motivated and inspired to pick up Dr. Frame’s work.  This powerful book is marked by at least ten features:

  1. It is God-Centered
  2. It is Scripture-soaked
  3. It is unashamedly Calvinistic
  4. It is conservative
  5. It exposes liberal scholarship and lays bare its erroneous presuppositions
  6. It is biblical
  7. It is mind-penetrating
  8. It is heart-softening
  9. It is personal
  10. It leads readers to worship God

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief by John Frame is a theological tour de force.   This weighty volume is drenched with Scripture and is drowning with biblical wisdom.  I cannot think of any other writer who has influenced my thinking, outside of Jonathan Edwards himself.  This work is a true labor of love, a gift to the church, and a tool that will sharpen the minds of Christ-followers and serve as a heart-tenderizer for many years to come!

Highly recommended

5 stars

BOOK REVIEWS

None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God – Matthew Barrett

noneMatthew Barrett, None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019), 283 pp.

None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God by Matthew Barrett is a book for our times. Better put, it is a book that is desperately needed in this generation. Many books that explore the subject of theology proper are fraught with errors. Barrett’s book is quite the opposite.

None Greater takes readers on a journey which is undergirded by the theological wisdom of Anselm, Augustine, and Aquinas. Barrett stands on Anselm’s shoulders in particular and argues, “God is someone whom none greater can be conceived.” This theme strikes a welcome chord in a culture that is drowning in views of God which are weak, fragile, and unbiblical. At the outset, the vision of God is one of grandeur and glory; a vision that is a vivid portrayal of the God of the Bible.

Barrett invites readers to explore God in all his glory by exploring a series of attributes including infinity, aseity, simplicity, immutability, impassibility, timeless eternity, omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, ommisapience, righteousness, goodness, love, jealousy, and glory.

The chapter on impassibility is especially helpful as the author presents a very difficult doctrine in terms that are easily understood and digested. Each attribute is discussed in light of Anselm’s helpful view that God is someone than whom none greater can be conceived.

The net result leads readers not only to a better understanding of God, but one that leads to a worshipful response. Barrett shows the practical benefits of following and worshiping this great and glorious God: “The same infinite power of the Almighty that raised Jesus from the tomb is at work in us who believe.”

This work stands in a solidly Reformed tradition, but is designed for pastors and laymen. It is my pleasure to highly commend this book. I trust that it will receive a wide reading and impact the next generation for God’s glory!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards

Wicked Men Useful in Their Destruction Only (1744) – Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingThe sermon is dated, July 1744.  Jonathan Edwards is thirty-one years of age.  The title of the message is Wicked Men Useful in Their Destruction Only.  The text is Ezekiel 15:2-4.

Doctrine

If men bring forth no fruit to God, they are wholly useless, unless in their destruction.

Edwards seeks to prove his doctrine with four points.

  1. That there can be but two ways in which man can be useful, viz. either in acting, or in being acted upon.
  2. That man can no otherwise be useful actively than by bringing forth fruit to God; serving God and living to his glory.
  3. That if he bring not forth fruit to God, there is no other way in which he can be passively useful, but in being destroyed.
  4. In that way he may be useful without bearing fruit.

The key to this sermon is perspective.  Jonathan Edwards bring a God-centered perspective that readjusts the worldview of the saints.  One example is Edwards’ encouragement to Christ-followers as they gaze upon the damned in eternity future:

When the saints in heaven shall look upon the damned in hell, it will serve to give them a greater sense of their own happiness.  When they shall see how dreadful the anger of God is, it will make them the more prize his love.  They will rejoice the more, that they are not the objects of God’s anger, but of his favor; that they are not the subjects of his dreadful wrath, but are treated as children, to dwell in the everlasting embraces of his love.  The misery of the damned will give them a greater sense of the distinguishing grace and love of God to them, that he should from all eternity set his love on them, and make so great a difference between them and others who are of the same species, and have deserved no worse of God than they.  What a great sense will this give them of the wonderful grace of God to them!  and how will it heighten their praises!  with how much greater admiration and exultation of soul will they sing of the free and sovereign grace of God to them!

Application

Four thoughts are offered by way of application by Jonathan Edwards:

First —We may learn, how just and righteous God is in the destruction of those who bring forth no fruit to him.

Second — This subject ought to put you upon examining yourselves, whether you be not wholly useless creatures.  

Third — Another use of this subject may be of conviction and humiliation to those who never have brought forth any fruit to God.

Fourth — May people bring forth fruit to God’s glory.

In typical Edwardsean form, the Puritan preacher calls people to fulfill the reason for their creation, namely – to glorify the great God of the universe!

 

JONATHAN EDWARDS

THE CHRISTIAN PILGRIM – Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingJonathan Edwards reminds readers that there are on a journey towards heaven. The title of the message is The Christian Pilgrim.

Section 1 – A Pilgrimage to Heaven

“We ought above all things to desire a heavenly happiness; to be with God; and dwell with Jesus Christ,” argues the Puritan divine. This is a journey to heaven, which is the way of holiness. Such a journey requires travelers to set aside anything that hinders progress to our heavenly home (Heb. 12:1). Edwards continues,

We should travel on in the way of obedience to all God’s commands, even the difficult as well as the easy; denying all our sinful inclinations and interests. The way to heaven is ascending; we must be content to travel up hill, though it be hard and tiresome, and contrary to the natural bias of our flesh. We should follow Christ; the path he travelled, was the right way to heaven … The way to heaven is a heavenly life; an imitation of those who are in heaven, in their holy enjoyments, loving, adoring, serving, and praising God and the Lamb. Even if we could go to heaven with the gratification of our lusts, we should prefer a way of holiness and conformity to the spiritual self-denying rules of the gospel.

The highway to heaven is a difficult journey; one that will be met with hardship along the way. However difficult the journey may be, travelers must be constantly growing in holiness: “We should be endeavoring to come nearer to heaven, in being more heavenly; becoming more and more like the inhabitants of heaven … We ought to be hungering and thirsting after righteousness; after an increase in righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:2).

Section 2 – Why the Christian’s Life is a Pilgrimage

Edwards marks out four specific reasons that our life on this earth is a mere pilgrimage.

  1. This world is not our abiding place.
  2. The future world was designed to be our settled and everlasting abode.
  3. Heaven is that place alone where our highest end, and highest good, is to be obtained.
  4. Our present state, and all that belongs to it, is designed by him that made all things, to be wholly in order to another world.

Section 3 – Instruction Afforded by the Consideration that Life is a Pilgrimage to Heaven

Edwards infuses his readers with heavenly perspective in section three. He is quick to remind them of the heavenly lot of Christ-followers: “If they lived a holy life, then their lives were a journey towards heaven. And why should we be immoderate in mourning, when they are got to their journey’s end? Death, though it appears to us with a frightful aspect, is to them a great blessing. Their end is happy, and better than their beginning.”

Section 4 – An Exhortation in the Journey to Heaven

Edwards concludes by encouraging his readers to think much about heaven: “Labour to obtain such a disposition of mind that you may choose heaven for your inheritance and home; and may earnestly long for it, and be willing to change this world, and all its enjoyments, for heaven.”

BOOK REVIEWS

Finding the Right Hills to Die On – Gavin Ortlund (2020)

Gavin Ortlund, Finding the Right Hills to Die On (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 144 pp.

Too often, theological discussion generates more heat than light. Even doctrinal battles in churches that are theologically conservative rage, causing division and a general lack of unity. Such a concern led Gavin Ortlund to write Finding the Right Hills to Die On. The author is not only concerned with a lack of unity in the body of Christ; he is zealous to show Christians who disagree how to live in peace with one another.

The author contrasts doctrinal sectarianism with doctrinal minimalism and demonstrates how these extremes are not only damaging the church; they invite the watching world to look upon the bride of Christ with disdain. Ortlund writes, “When we notice the unhealthy symptoms of doctrinal sectarianism in our hearts, we need to return our deepest level of emotional loyalty to Jesus himself.” Such is the wisdom that is found in the pages of Ortlund’s book.

The writer’s approach helps level the playing field and shows how followers of Christ who disagree can live in harmony despite their differences. Finding the Right Hills to Die On is an invitation to unity and a admonition to live in a way that serves Christians and glorifies God in a simultaneous manner.

The great strength of Gavin Ortlund’s work is the promotion of humility. Readers familiar with Ortlund will confess that he is a theologically robust man who is intent on glorifying God in all things. The author adds, “The great impediment to theological triage is not a lack of theological skill or savvy but a lack of humility.” This is a man who has strong convictions about theology and is unashamed to proclaim it. Yet at the same time, he is eager to encourage Christians to pursue humility. This sentiment is found throughout the book and should be etched onto the hearts and minds of every reader.

Finding the Right Hills to Die On forges a gospel-centered path between commitment to the truth and concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ. It strikes the biblical balance between truth and grace. It is a book that was deeply meaningful to me, personally. I trust it will have the same effect on many other people.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.