Books in history Fisher's Marrow of Modern Divinity

IN 1645 and the heady days of Cromwell's Commonwealth a book appeared in London bearing the initials E F. Its full title was The Marrow of Modern Divinity touching both the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace with their use and end both in the time of the Old Testament and in the time of the New. Wherein everyone may clearly see how far he bringeth the Law into the case of Justification and so deserveth the name of Legalist; and how far forth he rejecteth the Law in the case of Sanctification and so deserveth the name of Antinomist with the middle path between them both, which by Jesus Christ leadeth to eternal life.
The author was probably Edward Fisher, a barber surgeon by trade and the author of other less important theological treatises from the same period.
He had been converted through a private conversation with Thomas Hooker after many years of "mere religion".
His book, like his other works, is set out in the form of a discussion. The speakers are Evangelista (the author's voice), Nomista, Antinomista and Neophytus and, as they speak, we learn the place of the Law in relation to faith and to the gospel.
Luther and Calvin are frequently quoted, as are John Cotton, Thomas Hooker, William Perkins, John Preston, Richard Sibbes and other contemporaries (hence the reference to modern divinity).
Ernest Kevan says that the book attracted little attention at first but it slowly came to the fore in the heated controversy of the day. It eventually became very popular indeed. Richard Baxter (wrongly, according to John J Murray and Dr Kevan, who notes that few Puritan works have been more misunderstood) opposed it as antinomian. However, Joseph Caryl gave it his official imprimatur on behalf of the Westminster Assembly and it was warmly welcomed by Jeremiah Burroughs, Ralph Venning and other Puritans.
By 1648, it had gone through seven editions and it was then that an inferior second part was added, mainly expounding the Ten Commandments. Though written in England in the seventeenth century, the book is remembered today chiefly for its influence in Scotland in the eighteenth century, where this second part seems to have remained unknown. Possibly an exposition of the Ten Commandments may have clarified its position and prevented some of the controversy it engendered. Nevertheless, the real fight, as so often, was between a narrow, dry, hard hyper-Calvinism and a broad, liberated, missionary minded Calvinism that gave due weight to the love of God.
In The Marrow these latter found great help. In his autobiography Thomas Boston of Ettrick describes how early in his ministry in his native Berwickshire (where he was until 1707) he came to clearer views of gospel preaching. He was influenced, firstly, by the preaching of George Mair, a colleague of Fraser of Brea.
Fraser was certainly influenced by The Marrow, as his own autobiography refers to it, and it is reasonable to suppose Mair was too. Boston was certainly affected, as well, by the book itself. He explains how in 1700,
... as I was sitting one day in a house of Simprin, I espied above the window-head two little old books, which when I had taken down, I found intitled, the one The Marrow of Modern Divinity ....
The second book (Saltmarsh's Christ's blood flowing freely to sinners) was no help but the first (part one of Fisher's work) he relished and eventually bought from its owner.
Boston gained most from the book's advocacy of a "free offer" of Christ to sinners.
The reading of a single book can have mighty ramifications. The perusal of this one came to be, in the words of the Scots ecclesiastical historian James Walker, "both an epoch in his life and in the religious history of Scotland".
In the General Assembly of 1717 at least two charges of heresy were made. One concerned Professor John Simson of Glasgow, accused of Arminianism. He was found not guilty. At the same time, the practice of the Auchterader Presbytery, of examining whether new ministers believed that we have to forsake sin in order to be able to come to Christ, was condemned.
This decision proved to be a watershed in the history of the gospel in Scotland. At the time, Boston lacked the courage to speak out publicly against the Assembly's decisions but in private conversation he made known his views on the "free offer" and related matters, mentioning The Marrow.
This led, indirectly, to part one being republished the following year, divided into sections and chapters, with a preface by Boston's fellow minister and contemporary, James Hog of Carnock.
Boston became aware of his part in this only some ten years later, not even remembering the conversation in which he had mentioned the book. In it, however, he saw the providence of God.
Though welcomed by many, the republished Marrow did not meet with universal approval in the Church of Scotland. It was opposed by the Principal of St Andrew's, James Hadow, and others who were in many respects quite orthodox but very wary of a supposed tendency toward universalism.
Hadow, like Hog, entered into a fierce pamphlet war that stirred great interest throughout the south of Scotland. In May, 1719, the Assembly ordered an investigation. This led, the following year, to the prohibition of Marrow teaching.
It was condemned for the following alleged reasons:
1. It made assurance of the essence of faith
2. It was faulty on universal atonement and pardon
3. It declared holiness unnecessary to salvation
4. It denied fear of punishment and hope of reward as proper motives to obedience
5. It declared the believer not to be under the Law as a rule of life
Several synods opposed the Act and eventually Boston approached Hog to consider a united response.
In the end, twelve Church of Scotland men together (hence The Twelve Apostles as they were sometimes dubbed, as well as Representers or Marrow men) drew up a representation and petition to the next Assembly declaring that
1. The gospel includes a free and unlimited offer of salvation to all
2. Assurance of the truth of God's promise is included in the very nature of faith
3. Sanctification is in no way the price or condition of salvation
4. Hopes of heaven or fears of hell should not influence believers in yielding obedience to God's Law
5. The believer is in no way under the Law as a covenant of works.
6. The distinction between the Law as a covenant of works and a rule of life in Christ is a fair and scriptural distinction
This business did not finally come to the floor of the Assembly until 1722, following much learned theological debate. It came in the form of a censure against the Twelve.
From this time on the Church was divided and the Marrow men became marked individuals, efforts being made to limit their influence in the life of the Church.
No doubt the controversy hardened some in their attitudes and drove others farther down the road to legalism or licentiousness. Boston himself died in 1722 but the cause continued to be supported by others.
In 1722 an edition of part one appeared anonymously with extensive notes by Boston. The more judicious had always recognised that there were unguarded expressions in the book likely to be misunderstood. Boston also wanted to defend the work against its then current detractors.
Eventually, in 1733, a number of men seceded from the national Church and formed a breakaway group. The Church of Scotland became increasingly moderate but the Secession Church continued to keep the candle burning over the century.
Meanwhile The Marrow continued to have its supporters. In 1742 the Associated Presbytery passed an act defending it from the charge of unsoundness. In 1755 James Hervey, Rector of Weston-Favell in Buckinghamshire, came across it. He was sorry not to have read it sooner. "It is a most valuable book," he wrote; "the doctrines contains are the life of my soul and the very joy of my heart."
In his own influential Theron and Aspasio he commends it as
... just and striking ... solid and convincing ... exceedingly comforting because truly evangelical. Perhaps I may venture to say that this little treatise pours as much light upon the gospel and grace of Christ and affords as many important distinctions in divinity as any book of its size whatever.
Thomas M'Crie, Thomas Chalmers, Alexander Whyte and other Scots divines often commended it. Though it may not be read today, its teaching continues to be upheld by some in Scotland and in England and beyond.
This article first appeared in the Evangelical Library Bulletin


Books in history Luther on Romans

MARTIN LUTHER's name is inextricably bound up with Paul's Epistle to the Romans. It was his rediscovery of this part of the New Testament that had for so long been misunderstood and neglected that played such an important part, under God, in the coming of the great sixteenth century Reformation.
It was on 3rd November 1515 that the professor of Sacred Theology at the University of Wittenburg began to lecture on Romans. It followed a series on the Psalms. Some three years before, Luther had first come to Wittenburg in Saxony as successor to his superior in the Augustinian Order, Johan von Staupitz. Dr Staupitz had wisely discerned that the only way Luther was likely to find relief from the deep conviction of sin he was experiencing was through a study of the Word of God itself and so had appointed him to his own post.
It was as Luther slowly and carefully prepared his lectures that he came at last to a full understanding of the central scriptural doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Christ. The lectures took just under a year to complete (no long summer break in those days!). It was followed by the series on Galatians.
The notes were never revised or repeated as Melanchthon became lecturer on this subject. The earliest manuscripts were lost for some time, but a good copy came to light at the end of last century in the Vatican Library (of all places!) and the original was found in Berlin.
Luther's style shows a break from the Mediaeval tradition and marks the beginnings of the modern exegetical method which is both textual and historical. The preserved notes clearly only give a bare idea of what it must have been like to hear him speak. He was a master teacher and there was undoubtedly much said in the lecture room that does not appear in the published version.
When the commentary was first published in 1552 Luther added an introduction of about eight pages. Known universally as Luther's Preface to the Romans its fame has been greatly enhanced by a famous occurrence just over 200 years later in London, England.
It happened in a meeting in an upper room in Aldersgate Street on 24th May 1738. It was, of course, John Wesley's famous experience where he felt his heart "strangely warmed". Luther's Preface to the Romans was being read at the time. Wesley wrote in his journal: "I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken my sins away, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death".
Wesley regarded this as his conversion - it certainly marked a great change in his life and was a decisive factor, in God's providence, in the amazing events of the Evangelical Revival of the eighteenth century which followed. Many since have recognised the value of this great work.
The American Lutheran, J Theodore Mueller, said the commentary, " ... deserves general study not only because of its vast devotional material, but also because of its clear and sharp emphasis on salvation by grace through faith. ... Fraught with profound thoughts, it witnesses everywhere to the sincere piety of the great Reformer."
Earlier this century another American pastor, Donald Grey Barnhouse, wrote: "Beyond question Luther's Romans is one of the great books of Christian history and well deserves devotional reading by believers." Who knows what God might yet accomplish by means of this remarkable commentary on this even more remarkable book.
This article first appeared in The Evangelical Library Bulletin

Books in history Christian in complete armour

JOHN NEWTON once declared that if he were confined to one book, besides his Bible, he dared say that he would choose William Gurnall's Christian Armour. Baxter, Flavel and Toplady also spoke highly of it.
For Spurgeon the work was, "Peerless and priceless; every line is full of wisdom; every sentence is suggestive . . . the best thought-breeder in all our library". J C Ryle declared, "I find more of definite soul-satisfying thought in one page of Gurnall than in five pages of such books as the leaders of the so-called 'Broad Church School' put forth." In 1883 A A Rees of Sunderland, in Rare Jewels from Gurnall, declared there was no book from which he had derived more benefit, as a Christian and a minister.
Much more recently the late Leonard Ravenhill spoke of its revolutionary effect on him. David Wilkerson, of Cross and the Switchblade fame, wrote of its, "holiness" and "purity", its power to provoke one "to prayer and a fuller dedication to Jesus Christ. It is one of the most important books ever written. ... I will forever bless the day it was put into my hands."
The Christian in Complete Armour, A Treatise of the Saints' War Against the Devil by William Gurnall first appeared in three volumes in 1655, 1658 and 1662. It was republished in two volumes, with an introduction by Ryle, in 1864. These were reproduced in a one volume edition exactly one hundred years later by the Banner of Truth Trust, who have reprinted it at least five times since then. They have also produced a heavily abridged and modernised edition in three paperback editions.
Gurnall described his work as A treatise of the saints war against the Devil, wherein a discovery is made of that grand Enemy of God and his People, in his Policies, Power, Seat of his Empire, Wickedness, and chief design he hath against the Saints.
ts alternative title is A Magazine Opened, From whence the Christian is furnished with Spiritual Arms for the Battle helped on with his Armour and taught the use of his Weapon: together with the happy issue of the whole War.
It is an exhaustive exposition of Ephesians 6:10-20. It is divided into some 13 parts. The first is dubbed by the abridgement The Saints' Call to Arms. It calls Christians to courage and service and gives two admonitions.
Then follow a series of Directions for managing the war successfully. They are headed Christians Must Be Armed And Why; Nature of the War and Character of Assailants; Second Exhortation to Arm; Position to be Maintained in the Fight; and finally the various parts of the Christian Armour: Girdle; Breastplate; Shoe; Shield; Helmet and Sword. At the end we have How the Spiritual Panoply May Alone be Kept Furbished and The Duty to Aid by Prayer the Public Ministers of Christ.
A recent Banner paperback called The Embattled Christian by Bryan Zacharias is subtitled William Gurnall and the Puritan View of Spiritual Warfare. It is based on a Master's thesis written under Jim Packer's supervision. It mentions Puritan works that preceded and possibly informed Gurnall, including Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) and William Perkins' Combat Between Christ and the Divell Displayed (1606) and Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft (1610). In 1608 John Downame published the very popular Christian Warfare. Another work from the early 1600s was William Gouge's The Whole Armour of God revised and enlarged in 1627, three previous editions having sold out.
Later Puritan works that possibly benefited from Gurnall's previous work include Daemonologia Sacra or Treatise of Satan's Temptations by Richard Gilpin (1677), Baxter's Certainty of the World of Spirits (1691) and Cotton Mather's Wonders of the Invisible World (1693). Bunyan's Holy War touches on similar themes, as do parts of Pilgrim's Progress.
Zacharias also consults commentaries on Ephesians 6 by Baynes, Calvin, Henry and Poole. From more recent times he mentions D M Lloyd-Jones' two volumes, Christian Warfare and Christian Soldier, the only comparable modern treatment of the same material. (It is interesting to note Dr. Lloyd-Jones' obvious embarrassment when he felt need to diverge from Gurnall at one point - see Christian Warfare, page 16).
Gurnall's life was rather uneventful. Born in 1616 he grew up in Lynn, Norfolk, and at the age of 15 went to Emmanuel, Cambridge. Thus he was surrounded by Puritans throughout his formative years. In 1644, as Civil War raged, he was preferred to the living of Lavenham in Suffolk, where he spent the rest of his life, dying in 1679. He seems often to have been in ill health but married and had ten children or more. In 1662, almost uniquely among Puritans, he escaped ejection with the 2,000 who refused to conform. He suffered opprobrium for this from some quarters. However, nothing can be taken away from his classic work. Its chief attraction lies in what Rees describes as, "... similitudes; which flash from his glowing brain, under the pressure of thought, as plentifully, as naturally, and in all directions, as sparks fly from the heated metal under the hammer's stroke. Here are some of the examples Rees collected:
He that has a false end in his profession will soon come to an end of his profession. It will cost something to be religious - it will cost more not to be so.
We ministers fear man so much because we fear God so little: one fear cures another
A weak hand, with a sincere heart, is able to turn the key in prayer
The study of the word differs as much from the mere reading of it, as loving intimacy differs from a passing salutation.
The serpent's eye does well only in the dove's head

This article first appeared in The Evangelical Library Bulletin

Books in history Law's Serious Call

"FEW writers had as great an influence, direct and indirect, upon the religious spirit of the eighteenth century as William Law," wrote Professor J C Reid in an introduction to Law's most famous work, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. Reid speaks of it as "one of the most important devotional books of post-Reformation England".
By the beginning of the nineteenth century at least twenty editions had appeared and the book is still in print today. In recent years, it has formed the basis for a series of radio talks broadcast by evangelicals in South East Asia.
Samuel Johnson was just one contemporary affected by the book. He describes taking it up sceptically but soon finding it "Quite an overmatch for me". It caused him to think earnestly of religion for the first time.
More significantly, it greatly influenced many used in the Evangelical Revival, so much so that Law has sometimes been referred to as "the father of Methodism" and his book as the first impulse to the revival.
This comes as a surprise when we realise that Law and his book were certainly not evangelical. John Wesley disagreed strongly with Law on many things but he continued to praise the Serious Call until the end of his life, calling it "a treatise which will hardly be excelled, if it be equalled, either for beauty of expression or depth of thought". He had most of it republished and it was a set text at the Kingswood School.
Charles Wesley, who like John, consulted Law personally, was similarly impressed. Whitefield also, when he eventually found an affordable copy, declared how through it "God worked powerfully upon my soul, as he has since upon many others."
Henry Venn, Thomas Scott and other evangelicals were also influenced by it. One clergyman, in 1771, spoke of his parish being transformed after he presented copies to his parishioners.
The fourth son of a devout grocer, Law was born in King's Cliffe, Northamptonshire, in 1686. After becoming a fellow at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, he became a deacon in 1711 and looked forward to the life of an academic and clergyman. However, in 1715, George I came to the throne and Law found himself unable to abjure the Stuarts and swear allegiance to the Hanoverian King. He threw in his lot with the nonjurors, originally a group of four hundred Anglican clergy who refused to swear allegiance to King William and Queen Mary in 1689. In their eyes the Stuarts were still the rightful heirs to the throne.
Action against these men was not over severe but they were deprived of their livings. Always few, they were conscientious and often able men who argued for the separation of church and state. Law knew that to identify with them would be costly and unpopular.
It is not known what Law did immediately after this but in 1723 he moved to Putney where he became a private tutor and chaplain in the house of Edward Gibbon, grandfather of the famous historian. The historian spoke later of Law as a "worthy and pious man who believed all that he professed, and practised all that he enjoined".
In 1727 he was ordained by a nonjuror Bishop and that same year used a gift to found a school for girls in his home town. In 1740 he returned home to live in the house inherited from his father. Here he led a secluded and ascetic life with a Miss Gibbon, aunt of the historian, and a Mrs Hutcheson, a wealthy widow.
Together they formed a charitable religious community that founded schools, libraries and an almshouse. They lived out much of what is found in A Serious Call.
This had been published in 1728. Two years previously the similar Treatise Upon Christian Perfection had appeared. His much later The Spirit of Prayer (1750) and The Spirit of Love (1752) are quite different works, being mystical in their tenor, under the influence of the unorthodox Lutheran, Jacob Boehme.
Law died, aged 75, in 1761. A Serious Call is High Anglican in flavour. It makes use of canonical hours, commends the cloistered life, encourages reverence for the Virgin Mary and commends the use of a crucifix. It has also been fairly accused of a Pelagian tendency, although it does acknowledge that "we cannot lift up a hand, or stir a foot, but by a power that is leant us from God".
By use of plain logic, deft caricature and powerful irony, it gives a sober call to holy living. It rejects the prevalent formalism and calls for dedication, discipline and devotion. It humbles pride and encourages devotion. It gives guidance on prayer, self-examination, meditation and preparation for death.
Peter Toon, after pointing out where it is wanting, says: "However, for what it sets out to do, it is a classic and still has the power to move any Christian reader to a greater devotion to the Lord Jesus."
With such statements as, "Christianity is a calling that puts an end to all other callings", "Nothing less has been required to take away the guilt of our sins than the sufferings and death of the Son of God", "Nothing makes us love a man like praying for him", we can understand how it was used of God to bring the early Methodists to conviction of sin. It was not enough, perhaps, to bring them to faith, but it did point them in the right direction.
We end with a longer quotation of one striking passage:
"The Son of God did not come from above to add an external form of worship to the several ways of life that are in the world, and so to leave people to live as they did before in such tempers and enjoyments as the spirit of the world approves. But as He came down from heaven, altogether divine and heavenly in His own nature, so it was to call mankind to a divine and heavenly life, to the highest change of their whole nature and temper; to be born again of the Holy Spirit; to walk in the wisdom and light and love of God; and to be like Him to the utmost of their power; to renounce all the most plausible ways of the world, whether of greatness, business or pleasure; to a mortification of their most agreeable passions. . . . This and this alone, is Christianity, an universal holiness in every part of life."

This article first appeared in The Evangelical Library Bulletin


The book that ...

The book I am currently reading
That happens to be The Darwin Effect: Its Influence on Nazism, Eugenics, Racism, Communism, Capitalism & Sexism by American Jerry Bergman. I like to read some of the Creationist material that is around from time to time. Devotionally, I have just started A Scribe Well Trained: Archibald Alexander and the Life of Piety put together by Alexander expert James M Garretson (The Banner of Truth publish Alexander's Thoughts on Religious Experience the source for much of this material). I love the Profiles in Reformed Spirituality series published by RHB. I had previously been reading the excellent Thomas Goodwin volume assembled by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones.

The book that changed my life
It is difficult to immediately think of a book that fits neatly into this category. I do remember, however, reading, as a teenager, the Banner edition of A W Pink's The Sovereignty of God. If I remember correctly I read it once and simply accepted it as I accepted all the new teachings that came into my life through the preaching and from the age of 12 up. I then read it again as a university student an really struggled with it and recall hurling it across the room at one point (something I have only done twice in my life – the other time I was reading Jude the Obscure by the atheistic fatalist Thomas Hardy). It seemed to me that Pink was giving just too much power to God. It was as if he is sovereign over everything … which I now see really is the case.

The book I wish I'd written
I have just discovered the details of a new book called Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, Unlikely Friends on the Passage to Freedom by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey. Like most people reading this I have long been aware of the nineteenth century preacher C H Spurgeon and about thirty years ago I became aware of Thomas L Johnson, who once preached here in Childs Hill and whose fascinating autobiography is called Twenty-Eight Years a Slave, or The Story of My Life in Three Continents. I have written brief pieces on Johnson for magazines and blogs but this is a full length lightly fictionalised account that treats of both men and I would love to have had some involvement in it. Hopefully, it will prove to be far better than I could have hoped to have done with the material.

The book that helped me in my preaching
I have found help on this in many places. The book that I have most often turned to for help is Dr Lloyd-Jones' matchless Preachers and preaching. It never fails to challenge. I also love Stuart Olyott's Preaching pure and simple. Perhaps the book I have gained most practical help from, however, is Haddon Robinson's Expository preaching: Principles and Practice (IVP) which first came out three years into my ministry, in 1986, and has been described as a modern classic. It is a very practical book and sets out some very helpful homiletical material. Also helpful, slightly paradoxically, is Jay Adams' book for hearers Be careful how you listen: How to get the most out of a sermon.

The book I think is most underrated
Possibly Thoughts on Religious Experience. I would also mention two little books by the Westminster Seminary professor Edwin H Palmer best known for his work on the original NIV. Palmer sadly died from a heart attack in 1980, aged only 58. in his lifetime he produced two wonderful books. One on The Five Points of Calvinism and one on The Holy Spirit. (Banner produces both of them in Spanish). They were obviously written some time ago and may have been superseded to some extent but it is a great shame that the volumes are not better known. They are very helpful indeed.

The book that made me say many Amens as I turned its pages
This may seem a strange choice but I will never forget reading the Biographical memoir of J Gresham Machen by Ned Stonehouse, currently kept in print by the Banner and originally published in 1954. At the time of reading I had many ideas of what the ideal Christian life might be like and reading this wonderful life helped both to remove some of my more unrealistic and erroneous ideas and to show me how what in some ways was a remarkably unspectacular life can truly be for the glory of God.

The last book that made me weep
Not generally being given to weeping except for mere sentimental reasons, this is a hard question to answer. Perhaps the book that has most moved and challenged me in recent years is Al Martin's You Lift Me Up: Overcoming Ministry Challenges (RHB) which looks soberingly, as the publicity puts it, at “Backsliding - a spiritual decline manifested first in the prayer closet, burnout – the erosion of one's mental, emotional, psychological and physical resilience and buoyancy and washout - the loss of credibility among the people.”

The book I'm most ashamed not to have read
There are probably several in this category and I have often failed to finish sometimes good books as well as poor ones but the one that comes to mind in this context is Spiritual Depression, Its causes and cure by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a series of sermons first published in 1964. I have often picked it up and begun to read but never gone very far., which has not been my experience with other books of sermons by the same author. I heard George Verwer of OM once complain about the title and plead for it to be changed. Maybe he is on to something there.

The book I most often give to new church members and young Christians
At the moment I use a little booklet now out of print called The real thing? It was put together many years ago for Grace Publications Trust by Philip Tait. It really goes back to Jonathan Edwards' eighteenth century work Religious Affections which was reworked in the following century by Gardiner Spring. In more recent times Al Martin and Ernie Reisinger then John Appleby and Keith Davies simplified that work. The final redactor was Philip Tait.

The book I give to people thinking of becoming Christians
There are number of good books available, thankfully. Like many reading this my go to resource in this area is still John Blanchard's Ultimate Questions which is available in such a wide variety of formats and languages.

The book I wish I were able to write, and want someone to write
This would be a straightforward book on the priesthood of all believers. One or two contributions have been made to the subject but there is no obvious go to volume that one could give with total confidence to the average church member. May be I will get round to it one day.
I would also like to complete a potential trilogy of commentaries. I have written Heavenly Wisdom (on Proverbs) and Heavenly Love (on Song of Songs) available in the Welwyn series. As I enter old age I would love to tackle Ecclesiastes. Heavenly Worldliness perhaps Heavenly earthliness might be better. There are many commentaries on Ecclesiastes but, it seems to me that not many really capture the spirit in which Solomon wrote.

The best book for children
There are many good books for children these days, including the beautifully produced biographical books penned by Simonetta Carr. The Banner books on the early church fathers by Sinclair Ferguson are also very good. Top of my list, however, is the beautifully produced The Barber Who Wanted to Pray by R C Sproul, which tells the story of Luther and his barber Peter. (I recently discovered that Peter tragically later killed his son-in-law in a drunken rage, wisely not mentioned in this book, which keeps me from any mere sentimentality about this lovely story).

This article first appeared on the Banner of ruth website

Books in history The Fundamentals

BROTHERS Lyman and Milton Stewart (1838-1923 and 1840-1923) were Pennsylvanian Presbyterians. They were also wealthy oil magnates, first in their home state and later in California. They were conservative evangelical Christians and they provided finance for a number of Christian fundamentalist initiatives, including the influential Bible Institute of Los Angeles started in 1907.
In 1909, as "two Christian laymen", they anonymously pledged $200,000 from interest on securities investments, to underwrite the publication and free distribution of a set of twelve paperbacks.
These appeared under the title The Fundamentals, a Testimony to the Truth. They signalled, according to historian George Marsden, "the rise of organised fundamentalism". The twelve volumes were published between 1910 and 1915 and were sent to "every pastor, evangelist, missionary, theological student, Sunday School superintendent, YMCA and YWCA secretary in the English speaking world" as long as funds would allow. Over three million eventually went out.
Oversight of the selection of articles for these works was in the hands of a committee led, at first, by Amzi C Dixon. When Dixon moved from his Chicago pastorate to London he was succeeded briefly by Louis Meyer and then by R A Torrey. Dixon was a Baptist minister, Torrey was a pastor, evangelist and, at different times, leader of BIOLA and of Moody Bible Institute.
Many involved in the project were, like these men, not only anti-modernist but Dispensationalist in their theology. The Scofield Reference Bible appeared in 1909 and it was this particular eschatological view that held sway in the thinking of many contributors. It is no surprise to find among the contributors names such as those of Arno Gaebelein, C I Scofield himself and W H  Griffith Thomas (a co-founder of Dallas Theological Seminary).
However, a much broader spectrum is represented than the narrower one of Pre-millennial Dispensationalism. For example, it goes right back to Thomas Boston (1676-1732) for an essay on the nature of regeneration and to J C Ryle, who died in 1900, for one on The True Church. Calvinists James Orr (three essays) and B B Warfield (one on Christ's deity) also contributed.
On the other hand, E Y Mullins was very much a moderate in his approach to the modernist question and G F Knight sought to reconcile evolution and creation.
The more than fifty contributors were mostly Americans. Contributors from this side of the Atlantic included G Campbell Morgan and Handley Moule, Bishop of Durham.
One interesting piece of trivia is that at least four contributors had connections with Spurgeon's Tabernacle in London. T W Medhurst was Spurgeon's first ministerial student. An essay of his on Romanism is included. American A T Pierson, who pastored the Tabernacle congregation from 1891, the time of Spurgeon's final illness, contributed a number of articles. Pierson started as a Presbyterian but became convinced of the Baptist position. Despite this he was succeeded in 1894 by Spurgeon's son, Thomas. He wrote for The Fundamentals on Salvation by Grace. He served at the Tabernacle until 1908 when Archibald G Brown came in. It was A C Dixon's call to leave the Moody Church in Chicago for the Tabernacle in 1911 that forced him to withdraw from the production of succeeding volumes of The Fundamentals.
Nearly all contributors were, understandably, pastors or seminary professors. Notable exceptions were Philippe Moreau, a converted lawyer, and Sir Robert Anderson who worked at the British Home Office. Both were keen Bible students and prolific authors in their time. Howard Kelly, from the field of medicine, also contributed
There were originally over eighty articles. The series begins with a history of higher criticism and goes on to defend the Bible from the various attacks that have been made on it, especially on the Old Testament text. Next come essays on the inspiration of Scripture, then basic doctrines such as Christ's person and work, the Holy Spirit, atonement, grace, regeneration and justification. Later volumes deal with practical matters such as preaching, evangelism, mission, consecration, Romanism and other false teachings, prayer, money and Bible study. The set ends not only with eschatology but also with Christian testimonies.
In 1917 a slightly abridged four volume edition of the work also appeared. By this time the funding for free distribution was exhausted yet requests for the books continued to come in, Therefore this new edition was sold at as low a price as possible. The preface was written by R A Torrey and there was a dedication to the, still then anonymous, Stewart brothers. Reprints have continued and in 1958 an updated edition The fundamentals for today also appeared, edited by Dr Charles L Feinberg of Talbot Theological Seminary.
The term fundamentalist was probably coined in 1920 when Curtis Lee Laws, editor of the Watchman-Examiner used it to describe those present at the first "fundamentals" conference, prior to the Northern Baptist Convention. He spoke of those were ready to do "Battle Royal for the fundamentals". The influence of the little paperbacks on his choice of words cannot be overlooked , More than that, these little books must have made an immense influence on many who were struggling to come to terms with the issues involved in the great battle between modernism and fundamentalism in the early part of the 20th century, not just in America but further afield as well . There is reason to be thankful to God for the vision and generosity of all those involved in this important project.
This article first appeared in The Evangleical Library Bulletin

Books in history Scougal on the Life of God in the soul of man

THE Life of God in the Soul of Man or the Nature and Excellency of the Christian Religion was originally written as a personal letter from Henry Scougal to a friend in spiritual need. It was eventually published anonymously in 1677 with a preface by Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Aberdeen and, later, Salisbury.
It is considered to be a devotional classic and is often mentioned in the same breath as Augustine's Confessions, The Imitation of Christ and Pilgrim's Progress. It contends that true religion is not a matter of outward form but "union of the soul with God, a real participation of the divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the soul, or, in the apostle's phrase, it is Christ formed within us".
The style is simple, direct and brief, with a strong mystical element. There is a timelessness about the style appropriate to any age and perhaps especially attractive to this one.
The book had a great influence on early Methodism in the following century. A 19th century writer once ventured the opinion that Scougal was the fons et origo of Methodism. Besides the book's influence it has been suggested that the society over which he presided at King's College, Aberdeen, was a model for the famous and influential Holy Club led by the Wesleys at Oxford.
The book was commended to John Wesley by his mother Susannah. In a letter she speaks of it as "an excellent good book" and "an acquaintance of mine many years ago". The book was John's constant companion in the 1720s.
Besides the 1677 edition the SPCK had published one in 1726. A French translation also appeared in 1727. Wesley had it abridged in 1742 and added his own preface. This went through many printings
Charles Wesley also loved it. It was he who, while still at Oxford, passed it on to George Whitefield, who spoke most highly of it. "I never knew what true religion was," he says, "till God sent me that excellent treatise by the hand of my never-to-be-forgotten friend". Whitefield dated his conversion from this time. Through Scougal, he says, "God showed me that I must be born again, or be damned!". Some have traced Whitefield's decidedly magnanimous, undenominational spirit to the influences of Scougal's treatise.
In 1739 a mass circulation edition was printed in Edinburgh with a preface commending the work by the Principal of the University, William Wishart. When in Georgia, John Wesley had once given a public reading of the book as a counter-attraction to a ball that was being held. He and Whitefield no doubt helped make the book known on the American continent.
Benjamin Franklin had German translations published in Germantown, Philadelphia, in 1754 and 1755. It was not until 1766, however, that an American edition in English was first published. In 1805 a version in tract form was published in Philadelphia sponsored by five ministers of different denominations, including Joseph Philmore, a convert of Wesley's, and Presbyterian Ashbel Green who later became President of Princeton College.
The book was a favourite not only with those who were or became evangelical. In the next century it found favour also with the Tractarians of the Oxford Movement.
Back in Scotland, Thomas Chalmers had it published in his series of "Select authors" in 1830. Bishop Jebb of Limerick spoke of it as "that beautiful epitome of revealed religion" and listed it among works of "piety without asceticism". It continued to be in print and widely read until about 1892.
In this century it has fallen into comparative neglect but a number of editions have appeared since 1946. A Sprinkle edition appeared in America in 1986 and the book continues to receive interest.
Little is known of "Aberdeen's immortal mystic" himself beyond what was said in his funeral sermon. Scougal was born in Leuchars, Fife, in June 1650, where his father was minister. Patrick Scougal went on to become Bishop of Aberdeen after the Restoration. He was pious and scholarly, a friend of the revered Archbishop Leighton. Little is known of Henry's mother, Margaret Wemyss, but his upbringing was godly with a thorough classical education.
At 14 he entered King's College, graduating MA at the age of 18. He was said to be both studious and grave but not affected in his manner. From 1665-1668 he was president of the college religious society that we have mentioned.
Following Wesley's lead, there has been a tendency to idealise the Holy Club. The fact is that, though a religious club, observing the sacrament, fasting, visiting prisoners, etc, it was far from being an evangelical society. The same is no doubt true of the Aberdeen group.
In 1669 Scougal became a College regent and from 1670 served for three years as Professor of Philosophy, teaching according to the Baconian system. He also favoured Grotius and antinomianism and even Descartes.
In 1673 he became minister of Auchterless, a small rural parish near Aberdeen. Here he was serious, warm-hearted and disciplined. Nine sermons preached at this time have survived, including one on the ministerial function.
Typically, he abandoned the practice of previous ministers of only coming into the Church when it was time to preach rather than for the whole service. Scougal was quite "modern" in his ecumenical spirit, even "post modern" in his distaste for controversy. He favoured writers of a mystical sort and although Calvinistic, he felt it a mistake to try to delve too deeply into the question of God's decrees.
After only a year in ministry, he was called back to the University, to the Chair of Divinity. Throughout this period he showed great concern to impress on his students the seriousness of the ministry. His "door was always open" and students were welcome to make use of his personal library in their own studies. He taught until no longer able to do so because of the tuberculosis that eventually killed him in 1678, a few days before his twenty-eighth birthday.