PROFILES IN REFORMED SPIRITUALITY
Charles Dickens’ famous line in A Tale of Two Cities—“it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”—seems well suited to western Evangelicalism since the 1960s. On the one hand, these decades have seen much for which to praise God and to rejoice. In His goodness and grace, for instance, Reformed truth is no longer a house under siege. Growing numbers identify themselves theologically with what we hold to be biblical truth, namely, Reformed theology and piety. And yet, as an increasing number of Reformed authors have noted, there are many sectors of the surrounding western Evangelicalism that are characterized by great shallowness and a trivialization of the weighty things of God. So much of Evangelical worship seems barren. And when it comes to spirituality, there is little evidence of the riches of our heritage as Reformed Evangelicals.
As it was at the time of the Reformation, when the watchword was ad fontes—“back to the sources”—so it is now: the way forward is backward. We need to go back to the spiritual heritage of Reformed Evangelicalism to find the pathway forward. We cannot live in the past; to attempt to do so would be antiquarianism. But our Reformed forebears in the faith can teach us much about Christianity, its doctrines, its passions, and its fruit.
And they can serve as our role models. As R. C. Sproul has noted of such giants as Augustine and Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards: “These men all were conquered, overwhelmed, and spiritually intoxicated by their vision of the holiness of God. Their minds and imaginations were captured by the majesty of God the Father. Each of them possessed a profound affection for the sweetness and excellence of Christ. There was in each of them a singular and unswerving loyalty to Christ that spoke of a citizenship in heaven that was always more precious to them than the applause of men.” [“An Invaluable Heritage,” Tabletalk, 23, No.10 (October 1999), 5-6].
To be sure, we would not dream of placing these men and their writings alongside the Word of God. John Jewel (1522-1571), the Anglican apologist, once stated: “What say we of the fathers, Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, Cyprian? …They were learned men, and learned fathers; the instruments of the mercy of God, and vessels full of grace. We despise them not, we read them, we reverence them, and give thanks unto God for them. Yet …we may not make them the foundation and warrant of our conscience: we may not put our trust in them. Our trust is in the name of the Lord.” [Cited in Barrington R. White, “Why Bother with History?” Baptist History and Heritage, 4, No.2 (July 1969), 85].
Seeking then both to honor the past and yet not idolize it, we are issuing these books in the series Profiles in Reformed Spirituality. The design is to introduce the spirituality and piety of the Reformed tradition by presenting descriptions of the lives of notable Christians with select passages from their works. This combination of biographical sketches and collected portions from primary sources gives a taste of the subjects’ contributions to our spiritual heritage and some direction as to how the reader can find further edification through their works. It is the hope of the publishers that this series will provide riches for those areas where we are poor and light of day where we are stumbling in the deepening twilight.
Other books in the series that are planned include ones on Jonathan Edwards, Horatius Bonar, Thomas Goodwin, John Owen and Hercules Collins.