Monday, July 31, 2006


Thanks to Darrin Brooker for remembering that this is the day, 117 years ago, when Horatius Bonar entered into his eternal reward (July 31st, 1889)—he followed the Lamb who had conquered—let us do likewise.


Not sure what this game is called, but I was asked by two individuals—first Darrin Brooker and then Jenson Lim—to participate in this. They “tagged” me, which sounds somewhat ominous at first hearing—almost like being pulled over when speeding or even worse getting the mark of the Beast placed on one!

Since I have been talking about what I have not read (for links, see my answer to the last question below) I am quite game to play along—though the idea of “tagging” another militates ‘gainst some deep personality structures! I have always hated being coerced to do something that everything in me revolted ‘gainst, so I shall let that aspect of the game pass. Of course, some might say, I wasn’t really playing the game—but then…

1. One book that changed your life (other than the Bible):

Mortification of Sin by John Owen

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:

Augustine of Hippo, Confessions.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
There are far too many to choose from—maybe if the question was “twenty-one books you’d want on a desert island”—after all, if I was able to carry one, I would be just as able to carry twenty-one—it is very unlikely that I would not be carrying a briefcase in which I would have these books—now if that was the question, here’s my answer (by the way, why twenty-one? Because it is the sum of three times seven!)

a. Augustine, Confessions
b. Basil of Caesarea, De spiritu sancto
c. The letter to Diognetus
d. Patrick, Confessions
e. Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian
f. John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion
g. John Owen, Mortification of sin
h. John Bunyan, Grace abounding to the chief of sinners
i. Blaise Pascal, Les Pensées
j. John Newton, Cardiphonia
k. Andrew Fullers, Works (the one-volume edition from the 19th century)
l. The Olney Hymns
m. The hymns of Charles Wesley
n. The hymns of Ann Griffiths
o. Adolphe Monod, Les adieux
p.  J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
q. The poems of Edward Taylor
r. C.S. Lewis, The weight of glory (the small book of essays)
s. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life together
t. Iain Murray’s life of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (yes I know it is two books—but it is a two-volume work)
u. Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections

4. One book that made you laugh:
G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who was Thursday

5. One book that made you cry [or feel really sad]:
Lady de Lancey, A week at Waterloo in June 1815

6. One book that you wish had been written:
The Complete Exegetical Handbook of the Calvinistic Baptists, 1638-1892

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
Too many to name here!!!!

8. One book you’re currently reading:
John Lukacs, Democracy and Populism

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:

Thursday, July 27, 2006


In a comment on my most recent post about Romans 11:26 and the fighting in Lebanon, my friend Reid Ferguson offered a fascinating sidelight on a group of Orthodox Jews who do not believe Israel should have been granted nation status and that is because in their thinking Israel is still in exile because of her sins. They are called Neturei-Karta, “guardians of the city.”

Check out his blog at: Responsive Reiding: see


Here is a really good blog that I have been reading recently: “Pure Church.” It is written by Thabiti Anyabwile, who was on staff at Capitol Hill Baptist Church with Mark Dever, and who is now on his way to pastor in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands.


My Puritan forebears had a great love for the Jewish people. Many of them, like Oliver Cromwell and Henry Jessey, cherished the great hope that Romans 11:26 was to be understood literally, and that there would be a great outpouring of the Spirit upon Israel in the last days. I personally share this hope and would read Romans 11:26 as speaking of literal Israel, that is, the Jewish people.

But, and this point is vital, “Israel” in Romans 11:26 is not to be identified with the actual land of current Israel nor with the Zionist state of current Israel. Yes, Christians ought to love God’s Ancient people, as Paul did (see Romans 9:1-3; 10:1). Paul’s revelation of his heart’s desire—that Israel might be saved—is God’s desire. God desires the salvation of the Jews in Israel—that, they like the Jewish rabbi Paul would come to living faith in Jesus Christ, God’s final Word, the radiance of His glory and the only Saviour (Hebrews 1:1-3).

But the text of Romans 11:26 is speaking of the Jewish people not the land. The land has ceased to have any theological significance since the coming of Messiah. Like Abraham, we now look for a city whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10). Our future is not tied to a physical spot of land, but to the new heavens and new earth.

What this means is that we are free, as Christians, to be critical of the policies of Zionist Israel. We love the Jewish people and seek their salvation, but this does not mean a carte-blanche endorsement of all current Israeli foreign policy. Israel, to be sure, has a right to protect her borders as a nation. But does the systematic destruction of the infrastructure of south Lebanon fall within that right? Yes, the Hezbollah has done wicked things—the use of the sort of random terrorism that they have done in the past condemns them as being wicked. Clearly many of those in this organization are men—and women—whose minds are shaped by hate. Since the coming of the Prince of Peace—our Lord Jesus—the idea that killing innocent human beings can be in the service of the living God is utterly repulsive! Oh that God would enlighten them as He did to Saul the man of hate on the Damascus Road and save them through faith in Jesus Christ.

But does Hezbollah violence justify the sort of destruction of life and society that we are seeing in south Lebanon? Without wanting to appear as a supporter in any way, shape or form of any sort of Muslim terrorist organization, I do wish to register a concern that Christians not blindly assume that right is only on the side of Israel.

Abraham Lincoln was very wise when he said in the American Civil War that the claim by both sides that God was on their side cannot be right, though both might be wrong. In the present struggle, the Hezbollah and Zionist Israel both cannot be right, though both might be wrong.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Please see my most recent post at irish-reformation: “Surely, Irish Zion demands our prayers."

Monday, July 24, 2006


I have been reading Flannery O’Connor. In a fascinating essay entitled “The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South” [Mystery and Manners, selected and eds. Sally and Robert Fitzgerald (London: Faber and Faber, 1972)], she makes this extremely revealing remark about how a Catholic writes fiction:

“The Catholic novel…cannot see man as determined; it cannot see him as totally depraved. It will see him as incomplete in himself, as prone to evil, but as redeemable when his own efforts are assisted by grace” (p.196-197).

She goes on to talk about the centre of meaning of the Catholic novel being Christ—but the above quote is so quintessentially Roman Catholic.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


Some might think that the previous list of unread stuff was no big deal since a number of the figures I said that I had not read are suspect theologically, so who wants to read them anyway.

Ok, point taken. What about the mainstream of orthodox Christianity—what have I missed reading there? Well, I have hardly read anything by Beza, let alone most of the French & Dutch Calvinists. Have read little of Kuyper, and nothing of either Berkhof or Berkouwer or Bavinck! Would like to have read Grundtvig, but only know a little about him. Know next to nothing about J. Oncken.

Then there are all those Puritans I have never read: Dod, and Winthrop, and Increase Mather, and John Cotton, and only one thing by Roger Williams, and even that not all the way through. Nothing by Philip Henry and very little by Ussher. The list could go on and on!

It has been said that the older an historian gets the more he realizes he does not know. How true this is. And how true also the realization of how much has never been read or even touched upon.

Now, having made this confession (partial, I must indicate) of what has not been read, I see no way of rectifying it. I seriously doubt if any of the figures I have mentioned that I have not read will ever get read by me. So be it. Here is another key principle of all history-writing: The historian by perforce of his human limitations sees through a glass darkly.


Speaking of books, it was John Milton who said this gem in his Areopagitica:

“Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous Dragons teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men.”


As somebody like myself, an obvious bibliophile, looks back on a lifetime of reading—around forty-seven years if I began with age-appropriate material when I was five or so!—it is interesting to note what I have not read. Here is a small sampling—with the stress on small. There are many others I could note!

I have not read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress—cannot warm up to the notion of allegory. I have read very little of the Russians like Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, though I do like Solzhenitsyn.

I have hardly touched Aquinas or the late Patristic author John of Damascus.

And as for the Germans of the 20th century like Tillich (ugh!) or Moltmann or Pannenberg, I have read very little. I have read Bonhoeffer—whom I deeply admire despite some evident doctrinal flaws in his thinking—I have read through some Barth and Brunner. Of Bultmann I have only touched his commentary on the Johannine Epistles.

I am amazed I have not really read Van Til, or Bahnsen or Rushdoony.

So many books, so little time was what C.S. Lewis once said, or something like that.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Pick almost any recent hymnal, look in the index that lists the authors of the hymns, and the name “Isaac Watts” will usually have a long list of hymns beside it. During his life, Watts penned over 600 hymns, and through them has powerfully shaped the way English-speaking Evangelicals worship God.

Early years

Watts was born to Christian parents in Southampton, England, on July 17, 1674. His father, who was also named Isaac, was a prosperous clothier as well as being a schoolmaster. A deacon in the local Congregationalist church, later known as Above Bar Congregational Church, the elder Watts suffered imprisonment at least twice for refusing to give up worship with this church. From 1660 to 1688 the Congregationalists, along with other groups outside of the Church of England, found themselves in the fierce fire of persecution, when a series of laws were passed which made it illegal to worship in any other setting but that of the Church of England. Of Watts’ mother, Sarah Taunton, we know little beyond the fact that she was of French Huguenot descent and after Isaac’s birth would nurse him while visiting her husband in prison.

The younger Watts experienced what he later described as “considerable convictions of sin” when he was fourteen. Happily, they issued in a sound conversion in 1689. The following year he went to London to spend four years studying in a theological seminary. After graduation in 1694 he went back to live with his parents in Southampton for two years or so. Apparently it was during this time in Southampton that he began to write hymns.

London pastor

In October of 1696 he took a position as the tutor of the household of a wealthy Nonconformist by the name of John Hartopp (d.1722), one of the most eminent English Congregationalists during that era. Watts preached his first sermon in 1698 and four years later was called to be the pastor of what was the most influential and wealthiest Congregationalist church in London, Mark Lane Congregational Church, which he served for the rest of his life.

A serious illness in 1712 brought Watts to the home of Sir Thomas and Lady Mary Abney, at Theobalds, near Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. Watts had intended on staying only until he recovered his health, but he ended up remaining with this family till his death thirty-six years later, tutoring the children and pastoring his nearby church when he was physically able.

An assistant minister, Samuel Price, was appointed early on in Watts’ pastorate, enabling Watts to give significant amounts of time to study and writing when he was not ill. Watts never married. After a proposal of marriage was turned down by Elizabeth Singer (d.1737), also an accomplished poet, he never again seriously contemplated the married estate.

Writing hymns

Watts’ literary activity up until around 1720 was primarily in the realm of poetry. By way of contrast, during his final twenty-eight years Watts almost exclusively devoted himself to writing prose. According to reliable tradition, his first incentive to write hymns came when he complained to his father of the general poverty of the psalmody in their Southampton church. His father’s response was a challenge to his son to do better. As history attests Watts did indeed do better, so much so that he is often called “the Father of English hymnody.”

In 1707 Watts published his first collection of hymns, entitled Hymns and Spiritual Songs, one of the earliest English hymnals. It was in this collection that such great hymns as “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” first appeared. Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, a recasting of the psalms in the light of the New Testament for the purpose of public worship, came in 1719. In Watts’ words, in this particular book he chose not “to express the ancient Sense and Meaning of David, but have rather exprest myself as I may suppose David would have done, had he lived in the Days of Christianity.” Good examples of such “Christian paraphrases” of the Psalms would include “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” based on Psalm 90 and “Jesus Shall Reign,” drawn from Psalm 72.

Watts & George Thomson

A small idea of the impact of Watts can be found in a letter written to him by a certain George Thomson (1698-1782), the Anglican vicar of St. Gennys, a windswept village in North Cornwall perched atop cliffs overlooking the Atlantic. Writing to Watts in 1736, Thomson said:

“Poet, Divine, Saint, the delight, the guide the wonder of the virtuous world; permit, Reverend Sir, a stranger unknown, and likely to be for ever unknown, to desire one blessing from you in a private way. ’Tis this, that when you approach the Throne of Grace, and lift up holy hands, when you get closest to the Mercy-seat, and wrestle mightily for the peace of Jerusalem, you would breathe one petition for my soul’s health. In return I promise you a share for life in my unworthy prayers, who honour you as a father and a brother (though differently ordered) and conclude myself,

Your affectionate humble Servant,
George Thomson.”

[Cited Donald Davie, The Eighteenth-Century Hymn in England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 49].

It may well have been something of a surprise to Watts to have received this letter of adulation from an Anglican minister. Thomson’s remark about his being “differently ordered” reflects this ecclesial difference between writer and recipient. As such, the effusive, and by our standards far too flowery, praise that Thomson lavishes on Watts is particularly noteworthy. In fact, Thomson confesses, Watts’ hymns were the medium by which God made him a “father” and mentor in the Christian life for the Anglican vicar.

Monday, July 17, 2006


Ours is a day of crisis—on the international political scene, throughout Canadian and American culture at large and also within the inherited structures of North American Evangelicalism. The latter is currently going through a time of enormous dislocation and alienation from its past. Certain sectors of Evangelicalism think and act as if Evangelicalism came into being yesterday and that therefore only the present and future matter. In so thinking and acting, these sectors are cutting themselves off from the rich resources located within their own history that reaches back to the period of the 16th-century Reformation and beyond to the Ancient Church in the Apostolic and Patristic eras. The result of this willed amnesia is significant disorientation as to where the church must head since there is no idea as to where the church is coming from. This way of dealing with the past also leaves the church completely at the mercy of the winds of the current culture and the long-term result is a situation of drastic compromise where the church is in bondage to the zeitgeist.  

In response to this conscious—or as it may be in some cases, unconscious—rejection of the past, other sectors of Evangelicalism are all for recovering the past, but not through the medium of their specific heritage. These Evangelicals are rightly tired of the baptized version of 21st-century North American culture that is being passed off as biblical Christianity. They want to be in touch with their roots, but seem to have lost the power to discern which roots with which to reconnect. The long-term result of this second option is a widening of the boundaries of Evangelicalism to the point that whatever might have been distinctive of the Evangelical position is in danger of being lost.

No wonder a recent observer of the scene of worldwide English-speaking Evangelicalism has said that it appears to be in free fall!

Monday, July 10, 2006


A frequent theme in Calvin’s writings and sermons is that of the victorious advance of Christ’s kingdom in the world. God the Father, Calvin says in his prefatory address to Francis I in his theological masterpiece, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, has appointed Christ to “rule from sea to sea, and from the rivers even to the ends of the earth.” In a sermon on 1 Timothy 2:5-6, Calvin notes that Jesus came, not simply to save a few, but “to extend his grace over all the world.”  Similarly, Calvin declares in a sermon on Acts 2 that the reason for the Spirit’s descent at Pentecost was in order for the gospel to “reach all the ends and extremities of the world.”

It was this global perspective on the significance of the gospel that also gave Calvin’s theology a genuine dynamism and forward movement. It has been said that if it had not been for the so-called Calvinist wing of the Reformation many of the great gains of that era would have died on the vine. While this may be an exaggeration to some degree, it does illustrate the importance of the Reformed perspective. [Jean-Marc Berthoud, “John Calvin and the Spread of the Gospel in France” in Fulfilling the Great Commission (Westminster Conference Papers; [London]: Westminster Conference, 1992), 44-46].

Calvin, moreover, was not satisfied to be involved in simply reforming the church. He was tireless in seeking to make the influence of the church felt in the affairs of the surrounding society and thus make God’s rule a reality in that area of human life as well. It was this conviction that led Calvin to be critical of the Anabaptists, the radical left-wing of the Reformation. From his perspective, the Anabaptist creation of communities that were totally separate from the surrounding culture was really a misguided attempt to flee the world. Their spiritual forbears were medieval monks, not the early Christians who had been obedient to Christ’s words in Matthew 28:19-20. In Calvin’s view, they should be seeking positive ways in which they could be used by the indwelling Spirit to impact society in general and reform it, and so advance the kingdom of Christ.


I had forgotten that today is John Calvin’s birthday—July 10, 1509. Glad I stopped by Darrin Brooker’s blog to be reminded of this (see his Commemorating John Calvin’s Birth and The Person of John Calvin).

Like all great men and women in the history of the Church he had his faults, but oh the strengths of his teaching and walk with Christ that need to be remembered. His self-sacrificial life for the Church and his willingness to give up the pursuit of an academic career to benefit the people of God needs to be highlighted. The piety so evident in his Institutes needs to be recalled—not for nothing is he remembered as the theologian of the Holy Spirit. And then his understanding of biblical theology in terms of the glory of God and his sovereignty needs to be re-highlighted in our day.

To be honest, if it had not been for the Reformed wing of the Reformation, of which Calvin is a prominent figure, the gains of the Reformation would have been far less. Of course, the attention that has been paid to Calvin over the centuries would not have been to his liking. His request to be buried in an unmarked grave was honoured by his friends and co-workers, but the spirit behind the wish—that he be forgotten—has not been. And may I say, rightly so. His life and teaching sparkles with the glory of Christ and that should be seen afresh in every generation.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


It is great to see that a good friend Janice van Eck has a blog. Do check it out.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


Ever since Eustace Carey, the missionary nephew of William Carey (1761-1834), brought out his biography of his famous uncle two years after his death [Memoir of William Carey, D.D. (London: Jackson and Walford, 1836)], there has been a never-ending stream of books and articles about the man who has been hailed as “the father of modern missions.” Far too many of these studies, though, have been simply interested in Carey the missionary activist and have really done very little to probe the theological taproot from whence sprang his missionary endeavours, namely his evangelical Calvinism. If they had done so, the name of Andrew Fuller (1754-1815), his close friend and life-long supporter, would be much better known, for, as missiologist Harry R. Boer has observed, “Fuller’s insistence on the duty of all men everywhere to believe the gospel…played a determinative role in the crystallization of Carey’s missionary vision” [Pentecost and Missions (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1961), 24].

While there were a handful of biographies of Fuller in the nineteenth century—mostly written by friends, colleagues and family members—there was only one of any substance in the twentieth century [Gilbert Laws, Andrew Fuller: Pastor, Theologian, Ropeholder (London: Carey Press, 1942)]. Thus, in an 1991 article entitled “Where Would We Be Without Staupitz?,” which appeared in Christianity Today and which looked at five unsung heroes behind five great church leaders, American church historian Bruce Shelley rightly included Fuller as “the unsung hero” behind Carey’s “pioneering missionary career in Asia.” [“Where Would We Be Without Staupitz?”, Christianity Today, 35, no.15 (December 16, 1991), 31].

Things have begun to change, though, and within the past three years there has been a fresh biographical study of Fuller and a collection of essays exploring Fuller’s apologetical works. See Peter J. Morden, Offering Christ to the World: Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) and the Revival of Eighteenth-Century Particular Baptist Life (Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K./Waynesboro, Georgia: Paternoster Press, 2003) and Michael A. G. Haykin, ed., ‘At the Pure Fountain of Thy Word’: Andrew Fuller as an Apologist (Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K./Waynesboro, Georgia: Paternoster Press, 2004).

There is also a project underway that hopes to see all of Fuller’s works, both previously published and unpublished, printed in a critical edition of some twelve volumes with the first volume to appear in December of this year. For more details, see my “THE ANDREW FULLER WORKS PROJECT” [Historia Ecclesiastica ( October 17, 2005].  Paternoster Press is planning on publishing this series in both cloth and paperback.

Hopefully, these new studies and fresh edition of his works will provide the basis for a growing interest in Fuller and his theology, and we will understood better why Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), no mean judge of Christian writers and theologians, once described Fuller as “the greatest theologian” of his century (cited Laws, Andrew Fuller, 127).

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


I have always loved football, having played on teams all the way through university. And since it is very much on everyone’s mind at present—oh that England had gotten into the final! I can still remember the thrill of the 1966 win—here is a brilliantly done piece by Monty Python on a football match between the philosophers of Germany and those of Greece. It is on Cynthia Nielsen’s blog: “Monty Python’s International Philosophy”.

Saturday, July 01, 2006


There is an excellent series going on over at Free St. George’s by “Hiareth,” a research student in Welsh History and Calvinistic Methodism. It is on Tom Nefyn, a liberal minister: see the series beginning Tom Nefyn Williams: A Warning from History 1.


Here is a lovely anecdote about Rowland Hill (1744-1833) by Darrin Brooker: The Fruit of His Labours.

It is so good to read items like this, because it is so encouraging, especially after experiencing discouragement. To prepare to speak, to pray over one’s talk, and sense God’s direction and leading in the arrangement of the material and the ideas in it, and then to come to the time of delivery and find little freedom and stumbling and difficulty can be so discouraging. But who knows what God will do with such? Who knows? Our call is to be faithful in the midst of our stumbling and halting words.

Then, how foolish we speakers/teachers/preachers are. We think we have an area sewn up and know it back to front and then the Lord lets us fall on our faces. It is so good for the soul—for it builds humility and confidence in God alone. “Without me ye can do nothing.”