Here are the books I read for February. I read a few I didn’t intend to read, and left off reading Baxter’s “Reformed Pastor” and the new release “Reading Paul with the Reformers.” I aim to get to those later. Here are some brief reviews on the ones I went through.
Iain Murray’s “J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone” (Banner of Truth 2016) is very much worth reading. With the appendices it comes to 259 pages, and is valuable in my estimation for these reasons:
1. There aren’t many bio’s of Ryle available, so to get a glimpse into the life and thought of a man so precious in Church history is an invaluable blessing.
2. This is probably the best reason: It is well-laced with quotations and clips from Ryle’s body of writing, along with other sources. There is, indeed, little better outside of Scripture for robust, clear, powerful teaching than that which came to us through Bishop Ryle.
3. For those interested in the history and future of the Church of England, it provides a unique perspective, especially regarding the condition of Churchmen in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It raises questions about the history and future of Anglicanism, and much of this is beneficial for evangelical believers in any context.
4. Murray’s overview of the strengths and weaknesses of Mr. Ryle is inspiring to faith and godliness, as well as instructive for ministers (and believers in general) with regard to pitfalls we ought to watch for.
5. It leaves one with a stamp of jealousy for a faithful clinging to Scripture in the face of unbiblical expressions of Christianity. This jealousy for God, the Word, and the Church characterized Ryle’s life resplendently. He was indeed a “man of granite with the heart of a child,” unflinching and unswerving with regard to the truths of Scripture, but largely charitable and patient, even with those who spoke ill of him for being so “archaic” and “puritanical.”
The one weakness I would note, and others may count it a strength, is that the amount of material covering issues pertaining to the Church of England, the ecclesiological and political wrestlings it experienced, were to me a bit overwhelming and made for less-than-interesting reading, at least for those segments of the book. These details will be of great value to some, particularly to those interested in the finer details in the history of Anglican polity. Perhaps that will be of greater interest to me in the future.
For me, much of it became information that I was simply eager to get through so that I could get to what I felt was the real meat of the story, and to Ryle’s own words, which were almost entirely crisp, convicting, faith-building, and practical.
Again, others will likely be helped greatly by details that seemed to me superfluous. In this season of my life, they are the least desirable aspect of the book as far as a solid edifying read is concerned. That said, even in those portions valuable thoughts are given and important questions are asked that the reader may dwell on to much profit.
J.C. Ryle loved the Church of England and was a faithful churchman in her midst until his dying day. But he did go to his grave with outstanding concerns for her future, which the book does well to convey.
Along with the history of his many engagements with the wider Church of England, it is remarkable to see the fruit that was born through the writing of his tracts and books, through his preaching ministry, through his investment in global missions, and maybe especially in the truly pastoral convictions he carried in terms of praying for and shepherding the flock of God on a personal level. This he instilled in the ministers he trained and mentored, and it is sadly a rarity in many Christian contexts. We need a recovery of it today, and Ryle’s example may help us along in that.
One of the most saddening parts of Ryle’s story was the unfolding of his son Herbert’s increasingly modernist views of Scripture and Church. The 2nd appendix lays this out well (along with other portions of previous chapters), and it leaves us with a longing to do all that we can in prayer, exhortation, tenderness, and faith, to deliver to our sons and daughters, in word and deed, the same faith which was handed down to us from the apostles of old.
Overall, the book was excellently written, edifying, informative, and challenging. So many of Murray’s thoughts and exhortations, which are sandwiched between quotes and footnotes, are very worthy of prayerful consideration and response as well.
For these reasons, I would encourage you to read this book. May the Lord use it to help us along in His plan to make of us a people “Prepared to Stand Alone” in the midst of a wavering generation, content with “jellyfish” theology, pragmatic ministry innovations, and that ever-present itch to appeal to humanistic views of truth and justice, an itch which plagues every nation today. This book will help to steel-ify your spiritual spine as you seek to give witness to the crucified Lamb, Who “was, and is, and is to come.”
Spurgeon’s classic work, “Lectures to My Students” was a real joy to me. I’ve recommended it to aspiring pastors and missionaries for a few decades, but I’m slightly embarrassed to say that while I had read significant portions of the book, maybe amounting to half of it, I had never been through it from start to finish until now.
Now that I have, I can recommend it all the more heartily. It is chock-full of spiritual and practical wisdom, mini-expositions of passages, and a great wealth of pointed exhortations which flow from the well-spring of Spurgeon’s own experience as a man, a pastor, and a preacher.
It could well be called Spurgeon’s “Lectures on Preaching”, as more than half of it in my estimation addresses issues pertaining to the proclamation of the word. He is not bound by rigid definitions of exposition, but he cherishes exposition as central to preaching. He offers helpful thoughts on extemporaneous preaching, different ways in which we should give ourselves to study and prayer, and even the practical elements of how to train and use our voices and how not to use our voices.
One of the refreshing things about the book is how consistently it is laced with a godly kind of humour (pardon the British spelling). I found myself belly laughing on several occasions. It is not the kind of trite or cheap humor modern Americans might be accustomed to. It is what I’ll call a serious and profitable humor, which leaves the Christian preacher with a sense of how foolish much of our thinking is, and how we ought not to position ourselves to fall into the categories Charles often uses as the butt of his jokes. It is helpful humor, like unto the kind that Jesus sometimes uses in the Gospels.
Sometimes Spurgeon offers lengthy counsel that flows from his opinions, and as in all books, it is to be weighed with Scripture.
All in all, for a pointed, biblical, readable, practical, convicting, encouraging book on what it means to be a Christian, a preacher, and a pastor, this book should be in our top five, in my opinion. It’s a wonderful gift to every churchman.
Adolph Saphir’s “Christ and the Church: Thoughts On the Apostolic Commission” is a wonderful read. I’ve never been let down by Saphir (I think he’s my favorite author), and this book was no exception to that experience.
As any book on the Church should, he spends the early parts (first 2 chapters) giving expression to the glories of Jesus Christ, who is the foundation of the Church. Few men have so poignantly and doxologically given articulation to the person and work of Christ, and as in his other books, he does this masterfully in “Christ and the Church”. Like Paul, Saphir would not have us to think that the Church is built upon itself (“we preach not ourselves…”, but rather upon the foundation which has already been laid, “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
He goes on to give expression to the phenomenon of the people of God in the Old Testament, how central the Name of God was to their existence and faith, and how this becomes yet more concentrated when the Name of Jesus is revealed to and declared through “the church which is His body.”
His work on the obedience of faith in the New Covenant community is exceptional, and there are valuable and rare ecclesiological points made in the subsequent chapters.
All in all, for a baptism in Christ-centered faith, leadership and church-life, this book is to be highly recommended. Upon my rather small platform of influence, I’m happy to say as I have for years, “By all means, get Saphir in your library!” He is too little known, and would be of help to all who desire to know and please the God of Israel.
This book on E.M. Bounds by Lyle Dorsett (also the author of a great bio on Tozer, among others) was very good. To be honest, I went through this one much quicker than I would’ve liked, so I didn’t retain what I could’ve. I’d like to go through it again in the future.
I am among the thousands of believers who have benefited greatly from Bounds’ writings on prayer, and I was eager to learn more about the man who wrote so powerfully, especially on that subject.
Dorsett does a fine job of surveying his life and giving us a glimpse into the experience of this remarkable man. One of the surprising details of the story is his involvement in the Civil War, which will be as much of a moral wrestling match to some readers as it was for Bounds.
I recommend you checking this book out. You’ll be enlightened as to Bounds’ life, and even better, you’ll be encouraged and challenged as a disciple by his example and words.