GOD’S STATESMAN: THE LIFE AND WORK OF JOHN OWEN by Peter Toon. Published by Zondervan Publishing House, A Division of the Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 183 pages. Price $5.95. Reviewed by Dr. Oren Holtrop (retired CRC minister), Midland Park, N.J.
This reviewer freely and thankfully recommends this book for several reasons. For one thing, it is biographical. That means it has to do with some of God’s real history, God’s own working in this world. Besides it is the biography of an exemplary man of God. It deals with the life and work of Dr. John Owen (1616–1683), who was a living, struggling, striving, real flesh and blood Bible student, a theologian in the Calvinist line, a non-conformist in the 17th Century England.
Owen fought against the Roman Catholic Church and the Episcopalian State Church with their required formalistic liturgies of his day. His chief aim in his life and work was to press constantly upon all branches of society, even the government, to use all means for the spreading abroad of the Gospel of the Word of God to all men, high and low, far and near. He is depicted as influential with the government during much of his life, hut suffering reverses at other times. He is set forth as God‘s fearless Statesman.
As Dean of Christ’s Church and College and as Vice Chancellor of Oxford University Owen fought for purity of doctrine against Arminianism, and for holy living against worldliness. He was a Puritan. He was a top educator, administrator, pastor, preacher, certain in Oliver Cromwell‘s army, statesman, churchman, writer of doctrinal, devotional, exegetical, and church polity hooks. He has even been called “the greatest British theologian of all time.”
Owen lived in a time there were many opponents to his positions. His struggling was often severe. He believed, however, that God had assigned him his duties, and hence he sought with the wisdom and qualifications given him to carry forward vigorously. No doubt he did not always keep balance and made his mistakes. Likely he became scholastically abstract sometimes when he set forth the full sovereignty of God as taught in the Canons of Dordt both positively and negatively versus the Arminians (whom he even called Pelagian) of 17th century England.
Owen was also relevantly practical tackling the problems of the day as they arose. He could not hear the oppressive regulations of the State-Church government (Episcopalian or Roman Catholic) when it denied the non-conformists freedom of worship. His polemic was for tolerance of the non-conformists letting each one worship God according to the dictates of his conscience as each understood the Bible, but he believed the government should rule out unbiblical sects such as Quakers and others.
Owen was in his-late twenties and early thirties when the Westminster Assembly (1643–1650) formulated the famous Westminster Confession and the Larger and Shorter Catechism of the Presbyterians. Owen was not Presbyterian but Congregational in his views of Church government.
The author, Dr. Peter Toon, after marking out a few proper criticisms, writes: “Owen shines through the available information as a truly great man, whose one basic concern in word and deed, hook and action, was the proclamation of Jesus Christ and the Gospel” (p. 178).
What especially enhances the pleasure of reading a hook like this one is the fact that the man under study candidly realized that Romans 7 was true of himself (as it was of the Apostle Paul), and the introversive mortifying of the “old man” went hand in hand with the extroversive struggle for the propagation of the Gospel along every possible avenue of expression.
Because the book is solidly scholarly, well documented, with reasoning closely knit, one should not expect to read through this book in an hour or two. Moreover, since the author is well versed in the historical millieu of 17th century England, he often takes for granted that his readers are equally well versed in such details of history. Hence rending up on the church and civic history of that em in England will enable one better to understand and enjoy the reading of the book.
Just a word about the author. Dr. Peter Toon is an able historian who specialized in the study of the Puritan era. He was born in 1939 in South Yorkshire, England, became a missionary to Guyana, later studied further in both England and U.S.A., taught religious Education and lectured in Church History and Historical Theology in schools in England. He has been a guest lecturer at twelve North American Universities and Scminllries and at the University of Cologne in Cennany.
Anyone who loves to learn of the grace of God operating in the lives of the saints of God of yesteryears will find this is a good book to read and study.
COUNTERFEIT MIRACLES by B. B. Warfield; 327 pp.; $1.95; The Banner of Truth, P.O. Box 052, Carlisle, Pa. 17013, U.S.A. Reviewed by Rev. Harold Bossenbroek, pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Leighton, Iowa.
This volume contains The Thomas Smyth Lectures for 1917–1918. The Banner of Truth serves Christianity well, coming out with another edition of the fine work of B. B. Warfield. In six chapters the author develops and maintains the thesis that miracles were for the purpose of revelation and that when the time for special revelation came to a close with the death of the Apostles, miracles ceased. The six chapters are, The Cessation of the Charismata; Patristic and Mediaeval Marvels; Roman Catholic Miracles; Irvingite Gifts; Faith Healing; and Mind-Cure. The last section of the book has notes which fill in und substantiate the material of the six chapters. Warfield writes, “These gifts were not the possession of the primitive Christian as such; nor for thot matter of the Apostolic Church or the Apostolic age for themselves; they were distinctively the authentication of tile Apostles. They were part of the credentials of the Apostles as the authoritative agents of God in founding the church. Their function thus confined them to distinctively the Apostolic Church, and they necessarily passed away with it.”
The author fully and capably defends this view and then goes on to deal with the so-called “miraculous” aspect of Christianity. This is a complete work and to this date the best there is in the field. We would recommend this to anyone interested in the subject and especially those who wish a defence against the “charismatic rage of today.”