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Book Reviews

Keeping the Heart by John Flavel (Volume 1) 1955, pp. 96, paper cover. 75¢

Prayer by John Bunyan

The Return of Prayers by Thomas Goodwin (Volume 11) 1955, pp. 42, 60, paper cover. $1.00. Sovereign Grace Book Club, 446 South First Street, Lousiville, Kentucky.

These Puritan Classics remain a part of the church’s great devotional literature. Although the style is somewhat archaic, the truths expressed are timeless. The series of reprints of which these are the first two volumes includes works by Richard Baxter, Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, Charles H. Spurgeon, and other notable divines. Such devotions, if reserved for Sabbath afternoon meditation, would sanctify the day and make it a delight.

Keeping the Heart is a detailed exposition and application of Proverbs 4:23: “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” The author gives directions for acquiring and maintaining purity of heart through diligent attention to the duties of holy devotion. The theme which is treated exhaustively is as follows: “The keeping and right managing of the heart in every condition is one great business of a Christian’s life” (p. 3). The author names several seasons in which it is especially needful for Christians to keep the heart free from impure motives, desires, attitudes, etc. Among them are: the time of prosperity, when providence smiles upon us; the time of adversity, when providence frowns upon us; the time of Zion’s troubles, when the church is oppressed; the time of danger and distraction; the time of outward wants; the season of duty; times when we receive injuries and abuses from men; times of great trials, temptations, doubting, and spiritual darkness; periods of suffering for the faith; a time of sickness and the shadow of death.

In Our day, when so many are turning to religion as a way out of personal problems, it is well to remind ourselves that the chief duty of Christians is that of holy living as the means to glorify God. Many are turning to Christ as the Savior from the consequences of sin without turning from their sins. While Christianity is not a means of escape from difficulties, we believe that the Christian practice of keeping the heart is the Cure for much of the personal trouble in human life. For it is in the heart that each person’s relationship to God is centered, and it is in the heart that all the issues of life are settled. We recommend Keeping the Heart to all who are seeking a richer, happier Christian life.

The treatise on Prayer, dated 1660, comes from the heart and pen of the author of Pilgrim’s Progress. It is evident that John Bunyan knew how to pray. Yet it is not only from personal experience but principally from the Scriptures that he teaches us to pray.

Bunyan’s creed-like definition of prayer is worth memorizing: “Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or according to the Word for the good of the Church, with submission, in faith, to the will of God” (p. 1).

After enlarging upon tllis Bunyan expounds I Corinthians 14:15, “I will pray with the Spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also.” The emphasis in these sections is on the work of the Holy Spirit in enabling the believer to pray effectually and intelligently. Following this is “The Application” containing practical considerations and hortatory remarks—a form of discourse that is all too frequently omitted in present day sermonizing.

The Return of Prayers, by Thomas Goodwin, is a full discussion of the Christian’s duty to expect and recognize the answers to his petitions. It is Our duty, and privilege, not only to pray, but also to observe how Our prayers are answered. We should follow the example of Habakkuk, who offered a prayer against the tyranny of Nebuchadnezzar; and having ended it, he begins the second chapter thus: “I will stand upon my watch tower, and see what he will answer me.”

The author would place the praying saint in the position of a merchant ordering goods from afar who, having every reason to expect them, awaits their arrival and checks off each item in his ledger. Likewise the praying Christian should take account of each petition and mark how it is answered. There are ten excellent chapters dealing with a commonly neglected area of Christian duty. The chapters are subdivided, so that it could easily be used for family readings after meals. The reader will be impressed by the author’s constant appeal to the Scriptures for examples of answered prayer and of patient waiting for answers to prayer.

Studies of this type will do much to help us cultivate the gift of prayer, so that our prayers, instead of being stereotyped and full of “vain repetition,” are informed by Scripture and grounded in the promises of the covenant. These little volumes represent the highest type of devotional literature.

JOSEPH A. HILL

                                       

The Basic Ideas of Calvinism by H. Henry Meeter (1956, Grand Rapids International Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 248, $1.50)

Frankly, this is not a review, but an appreciation. It extends to both the book and its author. Dr. Meeter has spent thirty years teaching Calvinism at Calvin College. I was his associate in the Bible Department for the last decade, and wish to pay tribute here publicly to the man who was both a Christian scholar and a man of deep religious piety. The fine spirit of cooperation which marked the activities of our department simply is a reflection of the congenial spirit of our mentor and friend. I am glad the publisher saw fit to put a picture of the author in one of his typical poses on the back cover of the book.

I agree with Professor Berkhof, who wrote the preface to the second edition (this is the fourth, in a popular paper cover format): “We know of no other work in the English language which offers us such a concise, and yet complete and thoroughly reliable resume of the teachings of Calvinism.” This also accounts, no doubt, for the fact that permission was sought, already at the time of the second edition, to translate this work into the Dutch language and also into the Japanese.

We may safely say that Dr. Meeter has given us a standard work on Calvinism. At Calvin College we have used it as a textbook for a course in Calvinism for almost twenty years, since the first edition appeared in 1939. For the uninitiated it ought to be stressed that this is not a historical analysis, as Dr. McNeil has given us a few years ago. Neither is the life of Calvin taken up in this volume. The title speaks of the basic ideas of Calvinism.

The author shows (something he has proved in an earlier work The Fundamental Principle of Calvinism) that the fundamental principle of Calvinism is the sovereignty of God in every sphere of life. He sets forth the place of the Bible and of faith in Calvinism. Significant is the statement on page 44 that the Bible “provides us with the principles which must govern the whole of our life, including our thinking as well as our moral conduct…This is even true of philosophy.”

Dr. Meeter not only professed this, but also acted upon it. He firmly believed that God has revealed himself in nature, in history and in the constitution of man himself, and therefore one ought to attend to the facts of science and the interpretations of Christian scientists. Nevertheless, he followed Calvin closely in saying that one cannot read the book of nature aright without the spectacles of the Word. Dr. Meeter maintains that faith precedes intelligence, that we know things ultimately and truly by faith in the Word of God.

A few of the Biblical principles gleaned from the Word of God and absolutely foundational in the Calvinistic system of thought are these: the absolute authority of the Word, the distinction between Creator and creature, religion as the covenantal relationship of Creator to creature, the fall of man into sin, the restoration of man through Christ. There are, of course, many more principles that emerge as the author discusses the nature of human culture, the origin and character of the State, the teachings of Scripture on internationalism and war, etc. However, the five principles mentioned above constitute the fabric, the constitutive elements of Calvinism.

We conclude by quoting the comment on the inside cover, “this is not a book for scholars only. It ought to be read by every Reformed Christian.” In this Centennial year of the Christian Reformed Church we ought to look to our foundations, we ought to view the rock from whence we are hewn. Pastors and elders, my appeal is to you! We should get this book into every home in our denomination, give it gratis to our Christian neighbors, and see to it that the public library of every town and city in the country has it available for the youth of America. We congratulate Mr. Peter De Visser, owner and manager of the new publishing house, for re-publishing this book.

HENRY R. VAN TIL