(One’s level of piety, whether devotional or practical, depends much on knowledge being either learned or misconceived. In these analyses we have made mention, occasionally, of books that either help or hinder the grand object of piety. It seems natural, consequently, to supplement the analyses, now and again, with correlating book reports.)
GABOURY’S CRITICAL BOOK REPORT
Sundry American Puritans, God’s Call to Young People, ed. Dr. Don Kistler (1700’s; Morgan, Pennsylvania: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2001), 229 pp.
The sermons in this compilation were preached by American Puritans not that long after they had “planted themselves in an uncultivated wilderness” (p. 28.) This fact alone should draw attention from adventurous readers. Mockers, however, will dismiss the book on the supposition that the age of its contents has rendered its message obsolete. “Amos tells them that as God has been especially good to them, so their sins especially call for punishments” (p. 154.) Is this kind of preaching obsolete? Can more timely preaching be heard from your local pulpit? All good preaching has a timeless aspect to it. This preaching from 18th century America has more life left in it than that last sermon you heard from your walking-talking preacher. It can time-travel well enough! Though the sermons are for the ‘rising generation’ of three centuries ago, their reach extends even to the older generation of this present day: “Should young people be careful to cleanse their way? What shall be said then of such as are grown old, and are not yet cleansed from their filthiness? If these lines should fall under the eye of any such, let them consider that awful word from Isaiah 65.20: ‘The sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed’” (p. 144.) Don’t be misled by the image on the dust-jacket; these sermons are not just for little girls!
While the sermons are meant for adolescents, and their parents whose duty it is to send them off in the God-ward line, I cannot think of any person needing them more than today’s minister. Souls were generally saved at a younger age back then. The cause of this, at least instrumentally, was the preachers’ understanding of juvenile psychology and their subsequent response to that in their preaching. (About this, see especially Sermon 8 by Charles Chauncy.) Unlike what is done in our day, youth were not enticed to religion through deceit. The idea that you can be converted and yet hang on to your familiar routine and your old buddies is foreign to the Bible and absent from this book. The Puritans, because of their unshakable confidence in the sovereignty of God, were able to overcome the temptation to win souls through a compromised message: “There are sacrifices made by the young in turning to God that are not made by the old. It is at some cost that they relinquish the joys of earth and youthful companionships, and take up the cross” (p. 83.) What preacher today is faithful enough to lay an obstructing truth in the path of the young souls before him? A good preacher can balance an obstructing truth with some truthful incentive: “Let this one thought go along with you in your ardent and reckless career: Youth vanishes, and that bounding heart will soon beat sluggishly with age and become still in death, and after death is retribution” (p. 76.) And he will weave in some sweet invitation: “It will be no grief of heart to you that you remembered your Creator in the days of your youth. You will not regret it when God shall bring you into judgment. No son nor daughter of Adam will on that day be heard to say, ‘I wish I had taken my swing in the world a little longer. I was pious too early. God loved me too soon!’” (p. 91.) There, in a short space and by three quotes, is the Puritan approach to preaching to souls of any age. The sinner’s case is honestly presented; the reasonable threat is unleashed; and the sweet invitation is proffered. Does your Alpha course do any of this?
There is an existential reason why sermons from this Puritan collection should be promoted as models for pulpits today. The men responsible for delivering them were fruitful in theirs. Note the modesty in their testimonies to the grace of God upon their ministries. William Cooper: “We see, through the grace of God (as loose as the times are), many young people walking in the ways of godliness” (p. 151.) Jonathan Todd, 1740: “And I can’t but be pleased (and I hope it is a token for God) that the young people of my charge are inclined to be serious, and to consider the voice of God in the alarm that seemed given them. Oh, that your goodness may not prove as the morning cloud, and as the early dew go away” (p. 167.)
Due to the many tragedies that have come upon the world these last few decades, whereby thousands upon thousands have been swept to their graves ‘on a sudden,’ ministers have been often called upon, or expected, to respond with some appropriate message for the grieving survivors. All messages that I have heard in response to modern calamities have been about the love of God and his absence from the horror. The Puritans experienced their own hardships of a mortal nature, which usually came in the form of disease, and through which their infants and children were especially ravaged. Their message at such trying times is more about the judgment of God than his love; and for them, tragedy assumes or requires, rather than prohibits, the presence of God. “God, being infinitely good and delighting in mercy, most frequently sends His awakening judgments before He proceeds to the utmost against men. He warns them and gives them space for repentance. He sometimes visits with awful and distressing sicknesses. He sends the destroying angel, and takes away some as a warning to the rest” (p. 163, 164.) Can we not learn to preach like this when tragedy strikes? It is, after all, biblical. Pages 158, 159: “Thus the Assyrian, who had it in his heart to destroy and grievously wound Israel, is called ‘the rod of God’s anger’; and the staff in their hand is said to be His indignation” (Isaiah 10.5.) Puritan sermons are seasonable because they are biblically sound. When a pastor preaches on nothing but God’s love for survivors and his absence from tragedy, he is misrepresenting the case, not to mention God! He does so to avoid causing offence to man, which offence could be returned upon his own head by the offended. But by cowardliness, he misses his best opportunity to get offensive man reconciled to his offended Creator. Take the best interpreters and preachers of God’s holy word for your teachers!
There is one doctrine that I disagree with which is almost always found among people who revere the Covenant aspect of Revelation: the idea that children are in the covenant of God by virtue of ministerial administration and parental transmission (p. 19.) Covenant Theology is chief, but in this part I must part ways. Sometimes there is a fly to be found in the best ointment. But this fly does not contaminate the contents, for this doctrine of theirs does not include certain ‘mainline’ heresies, like baptismal regeneration. Their covenant theology is hedged about by biblical facts: “It is a sad thing that so vile a wretch as Nabal was should descend from such a house as Caleb’s was! Josiah was a godly man, yet all of his children were bad!” (p. 66.) Again, “Oh, the sovereign grace of our God! Samuel has a wicked son, and Jeroboam has a godly one” (p. 94.) Bible knowledge prevents heresy. God’s Call to Young People is a safe book full of sacred truth.
Content: A (Sermons not easily shrugged off.)
Style: A (Beauty and clarity in the American-Puritan mold.)
Tone: A (Arguments tenderly enforced to induce early religion.)
Grading Table: A: a keeper: reread it; promote it; share it.
B: an average book: let it go.
C: read only if you have to.