Praying Together for True Revival, by Jonathan Edwards. Ed. T. M. Moore. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004. Pp. xvii + 204. $11.99 (paper). [Reviewed by the editor.]
In connection with the 300th anniversary of Edwards’ birth in 1703, a number of works by and about Jonathan Edwards are appearing. Praying Together is one of Edwards’ own works under a new title. The original title was, in shortened form, An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, Pursuant to Scripture Promises and Prophecies Concerning the Last Time. The book was first published in 1747.
The book is Edwards’ plea that all Christians unite at stated times over several years to pray for worldwide revival of true religion.
Edwards was enthusiastic for revivals. For the welfare and growth of the church in the world, he looked, in large part, to extraordinary outpourings of the Spirit. The united prayer of many over a long time would move God to send these revivals. Edwards found biblical support for revivals everywhere in Scripture, especially in the Old Testament.
Basic to his zeal for revival and his plea for united prayer on behalf of revival was Edwards’ pronounced postmillennialism. He expected the “future glorious advancement of the church,” the “church’s latter-day glory.” Such was his hope for the earthly future of the church that he foretold the conversion of vast multitudes, the saving of all nations in at least the majority of their citizens and in their rulers, and a long period of earthly peace and prosperity for the saints. One wonders whether there will be any unsaved at all. No Christian Reconstructionist outdoes Edwards in describing the earthly triumph of the church. That which would accomplish this glorious age of the church would be the final and great revival. And the revival will come about by Edwards’ huge “prayer chain.”
Edwards’ postmillennial dream may not have been “whimsical,” as he put it. But it was false doctrine. The prayer for worldwide revival, which was based on the postmillennial error, was—and is—rebellion against God. God has made known in His Word that His will for the “last time” is not the church’s earthly glory, but the abounding of lawlessness in the world, the apostasy of the visible church, and the great tribulation of the remnant. Nor did the united prayers for the great revival by Edwards and the many who listened to him change God’s revealed will. There was no great revival then or later.
All the New Testament’s teaching of lawlessness, apostasy, and persecution in the last days, Edwards dispensed with by thrusting it into the past. He recognized that these prophecies were a “damp” to prayer for the great revival and the golden age of the church. All, therefore, were said by Edwards to have been fulfilled at the Reformation, when the papacy supposedly was destroyed. Edwards was a “preterist,” as all postmillennialists are forced to be.
Implicit in the call to united prayer for revival by all churches and Christians was an illegitimate ecumenicity. Genuine oneness in the Spirit is not effected or displayed by union in praying, but by unity in doctrine.
Evident in postmillennial Edwards as in all other dreamers of the dream of the church’s earthly victory is a singular disinterest in seeing Christ. According to postmillennialism, Christ does not return to be seen and enjoyed by redeemed men and women until the long ages of the millennium have rolled on.
The postmillennialists burn to see the church’s latter-day glory. Amillennialists long to see Jesus Christ.
Postmillennialists are much in prayer for the golden age of the church. The prayer, day and night, of the amillennialist is, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”
Justification, by Francis Turretin. Tr. George Musgrave Giger. Ed. James T. Dennison, Jr. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2004. Pp. xxvi + 115. $9.99 (paper). [Reviewed by the editor.]
This one hundred-page excerpt from Francis Turretin’s work of Reformed theology is timely. Unbelievably, Reformed and Presbyterian churches are being troubled by brazen attack on the truth of justification. To a large extent, the ministers and theologians either support the heretics or fail to give clear, sharp instruction on justification that will expose the heresy and help the troubled members of the congregations.
Francis Turretin, seventeenth century Swiss theologian and professor of theology at Calvin’s Academy in Geneva, gave clear, thorough, polemical instruction on the fundamental truth of justification.
Those directly involved in the life-and-death struggle with the current false gospel of justification by faith and the works of faith should read this short work. All Reformed Christians will profit from it. In a few places, the going gets heavy, but for the most part the layman will have no trouble understanding the language and following the arguments. The instruction is biblical.
The importance of the sound doctrine of justification, Turretin indicated at the outset.
Justification … must be handled with the greater care and accuracy as this saving doctrine is of the greatest importance in religion. It is called by Luther “the article of a standing and a falling church.” By other Christians, it is termed the characteristic and basis of Christianity—not without reason—the principal rampart of the Christian religion. This being adulterated or subverted, it is impossible to retain purity of doctrine in other places. Hence Satan in every way has endeavored to corrupt this doctrine in all ages, as has been done especially in the papacy (p. 1).
R.C. Sproul has a hard-hitting introduction to the book. He affirms the fundamental importance of justification by faith alone to the gospel as indicated in Luther’s assessment, “the article of a standing and a falling church.”
Without this doctrine the church falls; she collapses into ruin. She ceases to be a true church. Though every other article of historic Christian faith remains intact—if this one (sola fide [by faith alone]) is lost, the church is lost with it (p. vii).
One of the “serious questions” raised today regarding the Reformation’s doctrine of justification is that which Norman Shepherd taught for years at Westminster Theological Seminary.
The controversy at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia over theologian Norman Shepherd’s teaching regarding justification remains unresolved. The number of Shepherd’s followers has increased over the years since he was dismissed from Westminster (p. xiii).
The next-to-the-last chapter considers the question whether there is an eternal justification.
The last chapter explains the justification that takes place at the final judgment.
The Path of True Godliness, by Willem Teellinck. Tr. Annemie Godbehere. Ed. Joel R. Beeke. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003. Pp. 303. $19.99 (paper). [Reviewed by the editor.]
Written by a prominent Reformed minister in the Netherlands, Willem Teellinck, early in the seventeenth century, The Path of True Godliness is a book about godliness. Teellinck defined godliness as “a gift of God by which man is made willing and able to serve God.”
In keeping with Teellinck’s conviction that the purpose of the Christian faith is a godly life, the book is intensely practical from the first page to the last. The concerned pastor urged upon the individual Christian the attitudes of heart and behavior of life that ought to adorn the doctrines of the gospel. What he exhorted, he drew from Scripture.
The godly realize that the greatest disgrace is to boast of possessing and agreeing with the purest doctrine yet failing to show the power of godliness and to avoid evil in their lives. This makes them walk carefully and live a modest life so that their lives are more righteous than those of the pagan moralist philosophers of yesterday and the legalistic sectarians of today. We read in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27, 2 Corinthians 11:12, and
that such was the practice of the godly Paul (pp. 104, 105).
It is evident that Teellinck saw, or thought he saw, worldliness in the members of the Dutch Reformed churches. Against it, he struck out sharply and pointedly. One weakness was the drinking, gluttony, and dubious merriment at weddings. Teellinck returned to this evil again and again. His warning against such corruption of the Christian fellowship at weddings is timely. Professing Reformed Christians permit excessive drinking, ribald jokes, ungodly noise passing for music, and even dancing at the wedding receptions for which they are responsible.
Imagine the scene of people who profess to be Christians having a drinking party in a dirty tavern. Or think of the frivolous and inappropriate behavior of such people at a carnival or festival or sinful wedding feast. Imagine that some Muslims, pagans, or Turks who were present heard these so-called Christians ranting, raving, boasting, and drinking. If they asked what kind of people they were and learned that they were Christians, would this not cause them to despise the God of all Christians, the one who is the true God? When they see so-called Christians lying, deceiving, and cheating, will this not give them the wrong impression of the Christian God? A Christian’s sinful lifestyle is a very strong way of blaspheming the name of the mighty and true God (p. 287).
Here and there, Teellinck is guilty of disturbing, erroneous teaching of universal, resistible grace. We must “let the loving-kindness of God win us over to true repentance and the practice of godliness,” or we will perish (p. 241). Jesus “knock[s] on our hearts with kind invitations (Rev. 3:20),” desiring to save us, and we should “let him in” (p. 245). “The Holy Spirit promises to give you a new heart and a new spirit when you sincerely decide to practice godliness” (p. 245; emphasis added). “Seeing that the Lord God offers to take away our hearts of stone and give us new hearts and spirits in order to serve him well, how can we still refuse him?” (p. 247).
This serious departure from the gospel of sovereign, particular grace is both the more significant and the more inexcusable in view of the fact that the book was first published in 1621—two years after the Synod of Dordt condemned such teaching as Arminian heresy. There was reason why, as the editor notes, “some Reformed leaders … put him [Teellinck] in league with the Arminians” (p. 22).
The Path of True Godliness is one of several smaller works on “Reformed Spirituality” translated and published under the auspices of the Dutch Reformed Translation Society.