BEHOLD HE COMETH, by Herman Hoeksema; Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1969; 726 pp., $9.95.
In his book, “The Progress of Dogma”, James Orr takes the position that the Church from Pentecost to the present develops the truth of the Word of God along the lines of the six loci of Dogmatics. That is, the early Church concentrated her attention upon Theology and Christology; some centuries later, theloci of Anthropology and Soteriology were the main concern of the Church; around the time of the Reformation Ecclesiology was developed; it remains for the Church of today, living in the end of the ages, to deal with the doctrine of the last things: Eschatology. While there can be some criticism made of this conception, the truth is that the dominant theme of today’s theological inquiry is the doctrine of the last things. And if this is true, the book “Behold He Cometh” will have to be considered a major contribution to this discussion.
“Behold He Cometh” is a commentary on the book of Revelation. Yet, while we use the word “Commentary”, it must be mentioned that the book is not a commentary in the usual sense of the word. It is a series of essays on various sections of Revelation rather than a verse-by-verse exposition of the prophecies of the seer of Patmos. For this reason, it has all the characteristics of a scholarly commentary in that it is expository, exegetical and a thorough explanation of the entire book. But it is also of immense value to people who will want to read a book for other purposes than a detailed study of one particular section of Scripture. There is to be found in it no technical language, no long discussion of textual problems, no Greek interspersed throughout the book. It is a book written for those who earnestly desire to gain an understanding of the prophecies of “the things which shall be hereafter.” It is a book written for those who take seriously their calling to live in the constant expectation of the Lord’s return. It is a book which possesses a wealth of instruction, a mine of inspirational and devotional reading and a fountain of encouragement to walk faithfully in the midst of the world.
I was privileged to receive my seminary instruction under Rev. Hoeksema. Although a large section of the classroom notes on Eschatology (now published in “Reformed Dogmatics”) was devoted to a general survey of the teaching of the book of Revelation, Rev. Hoeksema would often turn to this important book in other connections. It became, in the classroom, increasingly apparent that, whether one agreed or not with every aspect of interpretation, the explanation offered by Rev. Hoeksema was one which almost alone made some sense out of this difficult book. It was an explanation which took into account the book as a whole. It was an organic explanation which did not treat every part of the book in isolation from every other part. It rather was an explanation, which caught the theme of the book and developed carefully this one theme throughout. In subsequent years I have had at least two opportunities, in connection with society discussions, to pay rather careful attention to the book. The opinion I had formed in school that Rev. Hoeksema’s interpretation was basically sound and was one among a host ‘-of expositors which made sense and which was faithful to the whole of Scripture increased. This faithfulness to Scripture is especially apparent in the author’s careful explanation of the symbolism of Revelation. The explanation of the symbolism is always an explanation which is itself based upon God’s Word.
The book has been called an “amillennial” interpretation of Revelation. This is intended to distinguish the author’s position from premillennialism and postmillennialism. Yet the author himself did not particularly care for the designation “amillennial.” While it was useful to distinguish between his view and deviating positions, it is, after all, a negative term which means simply “non-millennial”. This is not adequate to define the author’s position. The positive truth emphasized throughout the book is that Jesus Christ is the fullness of the revelation of God as the God Who sovereignly saves His people. This beautiful truth which formed the heart of the author’s theology is discussed in Revelation from the unique viewpoint of the final revelation of that sovereign salvation in the second coming of Christ. This essential meaning of Revelation the author has captured in his book. It is stressed throughout. When Christ comes again, He fully reveals Jehovah God Who saves His people through unmerited grace. For this reason the book is necessary reading for anyone who wishes to understand the full scope of the author’s theology and the wide range of his theological reflection.
But above all the book is expository. The material in the book is based upon sermons which the author preached in his congregation. These sermons revealed the author’s unusual exegetical ability and his gifts as a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not surprising therefore, that the author’s ability as a preacher should make its imprint upon the book. Throughout there is a devotion to Scripture as the Word of God, a faithfulness to the inspired record, a deep sense of the need of God’s people, a sound application, of the truth of Scripture to the times, a burning zeal to encourage the people of God to look with uplifted heads for the coming of their Redeemer.
The problems of the day, so closely related to the signs of the Lord’s coming, are analyzed carefully and weighed constantly in the light of these beautiful prophecies. For anyone who is a student of the times, the book is essential. It will be of invaluable aid to God’s people to help them understand the times in which they are called to live and to interpret the events of the present in the light of the universal rule of Christ Who does all things in order that the full purpose of God may be realized and the everlasting kingdom of Christ established at the end of the age.
The book is not premillennial. Yet, premillennialists will do well to read it carefully and study it closely. If they are sincere in their determination to understand the Scriptures, this book will be an occasion for much thought and searching the Scriptures to see whether these things be so—whether they ultimately agree or not.
The strong tendencies of our day are in the direction of postmillennialism. The dangers of this view are many and far-reaching. The book ably defends the proposition that the saints must not look for the kingdom of Christ realized here upon earth, but must set their hopes upon a kingdom above. The dangers of post-millennialism are exposed, and it is shown that post-millennial views will inevitably leave the Church ill-prepared to face the persecution which must surely come before Christ comes again.
The book is beautifully printed in a type-face easy to read. The chapters are divided by paragraph headings. The cover matches the volume of the author’s “Reformed Dogmatics”. The jacket is beautifully done. The book is a worthwhile addition to the libraries of covenant homes and of ministers and teachers.
Yet it must never be and surely is not intended to be a mere addition to a library. It is, above all, meant to be read and studied. Whether one agrees or not with every part of it, with every interpretation of every passage, it is a book which will instill in one a love for Scripture. It will encourage the people of God to faithfulness in the midst of the world. It will inspire those who find here no abiding city but who seek that city which is above.
MORE NEW TESTAMENT STUDIES, By C.H. Dodd; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1968; 157 pp., $4.50.
This volume contains a series of essays in which the methods of form-criticism are applied to various aspects of the gospels. The basic assumption throughout the book is that the gospel narratives are based upon a common oral tradition present in the early church. The book is an attempt to identify this common oral tradition and make some conclusions as to its content. In the whole book there is no place for the doctrine of infallible inspiration.
One essay deals with the Beatitudes; another with the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem; three deal with the unique tradition which supposedly lies behind the Fourth Gospel; two deal with the relation between the sayings of Jesus and the catechetical teaching of the early church; one treats all the passages in Scripture which pertain to the appearances of Christ after His resurrection.
The book is not written for those who are unacquainted with the Greek language and with the principles of textual criticism. Its value lies in the fact that it gives the views of a “conservative” higher critic. It shows the labyrinthine argumentation of which higher critics are capable in their efforts to treat Scripture as only another literary document, rather than as the inspired Word of God. It is a clear demonstration of how much of the argumentation of these higher critics is based upon conjecture, supposition, hypothesis, and sheer guesswork.
CONTEND WITH HORSES, by Grace Irwin; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968; 284 pp. $4.95.
This novel by Grace Irwin is the third in a trilogy. The other two are “Least of all Saints” and “Andrew Conington.” I have not read the first two books in this trilogy and cannot compare this book with its predecessors. But the book is an attempt to be a Christian novel and is, from this point of view, impressive. The book picks up the thread of the story of Andrew Conington, minister of the gospel, who has sacrificed his immense popularity as a preacher to remain faithful to his convictions, who has lost his wife and must weigh carefully the possible effects of another marriage on his congregation and his family, who must struggle with the problem of a son who seems on the verge of giving up his Church and family in a struggle with unbelief, who, in short, is constantly confronted with difficult problems which place him before the alternatives of violating his own conscience or risking the displeasure of various elements in his congregation.
While I cannot agree with the theology of the book (or of Andrew Conington himself), the book is a successful attempt to write good Christian literature. On these grounds it is recommended to those who enjoy reading novels as being far superior to a great deal of sentimental slop which often goes under the name of Christian literature.
A SHORT LIFE OF CHRIST, by Everett F. Harrison; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968; 288 pp., $5.95.
Everett F. Harrison, professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, is generally considered a conservative evangelical. His study of the life of Christ reveals that this is true. The book is not really intended to be a book devoted to the history of the gospel narratives with emphasis on the historical aspects; it is more intended to be a brief interpretation of various aspects of the life and ministry of Christ: e.g., all the miracles are treated in one chapter. There is a chapter on Jesus as Teacher; a chapter on the Call and Training of the Twelve; and a separate chapter is devoted to various aspects of the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ.
The emphasis on interpretation makes this book a valuable one. Some of the interpretations which Prof. Harrison offers are original and unique. Some of them are very peculiar—as, e.g., the explanation of the voice from heaven at the time of Jesus’ transfiguration as being chiefly a rebuke to Peter for his suggestion to build three tabernacles. (Cf. p. 159.)
The chief criticism I have of the book is the characteristic of the author to answer the criticisms of the higher critics on their own grounds and with their own methods. Prof. Harrison himself rejects the liberalism of higher criticism. But he does so by appealing to their own methods, adopting their own lines of argumentation and debating with them on their own grounds. Ultimately, this is to lose the battle. To let the enemy pick the battlefield and to fight the enemy under their conditions is dangerous business to say the least. The author does not take a firm stand on the truth of inspiration.
From this follows another criticism. There is too much emphasis in the book on the humanity of Christ without proper regard for his divinity—although the author firmly believes in the divinity of Christ. One example will suffice. On p. 62 the author describes Jesus as being faced with the choice of involving Himself in the politics of the day, but after carefully considering it, Jesus decided against it. If read carefully, the book is recommended as giving fresh insights into the ministry of Christ.