Faith and Salvation, by Thomas Halyburton. Gwynedd, Wales: James Beggs Society, 2002. Pp. ix + 417. £15.60 (cloth). [Reviewed by the editor.]

 

The Rev. Thomas Halyburton was a Scottish Presbyterian preacher and one of Scotland’s greatest theologians. Born in 1674, he died in 1712 at the young age of 38. One who reads Faith and Salvation will acquaint himself with the theology of Scottish Presbyter-ianism in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and will learn something of Presbyterian preaching at that time.

The book is a series of sermons originally titled, “The Great Concern of Salvation.” After an introductory sermon on Acts 10:29, which explains what a congregation expects of her minister, the content of the book divides into three sections corresponding to the three-fold division of the Heidelberg Catechism. Halyburton teaches the entire biblical doctrine of salvation as misery, redemption, and the thankful life of holiness. Since he chooses to do this by expounding three texts,Romans 3:23Acts 16:29-31, andJoshua 24:15, Halyburton imports his Reformed dogmatics into the text, contrary to the laws of exegesis. For example, he brings the whole of Christology into the explanation of Acts 16:29-31.Scottish Presbyterian preaching at that time was thorough, sound, searching, doctrinal, and practical, as is characteristic of all good Reformed preaching. Halyburton is especially helpful in the third section on the holy life of the redeemed sinner.

It is especially urgent that Presbyterian readers in Great Britain, where infant baptism is despised and neglected and where a covenant conception is virtually unknown, attend to Halyburton’s explanation of Paul’s words to the Philippian jailer, “and thy house.” The children of believers “are taken in within the covenant” (p. 182). One could wish, however, that the Scottish Presbyterian had expanded on his remark that “God has a particular respect to them [the children of believers]” (p. 183). It is a notable lack, that the otherwise excellent treatment of family worship and instruction fails to ground Presbyterian family life in the covenant of God with believing parents and their children.

The “offer” for Halyburton is the external call of the gospel by which the preacher sets forth Christ to all who hear, passionately extols faith in Him as the only way of salvation, and urgently calls all hearers to believe on Him. Halyburton does not make the “offer” the expression of universal, resistible grace. He is traditionally Reformed. He is no crypto-Arminian.

Halyburton obviously devoted large parts of his sermons to the warning of unbelievers. Each of the three main sections of the book, which originally were preached, contains long addresses to unbelievers. Halyburton terrorizes unbelievers at great length in his exposition of the holy life of the thankful child of God (pp. 346-363). Was his church full of unbelievers? What were they doing there? Surely it is a disservice to the worshiping church of believers and their children to be always and at length threatening and fulminating against unbelievers.

One grave doctrinal error is Halyburton’s grossly mercantile conception of the covenant of God with His people in Christ. This was the weakness of many Presbyterians and Puritans around and after the time of the Westminster Assembly. Halyburton speaks of the salvation of the sinner as “the closing of a bargain” with Christ on His terms (p. 12). Similarly, God’s covenant with Adam was a “contract.” If Adam did not exactly hammer out this “contract” with God, he had to agree with the contract for it to be binding. Such a view of the covenant, which brings the salvation of Christ, is destructive of the gospel of grace. If salvation is a bargain, it is not gracious. This conception of the covenant has weakened much of Presbyterianism through the years. At the present time, the fruits of it are nothing less than disastrous.

Reading this book of theology is enhanced by the vivid, affecting, and sometimes quaint language: “When God designs to erect trophies to his grace, he is not wont to single out the moral, the wise and polished sort of sinners, lest they should glory in themselves; but he pitches upon a Mary Magdalen that has seven devils dwelling in her, a persecuting Saul, a rude jailor, ‘that no flesh may glory in his presence,’ I Cor. 1:26-29” (p. 126).