Call the Sabbath a Delight, by Walter Chantry. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991. 112 pp., $5.95 (paper). [Reviewed by Prof. R. Decker.]
This little paperback is must reading for Reformed believers in our day. It maybe true that our Reformed fathers were a bit legalistic in their views of the proper observance of the Lord’s day. Father would shave on Saturday evening and mother would peel the potatoes and bake the roast for Sunday’s dinner on Saturday evening. On the Lord’s day itself the children were not allowed to play either in the house or outside. The two worship services were attended. Children were given Bible passages to memorize. Even works of necessity and mercy were severely limited. If all this and more tended to be rather legalistic, the days of our fathers were better than ours! To the vast majority of Christians, also those who are Reformed, Sabbath observance is a thing of the past. One may or may not attend worship services as he or she pleases. Those who attend only once per Sunday or who attend only occasionally are not disciplined. The Lords day is used for all kinds of activities: travel, recreational pursuits, dining out, and more. The second service on the Lord’s day attracts only a handful of people in many a Reformed congregation which boasts a membership of hundreds, even thousands. These practices are slowly making inroads into some of the more conservative Reformed and Presbyterian churches and, alas, into our Protestant Reformed Churches as well. For this reason this book is must reading.
Walter Chantry, longtime pastor of Grace Baptist Church (Reformed Baptist) in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, insists that the Fourth Commandment of God’s law requires people to devote one entire day (the first day of the week) to the worship of God, prayer, and meditation on the Holy Scriptures. The failure of the evangelical church to observe the Lord’s day has had devastating effects on the church. Writes Chantry, “In their pride, men have dismissed God’s perfect law. His Decalogue requires the habit, the steady routine, the practice, the discipline of a day of worship and service to God. It is such a habit, routine, and discipline that will give men both a knowledge of God and moral standards by which to live. It is just such a Sabbath Day that will strengthen families and social institutions. No wonder the church herself is devotionally, doctrinally, and morally weak. Even Christians will not devote a day each week to their Lord” (pp. 11, 12).
“Time for the Lord is the issue about which the Fourth Commandment speaks,” Chantry says (p. 16). He makes an excellent point in this connection when he points out that God is very “reasonable and generous” in the giving of the Fourth Commandment. God requires only one ‘day in seven for His service. God gives us six days in which to be involved in our work and legitimate recreation, but asks that we devote only one day per week to the worship and service of Him. There are four simple principles which are to govern our observance of the Lord’s day. These are: 1) We are to remember the Sabbath Day. It is to be kept in mind as an important obligation and commitment. 2) The Day is to be kept holy. 3) We may do no work on the Lord’s day. This means we may not engage in any activities which would make it impossible to devote the entire day to the Lord’s service. 4) And, we must not require others to work for us on the Lord’s day (pp. 19-23). Chantry reminds us that since God is “the lawgiver and judge it is His prerogative to institute the moral law. It is advisable that every creature take note of this reminder that the Almighty has personally set aside one day in seven for Himself. All who must one day stand before Him to have their everlasting destinies announced have need to hear the standard He devised to judge them. How many excuses of ignorance, of being too busy to pray, of not having time to read Scripture, to become acquainted with the saints, to bring one’s family to worship will die on the lips of the guilty before this commandment? When in His awesome majesty the Lord says, ‘I made the day holy,’ who will plead exemption from Sabbath practice?” (pp. 28, 29).
Chantry emphasizes that, Sabbath keeping is a great joy and that many blessings accrue to the saints who keep God’s day holy. He warns that Sabbath keeping is not inactivity. Rather we cease from our own work in order to devote all of our time and energy to the work of worship and praise. Sabbath keeping involves works of piety and worship, works of necessity, and works of mercy.
In his fourth chapter Chantry offers an excellent exposition of Mark 2:27, 28 over against the false claims of the dispensationalists that what Jesus had to say concerning the Sabbath applied only to the Jews and, therefore, the New Testament says nothing to us about Sabbath keeping.
The author points out that the Sabbath was strictly enforced in both the Old and New Testaments (chapter 5), but in the New Testament without the civil punishments under Moses. This is because the Old Testament church was an immature child (Gal. 3, 4), while the New Testament church is grown and mature. The civil punishments would be inappropriate for the church which now possesses the full revelation of God and the fullness of the Spirit. At this point Chantry is weak. His erroneous view of God’s covenant (Chantry would say “covenants”) becomes obvious and he fails to take into account the typical character of the Old Testament.
Sabbath keeping is not a legalistic or outward observance of a list of do’s and mostly don’ts. The Christian keeps the Sabbath out of profound thankfulness to God for the redemption He has provided for him in Jesus Christ. In various contexts Chantry warns his readers against all Phariseeistic legalism while stressing that the Sabbath was given by God to His saints as a day for them to worship God and commune with Him.
Again, a good book on this subject. Whether one agrees with the author on all points or not he will profit from a careful reading of this little book.
Commentary on the Psalms, by Joseph A. Alexander. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1991; 572 pp., $18.95 (paper); $24.95 (cloth). [Reviewed by Rev. D.H. Kuiper.]
This volume was originally printed in 1864 under the title, The Psalms, Translated and Explained. It was reprinted by Zondervan in the 1940s under the same title in their series “Classis Commentary Library.” Since this volume was out of print, Kregel Publications is to be commended for making this work available once again. This volume is a photo-reproduction of the Zondervan edition, howbeit with new headings.
J. A. Alexander (1809-1860) was the son of Archibald Alexander, a graduate of Princeton College, and later a professor at this college as well as at Princeton Seminary. He gained a worldwide reputation as a scholar in the ancient languages and in church history. His thorough acquaintance with the Hebrew is evidenced throughout this book, as insight into the nuances of Hebrew poetry can be found everywhere. He offers “an amplified translation to preserve not only the strength but the peculiar force of the original.” Since he follows the versification of the Hebrew, when the KJV differs in verse number he gives these numbers in parentheses for easy reference.
The commentary averages about four pages per Psalm, rather brief for a verse by verse treatment of “the Book of Praises.” The reader may be disappointed with the brief treatment given some verse on which he is seeking light. The strength of this commentary is Alexander’s high view of Scripture and faithfulness to the original language, his reverence for God, his recognition of the Christological content of the Psalms (he was a strong advocate of Hengstenberg’s positions), his unashamed presentation of the imprecatory Psalms, and his simple style. Young people will have no trouble understanding his interpretation.
Next to Calvin’s five volumes, and Spurgeon’s seven, this is the best treatment of the Psalms we have seen. It will serve well both for devotional reading and society preparation. The paperback we have before us is of enduring quality and is easy to read.
Liberty of Conscience: The History of a Puritan Idea, by L. John Van Til. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1992. 192 pp., no price given. [Reviewed by Prof. Herman Hanko.]
Dr. Van Til is interested in the origins of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which guarantees freedom of religion to the citizens of our country and does so by erecting a wall of separation between the church and the state. This wall is erected by the first part of the Amendment which reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
The author traces this idea back to the English Puritan William Perkins, and follows how the idea was carried out through the period of the Elizabethan government, during the time of the Stuarts and the English Commonwealth under Cromwell and the Westminster Assembly, and the failure of the principle during the time of the Restoration. He gives special attention to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the history of Roger Williams, and the Antinomian Controversy. He explains how the idea was accepted in the American colonies and how it became a part of American political thought.
The book deals with knotty problems which have troubled the church since the time of Constantine the Great: the issues of the relation between church and state, the legitimacy of an established church, the question of toleration of heretical churches within a commonwealth, the matter of freedom of conscience in the sphere of religion, and the right or wrong of the position which our own country has taken by the First Amendment. The author quite obviously supports the whole concept of freedom of religion.
The book is packed with interesting historical material, is carefully supported in its argumentation, with excellent and pointed quotes from significant authors, and is coherent in its efforts to trace the development of the idea.
I wish, however, that the book had included two additional elements. One is a more careful definition of precisely what the author means by such crucial terms as “liberty of conscience;” “toleration,” and freedom of religion.” As I was reading the book, I kept asking myself the question, What are the definitions of these terms which the author is using?” Some clear definitions would have helped the reader make his way through the argument with greater ease. The second is that the book lacks a discussion of some of the ramifications of the issue itself, i.e., the issue of the relation between church and state in matters of religion. For example, the author points out that Perkins already held to an idea of sphere sovereignty; but it is not always clear how this relates to the broader issues. I am aware of the fact that the book intends to be a historical study; but it would be easier to understand the issues if the problem were laid out at the outset in a clearer way.
Finally, just a brief remark about an error in spelling. On p. 44, the author speaks repeatedly of the University of Frakener in The Netherlands, when, in, fact, he refers to the University of Franeker.
Those who are interested in this question of the relation between church and state will be benefited by reading the book.