The Book of the Revelation, by Philip E. Hughes. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990. 242 pp.; $17.95, hardcover. [Reviewed by Rev. Charles Terpstra.]
Profitable commentaries on the last book of the Bible are hard to come by, especially those written from a conservative, amillennial point of view. This volume is an exception however, and that is what makes it a welcome addition to commentaries on Revelation.
The author, who was an Anglican clergyman and a New Testament scholar who spent part of his career teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary (he died in May of 1990), has written a very helpful exposition of this difficult book. Not only is his standpoint conservative and amillennial, but his style is biblical, i.e., expository, and popular. Hughes takes averse by verse approach, carefully explaining the text in the light of the whole of Scripture, yet without technical jargon and cumbersome sidetracks. It is an “eminently straight forward biblical commentary,” to use the words of the publisher’s blurb. For this reason it can be used by the layman as well as by pastors and Bible study leaders.
There are other strengths to this commentary. It is based on the premise that the book is relevant and applicable to the church throughout the New Testament era; hence many good points of application are made, also in connection with the letters to the seven churches. The author has properly captured and conveyed the positive outlook of Revelation, stressing the sovereignty of God and the victory of Jesus Christ over all the powers of darkness, so that His goal of perfect salvation is achieved in the new creation. Hughes has done an excellent job of relating the prophecies of Revelation to those of the Old Testament, showing how the latter are fulfilled by the former. His treatment of the symbolism of the book is careful and adequate, free of farfetched interpretation and sensationalism.
This is not to say that there are not weaknesses and even points of error in this commentary. The author believes that the first horseman of chapter 6 represents a wicked power of despotic rule with a lust for power and world domination, not the powerful march of the gospel throughout the world. In his explanation of the expressions “names written in the book of life” and “names not written in the book of life” Hughes is weak on sovereign election and reprobation, speaking instead merely of the “regenerate” and “unregenerate.”‘
Knowing that Hughes has been charged by certain evangelicals with denying the doctrine of eternal punishment and teaching in its place annihilation (that the wicked reprobate are ultimately destroyed), I deliberately watched for this as I went through this commentary. And sure enough! I found enough evidence to substantiate this charge. Hughes repeatedly avoids using the word “hell” and its implicit idea of a place of everlasting torment, even when Revelation speaks of everlasting punishment and torment for the enemies of Christ and His church. And in several places Hughes explicitly sets forth his view of annihilation.
For example, in connection with Revelation 1:18 he writes that in His second coming Christ will raise all the dead, “both the impenitent to judgment and destruction and the regenerate to life and glory,” (p. 29). In explaining the concept of the “second death” (chap. 20:6, 14), he writes: “Thus the second death is total death, the utter destruction of final judgment executed against the obdurate enemies of God,” (p. 215). And in connection with God’s final defeat and punishment of Satan and the antichrist described in chapter 20:9, 10, Hughes speaks of this as “their elimination from God’s creation,” (p. 217) (emphasis mine in all three quotes, CJT).
Even though this view of Hughes does not dominate his interpretation and destroy the general value of his exposition, it is a serious error. It stands in sharp opposition to the clear teaching of Scripture concerning hell and it takes away from the authority and justice of God in the punishment of the wicked.
With these weaknesses in mind, the Reformed I Christian can nevertheless profit from the use of this otherwise fine commentary.
Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord, by John Brown. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990 reprint. 3 vols., approx. 528 pages per volume, $74.95, cloth. [Reviewed by Rev. Charles Terpstra.]
As the title to this three-volume set indicates, this is an exposition of both the extended discourses and the short sayings of Jesus Christ. It may be classified therefore as a commentary on selected parts of the four gospels. Volume 1 treats John 3-6, Matthew 5-7 and 15,Luke 11 and 12, and Mark 7; volume 2, John 7, 8, 10, 12, and 13; and volume, John 14-16.
John Brown (1784-1858, “of Edinburgh,” as he is known, to distinguish him from other John Browns) was a Scottish minister and professor of theology. He has been called “one of the finest biblical expositors of his own or any age,” with “outstanding intellectual powers . . . married to a genuinely pastoral heart,” (from the front jacket cover). He is also the author of a commentary on the book of Hebrews, likewise published by The Banner of Truth Trust.
Brown’s exposition is in the flavor of the Puritans of the century before him – detailed explanation of the text and rich practical application. In other words, his concern is to reach both head and heart! Here is a sampling from his treatment of John 12:27:
What a wonderful display of character is here made by our Savior, in this exercise of that love which is the fulfilling of the law! Love to God, in the form of entire submission to his will – devotedness to his glory; love to man, in a readiness to suffer the extreme of shame and agony, in becoming obedient to death – death under the curse – the death of the cross – for our salvation. If we have a particle of spiritual discernment, such calm, principled, disinterested, self-sacrificing love, must call forth the sentiments of adoring esteem, gratitude, and love, II, p. 219).
Those who are looking for a good supplemental commentary on the gospels, or those who are looking for a devotional work through which to become better acquainted with the Person and work of their Savior, will find these needs abundantly met in these volumes.