New Stranraer Website

Just in case anyone out there doesn’t get our prayer updates, Stranraer RP Church recently launched a new website.

There’s a News page, so most of my topical writing (and some occasional basic book reviews) will go there.


You can keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the church (and wider Presbytery) via RSS, twitter, a podcast and (soon) facebook.

A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament (review)

A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Promised
Michael J. Kruger (ed.)
Crossway, 2016

a biblical theological introduction to the nt

Released alongside a Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, this book seeks to do for the New what its companion volume did for the Old. Like the former book, this one has multiple contributers, meaning that some chapters and stronger than others. Any New Testament Introduction will have to work harder than an Old Testament one to stand out in a crowded field. Being a ‘Biblical-Theological’ introduction should give this a unique angle, and the Old Testament volume managed to do this, for example by placing each book firmly in its canonical context. However this volume reads more like any standard NT Introduction, with all the usual background issues of authorship, date etc covered.

There is a lot of good to be cleaned between the two covers, for example a helpful distinction is made between the gospel and the implications of the gospel, with N. T. Wright cited as one scholar who gets it wrong (Benjamin Gladd on Mark). The book contains three chapters by Guy Waters, who is always worth reading. While not his main point, one comment made me really think about the priority of preaching. He notes that during three years in Ephesus, Paul devoted hours of public instruction to the church, leaving them ‘one of the best taught bodies that Paul had served’. I’m sure today people would try and tell Paul that there are more useful things he could be doing! However there were also statements I wasn’t so sure about – should we really speak of Jesus ‘fleeing’? (Gladd).

Overall the book enters a crowded market and doesn’t do enough to make it stand out. There is still much of benefit here, and I will add it to the list of things to read before starting into a book of the Bible, but there’s probably not enough that couldn’t be gleaned from the introduction to a commentary or a standard NT Introduction.

Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page review programme.

A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament (review)

A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised
Miles V. Van Pelt (ed.)
Crossway, 2016

biblical theologial introduction to OT

This is the first of two large (and expensive!) tomes from Crossway, covering both the Old and New Testaments and written by past and present Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) professors. Ligon Duncan writes in the preface ‘in many seminaries…there exists an unhealthy relationship between biblical theology and systematic theology, but at RTS we value both and want our students to understand their necessary and complementary value’. There is a wealth of reflection on the Scriptures between these pages, with the introduction by Van Pelt worth (nearly!) the price of the book alone. The argument for arranging the chapters by the division of the Hebrew Bible shows that even the way the Bible is organised is there to teach us something, which we often miss. In fact, the introduction left me wanting to immediately read Chronicles, a book written at the end of the Old Testament, which contrasts with Samuel & Kings deliberately to point readers forward to the coming Messiah. That is one of the strengths of the book – it leaves you amazed at things in the Bible you’ve perhaps never seen before. It also sparks thoughts as to how we should use various Biblical books. For example, if Ezra and Nehemiah are there to show that Israel’s return from exile fell short, are we missing at least some of the point if the only gospel connection we make from them is how we can spiritually rebuild churches? The book is thoroughly Christ-centred, taking issue with those like Howard Marshall who represents ‘a large portion of evangelicalism’ when he says that Jesus is not the principal subject of the Old Testament.
A few typos survive (eg 1995 for 1955 on p. 526) which is disappointing for a volume that clearly aims at permanence. The book does however earn marks for not transliterating Hebrew!
Much theological training these days does well at drumming into our heads the need to understand Biblical passages in the context of the book – this volume shows the value of understanding the books themselves in context of the whole Old Testament.

Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page review programme.

Did M’Cheyne really say…? (Part Two)

This is a long overdue follow-up to an earlier post where I questioned whether Robert Murray M’Cheyne ever said the words so often attributed to him: ‘My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness’.

Greatest need?
For a start, nowhere in M’Cheyne’s works does he ever use the phrase ‘greatest need’ (or ‘chiefest need’). The closest he comes is an 1836 diary entry where he writes: ‘Saw many wordly people greatly needing a word in season’ (Memoirs and Remains, p. 51)

Personal holiness
M’Cheyne did talk a lot about personal holiness:
– ‘I earnestly long for more grace and personal holiness, and more usefulness.’ (p. 150)
– ‘I ought to meditate often on heaven as a world of holiness,— where all are holy, where the joy is holy joy, the work holy work; so that, without personal holiness, I never can be there’ (p. 160)

He urged ministers and others to seek after holiness:
– To W. C. Burns: ‘I feel there are two things it is impossible to desire with sufficient ardour,—personal holiness, and the honour of Christ in the salvation of souls.’ (p. 241)
– To W. C. Burns: ‘Oh, cry for personal holiness, constant nearness to God by the blood of the Lamb! Bask in his beams,—lie back in the arms of love,—be filled with his Spirit; or all success in the ministry will only be to your own everlasting confusion.’ (p. 248)
– ‘Seek advance of personal holiness. It is for this the grace of God has appeared to you.’ (p. 254)
– ‘Seek much personal holiness and likeness to Christ in all the features of his blessed character. Seek to be lamb-like, without which all your efforts to do good to others will be as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.’ (p. 273)

– To Rev. Dan. Edwards: ‘It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.’
– ‘(4.) Lead a holy life.—I believe, brother, that you are born from above, and therefore I have confidence in God touching yon, that you will be kept from the evil. But oh! study universal holiness of life. Your whole usefulness depends on this, Your sermon on Sabbath lasts but an hour or two,—your life preaches all the week. Remember, ministers are standard-bearers. Satan aims his fiery darts at them. If he can only make you a covetous minister, or a lover of pleasure, or a lover of praise, or a lover of good eating, then he has ruined your ministry for ever. Ah! let him preach on fifty years, he will never do me any harm. Dear brother, cast yourself at the feet of Christ, implore his Spirit to make you a holy man. Take heed to thyself, and to thy doctrine.’ (p. 362)

– ‘Take heed to thyself. Your own soul is your first and greatest care. You know a sound body alone can work with power; much more a healthy soul. Keep a clear conscience through the blood of the Lamb. Keep up close communion with God. Study likeness to Him in all things. Read the Bible for your own growth first, then for your people.’ (p. 180)

The need of his people was also close to his heart:
– “What would my people do if I were not to pray?” (p. 61)

So lots of challenge – but no sign of the elusive quote!

Interestingly, Spurgeon quotes M’Cheyne in Lecture 1: The Minister’s Self-Watch (Lectures to My Students) where it would have been begging for him to use the ‘greatest need’ quote if it existed:

‘M’Cheyne, writing to a ministerial friend, who was travelling with a view to perfecting himself in the German tongue, used language identical with our own:—“…In great measure, according to the purity and perfection of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”’

Spurgeon’s wife writes in his autobiography: ‘Robert Murray M‘Cheyne used to pray:—“O God, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be made!” and, to judge by my husband’s life, a similar petition must have been constantly in his heart if not on his lips.’

So if anyone ever finds it, or finds it cited earlier than Packer in 1992, let me know!

The Whole Christ (book review)

The Whole Christ: legalism, antinomianism and gospel assurance – why the marrow controversy still matters
Sinclair B. Ferguson
Crossway, 2016

whole christ

When publicly mulling over whether to write a review of this book, Mark Jones said ‘It is suicide if I have to write a critical review’. Thankfully I don’t face that dilemma, but what’s not to like about a book written by Sinclair Ferguson, with a foreword by Tim Keller and three pages of glowing endorsements headed by Kevin DeYoung? Alistair Begg says ‘this may be Sinclair’s best and most important book’. Derek Thomas says ‘this is one of the most important and definitive books I have read in over four decades’. David Robertson, although self-confessedly not a fan of Scottish Presbyterian theological debates (said when he was Moderator of the Free Church!), instantly dubbed it ‘the best theological book in 400+ years’.

There’s no doubt that there’s lots of good content in the book. The problem is that it seems to be based on a faulty premise. Ferguson seeks to use the Marrow of Modern Divinity to draw a safe path between the errors of antinomianism on the one side and legalism on the other. The only problem is the growing body of evidence to support the claim of a contemporary that the Marrow‘s author was a ‘sly antinomian’!

Of course, even if the book’s author wasn’t sound, it doesn’t make the book worthless. Nor does it impinge on the orthodoxy of men like Thomas Boston who rediscovered the book the century after it was published (and didn’t have the resources to study it in context that we do today). However it’s a bit like listening to a sermon point which follows a faulty illustration. The point may be right, but if those in the pews doubt the illustration, the power is lost. Furthermore, not realising the Fisher may well have been both an antinomian and a hypothetical universalist, perhaps leads to Ferguson being quicker to defend statements from the Marrow than he should. For example, while Ferguson accepts that John Preston may have been a hypothetical universalist, he defends Preston’s charge (quoted in the Marrow) ‘Go and tell every man, without exception, that…Christ is dead for him’.

Is this all just nitpicking and dealing in minutiae? Well sadly, all you have to do is go onto Amazon and see how quotes like that have been seized on by Hyper-Calvinists. While many of their criticisms of Ferguson’s books are based on their own faulty presuppositions, some of them are valid. Therefore a book which aims to promote the free offer of the gospel ends up giving ammunition to its opponents.

In one of his last posts on Reformation 21 before being forced to resign, Mark Jones acknowledged that in the book, Ferguson ‘makes many wonderful and much-needed pastoral insights’. However Jones then goes on to ask 5 searching questions about the Marrow controversy. They flag up issues which a book on the Marrow controversy must deal with, and this one largely doesn’t.

Ferguson complains in the book of ‘scholarship detached from both historical and pastoral reality’. There’s lots that’s pastorally helpful here – but the evidence suggests that the historical reality is a bit different than the author realises.

Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page review programme.