Tag Archives: Early 20th century

Review: To Die Is Gain (Morgan)

Rating: ★★★

Who: G. Campbell Morgan, prolific English expository preacher, known as the Prince of Expositors.

To Die Is Gain is a scarce booklet made from a conference address by G. Campbell Morgan in 1908.

Overview: The first half of the sermon was a straightforward explanation of Paul’s words, showing why death is in fact “gain.” This part was interesting: Jesus (and Peter) call death a “departure,” implying that it is in no sense a completion, but more of a beginning. Morgan compares several interesting poems and hymns with opposing views of death.

Later in the booklet, Morgan begins discussing what it means that believers will “serve the Lord” day and night in heaven. He speculates for several pages on this topic; however, the Greek word for “serving” in that passage seems to imply a kind of worship, and not that believers in heaven could in any way do what we might call “Kingdom” ministry or earthly ministry.

Bones: I was surprised, first of all, that an expository preacher like Morgan would waste time on such a topic, and secondly, that someone cared to publish it. Morgan has dozens and dozens of sermons much better than this one, preached near the beginning of his pastoral ministry.

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Review: Whyte’s Bible Characters

Rating: ★★★★

Who: Alexander Whyte (1836-1921), Scottish preacher and prolific author. He published a variety of sermons and biographies, but his most famous books since his death have been his Bible Characters.

Overview: Each of these sermons is usually a brief and balanced treatments of a biblical character; for some characters—such as Moses or Paul—there are several sermons, dealing with the chapters of Scripture in which that person is found. If the character is controversial, he will weigh the positives and negatives before expressing his conviction and the lesson that he gains from the character’s life.

Meat: Whyte is an excellent writer. Like F. W. Boreham and A. J. Gossip, he drew on the best English and Classical literature, not just to pepper his sermons, but to illustrate biblical truth in the most meaningful way. He held many prestigious positions and was no mean scholar.

Many of these sermons were cited by scholars as authority for many decades after Whyte’s death. If you found a biblical character confounding, it was always a helpful plan to visit Whyte and see, first, what was his opinion of the character, and second, what lesson did he glean from their story. On a controversial character like Jephthah, for instance, he will weigh the interpretations and then pursue a definite course, which you may or may not agree with.

His sermons have value as a pastor’s resource, but they are also great devotional reading. I really enjoy being able to pick it up on a whim and have a solid sermon on almost any prominent Bible character, whether from the Old or the New Testament.

Bones: I enjoyed many of these sermons, but some of them were absolute duds. The sermon on Eve, while it was interesting, seemed to quote line after line of John Milton. While I love Milton, I was much more interested in understanding the basics of Eve’s story. A few were dull and moralistic; the sermon on Esau, for instance, takes on the sin of gluttony—an unexpected turn, to say the least. I will, however, continue to consult this set of sermons when I am studying Bible characters, because it is unmatched in that regard.

Related: Herbert Lockyer has similar works like All the Men of the Bible, All the Women of the Bible, etc. These works are exhaustive in their inclusion of characters. The individual entries are usually brief, but still directed towards a devotional application.

Whyte’s sermons on Bible Characters were originally published in six volumes, but they are now available cheaply in one large volume, or free as an PDF (in separate volumes).

Begin Here review

Review: Begin Here: A Wartime Essay (Sayers)

Rating: ★★★★

Who: Dorothy Sayers, 20th-century novelist, linguist, and essayist; Sayers is most famous for her mystery novels, but I will be reviewing her non-fiction. I should add, Sayers is known as an “honorary” Inkling (the club was men-only) and could probably hold her own in an arm-wrestling match with C. S. Lewis.

Overview: Begin Here is a 1940 “wartime essay,” as the British subtitle states, putting World War II in its historical context in terms of how the Brits got there and what attitude they should have towards the war. Although this makes the book sound ephemeral, Sayers is broad enough in her analysis to give her book lasting relevance. Her writing is also impeccable.

The six essays included are “The Serial Drama of History,” “By the Author of ——?”, “Synopsis of Preceding Installments,” “What Happened in the Last Chapter,” “Brief Outline of the Characters,” and “Begin Here.”

Meat: The meat of the book is Sayers’ explanation, in Chapter III, of how our philosophy of man has progressed. She divides it this way, starting from what she calls :

  1. The Whole Man, the image of God — theological man.
  2. The Whole Man, a value in himself, apart from God — humanist man.
  3. Man the embodied Intelligence — rational man.
  4. Homo Sapiens, the intelligent animal — biological man.
  5. Man the member of the herd — sociological man.
  6. Man the response to environment — psychological man.
  7. Man the response to the means of livelihood — economic man. (p. 72)

“The first structure of Western-Mediterranean-Christian civilization which presents itself for our examination was theological. . . . It differs in two ways from any succeeding theory of civilization: it referred all problems to one absolute Authority beyond history and beyond humanity; and as a scheme for the satisfactory fulfillment of the individual and the world-community it was and remains complete and unassailable.” (p. 29-30)

Sayers elaborates one how different understandings of man have successively set up Reason, Life, the State, the individual, and money as absolutes to which all else must bow. None of these had an absolute basis for authority outside itself, and therefore every attempt to substitute an absolute fails.

Likewise, man has languished, she says, in the presence of so much wartime entertainment, all of which is shallow, none of which is devised to capture the reason or imagination of man. Such passive entertainment is derived from an underestimation of man as man. “For man is never truly himself except when he is actively creating something.” (p. 15) Attempts to find inner peace in passivity, then, are unfounded, she says; we are like a cyclist on a tightrope over Niagara Falls; the only recourse is to keep going.

We cannot complain of totalitarianism when we have sat in front of the television, hamstrung our reasons, complaining without creating. Germany, she says, succumbed to Hitler because they were crestfallen, restless, and unproductive; and Hitler appealed on a basic level, not as an elite.

Spoiler: As the final suggestion of the book, Sayers suggests the following:

“There are only two ways to move the world: the way of the Gospel and the way of the Law, and if we will not have the one we must submit to the other. Somehow we have got to find the integrating principle for our lives, the creative power that sustains our balance in motion, and we have got to do it quickly. The task is urgent; we must not push it into the future; we must not leave it to others: we must do it ourselves, and we must begin now and here.” (p. 155-156)

Bones: (I almost forgot to put a critical section, I was so fastened by my first Sayers read.) This book shoots over my head sometimes, as it sweeps along through Communism, the medieval era, the rise of Hitler, and occasional details of wartime Britain. But then, Harry Conn would say you should only read books that you don’t fully understand.

Quotes:

“Seeing that these principles, left to function on their own, produced so strange and insoluble an antinomy, the logical mind could come to only one conclusion: without the theology, the principles have no authority. There is no reason whatever why, having abandoned the theology, we should not abandon the principles. We shall then be free to make our own absolute.” (p. 76)

“We keep on thinking that the German state is the old-fashioned Christian kind of sinner that knows what is right but does what it knows to be wrong; we are unable to conceive that more desparate condition of sin that honestly believes the wrong to be right.” (p. 89)

“”We are like a man riding a bicycle on a tight-rope across the Niagara Falls: we cannot go back, we dare not stop, we must go forward and keep our balance if we are not to fall into destruction.”

“There is one foe within his own gates that every tyrant fears, and that is the Rational Man.” (p. 115-116)

“Peace is not a static thing: it is the supreme example of balance in movement.” (p. 135

Review: All Things Considered

Rating: ★★★

Who: G. K. Chesterton was a devoutly Catholic journalist, poet and novelist of the early 20th century. His most apt nickname is “The Prince of Paradox.”

Overview: All Things Considered is a series of brief newspaper articles treating various topics of the day—and Chesterton is capable of treating the most serious topics with levity. We can’t read Leonard Ravenhill all the time; for this reason, God gave us G. K. Chesterton.

Meat: Good writers can point us to biblical truth; great writers, like Chesterton, can arrive at truth starting from any heading. “On Running after One’s Hat” is still one of his most famous articles. “The Modern Martyr” and “The Error of Impartiality” contain exactly the kinds of brilliant insights a reader comes to expect from Chesterton.

“Fairy Tales” (quoted below) is a fascinating explanation of the truth of children’s tales: we are hemmed in by conditions or laws, and there is no escaping the truth that our choices have consequences. In this sense, Chesterton says, fairy tales carry moral truth, or a truth about morality.

Bones: Some of the political debates here—doubtless scathing in their day—are lost on today’s reader, especially those who aren’t English. Other topics are downright trivial; but then, that is probably what makes reading them so fun.

Quotes: “One of the great disadvantages of hurry is that it takes such a long time.”

“But the whole modern world, or at any rate the whole modern Press, has a perpetual and consuming terror of plain morals. … Our modern Press would rather appeal to physical arrogance, or to anything, rather than appeal to right and wrong.” (“The Boy”)

“If you really read the fairy-tales, you will observe that one idea runs from one end of them to the other–the idea that peace and happiness can only exist on some condition. This idea, which is the core of ethics, is the core of the nursery-tales. The whole happiness of fairyland hangs upon a thread, upon one thread. Cinderella may have a dress woven on supernatural looms and blazing with unearthly brilliance; but she must be back when the clock strikes twelve. … A promise is broken to a cat, and the whole world goes wrong. A promise is broken to a yellow dwarf, and the whole world goes wrong. …  A girl is given a box on condition she does not open it; she opens it, and all the evils of this world rush out at her. A man and woman are put in a garden on condition that they do not eat one fruit: they eat it, and lose their joy in all the fruits of the earth.” (“Fairy Tales”)

You can read this book for free over at AmazonOnline-Literature, Internet Archive, or Project Gutenberg—better yet, listen to it for free at LibriVox.

Latent Power of the Soul book cover

Review: The Latent Power of the Soul

Rating: ★★★★

Who: Watchman Nee, Chinese church leader and teacher.

Overview: Watchman Nee takes literally the Scripture about “dividing soul from spirit.” Several of Nee’s books teach that man is composed of body, soul and spirit—but God only inhabits spirit. Nee, along with G. H. Pember and a few others, taught that the human soul (not spirit) has true supernatural powers which are demonstrated in cult and occult practices. He believed that as a result of the Fall, man’s “soul power” was latent, yet open to provocation and exploitation by demonic forces. As examples, he cites stories of people seeing events from a distance, reading another thoughts, or healing themselves using only positive thinking. He sees these as true—though human—miracles that will only increase in the end times. Nee warns Christians against practices that could bring out “psychic” power, rather than the true spiritual power of the Holy Spirit.

Meat: Nee’s explanation of the practices of Christian Science and similar cults seems spot-on. The Bible is very specific about true miracles falsely worked in the end times by the Antichrist and his servants. This has at least two applications: 1. We should not assume that all miracles are false if they are not worked in the name of Christ; the devil has his miracles too. 2. We should test even miracles that are worked in the church. We should never allow Christian workers that have miracles, but do not honor Christ; and we should take care what means we employ in praying for miracles. Power for miracles is not a valid end in itself, if it is not submitted to the will of the Father.

Bones: Nee’s warnings are probably overdrawn here and can lead to imbalance. For instance, he warns against praying “towards” people so that we don’t focus on healing them by psychic aspects, rather than by the Holy Spirit. But the New Testament talks all the way through about the laying on of hands, and doesn’t provide any special warnings about this. He seems to be giving human influence a little too much credit.

I think that Nee’s warnings about revival are very pertinent. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t try to remove my “soul” from worship; that seems unreasonable, even impossible. Rather, I would try to focus on the Lord, and not on creating a certain kind of feeling in those I am serving, whether by preaching or leading worship. I would also avoid revivalists who preach to create a feeling, rather than a conviction.

Quotes: “If Adam was capable of managing the earth, his prowess was most certainly superior to ours today.” (p. 5)

“All who develop their soul power [i.e. psychic power] cannot avoid being contacted and used by the evil spirit.” (p. 15)

“The meditations of many people are simply a kind of psychic operation. Not so with the Christian faith. … We can know Him in our intuition, regardless what our feeling may be.” (p. 31)

“Whoever aims at better and deeper work ought not to speak of power. Our responsibility is to fall into the earth and die. … What we need is not greater power but deeper death.” (p. 52)

Review: Power through Prayer

Rating: ★★★★★

Who: E. M. Bounds was a chaplain in the Confederate Army and held a pastorate in Franklin, Tennessee. During his time in Tennessee, he led a spiritual revival and eventually began an itinerant ministry. He only published two books during his lifetime, but nine others were arranged from manuscripts and published after his death—most of them on prayer. He spent three hours a day in prayer and emphasizes a life of prayer as the one essential of the Christian life.

Overview: E. M. Bounds’ Power through Prayer is a modern classic and the best book we have found on prayer. I hesitate to call it a “favorite” because the book cannot be perused on a whim. All of Bounds’ books drip with spiritual imperative.

All of Bounds’ books are available cheaply as paperbacks, in numerous (and monstrous) nine-book compilations, as ebooks, or in PDF form (free). Most are also available as audiobooks.

Meat: This book deserves six out of five stars, and it has lost nothing in a hundred years of printing. I tell my friends that other books on prayer make you wonder or ponder about prayer; Bounds’ books make you run to your prayer closet. He holds up prayer in its true relation, as the key mark of a true Christian, the greatest factor in successful ministry, and the first priority of the life of devotion.

Bones: Power through Prayer is actually a later expansion of Preacher and Prayer, which was published during his lifetime. As the earlier title made clear, many of the chapters focus on the preacher’s responsibility in prayer. This could distract some believers, but does not detract from the book’s force or meaning.

Quotes: “Men are God’s method. The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men.” (ch. 1)

“Crucified preaching only can give life. Crucified preaching can come only from a crucified man.” (ch. 2)

“Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still. He will never talk well and with real success to men for God who has not learned how to talk to God for men.” (ch. 4)

“There is no real prayer without devotion, no devotion without prayer.” (ch. 10)

Related: Purpose in Prayer, The Necessity of PrayerThe Possibilities of Prayer, etc.

Review: The Passing of John Broadbanks

Rating: ★★★★★

Who: F. W. Boreham, British pastor and author of more than 50 books. He spent most of his life pastoring in New Zealand and Australia. (See the article “Who Is F. W. Boreham?”)

Overview: Very few of F. W. Boreham’s devotional books have clear themes; this is an exception. Many of the sermons run on the themes of the passage of time, the metaphor of life as a journey, and the approach of eternity. His overall method is to treat whatever metaphors, stories, and life parables present themselves to him.

Meat: “Our Second Wind” is among the best chapters in any of his books. “The Wayside Inn” and all of Part II is moving and memorable. Passing of John Broadbanks is one of the later books of his career, so his writing style is very clear and polished here.

Bones: There is little to criticize here. If you like this author, you will love this book. Not all of his published essays are expressly spiritual; nevertheless, this book has some of his best devotional material.

Quotes: “Life’s choicest prizes are for the plodders.” (“Our Second Wind”, loc. 1694)

“The rending of the veil was not the desecration of the temple; it was the consecration of the world.” (“Beau Geste”, loc. 2475)

“The Kingdom of God demands of each man the dedication of his own individuality.” (“The Ordinand”, loc. 2604)