Friday, May 04, 2007

Book Review: Alexander Whyte on Thomas Shepard

Alexander Whyte: 'Thomas Shepard: Pilgrim Father and Founder of Harvard' ( Reformation Heritage Books, 252 pages, paperback).

This is not a biography in any conventional sense. Alexander Whyte was, we feel, incapable of writing such a thing. The subtitle of the book is 'His Spiritual Experience and Experimental Preaching.'
There is a lot of criticism of so-called 'experimental preaching' today, and we know the phrase will put off some people. That is because TRUE experimental preaching is a rare thing. It is not divorced from doctrine but soaked deely in doctrine until it drips with it. It is the preaching of a doctrine that moulds the interpretation of experience. We therefore make no apologies when we say that we belive that those doctrines commonly called Calvinism are the root of the deepest spiritual experience, since they cast the soul wholly on God. Thus Alexander Whyte, despite some rather strange statements in some of his works, was a Calvinist of the Puritan stamp. The man he looked up to most was the Puritan Thomas Goodwin (he compiled the excellent indices to be found in the last volume of the 19th century edition of Goodwin's works), but Whyte wrote books on Samuel Rutherford and John Bunyan as well.
And he wrote this gem of a book which has been recently republished by Joel Beeke.
Like C.H. Spurgeon and many other great preachers, the genesis of 'Thomas Shepard' was in Whyte's pulpit ministry. It is a series of addresses taking statements from Shepard's writings and meditating on them. Subjects such as the sinfulness of sin, the deep things of Christian experience and most of all the glories of Christ are opened up here. The old Puritan has a great interpreter in Whyte.
We find the three introductory chapters to be worth their weight in gold. The first is on Shepard, in which Whyte reveals his great love for the old puritan volumes with all their hard English. The second is a discussion of the word 'Evangelical', something sorely needed in our present age, when the word is so abused. It ought to be circulated as widely as possible, along with the book Whyte commends in it, G. R. Balleine's 'History of the Evangelical Party in the Church of England'. The third of these chapters is on the meaning of the word 'Experimental' and the true meaning oof 'experimental preaching'. Once you have read these chapters, you will be ready to launch yourself upon the broad sea of Shepard's experimental Calvinism. This is not a 'popular' book in the modern sense, one that will give light and easy tips for living. No, it is one that will show you the depths of your own sin and the wonders of God's love in Christ crucified.Buy it. Read it. Then you will learn what evangelical and expermental religion really is.



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