A book to look for

2014/04/09

Tolle Lege has an exciting release coming out this month. I remain keenly interested in sacramental piety, especially the Reformed variety, even though a somewhat curmudgeonly friend of mine recently attempted to pour cold water on my interest in the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. How can it be otherwise? I seriously doubt that the Lord intended that Christians would repeatedly encounter baptism and His table within the life of the church without also calling us to reflect deeply on the significance of these means of grace. Hughes Old’s latest work has the look of a thorough overview of the history of Reformed Eucharistic piety. It also ought to make for some fruitful comparison with works such as Mathison’s Given For You, Maclean’s The Lord’s Supper, and Byars’s Lift Your Hearts On High. All of those works cover the history of Holy Communion in the Reformed churches to some degree but none with the scope and detail that Old’s table of contents promises.

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Grace and Gratitude: The Eucharistic Theology of John CalvinGrace and Gratitude: The Eucharistic Theology of John Calvin by B.A. Gerrish
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Grace and Gratitude is an impressive, scholarly examination of Calvin’s Doctrine on the Lord’s Supper, beginning in a seemingly unusual place. Starting with creation and God as the Fountain of All Good and a Benevolent Father, Gerrish takes up wider themes in Calvin’s theology, showing how these themes preoccupied Calvin the theologian and naturally played dominant roles in the shape of his Eucharistic theology.

Overall, Gerrish ably guides his readers through apt quotations of Calvin’s work. He also shows a superb conversance with the relevant background. Gerrish is particularly good in the early chapters at setting out Calvin’s intellectual world as well as the general history of thought on the goodness of God.

Gerrish occasionally reveals his bias as a mainline historical theologian of the 20th century, complete with ecumenical preoccupations. Even so, I am impressed that he mostly sets aside quibbles and modern critical concerns so that Calvin and his Reformation context receive deep appreciation.

The scope of this work makes it particularly valuable. Gerrish sets the stage with a statement of the issues and an exploration of Calvin’s “Sum of Piety” in the introductory chapter. Moving on through Calvin’s conception of a Benevolent Creator to Calvin’s theology of the Means of Grace and then his thought on Adoption, we finally get into the Lord’s Supper in the last two chapters only after discussing Calvin’s theology of baptism. Readers will enjoy the way the background on the major Calvinistic themes leads naturally to Calvin’s complex and poetic Eucharistic theology.

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The Westminster Directory of Public WorshipThe Westminster Directory of Public Worship by Sinclair B. Ferguson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Westminster Directory of Public Worship: Discussed by Mark Dever & Sinclair Ferguson brings to our time some deep wisdom for the public and private worship of God, along with two fine recommendations of the Puritan contribution to Christian ministry. The opening essays come from the pens of two Pastor-Scholars. Sinclair Ferguson’s piece deftly explains the Puritan model for the Minister of the Gospel. Ferguson conveys a concise history of the Reformation in England and Scotland and the high points of the Puritan care of souls with flowing prose.

Mark Dever takes up the Puritan view of preaching, explaining the teaching of the Westminster Directory with many delightful anecdotes and powerful quotations from the seventeenth century Puritans. Both Christian minister and layman will be blessed by meditating on these essays.

The Directory itself opens with an informative Preface giving the rationale for rejection of the Book of Common Prayer and the alternative approach found here. The pattern of the Directory lies in advising the minister on what sorts of things to pray, declare, and preach in worship rather than in setting out specific forms. It is fascinating to note, however, that an order of service emerges from the suggestions of Westminster. Even in the matter of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, many traditional elements remain. As William Maxwell put it, “Forms are inevitable in any act of public worship, unless it be a Quaker meeting.”

The chapter “Of Assembling of the Congregation” is filled with searching guidance on how to reverently frame one’s mind for worship. Even though the chapter has some clear marks of its time and place (seventeenth century Scotland and England), it remains powerful and timely. The chapters on prayer, especially the one on prayer before the sermon, are quite comprehensive in their coverage of the content of worshipful prayer. The chapter on preaching is a beautiful digest of Biblical exposition and application, making obvious the high regard found in the two opening essays. The chapters on the sacraments closely reflect the teaching of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. The service of baptism presupposes infant baptism and presents some good suggestions for teaching the Biblical basis of the practice during its administration. The administration of the Lord’s Supper according to the Directory has a stately simplicity. One interesting aspect is that administration of the Supper seems to be “about” or “at” the table on which the bread and wine are placed. Of the remaining portions, it is worth mentioning that the chapter on visitation of the sick equips ministers with strong medicine for the soul while the body is ailing. The same chapter includes profound meditations on the transitory nature of earthly life and the glorious hope of heaven.

This book presents a wonderful and neglected monument in the tradition of Reformed liturgy. The Directory majestically reflects the reality that no set liturgies are set down in the Bible, in that way recommending the latitude, breadth, and discretion of its guidelines. I found myself missing an essay discussing the observance of the Sacraments or of some other element beside preaching and pastoral care. Still, what we have here is of such value that everyone interested in Biblical worship should prayerfully read this slender volume.

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