Book ReviewsLetters of Samuel Rutherford edited by Andrew Bonar; 1984, 768 pp, Banner of Truth $24.95.
This collection of letters, first printed in 1664, is as deep a well of devotional literature as one could hope to find. It consists of 365 letters written from 1627 to 1661, as well as a brief sketch of Rutherford's life. The letters were written to various friends, colleagues, and saints under Rutherford's pastoral ministry. The letters are permeated with a depth of intimacy and communion with Christ which has rarely been paralleled. Rutherford exhibits a longing for Christ, heaven, and the eternal glory which, upon reading, makes the things of earth begin to grow dim.
These letters are almost an experiential theology in themselves. Anyone longing for devotional reading drawn deep from the wells of 17th-century Calvinism will not be disappointed in the collection. Reading one or two letters daily would prove profitable.
A good friend once said to me concerning the writings of the puritan John
Flavel: "Sell your shoes if you must in order to buy Flavel". This is my
sentiment exactly about Rutherford's Letters. Said Richard Baxter of this
volume, "[with the exception of the Bible], such a book the world never saw."
To this commendation C. H. Spurgeon added, "When we are dead and gone let the
world know that Spurgeon held Rutherford's Letters to be the nearest thing to
inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men."
Richard Pratt is an Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary. In this book he outlines some very simple principles which ought to be incorporated into every believer's prayer life. As the subtitle suggests, the book is organized into three sections.
The most helpful section is that which deals with God as the object of prayer. Without employing theological jargon, Pratt convincingly shows the need for a God-centered perspective in prayer.
He considers the various occasions which call believers to pray in the second section. Prayer is a vital part of our living between the "already" and the "not yet" of Christian experience. Three specific occasions of prayer which the book treats are times of trouble, joy, and need. Pratt does not neglect the issue of God's sovereign will in prayer. He argues that "God has a comprehensive and unchangeable plan for His creation" (p. 108), and that "trying to alter the eternal decrees of God through prayer is like trying to reach the moon on a trampoline; it is impossible" (p. 109). Nevertheless, he argues just as strongly that prayer is an essential means whereby God executes His decree. Thereby the importance and necessity of prayer is not lessened in the slightest degree but is set forth in its proper, biblical framework.
The final section of the book is not as satisfying as the first two. While considering the weighty issues of form and content in prayer more questions are raised than are answered. This is certainly understandable and does not significantly detract from the overall value of the book. To address adequately the many issues which this section raised would have necessitated a far more detailed and expanded treatment which would have been out of balance with the other sections.
Included are two valuable appendices on God's names and His attributes. A 13-week Leader's Guide is available to be used in conjunction with the questions and exercises at the end of each chapter.
Pratt has produced a very useful tool for teaching God's people how to pray. This book can be heartily recommended to believers at various stages in the Christian pilgrimage.