Founders Journal


Book Reviews

By His Grace and for His Glory
by Tom Nettles, Baker Book House, 1986, 442 pages, $13.95

Reviewed by Bill Ascol

"If you believe this Calvinism stuff, you are not a Southern Baptist!" How many times have I heard this from well-intentioned, misinformed Southern Baptist brethren! Prior to the release of By His Grace and For His Glory, there was not one single volume to answer the biblical, theological and historical questions raised by these folk. This book is a formidable argument for truthfulness and utility of evangelical Calvinism.

Nettles' thesis is "that Calvinism, popularly called the Doctrines of Grace, prevailed in the most influential and enduring arenas of Baptist denominational life until the end of the second decade of the twentieth century." (p. 13) The purpose of the book is to answer the question, "What place does Calvinism have in Baptist life?" (p.426)

The subtitle of the book reveals a thumbnail sketch of its contents: A Historical, Theological, and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life. Accordingly, Nettles divides his work into three parts. Part One consists of nine chapters and addresses the "Historical Evidence" which supports the thesis statement. Part Two consists of four chapters and undertakes a "Doctrinal Exposition" of the five great Biblical truths out of which Calvinism springs. This section proves that our Southern Baptist forefathers were more than Calvinists-they were Biblical theologians. Part Three takes up "Practical Exhortations" in three chapters which illustrate that the doctrines of grace are not inconsistent with assurance, liberty of conscience, and missionary evangelism. The author shows convincingly that the doctrines of grace validate and establish each of these matters. The book is brilliantly supplemented by indices pertaining to subjects, persons, and Scripture references.

Part One begins in seventeenth century England, with a discussion of the General (or Arminian) Baptists and the Particular (or Calvinistic) Baptists. The terms "General" and "Particular" come from the respective groups' view of the atonement of Jesus Christ. The General Baptists believed that the death of Jesus Christ made salvation possible for all in a general or universal way. The Particular Baptists believed that the death of Jesus Christ actually accomplished and secured redemption for a definite number of the human race. The roles of Benjamin Keach, John Bunyan and others in propagating the doctrines of grace are chronicled and examined.

In chapter two a considerable amount of space and energy is devoted to clearing away some of the prevailing caricatures of John Gill. Nettles presents evidence which destroys the worst of the caricatures and seriously challenges the claims made by others regarding the hyper-Calvinistic tendencies manifested in the ministry of John Gill. Andrew Fuller is chronicled as the man used by God to rescue the Baptists in England from the subtle grips of hyper-Calvinism.

At this point in the book the author turns his attention to the Baptist advance in America through the gallant leadership of such Calvinistic Baptist worthies as Isaac Backus, John Leland, and Francis Wayland. Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice are set forth as Exhibits A and B to show that Calvinism does not blunt missionary zeal.

The next one hundred pages of the book form some of the most valuable material available for the serious Southern Baptist who earnestly wants to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. It is in these pages that the historical theology of the founders and former prominent statesmen of the Southern Baptist Convention is set forth. The names of the men discussed in these five chapters read like a "Who's Who of Southern Baptists." These are the names that are etched on scores of Southern Baptist halls of education and missionary enterprise throughout the length and breadth of the S.B.C. Nettles shows beyond a shadow of doubt that the men who founded, nurtured and led this denomination into the twentieth century were, by and large, evangelical Calvinists. He also shows the leading causes of the demise of these great truths among contemporary Southern Baptists. The only way which the information contained in these vital pages can be discounted is by rewriting history.

Part Two is a fine example of biblical exposition accomplished from the context of historical theology. In this section Nettles demonstrates his competence as a biblical expositor. His grasp of historical theology affords him an amazing depth of perception in handling biblical passages. He opens up the biblical teachings on unconditional election, total depravity, effectual calling, definite atonement, and perseverance of the saints.

Part Three goes right to the matter of the relevancy of the doctrines to Christian living for today. Nettles demonstrates the necessity of these doctrines in order to have a right understanding of biblical assurance. He also masterfully connects that power of a right understanding to both biblical assurance and evangelism.

This work provides irrefutable documentation of the rise, demise, and hopeful resurgence of the doctrines of grace among the Baptists as a whole and Southern Baptists in particular. It was said in the days of the Reformation that a common ploughboy, armed with the German New Testament and Luther's Small Catechism, could refute and confound the typical Roman Catholic priest, bishop, or cardinal. It is not an overstatement to say that the serious Southern Baptist, equipped with an open Bible and a copy of By His Grace and for His Glory can be very useful in the two-fold mission of advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ and calling the Southern Baptist Convention back to its historical and theological foundations. May our sovereign God bless His truth to the glory of His name, the advancement of His gospel and the good of His church.

Abstract of Systematic Theology
by James Petigru Boyce. Originally published in 1887; reprinted by the den Dulk Christian Foundation, P. O. Box 1676, Escondido, CA 92025; 493 pages, $15.00

Reviewed by Fred A. Malone

One of the greatest jewels in Southern Baptist history is James Petigru Boyce. The beloved founding President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary also served as its first Professor of Theology. This reprint of his class notes, developed gradually while using Hodge's Systematic Theology, was the theological textbook for the first fifty years of Southern Seminary's pastoral graduates.

F. H. Kerfoot, Boyce's successor, revised the work in 1899 for his own theological students, saying, "Dr. Boyce was without doubt the greatest leader that Southern Baptists have ever had." Its modern reprinting in the original version has found its way into the hands of thousands of students and pastors, many of whom rejoice in its biblical and theological treasures. In a day of revived interest in the theological heritage of Southern Baptists, Boyce's Abstract serves as a major touchstone of historic SBC orthodoxy.

The format follows an expanded outline of traditional topics in systematic theology. Its fullest development was sacrificed upon the altar of presidential fundraising and administration. Further, topics such as Scripture and ecclesiology were neglected, being covered in other seminary courses. According to William A. Mueller (A History of Southern Seminary), Boyce considered his work not a masterpiece for the learned, but a practical textbook for pastors and students, even those without seminary training. However, these expanded outlines, replete with Biblical quotations for support, are more than adequate for a lifetime of theological instruction both by scholar and layman alike.

After a philosophical introduction on the science of theology, Boyce dedicates the first sixteen chapters to the study of God. He proceeds to creation, providence, the fall of man, Christology, salvation, sanctification, and eschatology. He upholds the absolute sovereignty of God in His decrees yet removes God from responsibility for sin, explaining the entrance of sin because man was free and "necessarily fallible because mere creatures" (p. 123). He teaches the representative headship of Adam in the fall and the total depravity of man's nature which leaves him unable to repent and believe without prior sovereign regeneration.

Following an excellent study of "Christ in the Old Testament," Boyce unfolds the glories of the person and work of Christ. A survey of different atonement positions follows. He clearly accepts the Calvinistic view of particular redemption, summarizing his Reformed position from "Our Confession (The Westminster)" (p. 339). While holding to particular redemption for God's elect only, Boyce also explains Christ's atonement in a general way as securing the only means of reconciliation for all men. This "opens the way for a sincere offer of salvation by God to all who will accept the conditions he has laid down" (p. 340). Thus Christ did not die to "make possible" the salvation of all men without actually saving any. Rather, He died as the only way of salvation for any man so that all are justly commanded to repent and believe in God's only provision. But more specifically, His death effectually accomplished salvation for the elect who would repent and believe because Christ died for them, purchasing not only redemption but also the Spirit's regeneration of their hearts.

As Boyce proceeds to the doctrine of salvation he treats consecutively election, reprobation, regeneration and conversion, repentance, faith, and justification. One can see the clear Calvinistic and Reformed ordo salutis, (order of salvation). His long definition of unconditional election (p. 346-7) removes foreseen faith from election and places its origin in God's absolute choice of dispensing grace upon sinners as He will. "Election is an act of God, and not the result of the choice of the Elect" (p. 348). He rejects corporate election in favor of personal election of particular sinners from among Jew and Gentile (Rom. 9:24).

After a challenging discussion on reprobation, he explains the outward call to all men through gospel preaching and the effectual call to the elect only by the inward work of the Holy Spirit. Thus the elect are regenerated (and granted repentance and faith as gifts of grace), to which they immediately respond in outward conversion. Justification occurs instantaneously when that repentance and faith is exercised in Christ. True conversion always results in the beginning of a sanctified and obedient life.

Now that the battle for the Bible has been largely won, we need to ask: "what does the Bible say?" Those who propose returning to old-time Baptist beliefs often confuse that with relatively new Arminian views which replaced the truer oldest beliefs of our Calvinistic SBC founders early in this century. If we are going to assess honestly our theological heritage, we need to study the beliefs of the first seminary teachers we ever had, as well as the first generation of SBC presidents and leaders.

The views which Boyce outlines in his book are the faith which established the denomination. If they were true to Scriptures then, why should we not regard them as true today? Do we have a different Bible than they did? Do we have more biblical understanding than they did? Are we smarter and wiser than they? I think not.

When Jesus visited Mary and Martha, Martha was busy doing things for the Lord while Mary sat at his feet and listened. Martha became irritated with the Lord and Mary. But Jesus commended Mary because she chose the good thing: to sit at His feet and to listen to His Word before getting up to work. Too often we find ourselves so busy that sound doctrine gets neglected. Scripture always has priority in our study, but Boyce's Abstract is an excellent source for sitting and listening to our theological heritage before we get up to work. No Southern Baptist who has a genuine interest in learning the beliefs of those who founded our denomination can afford to neglect it.

The Forgotten Spurgeon
by Iain Murray , Banner of Truth, 1966, 254 pp, $8.95

Reviewed by Joe Nesom

Can there be a better known name among Baptists throughout the world than that of the great nineteenth century preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon? Probably not. And is it not true that just about every pastor quotes Spurgeon at one time or another?

A significant number of Baptist pastors may even be generally aware of the circumstances of Spurgeon's life and ministry, that he went to London to become pastor of the New Park Street Chapel at a very tender age, and that he became the best known preacher of his day. Some may even know that his sermons were published internationally and read by thousands each week. Many may know about the orphanage, pastor's college, and related enterprises which were sponsored by the Metropolitan Tabernacle in the full bloom of Spurgeon's ministry. Most would perhaps be aware that Spurgeon preached to thousands. Most would be aware of his evangelistic fervor and of the many who came to know Christ through Spurgeon's preaching of the Word. These things have not been forgotten.

But how many are aware that the young preacher's arrival in London was not generally appreciated by many in the religious establishment (including some Baptists) and that Spurgeon was regarded as a throwback to former, less "enlightened" times because of the doctrines that he proclaimed? The publication of Iain Murray's The Forgotten Spurgeon in 1966 (most of the chapters appeared first in The Banner of Truth magazine) provided the evangelical world with a carefully researched study of Charles Spurgeon as a defender of "the faith once delivered to the saints."

In this excellent volume, which has undergone several reprintings, Murray examines the three major controversies in which Spurgeon played important role: 1) his commitment to Biblical Calvinism and hence his rejection of Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism, 2) the controversy concerning Baptismal regeneration, and 3) the "Downgrade" controversy. Murray makes clear that Spurgeon's doctrinal moorings never changed throughout his life.

Today's pastor may be amazed to discover that the best known Baptist evangelist rejected the creative methodologies that were beginning to appear in his day, in favor of straight-forward gospel preaching. Murray makes us aware of Spurgeon's resistance to these inventions by demonstrating that the great preacher believed the use of non-biblical phrases such as "open your heart," or "decide for Christ," did damage to the truth and to the souls of men. As Spurgeon said, "The gospel is, `Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.' If we think we shall do more good by substituting another exhortation for the gospel command, we shall find ourselves landed in serious difficulties."

Valuable lessons may be learned from Spurgeon's experience and applied today. Many of the issues are very similar their contemporary counterparts. But above all, Murray demonstrates that Spurgeon was what he was, because he was a man who believed the biblical doctrines of God's grace to sinners. Such a book is of particular value to Southern Baptists. It was during the time of Spurgeon's ministry in London that the Southern Baptist Convention was taking shape. And, it was same Calvinistic theology which Spurgeon owned that was loved and proclaimed by the founders of the Convention.

We have seen a theological downgrade in our century that parallels the one experienced by Charles Spurgeon over a hundred years ago. What will our response be? Shall we take the easy road of accommodation or stand up for the faith? Iain Murray's survey of Spurgeon's heroic defense of the faith should inspire us to do the same. Every pastor needs to read this work carefully to see if he might have the courage to stand for the cause of God and truth today.