John Thornbury, A Pastor in New York: The Life and Times of Spencer Cone. Evangelical Press, 2004, hb., 218 pages. $25.99. ISBN 0-85234-512-7
When thinking of the great Baptists throughout history, many great people come to mind: men such as C. H. Spurgeon, William Carey and Andrew Fuller, among others. However, one that has all too often been forgotten is Spencer Cone. And when one considers that in his day he was one of the most well known Baptists in America, this problem is even more troubling. John Thornbury has sought to bring this forgotten pastor to a new generation of believers in his book A Pastor in New York: The Life and Times of Spencer Cone.
Thornbury begins his book with the birth and childhood of Cone. Born on April 30, 1785 in New Jersey, Spencer Cone quickly became a promising student. Nevertheless, family difficulties and the eventual death of his father led him to a difficult life. Having to support the rest of his family from a young age, he was able to become employed as a teacher, and later became an actor. It was during this time in his life that Cone would come to the Lord. Through reading a biography of John Newton and his conversion, along with studying the Bible and attending church, he came to see his only hope for redemption in Jesus Christ. Cone trusted in Jesus alone for his salvation and was baptized in response.
It did not take long for Cone to be used by the Lord. A church in the area asked for him to give a talk, which led to him regularly preaching. For the rest of his life, Cone was a man behind the pulpit. As his popularity grew, he became the chaplain of the US Congress and eventually moved to New York to pastor. He gained a place of prominence among Baptists and was involved in multiple organizations and ministries. After serving several years at the Oliver Street Baptist Church, he went to the First Baptist Church where he spent the rest of his years in ministry. He was an ardent supporter of missions, was involved in faithful Bible translations and was committed to a faith rooted in doctrinal truth. After a long and fruitful life, Cone went to be with the Lord on August 28, 1855.
While not necessarily an academic or scholarly treatment, Thornbury’s book is a well-written and fascinating look into the life and work of an important Baptist and follower of Christ. This book is great for devotional reading, with short chapters that make reading easy. Thornbury is an engaging, talented storyteller with the ability to draw the reader into the life of Spencer Cone. By the end of the book, one would be hard-pressed not to respect and admire this great man of faith.
Another benefit of Thornbury’s biography is his continual consideration of God’s providence throughout Cone’s life. His life is not just about a man committed to God; it is about how God used a humble servant in His own divine plan. Thornbury provides a wonderful perspective by showing how one person has been used by God for His glory.
Simply put, A Pastor in New York is a treasure. Thornbury is to be commended for bringing the life of Spencer Cone back to light. May we all endeavor to be faithful to Christ as Cone was. And may God continue to use Cone’s life for the expansion and growth of His kingdom.
Carol Brandt, Old Paths for Little Feet. Solid Ground Christian Books, 2003, pb., 116 pages. $12.99. ISBN 1-932474-31-5
Reviewed by Celest Puls
Carol Brandt, a Christian parent and teacher wrote Old Paths for Little Feet as a tool to help parents and grandparents teach Christian doctrines to children. The “old paths” are applications of biblical truths. Jeremiah 6:16 says that if we walk in these old paths we will find rest for our souls. Brandt says that we must show our children these old paths, and in order to do that we need to know what things to teach and how to teach them.
The author focuses mainly on teaching sound doctrine. She says that just as your physical body needs bones and muscles for strength, your spiritual body needs doctrine and love for God to endure spiritually. We must give a right and balanced view of God to children of all ages. Even young children need to understand that they should love and fear God because He is merciful and just. Children should be taught that they are sinners before a holy God and that they are responsible for their sins. Brandt says, “Your child is free to be the sinful little person he is!” Even though our children cannot save themselves and we cannot save them, God can. We must teach them to seek God’s salvation.
Along with instruction in what to teach, Brandt gives specific helps in knowing how to teach your children. She suggests that you find ways to make children feel welcome to be with you. Spend time with them and be intentional in creating opportunities to discuss and demonstrate truth. For example, Lottie Moon, a missionary to China, made cookies for her neighbors. In serving them and sharing in their lives, she found ways to bring the gospel. As we serve and share in the lives of our children, we will find opportunities to talk to them and encourage them to listen and learn. Use stories, parables and proverbs to show the providence of God. Teach a proper fear of God by your own example. Be much in prayer for yourself and the children you teach. Study biblical doctrines for yourself so that you can pass them on to the children around you. Commit to regularly scheduled times of teaching. Teach the Ten Commandments to help children learn how to please God and to help them “avoid spoiling” their lives. As they read the Scriptures, they should ask themselves, “What does it say? What does it mean? How do I apply it?” Use confessions and catechisms to reinforce doctrines of Scripture. Teach the spiritual disciplines so that your children will learn self-discipline and wisdom as they pray, read and memorize the Bible, worship and serve others. As you instruct your children, remember God’s providence, goodness and control in their lives.
Brandt takes two chapters to point out the importance of being careful about a child’s confession of faith. Don’t give your children a false assurance of salvation, since you can’t truly know their hearts. Remind them of God’s promises of salvation and ask them to examine their own hearts. Also, do not be too quick to discount the salvation of children, thinking that they are too young to be saved. Continue to pray for them and teach them the gospel as you see them learning God’s truths.
This book was written as a signpost “so that our busy lives don’t rob families of the direction and nurturing they require.” It is written with short chapters that can be read fairly quickly. The chapters can be read in any order, so that a parent can go to a specific chapter to find help for a certain situation. The book is full of quotes from well-known Christian authors, as well as specific examples and applications for teaching various doctrines. It is a valuable resource for keeping our children on the “old paths” of truth.