A few years before the last battle on British soil fought at Culloden, a fine country manor was being completed. The owners may have heard the gunfire on that April day in 1746. Today the Jacobite cause is forgotten, but the old manor still stands and contains more treasures than it ever did in past centuries.
Not only did I recently see them but I carried a number away, as any visitor to that beautiful corner of Scotland may do. Or, if that is impractical, the same result may be obtained by contacting the present owners at Geanies House, Fearn, Tain, Ross-shire, IV20 1TW. As some readers will well know, this is the headquarters of Christian Focus Publications (www.christianfocus.com).
Now the kind of treasures I am talking about will be understood. What others might select will be different for the choice at Christian Focus is extensive, but I have so valued what I carried away that I must pass some of these details on to you.
The title I particularly wanted hot off the press was the two-volume commentary on Ezekiel by John L. Mackay, former Principal of the Free Church College in Edinburgh (ISBN 978-1-5271-0026-8 [Vol. 1]; ISBN 9781-5271-0110-4 [Vol. 2]). At over 1,300 pages, this has to be for serious readers and yet for pastors and preachers it is of immense value.
That conclusion can be reached without a page by page reading from the outset. The observations placed in sections headed ‘Reflection’ throughout the commentary would be enough. Here is a much-needed opening into a too little-known part of Scripture.
A book which has been occupying my wife, since our visit, is He Will Hold Me Fast, by Connie Dever, of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington (ISBN 978-1-78191-985-9). This is Mrs Dever’s journal account of a four-year ‘journey with grace through cancer’. I think enough of my wife’s opinion to believe that this is no ordinary book, and that is confirmed by the pieces to which I have been called to listen.
As Ligon Duncan writes in a Foreword, here is strong encouragement to ‘believe the promises of God’s Word even when all other lights have gone out’. We are thankful that Connie Dever was led to make known such a personal, honest record. It will surely aid many readers.
Two of my ‘takeaways’ from Geanies were the titles of good friends. Peter Barnes in Lamp unto my feet (ISBN 978-1-78191-121-1) has given us, in his usual fresh style, the lives of 107 Christians, beginning with ‘James the Lord’s brother’ and ending with Joni Eareckson Tada. The intention to show, ‘How God has used His Word through the ages’ is fulfilled in 381 very readable pages.
To my great surprise, I discovered that the title of another friend was actually published in 2002. It is a book that makes fresh to me the exciting period in the 1960s when the doctrines of grace were resurfacing in England and there was, as Professor John Murray hoped, ‘the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees’. An important part of that excitement came through the preaching of Albert N. Martin, first heard in England at the Leicester Ministers’ Conference of 1967. If anyone had wanted to learn how that preaching made the powerful impression, which it did, I know of nothing in print.
At Geanies House my eyes fell with thankfulness on the title, My Heart for Thy Cause, Albert N. Martin’s Theology of Preaching by Brian Borgman (ISBN 978-1-85792-716-0). This is both a well-done distillation of Martin’s teaching to students for the ministry, and presents the elements ever to be found in preaching which changes lives. That such a book could slip quietly on to the market astonishes me. But John MacArthur, for one has noticed it, and writes, ‘I find Al Martin’s preaching to be compelling … He cuts it straight.’ May it do great good!
The next book which I was pleased to carry off is of a similar nature, Serving the Word of God, Celebrating the Life and Ministry of James Philip, with twenty-two contributors, and edited by David Wright and David Stay (ISBN 978-1-85792-745-0). I had somehow supposed the title was still available only in the second-hand market, and was happy to find I was wrong.
Mr Philip, after beginning his ministry in the Church of Scotland at the fishing village of Gardenstown, was called to Holyrood Abbey Church, Edinburgh, in 1958, where he would remain for 46 years. Jim Packer likens that Edinburgh ministry to Charles Simeon’s half-century at Cambridge, and calls it ‘a faithful, unfashionable, whole-Bible, whole-church, whole-counsel-of-God pastorate, evangelical and Reformed.’
The first part of the book is biography, the second part takes up subjects of relevance to his ministry, including the impetus he gave to foreign missions. There are excellent chapters by friends and fellow-preachers who knew him best, including his brother, George M. Philip, on ‘The Making of the Man’, Martin Allen on ‘A Man of Weight’, Douglas Kelly on ‘The Congregational Prayer Meeting’, and Eric Alexander on ‘Let us Worship God’.
Lest my special interests should suggest any limitation in the range of Christian Focus titles, I need to say that their 2017/18 Catalogue runs to 47 pages, embracing many subjects. Nor is that all, in addition there is a Children’s Resources Catalogue, which runs to the same length. As publishers they have done great work in producing books for children of all ages.
I can only mention three which I purchased. Let the Children Worship, by Jason Helopoulos, (ISBN 978-1-78191-909-5) presents the convincing case for worship not being for adults only, and for children not being excluded from the weekly services of corporate worship. This is a subject crying for attention on both sides of the Atlantic. Common objections are answered by the author, who argues that the replacements for public worship, offered by churches, have too-often majored in entertainment. As a result, ‘We now face a generation of teenagers and young adults who struggle with corporate worship and the institutional church’.
Attractively bound and presented is another title not commonly found among literature commended for infants, A Child’s First Book about Marriage, God’s Way is Always Best, by Jani Ortlund (ISBN 978-1-5271-0030-5). This is a short book, with coloured pictures throughout, and a concluding message to parents asking, ‘Why not help children from a very early age take into their hearts what God teaches about marriage? Why not give young children a biblical vision of what God, in kindness, could lie ahead for them?’ We doubt there is a church in the English-speaking world which does not need this fine labour of love by Mrs Ortlund.
Today, far too much teaching of children follows the idea that the young should not be introduced to serious truths too young; to ‘love Jesus’ is enough and the light-hearted approach is held to be the better one. The lessons of church history ought to make us question that assumption. Children are capable of learning of heaven and hell from the whole Bible at an early age.
A great example of this is the small paperback in the Classic Stories series, Mary Jones and her Bible by Mary Ropes (ISBN 9781-1-85792-568-5). Mary was born of poor peasants in North Wales in 1784. Though there was no Bible in their home, her concern for the truth was awakened in childhood and, when little more than ten, she would walk every week to a farm one and a half miles distant to memorise parts of Scripture.
In 1800 she heard there was a source where she could obtain a Bible at Bala, some 30 miles away, and she walked that distance barefooted (her boots round her shoulders). It was a venture which would have wonderful effects for many others as well as for herself. The story has been published in different editions, the present is a paperback of 151 pages, with large print and drawings illustrating the text.
Christian Focus and Banner of Truth have long had a cordial, fraternal relationship. Both covet the prayer of readers that we might be kept faithful in the discharge of a stewardship, mindful that ‘unto whom much is given, much shall be required’.