The Devil’s Tennis Ball

If any of my readers have not seen this quotation by Thomas Watson, it is a real gem, and sounds shockingly modern (from The Godly Man’s Picture):

An idle person is the devil’s tennis ball, which he bandies up and down with temptation till at last the ball goes out of play.

With apologies to any tennis players out there (and maybe an apology to Shakespeare’s Henry V, which features tennis balls so prominently), this quotation blew me away when I first read it yesterday, quoted in the Reformation Heritage Study Bible on 2 Samuel 11 and the temptation of David. Of course, in the history of David, the author subtlely castigates David for staying at home when kings were supposed to go to war. Being idle was his first mistake.

Of course, Americans oftentimes have the opposite problem of being too busy that they have no time for meditation on God’s Word or prayer. Mere busyness is not a virtue, any more than mere idleness. If you are busy, be busy about the kingdom work. If you are resting, rest in order to sharpen your axe.


Recent P&R Books I Have Received

I have received a number of books from P&R for review purposes, and I’d like to say a few words about them. The Bavinck biography deserves its own post, so I will wait on that one a tad.

Almost deserving of its own post also is the Festschrift for Al Groves. I loved him dearly. He was one of those people who gets his way into your heart and won’t let go. However, it was often almost unconsciously done. I was far more affected by his death than I thought I would be. I was very happy to see a volume come out in memory of him. His contributions to scholarship are also more on the hidden side. He was a wizard with computers, and was a clearing house for information on the new critical edition of the Hebrew Bible (the Biblia Hebraica Quinta). So, I commend this series of essays, written by colleagues and students who loved him.

Most of these sermons are available in other formats (although some are occasional sermons for Easter). However, it is very nice to have them all together in one place on one topic, especially if you are trying to find help on the resurrection for your sermons. Anything Boice writes is worth reading.

This book has a very intriguing message. By our beliefs and by our actions, we often treat Jesus as less than He is. The picture on the front is a dog-tag with the title of the book on it, a very clever idea. And the writing itself is also clever. Consider the title of the chapter “Yawning in the Presence of a Mighty God,” a chapter on complacency in worship. This is a book to give to Christians who have grown up in the Christian world, since they are the ones most susceptible to this kind of sin. Prepare to be shocked again by how big our God is.

The cross of Christ is always the most astounding thing about the Christian faith. Rather than sentimentalize it, we should revel in its sheer “foolishness.” For the “foolishness” of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. We should not marvel that God is just. We should instead marvel that God is merciful, even to worms like us.

There are several good books on parenting that have come out recently. This book re-orients our parenting back to the central truths of the Gospel. This book reminds us that, instead of being overwhelmed at the enormity of the task (which is very easy to do!), we should overwhelmed by the centrality of the Gospel. If we do that, we will have all the resources of God’s grace to combat the forces of evil that seek to undermine the family.

The focus of this book is different, in that it looks at all the different stages of growth, and analyzes how parents can address the heart issues of their children. This book is heavily dependent (healthily so, in my opinion!) on the book by Tedd Tripp. Highly recommended for those seeking help on a particular stage of childhood development. There is an especially good chapter on the situation of children who rebel in major ways “When Things Don’t Go As Planned.”

Picking up where the previous book left off, what about parents of adults? To date, I have rarely, if ever, seen a complete book devoted to the parents of adults, and how to handle adult offspring. That’s where this book comes in very handy, indeed. I would also strongly recommend it to pastors who don’t have adult children, but need to have some help in counseling parents of adults. I love the title: “You Never Stop Being a Parent.” All too often, parents of adults simply let go entirely. Obviously the relationship is different, but how can parents of adults help without interfering? This book helps us navigate these difficult waters.

A book sorely needed today is one that seeks to expose and counteract our modern age’s obsession with materialism and greed. It is worth clicking through to look at the cover, which is a not-so-subtle reference to the glass empty or glass full, a matter of Gospel perspective. Barcley relies heavily on the definitive Puritan treatment of the subject, as he should. In fact, you can think of this book as an update of Burroughs.

The entire series “Basics of the Faith” are good things to have on your church book table to hand out to people. The one I received was the little booklet on belief in God. In our day, where the new atheism is gaining quite a militant public hearing, we need all the help we can get on this, and not just for pastors, but also the people in the pew need to hear why these views are wrong.

Lastly, but not least, this book on eschatology does such a wonderful job of bringing the subject into the realm of the practical. The volume is solidly Amillenial, and argues for a present understanding of “these last days.” For pastors, I would particularly direct them to Richard Phillips’s essay on counseling those who are about to die, and the bereaved. But all the essays are important and needed, particularly since pastoral treatments of eschatology seem to be a bit rare. If there are any out there who do not believe that eschatology can be practical, then read this book. You will revise your opinion, I assure you.

Robert Rollock, a Ridiculously Neglected Theologian

Robert Rollock’s works have just been reprinted. Buy them. Rollock has been terribly neglected by the scholarly world, although that picture is changing. Muller has drawn attention to Rollock recently. However, the above-mentioned reprint should be instrumental in getting Rollock’s name back on the map of important post-Reformational thinkers. Rollock lived from 1555-1598. He was involved in some ecclesiastical controversies, where it was thought that he sided too much with the king (see the excellent biographical introduction in the two-volume set by Andrew Woolsey). Andrew Woolsey thinks that this is the reason why he has been unfairly neglected (p. 20).

However, Rollock’s influence in British theology is much like George Whitefield’s influence on Methodism, unrecognized but pervasive. Woolsey goes on to mention Gunn’s appraisal of Rollock: “It is Rollock’s greatest glory that he introduced into Scotland the expository system, which had already so much benefited religion on the Continent” (ibid.) Furthermore, it was his several commentaries that provided inspiration for the later Scottish commentaries by David Dickson, George Hutcheson, James Ferguson, and Alexander Nisbet (p. 21).

There are 17 sermons in the first volume, and 56 in the second volume, which volume is entirely taken up with the passion of Christ. Woolsey’s opinion is that Rollock’s sermons most closely resemble Beza and Calvin (p. 21). It is to be noted that Beza thought very highly of Rollock’s works, calling his Ephesians and Romans commentaries “a treasure most precious” (p. 9).

Undoubtedly, however, the greatest impact Rollock has had in the history of theology is in the doctrine of the covenant. In this theology, he closely resembles Ussher, who is one of the precursors to the Westminster Assembly’s theology (p. 16). He advocated a firmly bi-covenantal theology, wherein the principle by which Adam would have obtained eternal life was works, though he (as well as most other Reformed theologians) did not deny the presence of grace before the Fall. Christ then stepped in to Adam’s brokenness, and merited eternal life by fulfilling the covenant of works. This righteousness is then imputed to the believer by faith in justification (see pp. 11-16, 33-51). In short, if you want to know where Westminster’s theology of covenant came from, you have to study Rollock. Highly recommended. It is to be hoped that his commentaries will shortly be reprinted as well. I imagine that will depend on how well the two-volume works sell. So buy them!


From William Gurnall’s book The Christian in Complete Armor, pg. 315.

And he who hath a lust sucking on him, finds as little rest if he be not always serving of it, and making provision for it. Can the world, think you, show such another slave as this poor wretch is? Well, though all the bolts that the devil hath- lusts I mean-were locked upon one sinner, and he shut up in the closest dungeon of all his prison, yet let but this poor slave begin to be acquainted with the truth of Christ, so as to open his heart to it, and close with it, and you shall soon hear that the foundations of the prison are shaken, its doors thrown open, and the chains fallen off the poor creature’s legs.

True Calvinism

Here is a great post on Owen’s theology that demonstrates the folly of the Arminian position and the logical certitude of the Calvinist position.

Goodwin and the Already/Not Yet

Some people might possibly think that the Puritans were ignorant of the already/not yet structure of Paul’s theology. This would be a bit premature. While no Puritan is equal to Vos and Ridderbos, yet there certainly are glimmerings of these truths. I was reading in Goodwin’s works, for instance, and came upon this quotation, which would seem to demonstrate an awareness of such issues. He is commenting on Ephesians 2:6

“Jesus Christ is appointed to be our life. Now of this life there are several degrees, several parts of it more eminent. The one is that of quickening; the other the resurrection and union of soul and body at the latter day. And the last is the sitting in heavenly places. So that indeed that life which God intends to bestow upon us, you see it is perfected by degrees. He begins with dealing with the soul here in a way of quickening; and then he doth raise the body. And this of the soul, it is the pawn of the other: as Tertullian saith, by the quickening of our souls, our bodies are also inaugurated into that resurrection which is in the world to come.”

It would seem, in fact, that the already/not yet goes all the way back to Tertullian, if the quotation is accurate. In any case, inaugurated eschatology (at least in terms of our body’s resurrection) is strongly implied here. N.B. “pawn” is used in the quotation much the same as “first-fruits” or “type.” He means that the resurrection of the soul is the “pawn” of the resurrection of the body.

Satan’s Work

Thomas Brooks wrote a wonderful book entitled Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. The whole is eminently worth our attention. One of Satan’s devices is to suggest to Christians that their graces are not true, but counterfeit. “Satan doth not labour more mightily to persuade hypocrites that their graces are true when they are counterfeit, than he doth to persuade precious souls that their graces are counterfeit, when indeed they are true” (pg. 99). Brooks goes on to define various kinds of grace, reckoning that knowledge of such graces (and reception from God of such grace) is the best remedy against Satan’s device.

Adam’s Merit

I really cannot believe that Mark Horne thinks that Jim Jordan is somehow on target here. I am not going to argue the merit issue itself, since I have already done so here and here. But the Reformed idea of merit is hardly new. Here is Thomas Boston to directly, explicitly, and indubitably tear Jim Jordan’s argument to shreds (volume X, pg 376): “Proper merit is what arises from the intrinsic worth of the thing done, fully proportioned to the reward. Such is the merit of Christ’s obedience and death. But no such merit can be in our (post-conversion, LK) works; for there is no proportion between our obedience and eternal life, whatever the papists pretend…Improper merit is what arises from paction ensuring such a reward on such a work as the condition thereof; so that the work being performed, the reward becomes a debt. So Adam’s perfect obedience would have been meritorious, namely, by paction.” Is this new, Mr. Jordan? Is this not merit? Notice that my definition of the merit of Adam is *precisely* the same as Boston’s, namely, merit by pact. So Jordan and Horne at least need to retract their statement that this is new. It is nothing of the sort.

Here is Calvin to tear Jim Jordan’s argument to shreds even more: Inst. 2.17.1: “There are certain…men who-even though they confess that we receive salvation through Christ-cannot bear to hear the word “merit,” for they think that it obscures God’s grace. Hence, they would have Christ as a mere instrument or minister.” In 2.17.3, he says, “By his obedience, however, Christ truly acquired and merited grace for us with his Father…then he acquired salvation for us by his righteousness,which is tantamount to deserving it.”

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On Pain

Here is a great quotation from Richard Sibbes, volume 7, pg 239:

“As apothecaries and surgeons use to deal with us, so many times God deals with me; when the plaster smarts, men cry to take it off, when in the meantime, by holding it on, the cure is done; and so it is with us, we cry out unto God to take away this pain, that he would pull away such a plaster, such a corrosive from us. Why? Oh, say they, that we may serve him better, and yield him more obedience, when indeed, with holding thee to it, and by binding, as it were, this cross fast upon thee, the very same thing God worketh in thee.”


For really solid reading that mixes doctrine and practice with a ready ease, one really cannot do better than the Puritans. Here are a few of my favorites: Thomas Brooks, who has a very refreshing, easy-to-read style that is full of great one-liners and beautiful illustrations of doctrinal truth; John Bunyan, who wrote the best work of Christian fiction ever, The Pilgrim’s Progress; Joseph Caryl, author of the best commentary on Job, a twelve volume compendium of theology on the whole of Scripture, and including massive amounts of practical help as well. Wonderful devotional reading. It is in facsimile, and somewhat difficult to read, but once you get used to it, it is marvelous; Thomas Boston, a wonderful later Puritan who has an outstanding commentary on the Shorter Catechism, as well as one of the very best ever expositions of anthropology, The Human Nature in its Four-Fold State, available separately. John Flavel is excellent as well. If you’re rarin’ for a challenge, the most difficult, and yet one of the most rewarding is Thomas Goodwin. You really have to be awake to read him, but the effort is definitely worth it. John Owen, while some describe him as difficult, is not as difficult as Thomas Goodwin, and yet probably the best of the lot in terms of depth of content. Here are his works, and here is his massive Hebrews commentary. Richard Sibbes is a lot like Thomas Brooks, and is well worth reading (one of the easier to read). George Swinnock is also worth a look. Well, that’s a lifetime of Puritan reading right there. Enjoy!

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