Thomas Charles of Bala by John Aaron

Having recently read Thomas Charles’s Spiritual Counsels, I was excited to get into this new biography of this formerly unknown-to-me servant of Jesus Christ. Rather than a reprint from earlier times, this book is a fresh production by John Aaron. The preface showed that Aaron’s previous work has been more geared to translation and editing so I began reading wondering if he could handle the unique task of biography writing. When I finished this book, I wondered no more. He could and did. It matches the quality of many of the fine Banner of Truth biographies in print.

The quality of biographical writing is one thing while the biographical subject is distinctly another. What of Thomas Charles? Let’s just say I tip my hat to this humble but zealous man whose life was all wrapped up in Jesus Christ. He is not as well known as some other preachers but deserves to be in their circle. Why is this so? My conjecture after reading this biography is that he was less bombastic than others but not less effective. He probably didn’t dominate a room when he entered, nor did he feel the need to. In modern parlance, he was comfortable in his own skin. In more spiritual language, he was aware of his God-given spiritual gifts and he quietly, persistently put them to steady use for God’s glory. We must get through our fleshly fascination with the spectacular to fully appreciate the faithful following of “the still, small voice”. When we emerge from that fog, we find that the results are often more rooted and can extend farther. Think of Charles as an Elisha following the Elijahs who called down the fire in great Welsh revivals.

Like Elisha’s vision in the school of the prophets, Charles’s innovation in the creation of Sunday Schools to teach doctrine and reading so as to enable Bible reading was a master stroke that affected Wales for generations. His wisdom in Bible printing for the common people in Wales showed incredible spiritual perception as well. Charles lived in Bala, which was the spiritual wasteland of Wales even after the great revivals, but by Charles’s death Bala was the most lush green field of spirituality in Wales.

His life story was instructive as well. His is a test case for the value of diligent labor enveloped by a love of his Lord. He died shy of his 59th birthday and its cause humanly speaking was overwork. Yet he died triumphantly, without an ounce of regret, on his sick bed saying, “There is a refuge”. Well, there is. This biography reminds us.

Like in so many biographies of great servants of God, we see the valleys of suffering walked through. Death of children, the poor health of his wife, early ministry setbacks, and his own bouts of debilitating heath including severe frostbite of his hand was the shape of his agonies. As always in these great lives, these sufferings were the anvil on which the Spirit hammered a spiritual masterpiece.

This is a wonderful biography. Much of the last chapter strikes me as an appendix to prove his orthodoxy in doctrine, but who would doubt it by the end of his life’s story? I need biographies like this one. They remind me of things I’m prone to forget. I predict you will love this lovely biography as well.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Thomas Charles’s Spiritual Counsels

Banner of Truth has a knack to introducing us to choice servants of Christ that we’ve never heard of before. After we meet them, we are so glad that we did. Thomas Charles falls especially in that category. Actually, BOT had a joint release of this volume and a new biography of Charles. At first, I was conflicted over which one to read first. I finally decided to meet him through his writing so I’d feel more bought in when I read the biography. It worked. I’m on board for sure.

Fortunately for me, this volume opens with a biographical sketch penned by Iain Murray. If you’ve read Murray before, you know what to expect. Biography on any scale is Murray’s gift. Charles didn’t seem, then, like a stranger when I got to his writings.

The first chapter on spiritual pride blew me away. It’s like it peeled several layers and at the deepest level I’d ever been in that regard I saw the hideous grotesque mess that is the spiritual pride in me. The next chapter on humility stayed in the same vein. Let’s just say that it was nothing like the pablum found in the usual run of Christian books today. No, it was much more penetrating.

Reading on, the subjects changed but the depth did not. At one point, I stopped and asked myself why is this writing so good when he really didn’t come across as a wordsmith, and at times would use the most common expressions to explain himself. I finally figured it out. There was something tangible of the Spirit in it. It is clear that he knew God, he knew people, and he knew the task that God had given him to minister to people. It was like we were seeing a master physician of the soul with both the knife and the balm of the Word of God in hand.

I personally liked the writings on the Bible subjects better than the letters, but all were good. The printing quality and the beauty of the volume that we have come to expect from a hardback volume from Banner of Truth was on full display too.

When I read a book like this, it strikes me that there must be so many of the most wonderful servants of Jesus Christ that we know absolutely nothing about. It reminds me too that the goal is not fame, but God‘s will. We will not all be famous, but we can be in the center of God‘s will and serve Him.

This book is a jewel, and now I’m ready to tackle that biography.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Piercing Leviathan (NSBT) by Eric Ortlund

It is often said to not judge a book by its cover, but in the case of this new volume in the NSBT series, I suggest you not judge it by its size either. It’s worth many books five times its size! It has something to say and it says it well about the enigmatic character of Job. Our reactions to the story of Job fluctuate between fascination and fear. The book of Job asks the questions we have all wanted to ask, and yet we’re almost afraid of the answers. Especially if the answer is not in the form that we want it. And especially not if some of the mystery remains after the Lord reveals what He is willing to share. Because of the uniqueness of the book of Job, many people interpret it any way they like as long as they acknowledge that some mystery remains. The book of Job pushes us to the edge of these deepest questions until we finally grapple with how there is evil and suffering in a world formed and controlled by our God.

Before I attempt to describe the contents of this book, I must offer an admission that the author did not answer all the questions about suffering and evil. The book did, however, tell me more about my God and made me feel better, even hopeful. I remain baffled about some of the suffering in my own life, but I feel more at peace reading this book. You never expected I would say that about a book written in a scholarly series, did you?

Just because I found such personal value in this book, don’t think for a moment that is not written with top-notch scholarship. The scholarship is present, but the stiltedness is not. I don’t think you’ll ever drift off to sleep reading this book and yet you will learn just as much as you will learn in any other scholarly effort. The contents of the book proceed chronologically through the book of Job making many observations and conclusions before a grand theological conclusion is drawn at the end.

In fact, this book succeeds in two different categories. You could place this book with your commentaries on the book of Job and you could easily follow the line of thinking of the book and have a much better chance at arriving at proper interpretation. Additionally, as you might imagine in a series of this sort, you could put this book with your theology books as it does have something to contribute to these dogged questions of theodicy.

I almost feel like if I said more about what you learn in this book I would have to put out a spoiler alert. You will learn about Behemoth and Leviathan, and the often-accepted descriptions of hippopotamus and crocodile, but you will learn of cosmic chaos and evil as well. Perhaps you will be like me and when you finish this book you will say to yourself, now that is what the book of Job is really saying.

This erudite work trades in profundity and joy. That is not easy to do, so you should treat yourself to secure this book today.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.