By Iain Murray, Banner of Truth Trust, 2005, 226 pages
The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths For A New Awakening
Reviewed by Mack Tomlinson
It is always very profitable to read any book by Iain Murray. This one is no exception. Every minister or Christian worker should read everything he has ever written. Accordingly, I could wish that every preacher, pastor, missionary, and Christian worker could have this newest title placed in their hands.
The Old Evangelicalism consists of addresses Mr. Murray gave at various conferences around the world over the last thirty years. Particularly, the content which made up these messages consists of a number of fundamental truths that deal with doctrinal and experimental subjects related to the great themes of salvation and the gospel.
What truths are we speaking of? Murray says, “Sin, regeneration, justification by Christ’s righteousness, the cross and the love of God, assurance of salvationthese are the truths that once thrilled churches and changed nations. They are the message that ‘turned the world upside down’. Yet where evangelicalism continues to affirm these truths, without such results, it is often assumed that she must have new needs that cannot be met without something new. Hence the call for change, and such words as ‘mere doctrine is not enough’.”
No one in our generation writes on these subjects with any more depth and clarity of understanding that Mr. Murray. His help is simply superb for both ministers and Christians in general to understand Christian truth in its splendor and richness.
Chapter one is entitled, “Preaching and Awakening: Facing the Main Problem in Evangelism.” The main problem, argues Murray, is the lack of both the fear of God and conviction of sin. Quoting from the 1859 revival in Scotland: “The one deep dominant note was an overpowering sense of sin.” Murray convinces the reader that “times of revival are invariably times of widespread spiritual concern and that concern is ever related to a recovery of the fear of God.” This is surely greatly missing in our modern evangelism and gospel message. Who preaches regularly to produce the fear of God in the hearts of people? The initial need in evangelism is not to win acceptance for Christ, or as is said in America, get someone to make a decision for Christ. Rather, the goal ought to be preaching for the results of divine regeneration and conviction of sin. It is preaching to the heart, preaching to the conscience, Murray argues, that produces true conviction and brings about true conversion.
The book continues to take up the further next two subjects of true conversion and Christ our Righteousnessthe grand doctrine of justification. The doctrine of conversion is addressed in light of the preaching and ministry of C. H. Spurgeon. The doctrine of true and biblical conversion has been all but lost in the modern church world. And the doctrinal content of conversion is strange language to many professing Christians in our day. Spurgeon, commenting on the nature of conversion, said: “In all true conversions there are points of essential agreement; there must be in all a penitent confession of sin and a looking to Jesus for forgiveness of sin, and there must be a real change of heart, such as shall affect the entire after life, and where these essential points are not to be found, there is no genuine conversion.” Murray proceeds in this chapter to unfold the true nature of regeneration, repentance, and saving faith, setting forth also the argument that true preachers ought to preach for conversion, that this ought to be their goal in gospel preaching.
In taking up the subject of justification, the heart of the gospel is addressed here. The need for justification is seen in the truth that all men are in darkness and lack true righteousness. The gospel then shows us why the righteousness of God is indeed good news. The doctrine of imputation is the central issue in justification, even from the Old Testament era.
The final three chapters deal with several edifying and important subjects, the first being what Murray calls The Cross: The Pulpit of God’s Love. Preaching the cross truly, doctrinally, and the work of redemption is what is desperately needed in our day. But it is not enough to say, “Jesus died for you.” In our generation, people are either bored by the words or they mean absolutely nothing to them. The preaching of Christ crucified with passion, accuracy, and doctrinal clarity is what is most needed in modern preaching. The depth of the love of God both generally and specifically for all believers is at the forefront of the gospel message.
Murray then asks the question, “What Can We Learn From John Wesley”? He then proceeds to show us that there are wonderful things that every Christian can learn from Wesley. Murray argues that there are some basic things we learn.
First, Wesley has something to teach us on the relationship between true Christian zeal for the gospel and church government, procedures, and church practices. Secondly, in Wesley and Methodism we are taught that it is the persuasion of the love of God for men makes churches truly evangelistic. Thirdly, Wesley challenges us on the focus of our doctrine of sanctification, that is, our view of holiness and how the believer attains it and increases in it.
Perhaps the best or the most important chapter in the book very well may be chapter six on the doctrine of assurance. True preaching and accurate teaching on this doctrine is sadly lacking today. Very few Christians have a solid understanding of biblical assurance and how it relates to saving faith. It is here that Murray may provide his best help. The Holy Spirit in the work of assurance is wonderfully dealt with here, as is the true biblical basis of assurance. The possession of salvation and the possession of assurance of salvation are two different things and the difference is very important to understand.
The final chapter deals with Christian unity and church unity. The issue of denominations and unity is addressed, and the chapter shows that church unity and Christian unity are not one and the same thing, and that Christian unity is a bigger and more important issue than church unity.
Overall, this book would be immense help and encouragement to every Christian, who would take the time to read it carefully, especially helpful to those involoved in the ministry of the gospel. They will find here a gold mine of truth, clarity, and help in understanding and communicating old truths for a new spiritual awakening. And what could be more important than that?
-- Reviewed by Mack Tomlinson
Price: £14.00 UK $22.99 US, Clothbound, 226 pages
ISBN 0 85151 901 6