Review: Hosea: The Heart and Holiness of God

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: G. Campbell Morgan was a British Congregational preacher, active from 1883 to 1943, mostly at Westminster Chapel in London. Nicknamed “the Prince of Expositors,” Morgan’s accessible expository preaching gained him a wide audience on both sides of the Atlantic. During his long life of ministry, he published more than 60 books, many of which were sermons.

Overview:

Hosea: The Heart and Holiness of God (1934) is a masterful exposition of the prophecy of Hosea. Morgan’s style of exposition is not verse-by-verse, but rather utilizes thematic verses that summarize the key points of a chapter.

As implied in the title, his summary of Hosea is that it is about the union of God’s compassion and his holiness. G. Campbell Morgan is able to paint such a beautiful picture of God because he learns the brushstrokes from the Bible itself. In this book he will stretch your heart and stretch your theology as you see the suffering heart of God, longing to see his redeemed people walking in holiness, walking with him. But as always he exposits the Word with reverence and simplicity.

The first couple of sermons deal with Hosea’s suffering as prophet. There are many in the middle dealing with the defection of the people and its causes and course. The last few sermons were in my opinion the best as he talks about the love of God for his people, how he cannot give them up to a life without Him, but sent His missionary Son to pursue His straying lover, His prodigal son—His people.

Meat:

Morgan’s sermons are almost always simple, readable, applicable, and committed to the biblical text.

In much of his exposition, Morgan dwells long on the themes of God’s grief in Hosea, a prominent topic that is often shied away from because of its doctrinal difficulties. See for instance, the chapter entitled “The Difficulty of God”, on Hosea 6:4; while such language entangles systematic theologians in a thicket of complications, Morgan resolutely and simply discusses its meaning as it stands. He also does so without making God sound spineless or desperate. It illustrates Morgan’s commitment to the text, and vindicates him as an important preacher and writer for those interested in doing practical, biblical theology (as opposed to “systematics”).

Bones:

Morgan’s strength is how he deals with the text, but if he has a weakness, it would be in spiritualizing what were meant to be historical events in the text.

Review: The Crimes of England

Rating: ★½

Author: G. K. Chesterton was a devoutly Catholic journalist, poet and novelist of the early 20th century. His most apt nickname is “The Prince of Paradox.”

Genre: Non-fiction, wartime essays.

Overview:

After the publications of The Barbarism of Berlin and its expanded edition, The Appetite of Tyranny, Chesterton wrote this longer work (published in January 1916) in defense of the same ideas. Ostensibly, the book is a confessional of England’s “crimes” in recent history, meaning the late nineteenth century:

I have thought it advisable to provide you with a catalogue of the real crimes of England. (p. 9)

In reality, though, the title is an ironic jab against England’s then-recent policy of having Germany as an ally. He means to recount how badly Germany has treated England and Europe, and England’s “crime” of being all too forbearing with Germany.

Long and weary as may be the records of our [England’s] wickedness, in one direction we have done nothing but good. Whoever we may have wronged, we have never wronged Germany. (p. 53)

Chesterton held to what some reviewers have called “Teutonophobia,” and his account of England’s so-called crimes amounts mainly to not throwing Prussia under the bus when they had a chance.

For all readers except those most keenly fascinated by European history and politics, this book will make undoubtedly dull reading, set as it is in a balance of power that is no longer relevant, and dealing with the emotions of a war that not even centegenarians would recall directly.

Meat:

This book has one minor advantage over Appetite of Tyranny in that his anger over the outbreak of World War I had had another year to mellow, and he tries to substantiate his position historically, rather than through cultural generalizations.

Modern reviewers may be interested in Chesterton’s occasional reference to German race theory, called by him “Teutonism”—as well as the related idea which he calls “pan-Germanism,” that every great genius must have been Prussian. Chesterton calls this Germany ideology “a religion”:

Not a race, but rather a religion, the thing [Teutonism] exists; and in 1870 its sun was at noon. (p. 49)

Here he was referring back to the Franco-Prussian War, in which Germany achieved its unification and changed the balance of power in Europe. Chesterton didn’t know, of course, that pro-Aryan ideology would lead to another world war and millions more deaths just 23 years later.

As an aside, Chesterton takes the pro-Irish side on “the Irish question” in this book, a stance solidified soon after in his 1919 book Irish Impressions and also mentioned in What I Saw in America (1922).

Bones:

The Crimes of England mainly suffers from the same defects as The Appetite of Tyranny, so I refer my readers to that review.

I add to those criticisms as well that it was a deplorably dull read. Chesterton handles most topics well, but neat chronological accounts were not his forte, and so his account of historical relations between England and Germany is barely readable to someone who is not deeply acquainted with the time period.

Quotes:

These below are given to exemplify the author’s opinions in this book, not those of the reviewer:

I have passed the great part of my life in criticising and condemning the existing rulers and institutions of my country: I think it is infinitely the most patriotic thing that a man can do. . . . I think our whole history in Ireland has been a vulgar and ignorant hatred of the crucifix, expressed by a crucifixion. I think the South African War was a dirty work which we did under the whips of moneylenders. I think Mitchelstown was a disgrace; I think Denshawi was a devilry. (p. 53)

The German superiority has been in a certain thing and of a certain kind. It is not unity; it is not, in the moral sense, discipline. Nothing can be more united in a moral sense than a French, British, or Russian regiment. Nothing, for that matter, could be more united than a Highland clan at Killiecrankie or a rush of religious fanatics in the Soudan. What such engines, in such size and multiplicity, really meant was this: they meant a type of life naturally intolerable to happier and more healthy-minded men, conducted on a larger scale and consuming larger populations than had ever been known before. (p. 61)

Free Books by G. Campbell Morgan (50+)

Some readers may remember that, about ten years ago, a number of G. Campbell Morgan books (which are in the public domain) were freely available online at gcampbellmorgan.com (then the G. Campbell Morgan Archive). These were nice because they were already formatted, and the PDFs were proofreaded and readable.

With the advent of ebooks, this was turned into a paysite, and has apparently been shut down or changed domains.

However, you can still access the old free website thanks to archive.org’s Wayback Machine, which is a web crawler that archives websites.

Use the links below:

Free G. Campbell Morgan books on the Internet Archive (50+)
Free G. Campbell Morgan audiobooks on LibriVox (3)
Free G. Campbell Morgan books on the Wayback Machine (30+)

Review: Magic (GKC)

Rating: ★★★★

Author: G. K. Chesterton was a devoutly Catholic journalist, poet and novelist of the early 20th century. His most apt nickname is “The Prince of Paradox.”

Full title: Magic: A Fantastic Comedy.

Genre: Play, comedy.

Overview:

This play is set at the Duke’s home. The action begins with the search for his adult niece, Patricia Carleon, who has been in the garden, exploring Fairyland.

[Enter Patricia.]
Carleon. [Still agitated.] Patricia, where have you been?
Patricia. [Rather wearily.] Oh! in Fairyland.
Doctor. [Genially.] And whereabouts is that?
Patricia. It’s rather different from other places. It’s either nowhere or it’s wherever you are.

Thus Patricia, the mystic, sparks a debate about belief involving herself, her uncle, and her uncle’s guests. The themes about disbelief and skepticism in this little play are strongly echoed in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which in 1950 became the first of The Chronicles of Narnia series. An interesting difference is that Lucy, who discovers Narnia, is a child; while Patricia, in Chesterton’s play, is an adult. Chesterton wants the reader to know that belief is not confined to childhood or naivete.

Conjurer. [Contemptuously.] Yes, your Grace, one of those larger laws you were telling us about. (p. 42)

Published in 1913 and performed in London’s Little Theatre, this is the first of only three plays written by Chesterton and performed during his lifetime. (A fourth was published posthumously.) This is also the only one of his plays that is widely accessible today, having been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

Meat:

The debate about belief is resolved in much the same way as it is in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: we are reminded of the gloriously child-like wisdom of giving people the benefit of a doubt when they speak of miracles.

Why should sham miracles prove to us that real Saints and Prophets never lived. There may be sham magic and real magic also. . . . There may be turnip ghosts precisely because there are real ghosts. There may be theatrical fairies precisely because there are real fairies. You do not abolish the Bank of England by pointing to a forged bank-note. (p. 30)

One character notes that disbelief is just as bad a curse as gullibility.

Here is the boy who questions everything and a girl who can believe anything. Upon which has the curse fallen?

Bones:

There is not a lot of action in this play. The plot would have been more memorable if it had been a little longer or had more change of scenery.

Quotes:

Old women have taught you that the fairies are too small to be seen. But I tell you the fairies are too mighty to be seen. (p. 4)

The Doctor does not believe me. He is an agnostic; and he knows everything. (p. 43)

There is no bigot like the atheist. (p. 47)

Read: LibriVox (audiobook), Internet Archive (pdf), Project Gutenberg (epub/mobi/html), Kindle Store (mobi)

St. George of England

Mine eyes were sealed with slumber; I sat too long at the ale.
The green dew blights the banner; the red rust eats the mail.
And a spider spanned the chasm from the hand to the fallen sword,
And the sea sang me to sleep; for it called me lord.

This was the hand of the hero; it strangled the dragon’s scream,
But I dreamed so long of the dragon that the dragon was a dream:
And the knight that defied the dragon deserted the princess.
Her knight has stolen her dowry; she has no redress.

Mirror of Justice, shine on us; blaze though the broad sky break
Show us our face though it shatter us; shatter and shake us awake!
We were not tortured of demons, with Berber and Scot,
We that have loved have failed thee! Oh, fail us not!


Source: G. K. Chesterton, The Queen of Seven Swords. London: Sheed & Ward, 1926, p. 49.

Review: Greybeards at Play

Rating: ★★★

Author: G. K. Chesterton was a devoutly Catholic journalist, poet and novelist of the early 20th century. His most apt nickname is “The Prince of Paradox.”

Full Title:  Greybeards at Play: Literature and Art for Old Gentlemen, Rhymes and Sketches

Genre: Poetry, humor.

Overview:

Greybeards at Play is Chesterton’s first published book. He published it in 1900 at the ripe age of 26, so “greybeard” is used with tongue in cheek. This kind of dichotomy or paradox is a major pattern that marks his entire writing career, and looms large in almost every book he wrote. Aging and youth is also a favorite theme of Chesterton in his prose and poetry, used, for instance, in the introduction to The Man Who Was Thursday:

The world was very old indeed when you and I were young.

Meat:

The four poems play on philosophical themes and mock, to some extent, the high-faluting learning that he probably encountered during his London education. (Supposedly, Chesterton’s alma mater had the highest rate of Oxbridge admissions in the country.) This quick book makes fun and relaxing reading and the illustrations make it a treasure from Chesterton’s early career.

The whimsical monochrome illustrations accompanying the poetry will remind some of children’s books like those of Shel Silverstein, but the poetry is not really for children, hence the title.

If you have enjoyed Chesterton’s Wild Knight and Other Poems (1900) or Poems (1915), you will likely enjoy a quick romp through Greybeards at Play, although Greybeards is not as serious as most of his other poetry. If you enjoy the humor in his poetry and the lilt of English “doggerel,” you could also take a peak at Wine, Water and Song, which is all doggerel.

Bones:

These poems are fun, but the book goes by fast, and they are not Chesterton’s best poems (as reflected in the rating).

When I first read the Kindle edition of this book, I wondered at the brevity of it. The word count is only 1675. The reason is that the illustrations are missing in some editions. Chesterton himself created these illustrations, and as far as I know this is the only book he illustrated. He had taken classes at Slade School of Fine Art (UCL), focusing on illustration. If you do read this book, make sure you find an illustrated edition, such as the free HTML version on Project Gutenberg.

5 MUST-READ Inspirational Stories of Apostolic Missions

Missionary biographies are, in one sense, a dime a dozen. Thousands or perhaps tens of thousands of Christians have held that title in some capacity since the days of the Moravians, and hundreds have published their own stories in English alone. In another sense, I believe that, despite their commonality, missionary stories are worth their weight in gold, and I collect and read all of them that I can; I would say the exception is when their stories are not worth reading.

But there are some missionary stories that give us a lens into a greater work of Christ in history. The apostle Paul said that he disposes the times and places of men and women for the purposes of the glory of his kingdom, but seldom are we able to see such obvious evidence of his sovereignty as when the gospel message brings transformation to an entire culture. If that is our subject of study, we can do no better than to begin with the following five stories of national and cultural transformation.

1. Uganda

Outside influences in Africa were, from the beginning, most strongly felt along the coastlines. After David Livingstone led to an explosion of missions work in Africa, Uganda became a major beachhead. Alexander MacKay was among the most famous of the Christian workers there; James Hannington, appointed Anglican Bishop of East Equatorial Africa, was martyred on his arrival to Uganda (or Buganda), leading British Christians to respond by sending even more Christian workers there.

Books: Pilkington of Uganda (C. F. Harford), The Last Journals of James Hannington (ed. E. C. Dawson), Uganda’s White Man of Work (Sophia Fahs).

2. Fiji

Fiji, like Uganda, is a story of national revival. Like Uganda, it is also the story of a place that was organized into chiefdoms, and it was not always clear who held what territory. James and Mary Calvert were at the storm-center of a national revival that overtook Fiji when the chief who ruled much of the islands chose to become a Christian.

During their lifelong stay in Fiji, Mary Calvert boldly challenged the age-old custom of wife-burning at the death of a patriarch. She and others put themselves in danger to save the lives of other women who would have been killed in the funeral celebrations of their husbands, thus playing a key role in the ending of a dark and ancient custom.

If you haven’t heard this thrilling story, Vernon’s Dawn in Fiji is a must-read. If you prefer a book with more facts and details, Rowe’s James Calvert of Fiji gives the best account that I have found.

Books: James Calvert of Fiji (Rowe), Mary Calvert (Rowe), Dawn in Fiji (R. Vernon).

3. The Karen peoples of Myanmar

The story of the Judsons themselves carries interest far beyond their status as the first American missionaries. Right through from their shaky beginnings—when they committed to overseas work, there was no agency to support them—they amply vindicated the title of “missionary” by doing apostolic work that has impacted Myanmar (then Burma) for two centuries.

This story, first told in Edward Judson’s masterful biography of his father, was re-popularized for twentieth-century readers by Don Richardson in his bestselling book Eternity in Their Hearts; however, there is much more to the story than Richardson’s quick survey. After meeting a liberated slave, Adoniram Judson heard that the Karen people would be receptive to Christ’s message of forgiveness. Little did he know that two centuries later, millions of Karen people would consider themselves Christians because of this one meeting.

Readers of this story will think it no coincidence that the first American missionaries stumbled into a people group so utterly primed for the gospel of Christ. The Karen people had unique myths and customs that pointed to a future message that would bring them freedom. Wylie gives the fascinating details of these pre-Christian myths in her classic book, The Gospel in Burma.

Books: The Gospel in Burma (Wylie), The Life of Adoniram Judson (Edward Judson), Eternity in Their Hearts (Don Richardson)

4. The Huaorani people of Ecuador

The Huaorani became the dinner conversation of the entire Western world after they speared five missionaries to death on a remote riverside in 1959. Those five men had come, fully aware of the Huaorani’s violent tendencies, hoping to make peaceful contact and eventually share the gospel with this people. After all five were martyred while venturing for the gospel, in another stunning turn of events, their surviving family members, Rachel Saint and Elisabeth Elliot, were able to accomplish that dream of sharing the gospel with them.

The End of the Spear tells the continuing story in the 1990s, when God called Steve Saint and his family back to the jungle to serve where the people that had killed his father. Steve saw the Westernization and the dependence that had crippled the Huaorani, and he has spent the past 25 years working to give indigenous peoples independence and freedom through both the gospel and education.

Books: The End of the Spear (by Steve Saint), Through Gates of Splendor (by Elisabeth Elliot), The Journals of Jim Elliot.

5. The Motilone people

Unlike many authors who gain traction through mainstream publishing, Bruce Olson has remained utterly outside the limelight. His wonderful biography begins with his own conversion and his family’s harsh disapproval. Led specifically to reach the remote Motilone people, Bruce ended up in Colombia, disowned by his family, unknown to any sending agency, and unable to communicate even a basic greeting in Spanish. The miraculous story of how, after years of patience, he was able to find the remote Motilone people, learn their language, and bring them the gospel, is one that is better told in the book itself.

Originally titled For This Cross I’ll Kill You, Bruce’s autobiographical story of bringing the gospel to the Motilone brought him a hailstorm of criticism for his unusual tale in which he acted as a missionary apart from any denomination or agency. The same criticisms have been resurrected after the death of John Allen Chau in 2018. But God calls each of us to walk the unique path that he gives us, and wisdom will be finally justified by her children. I, for one, think that Bruce’s story is remarkable evidence of the hand of God in our day.

Books: Bruchko (Bruce Olson).