Category Archives: Book Reviews

Review: The Star in the East

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: Claudius Buchanan (1766-1815) was a minister and missionary in the Church of England. He went to India as a chaplain in 1797, and afterward became very influential in organizing native (i.e., not English) education and translation of Scriptures. He also held great influence in the Mar Thoma church (Kerala, India) and was a key supporter of the first Malayali Bible translation.

Overview:  This little book is a sermon preached in 1809 in Bristol, for the Society for Missions to Africa and Asia, when the author had just returned from India. Buchanan was an inspiration to Adoniram Judson as well as a witness to some fascinating and forgotten history, which is summarized below as an inspiration to the cause of Christian missions.


Buchanan’s sermon recounts historical facts which he sees as providential in advancing the cause of Christian missions. Below are the points that he mentions:

  • Danish and German missionaries had arrived in Tamil Nadu (i.e. the Tranquebar colony in south India) in 1706, and their work had brought great results. (Buchanan lived in India for many years and knew firsthand the quality of the church there.)

What then was the effect of giving them the Bible? It was the same as that which followed the giving of the Bible to us. . . . God blessed his own word to the conversion of the heart, and men began to worship him in sincerity and truth. (loc. 367)

  • The spread of the British Empire was providential in the spread of Christianity.
  • The translation of Scriptures into Eastern languages was also providential. Buchanan refers to Henry Martyn and his associates pointedly; Buchanan himself also supported several translation projects.
  • Buchanan promulgated to the West the existence of the “Syrian Christians” in India—the Mar Thoma church, called Syrian because of their use of the Syriac language in liturgy:

We may contemplate the history of this people, existing so long in that dark region, as a type of the inextinguishable Light of Christ’s religion; and, in this sense, it may be truly said, “We have seen his Star in the East.” (loc. 336)

  • Buchanan refers to the strange and interesting tale of an associate of Henry Martyn, an Arab baptized as Nathaniel Sabat, who later left the faith. Robert Murray McCheyne, another important Scottish preacher, has a (not so inspirational!) pamphlet on him and the strange tale of his apostasy and death (Sabat the Arabian, the Apostate (1854)). Buchanan describes “Sabat” and his “vernacular writings” thus:

His first work is entitled Happy News for Arabia [نعمة بشارةٍ للعربي]; written in the Nabuttee [Nabataean?], or common dialect of the country. It contains an eloquent and argumentative elucidation of the truth of the Gospel, with copious authorities admitted by the Mahometans [i.e., Muslims] themselves, and particularly by the Wahabians [Wahhabis].

Note: It doesn’t appear that any of these writings are extant.

Buchanan mentions all these are more as evidences that the time has come to once again announce Christ in the East, as the wise men once did.

In his conclusion, Buchanan also mentions British opponents of missions, saying that “in the future history of our country, it will scarcely be believed that in the present age, an attempt should have been made to prevent the diffusion of the blessed principles of the Christian religion.” (loc. 448) The author then compares naysayers to the pessimistic spies of Israel, who did not believe they should enter the promised land (loc. 469).

In the mean time, while men hold different opinions on the subject here, the great work goes on in the East. . . . And on this point I judge it right to notice a remarkable mistake, which appears to have existed on both sides of the question. It seems to have been assumed on the one side, and conceded on the other, that we have it in our power to prevent the progress of Christianity in India. (loc. 492)

Review: Faber’s Hymns

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: Frederick William Faber (1814-1863), a prolific Catholic writer and poet. Swept by the tide of the Anglo-Catholic movement, he converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism in 1845; nevertheless, his hymns in particular are treasured by Protestant and Catholic alike.

A. W. Tozer did a great deal towards popularizing Faber’s verse to a modern audience, in his books The Knowledge of the Holy and The Christian Book of Mystical Verse (which includes a few of the best hymns from Faber, but omits many of the hymns in the collection discussed in this review).

Overview: As far as hymns go, Faber made his own track, and he has been amply praised for it. Whereas many hymns of the period had a didactic flavor, Faber’s motive and goal is entirely devotional. He does not go on incorporating new elements in a single song; more along the lines of modern worship songs, he is laser focused on one aspect of God’s character.

Note on Editions: Many collections of Faber’s hymns have been published, but this edition (first published in 1894, long after his death) has been particularly popular. For the Pioneer Library reprint, a selection was made of the best 55 hymns, excluding several that should have been classed as poems, and others that were directed towards a Catholic audience. (The original edition had 72 hymns in total.)

Meat: The strength of the collection, as mentioned, is in simple, devotional verses on God’s character. “Come to Jesus” is the most popular of these and has been included in many hymnals; but many, many others are unforgettable: “The Unity of God,” “Majesty Divine,” “The Eternal Father,” “Jesus, My God and My All,” “From Pain to Pain,” and “The Creation of the Angels” are all hymns that are so intense as to be unsuitable for congregational worship. They demand a quiet, lonely space for prayer and the awestruck gratitude of single-hearted worship.

Faber also deals with dry seasons in many great poems, like “Distractions in Prayer,” “Dryness in Prayer,” and others

Faber also deals with grief and the afterlife in many of the hymns near the end of the collection, but in my opinion they were not the strongest of the bunch.

Bones: As I mentioned, the original edition is created for a Catholic (or, perhaps Anglo-Catholic) audience. The idea of a hymn addressed to Mary is inherently offensive to me; some of the ways of talking about the afterlife also seemed odd. For that reason, I recommend our new edition, which was painstakingly re-created.

Read Online:

A few of my favorite hymns, which are available online, are:

“Jesus, My God and My All” (a favorite of Leonard Ravenhill)

“Creation of the Angels”

“Come to Jesus”

“Harsh Judgments”

Buy: You can buy the new edition in paperback for $9.99, or on Kindle for $2.99. This book also has Kindle Matchbook which means that if you buy my paperback from Amazon, the Kindle version will be free.



Review: L’Abri

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: Edith Schaeffer, co-founder of L’Abri, American missionary to Switzerland with her husband, Francis Schaeffer, and their three children. Edith and Francis Schaeffer spent several years serving the Presbyterian church in Missouri and in writing children’s materials as missionaries before they stumbled into a mission to reach Europe’s intelligentsia, which became their full-time vocation and lifelong focus. Edith’s books are very different in tone from those of her husband—but they are at least as good, if not better.


L’Abri is the personal faith journey of Edith and Francis Schaeffer, as narrated by Edith. (I hope she doesn’t mind being on a first-name basis, since there are a lot of published Schaeffers.) Like all the great classics of inspirational biography—like God’s Smuggler, Francke’s autobiography, or Pierson’s biography of Müller—the entire narrative turns on specific moments of answered prayer and scriptural guidance. Clearly, God guided the Schaeffers to leave church leadership in Missouri and embark on an innovative and eclectic mission to the travelers and students of Switzerland. At first, they were in Switzerland as Presbyterian missionaries who also wrote children’s ministry materials; later, their mission gained focus as God guided them to establish themselves in Huemoz, which was a hot spot for young travelers.


There are many moments of supernatural guidance in L’Abri. Sometimes, one feels that the Schaeffers knew that God would answer their prayers, without a shadow of a doubt. At other times, our narrator doesn’t seem so sure, but God still answers and proves his faithfulness.

Overall, this is one of the most inspirational biographies that I have ever read, and it is also fast-moving and easy to read. I would recommend it to anyone.


As I mentioned in my review of Edith’s book, Affliction, Affliction and L’Abri are two books that should ideally be read in sequence. The story of L’Abri may come off as overly optimistic and polished; Christians in times of affliction may feel inspired, but wonder, “is it really so easy?” Affliction balances that by narrating many of the difficulties and challenges to Edith’s faith that came up during her years at L’Abri, and how she and Francis grew in their faith both in spite of and because of those difficulties.

Review: Girolamo Savonarola (Crawford)

Rating: ★★★½

Author: William Henry Crawford (1855-1944) spent much of his career as President of Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. He is also the author of The Church and the Slum.

Girolamo Savonarola was a reformer within Catholicism who boldly opposed the excesses of the Italian clergy. He was greatly beloved by Martin Luther; readers of inspirational books will also remember his prophetic experiences as recounted in James Gilchrist Lawson’s Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians.


Savonarola was born in 1452 and suffered martyrdom in 1498. Like Wyclif and Hus, he sought reform within the Catholic church, but too few sided with him to see the reforms accomplished, and he was eventually excommunicated and executed. He was never held guilty of heresy, and it appears that many Catholics revered him after his death. He was a contemporary of many very prominent Renaissance men: Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Angelo, Lorenzo the Magnificent.


The author gives numerous moving quotations from Savonarola’s writings, many of which I have given below. Savonarola began publishing his sermons around the time he took the Duomo pulpit in 1489, and by the end of his life nine years later, he had thirty volumes of published work, including tracts, poems, songs, and sermons. Crawford sums up the great influence of his writings here:

His published sermons were read in France, in Germany, and in England. Even the sultan had some of them translated that he might read them.

He wrote Miserere and Exposition of the Thirtieth Psalm. The Miserere was widely published after his death, and in a remarkably short space of time ran through thirteen separate editions. Both were republished by Martin Luther at Strassburg. In the preface Luther declared that Savonarola was a precursor of the Protestant doctrine, and one of the martyrs of the Reformation. “This man,” said he, “was put to death solely for having desired that some one should come to purify the slough of Rome.”

Michael Angelo . . . was wont to read the sermons of the great Prior of San Marco, and talk of the life and character of the statesman-preacher.

Protestants have pointed out, influenced in part, no doubt, by the strong words of Martin Luther, that Savonarola deserves a place among the great reformers in the Protestant movement which had its beginning in the fifteenth century. They hold that when we speak of John Wyclif and his heroic work in England and of John Huss and what he did and suffered in Bohemia, we ought also to speak, and very clearly and emphatically, too, of Girolamo Savonarola as the man who more than any other, and more than all others combined, gave a moral and a spiritual tone and character to the Renaissance.


Considering how difficult it is to find Savonarola’s published works in English, I was somewhat disappointed that the author didn’t do more to outline the sources of his many quotations.

I was also expecting, as I mentioned above, to read the story that is retold in Lawson’s Deeper Experiences; and while there are similar stories in this biography, about several prophetic occurrences in Savonarola’s life, the story is not told in the same way. I greatly enjoyed this biography as a great introduction to an important reformer and martyr, but I do hope to find another, more detailed biography of Savonarola in the future. (I would love it if someone would recommend one in the comments!)

Quotes from Savonarola:

“I preach the regeneration of the Church, taking the Scriptures as my sole guide.”

“I have no friend save Christ and the righteous.”

“It is quite a mistake to say that we have entered upon a new mode of life. A return to the principles and example of our saintly predecessors is not the adoption of a new mode of life . . . but . . . to live in a cell handsome enough for a prince; to hold possessions contrary to the profession of one’s Order; to wear rich cloth . . . to pray little; these things are indeed innovations and are a stumbling-block to souls.”

“Forsake pomp and vanities,” he cried out in his pulpit. “Sell all superfluous things, and bestow the money on the poor.”

“The vengeance of the eternal God is hot! From peasant to pope, he will strike sin and break corruption in pieces.”

“In the primitive church the chalices were of wood, the prelates of gold; in these days the Church hath chalices of gold and prelates of wood.”

“In these days there is no grace, no gift of the Holy Spirit that may not be bought and sold.”

“You forsake me, deride me,” said he, “yet shall I gain a few disciples, who will give all up for Christ’s sake; they will dress like the poor … they will be truthful; they will climb the mount of faith; they will have revelations from heaven and more learning, not however, the learning of Scotus or the poets, but that of their own conscience and of Holy Writ.”

“Charity does not consist in written papers, the true books of Christ are the apostles and the saints; the true reading of them, is to imitate their lives.”

“If any one asks why the will is free, we reply unto them, Because it is will.”

“Take the example of the mother with the child. Who hath taught this young woman, who hath had no children before, to nurse her babe? Love. See what fatigue she endureth by day and by night to rear it, and how the heaviest fatigue seemeth light to her. What is the cause of this? It is love. See what ways she hath, what loving caresses and sweet words for this little babe of hers! What hath taught her these things? Love. Take the example of Christ, who, moved by the deepest charity, came to us as a little child, in all things like unto the sons of men, and submitted to hunger and thirst, to heat and cold and discomfort. What hath urged Him to do this? Love.”

“Florence! Jesus Christ, who is King of the universe, hath willed to become thy King. Wilt thou have Him for thy King?”

“Who is he that putteth bounds to the mercy of God, and thinketh to bear the waters of the ocean in his hands?” (Exposition of the Thirtieth Psalm)

“I have embarked on a stormy flood, assailed on all sides by contrary winds. I would fain reach the port, yet I can find no dock; would fain repose, yet find no resting-place … Come, O Lord, since thou dost have me steer through these deep waters, let thy will be done.”

“Now, if Jesus Christ has done all these things without miracles, it is the greatest of all miracles; and if He has accomplished them by miracles this religion is Divine.” (The Triumph of the Cross)

“The time draws near to open the casket, and if we but turn the key there will come forth such a stench from the Roman sink that it will spread through all Christendom, and every one will perceive it.”

“When the torture was over and he was led back to his cell, he immediately knelt down and prayed in the words of Christ, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.””

“I separate thee from the Church militant —and—and—from the Church triumphant.” “From the Church militant,” quickly replied Savonarola; “thou canst do that, but thou hast no power to separate me from the Church triumphant.”

Savonarola’s Relationship to Lorenzo:

“Lorenzo sent rich gifts to the convent. The only allusion to the large benefactions was in a sermon, when the preacher said, “A faithful dog does not give up barking in his master’s defense because a bone is thrown to him.” To the delight of the monks large pieces of gold were found in the boxes of the monastery. Savonarola, knowing well enough where they came from, ordered them sent to the Good Men of St. Martin, a society whose business it was to care for the poor.”

“Lorenzo the Magnificent lay dying. … To the amazement of all he commanded them to send for Savonarola, and said, “I know no honest friar save this one.”

“When Pope Innocent VIII came to the papal throne Lorenzo made friends with him, and through this friendship obtained a cardinal’s hat for his son Giovanni, then only fourteen years of age. This boy-cardinal afterwards became Pope Leo X, whose bull Martin Luther burned at Wittenberg.”

“Florence,” writes Guicciardini, “could not have had a better or more delightful tyrant.”

The Times in Which He Lived:

“We deem this friar to be a good and pious man, thoroughly versed in the Christian faith. He has labored many years for the welfare of the people, and no fault has ever been detected either in his life or his doctrine.”

“On the night of June 14, the pope’s eldest son, the Duke of Candia, was killed by a dagger thrust, and his body thrown into the Tiber. The murderer was the duke’s own brother, Cesare Borgia, Cardinal of Valencia.”

“The plague was now on in Florence. Savonarola was shut up in his convent ministering to the sick, writing letters to friends, publishing small tractates, and finishing his monumental work on The Triumph of the Cross.”

Two Poems:

“Perhaps the most significant event during the seven years spent in this monastery, was the discovery that the corruption which he had seen blighting the world was also blasting the Church. The foul atmosphere of the court and the rabble had touched also the priests and monks. It was in Ferrara that he wrote his poem on “The Ruin of the World.” In Bologna he wrote a new poem. Its title was, “The Ruin of the Church.” In his poetic vision the Church was represented as a chaste and venerable virgin. Burning to speak with her, he asks, “Where is the light of early days? Where are the ancient saints? Where is the learning, love, and purity of olden times?” Taking him by the hand the virgin leads him to a poor cave where she dwells. She shows him her beautiful body “disfigured with the wine red finger marks of evil.” “Who hath done this?” he asks. The Church replies, “A false, proud, harlot; Rome hath done it.” Then it was that the fiery indignation of the future prophet broke forth in strongest passion, “O God, lady, that I might break those spreading wings!”

His Preaching Material:

“He boldly announced that the Church would be scourged; that it would be regenerated; and that all this would come to pass speedily. This announcement was not made as a vision; it was a conclusion supported by rational argument and on the authority of the Bible. ”

“His theme in this series of sermons was the Book of Revelation. … He reproved sin, denounced the corruptions of the time, and pointed out the impending threatenings of God’s wrath.”

“The most powerful impressions made by his preaching were not through his impassioned denunciations of vice and evil-doing, but in his touching and beautiful descriptions of the mercy of God and his love, and in his tender and earnest pleadings with the people to bring their lives into harmony with the divine life of Jesus Christ.”

“He re-read the prophets; the noble and impassioned addresses of Isaiah, and the frightful woes and lamentations of Jeremiah.”

“The iniquity of my sanctuary crieth to me from the earth.”

Reform and Revival:

“His one aim now was to carry out a program of reform…. The practice of manual labor was introduced, the study of painting and sculpture, and the art of writing and illuminating manuscripts were encouraged. …Most earnestly he inculcated on all the study of the Holy Scripture… One reason for teaching the Syriac and the Chaldee was that he might later fulfill his holy purpose of preaching the Gospel to the Turk.”

“He dreamed of a regeneration which would revive the whole Church and bring Constantinople again within the Christian fold. Even in this age, so dark morally and spiritually, Savonarola had the spirit of the true missionary of the first century and the twentieth.”

“The transformations in the social life of Florence, from 1495 to 1497, read like the story of miracles… Theaters and taverns were empty; cards and dice disappeared; the churches were crowded; … the Prior of San Marco was everywhere hailed”

Savonarola wanted to see the entire Catholic church rise up to depose Alexander and choose a righteous pope:

“His plan involved the co-operation of the sovereigns of France, Spain, Germany, England, and Hungary in calling a council of the whole Church.”

On Obedience and Authority

“We are not compelled to obey all commands; … when in evident contradiction with the law of charity laid down in the Gospel, it is our duty to resist them, even as St. Paul resisted St. Peter.”

“It will be observed that the one sin of which Savonarola was guilty was disobedience. He was not pronounced a heretic, but only described as “suspected of heresy.”

“The righteous prince or the good priest,” said he, “is merely an instrument in the Lord’s hands for the government of the people. But when the higher Agency is withdrawn from prince or priest he is no longer an instrument, but a broken tool.”

Relationship to Charles VIII of France

Savonarola “announced his text, “Behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth.” A strange alarm seemed to sweep over the audience. Pico della Mirandola declared afterwards that he felt a cold shiver run over him, and that his hair stood on end. ”

“The flood had come with the French king—so Savonarola believed.”

“France, under Charles VIII, began “the mighty movement that was to bring life to Europe by Italy’s death.” (Villari) This invasion Gibbon describes as “An event which changed the face of Europe.”

“Many carried concealed weapons and more than one steel corslet was hidden under the closely drawn robes of outraged Florentines crowded together in the dimly-lighted Duomo. … There was no allusion to politics. Nothing was said about old party or new party.”

From his sermon after the announcement of the invasion:

“I have long been as a father; I have labored all the days of my life to teach you the truths of straight and of Godly living, yet I have received nothing but tribulation … Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

There came “a message from France announcing the death of Charles VIII. He had died on the 7th of April, the very day of the ordeal of fire.”

Relationship to the Pope:

“I preach,” said he, “the doctrine of the holy apostles, … and am ready, if I should be in error, not only to correct myself, but to avow it publicly, and make amends before the whole people. And now again I repeat that which I have always said, that is, that I submit myself and my writings to the correction of the Holy Roman Church.”

“To him Alexander was “an infidel and a heretic,” who had purchased St. Peter’s chair for money. He was, therefore, not a true pope.”

“The position of Savonarola at this point was thoroughly Protestant.”

“The pope now rose to strike down the reformer of the North, who had dared speak out so boldly against the Church.”


“The name Piagnoni, meaning “the weepers,” was given in derision. The Piagnoni were strongly opposed to the Medici, believed in popular government, were in full sympathy with the movement for moral reform, and were the stout defenders of the rights of the people.”

“He said to the boys, “Sing as much as you will, but sing hymns and not immoral songs. I will write songs for you.”

The Medicis were temporarily deposed during Savonarola’s lifetime and ascendency in Florence’s most prominent pulpit. Wikipedia states simply that he became “de facto” rule of Florence. Crawford writes that “the Piagnoni were, for the time, the absolute masters of Florence.” but that Savonarola “held himself utterly aloof from narrow and party spirit.”

Bonfire of the vanities:

“Gambling devices of all sorts were there, musical instruments which had been used in the revelries of former carnivals, lascivious books both in Latin and Italian, indecent pictures and pieces of sculpture, women’s dresses with immodest figures on them, and gay and fantastic carnival trappings of all sorts. The apex of the pyramid was crowned with a personification of old King Carnival.”

“The white-robed children arranged in front of the old Palace and the Loggia dei Lanzi! Singing their lauds and hymns in honor of King Jesus, they cried out their childish invectives against the carnival, and shouted with fine enthusiasm, “Viva Gesu Christo, nostra Re!” At a given signal torches lighted the pyramid at the four corners, and the .mighty pile blazed and flamed in mad fury! The children shouted louder than ever! The trumpeters of the Signory sounded their trumpets; the bells from the Palace tower pealed forth notes of triumph, and all the people in the Piazza shouted with the children, shouted as they had never shouted before, “Long live Jesus Christ, King of Florence.” So ended the carnival of 1497.”

On Peacekeeping:

“Do not stain your hands in blood; do not disobey the precepts of the Gospel, nor your superior’s commands.”

“Prayer,” he said to the friars, “is the only weapon to be employed by a minister of the Gospel.”

On Prophecy:

“Perhaps a word ought to be said just here with reference to Savonarola’s claim to prophetic gifts. It will be remembered that from the beginning of his public ministry he saw visions, in which it seemed to him that God actually spoke to him and gave him a message for the people. The word which he proclaimed was not his word but God’s word. This he said over and over again. More than once, too, he foretold events which actually came to pass. There were two notable instances, however, in which he failed. First, in the case of Charles VIII, whom he described as the scourge of God, who would punish the princes of Italy and be the means of regenerating the Church. This Charles did not do.”

“The second notable failure was in the prophecy that he would “turn the key,” and that the princes of the nations would rise up to depose Alexander, and adopt means for the reformation of the Church.”

“in some instances Savonarola failed to distinguish between human discernment of the inevitable results of a course of action and direct, immediate revelation.”

“The prophet is a discerner rather than a foreteller.”

Notes From: William H. Crawford. “Girolamo Savonarola: A Prophet of Righteousness.” iBooks.

Review: A Short History of England (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.”


This book is difficult to summarize except to say that it is not at all what you expect based on its title; but it is 100% what you expect based on its author. Where others would see cause and effect, Chesterton sees principles and personalities. He is not aptly suited to introduce the layman to English history; but he is aptly suited to make comments to someone who knows English history well.

I would commend this book to readers who enjoy Chesterton’s works of criticism, such as Heretics.


In my opinion, there is not much remarkable about this book except that Chesterton wrote it, (which makes it almost impossible to give it less than three stars, because of the wit and interest that pervades everything his pen touches). Much of this book was inscrutable for an American such as myself, who is not already versed in English history before beginning the book.

At the time Chesterton wrote this, it had become popular to try to focus more on daily life through history rather than just reciting and dates and battles as so many others had done. Chesterton, however, seems to do neither—rather, he tries to trace changes in English thought.


As someone very poorly versed in European history as a whole, I had thought how pleasant it would be to be introduced to it through the pen of Chesterton; but I believe now that Chesterton did not write this to introduce anyone. Rather, he wrote it to respond to what others British authors had said in their own histories of England. After all, books of English history were quite in vogue in the Victorian period.

Chesterton was a journalist, not a historian; and the book, if not for John Richard Green, could have been titled therefore, A Short Commentary on a Short History of England. It simply does not read as a history book.

Despite all my caviling and criticisms, as I implied above, it is a remarkable thing that Chesterton wrote it. He is still his snarky, pithy, paradoxical self, as my quick collection of quotes will prove.


“It is an excellent habit to read history backwards.” (ch. 7, loc. 708)

“All government is an ugly necessity.” (ch. 8, loc. 856)

“The scientific age comes first and the mythological age after it.” (ch. 3, loc. 198)

“All men bear the image of the King of Kings.” (ch. 15, loc. 2031)

“It is sometimes valuable to have enough imagination to unlearn as well as to learn.” (ch. 5, loc. 425)

“The visionaries are the only practical men.” (ch. 4, loc. 367)

“Slavery was for the Church not a difficulty of doctrine, but a strain on the imagination.” (ch. 2, loc. 136.)

“The very work ‘monk’ is a revolution, for it means solitude and came to mean community—one might call it sociability.” (ch. 4, loc. 377)

“I would maintain that thanks are [is?] the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” (ch. 6, loc. 582)

Chesterton is critical of John Calvin’s ideas, which he summarizes: “that men must be created to be lost and saved.” (ch. 13, loc. 1671)

His conclusion is reminiscent of his poem, The Ballad of the White Horse:

“At least, if there be anything valid in my own vision of these things, we have returned to an origin and we are back in the war with the barbarians.” (ch. 18, loc. 2414)

Read: This book is free on Kindle and free as an audiobook on LibriVox (which I recommend).

For more free books by G. K. Chesterton, follow this link to get links to just about all of them and in any format imaginable.

Review: Apostle to Islam

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: J. Christy Wilson (Sr.) (1891-1973) was an influential missionary in Persia. He published Apostle to Islam in 1952, the year after Samuel M. Zwemer died. (His son, J. Christy Wilson, Jr., (1921-1999), was a pioneer missionary in Afghanistan, and was also nothing to sneeze at.)

Samuel M. Zwemer (the subject of this biography) was a pioneer missionary among Arabs along the Persian Gulf. His later career was spent writing, teaching and mobilizing for missions among Muslims while he was based in Egypt for many years, and later at Princeton Theological Seminary. (Click here for more on Samuel M. Zwemer, or read his biography.)

Overview: This is probably the most comprehensive biography involving Christian work in the Muslim world. It is engaging, multi-faceted, well-researched, and well-written.

Like Ion Kieth-Falconer and others, Zwemer’s life must be divided into several streams:

  • His academic career, which included a chair at Princeton Seminary in his later life.
  • His literary career, which spans 48 volumes—one writer quips that, like Luther, he “threw his inkpot at the devil”.
  • His pioneer work—Zwemer was one of the earlier student volunteers, and he held a position of influence in the movement—with Lansing and Cantine, he also founded the Arabian Mission, which was remarkable for its ambition and sacrifice.
  • His publishing work—Zwemer was the editor of The Moslem World Quarterly from 1911 to 1947.
  • His mobilization work, which, according to Ruth Tucker, was his most important contribution. Year after year, his annual schedule involved platforms and pulpits in three languages in America, India, South Africa, Indonesia, China, Persia, etc.

With so much travel and so many contributions, Wilson mainly focuses on his work; there is not much “table talk” or personal touch. This book is too big-picture for that. The biography itself reads as an account of the revival of interest in evangelical missions to Muslim-majority people groups, and for that reason it is indispensable.

Meat: One of the high points for me was reading about Lucknow 1911 for the first time—a watershed moment in missions history, in which modern missions to Muslims became focused, intentional and organized.

Zwemer seems to have been steadfast, if a little grave; and orthodox, if a bit staunch. His life work is remarkable and unparalleled, and this is one of the best books it has been my high privilege to bring back into publication.

Bones: Something that will disappoint some readers, as Ruth Tucker points out in From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, is that Zwemer had very few converts in his lifetime. He was an eagle in theology; a seer in writing; a “steam-engine” in mobilization, as his close colleague testified; but he himself did not win many people to Christ in the Arab world. For that reason, some reviewers take this book to be uninspiring; I felt—quite the opposite—that his mobilization work undoubtedly has resulted in innumerable converts through the next generation, and from this I took great encouragement as a missionary in an all-but-forgotten field.

Some personal takeaways from Zwemer’s life as a whole: I take a spur and a warning both from this biography. First, mobilization, writing, and conference work are critical elements of our global task. They must not be neglected. Second, the most important work in ministry will always be not publishing, but people—one at a time—and loving your neighbor is harder and more glorious than a mile-long trail of print. This is exactly why mobilization was Zwemer’s greatest contribution; because that is where he was relationally invested.


Review: The Solitary Throne

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: Samuel M. Zwemer was a pioneer missionary among Arabs along the Persian Gulf. His later career was spent writing, teaching and mobilizing for missions among Muslims while he was based in Egypt for many years, and later at Princeton Theological Seminary.


As the original cover shows, this book is composed of five addresses given at the Keswick Convention in 1937, “on the glory and uniqueness of the Christian message.” Their actual content is a little less focused than that, but more devotional and less apologetic than the subtitle implies.


I have finished only a few of Samuel Zwemer’s books, but I have perused the lot of them enough to know that this may be his very best work. “The Glory of the Impossible”—a title also given to a chapter of Zwemer’s 1911 book The Unoccupied Fields and in an article by Lilias Trotter in the Missionary Review of the World—is a timeless and inspirational theme that resonates especially for apostolic missionaries. “His Ministers a Flame” was an equally compelling chapter on a disturbing but oft-neglected New Testament metaphor.

Zwemer was a voracious reader, and has a marvelous knack for compiling fascinating and rare illustrations and quotations from every imaginable source: history, biography, fiction, hymnology, poetry, and elsewhere. Several of the best are quoted below.


The fifth chapter, “The Hinterland of the Soul,” fell a little flat for me because of its imperial language. I am rather certain than when it was written, this language was meant to be mainly spiritual; but here in the 21st century, it resonates more like a call to be united with fallen power structures of this world—an unequal yoke that the crucified Christ never called us to. Nonetheless, if I can take Zwemer’s call to “rule the world for Christ” in a spiritual sense, then I can see its merit.


The Solitary Throne:

Napoleon on St. Helena said: “I know men, and Jesus was no man. Charlemagne, Alexander the Great, and I, founded great empires upon force, and here is One who founded an empire upon love. And now I am alone and forsaken, and there are millions who would die for Him.”

Jean Paul Richter, of Germany, in a wonderful passage, said: “O Thou who art mightiest among the mighty, and the holiest among the holy, Thou with Thy pierced hands, hast lifted empires off their hinges, and turned the tide of human history!”

Jesus Christ is the only religious leader Who came to destroy all race barriers and class hatreds.

His Ministers a Flame:

You cannot keep your wood pile, you cannot keep your coal in the cellar, if you would have a fire on the hearth.

The very presence of Jesus always demands decision.

The Roman Catholic Church believes in Purgatory hereafter. We believe in Purgatory now.

I love to go to the University Library in Princeton. Over the fireplace in the library of that Graduate School there are carved these Latin words from the Vulgate Psalter: “In Meditatione mea exardescet ignis.” “While I sit meditating, the fire burns.”[See Psalm 39:3.]

Once I was to preach a sermon at an anniversary in a Methodist Church; there were a great number of ministers present, and I was greatly honoured to be allowed to preach there. We met in the vestry. And the sexton, whose work it was to take care of the comfort of the preacher, said to me: “Would you like a glass of water in the pulpit?” I said: “No, I would like a bonfire.” He smiled. That is what I felt that day.

Let us often read the Acts of the Apostles. It is a neglected Book amongst those who ought to be leaders of the Church of Christ.

May we never glibly pray the prayer that we may be filled with the Holy Spirit.


Believe me, the principle of unbelief is not primarily intellectual, but moral.

This groping after the Light was the promise of full enlightenment. It always is, as we missionaries on the foreign field know; and our hearts leap with joy when some Nicodemus comes to us by night, saying: “Sir, we would see Jesus,” whether it be a penitent publican or an irreproachable Pharisee. Those who seek find; to those who knock, the door is opened.

There is no tragedy more real and more moving in all history, and in our own lives, than the deliberate rejection of Christ; because it is due, not to any extraordinary wickedness in the Jews, or the Romans, or the people of New York, or the people of London, but to the ordinary motives of men.

If you are neglecting your morning watch, if you are omitting your daily Bible study, if you are forsaking the assembling together of the saints as the manner of some is, you may be sure that all of these things are early symptoms of photophobia, and will end in spiritual blindness.

The Glory of the Impossible:

In 1923 I spoke on the patience of God in the evangelisation of Mohammedan lands from the text: “Master, we have toiled all the night and have taken nothing. Nevertheless, at Thy word I will let down the nets.”

The history of Missions in every land is the story of the achievement of the impossible.

One of the saintliest of British missionaries, Miss Lilias Trotter, of North Africa, wrote just before her death in Algeria; “We who are engaged in Moslem work live in a land of blighted promises. That is a fact that none of us who love its people best can deny; and the deadly heart-sickness of hope deferred, sometimes makes even the most optimistic of us almost despair of seeing abiding fruitage to the work.”

We need once again to face the glory of this impossible task. . . . There is only one thing that is impossible—it is impossible for God to lie.

It is daybreak, not sunset in the Moslem world.

The Hinterland of the Soul:

In the eighteenth century the future belonged to John Wesley; it did not belong to those influential ecclesiastics who crowded him out of their churches and forced him, against his own inclinations, to preach in the open fields. Now to whom does the future of the twentieth century belong save to those Christians who are already looking beyond the horizon, who can read the signs of the times, and who makes bold adventures for God?