Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 01/02/2008 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. A useful tool for communion preparation.
From the practiced editing pen of Dr. Don Kistler (of Soli Deo Gloria fame) comes a new Jonathan Edwards volume issued under a new imprint: The Northampton Press. This volume is destined to be the first in a long line of Puritan re-releases superintended by Dr. Kistler. Presented in a deep burgundy dust-jacket and featuring Smyth-sewn binding for a two hundred-year shelf life, it features nine previously unreleased communion sermons delivered by Edwards over a twenty-year period. Other physical features include slightly larger font than normal and generous line spacing, and Dr. Kistler’s helpful revisions for clarify. The success of this type of editing relies on the inability of the average reader to perceive where editing has taken place, and this volume succeeds on that count.
Most conspicuous about this collection is the typically Puritan propensity for cyclical teaching. This feature is compounded and made all the more noticeable because many of the points are not only internally repeated within any given sermon, but because they are recur throughout the collection of communion sermons. However, this should not be seen as detracting from the usefulness and dynamism of the collection, but as a helpful feature for both the original listeners in historical context, and for contemporary readers who forget the words they have read within a page or two. Do not most of us fall into this category?
As communion addresses, the first nine sermons explore many of the central themes of the Lord’s Supper:
- The earthly feast as a rehearsal for the heavenly feast
- The Pauline contrast between food offered to idols and the food and drink of the Lord’s Supper
- The theological parallels of Old Testament food and drink offerings and the elements of the Lord’s Supper
- The nature of the Supper as communion between Christ and His people, as well as between His people
- The spiritual nourishment received by Christians who partake, versus the judgment stored up for those who partake unworthily
- The necessity of the Cross, as we could not have Christ as spiritual nourishment unless He was slain for us
- The Lord’s Supper is in some way a weekly practice of covenant renewal with our covenant-keeping God
- The importance of self-examination before we approach the table. However, it should be noted that Edwards insists that those Christians who feel the most burdened by their sins should be the first to participate in communion, for it is they who partake most worthily in the forgiveness of the blood of Christ. Edwards is amusing on this very grave point: “If you don’t come to the ordinance because you aren’t prepared, and aren’t prepared because you won’t be prepared, and because you choose rather to be unprepared, your unpreparedness won’t lighten your punishment for your neglect of your duty.”
- One of the ends of the Lord’s Supper is to distinguish those who are of the visible church as visible Christians from the rest of the world, insofar as humanly possible.
Of special note is the seventh communion message, which performs a dual act as both a communion message and a conversion message. As such, it contains many quotable gospel references. Appendixed as a bonus to the communion messages are six more sermons which run the gamut from the gospel of grace, the meaning of the ‘new birth’, the efficacy of the Word when it is preached, the nature of those headed for heaven, the transcendence of Christ, and most Edwardsian of all, the intrinsic happiness of God.
All in all, this volume is very pleasing, provided you have realistic expectations of Puritan preaching. If not, please see Dr. Kistler’s booklet Why Read the Puritans Today? If I were forced to level any criticisms, they would be minor: the pages in the table of contents are askew, the beginning of the book suffers, in my opinion, from an abrupt deep-sea dive directly into Edwards without the benefit of an introduction, and the eighteenth-century colloquialisms “ ‘em” could have been more consistently rendered as ‘them.’ These minor points aside, the volume is good fodder for ministerial exhortations, as well as for personal communion preparation. I look forward to a continuing output of Puritans works from the Northampton Press for years to come.