Posts Tagged ‘Archibald Alexander’

The DIVINE PURPOSE

December 1, 2009

   Displayed in the Works of Providence and Grace 

      One of the great privileges of my life is that of serving as an instrument to introduce people all over the world to books and authors who have been long forgotten. Over the past ten days the Lord used an upper respiratory infection to set me aside to discover the ministry of John Matthews (1772-1848), through his only two books. I would like to introduce you to the first book in this blog, and the other book in my next one.

The Divine Purpose by John Matthews

      Dr. Matthews wrote his first book in 1825 and entitled it The Divine Purpose, Displayed in the Works of Providence and Grace; in a Series of Twenty Letters, addressed to an Inquiring Friend. The book passed through three more editions, with the last one (in 1843) a Preface was added by Archibald Alexander of Princeton Theological Seminary. The only change that took place in the last edition was that the first and second letter were slightly altered (by the author) and combined into one letter, so that the total number of letters was reduced to nineteen.

      A friend of Dr. Matthews had written to ask him to clarify some issues he had been struggling with about two items: the decrees of God and the perseverance of the saints. The first 16 letters deal with the former subject, and the last three with the latter one. In the Preface by Dr. Alexander he says the following about the letters on Perseverance: “At the close of the volume there are letters replete with solid argument and ingenious illustration on ‘the perseverance of the saints.’ It will be here seen, that the representation commonly given of this comfortable doctrine, by its enemies, are exceedingly distorted, and altogether unjust. When rightly understood it is the very thing which the Christian needs, not only to comfort his heart, but to encourage his efforts. It ought surely to be a pleasing thought that no member of Christ’s mystical body shall be broken off; no sheep of his flock be finally lost; for ‘we are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.’”

      Of all the books I have read on the doctrines of grace, and especially the divine decrees, I have never had a book speak to my heart the way this one has. I love the way Dr. Matthews lays out a case and seeks to take each case one step at a time. He uses illustrations from all walks of life to seek to explain things about the divine plan and the divine purpose. He uses several examples from the world of architecture which are very helpful in pointing out the folly of trying to say that God can be in control (sovereign) over the big matters, but not over the small matters that produce those big matters. His chapter on the way God raised up and prepared Cyrus to conquer Babylon the great, and to deliver exiled Israel back to Jerusalem is incredible.

      Dr. Archibald Alexander, who wrote the brief Preface to the 1843 edition, actually published a 25 page Review of The Divine Purpose in 1831 in the Biblical Repertory and Theological Review. He said the following about the author and his approach to this thorny subject: “In this little volume, very interesting and important subjects are brought into discussion: and it is one recommendation of this work, that a doctrine, most commonly handled in a forbidding and polemical style, is here treated with great calmness, and brought down to common apprehension, by means of familiar and appropriate illustrations. There is not a harsh or censorious word in the whole book. It may, therefore, be recommended as a specimen of mildness in the discussion of a subject, which commonly produces warmth and hard speeches…But this is not the only recommendation of this little volume. It contains much sound, and we may say, profound reasoning: or, to express ourselves more correctly, the result of profound reasoning; for there is no long or elaborate chain of ratiocination—here everything is simple, and remarkably adapted to the capacity of common readers; but no man could render such a subject familiar, and easily intelligible, who had not deeply and maturely pondered it, and viewed it in all its important aspects, and especially, in its practical bearings.”

      I was so encouraged to read these words of Dr. Alexander, a man who was considered one of the most brilliant of his day, after I had finished reading the book myself. His words fully confirmed my opinion about the man and his book. The only question that has troubled me since reading it is this: WHY HAS THIS BEEN UNAVAILABLE FOR OVER 160 YEARS? We need such books for our own souls and we need such books to give to those who struggle with these matters in our day.

      At a time when educated and respected ministers appear on nation-wide television and make statements like: “God had nothing to do with Hurricane Katrina,”  we must have books like this one to give to the common man in the street to explain that the God of the Bible is the One who “works all things after the counsel of His own will.” He is the God who is in control of the fall of a sparrow and the hairs of our head. This book by Dr. Matthews on The Divine Purpose needs to be in every Christian home in America, and throughout the world. May God help us to get the word out before it is too late!

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