Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book Review: A Sure Guide to Heaven

Banner of Truth
148 pages, Paperback

If you’re interested in Puritan evangelism, or just evangelism for that matter, this is one book that you have to read.  This is Puritan evangelism at its best; the cream of the Puritan evangelistic crop.

Those that tend to think of evangelism as something contained in a palm sized ten page pamphlet full of pictures might suffer some initial shock at this 150 page book (with no pictures at all), but a good Biblical jolt in our modern spiritual myopia might be exactly what we need. It’s kind of like being handed a big steak and potato meal after a life time of eating Twinkies; you may not know what to do with it right at first but you’ll soon find it very satisfying.

This work was originally entitled “An alarm to the Unconverted” and in my own opinion it was a much fitter title to the book; it was meant to awaken the unbeliever and jolt them from their bed of death. But in a day when people are offended at the drop of a hat I guess the other title might sell better, who wants to hear words like “alarm” and “unconverted” all in the same sentence?

The author, Joseph Alleine, may have died at the young age of thirty-four but this little book, first published in 1671, has gone on to do many great things over the last 300 and some years. It has been published countless times, been translated into other languages, sparked revivals and had a profound influence on many great men in the church since then.

George Whitefield mentions how much Alleine’s Alarm had benefited him in his Journals. Dr. Calamy wrote concerning it in 1702 that “Multitudes will have cause forever to be thankful for it…” and the great Charles Haddon Spurgeon mentions it at least three times in volume one of his Autobiography that I’m aware of. 

When remembering the influence of his mother upon him as a child he writes: 

 “I cannot tell how much I owe to the solemn words of my good mother. It was the custom on Sunday evenings, while we were yet little children, for her to stay at home with us, and then we sat round the table, and read verse by verse, and she explained the Scripture to us. After that was done, then came the time of pleading; there was a little piece of Alleine's Alarm, or of Baxter's Call to the Unconverted, and this was read with pointed observations made to each of us as we sat round the table…”

And when recalling the months and even years of reeling under the conviction of sin before his conversion Spurgeon tells us:

 “That misery was sent for this reason, that I might then be made to cry to Jesus. Our Heavenly Father does not usually cause us to seek the Saviour till He has whipped us clean out of all our confidence; He cannot make us in earnest after Heaven till He has made us feel something of the intolerable tortures of an aching conscience, which is a foretaste of hell. I remember, when I used to awake in the morning, the first thing I took up was Alleine's Alarm, or Baxter's Call to the Unconverted. Oh, those books, those books! I read and devoured them when under a sense of guilt…”

And again, speaking of books, Spurgeon tells us:

"Personally, I have to bless God for many good books; I thank Him for Dr. Doddridge's Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul; for Baxter's Call to the Unconverted; for Alleine's Alarm to Unconverted Sinners; and for James' Anxious inquirer, but my gratitude most of all is due to God, not for books, but for the preached Word…”

What a testimony to a good book that has been greatly used by the Spirit of God for so many years. Personally it’s one of my own favorites of Puritan literature and we’ve even turned parts of chapter five (The Miseries of the Unconverted) into a tract. This is definitely an edifying book that is well worth the reading.

 “Be careful what books you read, for as water tastes of the soil it runs though, so does the soul taste of the authors that a man reads.”
- John Trapp

Contents of the book:

Biographical introduction 7 
Introduction 15
1: Mistakes about conversion 19 
2: The nature of conversion 26 
3: The necessity of conversion 50 
4: The marks of the unconverted 68 
5: The miseries of the unconverted 80 
6: Directions to the unconverted 100 
7: The motives to con version 130 
Conclusion 141

From the back of the book:

"When the spiritual history of the Western world in the 20th century is written, it may well be seen as the epoch of spiritual sloth and slumber. Eternal realities seemed vaguely-defined and far-removed from daily life, and conformity to the world took the form of carelessness and neglect of spiritual issues. That is why it is no anachronism to republish a book from a day when men were more deeply conscious of the world to come, written by a servant of God whose preaching and writing were used to alarm and awaken many to the concerns of life and death.

Such is the climate among Christians today that these pages may serve primarily as an instrument to revive believers before they become a tool for evangelism. It will not be the first time that Joseph Alleine has had that effect."

Some good quotes from the book:

Men are dead in their trespasses and sins:

"So unspeakably dreadful is the case of every unconverted soul, that I have sometimes thought if I could only convince men that they are still unregenerate, the work were more than half done.

But I find by sad experience that such a spirit of sloth and slumber possesses the unsanctified that, though they are convinced that they are yet unconverted, often they carelessly sit still. Through the love of sensual pleasure, or the hurry of worldly business, or the noise and clamour of earthly cares and lusts and affections, the voice of conscience is drowned, and men go no farther than some cold wishes and general purposes of repenting and amending.

It is therefore of high necessity that I not only convince men that they are unconverted, but that I also endeavour to bring them to a sense of the fearful misery of this state.

But here I find myself aground at first setting off. What tongue can tell the heirs of hell sufficiently of their misery, unless it were Dives in that flame (Lk xvi 24) ? Where is the ready writer whose pen can depict their misery who are without God in the world? This cannot fully be done, unless we know the infinite ocean of bliss which is in perfection in God, and from which a state of sin excludes men. ' Who knoweth', says Moses, 'the power of thine anger?" (Ps xc 11). And how shall I tell men that which I do not know ? Yet so much we know, as one would think would shake the heart of that man that had the least degree of spiritual life and sense.

But this is yet the more perplexing difficulty, that I am to speak to them that are without spiritual sense. Alas! this is not the least part of man's misery, that he is dead, dead in trespasses and sins."

Conviction of Sin:

"2: Labour to get a thorough sight and lively sense and feeling of your sins,
Till men are weary and heavy laden, and pricked at the heart, and quite sick of sin, they will not come to Christ for cure, nor sincerely enquire, 'What shall we do?' They must see themselves as dead men, before they will come unto Christ that they may live. Labour, therefore, to set all your sins in order before you; do not be afraid to look upon them, but let your spirit make diligent search. Enquire into your heart, and into your life; enter into a thorough examination of yourself and all your ways, that may make a full discovery; and call in the help of God's Spirit, out of a sense of your own inability to do this by yourself, for it is His proper work to convince of sin. Spread all before your conscience, till your heart and eyes are set weeping. Do not leave striving with God and your own soul, till it cry out under the sense of your sins, as the enlightened jailer,' What must I do to be saved?...'' 

"3: Strive to affect your heart with a deep sense of your present misery.

Read over the previous chapter again and again, and get it out of the book into your heart. Remember when you lie down, that for all you know, you may awake in flames; and when you rise up, that by the next night you may make your bed in hell. Is it nothing to you to live in such a fearful state, to stand tottering on the brink of the bottomless pit...?

What will your sins do for you?:

"Alas, what will your sins do for you that you should hesitate to part with them? They will flatter you, but they will undo you and poison you while they please you, and arm the justice and wrath of the infinite God against you. They will open hell for you, and pile up fuel to burn you. Behold the gibbet that they have prepared for you. O treat them like Haman, and do upon them the execution they would else have done upon you. Away with them, crucify them and let Christ only be Lord over you...."

 Sinner...God is your enemy:

"Sinner, I think this should go like a dagger to your heart, to know that God is your enemy. Oh where will you go? Where will you shelter yourself? There is no hope for you, unless you lay down your weapons and sue out your pardon, and get Christ to stand as your friend and make your peace. If it were not for this, you might go into some howling wilderness, and there pine in sorrow, and run mad for anguish of heart and horrible despair. But in Christ there is a possibility of mercy for you, yea, an offer of mercy to you, that you may have God more for you than He is now against you. But if you will not forsake your sins, nor turn thoroughly and purposefully to God by a sound conversion, the wrath of God abides on you, and He proclaims Himself to be against you, as in the prophet: 'Therefore, thus saith the Lord God, Behold I, even I, am against thee!' (Ezek v 8)."

Closing prayer of the book:

"Father of spirits, take the heart in hand that is too hard for my weakness. Do not Thou end, though I have done. A word from Thy effectual power will do the work. O Thou, that hast the key of David, that openest and no man shutteth, open Thou this heart, as Thou didst Lydia's, and let the King of Glory enter in, and make this soul Thy captive. Let not the tempter harden him in delays. Let him not stir from this place, nor take his eyes from these lines, till he resolve to forego his sins, and accept life on Thy self-denying terms. In Thy Name, O Lord God, did I go forth to these labours; in Thy name do I close them. Let not all the time they hate cost be lost hours; let not all the thoughts of the heart, and all the pains that have been about them be lost labour. Lord, put Thy hand upon the heart of this reader, and send Thy Spirit, as once Thou didst Philip to join himself to the chariot of the eunuch while he was reading the Word. And though I should never know it while I live, yet I beseech Thee, O Lord God, let it be found at the last day that some souls are converted by these labours; and let some be able to stand forth and say that by these persuasions they were won unto Thee. Amen, Amen.'' Let him that readeth say, Amen."

Banner of Truth
148 pages, Paperback

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