Set Free

Title: Set Free
Author: Richard Ford
Pages: 154
Star Rating:

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Few organizations are as suspiciously viewed as the Masonic Lodge. Its secretive meetings and eerie initiatory rites have provoked criticism, and outright fear. But who are Masons? And what makes them such an unusual group?

Richard Ford, a former member of the Masonic Lodge, claimed that he would answer these questions and expose the darkness of Masonry in this book. He begins by describing the initiations he underwent and the oaths he was required to swear before he was allowed to participate in deeper levels of masonry. Along the way, he offers criticism of the material included in the oaths as well as the fear tactics that are exercised upon new members. He describes how, after becoming a Christian, he felt that he could no longer participate in Masonry and was tried and charged with treason by the Masonic Lodge in which he was formerly a part. Now, he considers evangelizing to Masons to be one of his chief ministries.

I appreciated Mr. Ford’s goal in writing this book. But to tell the truth, I was disappointed with Set Free. I’ve heard lots of stories about how Masons are Satanists who engage in gruesome occult practices including mind control and other freakish activities. I was hoping that Set Free would answer my questions – Do Masons consider themselves Satanists? Do they actually call upon and use demonic power?

Mr. Ford addressed none of these questions. True, he exposed the weirdness of Masonic rites. But he said nothing to indicate whether Masons actually practice a form of witchcraft or if they just have really creepy initiation rites. It makes me wonder if this is because he did not go deep enough into Masonry himself, or because these stories or untrue.

Add to this the fact that Mr. Ford was converted to a Pentecostal, Arminian, go-with-the-Spirit, and oh-did-you-know-that-Satan-controls-the-world brand of Christianity. So, often the nature of his criticisms were such that I could not agree with them.

Conclusion. If you want information concerning the very lowest initiatory activities of Masons, Set Free may help; otherwise, don’t bother.

Emilie’s Creative Home Organizer

Title: Emilie’s Creative Home Organizer
Author: Emilie Barnes
Pages: 159
Star Rating: ★★★

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This is the first book that I have read either by Emilie Barnes or in the Emilie Barnes tradition (i.e. tips for around the house). While some of the recommendations were based upon outdated technologies and systems (the book was written in the 1980s!), many of the tips were still applicable.

Mrs. Barnes offers all manner of wisdom on a variety of topics – organization, cleaning, laundry, storage, time management, gardening, child-rearing, etc. Here are a few of her tips.

Color code all the keys at the home. Buy small colored dots and put a red dot on the key and a red dot on the matching lock, a blue dot on the next key, and so on. It saves time when you’re looking for the right key. [pg. 14]

Neat idea…

Have a container or basket at the bottom and top of the stairs. It helps to eliminate trips up and down the stairs. When someone goes up stairs, they take the stuff in the basket at the bottom of the stairs up, and vice versa. [pg. 22]

For people who celebrate Christmas, Mrs. Barnes suggested keeping the Christmas cards received from friends in a basket. Then, during family devotions, select a few of the cards from the baskey and pray for the families that sent those cards. I thought that was an ingenious way to be in prayer for the brethren – those local and afar.

To make full use of the catsup in a nearly empty bottle, rinse it out with a little warm water and add it to baked beans or any dish requiring a tomato base. [pg. 30]

Yay! I’m not the only one who feels guilty throwing away an almost-empty-but-not-quite ketchup bottle!

Squeeze excess lemons and freeze juice in ice cube trays. Transfer the frozen cubes into baggies and defrost for fresh lemon juice any time! [pg. 51]

How ’bout this one?

To clean piano keys: A music teacher once told me she uses toothpaste on a dampened sponge, rubs the keys well, and polishes with a dry cloth. [pg. 67]

: O This next one is super-smart, but I’ll bet it’s also noisy.

Use small safet pins to pin socks together in laundry. Weight keeps socks (especially little toddler socks) from clinging to other laundry and saves time on matching socks when folding laundry. [pg. 77]

Divide children’s toys into three separate boxes and then rotate the boxes each week to avoid boredom with playthings.” [pg. 97]

If your baby is cutting teeth, take a baby bottle nipple and fill it with water and freeze it. When it is frozen, put it back on the bottle and give it to your baby. This numbs his gums and as the ice melts, the water goes back into the bottle. [pg. 97]

Remove the back pocket on pants to patch hole in knees.” [pg. 123]

When making a tablecloth to be used on an outdoor table, put a triangular pocket across each corner. If the wind is blowing that day, drop a rock in each corner pocket. [pg. 127]

(Unless it’s an outdoor party during a hurricane, in which case, the rock might knock somebody out…)

Don’t throw away old curtain valances. Just cut the valance in half and sew the two pieces together to form tiers of an apron. For a tie, slip ribbon through the valance casing. [pg. 127]

I’m tempted to try that one… just think of how cute and flouncy the apron would be! #adollable

Ferns love a tea party. Dump your left over tea into your fern pots. A used tea bag planted in their soil will also reap beautiful healthy ferns.” [pg. 133]

Use hair spray to get rid of pesty flies, bees, and insects in the house. It stiffens their wings so they can’t fly and down they go. [pg. 138]

: D Love that one! Do you suppose the trick works on roaches?

There were many more tips – the book’s one hundred sixty pages, after all! – most of which were probably more practical than the ones that I mentioned, but hey, what can I say? The ones I mentioned were fun. :)

Conclusion. A fun, helpful resource, but not a necessary one, Emilie’s Household Hints will equip you with a Ph.D. in the tricks of the trade.

Why Pro-Life?

Title: Why Pro-Life?
Author: Randy Alcorn
Pages: 136
Star Rating: ★★★★★

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Every issue has its ‘one-liners’ that cause your heart to stop, mind to race, and basically make you feel inadequate and unintelligent. Until three seconds go past and you suddenly remember the answer that you memorized several years ago. From ‘we’re under grace, not law’ to ‘but God would never make anybody love Him!’ these cliché phrases can be super hard to answer, because they’re packed with misconceptions – and the teeniest bit of truth.

The abortion issue is no exception to this rule – ‘I can do whatever I want with my body’, ‘Wouldn’t it be better if every child was a wanted child?’ ‘They’re not really humans’, and gobs of other such phrases are used as firecrackers against the pro-life position; they spark and sputter like the real thing, but they haven’t got the explosion to back it up.

In Why Pro-Life? Randy Alcorn does a superb job setting forth the pro-life position and answering these pro-abortion diatribes. Why Pro-Life? is divided into five sections – The Basics, The Child, The Woman, Other Important Issues, and Spiritual Perspectives and Opportunities.

The Basics. Abortion is America’s most frequently performed surgery on women.” [pg. 15] The practice of abortion is anything but new; records show abortions being practiced by women in the earliest Egyptian and Chinese civilization. But it is only since the 20th century that abortion has become a culturally acceptable, widespread, and practiced by Christians (43% of women obtaining abortions identify themselves as Protestant, and 27 percent identify themselves as Catholic [pg. 17]). It is time for Christians to return to Biblical thinking on this issue and to fight against the murder of babies now legally practiced in America. But often abortionists argue that abortion isn’t murder because the ‘fetus’ isn’t a real baby.

So, the first question is this – Is the fetus a human?

The Child.

The irony is that ‘fetus’ is simply the Latin word for ‘child’ or ‘offspring’. So, although the word helps to remove the emotional aspect from the discussion, it means the exact same thing – baby.

Mr. Alcorn begins this section by citing and quoting several of the highest medical authorities who asserted that life does indeed begin at conception. He even quotes the owner of Oregon’s largest abortion clinic as saying, “Of course human life begins at conception”. So, if life has begun, what makes it morally right to take that life? Its lack of development? If that were the case, then we would be justified in killing 10 year olds because they are ‘less developed’ – not as strong mentally or physically – as 30 year olds. As Mr. Alcorn says,

“At conception the unborn doesn’t appear human to us who are used to judging humanity by appearance. Nevertheless, in the objective scientific sense he is every bit as human as any older child or adult. He looks like a human being ought to at his stage of development.” [pg. 28]

If a person is less of a person because he lacks certain organs or appendages, then what do we say about tetraplegics whose limbs cannot function or soldiers whose legs have been amputated? Does anybody really believe that a person who’s 4’9” is less human than someone who is 6’6” simply because there’s less of him? Does anyone think that if you’ve had your tonsils removed or heart replaced that you’re ‘not really human’? The amount of matter or development present does not define a human being.

Another reason that is often pointed to is the baby’s entire dependency upon its mother, its inability to survive without its mother. But if this is what defines human life, then postnatal babies are no more human than prenatal ‘fetuses’; they are still entirely dependent upon others to take care of them and would die if neglected. Also, any person with a debilitating disease – paralysis, Alzheimer’s, etc. – would be considered ‘not really human’.

Another argument is that the fetus is a part of the woman’s body, so she should be able to do whatever she wants with it. But just because one object is contained by another doesn’t mean that they are the same. A car is parked in a garage, but no one claims that the car IS the garage. Babies aren’t just a part of their mother – they have their own genetic structure, and often have a different blood type. Think of how absurd it is to claim that the baby is just a part of the mother; that would mean that the mother has two brains, two hearts, four legs, and so on. And that when expecting a male child she is both male and female!

The Woman.

Abortionists have declared that it is only when women have the right to kill their babies that they can “participate fully in the social and political life of society” [Kate Michelman, quoted in The New York Times] But this position is really an insult to women because it claims that only when a woman fights her natural biological processes (that of pregnancy) is she a full citizen. Is encouraging women to kill their children really the best way to train them for societal interaction? If a baby can be killed because it is unwanted, how does this train women to think about co-workers, waiters, or any other person who gets in the way?

Also in this line of thought is that women should have ‘the right to choose’.  Those who are pro-life are called ‘anti-choice’ because they believe that women should not legally allowed to abort their children. But pro-life supporters are not anti-choice. They believe that women should be able to choose what they eat, what they wear, what movies they watch, who they marry, etc. We just don’t believe that they should have the right to commit murder any more than a man has the right to commit murder. See, it’s really quite silly to defend abortion on the ground that women should make choices. Just because a choice can be made (to rape, burglarize, etc.) does not make it a moral or lawful choice.

Abortion was finally legalized because people felt that it was cruel to make a rape victim bear the child of her assaulter. But in reality, abortion accomplishes the same thing that rape does – a stronger person forcing its will upon a weaker person and devastating (or destroying) its life. Far from remedying the situation, it compounds it; the child is forced to suffer for the sins of its father. Two wrongs do not make a right. Murdering an innocent does not punish the evil-doer.

And even the idea that abortions are most used in cases of rape is incorrect. Statistics show that only one percent of all abortions are due to rape or incest. The vast, overwhelming majority result from voluntary decisions made by consenting adults.

Other Important Issues.

What abortion has done is dealt a sickening blow to our perspective of children as a blessing. Pro-abortionists have polemicized that abortion will bring forth a better world for children because ‘every child is a wanted child’. Therefore each of these ‘wanted’ children will be treated with more love and kindness because it was specifically chosen to live. But the opposite is true. Abortion has taught our culture to hate children because it has removed the specialty of each life. Instead of viewing babies as precious gifts, we view them as optional inconveniences. This translates beyond the womb; now children are treated less as humans, and more as toys, pets, or pests – things that are petted and kicked alternately and sometimes downright abused.

We have been taught that people’s futures should be evaluated by their ‘quality of life’; that if their life will be hard or be tainted by mental or physical underdevelopment, then they should not be forced to live it. But who are we to judge whether another’s life is worth living? And why not give them the chance to decide for themselves? Once we allow the worth of a human being to be subject to the judgment of another human being, we’ve lost any objective standard. My life may be less ‘enjoyable’ or ‘valuable’ than the man down the streets, but it is at least my [God’s really, I know] life. A mother deciding that her baby’s life is not worth living is one step away from doctors and politicians deciding which of their citizens’ lives are worth living. ‘Quality of life’ can be no consideration; the question is, is it a human life? If so, then it is for God to kill or let live.

Spiritual Perspectives and Opportunities.

Abortion is a terrible sin – it is the murder of another human being who is crafted after the image of God. But, like other sins, it does not place the sinner irrevocably outside of Christ’s redemption. Christ can save the baby-murderer as assuredly as he can save the thief or adult-murderer – but this cannot be used as an excuse to continue in the sin. Repentance must be made.

Many of the women who get abortions aren’t hardened criminals who are deliberately shaking their fist in God’s face. In fact many of them are misled, misinformed or desperate; they should be treated firmly, but with tenderness and love. They should be shown the great anger and love of God through our interaction with them.

One of the ways that we can best show God’s love is by adopting the children who have not been aborted. Many women have reported that if they had known how to put their child up for adoption, they would’ve done so eagerly. We must do our best to make this option available to them.

Some Christians have argued that it is wrong for us to focus on the abortion issue, that instead we should preach only Christ and ‘win people to Him’. But this view mistakes the nature of the Great Commission. By preaching Christ, we do not merely preach His name; we preach what His name represents, what it stands for, how He defined it. This means we preach orthodoxy and orthopraxy – we preach what men must believe and how that belief should affect his actions. We preach what God requires of man, part of which is to

Rescue those being led away to death.” [Proverbs 24:11]

And

Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.” [Psalms 82:3]

It is precisely because we believe in the Great Commission that we must take seriously the sin of abortion.

Conclusion. Why Pro-Life? is a slim book, but it’s worth its weight in gold for those seeking to prep themselves on the abortion controversy. While far from exhaustive, it is a thoroughly helpful and practical read. Purchase your own copy here.

Getting a Handel on Messiah

Title: Getting a Handel on Messiah
Author: David W. Barber
Pages: 95
Reading Level: 10 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

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All of us have heard bits and pieces from Handel’s Messiah – the Hallelujah Chorus, if nothing else. But what makes Messiah such a popular work? And how did it come to be?

The History of Messiah.

Prior to composing Messiah, Handel had composed many other operas – several were even based on Biblical stories. However, in spite of his creativity, Handel was not in a good financial situation in the early 1740s, and when the opportunity came for him to travel from London to Dublin, he jumped at the chance.

It was there in Dublin, on April 13, 1742, that Messiah made its debut. It was immediately and loudly heralded by the Irish. But when Handel brought Messiah to London, it was received with less fervor. In fact, it was received with so little warmth, that there were several years in which it was not performed, including a four-year stretch between 1745 and 1749. During this time, Handel made changes to Messiah; he reworked several sections and found new vocalists. When Messiah reemerged in 1749, it was warmly received.

Down through the centuries Messiah has remained remarkably popular. Its sober lyrics and glorious music thrill audiences across the globe, while its place in history is confirmed. Its days of struggling are passed – the world shall never forget Messiah.

Cautions.

Barber writes in an irreverent humorous style (which he admits himself). His self-appointed job is to make fun of everybody – Handel, his critics, his admirers, everyone. It is hilarious to read, but removes the solemnity from the glorious work and casts Handel’s motives for composing Messiah in a purely mercenary light.

Among other things, Barber accuses Handel of stealing large parts of his manuscripts from other composers (he says that this is fact – I do not know enough about Handel to contradict him). He also makes other, more arbitrary statements like, “Handel could swear, quite colorfully, in at least four modern languages, and probably a couple of dead ones, too.” [pg. 38]

Here is a bit of Barber’s cynicism at work.

Although not much of a churchgoer in his youth and middle age, Handel in his later years could have won an award for faithful attendance. By then he was going twice a day, regular as clockwork, to the little church of St. George’s, Hanover Square, around the corner from his house on Brook Street. There’s nothing like impending death to inspire a little religious fervor.

As for the work itself, Handel once later remarked that, while composing the Hallelujah chorus, he felt “as if I saw God on his throne, and all his angels around him.”

Or maybe it was just something he ate. [pg. 3]

Here on why Handel’s Messiah became more popular after it was performed as a charity fundraiser.

Audiences like to feel that, if they were going to hear something blasphemous, at least they were doing it for a good cause. [pg. 70]

Barber says, “But even in the 19th century there were a few courageous people complaining that Messiah was becoming too bloated and reverential for its own good.” [pg. 85] Barber then goes on to quote George Bernard Shaw’s opinion on the subject.

“I have long since recognized the impossibility of obtaining justice for that work in a Christian country,” playwright and music critic George Bernard Shaw wrote in a newspaper review in 1891. (Shaw, by the way, was a great admirer of Handel, and considered Messiah his favorite oratorio.) The problem, as Shaw saw it, was that everyone sang the work far too much in earnest, in the “churchgoing mood” of “pure abstract reverence.”

What the work really needs, says Shaw, is a little wild abandon. “Import a choir of heathens,” he writes, “restrained by no considerations of propriety from attacking the choruses with unembarrassed sincerity of dramatic expression, and I would hasten to the performance if only to witness the delight of the public and discomfiture of the critics.” [pgs. 85-86]

Barber addresses several licentious situations with the freedom and irreverence which he uses in other situations. Nothing is outright stated, but it is hinted around and joked about. I would probably blot out these parts if I allowed my children to read the book at all.

One illustration was drawn for the tag-line “There are those who think Messiah has been done to death”. It depicts three skeletons singing Messiah.

‘Darn’ and ‘heck’ are each used once.

Conclusion. A very informative account, but one which is inclined towards mockery. I would only recommend Getting a Handel on Messiah to older students of music who have been trained to take what they read with a mound of salt.

Reflections of God’s Glory

Title: Reflections of God’s Glory
Author: Corrie ten Boom
Pages: 116
Star Rating: ★★

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Reflections of God’s Glory, subtitled ‘Newly Discovered Meditations by the Author of The Hiding Place’ is a collection of transcripts from several radio broadcasts that Corrie ten Boom conducted with Trans-World Radio.

This is the sixth book that I have read by Corrie ten Boom. The more I read her writings the more I admire her singular courage and commitment to acting as she believes God wants her to, and the more I find that I differ with her theology. But before I mention that, let me explain more about the book and what I liked about it.

There are several different kinds of Christian non-fiction. There is the kind of book that instructs in doctrine, and then there is the kind that instructs in orthopraxy. The best of the best will have a bit of each. And then there’s the devotional style.

Now, I am not a huge fan of devotionals. These are generally filled with ‘astounding truths’ upon which the reader is supposed to meditate and be awed. Their purpose is to strengthen the reader and give him a heightened sense of awareness concerning God. Understand me – I am not against devotionals. I’m sure they have their place. But I prefer books that have more substance to them. Corrie ten Boom, when she is not writing autobiography, writes devotionals. Again, they have their place, but I don’t prefer them.

One thing that really impresses me about Corrie ten Boom is how consistently she showed love to her enemies.

“You never experience God’s love more marvelously than at the moment He gives you love for your enemies.” [pg. 28]

Here is another wise statement from Corrie – “Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s grief; it takes away today’s strength.” [pg. 37]

I really liked this analogy Corrie gave for dabbling in the occult.

A while ago in Germany, before the wall had been built, half of the city was forbidden to West Berliners. Part of the border passed through a forest. If a West Berliner was caught playing in the forest on East German territory, he would be arrested. It would not help if he said, “I was only playing or I did it for a joke.” If you are on enemy territory, then you are in the enemy’s power. The same applies when you jokingly commit occult sins. [pg. 96]

Other than not being a devotional sort of gal, I also disagree with Miss ten Boom on several points of theology. These are just a few of the ones which were mentioned in this book.

  1. Satanic domination.
  2. Free Will.
  3. Dispensationalism.
  4. Universal Atonement
  5. Altar Calls.

Conclusion. More worthwhile material can be found, even amongst Corrie ten Boom’s other writings. I would encourage you to read The Hiding Place to learn more about Miss ten Boom’s great courage and the important role that she played in World War II.

Women of the New Testament

Title: Women of the New Testament
Author: Abraham Kuyper
Pages: 111
Star Rating: ★★★★

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A few months ago, I was standing in a thrift shop perusing their book section. As I scanned through the religious section (mostly Rick Warren and Billy Graham – esque stuff), I saw the name Kuyper printed onto the binding of a book. Surely that’s a different Kuyper, I thought, pulling it off of the shelf, but it’s still worth checking. But it wasn’t a different Kuyper. It was the Kuyper. I stood and stared at the book, checking the back cover and the inside leaf to make sure I wasn’t experiencing a visual illusion. I’m sure I looked amazingly idiotic to anyone who was watching me.

But here Kuyper was in flesh and blood paper and ink! I’d heard much about him and his application of Biblical principles to the government of the Netherlands, but I’d never expected to find one of his works in a cheap thrift store! I lit into this book with fervor.

With fervor… and fear. It has been my experience to find studies on the women of the Bible to be loathsome in their misrepresentation, elaboration, and application. Often these studies preach a whiny psycho-babble of self-justification, affirmation, and empowerment. They promote the idea of spiritual supremacy and leadership for women rather than encouraging the self-effacing service of Jesus’ original followers.

But all of my fears were in vain. Mr. Kuyper presented sound, humble, realistic sketches of twenty-nine different women who each played roles in Christ’s ministry (or those of his apostles’). Rather than focusing in on the thought life of these women, he emphasized their love of and dedication to the Lord, and explained the significance of their actions in light of historical context.

Also, Mr. Kuyper did not content himself with merely recounting their lives; he also addressed any controversy that surrounded his subjects. He rejected the Roman Catholic view of Mary, pondered the identity of Mary Magdalene, and chastised those who view Martha, sister of Lazarus, with disfavor.

At the end of each chapter is a series of questions for group discussion. Although I read Women of the New Testament on my own, and thus had no one to discuss it with, I still found these questions to be helpful; they reinforced what I had learned in each chapter.

Conclusion. A good study for those seeking to gain a clearer understanding of the Women of the New Testament.

Writing with Style

Title: Writing with Style
Author: John R. Trimble
Pages: 143
Recommended Ages: 15 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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—–

Mr. Trimble defines his goal for Writing with Style thus:

My hope is that this book – an informal, compact, practical little book styled after my own writing conferences – answers the wish for a ‘survival kit.’ [pg. x]

Writing with Style is a survival kit; it’s helped me understand many of the problems I face as a writer and how to overcome them. But it’s also a tool-box; ready with a host of suggestions that bettered my writing in places I didn’t know needed improvement.

Mr. Trimble provides tips that make the actual writing process easier, but he also shows how to make our writing more effective. He encourages us to think beyond ourselves when we write; to not focus on whether a phrase sounds super-smart but if it conveys your intended message in the simplest form possible. As communicators, we desire to write technically excellent material, but we should be careful that ‘technically excellent’ does not become ‘intolerably stuffy’. It is easy to slip into writing high-browed material that nobody understands except you. This defeats the purpose of good writing, which is to educate your readers, not inflate yourself.

All writing is communication. But most writing seeks to go beyond communication. It hopes to make the reader react in certain ways – with pleased smiles, nods of assent, stabs of pathos, or whatever. [pg. 17]

It’s hard to write. And it’s even harder to write convincingly. But Mr. Trimble offers several words of advice here. The first is, don’t try to write convincingly about a topic that holds no conviction for you.

It is impossible to write vigorous prose unless vigorous emotion is present to energize your ideas, so pick a subject that you have an emotional stake in and write about it just as honestly as you know how. [pg. 6]

The second is to write with your audience in mind. If you’re hoping to be read by cold-hearted logicians, then you will rely less on emotional appeal than if you’re writing to romantic teenagers.

The third is to write with clarity. You may be able to scribble down a few sentences which make perfectly good sense to you, but they mean nothing to other readers. It is important to present your argument as precisely and with as much continuity as possible. This step requires a lot of work. As George Trevelyan said:

What is easy to read has been difficult to write. The easily flowing connection of sentence with sentence and paragraph with paragraph has always been won by the sweat of the brow. [pg. 21]

Mr. Trimble then goes on to apply these principles to writing essays, critical analyses, openers, middles, and closers. The following are miscellaneous tips I found scattered throughout the book.

Tips.

Rapid writing encourages the mind to function freely. Remember, many of your best ideas are probably lurking in your unconscious. If you slow down to edit what you’ve written, you’ll put an airtight lid on those unconscious thoughts and begin experiencing that agonizing ‘blocked’ feeling that we’re all familiar with. (Blockage occurs when the creative thought-making process gets short-circuited by the picky critical process. Experience will teach you that the two processes involve different departments of the mind, and that they function best when kept clearly separate from each other.) [pg. 11]

Mr. Trimble emphasizes the importance of writing openly, treating your readers as real people who prefer the communications of a real person over that of a stilted statue. Of inexperienced writers Mr. Trimble says:

Because they have little to say, they are afraid of their reader – they know he’s apt to see through their bluff. Thus they instinctively delay a confrontation with him as long as is humanly possible (which often means right down to the final period). [pg. 32]

He later adds, “Oratory should never be asked to substitute for accuracy and truth.” [pg. 80]

Instead of writing stiffly, Mr. Trimble encourages us to

1. Write with the assumption that your reader is a companionable friend with a warm sense of humor and an appreciation of simple straightforwardness.

2. Write as if you were actually talking to that friend, but talking with enough leisure to frame your thoughts concisely and interestingly. [pg. 77]

Mr. Trimble promotes the use of fresh combinations of words by saying,

If you think in terms of months, you’re only half-conscious of days. If you think in terms of phrases, you’re only half-conscious of words. [pg. 59]

“Good writing really begins with a profound respect for words – their precise denotations, their connotations, even their weight and music, if you will. Once you develop a respect for them, you will find yourself developing a passion for seeing them used thriftily. Why use three or four words if one will say the same thing? A skilled writer writes as if he were going to be paid a nickel for every word he is somehow able to delete. His prose is almost invariably concise. Every words of every sentence works at maximum efficiency; the total effect is one of notable power, purpose, and speed.” [pg. 60]

The style is the man. Rather say the style is the way the man takes himself; and to be at all charming or even bearable, the way is almost rigidly prescribed. If it is with outer seriousness, it must be with inner humor. If it is with outer humor, it must be with inner seriousness. Neither one alone without the other under it will do. ~ Robert Frost [pg. 88]

Sprinkled throughout the text are quotes which perfectly demonstrate each of the principles Mr. Trible teaches.

Cautions.

While the principles taught in Writing with Style transcend ages, the book itself contains a few more mature elements. ‘Hell’, and ‘bull’, are used twice and ‘my God’ is used once. Also, pages 79 and 81 contain slightly sexual jokes.

In Chapter 9, entitled Superstitions, Mr. Trimble attacks ‘Formal English purists’. I didn’t mind his critiques so much as his treatment of ‘FEp’ as a religious establishment that should be defied.

Conclusion. Writing with Style has been of enormous practical benefit. Although I would not do Mr. Trimble the disfavor of pointing to my writing as an example of his teaching, I have been able to apply many of his tips in my latest reviews. Purchase a copy here.

The Prayers of Susanna Wesley

Title: The Prayers of Susanna Wesley
Author: Susanna Wesley
Editor: W. L. Doughty
Pages: 59
Star Rating: ★★★★

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I have heard many things about Susanna Wesley, mother of the famous hymn writers, John and Charles Wesley. Some of these things have been complimentary, others critical. In this review I will not be offering an opinion of Susanna Wesley herself, only reviewing The Prayers of Susanna Wesley.

As I mentioned in my review of David Brainerd’s Personal Testimony, I find it encouraging to peer into the prayer lives of those Christians who have journeyed through the world in past centuries. While Susanna expressed none of the desperation of soul which weighed so heavily on David Brainerd, she nevertheless prayed for the same virtues and for help fighting the same temptations that Christians face today. Here are a few of my favorite selections from her prayers.

“Make plain to me that no circumstance nor time of life can occur but I may find something either spoken by our Lord Himself or by His Spirit in the prophets or apostles that will direct my conduct, if I am but faithful to Thee. Amen.” [pg. 39]

“May the same almighty power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead raise my soul from the death of sin to a life of holiness.” [pg. 45]

“May I ever remember that I am in the presence of the great and holy God, and that every sin is a contradiction and offense to some divine attribute, and that lying is opposite and offensive to Thy truth. Amen.” [pg. 52]

“Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such a way that they may unite my heart more closely with Thee. Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigor in the pursuit of true happiness.” [pg. 19]

“Forbid that I should entertain too high a conceit of myself, especially when moving amongst people that are licentious in their lives and observe no rule in their actions, lest I should proclaim a superior holiness, so turning Thy grace into wantonness and forgetting that it is Thou who hast made me thus to differ. To whom be glory! Amen. “ [pg. 21-22]

Discussion.

In the foreword, W. L. Doughty states that “The prayers shed light on Susanna Wesley’s qualities of mind and heart. They exhibit her intense interest in the Universe of Nature and her deep reverence for the majesty and wisdom of the Creator. Natural Religion was inevitable to one with her mental outlook and discipline, but it was always complementary and subordinate to her sincere acceptance of the truths of the Christian Revelation.” [pgs. vii-viii]

Susanna did mention ‘natural religion’ in one of her prayers. I do not know if she meant by this what Mr. Doughty claims she meant, but it is there. Also, Mr. Doughty claims that Susanna tempered her Puritan piety with “strong intellectualist and voluntaristic mysticism.” [pg. xi] Apparently, what he has presented to us as ‘prayers’ were originally written in the form of ‘meditations’. I found that Susanna’s prayers were directed much to the pursuit of practical holiness rather than emotional heat, but, knowing comparatively nothing about her, cannot put forth an alternative view.

In one of her prayers, Susanna holds forth a universal view of atonement (though not of salvation).

Conclusion. If tempered with some small amount of discernment, I believe that The Prayers of Susanna Wesley can be used to encourage and challenge Christians in their prayer life.

The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen

Title: The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen
Author: Jane Austen
Editor: Dominique Enright
Pages: 162
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Jane Austen. The name which, over the last few centuries, has been synonymous with the ideal romance novel. The name which has been adored by a gaggle of Darcy-stricken females. The name which has been equally detested by those who consider themselves to be above the trivialities depicted in her writings. The name of a woman who, although she never married herself, has nevertheless preached a philosophy of love to her millions of readers. The name of an author.

A remarkable woman, Jane Austen. A first-rate penetrator of foibles. An acute observer of human nature. And, above all, a woman who was amused with the world.

I do not consider myself to be a Jane Austen aficionado. It is true that I have read all seven of her completed novels, some with great enjoyment. I am not an ‘adorer’ – but I am an ‘appreciater’. I appreciate Austen’s wicked sharpness as she describes the faults of pride, self-pity, and out right idiocy. I appreciate the intricate personalities and elaborate communities which she stroked into existence. I appreciate that she created, not merely stories of love, but stories of life. Are her stories of life true to life? Not always. But when they are, they are deathly accurate.

This book was in a sense a tribute to Jane Austen, and in another sense, an offering from Jane Austen. It is a collection of her wit at its finest moments. The most enjoyable section, I found, was the very first – her ‘Early Exuberances’. I learned here that, what was later refined into a poignant wit began as an outrageous sense of humor. Her descriptions of melodramatic heroes and heroines madly rushing about and fainting on cue kept me laughing throughout the entire section. The first two quotes in the next section are examples of these exuberances.

Quotes.

“[Elfrida] flew to Frederic and in a manner truly heroick, spluttered out to him her intention of being married the next day.

Frederic’s reply is less than encouraging:

“Elfrida, you may be married tomorrow, but I won’t.”

This answer distressed her too much for her delicate constitution. She accordingly fainted and was in such a hurry to have a succession of fainting fits, that she had scarcely patience enough to recover from one before she fell into another.” [Frederic and Elfrida]

:) “spluttered out”, indeed…

Edward’s friend and husband of Sophia, Augustus, returns from a solitary walk:

Never did I see such an affecting scene as was the meeting of Edward and Augustus.

‘My life! My soul!” (exclaimed the former) ‘My adorable angel!’ (replied the latter), as they flew into each other’s arms. It was too pathetic for the feelings of Sophia and myself – We fainted alternatively on a sofa.” [Love and Freindship, 1790]

The rest of these quotes, saving the very first, are all taken from letters written by Jane Austen. She must have been an amusing correspondent!

Happily [Mr. Woodhouse] was not farther from approving matrimony than from foreseeing it. – Though always objecting to every marriage that was arranged, he never suffered beforehand from the apprehension of any; it seemed as if he could not think so ill of any two persons’ understanding as to suppose they meant to marry till it were proved against them. [Emma, 1816]

“Charlotte Craven… looks very well, and her hair is done up with an elegance to do credit to any education.” [Letter to Cassandra, May 20, 1813]

Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. It is not fair. He has fame and profit enough as a poet, and should not be taking the bread out of the mouths of other people. [Letter to Anna Austen, September 28, 1814]

I could no more write a [historical] romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life, and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter.” [Letter to James Stanier Clarke, April 1, 1816]

“Mr. Richard Harvey is going to be married; but as it is a great secret and only known to half the neighborhood, you must not mention it.” [Letter to Cassandra, September 5, 1796]

“Charles Powlett gave a dance on Thursday, to the great disturbance of all his neighbours, of course, who, you know, take a most lively interest in the state of his finances, and live in hopes of his being soon ruined.” [Letter to Cassandra, December 1-2, 1798]

“If Mrs. Freeman is anywhere above ground give my best compliments to her.” [Letter to Cassandra, February 9, 1813]

I will not say that your mulberry-trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.” [Letter to Cassandra, May 31, 1811]

Expect a most agreeable letter, for not being overburdened with subject (having nothing at all to say), I shall have no check to my genius from beginning to end. [Letter to Cassandra, January 21, 1801]

Cautions.

Early in her career, Jane Austen wrote a letter from the perspective of “a Young Lady, whose feeling being too Strong for her Judgment, led her into the commission of Errors which her Heart disapproved.” In the letter, the Young Lady confesses to having murdered both her parents and planned to murder her sister.

Mistresses are mentioned twice, and Jane claims to having detected an adultress at a party. She also writes that a certain person’s object in life was “to be seductive”. Reference is made to Mr. Wickham’s seductive activities as well.

A reference is made to naked cupid statues.

‘Damme’ is used once.

Conclusion. A delightful read for those who appreciate wit, The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen is a succinct collection of her most pithy observations.

A Token For Children

Title: A Token for Children
Author: J. Janeway & Cotton Mather
Pages: 146
Reading Level: 11 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

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When I found A Token for Children at a Goodwill, I had a hard time convincing myself that it was written by THE Cotton Mather. I mean, how often do you find books by Puritans at your Goodwill? This must be written by an imposter! It was only after I stopped to reflect that I came to the conclusion that probably nobody else in the history of the world was named ‘Cotton’, so I purchased it. Once I got it home, I noticed that it was printed by Soli Deo Gloria.

#howdidimissthat

A Token for Children is a collection of short biographical sketches intended to edify, challenge, and exhort young readers. The subjects, rather than being great statesmen, soldiers, or authors, are those young children who, at an early age, dedicated themselves to seeking God and His righteousness. Many of these children were converted at as early an age as three and each of them died before the narration had ended.

Although Cotton Mather and James Janeway are show as co-authors of A Token for Children, this not a book which they sat down and wrote together. Rather, A Token for Children consists of three parts. The first part is the original book which James Janeway published. The second, an extra set of stories which he promised to add if his first volume met with encouragement (which, apparently, it did). The third part is collection of similar stories written by Cotton Mather, who, inspired by Janeway’s theme, attached his set of stories to Janeway’s in the first New England edition.

Now, do not be confused by my calling them ‘stories’ – both Mather and Janeway claim that every account contains the absolute truth written with no exaggeration whatsoever. I was grateful for the adamancy of their claims, for, frankly, if they had been less assertive on this count, I would have concluded that the narratives had been embellished to fit their purposes. Let me explain.

The children in these sketches are godly – very godly. Godly almost to the point of being unbelievable. Here are a few paragraphs which I offer as examples of what I mean. This of a three to four year old.

A certain little child, when he could not speak plainly, would be crying after God, and was greatly desirous to be taught good things.

He could not endure to be put to bed without family prayer, but would put his parents upon duty and would with much devotion kneel down and with great patience and delight continue till duty was at an end without the least expression of being weary. And he seemed never so well-pleased as when he was engaged in prayer.

As he grew up, he was more and more affected with the things of another world – so that, if we had not received our information from one who is of undoubted fidelity, it would seem incredible.

He quickly learned to read the Scriptures and would with great reverence, tenderness, and groans, read till tears and sobs were ready to hinder him.

When he was at secret prayer, he would weep bitterly.

He was inclined, oftentimes to complain of the naughtiness of his heart, and seemed to be much grieved for the corruption of his nature, and for actual sin.

He had a vast understanding in the things of God, even to a wonder for one of his age.

He was much troubled for the wandering of his thoughts in duty, and that he could not keep his heart always fixed upon God and the work he was about, nor his affections constantly raised.

He kept a watch over his heart, and observed the workings of his soul. He would complain that they were so vain and foolish and so little busied about spiritual things.

As he grew up, he grew daily in knowledge and experience. His carriage was so heavenly, and his discourse so excellend and experimental, that it made those who heard it astonished. [pg. 10-11]

You get the idea. Every single child is described in similar language and his particular virtues are extolled. After reading several dozen pages worth of this material I began to ask myself – What makes this seem so unbelievable, so utterly unreal? I came up with two reasons.

1)      The Writing Style. Anyone who has read the works of Oliver Goldsmith and Samuel Johnson knows that the language of past centuries was often more flowery, sensational, overdrawn… What’s the word I want? Melodramatic.  When I stripped the excessive language away from the little girl who

“was exceedingly dutiful to her parents, very loath to grieve them in the least. If she had at any time (which was very rare) offended them, she would weep bitterly.” [pg. 3]

I found a young child who understood God’s commandment of obedience and repented when she had transgressed it. Well, I know a youngster who often feels this way! When I focused in on the little girl who

“was a child of great tenderness and compassion to all, full of kindness and pity. Whom she could not help, she would be ready to weep over.” [pg. 16]

I discovered a child who has a tender heart and derives joy from blessing people. I know a child like that, too! And yet, the book still felt unauthentic. Why?

2)      The Unalloyed Righteousness. Each of these children was shown amidst a multitude of virtues, not the least of which was their quickness to denounce their own sins. But what were these sins? These are never detailed. The typical ‘perverseness of heart’ is denounced, but the fact that this ‘perversity’ (of which we have no practical knowledge or evidence) is denounced is held up as itself a virtue! Now, I know many children and there are some between the ages of two and eleven with whom I am able to hold serious doctrinal conversations. These children (especially the two year old) often shock me by the depths of their observations and their obvious grasp on the topic being discussed. But these kids all have weakness – real weakness which I have seen. Sure, they fight them, but sometimes they’re tired. Sometimes they let down their guard. Sometimes that little sin sneaks out and displays itself. Not so with Janeway’s children – they are all so sanctified that they’re practically glorified. Which, as a side note….

Every single one of the children given as examples by Mr. Janeway and Mr. Mather died before completing their twentieth year. Each  of them gave great glory to God and professed themselves to have great assurance in Christ, but it was still a bit depressing. Also, it made one wonder – does being so righteous so young make a person more susceptible to death?

All of that to say that I am of a very mixed opinion in regard to this book. I absolutely approve of the goal of the book – to set before children characters worthy of emulation, to exhort children in godliness, and to prove that children have deep spiritual needs long before we usually recognize them. But while I admired the examples of these children, I found myself repelled by the high-toned rapturous language which was used to describe them.

Conclusion. I’ve offered many different opinions in the above review, but I cannot set forth a unified whole from among them. I found the language of A Token for Children difficult to stomach, but others may be able to tolerate it and thus benefit from the sterling examples set forth by the children of this book.