Reviewed by: William Hobbs
Date posted: 01/18/2009
Thomas Shepard: Pilgrim Father and Founder of Harvard, by Alexander Whyte. Reprint (1909) published by Reformation Heritage Books, 2007. Paperback, 252 pages, list price $18.00. Reviewed by OP minister William Hobbs.
This book contains the twenty-five Lord's Day evening "spiritual lectures" on the life and godliness of Thomas Shepard, a New England puritan (1605–1649). They were prepared by Scottish pastor Alexander Whyte, (who died in 1921) from Shepard's private diaries. Today Shepard is best known for his reprinted sermons, but his writing has made him largely unknown, so difficult is his prose.
Great men of God have always been viewed as strangers in the world. Holiness has always set them at odds with the world. It is worthwhile every so often to pause before the cry of the martyred saints (Rev. 6:10) and consider such holiness. While the church today, even in its Reformed expression, emphasizes Christian liberty, celebration, joy, etc., perhaps there is still a place for the sober view of indwelling sin and our daily need to be humbled before our Benefactor. Shepard was an enemy of the presumption (shallow religion) of his day. He sought earnestly for a heart after God and to preach a holy God. "It is the heart that makes the theologian. Not the head. Not the talent. Not the learning. Not power of speaking. Not power of writing. Other men may be made without much heart. Men of scholarship may be made without much heart. Men of science may be made without much heart but not men of religion" (so opens one of the evening talks).
Shepard was nothing if not a peculiar man. But Whyte was, too, and he gave his evening talks only on similarly strange men. In the present volume, for example, there is an evening talk taken from this diary entry: "My own idle words in my preaching, in my praise, and in my prayer, and the account I give of them to God." This quote sets Whyte off on a journey into the soul-searching heart of Shepard as he ponders, presses, and cajoles his own soul over this bit of his worldly nature. It can be most troubling.
Well, truthfully, these talks are not for everyone. They are more soul-searching than most people can stand. But if you need to examine your calling, your commitments, your coming and going, even your conversion or your soul's destiny—if, in short, you need to go deeper with God—well, here you are. Perhaps Shepard will help take you where you need to go, if this is you. His praying hunted down his four sons and converted them. His was "right earnest conversation," as Knox called prayer. Will anyone one day say that about our prayers?