Reviewed by: Thomas D. Church
The Heart in Pilgrimage: A Treasury of Classic Devotionals on the Christian Life, by Leland Ryken. Crossway, 2022. Hardcover, 192 pages, $27.26 (Amazon). Reviewed by OP minister Thomas D. Church.
The prolific pen of Dr. Leland Ryken now brings us another most useful volume. In this attractive clothbound treasury, Dr. Ryken has cherry-picked a rather remarkable selection of fifty classic devotionals on the Christian life. The devotionals themselves, often portions of larger works, are never more than two pages in length, followed by an “explication” or analysis of the selection. Here Ryken brings to bear mature spiritual perception and a wide knowledge of English and American literature together with his academic tools and skills honed for nearly fifty years as a professor of English literature at Wheaton College. The goal is to put readers in possession of the texts and enhance their experience of them.
Ryken’s creative devotional selections are what makes this book exceptional. “Monotony and predictability,” writes Ryken in his introduction, “are a besetting weakness in conventional anthologies of devotionals, and as an editor of this volume I worked hard to counteract this syndrome.” This he accomplishes. You might have expected his inclusion of a portion from Jeremiah Burroughs’s The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, John Donne’s “Death as a Welcome Sleep,” a selection from J. I. Packer’s Knowing God, or even the Westminster Standards on providence, but Ryken uncovers shining devotional light in places we might not look for it—or expect it! The Heart in Pilgrimage includes such offerings as William Bradford’s account of the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock and their trust and praise of God in circumstances of great extremity, the lovely words of the Bidding Prayer from the Anglican service of Lessons and Carols, and passages from Blaise Pascal, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Jane Austen.
Or to give another example, Ryken shares his discovery that the prefaces to English Bible translations turn out to be an untapped treasure of devotional riches. In the selection entitled “What the Bible Means to a Believer,” Ryken proves it by including portions from the Geneva Bible and the King James Version.
I found all or very nearly all of his devotional entries to be well chosen, sound, and profitable. I will rest my case in recommendation of this anthology with the following portion (selection no. 1) from the opening lines of rhetorical paradox from Augustine’s Confessions, answering the question, “What is my God?”
Most high, most excellent, most potent, most omnipotent; most merciful and most just; most secret and most truly present; most beautiful and most strong; stable, yet not supported; unchangeable, yet changing all things; never new, never old; making all things new, yet bringing old age upon the proud, and they know it not; always working, ever at rest; gathering, yet needing nothing; sustaining, pervading, and protecting; creating, nourishing, and developing; seeking, and yet possessing all things… You owe men nothing, yet pay out to them as if in debt to your creature, and when you cancel debts, you lose nothing thereby. Oh! that I might repose in you! Oh! that you would enter into my heart and inebriate it, that I might forget my ills and embrace you, my sole good!
This is a book to have and to keep.
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