the substance of Christian religion

Review From User :

The works of the Puritan authors are experiencing a resurgence and rightfully so. Their adherence to sound doctrine, commitment to a through explication of Scripture and most importantly, the application of the tenets of the faith as more than mere head knowledge, noting how Scripture is to be applied to all of life, makes the reading of Puritan works a must. Included in the great bevy of works from the Puritan period is Archbishop James Ussher's excellent contribution, A Body of Divinity: Being the Sum and Substance of the Christian Religion.

Ussher is also known for his other monumental work Annals of the World and it has been said that A Body of Divinity was regularly consulted during the formation of the Westminster Assembly where the Westminster Confession of Faith was created. So it is quite clear the influence he had on the development of Reformed doctrine and thought. Working through A Body of Divinity provides the reader with a very methodical and catechistic styled approach to quite frankly most every major doctrine of the Reformed faith.

In the typical writing style of the Puritans, this book presents the doctrine followed by an extensive discussion section in the format of a question answer approach. A particular question of doctrine is stated with the accompanying explanation. Ussher presents what he calls fifty heads, each of which address various elements of the faith and doctrine. As I read through this book, I was struck by both the simplicity with which certain questions were answered and the complexity by which other doctrines were analyzed. For instance, in response to the question posed by Ussher of "What is the first Point of Religion that we are taught in the Scriptures", Ussher responds quite simply with "That there is a God." Immediately following that question and statement is another question that asks, "Why do you make this the first Point" Ussher responds simply "Because the Scripture saith, He that cometh to God, must believe that he is, Heb. 11.6" Again, a simple response that gets straight to the heart of the matter without any unnecessary fluff.

One might ask why such a book is something they should spend time reading. As noted early in this review, the works of the Puritans are most noted for their attention to sound doctrine and providing the reader with how that doctrine should be applied to daily life. While A Body of Divinity is arguably not as focused on application as other Puritan works, it nevertheless contains a proverbial one stop shop if you will of Reformed doctrine. Given the influential nature of this book for the formation of the Westminster Confession of faith which is of course a foundational set of statements for Reformed doctrine, reading the book that contributed greatly to the thoughts of those at the Westminster Assembly seems to be in order. Furthermore, those wanting to study why these doctrines matter and how they are outlined throughout Scripture will find Ussher's work to be truly worthwhile.

This book is not light reading. It is very theological in its approach and it is of course written in what we would consider in our day to be somewhat archaic language that is typical of how the Puritan wrote in their day. With that said, after a little bit of effort, the reader will be able to grasp what is being said quite easily. It is not that much different that reading a sermon by Charles Spurgeon or the works of John Owen. I highly recommend this book for those interested in studying matters of the Reformed faith and doctrine or those simply interested in discovering where Scripture declares these doctrines to be found and why they are adhered to by those of the Reformed persuasion. The question answer approach taken by Ussher provides a great way for the reader to find a question and the accompanying answer, a truly valuable methodology for further study in my opinion. This is a book that is a must read and it should be on the shelf of pastors, seminary students, those who appreciate the writings of the Puritans, or any serious student of God's word for that matter.


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