The Second Best Book in the World

A Treatise on RegenerationI read an endorsement recently that really grabbed my attention. A well-known individual described a book that is not very well known in these terms:

This book is much better than any other book in the world, excepting the Bible, in my opinion.

The individual was Jonathan Edwards.

The book was Peter Van Mastricht’s A Treatise on Regeneration, which was published by Soli Deo Gloria, now a part of Reformation Heritage Books.

Wow! I want to read that book. I wonder how it compares with John Piper’s Finally Alive.

Here’s the description of A Treatise on Regeneration from Monergism:

Jesus said that people must be “born again,” and that without that occurring they could not enter the kingdom of God. Thus, the new birth, or regeneration, is a thing of great importance. But is regeneration the result of faith, or is it the cause of faith? And what part does the human will play in this eternally significant event? These are the questions answered in this book by this great theologian Peter Van Mastricht. He was educated at the University of Utrecht, and held pastorates in Germany and Denmark before accepting a position as professor of Hebrew and practical theology at Frankfurt, and later at his alma mater. This material is taken from his Theologia Theoretico-Practica (Theoretical and Practical Theology). The great Jonathan Edwards incorporated many of Van Mastricht’s ideas in his famous book, The Freedom of the Will, also published by Soli Deo Gloria.

Jonathan Edwards once said of this book: “This book is much better than any other book in the world, excepting the Bible, in my opinion.”

This line from Edwards is quoted on the front cover of the book. Curious of the context, I wanted to track it down. After a little hunting, I was able to find it in the Works of Jonathan Edwards Online. Here is the full context of the quote.

In a letter to the Joseph Bellamy on January 15, 1746/7, Edwards writes,

Dear Sir,

I received your letter by Mr. [Job] Strong this day. Mr. [John] Searle was here at my house presently after, and I gave your questions to him, and told him the bearer intended quickly to return.

(As to the affair of sheep, I am much obliged to you for the pains you have taken. I believe you have acted the part of a trusty friend therein. I suppose it is known by this time, whether the man that went to Newtown has succeeded. If he has, and the sheep are bought, we shall rest in what you have done; but if not, and you shall have found no opportunity till this letter reaches you, it is so late in the year, that I desire you would keep the money till shearing time is over and then buy; when I suppose they may be bought much cheaper than now. But I would pray you to send us word by the first opportunity, that if we are not like to have any sheep this year, we may seasonably be looking out, and laying in for wool elsewhere, for the supply of the family. In the spring, if you can give us any encouragement, I should be glad to lay out £60 more for sheep in those parts, as soon as shearing time is over, – 217 – besides the £30 you have in your hands. But only, if you buy so many sheep for us, it might be perhaps expedient, on some accounts, for the present, not to let it be known who the sheep are for.)

As to the books you speak of: Mastricht is sometimes in one volume, a very thick, large quarto; sometimes in two quarto volumes. I believe it could not be had new under eight or ten pounds. Turretin is in three volumes in quarto, and would probably be about the same price.1 They are both excellent. Turretin is on polemical divinity; on the Five Points, and all other controversial points; and is much larger in these than Mastricht; and is better for one that desires only to be thoroughly versed in controversies. But take Mastricht for divinity in general, doctrine, practice, and controversy; or as an universal system of divinity and it is much better than Turretin or any other book in the world, excepting the Bible, in my opinion. I have thoughts of sending, myself, this year, to England for a few books, and have written to Mr. [Edmund] Quincy, a merchant in Boston, about it, to desire his advice and assistance, as to the course to be taken to obtain ‘em. If I employ him to send for me, I shall be willing to serve you, as I desire you to serve me about the sheep. I am willing to take your money and put it with my own, and put your books into my catalogue and have the books all come as mine; or shall be willing to serve you, if I can in any respect, by writing to my correspondents in Scotland.

I have been reading Whitby, which has engaged me pretty thoroughly in the study of the Arminian controversy; and I have writ considerably upon it in my private papers. I must entreat you, if possible, to borrow for me Dr. Stebbing, on the Spirit.2 I had rather pay something for the use of it, than not have some considerable opportunity with it. I have got so deep into this controversy, that I am not willing to dismiss it, till I know the utmost of their matters.

I have very lately received a packet from Scotland, with the several copies of a Memorial, for the continuing and propagating an agreement for joint prayer for the general revival of religion; three of which I here send you, desiring you to dispose of two of ‘em where they will – 218 – be most serviceable.3 For my part, I heartily wish it was fallen in with by all Christians from the rising to the setting sun.

I have returned you Mr. Dickinson’s book, but must pray you [to] let me have further opportunity with Dr. Johnson’s.4 If you could inquire of Dr. Johnson, or Mr. [John] Beach, or some other, and find out what is the best book on the Arminian side, for the defense of their notion of free will; and whether there be any better and more full than Whitby, I should be glad; provided you have convenient opportunity. I don’t know but I shall publish something after a while on that subject.

Dear Sir, we have so many affairs to confer upon that concern us both, that I would propose that you should come this way again in February or March. You han’t a great family to tie you at home as I have. But if you can’t come, I must desire you to write fully and largely on all the foregoing particulars of this letter. Herein you will oblige, your cordial and affectionate friend and brother,

Jonathan Edwards.

P.S. It now comes to my mind that I heard that Dr. [Joseph] Pynchon of Longmeadow has Turretin, and that he lately offered to change them away for other books; so that in all probability you may there have those books at a moderate price.

(“73. To the Reverend Joseph Bellamy,” in Letters and Personal Writings (WJE Online Vol. 16), ed. George S. Claghorn, 216–18.)

There are two things worth pointing out about this use of the quote from Edwards. I work in marketing, so I’m aware of the importance of presenting products in the best possible light, but it appears that this quote has been massaged just a tad—assuming that what I found is the real source of the quote.

  1. I see no indication that Edwards was referring to this particular section of Van Mastricht’s Theoretica-Practica Theologia. (Would it be accurate to say that Edwards thought that the best book in the world was Nahum, just because it is part of the Bible, which he did indirectly refer to as the best book in the world?)
  2. Edwards qualifies his “it is much better than . . . any other book in the world” statement by referring to “divinity in general, doctrine, practice, and controversy; or as an universal system of divinity.” Granted, that is fairly broad, but I think it would be wise to stop short of saying that Edwards called the part or the whole “better than . . . any other book in the world” without any qualification.

The quote on the book and on the product page should probably read, “For divinity in general, doctrine, practice, and controversy; or as an universal system of divinity . . . [Peter van Mastrict's Theoretica-Practica Theologia, from which A Treatise on Regeneration is excerpted and translated] is much better than . . . any other book in the world, excepting the Bible, in my opinion.” But that doesn’t have quite the same marketing force. :)

Anyway, my quibbles with the use of the quote aside, it still is a noteworthy endorsement.

So what’s your second favorite book in the world? I’m not sure I have one.

Footnotes

  1. The books referred to are Peter van Mastrict, Theoretica-Practica Theologia, ed. nova (Utrecht, 1699); and Francis Turretin, Institutio Theologiæ Elencticæ (3 vols. Geneva, 1679—85).
  2. Daniel Whitby, A Discourse Concerning I. The True Import of the Words Election and Reprobation. II. The Extent of Christ’s Redemption. III. The Grace of God. IV. The Liberty of the Will. V. The Perseverance or Deflectability of the Saint (London, 1710); and Henry Stebbing, Treatise Concerning the Operations of the Holy Spirit (London, 1719).
  3. JE included the Memorial as part of the introduction to An Humble Attempt. See Works, 5, 324—28.
  4. Jonathan Dickinson, Vindication of God’s Sovereign Free Grace (Boston, 1746); Samuel Johnson, Letter from Aristocles, to Authades Concerning the Sovereignty and the Promises of God (Boston, 1745).

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4 Responses to The Second Best Book in the World

  1. Chris Barney December 12, 2008 at 3:14 pm #

    Thank you, Phil, for bringing this book to our attention. I will be sure to add it to my Christmas reading list.

  2. Phil Gons December 12, 2008 at 4:28 pm #

    You’re welcome, Chris. Good to see you blogging. I subscribed to your blog back when it was on blogger, and shortly thereafter it stopped all of a sudden. I must have missed the announcement that you were moving over to WordPress.com. Anyway, good to reconnect a bit.

  3. Ryan M. December 13, 2008 at 7:45 am #

    Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence, by David Keirsey.

    It’s not a Christian book, yet it is of great use to Christians in understanding themselves, understanding others, parenting better, leading better, and grasping why others may live and enjoy living so differently from one’s self.

  4. Derek Ashton December 15, 2008 at 6:29 am #

    Phil,

    Being a fellow marketing professional, I just love the way you debunk the outrageous claim on this book. I also like the way you do damage control and retain the endorsement. You’re probably a great chess player. Thanks for all the great resources you keep us connected with here on PHILGONS.COM – my second favorite website, next to Bible.com! Okay, tongue in cheek. :)

    Blessings,
    Derek Ashton

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