The Soul’s Quest for God: Satisfying the Hunger for Spiritual Communion with God. By R. C. Sproul. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1992. Reissued in 2003. Paper. $11.99.
This book is a reissue of a work originally published a decade ago. It has an engaging title and subtitle and an attractive cover. As with the other works I’ve read by Sproul, he is light on biblical exegesis and heavy on citations from Reformed theologians like Edwards and Calvin. While his intended audience probably doesn’t mind, this will be bothersome for those who want careful defense of his views from Scripture.
The book appears to be based on messages he has delivered, for the Table of Contents does not evidence a logical connection between the chapters. Here are the eleven chapter titles. 1) Restless Hearts; 2) Sweetness and Honey: Loving the Word of God; 3) Divine Illumination: The Secret of Christian Progress; 4) The Witness of the Holy Spirit (which is also a subsection in Chapter 10, see pp. 225-26); 5) Loving the Law of God; 6) The Obedient Soul; 7) The Model of Joseph; 8) The Soul and Its Value; 9) The Feeding of the Soul; 10) Barriers to Progress; and 11) The Soul’s Final Destination.
The most interesting chapter for JOTGES readers would be Chapter 10. While it speaks of barriers, plural, to progress, the headings in the chapter all deal with one issue: assurance of salvation. Sproul sees the barrier to progress to be despondency (pp. 205-208). To get us past Bunyon’s Slough of Despond, he says, “requires the full assurance of our salvation to get us safely through” (p. 208). JOTGES readers will agree with this assessment: “When we are uncertain about our status in the kingdom, we are vulnerable to the fiery darts of Satan. We are reeds shaken in the wind. We become like corks in the sea, bobbing this way and that with each change of tide” (p. 208).
So how does one gain “full assurance”? Here we are faced with the normal and confusing three pillars of assurance in Reformed thought: the word of God, the works the Holy Spirit does in and through us, and the inner witness of the Spirit.
Of particular interest is Sproul’s suggestion that is it possible “to be unsaved and yet fully assured…to be sure that we are saved” (p. 213). This causes him to ask, “How can we know in which category we truly are?” Frankly, if one follows his advice in this chapter, he will not escape the Slough of Despond, not knowing prior to death whether he is regenerate or not.
Sproul’s understanding of Matt 7:21-23 is confusing. On the one hand he says, “They will appeal to their works as evidence of the authenticity of their personal relationship with Christ…Yet despite these protests [concerning their works], they will be turned away” (p. 224). Thus for these people they were wrong to look to their works for evidence of the authenticity of their personal relationship with Christ. Yet on the other hand he says, “Works that are the evidence of true faith are not merely activities of the church or ministry; they are works of obedience” (p. 225). So looking to one’s works is important, but we must distinguish between mere activities and actual works of obedience. But is this helpful? Won’t the many that say “Lord, Lord” and point to their works sincerely believe that their works are not merely activities, but are works of obedience? Isn’t that the point of Matt 7:22?
Another point of interest is the author’s insistence that the moral law of God cannot change since it reflects the character of God (pp. 104-105ff.). (He fails to even try to prove that God’s commands are intricately linked to His character. This, of course, leads him to a faulty conclusion.) Leaving aside the fact that the Law of Moses was a unit and we cannot separate out moral parts from civil or ceremonial, we find no discussion of obvious contradictions to his view. There is no discussion of texts like Rom 10:4 and the Book of Galatians which teach that the believer is not under the Law. In addition, obvious changes occurred in God’s laws and yet these changes are not discussed.
Prior to the Law of Moses, marrying one’s brother or sister was lawful. That changed. During the Law one was required to do no customary work from Friday sundown until Saturday sundown. That has changed today. The Law prescribed levirate marriage in cases where one’s brother died childless. That has changed as well. I recommend this book for the discerning reader.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society