Friday, August 1, 2014

B.M. Palmer: Quintessential Pastor, Scholar and Theologian

C.N. Willborn, ed., Selected Writings of Benjamin Morgan Palmer. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2014. 205pp. Hardcover.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

B.M. Palmer
Reading Benjamin Morgan Palmer is like finding a rare jewel. His gripping style, theological acuteness, pastoral brilliance, and warm sympathy with sinners combine in a way that makes his kind scarce, even among great authors. He is in the list of my top four “mighty men” in the faith whom we should prioritize reading above others (the others in that list include Calvin, Owen, and Edwards). While I read many authors who are worth reading, in my opinion, they cannot attain to these first four.

This small collection of Palmer’s writings has many strengths. It consists of short articles that Palmer wrote for the Southwestern Presbyterian from 1869-1870. These include brief sketches of pastoral conversations that he held with people in various spiritual conditions, a five-part passionate plea for foreign missions, a brief exposition of the Beatitudes, four “Christian paradoxes,” and three miscellaneous articles on Christian experience. It is impossible to convey the pathos, theological balance, and pastoral wisdom contained in these brief pieces.

My only disappointment with the book is that it is so small. For readers who hunger for more, I recommend reading Palmer’s sermons. The theological depth coupled with simplicity, warmth, and skillful application makes these the best sermons that I have read. However, his Shorter Writings uniquely reveal a more intimate side of Palmer’s personality. After reading them, you will simultaneously marvel at and understand why believers and unbelievers alike in New Orleans loved him. You will marvel that they loved him because he is so direct, but you will understand why they loved him because he is so kind and tender.

Palmer is the kind of author that, as a pastor, I need. In contrast to much of the shallow pastoral counsel and evangelistic techniques that prevail today, he gives us something great to aspire to. Palmer always drives me to pray fervently that I would learn something from his skill with people and that I would, in some measure, learn to imitate him as he imitated Christ and the apostles. We need authors that push us beyond our conception of normal ministry to prevent us from becoming satisfied with the mediocre precedent that is all too common today. May the Spirit of God richly bless this little book to stir up our compassion to dying sinners, to inflame our love to Christ, and to provide us with acute examples of how to interact with people frankly yet wisely as we seek the good of their souls.

This review appeared in the July 2014 issue of Banner of Truth.