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THE ANGELIC AVENGERS by Pierre Andrezel

Lucan was an orphan who was employed as governess by a widower with three children.  When the employer became romantically inclined toward Lucan and asked her to become his wife, she fled and found shelter at the home of her boarding-school friend, Zosine.  Just at that time Zosine’s father was forced to leave the country to escape his creditors and Zosine found herself penniless and alone except for her friend, Lucan.  As she herself said, Lucan was used to being poor and when Zosine almost gave up, she encouraged and sustained her.  They finally decided to seek employment as governesses at an employment agency.  At the employment office, they were informed that a wonderful place was open for them.  A certain pious and learned gentleman, the Reverend Pennhallow and his wife, wished to receive, free of charge, two well bred girls into their home to teach them higher learning and the classics.  After an interview with the minister and his wife, the two girls consented to become “their adopted daughters” and go with them to France.  The two old people seemed to be pathetically eager to please their charges and the girls were especially won over by the winning ways of the tender old minister, who was indeed learned and taught them many things.  Gradually however, through a chain of queer happenings, the girls began to suspect that things at the Pennhallow estate were not all that they were supposed to be and finally it became definitely clear to both girls that they were actually prisoners of the fictitious minister and his wife, who were holding the girls for white slavery.  Escape was impossible and until almost the very end of the story it appears that the two girls will suffer either persecution or death at the hands of the merciless and cruel pair.  But rescue comes and in the end both Lucan and Zosine fine romance and happiness.

On the surface, this appears to be a rather refreshing romantic and idealistic novel, rather Victorian, clean and altogether different from the present-day novel.  The story, however, is symbolic, as the Norwegian author very definitely meant it to be and as the readers in the suppressed countries immediately realized.  The minister and his wife are a picture of the fascist oppressors, cruel, merciless and unrelenting.  The two girls represent the small conquered nations who have first been cheated into serving the relentless Nazis and then are prisoners.  As one of the girls says, “You serious people must not be too hard on human beings for what they choose to amuse themselves with when they are shut up as in prison and are not even allowed to say that they are prisoners.”  The symbolism is very easy to trace throughout the story.  In the end the forces of “good” triumph and the forces of evil are overthrown: besides the author pictures a bright and happy future.

Idealistic this novel is, but the Christian ideals are entirely missing, it must be remembered.  The ideals of the world—victory and lasting peace—are the ideals of Pierre Andrezel.  On condition that the reader does not lose sight of that fact, I think this story can be recommended above many other modern novels.

My Friend Flicka & Thunderhead by Mary O’Hara.

These are two books which belong together; the second one is a sequel to the first and is written about the same people and some of the same horses.  Both Flicka and Thunderhead are horses belonging to Ken McLaughlin who was the son of an army captain who bought a ranch near Cheyenne, Wyoming and began to raise horses.  Ken was a born lover of horses and when his father gave him permission to choose a year-old colt for his very own, he took a filly, which he named Flicka, a Swedish word meaning “sweetheart.”  Ken became so devoted to Flicka, that when the filly became sick he nursed it carefully through storm and weather so that he himself got pneumonia and was very ill for a long time on account of it.  But the horse pulled through and so did Ken.

The second book, Thunderhead, is the story of the young albino stallion that was born to Flicka.  Ken had great hopes for his swift, wild stallion as a race horse, but Thunderhead was too wild and at the end of the story Ken decides to let him go.

The two stories are written not only about horses but just as much about their owners.  The whole family—Bob McLaughlin and his wife, Nell and their two young boys, Howard and Ken play the main parts in the story, as they raise, love and train the horses they own.  Ken takes the principal part as the owner of the two horses, Flicka and Thunderhead.  The author not only excellently describes the characters of the members of the McLaughlin family, but gives character to the animals in the story and makes them almost human at times.

It is an exceptionally clean story of an American family and rather good in comparison with some of the trash which appears nowadays.  But Nell, the mother, probably best expresses the author’s philosophy when she says that four things are the cure for the ills of mankind: religion, nature, associations and work.

With a Dutch Accent by David Cornell DeJong

 This book is the author’s attempt to write the story of part of his own life, the time from his earliest memories to the adolescent years which found him in a new country.  He writes of the town of Blija in Friesland, where he was born, and of the sturdy parents and grandparents which supposedly all had a hand in bringing him up to hate the Calvinistic heritage of his fathers, because they were narrow minded and too strict.  He tells of the wonderful visions he had of a new world, of the anticipation of reaching that land when once his father decided to take his family there, and then of the disappointing and degrading circumstances which attended their settlement in Grand Rapids, Michigan when they began their new life among strangers on a small street near a greenhouse, which anyone who lives in that city will easily recognize.  He tells of the years of poverty and hardships, during which he, as a boy of thirteen years had to shoulder too much of the family burden.  A trying time for the immigrants, he brings out, because their Holland-American Calvinistic neighbors lent them no helping hand, and the school children of the Christian School which they attended did all they could to make life miserable for the DeJong children.  But in spite of all these things at the end of those first years of getting used to his new home, David could write at the close of this book, “I continued my way whistling beneath those trees and that bleak sky, past those American houses on that American street.  And then I realized only one thing concretely, unmistakably: I didn’t want to be walking anywhere else.  And that realization was strong and positive enough to keep me whistling, but no longer defiantly.”

However, I do not find the keynote of the book in those words.  They are, I believe in this statement: “….the more I came to love America and Americans, the more did I come to resent the Grand Rapids American-Dutch, whom ironically enough I accepted as typical Americans for several years until time and experience fortunately opened my eyes, but not quite to the point of forgiveness.”  If you have read any other of this author’s books, you will agree with me that his purpose in writing seems to be to paint a bad picture of Calvinism and Calvinists.  It is strange, isn’t it, of a man who was brought up in the Christian Grammar schools, high school, and received his higher education first in Calvin College.  I could not help asking myself, “Is the author just one of those products of Calvinism that went wrong, or was there perhaps something a bit wrong with the supposedly Calvinistic education he received, which may have set him astray?”

There is something very disgusting about the way the author tries to create antipathy against the Dutch people in America and against Dutch Calvinists in particular, by arousing sympathy for himself as a boy and his poor immigrant family, and one wonders if things were really quite as bad as he makes them.  Perhaps time exaggerated some of those childhood impressions, and prejudice helped it along.

The interesting part about the book is the familiarity of all the places and many of the people he mentions, although he uses very few names.

Burma Surgeon by Gordon S. Seagrave, M.D.

When the author of this book left for Burma with his young wife, the only surgical instruments he had were some broken ones salvaged from the wastebasket at John Hopkins.  He began his work in Burma as a medical missionary in the North Shan States.  Energetically he went to work, training native girls to become skilled nurses, and ingeniously developing his own skill in many different kinds of surgery.  When the hospital became too small and they needed larger quarters, he raised funds himself, and he and his wife, who also worked as a nurse, made plans for new buildings, the building of which he supervised and partly built.  Nothing would stand in the way of his work.  Malaria was contracted by both the doctor and his wife and often hindered them in the work, but it never stopped them or made them think of quitting.  Then the war came nearer.  The Burma Road was constructed and an airplane factory set up right near the hospital and settlement of Doctor Seagrave.  When the war actually came to Burma, he offered his services immediately and was made a major in the Medical Corp.  From that time on there was never a moment of rest for the doctor and his staff of native nurses.  Through bombings and fire they continued to care for the wounded and to perform emergency operations under tremendous strain.  General Stilwell ordered Doctor Seagrave and his unit to join the retreat with him, and the closing chapters of the book are Doctor Seagrave’s diary written of the days that he was carrying out those orders.

This is not so much a war book as an account of a tremendous job done by a doctor and his staff.  The work is described in a way that is interesting to the non-professional, for few technical terms are used.

What struck me especially when reading this book was the fact that although Doctor Seagrave was really a medical missionary, not much mention is made of the missionary angle of his work, even in the days prior to his war work.  This often seems to be the case with the work of medical missionaries—the physical element seems to outshine the spiritual.  The author seems a bit conceited in his account of his work, although he often tries to minimize his part in it.  But I suppose one must almost have a bit of conceit to even begin to write an autobiographical composition.

Blessed are the Meek” by Zofia Kossak.

This is an historical novel which restores one of the critical periods of Christian history. It has as its background the history of the end of the twelfth and the beginnings of the thirteenth centuries. Francis of Assisi is the hero of the story, but Jean de Brienne takes an important part in the plot, while Francis appears every now and then in important scenes to show himself as the meek man, as he is portrayed throughout this novel. After Pope Innocent III failed to move adults to form a crusade once more to attempt to regain the Holy City, villains inveigled their children to band together in a vast crusade only to sell them all as slaves to some Venetian ship owners who sold those who survived a great storm to the Moslems. Thereupon, Jean de Brienne was chosen by the pope to become the titular king of Jerusalem and lead a crusade to regain the city. But Jean de Brienne became involved in a love affair with Blanche of Champagne, who had left her husband and home on a pretended pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulcher, to be with her lover. Jean neglected his mission to rescue the Holy City and when the Pope died, his successor appointed Cardinal Pelagius to lead the crusade. Pelagius knew nothing about war and was too conceited to listen to advice from Jean. After the spectacular flooding of the Nile the Holy Land, which could have been had if the cardinal had not been quite so greedy, was lost.

The story ends with Jean a disappointed man in war and in love. Francis of Assisi is described as a meek man, devoid of any selfishness, always seeking the good of his fellowman, really the only loveable character in the book. In the beginning of the story he had gathered but a few followers around him, men who with him pledged themselves to self-denial. His band of followers grew, however, and by the time Francis left Italy to follow the army of crusaders, his principles were not being carried out as well as they first had been for his followers began to seek honor and recognition. When Francis returned it is evident that he had not been successful at all and still he was not disappointed for he felt that something abiding would remain from his work and teaching. Zofia Kossak portrays Francis as the bit of good left in the Roman Catholic Church at that time when she points out the corruption and decay of the Christianity of that day.

A wealth of historical knowledge must have been necessary to write this novel. There are some brilliant scenes portrayed. Vivid is the scene of Francis before the Sultan of Egypt at Cairo when the crusaders are fighting the Egyptians. Even the Sultan is impressed by the meekness and honesty of Francis and desires to hear more of his Christianity.

The story and plot, however are rather slow in places and if one is not sufficiently interested in the mere historic background, the story will not be attractive enough to hold his attention. The book is worth reading for its historic interest.

The doctrine of salvation by works is outstandingly taught in the main character, Francis of Assisi. who does nothing but good works and whose very meekness seems to be featured as something which will save not only himself but many of his fellowmen, while we know that “By grace are ye saved, through faith: and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

Western Star” by Stephen Vincent Benet.

This is a narrative poem about the “Spirit and the beginnings of America”, as the short write-up on the paper jacket of the book puts it. The first line of the poem is: “Americans are always moving on”. And after a thirteen-page prelude, the author tells the story of the first beginnings and settling of the New World, beginning with the tragic history of that first settlement in Jamestown, which slowly dwindled down to almost nothing. The author’s poetry and beautiful command of words seems especially adapted to the history he chooses for the subject of his poem. Most of the poem relates the story of the Puritans’ journey — of their sojourn in the Netherlands and the subsequent trip to America. Two lines of people are traced through the family of Dickie Herron, a London servant boy who came to America with his master in search of wealth, and the family of Humility Lanyard which journeyed to the New World with the Puritans in search of religious freedom. The author well brings out the contrast between the motives and lives of the different people who settled here. When he begins to tell about the Lanyard family leaving Holland, he writes:

 

“Now listen to another, graver tune, Wrung from the oaken hearts of humble men,

O God, the refuge of our fears, Our buckler and our stay,

Within whose sight the rolling years Are but a single day,

Behold us now like Israel’s band, Cast forth upon the wave,

And may Thy strong and awful hand Be still outstretched to save!”

 

More often the author breaks out in what we almost would call a hymn when he writes about the bravely trusting Puritans.

Benet has his own subtle philosophy which comes out in his poem —the false idealism of a worldly view. And yet, one cannot help wondering what the author himself actually believes, for his poem is full of the Puritans’ trust in God and their earnest endeavor to establish a godly environment for themselves and their families in a new country. He often mentions the fact that the Puritans feel they are elect, and as I reread those parts it does not seem as if he is mocking them, although sometimes one gets the impression that they are considered quite naive.

If you like poetry I am quite sure you will enjoy this narrative poem. And even if you are not too fond of reading poems, this one you may like.

Paris Underground by Etta Shiber

It was purely by accident that Mrs. Shiber and her friend, Kitty, became involved in aiding British soldiers to escape from the German occupied territory around Paris. Mrs. Shiber is the widow of an American newspaper man, who after the death of her husband made her home in a Paris apartment with a friend. Like all the other Parisians, they tried to leave the city when the Germans seized it, but were forced to return when they were caught in the traffic jam of refugees who were attempting to get away. On their way back to Paris they picked up a soldier and hid him in the trunk of their car, sheltered him in their apartment, and after days of suspense and anxiety, found confederates who smuggled the soldier across the border of occupied France, and helped him escape in England. This led the two middle-aged women to help many more soldiers, until the day when they were discovered by the German gestapo. The Frenchwoman was eventually executed, but Mrs. Shiber was exchanged with the American government for a German spy after undergoing considerable hardships in German prisons.

Excerpts from Mrs. Shiber’s book of her experiences appeared in the Reader’s Digest, so perhaps some of you readers have already been lured into reading the book and it is well worth it, for it is a first-hand account of many happenings at the beginning of the war in Europe. Although Mrs. Shiber emphasizes that especially her part in the work was rather reluctant and fearful, one must admire the pluck of these two women.

Look to the Mountains by Le Grand Cannon, Jr.

The story begins in Kettleford, New Hampshire, in the year 1769. Whit Livingstone shyly courts Melissa Butler and before they take the marriage vow, goes up the Merrimac River to find a new place to live. Melissa waits for him three months, after which he comes back with the news that he has found the ideal spot to set up their home—at the foot of a high mountain which never ceases to be a source of wonder and inspiration for simple Whit Livingstone. They are married, and, not yet twenty years old, the young couple sets out in a canoe, in cold November. Melissa stays in a small settlement with some newly-found friends of Whit, while her husband goes eight miles away to build a log cabin with a stone chimney for his bride. Their life together is the life of pioneers—a life of hardship and toil, disappointments, and yet in it all a simple happiness and satisfaction in founding and maintaining for themselves and their children, a new home in a new country.

Many novels have been written about the American pioneer, but few have the simple, homely touch of Cannon’s story. The characters are very real, and their life is not too vivid and exciting, but seems real. The story does not have much plot, but merely relates the story of a section from the lives of pioneers.

It is deplorable that this, as so many other novels contains some profane language. There is a notable lack of any religion or mention of it even by the preacher who marries Whit and Melissa and between them the subject arises only once, when they decide not to baptize their first baby because it seems superstitious. Whit seems to put some stock in Indian charms and if he has a god, he worships nature.

Small Sects in America” by Elmer T. Clark.

This book is the result of a lengthy and extensive investigation covering a period of fifteen years, in which the author studied the official literature and doctrinal pronouncements of the sects about which he writes, and even paid personal visits to the headquarters of some of these religious bodies. The book reveals a rather thorough study of the subject.

The author does not give a definition of a sect, but it is evident from his treatment of the subject that many small organized denominations are classed as sects and although the Protestant Reformed Churches are not discussed in this work. I would not be surprised that if he had found our denomination, we too would have a paragraph in his book. In my opinion, many of these churches he writes about are not sects at all, but many of them we also would consider sects.

The book outlines the sects in a rather new way, discussing them under the following heads: Pessimistic Sects. Perfectionistic Sects, Charismatic Sects. Communistic Sects, and Legalistic Sects. Many of the sects the author mentions are almost unknown, partly because of their small size, often because of their extreme peculiarity, or because of the race of the adherents. If some of the teachings were not so sadly wrong and misguided, they would be ludicrous. The names of some of the sects tell their own story: The Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God, Two Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists United Zion’s Children, Yorker Brethren, Church of God and Saints of Christ, Church of Daniel’s Band, Pillar of Fire. Free Christian Zion Church of Christ, Hutterian Brethren Old Ored Amish, House of Prayer, Order Amish, House of Prayer, Church Triumphant. The existence of many sects would be surprising information to many people, especially to those living in the eastern part of our country. Here in the west many of the religious groups mentioned by Clark are not quite so strange, and just by scanning the religious page of our Saturday evening paper we could perhaps add a few names to his list which are just as strange. One finds many more fanatical religious groups in the South and in the West than in the Northern and Eastern parts of the United States.

Lest you obtain the impression that only the obscure sects are mentioned—here are some others that are rather freely and lengthily discussed: The Mennonites, the Seventh-Day Adventists, Adventists, Four-Square Church, Father Divine’s Peace Mission, and others.

The author tells a little about the origin of each group, gives statistics about size and money used for the maintenance and work, goes into considerable detail in discussing the doctrine and customs of each group, and if there is one outstanding leader or founder he characterizes that person.

This book is not the type of work a person would choose to pick up and read through at once, but it is a book to have around to read in occasionally. For any society member to own it would be a worthwhile book and would give much information necessary for Bible discussion or for essays for after-recess program. It would be considered a fortunate choice for some church library.

Naturally the author’s ideas are brought out, even in a book of this sort. One does not have to read far into the book to find that the author’s ideas about inspiration of the Bible are far from correct. The author can perhaps be classed as a higher critic: at least he is a modernist. In the last paragraph of his book, the author says: “Total depravity is in conflict with very fundamentals of modern educational theory, but it is the first principle of most sects. In curriculum building the sects defy everything that modern religious education teaches. Still the sects average well with their competitors in winning and holding the people. Such facts challenge the workers in the field of religious education to inquire whether, after all, the modern developments are really as efficient as they are claimed to be, and whether the sects do not possess elements of value which others have omitted and might well incorporate.”

The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas

The author of this rather popular novel has woven a story around the seamless robe of Christ, for which lots were cast at the time of the crucifixion.  Marcellus, a Roman tribune, through some political maneuvering, is sent to Minoa as commander of the fort there.  Part of his duty was to go to Jerusalem at the time of the Passover to keep order among the Jews.  It was at the time of Jesus’ trial that he came with some of his men and so the task of crucifying the Christ fell upon him. After the Christ had been nailed to the cross, the Roman also became the recipient of the Robe, and the rest of the book deals with the effect of the Robe upon the life of Marcellus and others near to him.  The author invests the robe with a peculiar miraculous power which in itself has a great influence upon Marcellus and other characters.  Marcellus becomes a Christian and at the close of the story dies for his faith.

The characters, although they are Roman and Jewish and lived over nineteen hundred years ago, are made to speak in our modern language, which makes the book easier to follow than many other historical novels.  One forgets that the characters lived many years ago, for they seem to be living people of our own time.  Marcellus and Demetrius, his slave, are men one does not easily forget.  Also very good, I think, are the author’s portrayal of Tiberius, the Emperor, and his successor, Caligula.  Certain descriptions of scenes stand out; one of them is the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, in which Demetrius, the Greek slave of Marcellus watches the Jews welcome the Messiah into the Holy City.  The author also gives a very interesting picture of the city of Jerusalem at the time of the Passover.  Some of the descriptions are instructive and give one a better understanding of Bible incidents.

There are, however, several discrepancies in the historical background of the book as described by the author, which is rather surprising, in view of the fact that the author is a minister.  For instance, Bartholomew is pictured as an old man, whereas the Bible leaves an entirely different impression.  According to Douglas, after the Ascension, the disciples were always looking for Christ as if they did not realize that He had gone to the Father and would not appear again until the end of all things.  Pentecost is omitted entirely.  When Stephen is stoned he comes to life again just a moment after he dies and then he goes back into death. Peter mingles with Romans and other Gentiles before the time that he sees the vision and visits Cornelius, and Peter heals the lame man without John.  There are other mistakes which appear as one reads.

The whole idea of Christ, as portrayed by this author, is rather modern.  But once does he mention Christ as the Saviour and then he depicts Him as a man who dies for the sins of all people.  Christ is portrayed more as a Teacher and as a Man of great wisdom and kindness for the masses, as a social reformer.  This is easily discernible throughout the book.  The author does not try to take away from the miracles, however, or rationalize them, but gives the Biblical interpretation of all miracles, except in one instance—the feeding of the five thousand.

The Robe is a very well-written book and through most of the book there is swift action, so that one’s interest does not lag in any part except perhaps for a time in the middle of the story where Marcellus journeys through Palestine to investigate the stories he had heard about Jesus.  Your reporter thinks the book can be recommended provided one reads it critically, keeping the Bible history in mind.

The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon to his young adult son. Solomon’s purpose in writing Proverbs was “that the generation to come might know them [God’s wonderful works]…that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:6–7). Throughout the book, Solomon […]

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The Christian is placed in many different circumstances while on this earth. Some are characterized by hardships and trials, and others are full of joy and peace. How should the Christian respond? Throughout the Bible there are numerous times where God’s people sang in response to their various circumstances. Singing in response to God’s ordering […]

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The group of churches that John writes to in this trio of epistles had recently experienced a split because of doctrinal controversy. We do not know the exact content of the error that these false teachers were spreading, but it is apparent from John’s writing that their teaching somehow denied the truth of the incarnation—that […]

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Jael: An Example of Christian Warfare

This article was originally presented as a speech at a Protestant Reformed mini convention held at Quaker Haven Camp in August 2021. Jael lived during the era of the judges. Deborah the prophetess was the judge who served Israel at the time of Jael. During this time, the Canaanites under the rule of king Jabin […]

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Indiana Mini Convention Review 2021

One of this year’s “mini conventions” was hosted by Grace and Grandville Protestant Reformed Churches at Quaker Haven Camp. Located just over two hours away in northern Indiana, the camp was a perfect fit for the 120 kids and 15 chaperones who attended. A total of twelve different churches were represented: Byron Center, Faith, First […]

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Editorial, November 2021: Catechism Season

At the point that this edition of Beacon Lights arrives in the homes of our subscribers, most young people in the Protestant Reformed Churches will have been sitting under the catechism instruction of their pastor or elders for more than a month. If our readers are honest, that observation probably comes with a (quiet) sigh […]

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