Let me share one more little bit of this highly recommended book on living a holy life. Chapter 5 is entitled “Conflict Zone” and it’s about the inner struggle that all Christians experience. On page 98, Ferguson writes:
A friend who in earlier life had smoked cigarettes, and found pleasure in doing so, once explained to me that every time he sensed the aroma of smoke from someone’s cigarette he felt the old instincts and attractions surround and invade him, and pull at his desires. It was a battle to resist. His addiction had been broken. Otherwise there would not have been a battle. But it was a struggle. This is but a hint and pale reflection of the nature and magnitude of the conflict between flesh and Spirit. The world is full of smoke.
That would be a great sermon illustration!
I’ve just finished Sinclair Ferguson’s Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification. As with all Ferguson’s books, this one is a winner. It’s rooted in Scripture and Christ-centered from start to finish. Let me share a little tidbit. This is actually from a footnote in Appendix 4 on the Fourth Commandment. It’s a great answer to a common question:
When Christians ask: ‘Is it ok for me do X on Sundays?’ the first response should normally not be ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but ‘Why would you be doing it?’ The most common answer to that question is probably ‘Because I don’t have time for it in the rest of the week.’ This highlights the importance of understanding the whole of the fourth commandment. The problem here is not how we spend Sunday; it is how we are using Monday to Saturday. We are living the week the wrong way around, as if there had been no resurrection! Use Sunday as a day of rest, worship, fellowship first and we will almost inevitably begin to discipline our use of time in the other six days of the week. Grasp this and the Sabbath principle becomes one of the simplest and most helpful of all God’s gifts. The burden-free day at the beginning of the week both regulates the days that follow and refreshes us for them. (p.266)
It has often happened in church history that someone falls outside of the bounds of the church’s confessions, but yet continues to insist that they’re really within the bounds. Many people see it. But, for whatever reason, they either can’t or won’t admit it. I can think of a couple of examples off hand: Jacob Arminius before the Synod of Dort and Howard Van Till in the CRC in the 1990s. I’ve noted before how Van Till had his lightbulb moment. He came to a moment of clarity and finally realized that he really was out of bounds. In his contribution to a book entitled From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, Sinclair Ferguson describes an example from Scottish church history: John McLeod Campbell (1800-1872). Campbell was a minister in the Church of Scotland. He fell afoul of the Westminster Standards when he began teaching that Christ died for all humanity. He was deposed by the General Assembly in 1831. Read carefully Ferguson’s description of Campbell’s “lightbulb moment”:
The narrative of Campbell’s trial and deposition makes for unhappy reading. Earlier in the conflict he argued that his teaching was not inconsistent with the church’s subordinate standards, the Westminster Confession of Faith. But some who had a deep affection for him, and a real sympathy with his pastoral concern for the free offer of the gospel and for the Lord’s people to enjoy full assurance, nevertheless regarded his language as ‘rash.’ Moreover, in a remarkable interchange that took place immediately after his deposition, his friend Alexander Scott asked him, ‘Could you sign the Confession now?’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘the Assembly was right. Our doctrine and the Confession were incompatible.’ (From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, 613).
While I did at one time, now I don’t normally write reviews of books written by multiple authors. I’m not going to make an exception for this one. It’s too much like having to write individual reviews of eight chapters instead of a review of one book by one author. So I just wanted to share this remarkable paragraph from Sinclair Ferguson’s contribution, “Christ the Sin-Bearer.” These insights are drawn from Isaiah 53:
We see Jesus in all the the glory of what theologians call the munus triplex, the three-fold office of our Savior. Jesus became a humiliated prophet who did not open his mouth. He became a humiliated priest who was offered as the sacrifice for guilt. He became a humiliated king so that there was no majesty in him to attract us. Because his work has ended, his mission was accomplished, and his sacrifice was accepted. Thus, God has raised him up and he is now the exalted prophet before whom even kings will shut their mouths and listen. He is the exalted priest who will sprinkle the nations with his sacrificial blood, cleanse them, and make them a fellowship of priests unto God, his Father. He is the exalted king who has returned from battle victorious in his splendor and entered into the majesty of the right hand of God. He has received the spoils of war. ‘Ask of me,’ says the Father, ‘and I will make the very nations as your inheritance.’ (cf. Ps. 2:8). (118)
Beautifully put! When I come across a passage like this, I make a note of it somewhere handy so that if I come to preach upon something related, I can easily find it again. Here I’ve made a note next to Lord’s Day 12 of the Catechism, the place where Reformed churches confess the three-fold office of Christ.
In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel-Centered Life, Sinclair B. Ferguson, Orlando: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007. Hardcover, 243 pages, $19.00.
I don’t set out to review every single book I read. Some books are review copies and there is an expectation that I will write a review (though I don’t always). Some are popular books that need a critical look. Other books I pick up for my own benefit. I start reading and then become convinced that this book needs to be read by as many people as possible. In Christ Alone is one of those books.
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson is the author of many worthwhile books. He serves as the senior minister of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, a congregation affiliated with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Ferguson is also a professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
This book is a collection of 50 small chapters originally written for a couple of magazines. The chapters cover a wide range of topics and subjects relating to the gospel and the Christian life. They are all well-grounded in expositions of the Word of God. They’re also very much directed towards personal application. Most importantly, the book lives up to its title, directing its readers to the all-sufficient Saviour. It also instructs readers on how to live as Christians united to this great Redeemer.
In Christ Alone could be profitably used in a few different ways. I used it as Sunday devotional reading. The chapters are short enough (most are 2-3 pages) that they could be used for devotions by couples who no longer have young kids at home. Or you could use it for your personal benefit on a daily basis. However you use it, this is not a book to rush through. You need to slow down and savour each chapter as it directs you to the Word of God and to our great Saviour.
As a pastor, I would be pleased if all my congregation members were to buy this little book and read it carefully. I’m confident that it would pay rich dividends in terms of spiritual growth. I’m always on the look out for faithful and helpful devotional literature. The Puritans are among my favourites. There are many contemporary authors who carry on in the line of the Puritans, authors like Jerry Bridges and R. C. Sproul. Sinclair Ferguson is also in their growing number. Theologically sound and pastorally written, In Christ Alone has been a great blessing to me and I think it will be for you too.