Archive for November, 2008
The great Scottish preacher Ebenezer Erskine (1680–1754) once visited a woman on her deathbed and lovingly tested her readiness for heaven. When she assured him that she was ready to depart to be with Christ because she was in that hand from which no one could pluck her, Erskine asked, “But are you not afraid that you will slip through His fingers in the end?”
“That is impossible because of what you have always told us,” she said.
“And what is that?” he asked.
“That we are united to Him, and so we are part of His body. I cannot slip through His fingers because I am one of His fingers. Besides, Christ has paid too high of a price for my redemption to leave me in Satan’s hand. If I were to be lost, He would lose more than I; I would lose my salvation, but He would lose His glory, because one of His sheep would be lost.”
– Excerpt from Living for God’s Glory
The realization that God has chosen an individual to life and glory, though he was not a whit better than others, leads the mature Christian to cherish the most ecstatic feelings of gratitude to our heavenly Father. With an upturned face the adoring believer confesses to heaven that, apart from eternally given grace, he would never have believed in Christ, nor even have wished to believe. Then, lowering his gaze and covering his streaming eyes, the grateful Christian exclaims: “My Father and my God! To Thee alone be everlasting glory for such unmerited grace!”
– Maurice Roberts, quoted in Living for God’s Glory
In 2004 I picked up John Piper’s two small devotional books, Life is a Vapor and Pierced by the Word. I devoured both, using them back-to-back that summer for devotional springboards. Up until that time, the devotionals I had been exposed to were incredibly short, and usually related to some promise that had nothing to do with me contextually. Piper’s devotionals were different because of the time he took to pull out rich theology from the text of Scripture… theology that was so grand that the practicality of it could hardly be missed.
In Christ Alone has a similiar flavor to it. The chapters are 3-7 pages each, just about perfect for a morning devotional. Dr. Sinclair Ferguson takes Scripture and pulls out rich theology, all of it (as the title would suggest) amazingly Christocentric. Most of his meditations come from the gospel of John and the letter to the Hebrews; this creates a unifying aspect to the chapters beyond the way he structures them.
Basic thesis for the book? Christ Himself is the impetus for daily Christian living.
His way of writing is masterful, to say the very least. He knows how to draw one into each meditation… in fact, one could call his writing periodic in the sense that he doesn’t usually reveal the “punch line” until the end of each chapter. Typically beginning with a personal anecdote (“I almost choked on my doughnut” prompted me to laugh for a few minutes), he moves into a text right away, giving a proposition up front but not fully revealing the weight of that proposition until the end.
Some examples of topics include: a whole section of the Holy Spirit’s relationship to Christ, and exposing Scripture that shows how Christ is the forefront of our sanctification. It is His Spirit in us. Also, Dr. Ferguson uses Hebrews to show the fulfillment of the Old Covenant in Christ, as well as to compare the promises given to Israel with their completion in the Church. Just thinking about it as I write, his examination of our forensic benefits in Christ is worth the cost of the book alone. He expositionally probes Scripture to show the weightier elements of what Christ has purchased for us.
However, the most helpful section for me was on faithfulness. I would likely be labeled as a Reformed Baptist, which includes a certain amount of indicative faithfulness built into my theology. God will indeed preserve me. But I struggle sometimes in thinking through all the imperatives to faithfulness (to persevere). The way Dr. Ferguson unpacks Matthew and Hebrews was challenging and eye-opening in this regard. We can be deceived to the point that when we think we’ll be entering heaven’s gates, we’re in fact about to find ourselves in hell. Sobering thoughts. We are able to be deceived, and we should be on watch.
A firm grip on Christ helps this. What does this look like? Solid theology that impacts the way you think and live your life. In Christ Alone is full of such material, and receives my whole-hearted recommendation.
How do we “receive power” [Acts 1:8]? It is the fruit not merely of book learning but of Christ fellowshiping—being more with Him, engaging in serious intercession in His name, meditating more on His glories. Perhaps in our much studying and discussing we have lost the biblical art of “waiting” and are all too prone to run ahead when the Spirit has not sent us with His anointing.
But another crucial thing is required here. Those who received such power in the apostolic days had to settle the related issue of crucifixion. They grasped that the risen Lord was the One who had first become a crucified Savior. Following Him meant a mark across their shoulders, a piercing of their hands and feet, and, yes, a gashing of their sides, too. Waiting without emptying will not lead to going with the fullness of the Spirit. The lives that generally have been marked by power to witness have always been thus.
So, how about the empowered Reformed church? How about the Spiritfilled Reformed church? Is the Reformed church these things by definition? Only if there is first the crucified Reformed church.
– Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone
The immutability of Christ is the changelessness of the Christ revealed in the Gospels. All that He proved to be in His ministry is an indication of the way He really and always is. That is why it is legitimate for us to see the Gospel accounts not only in the context of redemptive history but as portrayals of the character of the Christ who lives forever. We are able to say, “If Jesus was like this then, Jesus is like this now.”
Do you know the Christ of the Gospels? Or have you fallen into the trap to which Christians (especially, perhaps, Reformed Christians) who love doctrine and systematic theology are sometimes susceptible (unlike John Calvin, it should be said): fascination with dogmatic formula at the expense of love for the Savior’s person?
– Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone
Are you looking for Jesus’ return? If you are motivated by prejudice against other Christians or in general, whether they are black or white, rich or poor, cultured or culturally niave, whatever they may be – then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you.
If you are contemplating some sin, perhaps a dishonest act in business, perhaps trifiling with sex outside of marriage, perhaps cheating on your income tax return – then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you.
If your life is marked by a contentious, divisive spirit in which you seek to tear down the work of another person instead of building it up – then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you.
If you protect your own interests and neglect to give food, water, or clothing to the needy as we are instructed to do in Christ’s name – then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you.
James M. Boice, Commentary on Philippians