The Cavman is on vacation. One of the many benefits of vacation is the ability to catch up on the reading I’ve been meaning to do. Since we flew across the country, I had plenty of time (except when CavSon was rambunctious) to dig into Sinclair Ferguson’s By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me. If you haven’t read Sinclair Ferguson before, I ask you “Why?”. I always find food for my soul in Ferguson’s books. This book was no exception.
This book, a companion to his recent book In Christ Alone, is different. Ferguson utilizes a hymn by African pastor Emmanuel Sibomana to explore the amazing nature of God’s grace. Each of the 7 chapters uses the corresponding stanza as a spring board into good pastoral theology. By that I mean the application of theology to pastoral/personal matters.
“Being amazed by God’s grace is a sign of spiritual vitality. It is a litmus test of how firm and real is our grasp of the Christian gospel and how close is our walk with Jesus Christ. The growing Christian finds that the grace of God astonishes and amazes. … Sadly, we might more truthfully sing of ‘accustomed grace.'”
My Chains Fell Off– the gospel begins with liberation. Ferguson begins with the bondage we experience before being liberated. Christians look back and see their prior bondage. Non-Christians often don’t even notice the chains they are so accustomed to them. There were a few twists I did not expect. He quotes part of the Kinks’ song Dedicated Follower of Fashion. Later he quotes the Rolling Stones’ (Can’t Get No) Satisfaction [one of the few Stones song I like]. I thought of a few more songs that illustrated depravity while reading along.
“Every time she walks on by, wild thoughts escape” U2– God Part 2
“‘We’ll walk on thru heaven’s door and proudly raise our heads.’ I said, ‘Man, you must be crazy, our hands are covered blood red.'” The Call– Blood Red
We are in a bondage from which we cannot free ourselves. But when we forget the depths of our bondage grace becomes boring. Part of the bondage is that when it is pointed out, people feel insulted. “How dare you call me a sinner!” Until we grasp the severity of the bondage we won’t grasp the wonder of the freedom. Even from respectable bondage, like those which enslaved the Pharisees.
Unconditional Love– Sinclair is nearly following the pattern of TULIP at the beginning. He started with depravity and moves to unconditional love (which Ferguson rightly ties in with election). He discusses Luke 15, particularly the similarities and differences between the 3 parables. I found myself thinking, “why hadn’t I noticed that?”. Jesus is arguing from the lesser to the greater. 1% of the flock to 10% of the bank account to 50% of the children. This is a fantastic meditation on the workings of grace through the 3rd parable. Jesus, like the father, makes the way home for prodigal sons through costly grace and great humiliation in our place.
At God’s Expense– Ferguson talks about the atonement (still loosely following TULIP). He uses the story of former British Cabinet Minister Jonathan Aitken. Arrested, found guilty and imprisoned, Aitken had never so alone in his life. He was a pariah from whom all fled as if a leper. Ferguson takes us to the suffering of Jesus in Luke’s gospel. He emphasizes the loneliness Jesus embraced in the Garden, on trial and upon the Cross. His own friends abandoned him; enemies mocked him. As he goes, he also explores the meaning of Messiah and the offices of Prophet, Priest and King. Jesus was accused of blaspheme and treason- the 2 crimes of which we are all guilty. We lie about God disparaging His perfections, and seek to be our own god in cosmic treason. For these sins (and all the rest) Jesus died.
A Great Exchange– Ferguson finally departs from his loose parallel of TULIP. Here meditates upon the reality of incarnation and atonement. He develops the ideas of Anselm’s classic work Cur Deus Homo?. No mere man could die for another. We live for ourselves, and desperately need someone to die for us. But first He must live for us. Jesus meets our alienation (and hostility toward God) with reconciliation. He obeys for us, and dies for us (bearing the penalty we earned) to bring us back to God. I love the quote by Luther that we are “incurvatus in se” or turned in on ourselves, self-obsessed. In union with Christ, however, we are transformed. Ferguson explores some of the implications of this famous passage (2 Cor. 5).
“… we are preserved by grace. Therefore, he (Satan) seek to destroy our enjoyment of the grace of God.”
Guaranteed Security– returns to a loose parallel to TULIP in something of great importance to all Christians in light of the struggles we all face. We are preserved from Satan’s fiery darts. Ferguson starts with Ephesians 6 to explain our defense against Satan’s attempts to destroy the work of grace. He wants us to know not just the truth, but the power of the truth (John Owen). He walks us through the last half of Romans 8 to see both Satan’s fiery darts and God’s powerful response. Who Can Be Against Us? It does not matter since God has revealed He is FOR us in the work of His Son. Who Will Bring a Charge? Though Satan may accuse, God has justified! Who Can Condemn Us? None for Christ was condemned for us! Who Can Separate Us? None because of the love of God for us in Christ Jesus. The answer to all the darts is Jesus, His blood and righteousness.
Delivered From Evil– Ferguson moves from the evil one’s darts to his arts. To display this, Ferguson walks us through Job. Satan tried to get Job to turn away from God. He destroyed Job’s assurance and joy, for a time. His art is to “produce sinister thoughts in the mind of the Christian.” He shows us how even Job expressed suspicions about God’s character. This trick is as old as the first great temptation in the Garden. He still uses the trick because it still works. In the midst of suffering we are often blinded to God’s grace. Job speaks of God in a way that Peter would later speak of Satan. In the dark night of the soul, we can confuse God and Satan. We are like Isaac, not realizing that Jacob is posing as Esau. Where can we find help? He brings us back to Romans 5:8- God has demonstrated His love for us thru Christ’s death for sinners (John also uses this in his first letter). Ferguson provides wise counsel in these 2 chapters to the Christian who is tempted and tried.
“As a sidebar, the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture should not lead us to think that every statement in the Bible is true in an abstract sense just because it is God’s Word. Scripture as God’s inerrant Word infallibly records the lies, falsehoods, and half-truths uttered by men and women.”
True Freedom– Sinclair brings us back to liberty to explain the true character of the liberty Christ has purchased for us. We are free from the condemnation of the law, and the dominion of sin. We are not yet free of the presence of sin. Ferguson brings us back to Romans 6 to explore these important themes.Though sin is no longer our master, it acts like it still is. We feel the demands of sin in our bodies and minds. We feel the urgency to bow the knee once more. But it no longer is our master- which we need to remember. Sadly, we can suffer from spiritual amnesia- forgetting our identity in Christ. And forgetting this, we fall prey to the urgency of the flesh.
“Our real need is to get a deeper, and firmer grasp of the main truths of the gospel. Weakness here tends to lead to weakness everywhere.”
This book is about the gospel, exploring its depth in accordance with our great needs. As usual, Sinclair Ferguson is steeped in Scripture. He’s like a wise, experienced doctor doling out the proper medication and treatment for what ails us. He sprinkles in texts from other hymns as well. I was surprised to see Gladiator and Monk pop up as well. This is not a long book (115ish pages), but a deep book. Sinclair Ferguson has written yet another book that begs to be read (oh how I wish more people would). As Augustine once heard the song, perhaps you too will “tolle lege“- take up and read.