Book Review: By Grace Alone by Sinclair B. Ferguson

Title: By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me
Author: Sinclair Ferguson
Publisher: Reformation Trust (2010)

Does the grace of God amaze you?

Does the salvation that comes through faith in Christ overwhelm you with excitement and joy?

It did Emmanuel T. Sibomana, inspiring him to write they hymn, “Umbuntu Bg Imana,” translated into English as, “O How the Grace of God Amazes Me.” Sibomana’s hymn is a beautiful and powerful exposition of the story of salvation and the grace of God.

It’s also the inspiration for Sinclair Ferguson’s latest book, By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me. Following the structure of Sibomana’s hymn, Ferguson reflects on God’s grace from seven angles and shows us why the grace of God should amaze us.

A question that may come to mind when considering this book is, “Why do we need (another) book on grace?”

“Being amazed by God’s grace is a sign of spiritual vitality. . .  Yet we frequently take the grace of God for granted. . . . We have lost the joy and energy that are experienced when grace seems truly amazing,” writes Ferguson (Introduction, p. xiv).

In other words, if our amazement at God’s grace is a sign of our spiritual wellbeing, to take it for granted is an indicator that, spiritually speaking, we’re desperately sick. To regain our health, we must regain a sense of wonder when considering His grace.

So what does grace do, exactly?

Ferguson breaks it down quite effectively. Grace… [Read more...]

Cling to Christ and Nothing Can Sink You

Cross in Winter

Remember that you are not saved by increased levels of holiness, however desirable it is that you should reach them. Indeed, while we often say that we are “saved by faith” or by “faith in Christ,” as Benjamin B. Warfield shrewdly comments, it is not even faith in Christ that saves us. It is Christ who saves us—through faith.

Your faith is a poor and crumbling thing, as is your spiritual service. Jesus Christ alone is qualified and able to save you because of what He has done. Cling to anything else and you are relying on flotsam and jetsam floating on a perilous sea. It will bring you down under the waves. If you should ever experience anything like the satanic attack Bunyan’s Christian endured, you will be lost. But cling to Christ Jesus and His righteousness, and nothing can sink you.

When you grasp that, you begin to realize why and how it is that you can live in the face of such demonic attacks as these [accusation]. You are not pushed back on your own resources or spiritual qualities. You are able to rest exclusively on what Jesus Christ has done for you. For what He has done for you is absolutely perfect.

What Christ is doing in you is still incomplete. But in what Jesus Christ has done for you there is not a single tiny crack that the satanic arrows can penetrate. Jesus Christ is your shield. You can say, with David, “The Lord is . . . my deliverer; my God . . . in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies” (Ps. 18:2–3)…

Here is our refuge: In Christ, we are as righteous before God as Jesus Christ is righteous, for the only righteousness we have before God is Jesus Christ’s righteousness, to which we contribute nothing.

Faith contributes nothing to that righteousness. The years we may have lived the Christian life contribute nothing to that righteousness. Conversely, our sins cannot diminish that righteousness.

Is that not a dangerous thing to say? It would be if it were distorted. But the truth is that no other kind of righteousness can justify us.

But because this is the righteousness by which we are justified, Paul can say: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” (v. 33).

Sinclair Ferguson, By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, pp. 75-76

Only the Truth Can Set Us Free

Cross in Winter

We can never atone for our own sin. We can never break its power. We can never come to God and say, “God, surely what I have done is enough to compensate for my sins.” Nothing we can do can possibly compensate. But God sent His own Son—think of it, His own Son—who stood in for us, in our place. He lived a perfect life. Since He had no sins of His own to atone for, He was qualified to make a sacrifice for our sins. No sacrifice we could make could ever be adequate to atone for sin. But He was able and willing to do it. Because of that, we can be set free from guilt and from the bondage it creates.

Christ also sets us free in another way: through the truth about God—and about ourselves—that He reveals. If we believe in Him, we will come to know the truth, and the truth will set us free (John 8:32). That is His promise.

I have met some exceptionally intelligent people who cannot understand the Christian gospel. They hear its message as if it were a lecture on morality. Yet the gospel is not difficult to understand. The problem lies within us—in our spiritual blindness. If there is resistance in the heart to loving God, there will be resistance in the mind to knowing God—and therefore to listening to and seeking God. Only the truth can set us free.

Sinclair Ferguson, By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, p. 8

No One Can Will the Will to Will What it Will Not Will!

photo: iStock

“Most assuredly, I say to you,” Jesus said, “whoever commits sins is a slave of sin” (John 8:34).

Does this really need to be underlined? Jesus thought it did, and perhaps someone reading these pages may need a little help to understand what Jesus was saying here:

  • We do not become sinners by committing specific acts.
  • We commit specific acts of sin because we are sinners.

In short, my problem is not the isolated actions that I see as aberrations from what I really am. I am deceiving myself if I think that way. These actions are not aberrations but revelations of what is in my heart. They show that I commit sin because I am in bondage to it…

As Jesus hinted, this sinfulness affects every dimension of our lives:

  • Our minds. We do not think clearly. We may be well educated and have high IQs. But that is no guarantee that we think clearly about spiritual things.
  • Our desires. When we are on our own and at our most honest, we recognize that we are not masters of our desires. We try to master them. We have a moral consciousness that says, “You must get these things under control.” But inwardly we are out of control. There is a world within us over which we have no mastery.
  • Our wills. They are in bondage to sin. “Oh yes,” we say, “this message about being right with God—I will come to it another day. That is my decision and I can make it whenever I want.”

The truth, however, is that we cannot think clearly about or desire Christ by our own unaided decision. Why not? We cannot respond to the good news of the gospel until we want Christ, and we cannot want Christ simply by a decision we can take at any moment we choose. We cannot say to our will, “Will, will to belong to the Lord!” It is beyond our powers to do that. No one can will the will to will what it will not will! Only God’s grace can set us free to come to trust in Him.

Sinclair Ferguson, By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, pp 4-5

The Bible’s Not About You…

 

…so who’s it about?

This excerpt from a message by Tim Keller (quoting from Sinclair Ferguson’s Preaching Christ in the Old Testament) was a great reminder for me as a writer, and occasional preacher:

If Jesus isn’t at the heart of the message, it’s nothing worth saying.

HT: Jared Wilson

Truth, Love and Jonathan Edwards

Continuing to think about Sinclair Ferguson’s talk from the 2008 Desiring God National Conference; in particular, about a reference he made that left an impression.

In his message, Ferguson shares four of Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions, a series of seventy commitments he made in pursuit of living a life of godliness. These four, all dealing with the tongue, are as follows:

31. Resolved, Never to say anything at all against any body, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against any one, to bring it to, and try it strictly by, the test of this Resolution.

34. Resolved, In narrations never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.

36. Resolved, Never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call to it.

70. Let there be something of benevolence in all that I speak.

These resolutions, so simply stated, hold such deep wisdom. And they’re integral to Christian character.

James 3:2-3 says that, “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well” (emphasis mine).

We all stumble, particularly with our words, and no man but Christ has ever had perfect control over his tongue. But what is the “bit” by which we can guide it?

Love. [Read more...]

Taming the Tongue: Sinclair Ferguson on James 3

A conversation with a good friend got me thinking about this message from the 2008 Desiring God National Conference.

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more about “The Tongue, the Bridle, and the Bless…“, posted with vodpod

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

James 3:1-12

The mature person is able to “bridle” his tongue. The person who can do this is master of the whole body. The spiritual masters of the past understood this to have a double reference. The control of the tongue has both negative and positive aspects. It involves the ability to restrain the tongue in silence. But it also means being able to control it in gracious speech when that is required. Sanctification in any area of our lives always expresses this double dimension—a putting off and a putting on, as it were. Speech and silence, appropriately expressed, are together the mark of the mature.

Sinclair Ferguson, “The Bit, The Bridle and the Blessing,” The Power of Words and the Wonder of God, page 48

The tongue is “set among our members, staining the whole body.” How careful you are as you put on a dress for a wedding, especially if it is your own. How nervous about that new silk tie during dinner. The spot need only be a small one, but it ruins everything. So it is with the tongue and its words. No matter what graces you may have developed, if you have not gained tongue mastery, you can besmirch them all by an unguarded and ill-disciplined comment. Graces are fragile; therefore guard your tongue lest it destroy them.

Sinclair Ferguson, “The Bit, The Bridle and the Blessing,” The Power of Words and the Wonder of God, page 51