Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson is senior minister of the historic First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC, and a distinguished visiting professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Dallas, TX.
In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel-Centered Life is a recent release (December 2007) of Reformation Trust Publishing, a division of Ligonier Ministries. Jerry Bridges, while endorsing the book, makes the point that it “is a basic systematic theology in the form of a very readable book,” one that “will both instruct you and delight you” (ii). To that effort, In Christ Alone is a compilation of short articles penned over the years in Eternity Magazine and Tabletalk drawn together in the teaching and celebration of our great salvation in Christ Alone.
Summary of In Christ Alone
It isn’t easy to summarize a 230 page book that is divided into 50 chapters, but I will attempt to accomplish that here. Before that, let me mention a few things about the theme of the book. On pages 7 and 8, John Calvin remarks, “We see salvation whole, its every single part is found in Christ. And we must beware lest we derive the smallest drop from somewhere else.” No better thesis can be attached to the pages of a book than Calvin’s words: “For those who seek this treasure-trove of blessings of all kinds, in no one else can they be found than him, for all are given in Christ alone.” And that is precisely the capstone that In Christ Alone pushes toward chapter by chapter.
The layout of the book is set in six major sections:
- The Word Became Flesh
- The Heart of the Matter
- The Spirit of Christ
- The Privileges of Grace
- A Life of Wisdom
- Faithful to the End
In chapter one, Ferguson addresses the identity of Christ on the opening page, making the point that the prologue of John reminds us of the eternal nature and hypostatic union of Christ as he became flesh. Following that, Ferguson points out Jesus’ self-revelation made apparent in the prologue that is also manifest throughout the gospel of John. He writes: “Its two main sections are sometimes called the ‘Book of Signs’ (chapters 1-12), in which he points to His own identity, and the ‘Book of Glory’ (chapters 13-21), in which He reveals His fellowship with the Father and the Spirit, and then is glorified through His death, resurrection, and ascension. Throughout both sections, the Lord is light shining into the world’s darkness” (p. 12). This lays the groundwork for the following few chapters in section one where Ferguson explains the implication of Anselm’s famous question: Cur Deus Homo?-Why the God-man? (p. 13; also see chapter 4), while also relating how the God-man stoops to conquer, “showing the full extent of his love,” by offering his life on our behalf as the one who “broke through the jungle . . . and subdued all its opposition to God” (p. 30).
Following the first section, Ferguson tackles the subject of the atonement in section two and the promise of power revealed in the Holy Spirit in section three. A few notable gems include:
When the wonder of the gospel breaks into your life, you feel as though you are the first person to discover its power and glory. Where has Christ been hidden all these years? He seems so fresh, so new, so full of grace. Then comes a second discovery-it is you who have been blind, but now you have experienced exactly the same as countless others before you. You compare notes. Sure enough, you are not the first! Thankfully you will not be the last (p. 39).
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” (p. 67).
These should serve as a reminder of the centrality of the gospel in all life. If there is any ounce of us that does not see who Christ truly is in the four gospels, then we need to grab that Book and saturate our minds in its truths. In chapter 12, Ferguson speaks of Jesus as “Adam the Last,” the “Divine Reconnaissance Officer” who has “come come in order to establish His lordship over all things and to restore the reign of man over the earth” (pp. 62, 63). Do you know this precious Jesus who is both Savior and Lord? He reigns in our salvation, as Ferguson quotes B.B. Warfield: “It is not, strictly speaking, even faith in Christ that saves, but Christ that saves through faith. The saving power resides exclusively, not in the act of faith or the attitude of faith or in the nature of faith, but in the object of faith” (p. 43). Our salvation resides in Christ alone.
In order to leave some room for the analysis of In Christ Alone, I will be brief concerning the other three sections. However, it is important to consider the privileges of grace in concert with the other sections of this book. Chapters 23-32 make up this section.
In chapter 23, Ferguson describes the profound union we have in Christ beginning with two biblical analogies. Jesus describes the first analogy in John 14:20: “At that day [the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit came] you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:20; see p. 113). The second analogy is found in John 15:1-11, specifically, Christ is the vine and we are the branches. There is unique significance involved in our union with Christ that spans from a special level of intimacy and reconciliation to God to our call to abide in Christ-his love and his Word-and to depend on grace and “submit to the pruning knife of God in the providences by which He cuts away all disloyalty and sometimes all that is unimportant, in order that we might remain in Christ all the more wholeheartedly” (p. 115; also see p. 114). Therefore, it is in Christ alone that we may have hope for salvation, for glory, and for a final perfect reconciliation of our desires to glorify God.
The final section of the book deals with the subject of perseverance by the mighty right arm of Christ. In the final chapter, Ferguson relates a story about his friend Al Groves, who helped influence the writing of the articles that make up this book. Groves writes, “To see Jesus face to face . . . I do long for that day. There is joy every day as I am able to praise with the breath that I have. So many things seem very different to me” (p. 234). Living the gospel-centered life is to live to see Jesus face to face, to long to see his glory displayed in every possible manner, and to hope in all that God is for us in his Son.
Analysis of In Christ Alone
Joni Eareckson Tada goes as far as to say, “The title In Christ Alone is enough to make hearts brave and souls stand at attention” (ii). I agree. While reading this book, I saw afresh the glory of Christ, especially in Ferguson’s treatment of the gospel of John and the book of Hebrews. Christ alone is our all-sufficient Savior.
As Ferguson put it in chapter 4, Christ alone was “free from the need to die for his own sin and . . . in possession of the power to recover his life again” (p. 26). As recently pointed out, only 57 percent of evangelicals today believe Christ is the exclusive Savior of sinners. Of course, this is counter to straightforward words of Christ himself: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). It has always been the task of pluralists to attempt to deconstruct Christ’s words to say they mean something entirely different, but the Bible is abundantly clear: in Christ Alone my hope is found. There is no conquering love greater than the love of Christ for his sheep. That is why I believe Ferguson’s book is needed in churches today.
Dr. Ferguson is a gifted pastor and teacher. His primary concern in this book is to expound what Scripture says about Jesus Christ. I highly recommend reading this book. It would also make an excellent resource for a basic theology course at church or an intensive on the doctrine of Christ. Its short chapters make it a swift read, but also draw on the fact that each chapter says exactly what is needed.
You can order a copy of In Christ Alone @ Ligonier.