A review of By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, by Sinclair Ferguson (published by Reformation Trust, ISBN 978-1-56769-202-0). This book review has taken me a long time to get written, largely because the book is so good that I have actually read it twice and been greatly helped by doing so.
As the title suggests, this is a book about the grace of God, based upon a hymn of the same name by an African pastor, Emmanuel T. Sibomana. It is clear that the grace of God is very precious to Sinclair Ferguson, but as he points out, “we frequently take the grace of God for granted,” we have become so accustomed to expecting God to be gracious towards us that we lose the very meaning of grace.
Chapter One begins with discussing the bondage we are in that requires grace to free us. Using Jesus’ unflinching statements to the Jews that they are in bondage, we are then also shown that Jesus offers freedom from that bondage. With clear, yet deep explanation of the theology of redemption this chapter lays out the foundation of faith in Jesus Christ. I know all this stuff, but found reading this chapter refreshing and inspiring. Even as I read it my heart lifted in worship to our God of grace.
In the following chapters the unconditional grace of God is illustrated by unfolding the parable of the prodigal son, emphasizing the importance of the third son, the Son of God who is telling the story in order to draw us to Himself. The expense that His grace cost God is discussed, and the title ‘Son of Man’ that Jesus applies to Himself. We are given insight into the religious and civil trials of Jesus, the variation in charges He is accused of in each trial — blasphemy and treason — the very things we are each guilty of before God, and see that he died by grace for those very charges.
Then comes the question, “Why the God-man?” introducing the topic of reconciliation, the need for someone who could take the place of sinners as payment for sin, someone who is human but has never sinned. Real guilt, real forgiveness, real reconciliation.
My favourite chapter is about guaranteed security. I love the emphasis in this chapter on the practical outworking of faith, the use of our knowledge and faith rather than the mere possession of it. This description of the fight for faith is one of the best I have encountered, very real and because of this very encouraging, like Prozac to a perplexed soul.
“We are not accounted righteous in God’s sight either by regeneration or by sanctification. The fact that we have been born again does not justify us. It gives us a new heart, but in itself it does not provide the forgiveness of sins. No, the gospel that saves us is entirely outside us. It is Jesus Christ, incarnate, crucified for our sins, raised for our justification, who saves us.”
Our security has nothing to do with us our what we do, it rests on the work of Christ:
“Your salvation rests not on what you have done but on what Christ has done. You, therefore, can be sure of it, no matter how weak the faith by which you hold on to Christ, no matter how strong the attacks and accusations of Satan may be. “
Then the theme turns to how the grace of God carries us when our faith is being battered by our adversary, looking at Job’s experiences of Satan’s arts. Job is in darkness, but not complete darkness. He needs answers to two questions: “What is God really like?” and “Where can I find help?” This is the part of book that I personally found to be most helpful.
“The question of God’s nature is foundational for the Christian life. In a sense, every failure in the Christian life can be traced back to a wrong answer to this question. How we live the Christian life is always an expression of how we think about God.”
“All of us at times find ourselves faced with these two great questions.
They are far from trivial. They are the most important questions in the world:
“What is God really like?” and “Where can I find help?” The answer to both questions is found in a single word: Jesus. If you are in the dark, whether inside the kingdom of Christ or outside the kingdom of Christ, this is where you need to go first: to Jesus the Savior, who died for us on the cross. Trust in Him. He foils Satan’s arts.”
Sinclair Ferguson shows how a slightly warped understanding of what God is really like can seriously twist our view on life, leading to despair and unbelief. Suffering amplifies such feelings and Satan exploits them in an attempt to destroy faith in Christians. How can we be helped out of such darkened understanding about God, who can lead us into truth?
“You cannot rely on your experiences to prove the love of God. They may indeed give you evidences of it. But when you are in the dark, those very things may seem to mock you.”
In summary, I would highly recommend By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me to all Christians, and even to folks who are not Christians but are curious about the meaning of grace. This book takes a good look at the core of what it means to be Christian, stuff that we never outgrow.
Sometimes we imagine that our greatest need is to move on to the “higher” or “deeper” teaching of the gospel. But in fact, 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.