Rejoicing in Christ

reevesAs a selection in my list of books of the year in 2014, I chose Michael Reeves’s excellent book, Christ Our Life (Paternoster, UK). That same book was released today in the States under the title Rejoicing in Christ (IVP, US).

I read everything by Reeves, and this book proves again why. It’s loaded with Tweetable statements, pithy, wise, and mature thoughts that will offer you a lifetime of meditation.

Here’s my favorite excerpt:

Anyone can use the word, of course, but without Christ *holiness tends to have all the charm of an ingrown toenail. For, very simply, if holiness is not first and foremost about knowing Christ, it will be about self-produced morality and religiosity. But such incurved self-dependence is quite the opposite of what pleases God, or what is actually beautiful.

God is not interested in our manufactured virtue; he does not want any external obedience or morality if it does not flow from true love for him. He wants us to share his pleasure in his Son. What is the greatest commandment, after all? “Love the Lord your God” (Mt 22:36–37). That is the root of true God-likeness. Nothing is more holy than a heartfelt delight in Christ. Nothing is so powerful to transform lives. (86–87)

Sweet Monotony

When it was finally determined that I would write a synthesis of the pastoral theology of John Newton, it became clear to me that to hold true to Newton’s approach, my book would need to find its focal point in one direction. For Newton, Christ is the conscious center of the Christian life. And not a theoretical Christ-centered life that acknowledges the doctrines of the gospel on occasion, but a life truly centered entirely — and daily — on the magnificent person of Jesus Christ, as seen with the eyes of faith.

I was certainly up the challenge, and put pen to paper.

But in the early weeks of writing I felt occasional jolts of caution. Sometimes I would stop writing to ponder whether or not the market would sustain a book like the one I was writing. Will readers get antsy for the practical how-tos for life success? Of course the book would have to get very practical, because street-smart Newton was never content with tossing out untried theories. But the book could never lose sight of Calvary.

But back in those early days of writing the book, wrestling with this one nagging question, one evening I decided to pull down a collection of Charles Spurgeon sermons and read something he preached as a 21-year-old titled “A visit to Calvary,” published here on pages 187–188.

Here’s what caught my attention:

We never hear a sermon concerning Christ crucified of which we disapprove, however inelegant its diction, if it be sound in doctrine. We never complain of our minister that he preaches too much concerning Jesus Christ. No; there can be no tautology where his name is mentioned; though a sermon should be little beyond the mere repetition of his Name, we would rejoice to hear it. . . .

Oh, how dissatisfied are our souls when we listen to a sermon that is destitute of Christ! There are some preachers who can manage to deliver a discourse and to leave Christ’s name out of it altogether. Surely, the true believer, who is present on such an occasion, will say, with Mary Magdalene, ‘They have taken away the Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.’

Take away Christ from the sermon, and you have taken away its essence. The marrow of theology is Christ; the very bone and sinew of the gospel is preaching Christ. A Christless sermon is the merriment of hell; it is also a fearful waste of time, and it dyes with the blood of souls the skirts of the man who dares to preach it.

But too much of Christ we cannot have. Give us Christ always, Christ ever. The monotony of Christ is sweet variety, and even the unity of Christ hath in it all the elements of harmony. Christ on his cross and on his throne, in the manger and in the tomb — Christ everywhere is sweet to us. We love his name, we adore his Person, we delight to hear of his works and his words. Come, then, to Calvary awhile with me, that I may say to you, as Pilate said to the Jews outside his judgment hall, ‘Behold the man!’

Such a simple point, such a profound truth, wrapped in such a strong rhetorical punch was enough to encourage me forward writing the book, confident that Newton himself would echo Spurgeon’s answer to the question. Will Christian readers yawn at books too full of Christ’s glory? May it never be!

Newton on Preaching Unsearchable Riches

The following story was shared by John Newton in a letter to his friend, a theological liberal minister, Thomas Scott, on November 17, 1775. Newton’s role in the theological formation (transformation) of Scott is a remarkable story worth studying in itself. But for now, here’s the story Newton shared with Scott, as published in Newton’s Works (1:596-98):

A most valued friend of mine, a Clergyman now living, had for many years given a rational assent to the Gospel. He labored with much earnestness upon your plan; was very exemplary in his whole conduct; preached almost incessantly (two or three times every day in the week for years), having a parish in the remote parts of Yorkshire, of great extent, and containing five or six different hamlets at some distance from each other.

He succeeded likewise with his people so far as to break them off from outward irregularities; and was mentioned, in a letter to the Society for propagating the Gospel (which I have seen in print) as the most perfect example of a parish priest which this nation, or perhaps this age, has produced. Thus he went on for many years, teaching his people what he knew, for he could teach them no more. He lived in such retirement and recess, that he was unacquainted with the persons and principles of any who are now branded as enthusiasts and methodists.

One day, reading Ephesians 3 in his Greek Testament, his thoughts were stopped by the word ανεξιχνιαστον [unsearchable], in verse 8. He was struck, and led to think with himself to this purpose: The Apostle, when speaking of the love and riches of Christ, uses remarkable expressions; he speaks of heights, and depths, and lengths, and breadths, and unsearchables, where I seem to find every thing plain, easy, and rational. He finds mysteries where I can perceive none. Surely, though I use the words Gospel, faith, and grace, with him, my ideas of them must be different from his.

This led him to a close examination of all his Epistles, and, by the blessing of God, brought on a total change in his views and preaching. He no longer set his people to keep a law of faith; to trust in their sincerity and endeavors, upon some general hope that Christ would help them out where they came short; but he preached Christ himself, as the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth.

He felt himself, and laboured to convince others, that there is no hope for a sinner but merely in the blood of Jesus; and no possibility of his doing any works acceptable to God, till he himself be first made accepted in the Beloved. Nor did he labor in vain. Now his preaching effected, not only an outward reformation, but a real change of heart, in very many of his hearers. The word was received, as Paul expresses it, not with a rational assent only, but with demonstration and power, in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; and their endeavors to observe the Gospel precepts were abundantly more extensive, uniform, and successful, when they were brought to say, with the Apostle, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life I live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God.”