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!