Recently, a good friend emailed me for recommendations on my favorite books on the cross. He wanted me to focus on books God has used to make a profound impact on my soul. When I sent the list, it included great titles like The Cross of Christ by John Stott, Living the Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney, and several titles by John Piper. But as I scanned through my shelf of books on the cross, I realized that over the past few years I’ve come across a number of lesser-known, but richly valuable, books. And so in my list for a friend I added a subcategory of books that have great value in meditating on the cross, but don’t get much attention or are now out-of-print.
So here are five of those titles (in no particular order):
1. Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53 by James Durham (Naphtali Press; $30). I’ve written a more extensive review of this volume so I’ll keep this description brief. Christ Crucified is a precious Puritan work on the work of Christ. Yet when this volume appeared in print in 2001, it had not been previously published since 1792! In 72 sermons Durham slowly walks through Isaiah 53:1-12, pulling out the doctrine of the cross and calling the reader to respond with praise, joy, and obedience. The editor behind this contemporary edition did an outstanding job of making the text clean and easy to navigate. In the front cover of his personal copy, C.H. Spurgeon simply wrote, “Much prized.” I would agree.
2. Caleb’s Lamb by Helen Santos (Reformation Heritage; $7.50). A family favorite, my wife and I read this book with our children. The 100-page chapter book is the story of Caleb, a reluctant boy forced to work with his shepherd dad. Caleb personally despises the sheep. The narrative develops within the context of the Old Testament Israelites in the months leading up to the Exodus. Long story short: Caleb rescues a spotless, newborn lamb from wilderness danger and his dad passes on to Caleb a personal responsibility to care for this sheep. The story progresses around Caleb’s growing maturity and his growing bond with lamb. But rumors are stirring of Moses and a coming deliverance from Egypt. Every household must prepare for the coming angel of the Lord by sacrificing a spotless lamb. It’s a sobering yet wonderful story for children capturing the substitutionary atonement of Christ.
3. The Precious Things of God by Octavius Winslow (Soli Deo Gloria; out of print, buy used, read online). For a while now, I have considered Winslow to be one of the most influential writers on my soul. This book—The Precious Things of God—has the unique distinction of being classified as my most personally life-transforming book (apart from Scripture itself). The chapter on the preciousness of Christ’s blood really opened my eyes to the fuller experience of the cross within the Christian life. It impacted my life at a time when I needed to get away from very technical theology books and simply needed someone to remind me again of the cross. A faithful friend pointed me towards Winslow. And this precious book was a success. Here is one excerpt.
Keep your heart, O believer, much beneath the cross, your conscience in frequent and close contact with the blood, and the slightest touch of sin will make you restless and unhappy until you have confessed, and God has forgiven. This is the secret—which, alas! few see, or care to know—of preserving the garments white amid pollution, the mind serene amid turmoil, the heart happy amid sorrow, the life radiant and transparent as the sun, and the spirit, temper, and carriage Christ-loving, and Christ-like. Oh the wonders of the precious blood of Christ! Who can exalt it too highly, adore it too profoundly, love, magnify, and honor it too deeply and exclusively? Will it not constitute the theme of our study, the burden of our song, and the source of our bliss as ages roll on, and never cease to roll? Beloved, the surprise then will be, that here below we should have prized it so little, traveled to it so infrequently, and glorified it so imperfectly, and have regarded it with an affection so fickle and so cold! (pp. 178-179)
4. The Fullness of Christ by Octavius Winslow (Reformation Heritage: $12.00, read online). Drawing his framework around the history of Joseph and his brothers, Winslow captures the sufficiency of Christ. You may not agree with Winslow’s hermeneutic but through the framework he is faithful to the character and work of Christ. It’s a unique work and a treasure I return to often I my personal devotional time. Here is one choice excerpt:
In Him, this Divine, this wonderful Being, ALL FULLNESS dwells. In whom could all the fullness of the Godhead—all the mediatorial fullness of the Church dwell, but in the Son of God! But take the “fullness” particularly spoken of in this passage, the mediatorial fullness of Christ; and in whom, other than a being essentially God, could all fullness of merit, all fullness of righteousness, all fullness of grace, all fullness of pardon, all fullness of sanctification, all fullness of wisdom, all fullness of love, all fullness of sympathy, all fullness of compassion, in a word, all fullness of all supply, possibly dwell? …And in what does this fullness consist? A fullness of dignity to atone, a fullness of life to quicken, a fullness of righteousness to justify, a fullness of virtue to pardon, a fullness of grace to sanctify, a fullness of power to preserve, a fullness of compassion and sympathy to comfort, and a fullness of salvation to save poor sinners to the uttermost; in a word, ALL fullness; a fullness commensurate with need of every kind, with trial of every form, with sorrow of every depth, with sin of every name, with guilt of every hue, yes, with every conceivable and possible necessity in which the children of God may be placed; fullness of grace here, and fullness of glory hereafter; a fullness which the Church on earth will live upon; and boast of until time be no more; a fullness which will be the delight and glory of the Church in heaven to behold, until eternity shall end. In whom could all this fullness be enthroned? (pp. 55-57)
This quote captures the passion, skill, and articulation of Octavius Winslow. What a treasure!
5. Outrageous Mercy: Rediscovering the Radical Nature of Christianity by William P. Farley (Baker; out of print). Pastor Farley has become a friend over the years. His book, which briefly appeared in 2004 from Baker, is a gem. This is one book on the cross that you should make sacrifices to find. Here is one excerpt:
We can know all about the cross, and we can believe in the cross, but we can also relegate it to a back shelf in our thoughts and priorities. This is Christianity on the decline. If it is true of you and your church, you can reverse this trend. It is imperative that we do so. We can put the cross on the back shelf and still be Christians, but the slide will continue. The children of those who accept a Christianity centered in something other than the cross won’t put the cross on the back shelf; they will put Christianity on the back shelf. And the next generation might even forget the faith altogether (p. 35).
I’m hopeful Outrageous Mercy will be printed again in the future.
So those are some important, lesser-known books on the cross I would encourage you to incorporate into your library of resources and spiritual diet.
Now, what about you? What books have ministered the cross of Christ to your soul?