We must not turn the gospel on its head in our preaching–The love of God for us is the reason for the death of Christ, and we must preach Christ to all men, without condition or exception. When Jesus Christ fails to be the center of all that we say from the Bible and the goal of every sermon, we are in danger of turning the gospel on its head.
In The Whole Christ, Sinclair Ferguson uses the Marrow Controversy, an ecclesiastical squabble in the early eighteenth century, that surrounded a two-volume book, The Marrow of Divinity, published in 1645 and 1649, and republished in 1718. The controversy involved answering the question of how the gospel should be preached and what is the relationship between law and gospel in the Christian life. Ferguson explains, “It is an extended reflection on theological and pastoral issues that arose in the early 18th century, viewed from the framework of the present day” (19).
Ferguson highlights Thomas Boston (1676-1732), who was one of the principal figures in the Marrow Controversy, he had long struggled with issues of the law and the gospel, but through reading The Marrow of Modern Divinity, his ministry was transformed in a way that gave his sermons a gospel tincture. This post is not a review of Ferguson’s book (buy it and read it!), but rather my reflection on what I consider 5 important takeaways from the book for Christian preachers. I have added headings, and provided some of my thoughts before providing a series of quotes from the book. Today we will look at the second takeaway:
We must not turn the gospel on its head in our preaching–The love of God for us is the reason for the death of Christ, and we must preach Christ to all men, without condition or exception.
When Jesus Christ fails to be the center of all that we say from the Bible and the goal of every sermon, we are in danger of turning the gospel on its head. It is possible to be orthodox and sound theologically but to preach in such a manner that the center and goal of our sermons is doctrinal precision, the blessings of the gospel, or personal Christian experience. In other words, we can preach about Christian things, without our sermons being full of Christ himself. When this is the case, we have made Christ a means to another end, and our gospel witness is dampened because Jesus is abstracted from the message. Ferguson compellingly argues, that doing so, often leads to the error of denying of the free offer of the gospel on one hand, or a vague and man-centered understanding of the gospel message on the other hand. The problem on both ends of the spectrum is an understanding of the Christian message that abstracts Christ, the benefactor, from the benefits of the gospel. Neither divine election, nor free will, are the center and goal of the gospel message–Jesus is.