5 Takeaways for Preachers from Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ—Part 2


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:

2. 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.
The warrant of faith is grounded in the reality that Jesus Christ is the gospel.    Christ died for sinners. We preach Christ, and him crucified, to all men without exception. There are no qualifications that we have to discern before preaching the gospel, nor do we have to clarify one’s position about the biblical doctrine of election, or how prepared they are to repent before hearing the gospel. Rather, since Jesus Christ is the gospel, and he is an all-sufficient Savior, we can and should say to every person because God the Father loves you, Christ died for you, repent and believe in him and you will be saved. Ferguson rightly explains, “For whenever we make the warrant to believe in Christ to any degree dependent upon our subjective condition, we distort it. Repentance, turning from sin, and degrees of conviction of sin do not constitute the grounds on which Christ is offered to us. They may constitute ways in which the Spirit works as the gospel makes its impact on us. But they never form the warrant for repentance and faith” (58). Any other approach that adds conditions to the message turns the gospel on its head and misrepresents the character of God.

Ferguson Quotes from The Whole Christ:

“One of the dangers

[Thomas] Boston recognized was that conditionalism feeds back into how we view God himself. It introduces a layer of distortion into his character. For it is possible to see that no conditions of grace can be met by us yet still hold to a subtle conditionality in God’s grace in itself.

This comes to expression when the gospel is preached in these terms:

God loves you because Christ died for you!

How do these words distort the gospel? They imply that the death of Christ is the reason for the love of God for me.

By contrast the Scriptures affirm that the love of God for us is the reason for the death of Christ.” (65-66)

“The subtle danger here should be obvious: if we speak of the cross of Christ as the cause of the love of the father, we imply that behind the cross and apart from it he may not actually love us at all.” (66)

“True, the father does not love us because we are sinners; but he does love us even though we are sinners.    He loved us before Christ died for us. It is because he loves us that Christ died for us!” (66)

“Confessional orthodoxy, coupled with a view of a heavenly father whose love is conditioned on his son suffering, and further conditioned by our repentance, leads inevitably to a restriction in the preaching of the gospel. Why? Because it leads to a restriction in the heart of the preacher that matches the restriction he sees in the heart of God.” (72)

“What if [the preacher’s] narrow heart pollutes the atmosphere in which he explains the heart of the Father? When people are broken by sin, full of shame, feeling weak, conscious of failure, ashamed of themselves, and in need of counsel, they do not want to listen to preaching that expounds the truth of the discrete doctrines of their church’s confession of faith but fails to connect them with the marrow of gospel grace and the Father of infinite love for sinners. It is a gracious and loving Father they need to know.

     Such, alas, were precisely the kind of pastors who gathered around for Job and assaulted him with their doctrine and that God was against him. From their mouths issue some of the most sublime discrete theological statements anywhere to be found in the pages of the Bible. But they had disconnected them from the life-giving love of God for his needy and broken child Job. And so they too ‘exchanged the truth of God for the lie.’ this will not do in gospel ministry. Rather, pastors need themselves to have been mastered by the unconditional grace of God. ”    (72-73)

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  1. Check out | HeadHeartHand Blog February 15, 2016 at 1:01 am

    […] 5 Takeaways for Preachers from Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ—Part 2 | David Prince “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.” […]

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