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50 Helpful Quotes from The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson 

The Whole ChristI recently read Sinclair Ferguson’s excellent new book The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters. Here are 50 helpful quotes from that book:

  • The first and inarguable conclusion is that legalism and antinomianism are much more than doctrinal positions.
  • The second thing I learned was that the root of both legalism and antinomianism is the same. My guess is that most readers will find this the best new insight for them, one that could even trigger a proverbial paradigm shift.
  • Therefore, the third thing I learned was that to think the main problem out there is one particular error is to virtually put one foot into the other error.
  • The Marrow Men were suspected of antinomianism. What they most deeply feared was that many of the condemners of the Marrow doctrine were themselves guilty of a subtle form of legalism. At the root of the matter lay the nature of the grace of God in the gospel and how it should be preached.
  • The Marrow Controversy raised a major question about how the gospel is to be preached. The issue was the heart of the gospel itself.
  • Boston stressed that this emphasis of the Marrow preserved two of the great keynotes of the New Testament’s message. First, that in Jesus Christ there is a fullness of grace for all who will come to him. Second, it preserved the New Testament’s emphasis not only on the fullness of the grace of Christ but also on the freeness of that grace in Christ.
  • The offer of the gospel is to be made not to the righteous or even the repentant, but to all. There are no conditions that need to be met in order for the gospel offer to be made.
  • Perhaps the most significant underlying issue was that the gospel was being preached in a way that implied a separation between Christ and the benefits of the gospel. The benefits of the gospel (justification, reconciliation, redemption, adoption) were being separated from Christ, who is himself the gospel. A major indication that such a separation has taken place is that one of the most prominent emphases in the New Testament becomes marginalized, namely, union with Christ.
  • There was no doubt about the focus of the Marrow Brethren. They wanted their preaching to be full of Christ himself.
  • 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.
  • What conditions were met in us in order for God to send his only Son into the world to die for sinners? None. Indeed there can be none.
  • Confessional orthodoxy coupled with a view of a heavenly Father whose love is conditioned on his Son’s suffering, and further conditioned by our repentance, leads inevitably to a restriction in the preaching of the gospel.
  • What is a godly pastor, after all, but one who is like God, with a heart of grace; someone who sees God bringing prodigals home and runs to embrace them, weeps for joy that they have been brought home, and kisses them—asking no questions—no qualifications or conditions required?
  • In seeking to bring freedom from legalism, we are engaged in undoing the ancient work of Satan.
  • It bears repeating: in Eve’s case antinomianism (her opposition to and rejection of God’s law) was itself an expression of her legalism!
  • Legalism is simply separating the law of God from the person of God.
  • Thus the essence of legalism is rooted not merely in our view of law as such but in a distorted view of God as the giver of his law.
  • Legalism and antinomianism are, in fact, nonidentical twins that emerge from the same womb.
  • Legalism is, therefore, not merely a matter of the intellect. Clearly it is that, for how we think determines how we live.
  • And legalism is also related to the heart and the affections—how we feel about God.
  • But the essence of legalism, as we have seen, is a heart distortion of the graciousness of God and of the God of grace. For that reason, as now becomes clear, legalism is, necessarily, not only a distortion of the gospel, but in its fundamental character it is also a distortion of the law.
  • The gospel never overthrows God’s law for the simple reason that both the law and the gospel are expressions of God’s grace.
  • The Bible is an extended narrative of God’s grace from start to finish.
  • The proclamation of the gospel is a repudiation of doctrinal legalism.
  • Repentance does not precede faith in an individual’s coming to Christ. At the end of the day we cannot divide faith and repentance chronologically.
  • Grace highlights legalism’s bankruptcy and shows that it is not only useless; it is pointless;
  • The ongoing function of God’s law is not to serve as a standard to be met for justification but as a guide for Christian living.
  • Legalism begins to manifest itself when we view God’s law as a contract with conditions to be fulfilled and not as the implications of a covenant graciously given to us.
  • Conditions are written into a contract following negotiations; a covenant is made unconditionally. God’s covenants carry implications, but none of them is the result of divine-human negotiations.
  • If we come to think of God as one whose total focus is on exposing our sin, we will become too shortsighted to see his grace. We will be plagued by a spirit of doubting and mistrusting the Father of lights, who gives his good gifts to us. We will find that we have become incapable of responding to him (and his law) within the father-child bond of love.
  • The danger of legalism is that it builds up again what Christ has torn down. It distorts and may actually destroy the gospel.
  • What, then, is the remedy for legalism? It is grace. But it is not “grace” as commodity, grace as substance. It is grace in Christ. For God’s grace to us is Christ.
  • For our purposes the simplest way to think of antinomianism is that it denies the role of the law in the Christian life.
  • Practical antinomianism has many forms today. One of them is the secular gospel of self-acceptance masquerading as Christianity.
  • This has very concrete expressions in what are euphemistically described as “lifestyle choices”: “This is how I am, God is gracious, and [implied: unlike you, if you disagree with me] he accepts me as I am, and therefore I will remain as I am.” But it is misleading to say that God accepts us the way we are. Rather he accepts us despite the way we are. He receives us only in Christ and for Christ’s sake. Nor does he mean to leave us the way he found us, but to transform us into the likeness of his Son.
  • At root then antinomianism separates God’s law from God’s person, and grace from the union with Christ in which the law is written in the heart.
  • Antinomianism and legalism are not so much antithetical to each other as they are both antithetical to grace. This is why Scripture never prescribes one as the antidote for the other. Rather grace, God’s grace in Christ in our union with Christ, is the antidote to both.
  • There is only one genuine cure for legalism. It is the same medicine the gospel prescribes for antinomianism: understanding and tasting union with Jesus Christ himself.
  • Antinomianism then, like legalism, is not only a matter of having a wrong view of the law. It is a matter, ultimately, of a wrong view of grace, revealed in both law and gospel—and behind that, a wrong view of God himself.
  • Neither the Old Testament believer nor the Savior severed the law of God from his gracious person. It was not legalism for Jesus to do everything his Father commanded him. Nor is it for us.
  • Full assurance is therefore a complex spiritual and psychological process by which confessing, “Christ died for sinners, and I rest on him,” becomes, “I am sure that nothing in all creation can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus my Lord.”
  • Assurance is nourished on a clear understanding of grace and especially of union with Christ and the justification, adoption, and regeneration that are ours freely in him.
  • There is a strong link in the New Testament between faithfulness in the Christian walk and the enjoyment of assurance. Inconsistent Christian living leads to lack of assurance.  Where there is no actual obedience to Christ, there will be no evidence of present love for him as Savior. The Christian who has developed a pattern of disobedience in his or her life will lose assurance.
  • Lack of assurance can also be related to misunderstanding the role of affliction in the Christian life.
  • The fatal mistake here is to base our assurance of grace and salvation on the fact that “God is blessing my life.” When we do so, we have no anchor if life turns sour. No, God anchors us to himself in Christ.
  • But what are the implications of union with Christ? In essence this: through our union with him in his death we are set free from the penalty of our guilt, which he has paid for us; in union with him in his resurrection a complete, final, and irreversible righteousness is ours; in union with him in his death and resurrection we have been set free from the reign of sin. Yet we remain sinners in ourselves. Sin continues to indwell us; only when our regeneration comes to further flowering beyond this life will we be free from sin’s presence.
  • A melancholic disposition de facto creates obstacles to the enjoyment of assurance—partly because it creates obstacles to the enjoyment of everything. Those who are of a melancholic spirit and are prone to doubt need to have their minds steeped in the assurances of divine grace that are to be found in such a Savior fully clothed in the garments of his gospel. Such believers often feel Christ to be distant, so what Hebrews does is bring him near.
  • Attacks of the Devil are also hindrances to assurance and often have this as their specific aim. Satan knows he cannot ultimately destroy those whom Christ saves. He is therefore determined to destroy our enjoyment of our new relationship to the Lord.
  • It is one of the wiles of the Devil to discourage the doubting believer from seeking fellowship, sitting under the Word, and coming to enjoy the gifts Christ has given to reassure us of his love for us. At such a time it is vital to remember that this, inter alia, is what the ministry of the Word and of baptism and the Supper are for. We ignore them to the peril of genuine assurance.
  • Christian assurance is not self-assurance and self-confidence. It is the reverse: confidence in our Father, trust in Christ as our Savior, and joy in the Spirit as the Spirit of sonship, seal of grace, and earnest of our inheritance as sons and daughters of God.
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