Monday, November 28, 2005

Christ Precious - Book Review (Part I)

This review is starting off a little later than I had planned, and so apologies to Ben over at Paleoevangelical who kindly sent me the PDF of the book to review. In fairness to me, it is not a book to be read quickly (unlike so many Christian books being produced today), but is a work of depth, and a book I am finding thoroughly enjoyable, challenging and inspiring only 40 or so pages into it.

Christ Precious is written by John Fawcett, a Baptist pastor of the 1800s, famous for his hymn “Blest be the Tie that Binds”, and it is a tremendous little book thus far. The book is divided into three major sections:

1. The Character Of Persons To Whom Christ Is Precious
2. The Evidence Believers Give That Christ Is Precious To Them
3. In What Respects Jesus Christ Is Precious To Them That Believe

I have just finished part 1, and thought I would share my observations thus far.

The books aim is to unpack the little statement from Peter: “Unto you therefore which believe He is Precious” (I Pet 2:7), and before receiving the book I was expecting a satisfying exposition of the preciousness and of Christ, which this is. What I wasn’t so much expecting was the challenging nature of the book, which focuses not only on the beauties of Christ, but on the character of those who claim Christ is precious to them. As Fawcett writes in his preface:

“The subject to which the reader’s attention is invited in these pages is of the highest, since the love of the divine Redeemer is the distinguishing characteristic of a real Christian, and most indispensably requisite, in order to our serving God acceptably in this world, and to our dwelling with Him in the next. Without a sincere attachment to the Author of eternal salvation, whatever the works of morality we may perform, our obedience will be materially and essentially defective, as not flowing from a proper principle.” (p.1)

Thus, reading through the book so far has certainly been a convicting experience as well as an edifying one, and Fawcett was certainly not a subscriber to the easy-believism so characteristic of much of modern day evangelicalism. Indeed, he states clearly in the beginning paragraphs of his first major section (“The Character Of The Persons To Whom Christ is Precious) that it is “necessary to pay strict attention to those things which accompany true faith, and distinguish it from that which a man may possess, and yet die in his sins”. (p.9) In essence, what Fawcett goes on to outline in the rest of the section is the radical idea that a real faith makes a real difference, and that those who are born again, given news hearts and made new creations will reveal this in their daily lives and the direction of their affections. In describing this true faith, ten points are outlined, the substance of which is entirely founded in Scripture (Fawcett’s writing is saturated with Scripture references and quotes in a way in which very little modern Christian literature is) and which I have found exceptionally challenging to my own Christian walk.

First, true faith comes through divine illumination (p.9). Second, that divine illumination is illumination of the testimony f God contained in His Word – true faith is simply the belief of the Truth (p.10). Third, real faith is the result of serious enquiry, and not a passing thought or happenchance event (p.13). Fourth, faith is a “hearty approbation of Christ, not a “feeble, wavering assent, but such a firm persuasion as, in some measure, confirms with the clearness and evidence with which the truth is confirmed”. Fawcett very clearly believes that there is a danger of false faith, that people “may profess to believe this and the other thing, but in fact, it is a mere pretence, as is evident from the general tenor of their actions” – i.e. he believes real faith reveals itself in a changed life(p.13). Fifth, true faith has a strong conviction of the importance of that which is believed (p. 15). Those who talk of faith, yet have no concern for their souls of eternal things, are simply deceiving themselves. Sixth, true faith is always accompanied by repentance (p.17), for “if sin is not made bitter to us, if it does not appear hateful, if our hearts are not penetrated with sorrow, grief, and self-abhorrence on account of it, in vain do we imagine ourselves to be believers in Jesus”. Fawcett understands the real Christian will understand what the Puritan Ralph Venning called “the sinfulness of sin”. (As an aside, I loved the expression he gave on this topic that repentance was often called back then “the tear drop of love dropping from the eye of faith”). Seventh, true faith reveals itself in subjection to the revealed will of God, and if we truly live by faith in Christ, “there will be some rays of holiness in our conversation [our lives lived out]” (p.21). Eighth, true faith gives the believer an entirely different perspective on all things, looking at life anew through the lens of Scripture (p.21). Ninth (and here, building on the previous points, we get to the preciousness of Christ to the believer), true faith “endears Christ to the soul…it enthrones Him in the heart” (p.23). Finally, true faith is attended by real and lasting joy and peace, in different degrees in believers to be sure, but with certainty existing in the true Christian (p.23). Upon these points, Fawcett urges the reader to examine to see if they are truly in the faith (p.25), and outlines in the next few pages the character of a false believer: a man whose heart is not changed by the grace of God, who does not cleave to the Word of God, and whose heart is “not attached to Christ above all” (p.28).

The last third of this section is written with unbelievers in mind, and as a plea to them to come to know the Christ Who is precious. Characteristic of the rest of the section, the words are punctuated with references or allusions to Scripture, but what I found most interesting was the last three pages (p.37-39), in which is found a nineteenth century version of the sinners prayer. In this prayer we find clearly the radical difference between the today’s religious literature (and Christianity it is representative of) and the writings of centuries gone by. There is seriousness about the prayer, a depth that is not in the modern “say this prayer after me” kind of thing we have become so used to hearing. Upon the ten pages devoted to the requirements for unbelievers to embrace Christ, Fawcett’s prayer is filled with all that evidences the true Christianity he outlined earlier in the section: the horror of sin and the need for repentance (p.37); illumination of the truth and strong convictions regarding the truthfulness of God’s testimony (p.37-38); a sincere desire to change (p.39); and finally, a sincere attachment to Christ (“let me be a partaker of that faith which is connected with unfeigned repentance of sin, a sincere attachment to Christ, a subjugation of heart and life to His will and government, an holy indifferency to all that this present world can afford, and a sincere and constant endeavor to obey…” When was the last time your heard a sinner’s prayer like that?)

All in all, this is a tremendous book so far, and I anticipate getting the time to read the remaining sections. As I do so, I’ll blog on those also – stay tuned, and consider strongly buying the book – you won’t be disappointed (unless you are satisfied with shallow faith).


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