Good hymns are packed with theological truth. They stir our hearts and emotions, and they stir our minds. We can worship by singing them, and we can worship by dissecting them, examining them, and meditating on the truth behind them. In his new book, By Grace Alone, Sinclair Ferguson takes readers through the seven stanzas of Emmanuel T. Sibomana's powerful hymn, "O How the Grace of God Amazes Me." Sibomana was an obscure African pastor born in 1915. His hymn, according to Ferguson, "captures the rich contours and multisided character of the grace of God."
Though the seven chapters are based on the seven stanzas, Dr. Ferguson goes beyond the words of the hymn, to the doctrinal truths upon which it is based. Each chapter explores a different aspect of the grace of God in the life of believers: Christ's breaking of the bondage of sin, God's unconditional love, Christ's sacrifice, our reconciliation to Him, His preservation of us, our deliverance from Satan, and our true freedom in Christ.
Ferguson gives a strong gospel presentation in every chapter. He stresses that salvation is entirely the work of God:
The gospel is an invitation to receive a gift. But many people hear it as a summons to do better. Paul makes it clear that the gospel is not about something we do. It is about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.... You did not, do not, and cannot earn your own salvation. You can contribute nothing to it in any way. It is not earned by your achievements, your merit, your faith, your level of sanctification, your faithfulness, or your Christian service. Reconciliation is a free gift of grace from beginning to end. Christ already has done everything that is needed in order to take your sins and to transfer His righteousness to you.
Two stanzas of Sibomana's hymn, and so two chapters of Ferguson's book, deal with Satan's attacks and lies. These two chapters, and particularly chapter five, "Guaranteed Security," are my favorites. Satan casts his darts at believers. He does everything he can to cause us to doubt and drive us to despair. But we should remember this: God, who was willing to give His own son, is for us. We can trust Him to deliver us; indeed, He already has done so.
In chapter seven, Ferguson drives home the fact that Christians have been freed from the bondage of sin. "Sin has no authority over anyone who is in Christ. You are no longer under its dominion. You have received a new identity. You have died out of that old kingdom. You have been raised through Christ into the new kingdom where He--not sin--reigns." Remembering this is a powerful defense against Satan's darts. In Christ, we are free to serve Him, love others, and pursue righteousness.
As Ferguson explores all that God has given us in Christ, he does so with the aim of showing how amazing God's grace really is. This is something we too often forget: "We often do not seem very amazed by grace. It is, sadly, possible to be un-amazed by the grace of God, to take it for granted, as though it were ours by right or, worse, by merit. Thus, we disgrace the grace of God." I'm grateful that Dr. Ferguson has reminded us of these aspects of God's truly amazing grace. As we reflect on these truths, let us say with pastor Sibomana, "O how the grace of God amazes me!"
I received a review copy of this book from Reformation Trust.