My Favorite Scottish Theologian/Pastor on God’s Will
I am partial to pastor theologians (men that teach or have taught in the seminary and are also preaching pastors) like R. C. Sproul, John Piper, Mark Dever, Eugene Peterson, James White and the writer of this book, Sinclair Ferguson, because they are well studied, but as they have a book on one knee, they also have a lamb on the other knee. They know the Scriptures, but they also know people and how the two need the Word and Shepherding.
In this book Ferguson emphasizes the fact that the best way to get guidance in the Christian life is by knowing the Guide – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It’s very important to know about the Guide, but so much more important to know the Guide personally and intimately as your Shepherd, Leader, Supplier, and Restorer. He instills in us the idea that you will only do the will of God insofar as you follow His lead in your life.
In the first chapter of the book Dr. Ferguson develops the ideas that a Christian is one who walks on the paths which God has laid; enjoys the purpose for his life which God has ordained; and looks to the destiny which God has planned. Some of the key questions he grapples with are the following: Why has God made me? What is my life for? Will this course of action tend to further the glory of God? What does it mean that our lives should reflect his glory?
In chapter two Sinclair develops the idea of how God has revealed his character and ways in three specific ways: 1) God’s direct commandments and prohibitions; 2) The numerous principles worked out in the Scriptures; and 3) The illustrations and biographical accounts which reveal how these principles of God’s working with his people turn out in personal experiences. He states, “The chief need we have is that of increased familiarity with sensitivity to the wisdom of his word…But we are not called by God to make the mysterious, the unusual, the inexplicable the rule of our lives, but his word.”
Some practical principles on guidance:
1) God’s guidance will require patience on our part.
2) It is essential that we come to see the part which our own thinking should play in the discernment of the will of God.
3) The discovery of God’s will and its accomplishment involves our own will.
In chapter three he develops the idea of guarding the heart, and deals specifically with our motives and conditions with an excellent treatment of the deceptiveness and transformation of the heart from the Proverbs, Psalms, and the book of James.
In chapter four Ferguson develops the idea that “to live in the will of God is to walk in love, to walk in light and to walk in wisdom.”
The principles of conduct he develops in chapter five are to help us answer six key questions when the Bible doesn’t specifically address something we have to decide about with reference to moral or ethical dilemmas we encounter:
1) Is it lawful? (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
2) Is it beneficial to me? Will it complicate, rather than simplify my life? (1 Tim. 4:4; Rom. 14:14; 1 Cor. 6:12)
3) Is it enslaving? (1 Cor. 9:27; 2 Tim. 1:7)
4) Is it consistent with Christ’s Lordship? (1 Cor. 6:19-20; 7:23)
5) Is it helpful to others? (Rom. 14:20; 1 Cor. 10:33; Jn. 17:19; Rom. 15:3; Heb. 4:12)
6) Is it consistent with the example of Christ and the apostles? Are there incidents, or is there teaching in Scripture, which can be applied to the situation in which I find myself? Will it give me a clue to the will of God for my life now? Is it for the glory of God? For that matter, am I living for the glory of God? (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 2 Thess. 3:7; 2 Tim. 3:20; Heb. 6:12; 13:7)
In chapter six he urges us to consider our calling by considering our gifts, needs, and settled interests.
Chapter seven underscores several principles and questions to ask concerning marriage:
1) Be realistic in your expectations.
2) Be biblical in your preparation by answering some of these key questions: What is marriage for? What should I look for in a husband or a wife?
3) How do we fulfill the different roles of husband and wife? (Eph. 5:21-33)
4) What is the character of marriage?
5) What is the ultimate aim of marriage? I love what Ferguson says in answering this particular question, “The ultimate aim of marriage is to reflect God’s image; to reflect the glory of his grace and Being. This means that marriage can never be an end in itself. It exists for a greater purpose than its own fulfillment.”
Chapter 8 develops the theme of waiting on the Lord. He elaborates on issues we wrestle with like impatience, God’s apparent silence, and how to trust in God during these waiting times. Some of the difficulties of waiting are addressed as well like:
1) We are reluctant to accept our status in this world as pilgrims.
2) We are sometimes unwilling to bow to the sovereign providences of God in our lives.
3) We lack faith in the goodness of God.
4) We are too easily influenced by the attitudes of the age in which we live.
The last chapter of the book hones in on the ways God leads us. He closes by giving a practical exposition of Psalm 23 – God supplies our needs (v.1); God restores His people (v.3); God leads His people (v. 3); God protects His people (v.4); God richly blesses his people (v.5); God preserves to the end with his people (v.6).
I would describe this book as encouraging, Christo-centric, pastoral, helpful, enriching, and biblically grounded. I highly recommend this book – especially if you don’t like to read a lot – the chapters are short and concise, and Dr. Ferguson does not waste words – short, sweet, and to the point.