Maturity: Growing Up and Going On in the Christian LifeWritten by Sinclair B. Ferguson Reviewed By William Philip
This attractively presented paperback is a systematic reworking of a book originally published in 1980 in the UK with the title Add to Your Faith (and subsequently, in the USA, as Taking the Christian Life Seriously)—the first of the many volumes Sinclair Ferguson has given to the church over the last 40 years. Out of print for a long time, the present book retains the original aim of helping new and younger Christians discover how much more there is to the Christian life than they at first imagine, while also serving as a refresher to believers at every stage. It certainly was that for me, taking me back to my student days where I too absorbed the same rich ministry under William Still that so shaped the author, and whose voice I could not help hearing so frequently throughout these chapters. So much of what enriched my formative years is encapsulated in these chapters where I learned, as the introduction puts it, that “true understanding is more than possessing information in the form of propositions and isolated texts. It involves breathing in the atmosphere in which the truths of the gospel are presented and then breathing it out in our lives” (p. x). Maturity is a great example of a book that will help people do just that.
The book runs to 230 pages of content, in 12 chapters gathered under 5 key headings.
The first section, “Growing Up,” has three chapters, beginning with “The Importance of Maturity,” where Ferguson shows that we are both bound to the example of Christ and under the lordship of Christ. The next chapter, “Symptoms of Decay,” which deals realistically with the warnings in Hebrews of stopping going on, and slipping back. Chapter 3, “Abiding in Christ,” is particularly helpful in showing from both John’s Gospel and the Epistles how our union with Christ is cultivated and kept as we learn to let the word of God truly dwell in us richly. The next section, “Standing Firm,” has a particularly helpful chapter on “Full Assurance,” what it is and isn’t, and what can obscure assurance in our experience, as well as a balanced and practical look at “Clear Guidance” for believers.
The next and longest section is on “Facing Difficulties”—a mark of the book’s biblical realism. “The Problem of Sin” (ch. 6) deals very plainly with the reality of indwelling sin, and opposition from both within and without to Christian life and progress, drawing heavily on Psalm 119 for the constant remedy of listening to the Word and not the world. “Overcoming Temptation” (ch. 7) deals judiciously with the distinction between sin and temptation, tracing the spiritual outworking of temptation, if unchallenged, to destruction, while clearly showing, and urging, the way of deliverance. “Fighting the Enemy” (ch. 8) further elaborates on the reality and activity of Satan and is anchored in Ephesians 6, while also drawing on wide New Testament teaching and illustrations from biblical narrative. We must know our enemy—a need that is sometimes underplayed among Reformed evangelicals afraid of Pentecostalism’s excesses—but, even more importantly, we must know our resources in Christ who gives victory; this chapter eloquently teaches both. The final chapter in this section, “Coping with Suffering,” is a warmly helpful application of passages from the New Testament, Job and the Psalms showing how the heart of the believer’s suffering is rooted in our union with Christ, and our sharing in both his sufferings and glory.
The fourth section, “Pressing On,” is comprised of two chapters: “Serving Faithfully” and “Running Patiently.” Drawing heavily from Hebrews, these chapters focus on the nature of real saving faith as showing lifelong repentance, turning constantly from serving self to serving Christ, and on the need for perseverance, which comes from the greatness and certainty of our hope. Joyful encouragement is also found in understanding the goal of all God’s discipline in our lives; discipline which may seem ever so painful at the present time but is preparing us for the glory to be revealed in us one day. The section ends with reference to the author’s all-time favorite of William Still’s wayside pulpit messages which sums up so succinctly the Christian life: “WORKSHOP—INSIDE; SHOWROOM—UPSTAIRS!” (p. 189).
The final Section, “Maturity,” expounds the essence of “Living Maturely” (with the aid of Psalm 131), as finding humble contentment in the Lord himself as our only hope and only source of wisdom. The book concludes with a brief Appendix consisting of John Bunyan’s poem, “Caution to stir up to watch against sin.”
Overall, this is a work of rich gospel exposition: biblical theology of a systematic kind and systematic theology of a biblical kind, all applied warmly and wisely to real Christian experience. There are wide-ranging references to the Church Fathers, the Reformers, the Puritans, and more contemporary writers, as well as catechisms, confessions and hymnody—all honoring the great Christian tradition but all serving the chief aim of expounding Scripture and all very accessible. (Incidentally, the book contains none of the Latinisms which, to the chagrin of some of our staff when we have read them together, pepper some of the author’s more scholarly volumes!)
Maturity is a book I would warmly commend to any believer, but particularly the intelligent younger Christian for whom it will be a solid and rewarding study. It would also be an excellent resource for Growth Group study, perhaps the basis of a follow-on course from something like Discipleship Explored. For any pastor looking for inspiration for a preaching series on Growing Up and Going On in the Christian Life, here is something to get you going and give you plenty of material to draw from along the way. For preachers in training, too, a careful study of this book will offer a great deal of help in learning how to open up the word of God so as to do more than just “get it right” in terms of exegesis and theology, but rather to “get it across and get it in” to the real life and experience of frail human flesh and blood—the hungry sheep who need the sustenance of the living Word week in, week out, so that will might keep growing up and going on.
The Tron Church
Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Other Articles in this Issue
A Generous Reading of John Locke: Reevaluating His Philosophical Legacy in Light of His Christian Confessionby C. Ryan Fields
Locke is often presented as an eminent forerunner to the Enlightenment, a philosopher who hastened Europe’s departure from Christian orthodoxy and “turned the tide” toward a modern, secularist orientation...