The following is a transcript of the audio.
This week we welcome Michael Reeves to the podcast, filling in for John Piper. Michael is the author of several books including The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation (2010), along with, Delighting in the Trinity, one of my favorite books of 2012. He just finished work on a beautiful book titled: Christ Our Life, scheduled to release on September 1 in the UK. It will be titled Rejoicing in Christ and released in the US early next year. Anyone who has read his books knows Michael is a gifted church historian, theologian, and a keen and incisive writer. He lives in the UK and currently serves as director of the online theology web-site: uniontheology.org, and Senior Lecturer at Wales Evangelical School of Theology. We are grateful for his time. Michael, you write so much about the glory of Christ. How does being Christ-centered — focusing ministry on the glory of Christ — how does this change someone’s life?
Well, let me tell you a story of Thomas Goodwin’s conversion. Thomas Goodwin, he was a great Puritan theologian and preacher. He was born in 1600. You know, he is born of Puritan parents, Puritan stock. And he grew up quite religious. And he even decided at quite a young age that he wanted to be a preacher, but without being a Christ centered preacher who had experienced the sovereign grace of God in his life, he had a ministry in those early days of battering consciences, that is, of seeking to get people to improve. And he then had a religious crisis, a meltdown in which he listened to a sermon — he was about 20 years old — he heard a sermon that made him deeply concerned for his own spiritual state. And he had seven years of gloomy introspection. He was grubbing around inside himself to see if he had enough faith to merit salvation, to see if he was being meritorious enough. And then an old pastor told him at the end of those seven years told him: “Don’t trust anything in yourself, whether performance or feelings. Look out and rest on Christ alone.” And with that, he said, he was freed.
But what is so striking, I think, is not only was Goodwin’s own life freed, his ministry profoundly changed, because he now became a Christ centered preacher. And having seen through those seven years of introspection, having God’s grace shone into his heart, he began to have a very deep, a radically deep understanding of sin. So he couldn’t simply tell people to try to improve, because he saw now they can’t do it. And instead he began to have not a big view of our own ability to be able to sort ourselves out, but a big view of God’s grace in Christ that can rescue those who are dead and enslaved in sin. And so he became a Christ centered preacher who would preach that gospel with compassion for those who are addicted to sin and entirely enslaved to it.
He had a mentor the great Richard Sibbes who when he was a young man told Goodwin: Young man, if ever you would do good, you must preach the gospel and the free grace of God in Christ Jesus. And I think an example of this would be in one of his most popular works called Christ Set Forth. And in that work he makes it very clear. He is aiming simply to hold Chris before the eyes of his readership. And he makes it very clear why he wants us to do it because even in those days, which we often look back on the 17th century as sort of a golden age of preaching, he believed that Christ simply wasn’t well known enough by people, people were ignorant of him or, as he put it, barren in their knowledge of Christ. And therefore they wouldn’t look out of themselves to him, but they would trust in themselves. They would either be imprisoned in their own guilt or dependent on their own performance, not looking out to Christ. And so Goodwin having seen the solution in the Savior wanted now for the rest of his ministry to set forth Christ with great clarity.
Now I am someone who has had a similar experience to Goodwin of a crisis of depending on myself, not knowing where to go and then seeing the beautiful answer in Christ and still today Goodwin, he was a man who helped me through his writings, he is a man who sets forth Christ in a way that changes the reader, because you are liberated by God’s grace and not your own potential.
I think of maybe one other indication of how the man himself was changed. Goodwin’s dying words—he was 80 years old—were something like this. He said on his deathbed: My bow abides in strength now. Is Christ divided? No. I have the whole of his righteousness. I am found in Christ, not having my own righteousness, but his, the righteousness of Christ who loved me, gave himself for me. And then at the end he said: Christ cannot love me better than he does, I think I cannot love Christ better than I do now.
That’s a beautiful testimony. Unfortunately Thomas Goodwin is not well known in the States — many readers probably are hearing the name for the first time. Is there a better book for someone to start with if they want to read Thomas Goodwin than his book, The Heart of Christ?
Yes, next to Christ Set Forth, the writing I mentioned, there was a book he put alongside he called The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth where he is looking at how the ascended, glorified Jesus considers his beloved people today. It is one of the most striking reads. It was always Goodwin’s most popular book in his own lifetime and you can see why today it is an extraordinary thing that Goodwin has been forgotten today. He has been called the greatest pulpit exegete that ever lived. One of the reasons I think he is rather forgotten is he is slightly tough meat, rather like John Owen to read and therefore people have left him. But I think that is a mistake. Meat is worth eating, because it helps you grow strong. And Goodwin is worth reading because he will present Christ to you with an extraordinary clarity.
Wonderful, yes Goodwin was a master of presenting Christ with clarity. His book, The Heart of Christ, has been edited and made more readable by The Banner of Truth, and the book is available as a Puritan Paperback. It’s worth checking out in this edition. If you love Christ but you wonder if Christ loves you — this book will rock your soul. Again, it’s titled The Heart of Christ by Thomas Goodwin. So how does theology fuel ambitious evangelism and world missions? There’s a story from church history to be told, and Dr. Reeves will share that tomorrow. I’m your host Tony Reinke, thanks for listening to the Ask Pastor John podcast.