Sinclair B. Ferguson
Reviewed by: Benjamin W. Miller
Date posted: 10/22/2006
Let's Study Ephesians, by Sinclair B. Ferguson. Published by Banner of Truth, 2005. Paperback, 224 pages, list price $15.00. Reviewed by Pastor Benjamin W. Miller.
Those who have perspired and marveled their way through Ephesians will rejoice in this commentary! Readers will be struck, not only by the lucidity of Dr. Ferguson's exposition, but also by the pastoral manner in which he writes - a feature that makes his work well suited for devotional or small-group study (a small-group study guide is included in the back), as well as sermon preparation.
The depth of Ferguson's mastery of Ephesians is illustrated by his treatment of the "grammar" and "logic" of the letter (pp. 4-5). The grammar of Ephesians, he says, is indicative mood (chapters 1-3) followed by imperative mood (chapters 4-6). Logically, chapters 1-3 describe "what it means to be in Christ - how that has been planned and accomplished," while chapters 4-6 describe "how to work out this new life while still living at Ephesus. "This sounds simple, but as one reads further it becomes clear that this is precisely how Paul constructed the letter, with the result that all of his commands and instructions to the Ephesians (and to us) are suffused with gospel grace. Ferguson brilliantly unpacks Paul's doctrine of what has been done for believers in Christ, and then shows precisely how the imperatives in chapters 4-6 are rooted in, and flow out of, this earlier doctrine. He adheres carefully to Paul's own method: "Never express the obligation to obedience without also stressing the motivation of grace" (p. 158). The result is an utterly winsome presentation of Christian duty. This is not to say that Ferguson is not penetrating! His grasp of the distinction between "in Christ" and "at Ephesus" enables him to drive home gospel implications with remarkable contemporary freshness. Witness how he applies Ephesians 5:4 to sexual sin: "When we see people and things in the light of God and his Word, and express gratitude to him for his good and gracious gifts, we cannot simultaneously illegitimately desire them . . . Uncontrolled speech and sinful desires and actions are driven away by this grace! Ask 'How can I be thankful about this?' and you have taken the first step to a purer life" (p. 131).
Related to this, Ferguson shows keen sensitivity to Pauline eschatology: "It is not only that I am inwardly renewed as an individual; rather a whole new order of reality has arrived. The dawn of the new age has come over the horizon from the future. I am no longer living in death and the dominion of sin but in life and the reign of grace" (pp. 121-22). Along with the grounding of imperatives in gospel indicatives, this eschatological emphasis promotes holiness by underscoring what the gospel actually does: it transfers believers into a new realm, gives them a new citizenship, brings them into heaven itself (Eph. 1: 3). How then ought we to live?
Finally, I was impressed by Ferguson's handling of "problem areas." From critical questions (pp. xiv, 75) to theological matters, such as free will (p. 9), apostleship (p. 105), and marriage roles (p. 148), to difficult exegetical decisions (pp. 28,50, 110), his concise and judicious conclusions reflect a profound interaction with the issues far beyond what he has space to write.
This brings me to my only complaint: I wish the commentary were twice as long! Ferguson's explanations and applications are sometimes tantalizing in their brevity, but perhaps that simply reflects the "unsearchable riches" of his subject matter.