Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid; P&R Publishing 2013
I remember well the day I first recognized the extent of the brokenness in my life. I was confronted with the destruction that had resulted from my efforts to produce a solid record of dutiful obedience to all of the rules that I thought God was expecting me to follow. I am grateful that God started me on a slow journey into the gospel that day. I see it over and over in the lives of the women that God has brought into my life to love–the overwhelming shame and frustration resulting from their endless effort to overcome sin patterns that seem to never go away.
Years into my journey the Lord gave a beautiful gift–John Newton’s marvelous wisdom on Christian growth. My love for Newton grew over the course of the next year as I plowed through a long collection of his letters. At the end of that year I finally took the time to read a book that had been in my stack for months–Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid. In her book, she applied Newton’s wisdom in story form, giving me a clear path of application. I was forever changed. My relationships were forever changed.
She starts her book with a disturbing description of who we are – a piercing look deep into our hearts. She accomplishes this with courageous honesty about her own sin and the true motives of her obedience. “Ministering to Heather had been costly to me, and surely I deserved some credit…Until that time I had always believed that God was lucky to have me on his side…How could I possibly be this sinful when I’d been a Christian for more than 20 years?”
Mrs. Duguid masterfully breaks our hearts with the reality of our sin, then immediately fills us with the hope of the gospel. She progresses through Newton’s stages of Christian growth as Babes in Christ, Maturing in Faith, and Grown-ups in Faith, taking a chapter to explain each stage with great insight and clarity.
Babes In Christ
We see ourselves in the stage where “our faith is weak, but our heart is warm.” We have yet to walk through and grapple with the wilderness of our own sin. “In love, God will crush his growing spiritual pride and lead him to a deeper and richer understanding of the covenant of grace”. He uses our indwelling sin and failure to accomplish this.
Maturing in Faith
“The characteristic of the state of the maturing believer is conflict,” says Newton of this stage of Christian growth. “Out of his (Newton’s) extensive pastoral experience, he observed that one mark of a Christian moving from infanthood to greater maturity was a work of the Holy Spirit within the believer that enabled them to stop doubting their salvation when they sinned and trust more fully in the finished work of Christ on their behalf.” Mrs. Duguid explains that Newton believed the richest fruit of God’s sanctification would be increasing humility and dependence rather than a “victorious Christian life.” “When God walks us into the wilderness of temptation and sin, we learn what we are really like.” “By bringing us into situations where we sin and reveal the truth about our hearts, our loving heavenly Father teaches us. He isn’t testing us to find out what we will do. He knows all things, and he knows our hearts better than we do. God leads us into these situations because he wants us to learn something about ourselves.” Just when we think the trials have become unbearable, Mrs. Duguid offers us the relief of the gospel. She explains that God works through this wilderness to draw us into a deeper dependence on Him for daily grace and strength.
Grown-ups in Faith
The mature Christian grows stronger because she has a clearer and more consistent sense of her own weakness. Mrs. Duguid tells us that the mature Christian’s heart has deceived her so many times that she has learned to distrust herself and make provision for her own weakness. The disappointment with self and others subsides as the reality of “without Him I can do nothing” takes deep root in her heart. Mrs. Duguid emphasizes Newton’s observation that the mature believer erects an “Ebenezer” (a memorial in the heart) in each moment of deep and high-handed sin, as a reminder of his own sin and weakness. However, in true gospel fashion, we are encouraged to build an even higher monument to the faithfulness of God in spite of our sin.
Throughout the rest of the book Mrs. Duguid invites us to see our sin and weakness through a series of refreshingly candid stories from her own experience. We see her as an angry driver, a racist, bitter and accusing to her God, chronically overeating to the detriment of her health, deeply emotionally troubled, judgmental, lying, and hypocritical. She is never easy on us or herself, but she never leaves us once without the great truth of the gospel. She shares these stories to help us apply the truth in the most practical ways. She guides to lofty theological summits so that we can behold our sanctification through a gospel-centered lens. She weaves the life-changing truth of the gospel through the power of scripture and the confessions of faith, and she illustrates her ideas with quotes that reveal her scholarly and well-read mind.
The truths Mrs. Duguid so capably teaches have given me the peace to walk with others over the long-haul of their Christian journey. I can see believers in all the stages of growth and rejoice with them in the assurance that God is always faithful to finish what He starts. It has been my joy to recommend Extravagant Grace over and over. The beautiful truth of God’s sovereignty over our sin and sanctification has never failed to bring comfort.