As a teenager, I attended a church youth group called the ‘9:23 Club’. The name came from the words of Jesus in Luke 9:23, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’. The message was clear enough: being a Christian involves suffering.
In this book, Simon Vibert senses that this is a lost emphasis. In the prologue, he writes, ‘Those who influenced me most in my early days as a Christian told me two things in no uncertain terms: that there is new life and joy in Christ with the Holy Spirit living within; and, that the Devil, the flesh and the world will do their worst (or I guess their ‘best’ from their point of view!) to deflect me from keeping going as a Christian’ (p.12).
His motivation in writing is his conviction that one of those things is no longer emphasised as it once was. Instead, few sermons today are heard on the themes of discipline, perseverance, conflict and spiritual warfare. He stresses that the Christian life is a perpetual battle and therefore it is vital for every Christian to be made aware of this and duly equipped.
The book is divided into three sections: ‘The Devil’, ‘The Flesh’ and finally ‘The World’. In each section, the author introduces the reader to four books that helped him early on in his Christian life: William Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armour; The Fight by John White; volume 6 of The Works of John Owen (particularly Mortification of Sin in Believers); and The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Although he makes extensive use of these authors, other books have clearly also had their influence. For example, there is a good dose of J.C. Ryle’s Holiness.
Each section begins with a summary of scriptural teaching, before moving on to look at the perspectives brought by one of the four writers, then giving some practical application.
The book certainly meets its objective. The writer wants to highlight what John Owen wrote for a previous generation: ‘We can expect to be tempted the whole of our lives; suffering should not come as a surprise. In our dedication to become more like Christ we might even think that we are close to despair, discouragement and sheer exhaustion’ (p.160). It is evident throughout that the writer’s intention is not to depress us, but rather to shepherd Christian men and women immersed in the battle.
I am sure that the author would be thrilled if this book led readers to discover the estimable works already mentioned, but this title stands on its own merits as a worthwhile and accessible read.