Bible Study Helps: The Master Theme of the Bible by J. Sidlow Baxter

Is the capability of wondering becoming strangely perverted in modern man? Are we so occupied with wondering at little things which are so seemingly big, that we do not marvel anymore at the things which are really big?” This question posed by Dr. Baxter encapsulates the purpose of his writing. The marvel of space exploration, or advances in medical science, stimulate our wonder, but the greater, more profound revelations from God in His Word should captivate our finite minds and move our hearts to worship. As the title of this book suggests, Dr. Baxter brings into sharp focus the unequivocal teaching of the Word of God: The “redemptive center of the Christian faith is the cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Lamb of God, bore the sin of the world.” The subtitle isGrateful Studies in the Comprehensive Saviorhood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

J. Sidlow Baxter (1903-1999) was born in Sydney, Australia. When Sidlow was only two, Alice Baxter returned to England with three small children, and her faith in God, leaving behind turbulent memories of a troubled marriage and an unfaithful husband. As a rebellious teen, Sidlow came to Christ at age 16 through the earnest prayers and patient influence of this godly woman. After receiving his initial education at Spurgeon’s College, his full-time ministry began in England. After 1955 it continued in the United States from which he carried on an extensive ministry to many parts of the world. Though never associated with believers who gather in New Testament simplicity, he was one of the evangelical world’s best-known preachers, lecturers, and authors, having some 30 titles to his credit including his well-knownExplore the Book. The author of this review is familiar with only some of his writings, but there is abundant evidence of his deep appreciation for the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, and his unwavering faith in the direct, inerrant, and divine inspiration of the Scriptures.

As an underlying theme, the author appeals to the reader to weigh the evidence that the Bible is not only full of miraculous accounts, but is itself a miracle in its inspiration, something which liberal theologians refuse to acknowledge. He emphasizes the Bible’s progressive doctrine; that is, in moving from Genesis to Revelation, the degree of light increases as the revelation unfolds the truth of redemption and the Redeemer.

The book is in two parts. In Part 1, The Doctrine of the Lamb, he deals first with the unfolding revelation of the Lamb, citing ten notable passages that speak of the Lamb, each with a distinct emphasis and progressive expansion (Gen 4; Gen 22; Ex 12; Lev 16; Isa 53; John 1:29-36; Acts 8; 1 Peter 1:18-21; Rev 5; and Rev 21-22). Secondly, he takes up the centrality of the Lamb from three of the above passages to write of the Lamb transfixed to the cross here on earth, the Lamb triumphant on the throne in heaven, and the Lamb transcendent forever in the new heavens and new earth. Then, thirdly, he explores the pre-incarnate, post-resurrection, and never-ending sovereignty of the Lamb, beginning with Peter’s statement concerning the Lamb “foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet 1:20). In the last two chapters of this first section, Dr. Baxter turns again to the Revelation, the book of divinely designed completions, to view the finalities of the Lamb as Lord and Savior, and as Judge and King.

In Part 2,The Dimensions of the Cross, the author considers the cross’s superlative wonders; not only the wonder of God becoming clothed with our humanity, but that He did so after the fatal, and foredooming fall – “God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3). A crowning wonder is that the One Who moved on earth from the experience of feeding at the breast of a human mother to the agonizing death of the cross will never relinquish His humanity for all eternity – “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and unto the ages” (Heb 13:8 RV). In the closing chapters of the book, he discusses the cross as araison d’etre, as a culmination, as an ensign of creation, as the rainbow of government, as the victory of God, as God’s answer, and finally, as a behavioral standard.

Not to be overlooked is a very helpful appendix where Dr. Baxter deals with differing interpretations of Isaiah 53, and concludes it has only one fulfillment – our Lord Jesus Christ.

This book is actually a reproduction, largely in original form, of spoken studies used at Bible conferences. The style is conversational in places rather than declarative, and is not expository or deep in the theological sense, thus making it attractive to the average reader. His thoughts on some challenging questions leave room for disagreement, but he is not given to being overly dogmatic. In such cases he takes a tentative stance and leaves himself open for further light. Christ-exalting poetry (most his own composition) introduces each chapter. It is obvious that the subject has moved the heart of the author with new love and gratitude for the glories of the Person of Christ, and it is his stated longing that some other hearts will be moved the same way through reading its pages.

The true measure of any book about the Scriptures is how well it enhances our appreciation and understanding of the Book of books, and it is my opinion thatThe Master Theme of the Bibleaccomplishes it well. Over the years, I have come back to this book many times, and would highly recommend it to others. It has increased my appreciation for the unity of the Scriptures and God’s progressive unfolding of the Person of Christ from beginning to end. It is a great study tool, and has very helpful themes for meditation and worship as well as for communicating the gospel.