The first I remembering hearing of Crowded to Christ was in an online sermon from a former pastor that I think I listened to while home sick one Sunday. He must have mentioned it before, but this time he recommended finding a copy and reading it. It was first published in 1950 and is apparently out of print now, but I found an inexpensive used copy online.
Its author, L. E. Maxwell, was a co-founder, principal, and eventually president of Prairie Bible Institute in Alberta, Canada, which I don’t know much about except that Elisabeth Elliot attended there for a time and Don Richardson (author of Peace Child and other books) graduated from there.
Maxwell’s main theme is that God uses a variety of measures – the law of God as well as pain, pressure, and other means – to draw or to “crowd” people to Christ in the sense of realizing He is the only answer.
For instance, “In his determination to be humble, to love His enemies,… to be more than conqueror – in other words, to be like Christ – the Christian may come sooner or later to a sense of crushing failure and defeat.” He realizes he can’t possibly do this on his own. Some go on half-heartedly, thinking full victory will just never be possible, while others, “not having made Paul’s deep discovery, ‘I know in me (that is, in my flesh), dwelleth no good thing,’ they redouble their efforts…They think that if they are only more watchful, more prayerful, more diligent, they will yet be able to attain. They strive and struggle; they fight and fast; they yearn and pray.” He quotes Hudson Taylor as saying, “I felt I was a child of God: His Spirit in my heart would cry: ‘Abba, Father’; but to rise to my privileges as a child I was utterly powerless.” Maxwell continues, “Not until they had come to an end of all self-righteousness and satisfaction in themselves, not until all their peace and joy and strength of will and resolution and purpose had been ‘slain by the law,’ could faith stretch forth her hands for victory. Only when they sensed the tragedy, the futility, the folly and failure of every human attempt to overcome the law of sin and death, were they shut up to Him who not only ‘justifies the ungodly’ but also ‘quickens the dead'” (pp 17-18).
He describes how God sometimes puts us in extenuating circumstances that result in a crisis of faith that drive us to Him as our only way through, like Jacob on his way home finding out Esau was coming to meet him, or Israel’s being caught between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea, or Israel when called to enter into Canaan but looked at the obstacles instead of God and failed.
I have far too many quotes marked to share, but here are a few that stood out to me:
“Have you ever had God lay hold of you in the wee hours and reduce you until you had ‘Nothing left to do but fling/Care aside and simply cling?'” (p. 29).
“God must secure our confidence, and…He tries us in order to make us trust where we cannot trace. Without faith it is impossible to please Him. ‘Thy way is in the sea.’ While, therefore, He has no pleasure in our agony and perplexity, He knows that it is in the trackless and traceless sea of trouble that we come to trust” (p. 38).
“To be self-centered is to be self-destroyed…The preservation of self is the surest path to self-destruction” (p. 128).
“When the Lord Jesus dealt with souls, His method was adapted to the need of the individual. However, it is remarkable that almost invariably He brought souls face to face with some one thing which in their own strength they could not do, and there demanded an act of obedience…In order to create a sense of sin and a need of divine strength Jesus gave command just where men were inclined to wander or argue or excuse themselves” (p. 150).
“If only the Saviour had asked me to do something else! But that something else would not have reached your heart. You could have done that other thing without faith and without grace; yes, without even being right with God. So, in asking you to do the one impossible thing, Christ crosses your will through your withered limb” (p. 178).
“Grace is no mere favour conferred upon the ungodly, but it is to be experienced as a ruling force and sufficiency, reigning in our hearts as the new, living ‘law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,’ and enabling us to prove the no-more dominion of sin. Grace abounding is to lead at once to grace reigning” (p. 219).
In ways simple and inscrutable and fiery God must drain away the dregs of self-confidence. He must let the flesh fail…when all those remaining are convinced that God alone is their rescue and remedy…” (p. 256).
The New Testament is enfolded in the Old, and the Old Testament is unfolded in the New” (p. 272).
“Love and righteousness are not contrary principles” (p. 299).
He spends a good deal of space in the book talking about the law of God. Though Christ has fulfilled the law and we never could, and in this day of grace are not required to, still, God has uses for the law, which the Bible describes as “good” and “spiritual.” “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” His appendices on “The Old and New Testaments Compared” and “The Purpose of the Law” are some of the best parts of the book, especially on this point.
Overall I enjoyed, benefited from, and saw myself in the pages of this book. I wasn’t quite so interested in arguments about dispensationalism and ultra-dispensationalism or Calvinism vs. Armenianism: those seemed to make the book drag a bit, but I understand their necessity, especially with Maxwell coming from an academic background where students have debated these things back and forth for ages.
I think the only places where I disagreed with him were some such as when he described a man who did not want to go into a grove and pray as the folks in that place and time did when they wanted to meet with God after a service. He acknowledged that there is nothing in the Bible about doing such a thing and that one can get right with God without that action, but this man had no peace until he finally did so. I guess perhaps I could see that if it was just a matter of pride or something, but I’d still have trouble saying he should have done that when it is not a Biblical issue.
This book often brought to mind a quote from Hudson Taylor, though the quote itself is not in the book: “It doesn’t really matter how great the pressure is. What matters is where the pressure lies, whether it comes between me and God or whether it presses me nearer His heart.” As Maxwell says in the second quote listed above, God takes “no pleasure in our agony and perplexity.” He is not dreaming up ways to torture us, but He knows best what we most need in our inmost hearts to grow in our faith and relationship with Him.
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)