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Practical Holiness

What does holiness look like in the life of a believer? J. C. Ryle offers a description. (Much abridged—read the book!)


A man may go great lengths, and yet never reach true holiness. It is not knowledge—Balaam had that: nor great profession—Judas Iscariot had that: nor doing many things—Herod had that: nor zeal for certain matters in religion—Jehu had that: nor morality and outward respectability of conduct—the young ruler had that: nor taking pleasure in hearing preachers—the Jews in Ezekiel’s time had that: nor keeping company with godly people—Joab and Gehazi and Demas had that. Yet none of these was holy! These things alone are not holiness. A man may have any one of them, and yet never see the Lord.

What then is true practical holiness? It is a hard question to answer. . . . Let me, however, try to draw a picture of holiness, that we may see it clearly before the eyes of our minds. . . .

(a) Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, according as we find His mind described in Scripture. It is the habit of agreeing in God’s judgment—hating what He hates—loving what He loves—and measuring everything in this world by the standard of His Word. . . .

(b) A holy man will endeavour to shun every known sin, and to keep every known commandment. He will have a decided bent of mind toward God, a hearty desire to do His will—a greater fear of displeasing Him than of displeasing the world, and a love to all His ways. He will feel . . . what David felt when he said, ‘I esteem all Thy precepts concerning all things to be right, and I hate every false way.’ (Psalm 119:128).

(c) A holy man will strive to be like our Lord Jesus Christ. He will not only live the life of faith in Him, and draw from Him all his daily peace and strength, but he will also labour to have the mind that was in Him, and to be ‘conformed to His image.’ (Rom. 8:29). . . . He will lay to heart the saying of John, ‘He that saith he abideth in Christ ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked’ (1 John 2:6) . . .

(d) A holy man will follow after meekness, longsuffering, gentleness, patience, kind tempers, government of his tongue. He will bear much, forbear much, overlook much, and be slow to talk of standing on his rights. . . .

(e) A holy man will follow after temperance and self-denial. He will labour to . . . to restrain his carnal inclinations, lest at any time they break loose. Oh, what a word is that of the Lord Jesus to the Apostles, ‘Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and cares of this life’ (Luke 21:34) . . .

(f) A holy man will follow after charity and brotherly kindness. He will endeavour to observe the golden rule of doing as he would have men do to him, and speaking as he would have men speak to him. . . . ‘He that loveth another,’ says Paul, ‘hath fulfilled the law.’ (Rom. 13:8). . . .

(g) A holy man will follow after a spirit of mercy and benevolence towards others. He will not stand all the day idle. He will not be content with doing no harm—he will try to do good. . . .

(h) A holy man will follow after purity of heart. He will dread all filthiness and uncleanness of spirit, and seek to avoid all things that might draw him into it. He knows his own heart is like tinder, and will diligently keep clear of the sparks of temptation. . . .

(i) A holy man will follow after the fear of God. I do not mean the fear of a slave, who only works because he is afraid of punishment, and would be idle if he did not dread discovery. I mean rather the fear of a child, who wishes to live and move as if he was always before his father s face, because he loves him. . . .

(j) A holy man will follow after humility. He will desire, in lowliness of mind, to esteem all others better than himself. He will see more evil in his own heart than in any other in the world. . . .

(k) A holy man will follow after faithfulness in all the duties and relations in life. He will try, not merely to fill his place as well as others who take no thought for their souls, but even better, because he has higher motives, and more help than they. . . . ‘Whatever ye do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord,’—‘Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.’ (Col. 3:23; Rom. 12:11). . . .

(l) Last, but not least, a holy man will follow after spiritual mindedness. He will endeavour to set his affections entirely on things above, and to hold things on earth with a very loose hand. He will not neglect the business of the life that now is; but the first place in his mind and thoughts will be given to the life to come. . . 

Such is the outline of holiness which I venture to sketch out. Such is the character which those who are called ‘holy’ follow after. Such are the main features of a holy man.

—J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 48–53.

Posted 2017·01·09 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Godliness · Holiness (Ryle) · J C Ryle

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