Press Towards It
Ryle’s description of holiness creates some high expectations. Lest we become discouraged, he adds,
I do not say for a moment that holiness shuts out the presence of indwelling sin. No: far from it. It is the greatest misery of a holy man that he carries about with him a ‘body of death;’—that often when he would do good ‘evil is present with him’; that the old man is clogging all his movements, and, as it were, trying to draw him back at every step he takes. (Rom. 7:21). But it is the excellence of a holy man that he is not at peace with indwelling sin, as others are. He hates it, mourns over it, and longs to be free from its company. The work of sanctification within him is like the wall of Jerusalem—the building goes forward ‘even in troublous times.’ (Dan. 9:25).
Neither do I say that holiness comes to ripeness and perfection all at once, or that these graces I have touched on must be found in full bloom and vigour before you can call a man holy. No: far from it. Sanctification is always a progressive work. Some men’s graces are in the blade, some in the ear, and some are like full corn in the ear. All must have a beginning. We must never despise ‘the day of small things.’ And sanctification in the very best is an imperfect work. The history of the brightest saints that ever lived will contain many a ‘but.’ and ‘howbeit,’ and ‘notwithstanding,’ before you reach the end. The gold will never be without some dross—the light will never shine without some clouds, until we reach the heavenly Jerusalem. The sun himself has spots upon his face. The holiest men have many a blemish and defect when weighed in the balance of the sanctuary. Their life is a continual warfare with sin, the world, and the devil; and sometimes you will see them not overcoming, but overcome. The flesh is ever lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and ‘in many things they offend all.’ (Gal. 5:17; James 3:2).
But still, for all this, I am sure that to have such a character as I have faintly drawn, is the heart’s desire and prayer of all true Christians. They press towards it, if they do not reach it. They may not attain to it, but they always aim at it. It is what they strive and labour to be, if it is not what they are.
—J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 53–54.
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