Wretched, but Pressing On
Answering those who would pit Faith Alone against the pursuit of holiness:
I must frankly say I wish there was not such an excessive sensitiveness on the subject of holiness as I sometimes perceive in the minds of believers. A man might really think it was a dangerous subject to handle, so cautiously is it touched! Yet surely when we have exalted Christ as ‘the way, the truth, and the life,’ we cannot err in speaking strongly about what should be the character of His people. Well says Rutherford, ‘The way that crieth down duties and sanctification, is not the way of grace. Believing and doing are blood-friends.’
. . .I sometimes fear if Christ were on earth now, there are not a few who would think His preaching legal; and if Paul were writing his Epistles, there are those who would think he had better not write the latter part of most of them as he did. But let us remember that the Lord Jesus did speak the Sermon on the Mount, and that the Epistle to the Ephesians contains six chapters and not four. . . .
That great divine, John Owen, the Dean of Christ Church, used to say, more than two hundred years ago, that there were people whose whole religion seemed to consist in going about complaining of their own corruptions, and telling everyone that they could do nothing of themselves. I am afraid that after two centuries the same thing might be said with truth of some of Christ’s professing people in this day. I know there are texts in Scripture which warrant such complaints. I do not object to them when they come from men who walk in the steps of the Apostle Paul, and fight a good fight, as he did, against sin, the devil, and the world. But I never like such complaints when I see ground for suspecting, as I often do, that they are only a cloak to cover spiritual laziness, and an excuse for spiritual sloth. If we say with Paul, ‘O wretched man that I am,’ let us also be able to say with him, ‘I press toward the mark.’ Let us not quote his example in one thing, while we do not follow him in another (Rom. 7:24; Phil. 3:14).
—JC Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 65—66.
We often think things are so much worse today than in past ages, but reading long-dead saints, it often strikes me how alike their complaints are to ours. J. C. Ryle, 140 years ago, says what we might say today, agreeing with John Owen, who said it more than two hundred years earlier.
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