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Holiness (Ryle)

(60 posts)

The Best News

It is assurance of salvation that enables the saints to suffer persecution and even die for their faith. Assurance should allow any of God’s own to die happily and without fear. ‘When I live in a settled and steadfast assurance about the state of my soul,’ said Bishop Hugh Latimer, ‘then I am as bold as a lion.’ John Bradford, another martyr could say, ‘If Queen Mary gives me my life, I will thank her; if she burns me, I will thank her.’ Nor is it only in days of persecution that Christians have been able to speak in this way. Many believers, when dying, have been as ready as Richard Baxter to affirm that they were ‘almost well’. William White, a country pastor in Virginia, on hearing from his doctor that he had only a few days to live, could declare, ‘That’s the best news I have heard in twenty years.’ A bedridden Methodist woman in Cornwall, and eager for ‘home’, told her attentive daughter that she was too weak to take a drink. ‘Do not say so,’ the daughter urged, ‘you will be down among us again yet.’ To which the response was, ‘You are always a-foreboding!’ —Iain Murray, The Old Evangelicalism (Banner of Truth, 2005), 171.
continue reading The Best News

He Who Loves Me

While good works play no part in justification, nor—I would argue, contra Iain Murray and many other fine theologians—do they have any causal relationship to sanctification, they are a necessary ground for assurance of salvation. Those who conclude that because works and obedience have no place in the believers justification, therefore they need have no place in assurance, are . . . in serious error. Christ teaches emphatically that the assuring work of the Spirit and the comfort of his presence is related to obedience: ‘He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me. and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him’ (John 14:21). J. C. Ryle is commenting on this same truth when he writes: ‘I bless God that our salvation in no wise depends on our own works . . . But I would never have any believer forget that our sense of salvation depends much on our manner of living. Inconsistency will dim our eyes and bring clouds between us and the sun.’ —Iain Murray, The Old Evangelicalism (Banner of Truth, 2005), 181.
continue reading He Who Loves Me

Ryle, Romans 7, and Paul’s Perspective

For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. —Romans 7:14–25 Concerning this text, there is disagreement over the perspective from which Paul writes. Some say he is writing as unconverted; others say as an immature believer. I fall in with Ryle, who wrote: Is it wise to assert so positively and violently, as many do, that the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans does not describe the experience of the advanced saint, but the experience of the unregenerate man, or of the weak and unestablished believer? I doubt it. I admit fully that the point has been a disputed one for eighteen centuries, in fact ever since the days of St. Paul. I admit fully that eminent Christians like John and Charles Wesley, and Fletcher, a hundred years ago, to say nothing of some able writers of our own time, maintain firmly that St. Paul was not describing his own present experience when he wrote this seventh chapter. I admit fully that many cannot see what I and many others do see: viz., that Paul says nothing in this chapter which does not precisely tally with the recorded experience of the most eminent saints in every age, and that he does say several things which no unregenerate man or weak believer would ever think of saying, and cannot say. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), xvii–xviii.

At the root of all saving Christianity

In the coming year, I’ll make another attempt to restart the blog. I intend to begin by blogging through several works of J. C. Ryle, beginning with what is probably his most-read, Holiness. Here is a taste: He that wishes to attain right views about Christian holiness, must begin by examining the vast and solemn subject of sin. He must dig down very low if he would build high. A mistake here is most mischievous. Wrong views about holiness are generally traceable to wrong views about human corruption. . . . The plain truth is that a right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. Without it such doctrines as justification, conversion, sanctification, are ‘words and names’ which convey no meaning to the mind. The first thing, therefore, that God does when He makes anyone a new creature in Christ, is to send light into his heart, and show him that he is a guilty sinner. The material creation in Genesis began with ‘light,’ and so also does the spiritual creation. God ‘shines into our hearts’ by the work of the Holy Ghost, and then spiritual life begins. (2 Cor. 4:6).—Dim or indistinct views of sin are the origin of most of the errors, heresies, and false doctrines of the present day. If a man does not realize the dangerous nature of his soul’s disease, you cannot wonder if he is content with false or imperfect remedies. I believe that one of the chief wants of the Church in the nineteenth century has been, and is, clearer, fuller teaching about sin. . . . I say, then, that ‘sin,’ speaking generally, is, as the Ninth Article of our Church declares, ‘the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that is naturally engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone (quam longissime is the Latin) from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth alway against the spirit; and, therefore, in every person born into the world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation.’ Sin, in short, is that vast moral disease which affects the whole human race, of every rank, and class, and name, and nation, and people, and tongue; a disease from which there never was but one born of woman that was free. Need I say that one was Christ Jesus the Lord? —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 1–2. Merry Christmas!

The Extent of Sin

Concerning the Extent of this vast moral disease of man called sin, let us beware that we make no mistake. The only safe ground is that which is laid for us in Scripture. ‘Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart’ is by nature ‘evil, and that continually.’—‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’ (Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9). Sin is a disease which pervades and runs through every part of our moral constitution and every faculty of our minds. The understanding, the affections, the reasoning powers, the will, are all more or less infected. Even the conscience is so blinded that it cannot be depended on as a sure guide, and is as likely to lead men wrong as right, unless it is enlightened by the Holy Ghost. In short, ‘from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness’ about us (Isa. 1:6). The disease may be veiled under a thin covering of courtesy, politeness, good manners, and outward decorum; but it lies deep down in the constitution. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 4–5. Ryle is not writing here to explain or defend of the doctrine of Total Depravity, but this paragraph does provide a good description of that doctrine—that is, that “total” does not refer to the depth human depravity, but to it’s extent. Fallen humanity is not as wicked as could be, but sin “pervades and runs through every part of our moral constitution and every faculty of our minds.” As dirty hands pollute everything they touch, so all our thoughts and actions are to some degree tainted by sin. Ryle further writes, I am convinced that the greatest proof of the extent and power of sin is the pertinacity with which it cleaves to man even after he is converted and has become the subject of the Holy Ghost’s operations. To use the language of the Ninth Article, ‘this infection of nature doth remain—yea, even in them that are regenerate.’ So deeply planted are the roots of human corruption, that even after we are born again, renewed, ‘washed, sanctified, justified.’ and made living members of Christ, these roots remain alive in the bottom of our hearts, and, like the leprosy in the walls of the house, we never get rid of them until the earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved. Sin, no doubt, in the believer’s heart, has no longer dominion. It is checked, controlled, mortified, and crucified by the expulsive power of the new principle of grace. The life of a believer is a life of victory, and not of failure. But the very struggles which go on within his bosom, the fight that he finds it needful to fight daily, the watchful jealousy which he is obliged to exercise over his inner man, the contest between the flesh and the spirit, the inward ‘groanings’ which no one knows but he who has experienced them—all, all testify to the same great truth, all show the enormous power and vitality of sin. Mighty indeed must that foe be who even when crucified is still alive! Happy is that believer who understands it, and while he rejoices in Christ Jesus has no confidence in the flesh; and while he says, ‘Thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory.’ never forgets to watch and pray lest he fall into temptation! —Ibid., 7.
continue reading The Extent of Sin

A Remedy Revealed

Our disease is great, but the remedy is greater still. I ask my readers to observe what deep reasons we all have for humiliation and self-abasement. Let us sit down before the picture of sin displayed to us in the Bible, and consider what guilty, vile, corrupt creatures we all are in the sight of God. What need we all have of that entire change of heart called regeneration, new birth, or conversion! What a mass of infirmity and imperfection cleaves to the very best of us at our very best! What a solemn thought it is, that ‘without holiness no man shall see the Lord!’ (Heb. 12:14). What cause we have to cry with the publican, every night in our lives, when we think of our sins of omission as well as commission, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13). . . . On the other hand, I ask my readers to observe how deeply thankful we ought to be for the glorious Gospel of the grace of God. There is a remedy revealed for man’s need, as wide and broad and deep as man’s disease. We need not be afraid to look at sin, and study its nature, origin, power, extent, and vileness, if we only look at the same time at the Almighty medicine provided for us in the salvation that is in Jesus Christ. Though sin has abounded, grace has much more abounded. Yes: in the everlasting covenant of redemption, to which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are parties—in the Mediator of that covenant, Jesus Christ the righteous, perfect God and perfect Man in one Person—in the work that He did by dying for our sins and rising again for our justification—in the offices that He fills as our Priest, Substitute, Physician, Shepherd, and Advocate—in the precious blood He shed which can cleanse from all sin—in the everlasting righteousness that He brought in—in the perpetual intercession that He carries on as our Representative at God’s right hand—in His power to save to the uttermost the chief of sinners, His willingness to receive and pardon the vilest, His readiness to bear with the weakest—in the grace of the Holy Spirit which He plants in the hearts of all His people, renewing, sanctifying and causing old things to pass away and all things to become new—in all this—and oh, what a brief sketch it is!—in all this, I say, there is a full, perfect, and complete medicine for the hideous disease of sin. Awful and tremendous as the right view of sin undoubtedly is, no one need faint and despair if he will take a right view of Jesus Christ at the same time. No wonder that old Flavel ends many a chapter of his admirable ‘Fountain of Life’ with the touching words, ‘Blessed be God for Jesus Christ.’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 10–12.
continue reading A Remedy Revealed

Chosen to Be Holy

Ryle lists twelve propositions for the purpose of defining the nature of sanctification. Among them, “Sanctification . . . is the only sure mark of God’s election.” The names and number of the elect are a secret thing, no doubt, which God has wisely kept in His own power, and not revealed to man. It is not given to us in this world to study the pages of the book of life, and see if our names are there. But if there is one thing clearly and plainly laid down about election, it is this—that elect men and women may be known and distinguished by holy lives. It is expressly written that they are ‘elect through sanctification—chosen unto salvation through sanctification—predestinated to be conformed to the image of God’s Son—and chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world that they should be holy.’—Hence, when St. Paul saw the working ‘faith’ and labouring ‘love’ and patient ‘hope’ of the Thessalonian believers, he says, ‘I know your election of God.’ (1 Peter 1:2; 2 Thess. 2:13; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4; 1 Thess. 1:3, 4). He that boasts of being one of God’s elect, while he is wilfully and habitually living in sin, is only deceiving himself, and talking wicked blasphemy. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 25–26.
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Sanctification: A Process

There are three elements of sanctification: past (positional), in which believers have been entirely set apart (sanctified); present (progressive), in which believers grow in grace toward greater holiness; future (perfect), in which believers will be entirely perfected. The first takes place at the moment of conversion through regeneration, the second is a life-long process, and the third will take place through glorification. Present (progressive) sanctification is the subject of Holiness. Ryle writes, Sanctification, again, is a thing which admits of growth and degrees. A man may climb from one step to another in holiness, and be far more sanctified at one period of his life than another. More pardoned and more justified than he is when he first believes, he cannot be, though he may feel it more. More sanctified he certainly may be, because every grace in his new character may be strengthened, enlarged, and deepened. This is the evident meaning of our Lord’s last prayer for His disciples, when He used the words, ‘Sanctify them’; and of St. Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians, ‘The very God of peace sanctify you.’ (John 17:17; 1 Thess. 4:3). In both cases the expression plainly implies the possibility of increased sanctification; while such an expression as ‘justify them’ is never once in Scripture applied to a believer, because he cannot be more justified than he is. I can find no warrant in Scripture for the doctrine of ‘imputed sanctification.’ It is a doctrine which seems to me to confuse things that differ, and to lead to very evil consequences. Not least, it is a doctrine which is flatly contradicted by the experience of all the most eminent Christians. If there is any point on which God’s holiest saints agree it is this: that they see more, and know more, and feel more, and do more, and repent more, and believe more, as they get on in spiritual life, and in proportion to the closeness of their walk with God. In short, they ‘grow in grace,’ as St. Peter exhorts believers to do; and ‘abound more and more,’ according to the words of St. Paul. (2 Pet. 3:18; 1 Thess. 4:1). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 27–28
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Means of Sanctification

Sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit, but not without means. Without the use of those means, we cannot expect to grow in grace. Sanctification, again, is a thing which depends greatly on a diligent use of Scriptural means. When I speak of ‘means,’ I have in view Bible-reading, private prayer, regular attendance on public worship, regular hearing of God’s Word, and regular reception of the Lord’s Supper. I lay it down as a simple matter of fact, that no one who is careless about such things must ever expect to make much progress in sanctification. . . . They are appointed channels through which the Holy Spirit conveys fresh supplies of grace to the soul, and strengthens the work which He has begun in the inward man. Let men call this legal doctrine if they please, but I will never shrink from declaring my belief that there are no ‘spiritual gains without pains.’ I should as soon expect a farmer to prosper in business who contented himself with sowing his fields and never looking at them till harvest, as expect a believer to attain much holiness who was not diligent about his Bible-reading, his prayers, and the use of his Sundays. Our God is a God who works by means, and He will never bless the soul of that man who pretends to be so high and spiritual that he can get on without them. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 28–29.
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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.
continue reading Practical Holiness

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.
continue reading Press Towards It
When considering sanctification and holiness, it is easy to slip into a kind of legalistic moralism that awards merit to our works. In the following paragraph, Ryle puts that error in its place. Can holiness save us? Can holiness put away sin—cover iniquities—make satisfaction for transgressions—pay our debt to God? No: not a whit. God forbid that I should ever say so. Holiness can do none of these things. The brightest saints are all ‘unprofitable servants.’ Our purest works are no better than filthy rags, when tried by the light of God’s holy law. The white robe which Jesus offers, and faith puts on, must be our only righteousness—the name of Christ our only confidence—the Lamb’s book of life our only title to heaven. With all our holiness we are no better than sinners. Our best things are stained and tainted with imperfection. They are all more or less incomplete, wrong in the motive or defective in the performance. By the deeds of the law shall no child of Adam ever be justified. ‘By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast’ (Eph. 2:8, 9). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 55. If all that is true, why bother? Why should we care about holiness if it earns us nothing, and will never be good enough, anyway? Ryle replies, Why does the Apostle say, ‘Without it no man shall see the Lord’? Let me set out in order a few reasons. (a) For one thing, we must be holy, because the voice of God in Scripture plainly commands it. The Lord Jesus says to His people, ‘Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 5:20). ‘Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matt. 5:48). Paul tells the Thessalonians, ‘This is the will of God, even your sanctification’ (1 Thess. 4:3). And Peter says, ‘As He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;’ because it is written, ‘Be ye holy, for I am holy’ (1 Peter 1:15, 16). . . . (b) We must be holy, because this is one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world. Paul writes to the Corinthians, ‘He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again’ (2 Cor. 5:15). And to the Ephesians, ‘Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it’ (Eph. 5:25, 26). And to Titus, ‘He gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works’ (Titus 2:14). In short, to talk of men being saved from the guilt of sin, without being at the same time saved from its dominion in their hearts, is to contradict the witness of all Scripture. Are believers said to be elect!—it is ‘through sanctification of the Spirit.’ Are they predestinated?—it is ‘to be conformed to the image of God’s Son.’ Are they chosen?—it is ‘that they may be holy.’ Are they called?—is it ‘with a holy calling.’ Are they afflicted?—it is that they may be ‘partakers of holiness.’ Jesus is a complete Saviour. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, He does more—He breaks its power (1 Peter 1:2; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4; Heb. 12:10). (c) We must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we have a saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . James warns us there is such a thing as a dead faith . . . (James 2:17). True saving faith is a very different kind of thing. True faith will always show itself by its fruits . . . (d) We must be holy, because this is the only proof that we love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. This is a point on which He has spoken most plainly, in the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters of John. ‘If ye love Me, keep my commandments.’—‘He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me.’—‘If a man love Me he will keep my words.’—‘Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you’ (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:14). . . . (e) We must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we are true children of God. . . . The Lord Jesus says, ‘If ye were Abraham’s children ye would do the works of Abraham.’—‘If God were your Father ye would love Me’ (John 8:39, 42). . . . ‘As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they,’ and they only, ‘are the sons of God’ (Rom. 8:14). . . . ‘Say not,’ says Gurnall, ‘that thou hast royal blood in thy veins, and art born of God, except thou canst prove thy pedigree by daring to be holy.’ (f) We must be holy, because this is the most likely way to do good to others. . . . I believe there is far more harm done by unholy and inconsistent Christians than we are aware of. . . . ‘I cannot see the use of so much religion,’ said an irreligious tradesman not long ago; ‘I observe that some of my customers are always talking about the Gospel, and faith, and election, and the blessed promises, and so forth; and yet these very people think nothing of cheating me of pence and half-pence, when they have an opportunity. Now, if religious persons can do such things, I do not see what good there is in religion.’ . . . (g) We must be holy, because our present comfort depends much upon it. . . . ‘Hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.’—‘Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts’ (1 John 2:3; 3:19). —Ibid., 55–59.
continue reading Why Bother?

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). —J. C. 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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Would you be holy?

Ryle has covered the what and why of personal holiness. Now he turns to the how. Would you be holy? Would you become a new creature? Then you must begin with Christ. You will do just nothing at all, and make no progress till you feel your sin and weakness, and flee to Him. He is the root and beginning of all holiness, and the way to be holy is to come to Him by faith and be joined to Him. Christ is not wisdom and righteousness only to His people, but sanctification also. Men sometimes try to make themselves holy first of all, and sad work they make of it. They toil and labour, and turn over new leaves, and make many changes; and yet, like the woman with the issue of blood, before she came to Christ, they feel ‘nothing bettered, but rather worse’ (Mark 8:26). They run in vain, and labour in vain; and little wonder, for they are beginning at the wrong end. They are building up a wall of sand; their work runs down as fast as they throw it up. They are baling water out of a leaky vessel: the leak gains on them, not they on the leak. Other foundation of ‘holiness’ can no man lay than that which Paul laid, even Christ Jesus. ‘Without Christ we can do nothing’ (John 15:5). It is a strong but true saying of Traill’s, ‘Wisdom out of Christ is damning folly—righteousness out of Christ is guilt and condemnation—sanctification out of Christ is filth and sin—redemption out of Christ is bondage and slavery.’ Do you want to attain holiness? Do you feel this day a real hearty desire to be holy? Would you be a partaker of the Divine nature? Then go to Christ. Wait for nothing. Wait for nobody. Linger not. Think not to make yourself ready. Go and say to Him, in the words of that beautiful hymn— Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling; Naked, flee to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace. There is not a brick nor a stone laid in the work of our sanctification till we go to Christ. Holiness is His special gift to His believing people. Holiness is the work He carries on in their hearts, by the Spirit whom He puts within them. He is appointed a ‘Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance’ as well as remission of sins.—‘To as many as receive Him, He gives power to become sons of God’ (Acts 5:31; John 1:12, 13). Holiness comes not of blood—parents cannot give it to their children: nor yet of the will of the flesh—man cannot produce it in himself: nor yet of the will of man—ministers cannot give it you by baptism. Holiness comes from Christ. It is the result of vital union with Him, It is the fruit of being a living branch of the True Vine. Go then to Christ and say, ‘Lord, not only save me from the guilt of sin, but send the Spirit, whom Thou didst promise, and save me from its power. Make me holy. Teach me to do Thy will.’ Would you continue holy? Then abide in Christ. He says Himself, ‘Abide in Me and I in you,—he that abideth in Me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit. (John 15:4, 5). It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell—a full supply for all a believer’s wants. He is the Physician to whom you must daily go, if you would keep well. He is the Manna which you must daily eat, and the Rock of which you must daily drink. His arm is the arm on which you must daily lean, as you come up out of the wilderness of this world. You must not only be rooted, you must also be built up in Him. Paul was a man of God indeed— a holy man—a growing, thriving Christian—and what was the secret of it all? He was one to whom Christ was ‘all in all.’ He was ever ‘looking unto Jesus.’ ‘I can do all things,’ he says, ‘through Christ which strengthened me.’ ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. The life that I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God.’ Let us go and do likewise (Heb. 12:2; Phil. 9:13; Gal. 2:20). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 67—69.
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Fighting the Good Fight (1)

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according tothe prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. —Ephesians 2:1–3 The Christian life is a battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Ryle writes, “with a corrupt heart, a busy devil, and an ensnaring world, he must either ‘fight’ or be lost.” He must fight the flesh. Even after conversion he carries within him a nature prone to evil, and a heart weak and unstable as water. That heart will never be free from imperfection in this world, and it is a miserable delusion to expect it. To keep that heart from going astray, the Lord Jesus bids us ‘watch and pray.’ The spirit may be ready, but the flesh is weak. There is need of a daily struggle and a daily wrestling in prayer. ‘I keep under my body,’ cries St. Paul, ‘and bring it into subjection.’—‘I see a law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity.’—‘O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’—‘They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.’—‘Mortify your members which are upon the earth’ (Mark 14:38; 1 Cor. 9:27; Rom. 7:23, 24; Gal. 5:24; Col. 3:5). He must fight the world. The subtle influence of that mighty enemy must be daily resisted, and without a daily battle can never be overcome. The love of the world’s good things—the fear of the world’s laughter or blame—the secret desire to keep in with the world—the secret wish to do as others in the world do, and not to run into extremes—all these are spiritual foes which beset the Christian continually on his way to heaven, and must be conquered. ‘The friendship of the world is enmity with God: whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.’—‘If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.’—‘The world is crucified to Me, and I unto the world.’—‘Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.’—‘Be not conformed to this world’ (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15; Gal. 6:14; 1 John 5:4; Rom. 12:2). He must fight the devil. That old enemy of mankind is not dead. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve he has been ‘going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it,’ and striving to compass one great end—the ruin of man’s soul. Never slumbering and never sleeping, he is always ‘going about as a lion seeking whom he may devour.’ An unseen enemy, he is always near us, about our path and about our bed, and spying out all our ways. A ‘murderer and a liar’ from the beginning, he labours night and day to cast us down to hell. Sometimes by leading into superstition, sometimes by suggesting infidelity, sometimes by one kind of tactics and sometimes by another, he is always carrying on a campaign against our souls. ‘Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.’ This mighty adversary must be daily resisted if we wish to be saved. But ‘this kind goeth not out’ but by watching and praying, and fighting, and putting on the whole armour of God. The strong man armed will never be kept out of our hearts without a daily battle (Job 1:7; 1 Pet. 5:8; John 8:44; Luke 22:31; Eph. 6:11). Some men may think these statements too strong. You fancy that I am going too far, and laying on the colours too thickly. You are secretly saying to yourself, that men and women in England may surely get to heaven without all this trouble and warfare and fighting. . . . Remember the maxim of the wisest General that ever lived in England—‘In time of war it is the worst mistake to underrate your enemy, and try to make a little war.’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 73—75.
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Fighting the Good Fight (2)

Ryle, on the weapons of our warfare: A general faith in the truth of God’s written Word is the primary foundation of the Christian soldier’s character. He is what he is, does what he does, thinks as he thinks, acts as he acts, hopes as he hopes, behaves as he behaves, for one simple reason—he believes certain propositions revealed and laid down in Holy Scripture. ‘He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him’ (Heb. 11:5). A religion without doctrine or dogma is a thing which many are fond of talking of in the present day. It sounds very fine at first. It looks very pretty at a distance. But the moment we sit down to examine and consider it, we shall find it a simple impossibility. We might as well talk of a body without bones and sinews. No man will ever be anything or do anything in religion, unless he believes something. . . . As for true Christians, faith is the very backbone of their spiritual existence. No one ever fights earnestly against the world, the flesh and the devil, unless he has engraven on his heart certain great principles which he believes. . . . Wherever you see a man, whether rich or poor, learned or unlearned, wrestling manfully with sin, and trying to overcome it, you may be sure there are certain great principles which that man believes. The poet who wrote the famous lines: ‘For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight, He can’t be wrong whose life is in the right,’ was a clever man, but a poor divine. There is no such thing as right living without faith and believing. A special faith in our Lord Jesus Christ’s person, work, and office, is the life, heart, and mainspring of the Christian soldier’s character. He sees by faith an unseen Saviour, who loved him, gave Himself for him, paid his debts for him, bore his sins, carried his transgressions, rose again for him, and appears in heaven for him as his Advocate at the right hand of God. He sees Jesus, and clings to Him. Seeing this Saviour and trusting in Him, he feels peace and hope, and willingly does battle against the foes of his soul. He sees his own many sins—his weak heart, a tempting world, a busy devil; and if he looked only at them he might well despair. But he sees also a mighty Saviour, an interceding Saviour, a sympathizing Saviour—His blood, His righteousness, His everlasting priesthood— and he believes that all this is his own. He sees Jesus, and casts his whole weight on Him. Seeing Him he cheerfully fights on, with a full confidence that he will prove ‘more than conqueror through Him that loved him’ (Rom. 8:37). Habitual lively faith in Christ’s presence and readiness to help is the secret of the Christian soldier fighting successfully. . . . Nothing makes the anxieties of warfare sit so lightly on a man as the assurance of Christ’s love and continual protection. Nothing enables him to bear the fatigue of watching, struggling, and wrestling against sin, like the indwelling confidence that Christ is on his side and success is sure. It is the ‘shield of faith’ which quenches all the fiery darts of the wicked one.—It is the man who can say, ‘I know whom I have believed’—who can say in time of suffering, ‘I am not ashamed.’—He who wrote those glowing words, ‘We faint not,’—‘Our light affliction which endureth but for a moment worketh in us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’—was the man who wrote with the same pen, ‘We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.’—It is the man who said, ‘I live by the faith of the Son of God,’ who said, in the same Epistle, ‘the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.’—It is the man who said, ‘To me to live is Christ,’ who said, in the same Epistle, ‘I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content.’—‘I can do all things through Christ.’—The more faith the more victory! The more faith the more inward peace! (Eph. 6:16; 2 Tim. 1:12; 2 Cor. 4:17, 18; Gal. 2:20; 6:14; Phil. 1:21; 4:11, 13). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 79—81
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They overcame, and so also may we

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. —1 Timothy 4:7–8 Some words of encouragement for our battle: Let us remember that the eye of our loving Saviour is upon us, morning, noon, and night. He will never suffer us to be tempted above that we are able to bear. He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, for He suffered Himself being tempted. He knows what battles and conflicts are, for He Himself was assaulted by the Prince of this world. Having such a High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession (Heb. 4:14). Let us remember that thousands of soldiers before us have fought the same battle that we are fighting, and come off more than conquerors through Him that loved them. They overcame by the blood of the Lamb; and so also may we. Christ’s arm is quite as strong as ever, and Christ’s heart is just as loving as ever. He that saved men and women before us is one who never changes. He is ‘able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by Him.’ Then let us cast doubts and fears away. Let us ‘follow them who through faith and patience inherit the promises,’ and are waiting for us to join them (Heb. 7:25; 6:12). Finally, let us remember that the time is short, and the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. A few more battles and the last trumpet shall sound, and the Prince of Peace shall come to reign on a renewed earth. A few more struggles and conflicts, and then we shall bid an eternal good-bye to warfare, and to sin, to sorrow, and to death. Then let us fight on to the last, and never surrender. Thus saith the Captain of our salvation—‘He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son’ (Rev. 21:7). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 90—91

If this is saving Christianity . . .

I grant freely that it costs little to be a mere outward Christian. A man has only got to attend a place of worship twice on Sunday, and to be tolerably moral during the week, and he has gone as far as thousands around him ever go in religion. All this is cheap and easy work: it entails no self-denial or self-sacrifice. If this is saving Christianity, and will take us to heaven when we die, we must alter the description of the way of life, and write, ‘Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to heaven!’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 94—95 Jesus never said following him would be easy. Instead, he promised us a cross to bear, suffering, and a battle to the death. The path of a disciple is a hard road, and we are warned to count the cost—which will be considered in coming posts.

Counting the Cost (1)

Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.” —Luke 14:27–30 Following Jesus comes with a price. J. C. Ryle names four things we must be willing to leave behind: our self-righteousness, our sins, our love of ease, and the favor of the world. On the first, and—I would say—most difficult and important, he writes, For one thing, it will cost him his self-righteousness. He must cast away all pride and high thoughts, and conceit of his own goodness. He must be content to go to heaven as a poor sinner saved only by free grace, and owing all to the merit and righteousness of another. He must really feel as well as say the Prayer-book words—that he has ‘erred and gone astray like a lost sheep,’ that he has ‘left undone the things he ought to have done, and done the things he ought not to have done, and that there is no health in him.’ He must be willing to give up all trust in his own morality, respectability, praying, Bible-reading, church-going, and sacrament-receiving, and to trust in nothing but Jesus Christ. Now this sounds hard to some. I do not wonder. ‘Sir,’ said a godly ploughman . . . ‘it is harder to deny proud self than sinful self. But it is absolutely necessary.’ Let us set down this item first and foremost in our account. To be a true Christian it will cost a man his self-righteousness.—J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 95–96
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Counting the Cost (2)

Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.” —Luke 14:27–30 Itemizing the costs of following Jesus, J. C. Ryle finishes as follows: In the last place, it will cost a man the favour of the world. He must be content to be thought ill of by man if he pleases God. He must count it no strange thing to be mocked, ridiculed, slandered, persecuted, and even hated. He must not be surprised to find his opinions and practices in religion despised and held up to scorn. He must submit to be thought by many a fool, an enthusiast, and a fanatic—to have his words perverted and his actions misrepresented. In fact, he must not marvel if some call him mad. The Master says—‘Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also’ (John 15:20). I dare say this also sounds hard. We naturally dislike unjust dealing and false charges, and think it very hard to be accused without cause. We should not be flesh and blood if we did not wish to have the good opinion of our neighbours. It is always unpleasant to be spoken against, and forsaken, and lied about, and to stand alone. But there is no help for it. The cup which our Master drank must be drunk by His disciples. They must be ‘despised and rejected of men’ (Isa. 13:3). Let us set down that item last in our account. To be a Christian it will cost a man the favour of the world. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 97—98
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Counting the Cost (3)

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. —Romans 8:18 A final word of encouragement on counting the cost of following Jesus: If any reader of this paper really feels that he has counted the cost, and taken up the cross, I bid him persevere and press on. I dare say you often feel your heart faint, and are sorely tempted to give up in despair. Your enemies seem so many, your besetting sins so strong, your friends so few, the way so steep and narrow, you hardly know what to do. But still I say, persevere and press on. The time is very short. A few more years of watching and praying, a few more tossings on the sea of this world, a few more deaths and changes, a few more winters and summers, and all will be over. We shall have fought our last battle, and shall need to fight no more. The presence and company of Christ will make amends for all we suffer here below. When we see as we have been seen, and look back on the journey of life, we shall wonder at our own faintness of heart. We shall marvel that we made so much of our cross, and thought so little of our crown. We shall marvel that in ‘counting the cost’ we could ever doubt on which side the balance of profit lay. Let us take courage. We are not far from home. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 111.
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Grow in Grace

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. —2 Peter 3:18 Ryle explains what growth in grace is, and what it is not: When I speak of ‘growth in grace,’ I do not for a moment mean that a believer’s interest in Christ can grow. I do not mean that he can grow in safety, acceptance with God, or security. I do not mean that he can ever be more justified, more pardoned, more forgiven, more at peace with God, than he is the first moment that he believes. I hold firmly that the justification of a believer is a finished, perfect, and complete work; and that the weakest saint, though he may not know and feel it, is as completely justified as the strongest. I hold firmly that our election, calling, and standing in Christ admit of no degrees, increase, or diminution. If any one dreams that by ‘growth in grace’ I mean growth in. justification he is utterly wide of the mark, and utterly mistaken about the whole point I am considering. I would go to the stake, God helping me, for the glorious truth, that in the matter of justification before God every believer is ‘complete in Christ’ (Col. 2:10). Nothing can be added to his justification from the moment he believes, and nothing taken away. When I speak of ‘growth in grace’ I only mean increase in the degree, size, strength, vigour, and power of the graces which the Holy Spirit plants in a believer’s heart. I hold that every one of those graces admits of growth, progress, and increase. I hold that repentance, faith, hope, love, humility, zeal, courage, and the like, may be little or great, strong or weak, vigorous or feeble, and may vary greatly in the same man at different periods of his life. When I speak of a man ‘growing in grace,’ I mean simply this—that his sense of sin is becoming deeper, his faith stronger, his hope brighter, his love more extensive, his spiritual-mindedness more marked. He feels more of the power of godliness in his own heart. He manifests more of it in his life. He is going on from strength to strength, from faith to faith, and from grace to grace. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 115–116.
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Marks of Growth

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. —2 Peter 3:18 How can one know if he is is growing in grace? Ryle offers six marks of a growing Christian: (a) One mark of ‘growth in grace’ is increased humility. The man whose soul is ‘growing,’ feels his own sinfulness and unworthiness more every year. He is ready to say with Job, ‘I am vile,’—and with Abraham, I am ‘dust and ashes,’—and with Jacob, ‘I am not worthy of the least of all Thy mercies,—and with David, ‘I am a worm,’—and with Isaiah, ‘I am a man of unclean lips,’—and with Peter, ‘I am a sinful man, O Lord’ (Job 40:4; Gen. 18:27; 32:10; Ps. 22:6; Isa. 6:5; Luke 5:8). . . . The further he journeys in the way to heaven, the more he understands what St. Paul means when he says, ‘I am not already perfect,’—‘I am not meet to be called an Apostle,’—‘I am less than the least of all saints,’—‘I am chief of sinners’ (Phil. 3:12; 1 Cor. 15:9; Eph. 3:8; 1 Tim. 1:15). . . . Would anyone know whether he is growing in grace? Be sure that you look within for increased humility. (b) Another mark of ‘growth in grace’ is increased faith and love towards our Lord Jesus Christ. The man whose soul is ‘growing,’ finds more in Christ to rest upon every year, and rejoices more that he has such a Saviour. . . . In short, he discovers a suitableness in Christ to the wants of his soul, of which the half was once not known to him. Would anyone know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increased knowledge of Christ. (c) Another mark of ‘growth in grace’ is increased holiness of life and conversation. The man whose soul is ‘growing’ gets more dominion over sin, the world, and the devil every year. . . . he thirsts and longs to have a will more entirely in unison with God’s will. . . . Would anyone know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increased holiness. (d) Another mark of ‘growth in grace’ is increased spirituality of taste and mind. The man whose soul is ‘growing’ takes more interest in spiritual things every year. He does not neglect his duty in the world. He discharges faithfully, diligently, and conscientiously every relation of life, whether at home or abroad. But the things he loves best are spiritual things. . . . Spiritual companions, spiritual occupations, spiritual conversation, appear of ever-increasing value to him. Would anyone know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increasing spirituality of taste. (e) Another mark of ‘growth in grace’ is increase of charity. The man whose soul is ‘growing’ is more full of love every year—of love to all men, but especially of love towards the brethren. . . . Would any one know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increasing charity. (f) One more mark of ‘growth in grace’ is increased zeal and diligence in trying to do good to souls. The man who is really ‘growing’ will take greater interest in the salvation of sinners every year. . . . Would any one know whether he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increased concern about the salvation of souls. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 120–123.
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Means of Grace

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. —2 Peter 3:18 Ryle wants us to know that this growth in grace does not happen as we sit passively waiting. If we are to grow spiritually, there can be no “Let go and let God” mentality. God is pleased to use means, which he has ordained and provided, to accomplish his ends. Let me ask the special attention of my readers while I try to set forth in order the means of growth. Cast away for ever the vain thought that if a believer does not grow in grace it is not his fault. Settle it in your mind that a believer, a man quickened by the Spirit, is not a mere dead creature, but a being or mighty capacities and responsibilities. Let the words of Solomon sink down into your heart: ‘The soul of the diligent shall be made fat’ (Prov. 13:4). (a) One thing essential to growth in grace is diligence in the use of private means of grace. . . . I include under this head private prayer, private reading of the Scriptures, and private meditation and self-examination. The man who does not take pains about these three things must never expect to grow. . . . Here is the whole reason why many professing Christians never seem to get on. They are careless and slovenly about their private prayers. They read their Bibles but little, and with very little heartiness of spirit. They give themselves no time for self-inquiry and quiet thought about the state of their souls. . . . Private religion must receive our first attention, if we wish our souls to grow. (b) Another thing which is essential to growth in grace is .carefulness in the use of public means of grace. By these I understand such means as a man has within his reach as a member of Christ’s visible Church. Under this head I include the ordinances of regular Sunday worship, the uniting with God’s people in common prayer and praise, the preaching of the Word, and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. I firmly believe that the manner in which these public means of grace are used has much to say to the prosperity of a believer’s soul. It is easy to use them in a cold and heartless way. . . . Let us strive to use the old prayers, and sing the old hymns, and kneel at the old communion-rail, and hear the old truths preached, with as much freshness and appetite as in the year we first believed. It is a sign of bad health when a person loses relish for his food; and it is a sign of spiritual decline when we lose our appetite for means of grace. . . . (c) Another thing essential to growth in grace is watchfulness over our conduct in the little matters of everyday life. Our tempers, our tongues, the discharge of our several relations of life, our employ ment of time—each and all must be vigilantly attended to if we wish our souls to prosper. Life is made up of days, and days of hours, and the little things of every hour are never so little as to be beneath the care of a Christian. When a tree begins to decay at root or heart, the mischief is first seen at the extreme end of the little branches. ‘He that despiseth little things,’ says an uninspired writer, ‘shall fall by little and little.’ . . . (d) Another thing which is essential to growth in grace is caution about the company we keep and the friendships we form. Nothing perhaps affects a man’s character more than the company he keeps. . . . It is hard enough to serve Christ under any circumstances in such a world as this. ‘Evil communications corrupt good manners.’ ‘The friendship of the world is enmity with God’ (1 Cor. 15:33; James 4:4). Let us seek friends that will stir us up about our prayers, our Bible-reading, and our employment of time—about our souls, our salvation, and a world to come. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 124–127.
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Christ Our Only Pattern

Comparisons can be dangerous. As measurements of our spiritual conditions, they are most likely to lead to wrong conclusions, because we are most apt to compare ourselves to the wrong standard. Let us never measure our religion by that of others, and think we are doing enough if we have gone beyond our neighbours. This is another snare of the devil. Let us mind our own business. ‘What is that to thee?’ said our Master on a certain occasion: ‘Follow thou Me’ (John 21:22). Let us follow on, aiming at nothing short of perfection. Let us follow on, making Christ’s life and character our only pattern and example. Let us follow on, remembering daily that at our best we are miserable sinners. Let us follow on, and never forget that it signifies nothing whether we are better than others or not. At our very best we are far worse than we ought to be. There will always be room for improvement in us. We shall be debtors to Christ’s mercy and grace to the very last. Then let us leave off looking at others and comparing ourselves with others. We shall find enough to do if we look at our own hearts. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 132.
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Why No Assurance?

It is the will of God that all believers know the security of their salvation (1 John 5:13). All, however, will struggle with doubts from time to time. Some doubts are the result of the human frailty of our faith. Others may stem from an inconsistent life. There is a connection between holiness and assurance. I bless God that our salvation in no wise depends on our own works. By grace we are saved—not by works of righteousness—through faith—without the deeds of the law. But I never would have any believer for a moment forget that our sense of salvation depends much on the manner of our living. Inconsistency will dim our eyes, and bring clouds between us and the sun. The sun is the same behind the clouds, but you will not be able to see its brightness or enjoy its warmth, and your soul will be gloomy and cold. It is in the path of well doing that the day-spring of assurance will visit you, and shine down upon your heart. . . . Paul was a man who exercised himself to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man (Acts 24:16). He could say with boldness, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith.’ I do not therefore wonder that the Lord enabled him to add with confidence, ‘Henceforth there is a crown laid up for me, and the Lord shall give it me at that day.’ If any believer in the Lord Jesus desires assurance, and has not got it, let him think over this point also. Let him look at his own heart, look at his own conscience, look at his own life, look at his own ways, look at his own home. And perhaps when he has done that, he will be able to say, ‘There is a cause why I have no assured hope.’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 162–163.
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Whoso liveth by faith

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them. —Hebrews 11:24–28 The great key to godliness is not intelligence, effort, or anything else by which worldly success is attained. The key to godliness is nothing but faith—taking God at his word, and trusting that he can and always will keep his promises. Moses had faith. Faith was the mainspring of his wonderful conduct. Faith made him do as he did, choose what he chose, and refuse what he refused. He did it all because he believed. God set before the eyes of his mind His own will and purpose. God revealed to him that a Saviour was to be born of the stock of Israel, that mighty promises were bound up in these children of Abraham, and yet to be fulfilled, that the time for fulfilling a portion of these promises was at hand; and Moses put credit in this, and believed. And every step in his wonderful career, every action in his journey through life after leaving Pharaoh’s court—his choice of seeming evil, his refusal of seeming good—all, all must be traced up to this fountain; all will be found to rest on this foundation. God had spoken to him, and he had faith in God’s word. He believed that God would keep His promises—that what He had said He would surely do, and what He had covenanted He would surely perform. He believed that with God nothing was impossible. Reason and sense might say that the deliverance of Israel was out of the question: the obstacles were too many, the difficulties too great. But faith told Moses that God was all-sufficient. God had undertaken the work, and it would be done. He believed that God was all wise. Reason and sense might tell him that his line of action was absurd; that he was throwing away useful influence, and destroying all chance of benefiting his people, by breaking with Pharaoh’s daughter. But faith told Moses that if God said ‘Go this way,’ it must be the best. . . . Faith told Moses that all this rank and greatness was of the earth, earthy, a poor, vain, empty thing, frail, fleeting, and passing away; and that there was no true greatness like that of serving God. He was the king, he the true nobleman who belonged to the family of God. It was better to be last in heaven than first in hell. Faith told Moses that worldly pleasures were ‘pleasures of sin.’ They were mingled with sin, they led on to sin, they were ruinous to the soul, and displeasing to God. It would be small comfort to have pleasure while God was against him. Better suffer and obey God, than be at ease and sin. . . . Faith told him that there was a reward in heaven for the believer far richer than the treasures in Egypt, durable riches, where rust could not corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal. The crown there would be incorruptible; the weight of glory would be exceeding and eternal;—and faith bade him look away to an unseen heaven if his eyes were dazzled with Egyptian gold. Faith told Moses that affliction and suffering were not real evils.—They were the school of God, in which He trains the children of grace for glory—the medicines which are needful to purify our corrupt wills—the furnace which must burn away our dross—the knife which must cut the ties that bind us to the world. Faith told Moses that the despised Israelites were the chosen people of God. He believed that to them belonged the adoption, and the covenant, and the promises, and the glory; that of them the seed of the woman was one day to be born, who should bruise the serpent’s head; that the special blessing of God was upon them; that they were lovely and beautiful in His eyes—and that it was better to be a doorkeeper among the people of God than to reign in the palaces of wickedness. Faith told Moses that all the reproach and scorn poured out on him was ‘the reproach of Christ’;—that it was honourable to be mocked and despised for Christ’s sake—that whoso persecuted Christ’s people was persecuting Christ Himself—and that the day must come when His enemies would bow before Him and lick the dust. All this, and much more, of which I cannot speak particularly, Moses saw by faith. These were the things he believed, and believing, did what he did. He was persuaded of them, and embraced them—he reckoned them as certainties—he regarded them as substantial verities—he counted them as sure as if he had seen them with his own eyes—he acted on them as realities—and this made him the man that he was. He had faith. He believed. . . . And was he not right? Does he not speak to us, though dead, this very day? The name of Pharaoh’s daughter has perished, or at any rate is extremely doubtful.—The city where Pharaoh reigned is not known.—The treasures in Egypt are gone.—But the name of Moses is known wherever the Bible is read, and is still a standing witness that ‘whoso liveth by faith, happy is he.’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 189–192.
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The offence of the cross is not ceased

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. —John 15:18–19 Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. —1 John 3:13 If the Apostle John had been a twentieth-century country music singer, he might have sung, “I beg your pardon / I never promised you a rose garden.” The disciple of Christ is called to abandon the world’s goods and the world’s esteem to follow him. I do not say that the statesman must throw up his office, and the rich man forsake his property. Let no one fancy that I mean this. But I say, if a man would be saved, whatever be his rank in life, he must be prepared for tribulation. He must make up his mind to choose much which seems evil, and to give up and refuse much which seems good. I dare say this sounds strange language to some who read these pages. I know well you may have a certain form of religion, and find no trouble in your way. There is a common, worldly kind of Christianity in this day, which many have, and think they have enough—a cheap Christianity which offends nobody, and is worth nothing. I am not speaking of religion of this kind. But if you really are in earnest about your soul—if your religion is something more than a mere fashionable Sunday cloak—if you are determined to live by the Bible—if you are resolved to be a New Testament Christian, then, I repeat, you will soon find you must carry a cross.—You must endure hard things, you must suffer on behalf of your soul, as Moses did, or you cannot be saved. The world in the nineteenth century is what it always was. The hearts of men are still the same. The offence of the cross is not ceased. God’s true people are still a despised little flock. True Evangelical religion still brings with it reproach and scorn. A real servant of God will still be thought by many a weak enthusiast and a fool. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 189–192.
But he hesitated. —Genesis 19:16 Scripture offers us examples. Some, like Moses, are good examples; others are not. Lot is a bad example. First, he chose as his home the wicked city of Sodom. Then, when God sent angels to warn him of the city’s impending destruction, he did not leave willingly. Even on the morning of doom, as the angels were urging him along, “he hesitated (lingered, KJV),” and had to be dragged out. J. C. Ryle looks at Lot, and what sort of example he should be for us. First, he describes what Lot was—a righteous man. Lot was a true believer—a converted person—a real child of God—a justified soul—a righteous man. Has any one of my readers grace in his heart?—So also had Lot. Has any one of my readers a hope of salvation?—So also had Lot. Is any one of my readers a traveller in the narrow way which leads unto life?—So also was Lot. Let no one think this is only my private opinion . . . The Holy Ghost has placed the matter beyond controversy, by calling him ‘just’ and ‘righteous’ (2 Pet. 2:7, 8), and has given us good evidence of the grace that was in him. One evidence is, that he lived in a wicked place, ‘seeing and hearing’ evil all around him (2 Pet. 2:8), and yet was not wicked himself. Now to be . . . a ‘righteous man’ in Sodom, a man must have the grace of God. Without grace it would be impossible. . . . Another evidence is that he ‘vexed his soul from day to day’ with the unlawful deeds he saw (2 Pet. 2:8). . . . Many a man is shocked and startled at the first sight of wickedness, and yet becomes at last so accustomed to see it, that he views it with comparative unconcern. . . . But it was not so with Lot. And this, again, is a great mark of the reality of his grace. Such an one was Lot—a just and righteous man, a man sealed and stamped as an heir of heaven by the Holy Ghost Himself. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 202–203. Not only was Lot was a true believer, a righteous man, but he knew the gravity of his situation. Lot knew the awful condition of the city in which he stood. ‘The cry’ of its abominations ‘had waxen great before the Lord’ (Gen. 19:13). And yet ‘he lingered.’ Lot knew the fearful judgment coming down on all within its walls. The angels had said plainly, ‘The Lord hath sent us to destroy it’ (Gen. 19:13). And yet ‘he lingered.’ Lot knew that God was a God who always kept His word, and if He said a thing would surely do it. He could hardly be Abraham’s nephew, and live long with him, and not be aware of this. Yet ‘he lingered.’ Lot believed there was danger—for he went to his sons-in-law, and warned them to flee . .  (Gen. 19:14). And yet ‘he lingered.’ Lot saw the angels of God standing by, waiting for him and his family to go forth. He heard the voice of those ministers of wrath ringing in his ears to hasten him . .  (Gen. 19:15). And yet ‘he lingered.’ —Ibid., 204. Lot is by no means unique. He represents a large portion of the church today. I ask every reader of this paper to mark well what I say. I repeat it that there may be no mistake about my meaning. . . . I say that there are many Christian men and Christian women in this day very like Lot. . . . These are they who get the notion into their minds that it is impossible for all believers to be so very holy and very spiritual! . . . These are they who get into their heads false ideas of charity, as they call it. . . . They would fain please everybody, and suit everybody, and be agreeable to everybody. . . . But they forget they ought first to be sure that they please God. These are they who dread sacrifices, and shrink from self-denial. They never appear able to apply our Lord’s command, to ‘take up the cross,’ and ‘cut off the right hand and pluck out the right eye’ (Matt. 5:29, 30). . . . They spend their lives in trying to make the gate more wide, and the cross more light. —Ibid., 205—206. There is a warning here for all of us: We have no reason to believe we are better than Lot. We could easily be just like him. In fact, it is our nature to be so.
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The Legacy of Lot

Not every example given to us in Scripture is a positive example. Abraham’s nephew Lot is an example that is most definitely a negative one. As Ryle has demonstrated, his compromise with the world was deadly. He stands as a warning to all who would, for whatever reason, dally with the world. He brought his own life to ruin and, tragically, brought no benefit to his family or anyone who knew him. His testimony to the world was a disaster. Let us inquire now what kind of fruit Lot’s lingering spirit bore at last. . . . I think it of first importance to dwell upon this subject. I always will contend that eminent holiness and eminent usefulness are most closely connected—that happiness and ‘following the Lord fully’ go side by side—and that if believers will linger, they must not expect to be useful in their day and generation, or to be very saintly and Christlike, or to enjoy great comfort and peace in believing, (a) Let us mark, then, for one thing, that Lot did no good among the inhabitants of Sodom. Lot probably lived in Sodom many years. No doubt he had many precious opportunities for speaking of the things of God, and trying to turn away souls from sin. But Lot seems to have effected just nothing at all. He appears to have had no weight or influence with the people who lived around him. He possessed none of that respect and reverence which even the men of the world will frequently concede to a bright servant of God. Not one righteous person could be found in all Sodom, outside the walls of Lot’s home. Not one of his neighbours believed his testimony. Not one of his acquaintances honoured the Lord whom he worshipped. Not one of his servants served his master’s God. Not one of ‘all the people from every quarter’ cared a jot for his opinion when he tried to restrain their wickedness. ‘This one fellow came in to sojourn,’ said they, ‘and he will needs be a judge’ (Gen. 19:9). His life carried no weight; his words were not listened to; his religion drew none to follow him. And, truly, I do not wonder! As a general rule, lingering souls do no good to the world and bring no credit to God’s cause. Their salt has too little savour to season the corruption around them. They are not ‘Epistles of Christ’ who can be ‘known and read of all’ (2 Cor. 3:2). There is nothing magnetic, and attractive, and Christ-reflecting about their ways. Let us remember this. (b) Let us mark, for another thing, that Lot helped none of his family, relatives, or connections towards heaven. We are not told how large his family was. But this we know—he had a wife and two daughters at least, in the day he was called out of Sodom, if he had not more children besides. But whether Lot’s family was large or small, one thing, I think, is perfectly clear—there was not one among them all that feared God! When he ‘went out and spake to his sons-in-law, which married his daughters,’ and warned them to flee from the judgments coming on Sodom, we are told, ‘he seemed to them as one that mocked’ (Gen. 19:14). . . . And what was Lot’s wife? She left the city in his company, but she did not go far. She had not faith to see the need of such a speedy flight. She left her heart in Sodom when she began to flee. She looked back from behind her husband, in spite of the plainest command not to do so (Gen. 19:17), and was at once turned into a pillar of salt. And what were Lot’s two daughters? They escaped, indeed, but only to do the devil’s work. They became their father’s tempters to wickedness, and led him to commit the foulest of sins. In short, Lot seems to have stood alone in his family! He was not made the means of keeping one soul back from the gates of hell! And I do not wonder. Lingering souls are seen through by their own families; and, when seen through, they are despised. Their nearest relatives understand inconsistency, if they understand nothing else in religion. They draw the sad, but not unnatural, conclusion, ‘Surely, if he believed all he professes to believe, he would not go on as he does.’ . . . (c) Let us mark, for a third thing, that Lot left no evidences beind him when he died. We know but little about Lot after his flight from Sodom, and all that we do know is unsatisfactory. . . . The Scripture appears to draw a veil around him on purpose. There is a painful silence about his latter end. He seems to go out like an expiring lamp, and to leave an ill-savour behind him. And had we not been specially told in the New Testament that Lot was ‘just’ and ‘righteous,’ I verily believe we should have doubted whether Lot was a saved soul at all. But I do not wonder at his sad end. Lingering believers will generally reap according as they have sown. Their lingering often meets them when their spirit is departing. They have little peace at the last. They reach heaven, to be sure; but they reach it in poor plight, weary and footsore, in weakness and tears, in darkness and storm. They are saved, but ‘saved so as by fire’ (1 Cor. 3:15). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 212–215.
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Remember Lot’s Wife

Many of us were raised in godly homes and good churches, or if not, have since found homes in living, Bible-teaching congregations. I hope you have. Those are good things. They are privileges, gifts from God for which we should give thanks. But those privileges do not save. We can live our entire lives in the best of Christian environments, and still be lost. For this reason, we are reminded to “remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). It is a solemn warning, when we think of the persons to whom it was first given. The Lord Jesus was speaking to His disciples: He was not addressing the scribes and Pharisees, who hated Him, but Peter, James, and John, and many others who loved Him; yet even to them He thinks it good to address a caution. . . . It is a solemn warning, when we consider the manner in which it was given. . . . He speaks as if we were all in danger of forgetting the subject; He stirs up our lazy memories; He bids us keep the case before our minds. He cries, ‘Remember Lot’s wife.’ . . . When Abraham first received the promises, it is probable Lot’s wife was there. When he built his altar by his tent between Hai and Bethel, it is probable she was there. When her husband was taken captive by Chedorlaomer, and delivered by God’s interference, she was there. When Melchizedek, king of Salem, came forth to meet Abraham with bread and wine, she was there. When the angels came to Sodom and warned her husband to flee, she saw them; when they took them by the hand and led them out of the city, she was one of those whom they helped to escape. . . . these were no small privileges. Yet what good effect had all these privileges on the heart of Lot’s wife? None at all. Notwithstanding all her opportunities and means of grace—notwithstanding all her special warnings and messages from heaven, she lived and died graceless, godless, impenitent, and unbelieving. The eyes of her understanding were never opened; her conscience was never really aroused and quickened; her will was never really brought into a state of obedience to God; her affections were never really set upon things above. The form of religion which she had was kept up for fashion’s sake and not from feeling: it was a cloak worn for the sake of pleasing her company, but not from any sense of its value. She did as others did around her in Lot’s house: she conformed to her husband’s ways: she made no opposition to his religion: she allowed herself to be passively towed along in his wake: but all this time her heart was wrong in the sight of God. The world was in her heart, and her heart was in the world. In this state she lived, and in this state she died. . . . Learn, then, that the mere possession of religious privileges will save no one’s soul. You may have spiritual advantages of every description; you may live in the full sunshine of the richest opportunities and means of grace; you may enjoy the best of preaching and the choicest instruction; you may dwell in the midst of light, knowledge, holiness, and good company. All this may be, and yet you yourself may remain unconverted, and at last be lost for ever. . . . It is all a mistake. It is an entire delusion. It requires something more than privileges to save souls. Joab was David’s captain; Gehazi was Elisha’s servant; Demas was Paul’s companion; Judas Iscariot was Christ’s disciple; and Lot had a worldly, unbelieving wife. These all died in their sins. They went down to the pit in spite of knowledge, warnings, and opportunities; and they all teach us that it is not privileges alone that men need. They need the grace of the Holy Ghost. Let us value religious privileges, but let us not rest entirely upon them. Let us desire to have the benefit of them in all our movements in life, but let us not put them in the place of Christ. Let us use them thankfully, if God grants them to us, but let us take care that they produce some fruit in our heart and life. If they do not do good, they often do positive harm: they sear the conscience, they increase responsibility, they aggravate condemnation. The same fire which melts the wax hardens the clay; the same sun which makes the living tree grow, dries up the dead tree, and prepares it for burning. Nothing so hardens the heart of man as a barren familiarity with sacred things. Once more I say, it is not privileges alone which make people Christians, but the grace of the Holy Ghost. Without that no man will ever be saved. I ask the members of Evangelical congregations, in the present day, to mark well what I am saying. You go to Mr. A’s, or Mr. B’s church: you think him an excellent preacher; you delight in his sermons; you cannot hear anyone else with the same comfort; you have learned many things since you attended his ministry; you consider it a great privilege to be one of his hearers! All this is very good. It is a privilege. . . . I ask the children of religious parents to mark well what I am saying. It is the highest privilege to be the child of a godly father and mother, and to be brought up in the midst of many prayers. It is a blessed thing indeed to be taught the Gospel from our earliest infancy, and to hear of sin, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and holiness, and heaven, from the first moment we can remember anything. . . .I pray God that all professing Christians, in these days, may lay these things to heart. May we never forget that privileges alone cannot save us. Light and knowledge, and faithful preaching, and abundant means of grace, and the company of holy people are all great blessings and advantages. Happy are they that have them! But, after all, there is one thing without which privileges are useless: that one thing is the grace of the Holy Ghost. Lot’s wife had many privileges: but Lot’s wife had no grace. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 219–224.
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A Little Thing

Remember Lot’s wife. —Luke 17:32 It doesn’t seem fair. All Lot’s wife did was take one little look behind her. What’s the big deal? That look was a little thing, but it told of proud unbelief in Lot’s wife. She seemed to doubt whether God was really going to destroy Sodom: she appeared not to believe there was any danger, or any need for such hasty flight. But without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). The moment a man begins to think he knows better than God, and that God does not mean anything when He threatens, his soul is in great danger. When we cannot see the reason of God’s dealings, our duty is to hold our peace and believe. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 225.
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Make No Compromise

The call to follow Christ is in no way a call to withdraw from the world. It is never a call to monasticism. It is a call, while we live in the world, to seek and set our minds set on the kingdom of God (Colossians 3:1–2, etc.), wherein our true citizenship lies. I want no reader of this paper to become a hermit, a monk, or a nun: I wish every one to do his real duty in that state of life to which he is called. But I do urge on every professing Christian who wishes to be happy, the immense importance of making no compromise between God and the world. Do not try to drive a hard bargain, as if you wanted to give Christ as little of your heart as possible, and to keep as much as possible of the things of this life. Beware lest you overreach yourself, and end by losing all. Love Christ with all your heart, and mind, and soul, and strength. Seek first the kingdom of God, and believe that then all other things shall be added to you. Take heed that you do not prove a copy of the character John Bunyan draws—Mr. Facing-both-ways. For your happiness’ sake, for your usefulness’ sake, for your safety’s sake, for your soul’s sake, beware of the sin of Lot’s wife. Oh, it is a solemn saying of our Lord Jesus, ‘No man having put his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God’ (Luke 9:62). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 231.
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Preach Hell, for Heaven’s Sake

It seems comforting to deny the reality of hell. Eliminating the threat of God’s eternal judgment takes a great load off the mind. But biblical doctrines go hand-in-hand. Removing the threat of hell also removes the hope of heaven. The comforting ideas which the Scripture gives us of heaven are at an end, if we once deny the reality or eternity of hell. Is there no future separate abode for those who die wicked and ungodly? Are all men, after death, to be mingled together in one confused multitude? Why then, heaven will be no heaven at all! It is utterly impossible for two to dwell happily together except they be agreed.—Is there to be a time when the term of hell and punishment will be over? Are the wicked after ages of misery to be admitted into heaven? Why then, the need of the sanctification of the Spirit is cast aside and despised! I read that men can be sanctified and made meet for heaven on earth: I read nothing of any sanctification in hell. Away with such baseless and unscriptural theories! The eternity of hell is as clearly affirmed in the Bible as the eternity of heaven. Once allow that hell is not eternal, and you may as well say that God and heaven are not eternal. The same Greek word which is used in the expression, ‘everlasting punishment,’ is the word that Is used by the Lord Jesus in the expression, ‘life eternal,’ and by St. Paul in the expression, ‘everlasting God’ (Matt. 25:46; Rom. 16:26). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 235–236. Furthermore, denying hell is not the loving act it may seem to be. Where is the charity of keeping back any portion of God’s truth? He is the kindest friend who tells me the whole extent of my danger. Where is the use of hiding the future from the impenitent and the ungodly? Surely it is like helping the devil, if we do not tell them plainly that ‘the soul that sinneth shall surely die.’ Who knows but the wretched carelessness of many baptized persons arises from this, that they have never been told plainly of hell? Who can tell but thousands might be converted, if ministers would urge them more faithfully to flee from the wrath to come? Verily, I fear we are many of us guilty in this matter: there is a morbid tenderness amongst us which is not the tenderness of Christ. We have spoken of mercy, but not of judgment; we have preached many sermons about heaven, but few about hell: we have been carried away by the wretched fear of being thought ‘low, vulgar and fanatical.’ We have forgotten that He who judgeth us is the Lord, and that the man who teaches the same doctrine that Christ taught cannot be wrong. —Ibid., 236–237. Finally, we must believe and profess the doctrines of Scripture, even the unpleasant ones, for own spiritual health. If you would ever be a healthy Scriptural Christian, I entreat you to give hell a place in your theology. Establish it in your mind as a fixed principle, that God is a God of judgment, as well as of mercy; and that the same everlasting counsels which laid the foundation of the bliss of heaven, have also laid the foundation of the misery of hell. Keep in full view of your mind that all who die unpardoned and unrenewed, are utterly unfit for the presence of God and must be lost for ever. They are not capable of enjoying heaven: they could not be happy there. They must go to their own place: and that place is hell.—Oh, it is a great thing in these days of unbelief to believe the whole Bible! —Ibid., 237.

Mighty to Save

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:39–43 To any Christian, this should be among the most precious passages of Scripture. The hope it contains is infinitely wonderful. Jesus, at the lowest, most helpless point of his life, was still mighty—and ready and willing—to save. This is the main doctrine to be gathered from the history of the penitent thief. It teaches us that which ought to be music in the ears of all who hear it—it teaches us that Jesus Christ is ‘mighty to save’ (Isa. 63:1). I ask anyone to say whether a case could look more hopeless and desperate than that of this penitent thief once did? He was a wicked man—a malefactor—a thief, if not a murderer. We know this, for such only were crucified. He was suffering a just punishment for breaking the laws. . . . And he was a dying man. He hung there, nailed to a cross, from which he was never to come down alive. He had no longer power to stir hand or foot. His hours were numbered: the grave was ready for him. There was but a step between him and death. If ever there was a soul hovering on the brink of hell, it was the soul of this thief. If ever there was a case that seemed lost, gone, and past recovery, it was his. If ever there was a child of Adam whom the devil made sure of as his own, it was this man. But see now what happened. . . . He turned to our blessed Lord in prayer. He prayed Jesus to ‘remember him when he came into His kingdom.’ He asked that his soul might be cared for, his sins pardoned, and himself thought of in another world. Truly this was a wonderful change! And then mark what kind of answer he received. Some would have said he was too wicked a man to be saved; but it was not so. Some would have fancied it was too late: the door was shut, and there was no room for mercy; but it proved not too late at all. The Lord Jesus returned him an immediate answer—spoke kindly to him—assured him he should be with Him that day in paradise—pardoned him completely—cleansed him thoroughly from his sins—received him graciously—justified him freely—raised him from the gates of hell, gave him a title to glory. Of all the multitude of saved souls, none ever received so glorious an assurance of his own salvation as did this penitent thief. Go over the whole list, from Genesis to Revelation, and you will find none who had such words spoken to him as these—‘To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.’ I believe the Lord Jesus never gave so complete a proof of His power and will to save, as He did upon this occasion. In the day when He seemed most weak, He showed that He was a strong deliverer. In the hour when His body was racked with pain, He showed that He could feel tenderly for others. At the time when He Himself was dying, He conferred on a sinner eternal life. Now, have I not a right to say, Christ is ‘able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him’? (Heb. 7:25). Behold the proof of it. If ever sinner was too far gone to be saved, it was this thief. Yet he was plucked as a brand from the fire. Have I not a right to say, Christ will receive any poor sinner who comes to Him with the prayer of faith, and cast out none? Behold the proof of it. If ever there was one that seemed too bad to be received, this was the man. Yet the door of mercy was wide open even for him. Have I not a right to say, By grace ye may be saved through faith, not of works: fear not, only believe? Behold the proof of it. This thief was never baptized; he belonged to no visible Church; he never received the Lord’s Supper; he never did any work for Christ; he never gave money to Christ’s cause! But he had faith, and so he was saved. . . . Why then should any man or woman despair with such a passage as this in the Bible? Jesus is a Physician who can cure hopeless cases. He can quicken dead souls, and call the things which be not as though they were. Never should any man or woman despair! Jesus is still the same now that He was eighteen hundred years ago. The keys of death and hell are in His hand. When He opens none can shut. What though your sins be more in number than the hairs of your head? What though your evil habits have grown with your growth, and strengthened with your strength? What though you have hitherto hated good, and loved evil, all the days of your life? These things are sad indeed; but there is hope, even for you. Christ can heal you: Christ can raise you from your low estate. Heaven is not shut against you. Christ is able to admit you, if you will humbly commit your soul into His hands. Are your sins forgiven? If not, I set before you this day a full and free salvation. I invite you to follow the steps of the penitent thief: come to Christ and live. I tell you that Jesus is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. I tell you He can do everything that your soul requires. Though your sins be as scarlet, He can make them white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Why should you not be saved as well as another? Come unto Christ and live. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 244ndash;246.
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The Faith of a Thief

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:39–43 If not for the declaration of Christ, “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise,” we might rightly wonder if the thief on the cross had truly been born again. But by examining his words, we can see the elements of the true saving faith that all genuine believers possess. See then, for one thing, how strong was the faith of this man. He called Jesus ‘Lord.’ He declared his belief that He would have a ‘kingdom.’ He believed that He was able to give him eternal life and glory, and in this belief prayed to Him. . . . See, for another thing, what a right sense of sin the thief had. He says to his companion, ‘We receive the due reward of our deeds.’ He acknowledges his own ungodliness, and the justice of his punishment. He makes no attempt to justify himself, or excuse his wickedness. He speaks like a man humbled and self-abased by the remembrance of past iniquities. This is what all God’s children feel. They are ready to allow they are poor, hell-deserving sinners. They can say with their hearts as well as with their lips, ‘We have left undone the things that we ought to have done, and we have done those things that we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us.’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 251ndash;253. So, even without the spoken promise of eternal life, we can see three proofs of saving faith: knowledge of who Jesus is, trust in his ability to save, and repentance.
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The Fire that Burns the Dross

A lesson from J. C. Ryle for those deceived by preachers of the prosperity gospel: It is good to understand that Christ’s service never did secure a man from all the ills that flesh is heir to, and never will. If you are a believer, you must reackon on having your share of sickness and pain, of sorrow and tears, of losses and crosses, of deaths and bereavements, of partings and separations, of vexations and disappointments, so long as you are in the body. Christ never undertakes that you shall get to heaven without these. He has undertaken that all who come to Him shall have all things pertaining to life and godliness; but He has never undertaken that He will make them prosperous, or rich, or healthy, and that death and sorrow shall never come to their family. I have the privilege of being one of Christ’s ambassadors. In His name I can offer eternal life to any man, woman, or child who is willing to have it. In His name I do offer pardon, peace, grace, glory, to any son or daughter of Adam . . . But I dare not offer that person worldly prosperity as a part and parcel of the Gospel. I dare not offer him long life, an increased income, and freedom from pain. I dare not promise the man who takes up the cross and follows Christ, that in the following he shall never meet with a storm. I know well that many do not like these terms. They would prefer having Christ and good health—Christ and plenty of money—Christ and no deaths in their family—Christ and no wearing cares—Christ and a perpetual morning without clouds. But they do not like Christ and the cross—Christ and tribulation—Christ and the conflict—Christ and the howling wind—Christ and the storm. . . . How should you know who are true Christians, if following Christ was the way to be free from trouble? How should we discern the wheat from the chaff, if it were not for the winnowing of trial? How should we know whether men served Christ for His own sake or from selfish motives, if His service brought health and wealth with it as a matter of course? The winds of winter soon show us which of the trees are evergreen and which are not. The storms of affliction and care are useful in the same way. They discover whose faith is real, and whose is nothing but profession and form. How would the great work of sanctification go on in a man if he had no trial? Trouble is often the only fire which will burn away the dross that clings to our hearts. Trouble is the pruning-knife which the great Husbandman employs in order to make us fruitful in good works. The harvest of the Lord’s field is seldom ripened by sunshine only. It must go through its days of wind, and rain, and storm. If you desire to serve Christ and be saved, I entreat you to take the Lord on His own terms. Make up your mind to meet with your share of crosses and sorrows, and then you will not be surprised. For want of understanding this, many seem to run well for a season, and then turn back in disgust, and are cast away. If you profess to be a child of God, leave to the Lord Jesus to sanctify you in His own way. Rest satisfied that He never makes any mistakes. Be sure that He does all things well. The winds may howl around you, and the waters swell. But fear not, ‘He is leading you by the right way, that He may bring you to a city of habitation’ (Psalm 107:7). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 263–265.
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Be Quick to See Grace

Ryle looks at the fear of the Disciples in the storm on the Sea of Galilee and compares them to others, like Abraham and David, who are named as righteous men, but on occasion acted faithlessly. He exhorts us to look at ourselves, see that same weakness in ourselves, and know that we will never be perfected this side of eternity. But that knowledge should not make us complacent or careless. Do I want to apologize for the corruptions of professing Christians, and excuse their sins? God forbid!—Do I want to lower the standard of sanctification, and countenance anyone in being a lazy, idle soldier of Christ? God forbid!—Do I want to wipe out the broad line of distinction between the converted and the unconverted, and to wink at inconsistencies? Once more I say, God forbid!—I hold strongly that there is a mighty difference between the true Christian and the false, between the believer and the unbeliever, between the children of God and the children of the world. I hold strongly that this difference is not merely one of faith, but of life—not only one of profession, but of practice. I hold strongly that the ways of the believer should be as distinct from those of the unbeliever, as bitter from sweet, light from darkness, heat from cold. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 273. Ryle’s purpose is two-fold: that believers should not become discouraged, and that we might be patient and extend grace to others. I do want young Christians to understand what they must expect to find in themselves. I want to prevent their being stumbled and puzzled by the discovery of their own weakness and infirmity. I want them to see that they may have true faith and grace, in spite of all the devil’s whispers to the contrary, though they feel within doubts and fears. I want them to observe that Peter, and James, and John, and their brethren were true disciples, and yet not so spiritual but that they could be afraid. I do not tell them to make the unbelief of the disciples an excuse for themselves. But I do tell them that it shows plainly, that so long as they are in the body they must not expect faith to be above the reach of fear. Above all, I want all Christians to understand what they must expect in other believers. You must not hastily conclude that a man has no grace merely because you see in him some corruption. There are spots on the face of the sun; and yet the sun shines brightly and enlightens the whole world. There is quartz and dross mixed up with many a lump of gold that comes from Australia; and yet who thinks the gold on that account worth nothing at all? There are flaws in some of the finest diamonds in the world; and yet they do not prevent their being rated at a priceless value. Away with this morbid squeamishness which makes many ready to excommunicate a man if he only has a few faults! Let us be more quick to see grace and more slow to see imperfections! Let us know that, if we cannot allow there is grace where there is corruption, we shall find no grace in the world. We are yet in the body. The devil is not dead. We are not yet like the angels. Heaven has not yet begun. The leprosy is not out of the walls of the house, however much we may scrape them, and never will be till the house is taken down. Our bodies are indeed the temple of the Holy Ghost, but not a perfect temple until they are raised or changed. Grace is indeed a treasure, but a treasure in earthen vessels. It is possible for a man to forsake all for Christ’s sake, and yet to be overtaken occasionally with doubts and fears. I beseech every reader of this paper to remember this. It is a lesson worth attention. The Apostles believed in Christ, loved Christ, and gave up all to follow Christ. And yet you see in this storm the Apostles were afraid. Learn to be charitable in your judgment of them. Learn to be moderate in your expectations from your own heart. Contend to the death for the truth that no man is a true Christian who is not converted, and is not a holy man. But allow that a man may be converted, have a new heart, and be a holy man, and yet be liable to infirmity, doubts and fears. —Ibid., 273–274.
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Christ the Builder

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Matthew 16:15–18 Jesus calls the church “my church,” and rightly so, since it is comprised of “all that the Father gives [him]” (John 6:37), whom he has redeemed and is purifying “for his own possession” (Titus 2:14). And he is not only the Lord of the church, he is its builder—a builder who will complete what he has begun. The Lord Jesus Christ declares, ‘I will build my Church.’ The true Church of Christ is tenderly cared for by all the three Persons in the blessed Trinity. In the plan of salvation revealed in the Bible, beyond doubt God the Father chooses, God the Son redeems, and God the Holy Ghost sanctifies every member of Christ’s mystical body. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, three Persons and one God, co-operate for the salvation of every saved soul. This is truth, which ought never to be forgotten. Nevertheless, there is a peculiar sense in which the help of the Church is laid on the Lord Jesus Christ. He is peculiarly and pre-eminently the Redeemer and Saviour of the Church. Therefore it is that we find Him saying in our text, ‘I will build—the work of building is my special work.’ It is Christ who calls the members of the Church in due time. They are ‘the called of Jesus Christ.’ (Rom. 1:6.) It is Christ who quickens them. ‘The Son quickeneth whom He will.’ (John 5:21.) It is Christ who washes away their sins. He ‘has loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood.’ (Rev. 1:5.) It is Christ who gives them peace. ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.’ (John 14:27.) It is Christ who gives them eternal life. ‘I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.’ (John 10:28.) It is Christ who grants them repentance. ‘Him hath God exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance.’ (Acts 5:31.) It is Christ who enables them to become God’s children. ‘To as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.’ (John 1:12.) It is Christ who carries on the work within them when it is begun ‘Because I live, ye shall live also.’ (John 14:19.) In short, it has ‘pleased the Father that in Christ should all fullness dwell.’ (Col. 1:19.) He is the author and finisher of faith. He is the life. He is the head. From Him every joint and member of the mystical body of Christians is supplied. Through Him they are kept from falling. He shall preserve them to the end, and present them faultless before the Father’s throne with exceeding great joy. He is all things in all believers. The mighty agent by whom the Lord Jesus Christ carries out this work in the members of His Church is without doubt the Holy Ghost. He it is who is ever renewing, awakening, convincing, leading to the cross, transforming, taking out of the world stone after stone, and adding to the mystical building. But the great chief Builder, who has undertaken to execute the work of redemption and bring it to completion, is the Son of God, the ‘Word who was made flesh.’ It is Jesus Christ who ‘builds.’ . . . We ought to feel deeply thankful that the building of the true Church is laid on the shoulders of One that is mighty. If the work depended on man, it would soon stand still. But, blessed be God, the work is in the hands of a Builder who never fails to accomplish His designs! Christ is the almighty Builder. He will carry on His work, though nations and visible Churches may not know their duty. Christ will never fail. That which He has undertaken He will certainly accomplish. . . . —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 290–293.
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Christ the Foundation

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Matthew 16:15–18 The church is built on the solid rock of Christ. What is the foundation on which your faith is built? The Lord Jesus Christ tells us, ‘Upon this rock will I build my Church.’ What did the Lord Jesus Christ mean when He spoke of this foundation? Did He mean the Apostle Peter, to whom He was speaking? I think assuredly not. I can see no reason, if He meant Peter, why He did not say, ‘Upon thee’ will I build my Church. If He had meant Peter, He would surely have said, I will build my Church on thee, as plainly as He said, ‘to thee will I give the keys.’—No, it was not the person of the Apostle Peter, but the good confession which the Apostle had just made! It was not Peter, the erring, unstable man, but the mighty truth which the Father had revealed to Peter. It was the truth concerning Jesus Christ Himself which was the rock. It was Christ’s Mediatorship, and Christ’s Messiahship. It was the blessed truth that Jesus was the promised Saviour, the true Surety, the real Intercessor between God and man. This was the rock, and this the foundation, upon which the Church of Christ was to be built. . .  Look to your foundation, if you would know whether or not you are a member of the one true Church. It is a point that may be known to yourself. Your public worship we can see; but we cannot see whether you are personally built upon the rock. Your attendance at the Lord’s table we can see; but we cannot see whether you are joined to Christ, and one with Christ, and Christ in you. Take heed that you make no mistake about your own personal salvation. See that your own soul is upon the rock. Without this, all else is nothing. Without this, you will never stand in the day of judgment. Better a thousand times in that day to be found in a cottage ‘upon the rock,’ than in a palace upon the sand! —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 293–294.
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Christ’s Church Stands

Jesus promised that he would build his church, and preserve it against all the forces of evil (Matthew 16:18). After more than two millennia, we can see that he has kept his word. The earliest visible Churches have in many cases decayed and perished. Where is the Church of Ephesus and the Church of Antioch? Where is the Church of Alexandria and the Church of Constantinople? Where are the Corinthian, and Philippian, and Thessalonian Churches? Where, indeed, are they all? They departed from the Word of God. They were proud of their bishops, and synods, and ceremonies, and learning, and antiquity. They did not glory in the true cross of Christ. They did not hold fast the Gospel. They did not give the Lord Jesus His rightful office, or faith its rightful place. They are now among the things that have been. Their candlestick has been taken away. But all this time the true Church has lived on. Has the true Church been oppressed in one country? It has fled to another.—Has it been trampled on and oppressed in one soil? It has taken root and flourished in some other climate.—Fire, sword, prisons, fines, penalties, have never been able to destroy its vitality. Its persecutors have died and gone to their own place, but the Word of God has lived, and grown, and multiplied. Weak as this true Church may appear to the eye of man, it is an anvil which has broken many a hammer in times past, and perhaps will break many more before the end. . . . The true Church is Christ’s body. Not one bone in that mystical body shall ever be broken.—The true Church is Christ’s bride. Those whom God has joined in everlasting covenant, shall never be put asunder.—The true Church is Christ’s flock. When the lion came and took a lamb out of David’s flock, David arose and delivered the lamb from his mouth. Christ will do the same. He is David’s greater son. Not a single sick lamb in Christ’s flock shall perish. He will say to His Father in the last day, ‘Of them which Thou gavest Me I have lost none’ (John 18:9).—The true Church is the wheat of the earth. It may be sifted, winnowed, buffeted, tossed to and fro. But not one grain shall! be lost. The tares and chaff shall be burned. The wheat shall be gathered into the barn.—The true Church is Christ’s army. The Captain of our salvation loses none of His soldiers. His plans are never defeated. His supplies never fail. His muster-roll is the same at the end as it was at the beginning. Of the men that marched gallantly out of England many years ago in the Crimean war, how many ever came back! Regiments that went forth, strong and cheerful, with bands playing and banners flying, laid their bones in a foreign land and never returned to their native country. But it is not so with Christ’s army. Not one of His soldiers shall be missing at last. He Himself declares, ‘They shall never perish’ (John 10:28). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 297–299.
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I Know Thy Works

To make justification in any way contingent on works would be no less than heresy. But to deny that works have any necessary connection to faith would be a great error, as well. Reading the book of Revelation, J. C. Ryle notes that “in every epistle [to the seven churches] the Lord Jesus says, I know thy works” (2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). This cannot be insignificant. That repeated expression is very striking. It is not for nothing that we read these words seven times over. To one Church the Lord Jesus says, I know thy labour and patience—to another, thy tribulation and poverty—to a third, thy charity, and service, and faith. But to all, He uses the words I now dwell on: ‘I know thy works.’ It is not, ‘I know thy profession—thy desires—thy resolutions—thy wishes,’—but thy works. ‘I know thy works.’ The works of a professing Christian are of great importance. They cannot save your soul. They cannot justify you. They cannot wipe out your sins. They cannot deliver you from the wrath of God. But it does not follow because they cannot save you, that they are of no importance. Take heed and beware of such a notion. The man who thinks so is fearfully deceived. I often think I could willingly die for the doctrine of justification by faith without the deeds of the law. But I must earnestly contend, as a general principle, that a man’s works are the evidence of a man’s religion. If you call yourself a Christian, you must show it in your daily ways and daily behaviour. Call to mind that the faith of Abraham and of Rahab was proved by their works (James 2:21–25). Remember it avails you and me nothing to profess we know God, if in works we deny Him (Titus 1:16). Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, ‘Every tree is known by its own fruit’ (Luke 6:44). But whatever the works of a professing Christian may be, Jesus says, ‘I know them!’ ‘His eyes are in every place, beholding the evil and the good’ (Prov. 15:3). . . . The darkness is no darkness with Him. All things are open and manifest before Him. He says to every one, ‘I know thy works.’ (a) The Lord Jesus knows the works of all impenitent and unbelieving souls, and will one day punish them. . . . (b) The Lord Jesus knows the works of His own people, and weighs them. ‘By Him actions are weighed’ (1 Sam. 2:3). He knows the why and the wherefore of the deeds of all believers. He sees their motives in every step they take. . . . (c) The Lord Jesus knows the works of all His own people, and will one day reward them. . . . If you love the Lord Jesus and follow Him, you may be sure your work and labour shall not be in vain in the Lord. . . . But it is all very wonderful. I can well understand the righteous in the day of judgment saying, ‘Lord, when saw we Thee an hungered and fed Thee, or thirsty and gave Thee drink? When saw we Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? or naked, and clothed Thee? Or when saw we Thee sick or in prison, and came unto Thee?’ (Matt. 25:37–39). It may well seem incredible and impossible that they can have done anything worth naming in the great day! Yet so it is. Let all believers take the comfort of it. The Lord says, ‘I know thy works.’ It ought to humble you. But it ought not to make you afraid. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 310–311, 313.
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By the Blood of the Lamb

In each of his messages to the seven churches in Revelation, J. C. Ryle notes, “the Lord Jesus makes a promise to the man that overcomes. But what does it mean to overcome, and more importantly, how is it accomplished? Ryle explains, This is the road that saints of old have trodden in, and left their record on high. (a) When Moses refused the pleasures of sin in Egypt, and chose affliction with the people of God—this was overcoming: he overcame the love of pleasure. (b) When Micaiah refused to prophesy smooth things to king Ahab, though he knew he would be persecuted if he spoke the truth—this was overcoming: he overcame the love of ease. (c) When Daniel refused to give up praying, though he knew the den of lions was prepared for him—this was overcoming: he overcame the fear of death. (d) When Matthew rose from the receipt of custom at our Lord’s bidding, left all and followed Him—this was overcoming: he overcame the love of money. (e) When Peter and John stood up boldly before the council and said, ‘We cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard’—this was overcoming: they overcame the fear of man. (f) When Saul the Pharisee gave up all his prospects of preferment among the Jews, and preached that very Jesus whom he had once persecuted—this was overcoming: he overcame the love of man’s praise. The same kind of thing which these men did you must also do if you would be saved. They were men of like passions with yourself, and yet they overcame. They had as many trials as you can possibly have, and yet they overcame. They fought. They wrestled. They struggled. You must do the same. What was the secret of their victory?—their faith. They believed on Jesus, and believing were made strong. They believed on Jesus, and believing were held up. In all their battles, they kept their eyes on Jesus, and He never left them nor forsook them. ‘They overcame by the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony,’ and so may you (Rev. 12:11). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 315–316.
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Fight and Overcome

A needed warning to those of us who are well-taught in the doctrines of grace: I often fear much for those who hear the Gospel regularly, I fear lest you become so familiar with the sound of its doctrines, that insensibly you become dead to its power. I fear lest your religion should sink down into a little vague talk about your own weakness and corruption, and a few sentimental expressions about Christ, while real, practical fighting on Christ’s side is altogether neglected. Oh! beware of this state of mind. ‘Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.’ No victory—no crown! Fight and overcome! (James 1:22). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 316.
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Live in This Way

The warning given to the churches in the book of Revelation contain a sober message for us. Let me warn every one who professes to be a believer in the Lord Jesus, not to be content with a little religion. Of all sights in the Church of Christ, I know none more painful to my own eyes than a Christian contented and satisfied with a little grace, a little repentance, a little faith, a little knowledge, a little charity, and a little holiness. I do beseech and entreat every believing soul that reads this tract not to be that kind of man. If you have any desires after usefulness—if you have any wishes to promote your Lord’s glory—if you have any longings after much inward peace—be not content with a little religion. Let us rather seek, every year we live, to make more spiritual progress than we have done—to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus—to grow in humility and self-acquaintance—to grow in spirituality and heavenly-mindedness—to grow in conformity to the image of our Lord. Let us beware of leaving our first love like Ephesus—of becoming lukewarm like Laodicea—of tolerating false practices like Pergamos—of tampering with false doctrine like Thyatira—of becoming half dead, ready to die, like Sardis. Let us rather covet the best gifts. Let us aim at eminent holiness. Let us endeavour to be like Smyrna and Philadelphia. Let us hold fast what we have already, and continually seek to have more. Let us labour to be unmistakable Christians. Let it not be our distinctive character that we are men of science—or men of literary attainments—or men of the world—or men of pleasure, or men of business—but ‘men of God.’ Let us so live that all may see that to us the things of God are the first things, and the glory of God the first aim in our lives—to follow Christ our grand object in time present—to be with Christ our grand desire in time to come. Let us live in this way, and we shall be happy. Let us live in this way, and we shall do good to the world. Let us live in this way, and we shall leave good evidence behind us when we are buried. Let us live in this way, and the Spirit’s word to the Churches will not have been spoken to us in vain. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 318–319.
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The True Christian

Ryle reduces the character of saving faith to one fundamental question: Do you love Christ? A true Christian . . . is not a person who only goes, as a matter of form, to a church or chapel on Sundays and lives all the rest of the week as if there was no God. Formality is not Christianity. Ignorant lipworship is not true religion. The Scripture speaketh expressly: ‘They are not all Israel which are of Israel’ (Rom. 4:6). The practical lesson of those words is clear and plain. All are not true Christians who are members of the visible Church of Christ. The true Christian is one whose religion is in his heart and life. It is felt by himself in his heart. It is seen by others in his conduct and life. He feels his sinfulness, guilt and badness, and repents. He sees Jesus Christ to be that Divine Saviour whom his soul needs, and commits himself to Him. He puts off the old man with his corrupt and carnal habits and puts on the new man. He lives a new and holy life, fighting habitually against the world, the flesh and the devil. Christ Himself is the corner-stone of his Christianity. Ask him in what he trusts for the forgiveness of his many sins, and he will tell you in the death of Christ.—Ask him in what righteousness he hopes to stand innocent at the judgment day, and he will tell you it is the righteousness of Christ.—Ask him by what pattern he tries to frame his life, and he will tell you that it is the example of Christ. But, beside all this, there is one thing in a true Christian which is eminently peculiar to him. That thing is love to Christ. Knowledge, faith, hope, reverence, obedience, are all marked features in a true Christian’s character. But his picture would be very imperfect if you omitted his ‘love’ to his Divine Master. He not only knows, trusts, and obeys. He goes further than this—he loves. . . . Hear what St. Paul says to the Corinthians: ‘If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema . . .’ (1 Cor. 16:22). . . . Hear what St. Paul says to the Ephesians, ‘Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity’ (Eph. 6:24). The Apostle is here sending his good wishes, and declaring his good will to all true Christians. Many of them, no doubt, he had never seen. Many of them in the early Churches, we may be very sure, were weak in faith, and knowledge, and self-denial. How, then, shall he describe them in sending his message? What words can he use which will not discourage the weaker brethren? He chooses a sweeping expression which exactly describes all true Christians under one common name. All had not attained to the same degree, whether in doctrine or practice. But all loved Christ in sincerity. Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ Himself says to the Jews, ‘If God were your Father, ye would love Me’ (John 8:42). . . . He lays down the broad principle that no man is a child of God who does not love God’s only begotten Son. No man has a right to call God ‘Father’ who does not love Christ. . . . Hear once more what our Lord Jesus Christ said to the Apostle Peter after He rose from the dead. Three times He asked him the question, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me’ (John 21:15–17). . . . He might have said:—‘Believest thou? Art thou converted? Are thou ready to confess Me? Wilt thou obey Me?’ He uses none of these expressions. He simply says, ‘lovest thou Me?’ This is the point, He would have us know, on which a man’s Christianity hinges. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 322–324.
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Love for Christ

According to J. C. Ryle, the most basic characteristic of saving faith is love for Christ. What does that love look like? Ryle lists several indicators of genuine love. Three are presented below: frequent thoughts of him, a desire to please him, and love for his people—the church. (a) If we love a person, we like to think about him. We do not need to be reminded of him. We do not forget his name, or his appearance, or his character, or his opinions, or his tastes, or his position, or his occupation. He comes up before our mind’s eye many a time in the day. Though perhaps far distant, he is often present in our thoughts. Well, it is just so between the true Christian and Christ! Christ ‘dwells in his heart,’ and is thought of more or less every day (Eph. 3:17). The true Christian does not need to be reminded that he has a crucified Master. He often thinks of Him. He never forgets that He has a day, a cause, and a people, and that of His people he is one. Affection is the real secret of a good memory in religion. No worldly man can think much about Christ, unless Christ is pressed upon his notice, because he has no affection for Him. The true Christian has thoughts about Christ every day that he lives, for this one simple reason, that he loves Him. . . . (d) If we love a person, we like to please him. We are glad to consult his tastes and opinions, to act upon his advice, and do the things which he approves. We even deny ourselves to meet his wishes, abstain from things which we know he dislikes, and learn things to do which we are not naturally inclined, because we think it will give him pleasure. Well, it is just so between the true Christian and Christ! The true Christian studies to please Him, by being holy both in body and spirit. Show him anything in his daily practice that Christ hates, and he will give it up. Show him anything that Christ delights in, and he will follow after it. He does not murmur at Christ’s requirements as being too strict and severe, as the children of the world do. To him Christ’s commandments are not grievous and Christ’s burden is light. And why is all this? Simply because he loves Him. (e) If we love a person, we like his friends. We are favourably inclined to them, even before we know them. We are drawn to them by the common tie of common love to one and the same person. When we meet them we do not feel that we are altogether strangers. There is a bond of union between us. They love the person that we love, and that alone is an introduction. Well, it is just so between the true Christian and Christ! The true Christian regards all Christ’s friends as his friends, members of the same body, children of the same family, soldiers in the same army, travellers to the same home. When he meets them, he feels as if he had long known them. He is more at home with them in a few minutes than he is with many worldly people after an acquaintance of several years. And what is the secret of all this? It is simply affection to the same Saviour, and love to the same Lord. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 329–331.
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Without Christ (1)

Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. —Ephesians 2:12 The verse above describes every Christian who has, and will, ever live. Every Christian was a stranger, indeed, an enemy, of God, born outside “the covenant of promise,” and has, by grace, through regeneration by the Spirit, been brought into that covenant. We were once “separate from Christ”; many still are. Ryle dedicates a chapter to explaining what it means to be without Christ. First, he says, those without knowledge are without Christ. But bare knowledge does not constitute saving faith. It is quite possible to know all about Christ, and yet not to put our trust in Him. There are multitudes who know every article of the Belief, and can tell you glibly that Christ was ‘born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.’ They learned it at school. They have it sticking fast in their memories. But they make no practical use of their knowledge. They put their trust in something which is not ‘Christ.’ They hope to go to heaven because they are moral and well-conducted—because they say their prayers and go to Church—because they have been baptized and go to the Lord’s Table. But as to a lively faith in God’s mercy through Christ—a real, intelligent confidence in Christ’s blood and righteousness and intercession—these are things of which they know nothing at all. And of all such persons I can see but one true account. They are ‘without Christ.’ I am aware that many do not admit the truth of what I have just said. Some tell us that all baptized people are members of Christ by virtue of their baptism. Others tell us that where there is a head-knowledge, we have no right to question a person’s interest in Christ. To these views I have only one plain answer. The Bible forbids us to say that any man is joined to Christ until he believes. Baptism is no proof that we are joined to Christ. . . . Head-knowledge is no proof that we are joined to Christ. The devils know Christ well enough, but have no portion in Him. God knows, no doubt, who are His from all eternity. But man knows nothing of anyone’s justification until he believes. The grand question is, ‘Do we believe?’ It is written, ‘He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.’ ‘He that believeth not shall be damned.’ (John 3:36; Mark 16:16.) If Bible words mean anything, to be without faith is to be ‘without Christ.’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 341–342.
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Without Christ (2)

Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. —Ephesians 2:12 How serious a matter is it to be without Christ? Is it really to be with “no hope and without God”? Or are there other ways to God? One very popular view says, yes, there are. J. C. Ryle takes the biblical view: Reconciliation with God is necessarily mediated, and there is but one mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). To be without Christ is to be without God. The Apostle St. Paul told the Ephesians as much as this in plain words. He ends the famous sentence which begins, ‘Ye were without Christ,’ by saying, ‘Ye were without God in the world.’ And who that thinks can wonder? That man can have very low ideas of God who does not conceive Him a most pure, and holy, and glorious, and spiritual Being. That man must be very blind who does not see that human nature is corrupt, and sinful, and defiled. How then can such a worm as man draw near to God with comfort? How can he look up to Him with confidence and not feel afraid? How can he speak to Him, have dealings with Him, look forward to dwelling with Him, without dread and alarm? There must be a Mediator between God and man, and there is but One that can fill the office. That One is Christ. Who art thou that talkest of God’s mercy and God’s love separate from and independent of Christ? There is no such love and mercy recorded in Scripture. Know this day that God out of Christ is ‘a consuming fire.’ (Heb. 12:29.) Merciful He is, beyond all question: rich in mercy, plenteous in mercy. But His mercy is inseparably connected with the mediation of His beloved Son Jesus Christ. It must flow through Him as the appointed channel, or it cannot flow at all. It is written, ‘He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him.’—‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.’ (John 5:23; 14:6.) ‘Without Christ’ we are without God. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), PP.
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Without Christ (3)

Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. —Ephesians 2:12 What is the ground for assurance of salvation? Many would say it is the appearance of godliness in one’s life. Surely, the absence of the fruit of the Spirit indicates an absence of the Holy Spirit, and where the Spirit is absent, Christ is absent. But one may lead a very good and moral life without Christ, and consequently, without the Holy Spirit. Therefore, what may look very much like a Spirit-filled life may not indicate a genuine saving faith in Christ. There is but one ground for assurance: the atoning blood of Christ. To be without Christ is to be without peace. Every man has a conscience within him, which must be satisfied before he can be truly happy. So long as this conscience is asleep or half dead, so long, no doubt, he gets along pretty well. But as soon as a man’s conscience wakes up, and he begins to think of past sins, and present failings, and future judgment, at once he finds out that he needs something to give him inward rest. But what can do it? Repenting, and praying, and Bible-reading, and church-going, and sacrament-receiving, and self-mortification may be tried, and tried in vain. They never yet took off the burden from anyone’s conscience. And yet peace must be had! There is only one thing can give peace to the conscience, and that is the blood of Jesus Christ sprinkled on it. A clear understanding that Christ’s death was an actual payment of our debt to God, and that the merit of that death is made over to man when he believes, is the grand secret of inward peace. It meets every craving of conscience. It answers every accusation. It calms every fear. It is written, ‘These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace.’ ‘He is our peace.’ ‘Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (John 16:33; Eph. 2:14; Rom. 5:1.) We have peace through the blood of His cross: peace like a deep mine—peace like an everflowing stream. But ‘without Christ’ we are without peace. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), PP.
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Without Christ (4)

Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. —Ephesians 2:12 To be without Christ is the most tragic of conditions, but you need not remain in that state. As long as you live, there is time to come and follow him—but no one knows how long that will be. What the ark was to Noah, what the passover lamb was to Israel in Egypt, what the manna, the smitten rock, the brazen serpent, the pillar of cloud and fire, the scapegoat, were to the tribes in the wilderness, all this the Lord Jesus is meant to be to man’s soul. None so destitute as those that are without Christ! What the root is to the branches, what the air is to our lungs, what food and water are to our bodies, what the sun is to creation, all this and much more Christ is intended to be to us. None so helpless, none so pitiable as those that are without Christ! . . . Do not allow life to pass away without some serious thoughts and self-inquiry. You cannot always go on as you do now. A day must come when eating, and drinking, and sleeping, and dressing, and making merry, and spending money, will have an end. There will be a day when your place will be empty and you will be only spoken of as one dead and gone. And where will you be then, if you have lived and died without thought about your soul, without God, and without Christ? Oh, remember, it is better a thousand times to be without money, and health, and friends, and company, and good cheer, than to be without Christ! If you have lived without Christ hitherto, I invite you in all affection to change your course without delay. Seek the Lord Jesus while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near. He is sitting at God’s right hand, able to save to the uttermost everyone who comes to Him, however sinful and careless he may have been. He is sitting at God’s right hand, willing to hear the prayer of every one who feels that his past life has been all wrong, and wants to be set right. Seek Christ, seek Christ without delay. Acquaint yourself with Him. Do not be ashamed to apply to Him. Only become one of Christ’s friends this year, and you will say one day it was the happiest year that you ever had. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 347–348.
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Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” —John 7:37–38 In all of Scripture, no one but Jesus ever said, “Come to me,” and no one could ever offer what he offers. No prophet or apostle ever took on himself to use such language as this. ‘Come with us,’ said Moses to Hobab (Num. 10:29); ‘Come to the waters,’ says Isaiah (Isa. 55:1); ‘Behold the Lamb,’ says John the Baptist (John 1:29); ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,’ says St. Paul (Acts 16:31). But no one except Jesus of Nazareth ever said, ‘Come to ME.’ That fact is very significant. He that said, ‘Come to Me,’ knew and felt, when He said it, that He was the eternal Son of God, the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world. . . . ‘If any man thirst,’ says our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, ‘let him come unto Me, and drink.’ There is a grand simplicity about this little sentence which cannot be too much admired. There is not a word in it of which the literal meaning is not plain to a child. Yet, simple as it appears, it is rich in spiritual meaning. Like the Koh-i-noor diamond, which you may carry between finger and thumb, it is of unspeakable value. It solves that mighty problem which all the philosophers of Greece and Rome could never solve—‘How can man have peace with God?’ Place it in your memory side by side with six other golden sayings of your Lord. ‘I am the Bread of life: he that cometh unto me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.’—‘I am the Light of the world: he that followeth ME shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’—‘I am the Door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved.’—‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father but by ME.’—‘Come unto ME, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’—’ Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.’—Add to these six texts the one before you to-day. Get the whole seven by heart. Rivet them down in your mind, and never let them go. When your feet touch the cold river, on the bed of sickness and in the hour of death, you will find these seven texts above all price (John 6:35; 8:12; 10:9; 14:6; Matt. 11:28; John 11:37). For what is the sum and substance of these simple words? It is this. Christ is that Fountain of living water which God has graciously provided for thirsting souls. From Him, as out of the rock smitten by Moses, there flows an abundant stream for all who travel through the wilderness of this world. In Him, as our Redeemer and Substitute, crucified for our sins and raised again for our justification, there is an endless supply of all that men can need—pardon, absolution, mercy, grace, peace, rest, relief, comfort, and hope. This rich provision Christ has bought for us at the price of His own precious blood. To open this wondrous fountain He suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, and bore our sins in His own body on the tree. He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; 2 Cor. 5:21). And now He is sealed and appointed to be the Reliever of all who are labouring and heavy laden, and the Giver of living water to all who thirst. It is His office to receive sinners. It is His pleasure to give them pardon, life, and peace. And the words of the text are a proclamation He makes to all mankind—‘If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink.’ This rich provision Christ has bought for us at the price of His own precious blood. To open this wondrous fountain He suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, and bore our sins in His own body on the tree. He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; 2 Cor. 5:21). And now He is sealed and appointed to be the Reliever of all who are labouring and heavy laden, and the Giver of living water to all who thirst. It is His office to receive sinners. It is His pleasure to give them pardon, life, and peace. And the words of the text are a proclamation He makes to all mankind—‘If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink.’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 352, 356–357.
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None but Jesus

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” —John 7:37–38 Our relationship to God the Father is a mediated relationship. We come to him through Jesus Christ, the Son (1 Timothy 2:5). This access to the Father through Christ is unique to Christian theology. While a presumptuous priesthood that can offer nothing real holds many at a distance, thirsty souls may—and must—go directly to Christ. He that thirsts and wants relief must come to Christ Himself. He must not be content with coming to His Church and His ordinances, or to the assemblies of His people for prayer and praise. He must not stop short even at His holy table, or rest satisfied with privately opening his heart to His ordained ministers. Oh, no! he that is content with only drinking these waters ‘shall thirst again’ (John 4:13). He must go higher, further, much further than this. He must have personal dealings with Christ Himself: all else in religion is worthless without Him. The King’s palace, the attendant servants, the richly furnished banqueting house, the very banquet itself—all are nothing unless we speak with the King. His hand alone can take the burden off our backs and make us feel free. The hand of man may take the stone from the grave and show the dead; but none but Jesus can say to the dead, ‘Come forth and live’ (John 6:41–43). We must deal directly with Christ. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 357.
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As Easy to Do as to Say

I do try to keep my promises, but sometimes I fail. Sometimes things happen that make what I promised impossible. Sometimes a promise was made foolishly, and can’t be kept. Sometimes I’m just negligent, and forget. I would like to say you can always count on me, but the sad fact is, you can’t. In fact, there is only one who can be trusted to always keep his promises. There is one grand difference between the promises of Adam’s children and the promises of God, which ought never to be forgotten. The promises of man are not sure to be fulfilled. With the best wishes and intentions, he cannot always keep his word. Disease and death may step in like an armed man, and take away from this world him that promises. War, or pestilence, or famine, or failure of crops, or hurricanes, may strip him of his property, and make it impossible for him to fulfil his engagements. The promises of God, on the contrary, are certain to be kept. He is Almighty: nothing can prevent His doing what He has said. He never changes: He is always ‘of one mind’: and with Him there is ‘no variableness or shadow of turning’ (Job 23:13; James 1:17). He will always keep His word. There is one thing which . .  God cannot do: ‘It is impossible for God to lie’ (Heb. 6:18). The most unlikely and improbable things, when God has once said He will do them, have always come to pass. The destruction of the old world by a flood, and the preservation of Noah in the ark, the birth of Isaac, the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, the raising of David to the throne of Saul, the miraculous birth of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the scattering of the Jews all over the earth, and their continued preservation as a distinct people—who could imagine events more unlikely and improbable than these? Yet God said they should be, and in due time they all came to pass. In truth, with God it is just as easy to do a thing as to say it. Whatever He promises, He is certain to perform. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 362.
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Rivers of Living Water

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” —John 7:37–38 If you have been born again (John 3), know that God did not save you for yourself. He saved you, ultimately, for himself (Revelation 5:9). He also saved you so that you could be a conduit of his grace to others. I believe our Lord meant us to understand that he who comes to Him by faith shall not only have an abundant supply of everything which he needs for his own soul, but shall also become a source of blessing to the souls of others. The Spirit who dwells in him shall make him a fountain of good to his fellowmen, so that at the last day there shall be found to have flowed from him ‘rivers of living water.’ This is a most important part of our Lord’s promise, and opens up a subject which is seldom realized and grasped by many Christians. But it is one of deep interest, and deserves far more attention than it receives. I believe it to be a truth of God. I believe that just as ‘no man liveth unto himself’ (Rom. 14:7), so also no man is converted only for himself; and that the conversion of one man or woman always leads on, in God’s wonderful providence, to the conversion of others. I do not say for a moment that all believers know it. I think it far more likely that many live and die in the faith, who are not aware that they have done good to any soul. But I believe the resurrection morning and the judgment day, when the secret history of all Christians is revealed, will prove that the full meaning of the promise before us has never failed. I doubt if there will be a believer who will not have been to some one or other a ‘river of living water’—a channel through whom the Spirit has conveyed saving grace. Even the penitent thief, short as his time was after he repented, has been a source of blessing to thousands of souls! . . . Let us all lay hold on this view of our Lord’s promise, and never forget it. Think not for a moment that your own soul is the only soul that will be saved if you come to Christ by faith and follow Him. Think of the blessedness of being a ‘river of living water’ to others. Who can tell that you may not be the means of bringing many others to Christ? Live, and act, and speak, and pray, and work, keeping this continually in view. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 365–367.
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To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ —Ephesians 3:8 If any New Testament writer had cause to boast, surely it was the Apostle Paul. The great apostle to the gentiles, founder of many churches, and author of thirteen New Testament books is undeniably the greatest theologian the church has ever known (granted, he had the unfair advantage of divine inspiration). Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John brought us the gospel; Paul explained it. We revere Paul as being among the greatest disciples of Christ, and rightly so. But he didn’t see himself that way. Let us notice what St. Paul says of himself. The language he uses is singularly strong. The founder of famous Churches, the writer of fourteen inspired epistles, the man who was ‘not behind the very chiefest apostles,’ ‘in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft,’—the man who ‘spent and was spent’ for souls, and ‘counted all things but loss for Christ,’—the man who could truly say, ‘To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,’—what do we find him saying of himself? He employs an emphatic comparative and superlative. He says, ‘I am less than the least of all saints.’ [KJV] What a poor creature is the least saint! Yet St. Paul says, ‘I am less than that man.’ Such language as this, I suspect, is almost unintelligible to many who profess and call themselves Christians. Ignorant alike of the Bible and their own hearts, they cannot understand what a saint means when he speaks so humbly of himself and his attainments. . . . But we may rest assured that what St. Paul wrote with his pen, he testily felt in his heart. The language of our text does not stand alone. It is even exceeded in other places. To the Philippians he says, ‘I have not attained, nor am I already perfect: I follow after.’ To the Corinthians he says, ‘I am the least of the apostles, which am not meet to be called an apostle.’ To Timothy he says, ‘I am chief of sinners.’ To the Romans he cries, ‘Wretched man that I am I who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ (Phil. 3:12; 1 Cor. 15:9; 1 Tim. 1:15; Rom. 7:24.) The plain truth is that St. Paul saw in his own heart of hearts far more defects and infirmities than he saw in anyone else. The eyes of his understanding were so fully opened by the Holy Spirit of God that he detected a hundred things wrong in himself which the dull eyes of other men never observed at all. In short, possessing great spiritual light, he had great insight into his own natural corruption, and was clothed from head to foot with humility, (1 Peter 5:5.) Now let us clearly understand that humility like St. Paul’s was not a peculiar characteristic of the great apostle of the Gentiles. On the contrary, it is one leading mark of all the most eminent saints of God in every age. The more real grace men have in their hearts, the deeper is their sense of sin. The more light the Holy Ghost pours into their souls, the more do they discern their own infirmities, defilements, and darkness. The dead soul feels and sees nothing; with life comes clear vision, a tender conscience and spiritual sensibility. . . . The great saints, in every era of Church history, from St. Paul down to this day, have always been ‘clothed with humility.’ He that desires to be saved . . . let him know this day that the first steps towards heaven are a deep sense of sin and a lowly estimate of ourselves. Let him cast away that weak and silly tradition that the beginning of religion is to feel ourselves ‘good’ Let him rather grasp that grand Scriptural principle, that we must begin by feeling ‘bad’; and that until we really feel ‘bad’ we know nothing of true goodness or saving Christianity. Happy is he who has learned to draw near to God with the prayer of the publican, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ (Luke 18:13.) —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 376–378.
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More Humility

How humble should we be? More than we are, that’s for sure. Let us all seek more humility, if we know anything of it now. The more we have of it, the more Christlike we shall be. It is written of our blessed Master (though in Him there was no sin) that ‘being in the form of God He thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross’ (Phil. 2:6–8). And let us remember the words which precede that passage ‘Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.’ Depend on it, the nearer men draw to heaven, the more humble do they become. In the hour of death, with one foot in the grave, with something of the light of heaven shining down upon them, hundreds of great saints and Church dignitaries . . . have left on record their confession, that never till that hour did they see their sins so clearly and feel so deeply their debt to mercy and grace. Heaven alone, I suppose, will fully teach us how humble we ought to be. Then only, when we stand within the veil, and look back on all the way of life by which we were led, then only shall we completely understand the need and beauty of humility. Strong language like St. Paul’s [“the very least of all saints” (Ephesians 3:8)] will not appear to us too strong in that day. No: indeed! We shall cast our crowns before the throne, and realize what a great divine meant when he said, ‘The anthem in heaven will be, What hath God wrought.’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 378–379.
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Proclaimer of God’s Word

The shepherds of Christ’s church are not priests—they do not stand as mediators between God and man. The function of a Christian pastor is to lead the church to the one mediator (1 Timothy 2:5), through the Word in which he is revealed. I fail to see that St. Paul ever supports the favourite theory that there was intended to be a sacerdotal ministry, a sacrificing priesthood in the Church of Christ. There is not a word in the Acts or in his Epistles to the Churches to warrant such a notion. It is nowhere written, ‘God hath set some in the Church, first apostles, then priests’ (1 Cor. 12:28). There is a conspicuous absence of the theory in the Pastoral Epistles to Timothy and Titus, where, if anywhere, we might have expected to find it. On the contrary, in these very Epistles, we read such expressions as these, ‘God hath manifested His Word through preaching,’ ‘I am appointed a preacher.’ ‘I am ordained a preacher.’ ‘That by me the preaching might be fully known’ (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11; 2 Tim. 4:17; Tit. 1:3). And, to crown all, one of his last injunctions to his friend Timothy, when he leaves him in charge of an organized Church, is this pithy sentence, ‘Preach the Word’ (2 Tim. 4:2). In short, I believe St. Paul would have us understand that, however various the works for which the Christian minister is set apart, his first, foremost, and principal work is to be the preacher and proclaimer of God’s Word. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 380.
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Neither Papists nor Quakers

While the Roman Catholic religion (and, to some degree, Lutheran churches) elevate pastors to the level of priests, others diminish the office and even reject it. Neither are biblical. The pastoral office is scriptural, good, and honorable. While we refuse to allow that a sacrificing priesthood has any warrant of Scripture, let us beware in these days that we do not rush into the extreme of undervaluing the office which the minister of Christ holds. There is some danger in this direction. Let us grasp firmly certain fixed principles about the Christian ministry, and, however strong our dislike of priesthood and aversion to Romanism, let nothing tempt us to let these principles slip out of our hands. Surely there is solid middle ground between a grovelling idolatry of sacerdotalism on one hand, and a disorderly anarchy on the other. Surely it does not follow, because we will not be Papists in this matter of the ministry, that we must needs be Quakers or Plymouth Brethren. This, at any rate, was not in the mind of St. Paul. (a) For one thing, let us settle it firmly in our minds that the ministerial office is a Scriptural Institution. I need not weary you with quotations to prove this point. I will simply advise you to read the Epistles to Timothy and Titus and judge for yourselves. If these Epistles do not authorize a ministry, there is, to my mind, no meaning in words. Take a jury of the first twelve intelligent, honest, disinterested, unprejudiced men you can find, and set them down with a New Testament to examine this question by them selves: ‘Is the Christian ministry a Scriptural thing or not?’ I have no doubt what their verdict would be. (b) For another thing, let us settle it in our minds that the ministerial office is a most wise and useful provision of God. It secures the regular maintenance of all Christ’s ordinances and means of grace. It provides an undying machinery for promoting the awakening of sinners and the edification of saints. All experience proves that everybody’s business soon becomes nobody’s business; and if this is true in other matters, it is no less true in the matter of religion. Our God is a God of order, and a God who works by means, and we have no right to expect His cause to be kept up by constant miraculous interpositions, while His servants stand idle. For the uninterrupted preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments, no better plan can be devised than the appointment of a regular order of men who shall give themselves wholly to Christ’s business. (c) For another thing, let us settle it firmly in our minds that the ministerial office is an honourable privilege. It is an honour to be the Ambassador of a King: the very person of such an officer of state is respected, and called legally sacred. . . . But how much greater honour is it to be the ambassador of the King of kings, and to proclaim the good news of the conquest achieved on Calvary! To serve directly such a Master, to carry such a message, to know that the results of our work, if God shall bless it, are eternal, this is indeed a privilege. Other labourers may work for a corruptible crown, but the minister of Christ for an incorruptible. Never is a land in worse condition than when the ministers of religion have caused their office to be ridiculed and despised. It is a tremendous word in Malachi: ‘I have made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways’ (Malachi 2:9). But, whether men will hear or forbear, the office of a faithful ambassador is honourable. It was a fine saying of an old missionary on his death-bed, who died at the age of ninety-six, ‘The very best thing that a man can do is to preach the Gospel.’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 380–382.
continue reading Neither Papists nor Quakers

Unsearchable Riches

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ —Ephesians 3:8 Paul referred to the message he was entrusted to deliver as “unfathomable [unsearchable, KJV] riches.” What is it about this message, that he would describe it in such lofty terms? No doubt he saw in Christ such a boundless provision for all the wants of man’s soul that he knew no other phrase to convey his meaning. From whatever standpoint he beheld Jesus, he saw in Him far more than mind could conceive, or tongue could tell. What he precisely intended must necessarily be matter of conjecture. But it may be useful to set down in detail some of the things which most probably were in his mind. . . . Let us glance briefly at some of them. (a) Set down, first and foremost, in your minds that there are unsearchable riches in Christ’s person. That miraculous union of perfect Man and perfect God in our Lord Jesus Christ is a great mystery, no doubt, which we have no line to fathom. . . . Infinite power and infinite sympathy are met together and combined in our Saviour. If He had been only Man He could not have saved us. If He had been only God (I speak with reverence) He could not have been ‘touched with the feeling of our infirmities,’ nor ‘suffered Himself being tempted’ (Heb. 2:18; 4:15). As God, He is mighty to save; and as Man, He is exactly suited to be our Head, Representative, and Friend. . . . It is a rich and precious truth that our Lord Jesus Christ is both ‘God and Man.’ (b) Set down, next, in your minds that there are unsearchable riches in the work which Christ accomplished for us, when He lived on earth, died, and rose again. Truly and indeed, ‘He finished the work which His Father gave Him to do’ (John 17:4)—the work of atonement for sin, the work of reconciliation, the work of redemption, the work of satisfaction, the work of substitution as ‘the just for the unjust.’ . . . (c) Set down, next, in your minds that there are unsearchable riches in the offices which Christ at this moment fills, as He lives for us at the right hand of God. He is at once our Mediator, our Advocate, our Priest, our Intercessor, our Shepherd, our Bishop, our Physician, our Captain, our King, our Master, our Head, our Forerunner, our Elder Brother, the Bridegroom of our souls. . . . (d) Set down, next, in your minds that there are unsearchable riches in the names and titles which are applied to Christ in the Scriptures. . . . Think for a moment of such titles as the Lamb of God—the bread of life—the fountain of living waters—the light of the world—the door—the way—the vine—the rock—the corner stone—the Christian’s robe—the Christian’s altar. Think of all these names, I say, and consider how much they contain. To the careless, worldly man they are mere ‘words,’ and nothing more; but to the true Christian each title, if beaten out and developed, will be found to have within its bosom a wealth of blessed truth. (e) Set down, lastly, in your minds that there are unsearchable riches in the characteristic qualities, attributes, dispositions, and intentions of Christ’s mind towards man, as we find them revealed in the New Testament. In Him there are riches of mercy, love, and compassion for sinners—riches of power to cleanse, pardon, forgive, and to save to the uttermost—riches of willingness to receive all who come to Him repenting and believing—riches of ability to change by His Spirit the hardest hearts and worst characters—riches of tender patience to bear with the weakest believer—riches of strength to help His people to the end, notwithstanding every foe without and within—riches of sympathy for all who are cast down and bring their troubles to Him—and last, but not least, riches of glory to reward, when He comes again to raise the dead and gather His people to be with Him in His kingdom. Who can estimate these riches? The children of this world may regard them with indifference, or turn away from them with disdain; but those who feel the value of their souls know better. They will say with one voice, ‘There are no riches like those which are laid up in Christ for His people.’ For, best of all, these riches are unsearchable. They are a mine which, however long it may be worked, is never exhausted. They are a fountain which, however many draw its waters, never runs dry. . . . Millions have drawn from Him in days gone by, and looking to Him have lived with comfort, and with comfort died. Myriads at this moment are drawing from Him daily supplies of mercy, grace, peace, strength, and help, and find ‘all fulness’ dwelling in Him. And yet the half of the riches laid up in Him for mankind, I doubt not, is utterly unknown! Surely the Apostle might well use that phrase, ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ.’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 384–387.
continue reading Unsearchable Riches


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