Site Meter
|The Thirsty Theologian| |Sola Gratia| |Sola Fide| |Solus Christus| |Sola Scriptura| |Soli Deo Gloria| |Semper Reformanda|
|The Thirsty Theologian| |Sola Gratia| |Sola Fide| |Solus Christus| |Sola Scriptura| |Soli Deo Gloria| |Semper Reformanda|

Knots Untied

(10 posts)

Defining “Evangelical”

Bishop J. C. Ryle recognized three schools of thought in the Church of England in his day: “High Church, Broad Church, and Evangelical.” In the following excerpt from Knots Untied, he sets out to define the “distinctive peculiarities” of the Evangelical school. Although Ryle was writing about the Anglican church more than 140 years ago, these five distinctives are useful in defining true evangelicalism in any century, and on any continent. (a) The first leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the absolute supremacy it assigns to Holy Scripture, as the only rule of faith and practice, the only test of truth, the only judge of controversy. Its theory is that man is required to believe nothing, as necessary to salvation, which is not read in God’s Word written, or can be proved thereby. It totally denies that there is any other guide for man’s soul, co-equal or co-ordinate with the Bible. . . . Our faith can find no resting-place except in the Bible, or in Bible arguments. Here is rock: all else is sand. (b) The second leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the depth and prominence it assigns to the doctrine of human sinfulness and corruption. Its theory is that in consequence of Adam’s fall, all men are as far as possible gone from original righteousness, and are of their own natures inclined to evil. They are not only in a miserable, pitiable, and bankrupt condition, but in a state of guilt, imminent danger, and condemnation before God. They are not only at enmity with their Maker, and have no title to heaven, but they have no will to serve their Maker, no love to their Maker, and no meetness for heaven. We hold that a mighty spiritual disease like this requires a mighty spiritual medicine for its cure. . . . We dread fostering man’s favourite notion that a little church-going and sacrament-receiving,—a little patching, and mending, and whitewashing, and gilding, and polishing, and varnishing, and painting the outside,—is all that his case requires. . . . It requires nothing less than the blood of God the Son applied to the conscience, and the grace of God the Holy Ghost entirely renewing the heart. Man is radically diseased, and man needs a radical cure. Next to the Bible, as its foundation, [Evangelical Religion] is based on a clear view of original sin. (c) The third leading feature of Evangelical Religion is the paramount importance it attaches to the work and office of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the nature of the salvation which He has wrought out for man. Its theory is that the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, has by His life, death, and resurrection, as our Representative and Substitute, obtained a complete salvation for sinners, and a redemption from the guilt, power, and consequences of sin, and that all who believe on Him are, even while they live, completely forgiven and justified from all things,—are reckoned completely righteous before God,—are interested in Christ and all His benefits. We hold that nothing whatever is needed between the soul of man the sinner and Christ the Saviour, but simple, childlike faith, and that all means, helps, ministers, and ordinances are useful just so far as they help this faith, but no further;—but that rested in and relied on as ends and not as means, they become downright poison to the soul. . . . Not least, we hold most firmly that the true doctrine about Christ is precisely that which the natural heart most dislikes. The religion which man craves after is one of sight and sense, and not of faith. An external religion, of which the essence is ’doing something’,—and not an inward and spiritual one, of which the essence is ‘believing’,—this is the religion that man naturally loves. . . . (d) The fourth leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the high place which it assigns to the inward work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of man. Its theory is that the root and foundation of all vital Christianity in any one, is a work of grace in the heart, and that until there is real experimental business within a man, his religion is a mere husk, and shell, and name, and form, and can neither comfort nor save. We maintain that the things which need most to be pressed on men’s attention are those mighty works of the Holy Spirit, inward repentance, inward faith, inward hope, inward hatred of sin, and inward love to God s law. And we say that to tell men to take comfort in their baptism or Church-membership, when these all-important graces are unknown, is not merely a mistake, but positive cruelty. . . . (e) The fifth and last leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the importance which it attaches to the outward and visible work of the Holy Ghost in the life of man. Its theory is that the true grace of God is a thing that will always make itself manifest in the conduct, behaviour, tastes, ways, choices, and habits of him who has it. It is not a dormant thing, that can be within a man and not show itself without. The heavenly seed is ‘not corruptible, but incorruptible’. It is a seed which is distinctly said to ‘remain’ in every one that is born of God (1 Peter 1:23; 1 John 3:9). Where the Spirit is, He will always make His presence known. We hold that it is wrong to tell men that they are ‘children of God, and members of Christ, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven’, unless they really overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. We maintain that to tell a man he is ‘born of God’, or regenerated, while he is living in carelessness or sin, is a dangerous delusion, and calculated to do infinite mischief to his soul. We affirm confidently that ‘fruit’ is the only certain evidence of a man’s spiritual condition; that if we would know whose he is and whom he serves, we must look first at his life. Where there is the grace of the Spirit there will be always more or less fruit of the Spirit. Grace that cannot be seen is no grace at all, and nothing better than Antinomianism. In short, we believe that where there is nothing seen, there is nothing possessed. —J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 4–8.

In No One Else

And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. —Acts 4:12 Let us make sure that we rightly understand what the Apostle means. He says of Christ, ‘Neither is there salvation in any other’. Now, what does this mean? On our clearly seeing this very much depends. He means that no one can be saved from sin,—its guilt, its power, and its consequences,—excepting by Jesus Christ. He means that no one can have peace with God the Father, obtain pardon in this world, and escape wrath to come in the next,—excepting through the atonement and mediation of Jesus Christ. In Christ alone God’s rich provision of salvation for sinners is treasured up: by Christ alone God’s abundant mercies come down from heaven to earth. Christ’s blood alone can cleanse us; Christ’s righteousness alone can clothe us; Christ’s merit alone can give us a title to heaven. Jews and Gentiles, learned and unlearned, kings and poor men, all alike must either be saved by the Lord Jesus, or lost forever. And the Apostle adds emphatically, ‘There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.’ There is no other person commissioned, sealed, and appointed by God the Father to be the Saviour of sinners excepting Christ. The keys of Life and Death are committed to His hand, and all who would be saved must go to Him. There was but one place of safety in the day when the flood came upon the earth: that place was Noah’s ark. All other places and devices,—mountains, towers, trees, rafts, boats,—all were alike useless. So also there is but one hiding-place for the sinner who would escape the storm of God’s anger; he must venture his soul on Christ. There was but one man to whom the Egyptians could go in the time of famine, when they wanted food. They must go to Joseph: it was a waste of time to go to anyone else. So also there is but One to whom hungering souls must go, if they would not perish forever: they must go to Christ. There was but one word that could save the lives of the Ephraimites in the day when the Gileadites contended with them, and took the fords of Jordan (Judg 12): they must say ‘Shibboleth’, or die. Just so there is but one name that will avail us when we stand at the gate of heaven: we must name the name of Jesus as our only hope, or be cast away everlastingly. Such is the doctrine of the text. ‘No salvation but by Jesus Christ;—in Him plenty of salvation,—salvation to the uttermost, salvation for the very chief of sinners;—out of Him no salvation at all.’ It is in perfect harmony with our Lord s own words in St. John’s Gospel,—‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me’ (John 14:6). It is the same thing that Paul tells the Corinthians,—‘Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 3:11). And it is the same that St. John tells us in his first Epistle, ‘God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life’ (1 John 5:12). All these texts come to one and the same point, no salvation but by Jesus Christ. Let us make sure that we understand this before we pass on. Men are apt to think, ‘This is all old news;—these are ancient things: who knoweth not such truths as these? Of course we believe there is no salvation but by Christ.’ But I ask my readers to mark well what I say. Make sure that you understand this doctrine, or else by and by you will stumble, and be offended at the statements I have yet to make in this paper. We are to venture the whole salvation of our souls on Christ, and on Christ only. We are to cast loose completely and entirely from all other hopes and trusts. We are not to rest partly on Christ,—partly on doing all we can,—partly on keeping our church,—partly on receiving the sacrament. In the matter of our justification Christ is to be all. This is the doctrine of the text. Heaven is before us, and Christ the only door into it; hell beneath us, and Christ alone able to deliver from it; the devil behind us, and Christ the only refuge from his wrath and accusations; the law against us, and Christ alone able to redeem us; sin weighing us down, and Christ alone able to put it away. This is the doctrine of the text. —J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 30–32.

In Name and Form Only

One hundred and forty years ago, J. C. Ryle made an observation that should sound familiar to us: I think there can be no question that there is an immense difference among those who profess and call themselves Christians. Beyond all dispute there are always two classes in the outward Church: the class of those who are Christians in name and form only, and the class of those who are Christians in deed and in truth. All were not Israel who were called Israel, and all are not Christians who are called Christians. . . . Some worship God as a mere form, and some in spirit and in truth. Some give their hearts to God, and some give them to the world. Some believe the Bible, and live as if they believed it: others do not. Some feel their sins and mourn over them: others do not. Some love Christ, trust in Him, and serve Him: others do not. In short, as Scripture says, some walk in the narrow way, some in the broad; some are the good fish of the Gospel net, some are the bad; some are the wheat in Christ’s field, and some are the tares. I think no man with his eyes open can fail to see all this, both in the Bible, and in the world around him. Whatever he may think about the subject I am writing of, he cannot possibly deny that this difference exists. —J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 124–125. The reason for the difference should be obvious. Now what is the explanation of the difference? I answer unhesitatingly, Regeneration, or being born again. I answer that true Christians are what they are, because they are regenerate, and formal Christians are what they are, because they are not regenerate. The heart of the Christian in deed has been changed. The heart of the Christian in name only, has not been changed. The change of heart makes the whole difference. —Ibid., 125. We should expect the number of these formal Christians to be much smaller in churches that practice biblically meaningful membership, but even then, there will be some unregenerate members along with (we should hope) unconverted nonmembers. This means that our mission field is not only out there in the world, but inside each church, as well. We can never assume that everyone sitting in our pews are converted. We can never stop preaching, “You must be born again.”

Six Marks of Regeneration

It is very unfashionable these days—not only in the world, but also within the church—to engage in anything resembling judgment. It is particularly unpopular to form opinions of the spiritual state of others. Doubting the profession of anyone who claims to be a Christian is simply not kosher. Yet we are given instructions such as “Do not be bound together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14), which we can hardly obey without—[gasp!]—judging. Far more importantly, we must judge ourselves (2 Corinthians 6:5). To that end, J. C. Ryle offers “six great marks of regeneration,” laid down in Scripture. (1) First of all, St John says, ‘Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin’, and again, ‘Whosoever is born of God sinneth not’ (1 John 3:9; 5:18). A regenerate man does not commit sin as a habit. He no longer sins with his heart and will, and whole inclination, as an unregenerate man does. There was probably a time when he did not think whether his actions were sinful or not, and never felt grieved after doing evil. There was no quarrel between him and sin;—they were friends. Now he hates sin, flees from it, fights against it, counts it his greatest plague, groans under the burden of its presence, mourns when he falls under its influence, and longs to be delivered from it altogether. . . . (2) Secondly, St John says, ‘whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God’ (1 John 5:1). A regenerate man believes that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour by whom his soul can be pardoned and justified, that He is the Divine Person appointed and anointed by God the Father for this very purpose, and that beside him there is No Saviour at all. In himself he sees nothing but unworthiness, but in Christ he sees ground for the fullest confidence, and trusting in him he believes that his sins are all forgiven, and his iniquities all put away. He believes that for the sake of Christ’s finished work and death upon the cross he is reckoned righteous in God’s sight, and may look forward to death and judgment without alarm. He may have his fears and doubts. . . . [But] he would say he found a preciousness in Christ, a suitableness to his own soul in Christ, that he found nowhere else, and that he must cling to Him. (3) Thirdly, St John says, ‘Everyone that doeth righteousness is born of [God]’ (1 John 2:29). The regenerate man is a holy man. He endeavours to live according to God’s will, to do the things that please God, to avoid the things that God hates. His aim and desire is to love God with heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and to love his neighbour as himself. . . . No doubt he is not perfect. None will tell you that sooner than himself. He groans under the burden of indwelling corruption cleaving to him. He finds an evil principle within him constantly warring against grace, and trying to draw him away from God. But he does not consent to it, though he cannot prevent its presence. In spite of all short-comings, the average bent and bias of his way is holy,—his doings holy,—his tastes holy,—and his habits holy. . . . (4) Fourthly, St John says, ‘We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren’ (1 John 3:14). A regenerate man has a special love for all true disciples of Christ. Like his Father in heaven, he loves all men with a great general love, but he has a special love for them who are of one mind with himself. Like his Lord and Saviour, he loves the worst of sinners, and could weep over them; but he has a peculiar love for those who are believers. . . . They are Jesus Christ’s people: they are His Father’s sons and daughters. Then he cannot help loving them. (5) Fifthly, St John says, ‘Whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world.’ (1 John 5:4). A regenerate man does not make the world’s opinion his rule, of right and wrong. He does not mind going against the stream of the world’s ways, notions, and customs. ‘What will men say?’ is no longer a turning point with him. He overcomes the love of the world. . . . He overcomes the fear of the world. He is content to do many things which all around him think unnecessary, to say the least. They blame him: it does not move him. They ridicule him: he does not give way. He loves the praise of God more than the praise of man. . . . (6) Sixthly, St John says, ‘He that is begotten of God keepeth himself’ (1 John 5:18). A regenerate man is very careful of his own soul. He endeavours not only to keep clear of sin, but also to keep clear of everything which may lead to it. He is careful about the company he keeps. He feels that evil communications corrupt the heart, and that evil is far more catching than good, just as disease is more infectious than health. . . . He finds by experience that his soul is ever among enemies, and he studies to be a watchful, humble, prayerful man. . . . I know there is a vast difference in the depth and distinctness of these marks among those who are ‘regenerate’. In some people they are faint, dim, feeble, and hardly to be discerned. Yon almost need a microscope to make them out. In others they are bold, sharp, clear, plain, and unmistakable, so that he who runs may read them. Some of these marks are more visible in some people, and others are more visible in others. It seldom happens that all are equally manifest in one and the same soul. All this I am quite ready to allow. But still, after every allowance, here we find boldly painted the six marks of being born of God. . . . Now what shall we say to these things? What they can say who hold that Regeneration is only an admission to outward Church privileges, I am sure I do not know. For myself, I say boldly, I can only come to one conclusion. That conclusion is, that those persons only are ‘regenerate’ who have these six marks about them, and that all men and women who have not these marks are not ‘regenerate’, are not born again. And I firmly believe that this is the conclusion to which the Apostle wished us to come. —J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 138–144.

The One True Church

Throughout history, many religions, from the large and famous to the small and obscure, have claimed to be the “one true church.” Without exception, none of them have fit the description of a true church, let alone the true church. But that is not to say that such a church does not exist. There is a church outside of which there is no salvation, a church to which a man must belong, or be lost eternally. I lay this down without hesitation or reserve. I say it as strongly and as confidently as the strongest advocate of the Church of Rome. But what is this church? Where is this church? What are the marks by which this church may be known? This is the grand question. The one true church is well described . . . as ‘the mystical body of Christ, which is the blessed company of all faithful people’. It is composed of all believers in the Lord Jesus.—It is made up of all God’s elect,—of all converted men and women,—of all true Christians. . . . It is a church of which all the members have the same marks.—They are all born again of the Spirit. They all possess ‘repentance towards God, faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ’, and holiness of life and conversation.—They all hate sin, and they all love Christ. . . . They are all led by one Spirit. They all build upon one foundation.—They all draw their religion from one single book.—They are all joined to one great centre, that is Jesus Christ. . . . It is a church whose existence does not depend on forms, ceremonies, cathedrals, churches, chapels, pulpits, fonts, vestments, organs, endowments, money, kings, governments, magistrates, or any favour whatsoever from the hand of man. It has often lived on and continued when all these things have been taken from it. It has often been driven into the wilderness, or into dens and caves of the earth, by those who ought to have been its friends. But its existence depends on nothing but the presence of Christ and his Spirit, and so long as they are with it the church cannot die. This is the church to which the titles of present honour and privilege, and the promises of future glory especially belong.—This is the body of Christ.—This is the bride.—This is the Lamb’s wife.—This is the flock of Christ.—This is the household of faith and family of God.—This is God’s building, God’s foundation, and the temple of the Holy Ghost. This is the church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven. This is the royal priesthood, the chosen generation, the peculiar people, the purchased possession, the habitation of God, the light of the world, the salt and the wheat of the earth. This is the ‘holy catholic church’ of the Apostles’ Creed.—This is the ‘one catholic and apostolic church’ of the Nicene Creed.—This is that church to which the Lord Jesus promises ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’, and to which he says, ‘I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world’ (Matt. 16:18; 28:20). This is the only church which possesses true unity. Its members are entirely agreed on all the weightier matters of religion, for they are all taught by one Spirit. . . . This is the only church which possesses true sanctity. Its members are all holy. They are not merely holy by profession, holy in name, and holy in the judgment of charity. They are all holy in act, and deed, and reality, and life, and truth. They are all more or less conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. They are all more or less like their great Head. No unholy man belongs to this church. This is the only church which is truly catholic. It is not the church of any one nation or people. Its members are to be found in every part of the world where the gospel is received and believed. It is not confined within the limits of any one country, nor pent up within the pale of any particular forms or outward government. In it there is no difference between Jew and Greek, black man and white, Episcopalian and Presbyterian;—but faith in Christ is all Its members will be gathered from north, and south, and east, and west, in the last day; and will be of every name, and denomination, and kindred, and people, and tongue, but all one in Christ Jesus. This is the only church which is truly apostolic. It is built on the foundation laid by the apostles, and holds the doctrines which they preached. The two grand objects at which its members aim, are apostolic faith and apostolic practice; and they consider the man who talks of following the apostles without possessing these two things, to be no better than sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. This is the only church which is certain to endure unto the end. Nothing can altogether overthrow and destroy it. Its members may be persecuted, oppressed, imprisoned, beaten, beheaded, burned.—But the true church is never altogether extinguished. . . . It is a bush which is often burning, and yet is not consumed. This is the only church of which no one member can perish. Once enrolled in the lists of this church, sinners are safe for eternity.—They are never cast away. The election of God the Father,—the continual intercession of God the Son,—the daily renewing and sanctifying power of God the Holy Ghost, surround and fence them in like a garden enclosed. Not one bone of Christ’s mystical body shall ever be broken. Not one lamb of Christ’s flock shall ever be plucked out of his hand. . . . This is the church which shall be truly glorious at the end of all things. When all earthly glory is passed away, then shall this church be presented without spot, before God the Father’s throne. . . . When the Lord’s jewels are made up, and the manifestation of the sons of God takes place, Episcopacy, and Presbyterianism, and Congregationalism will not be mentioned. One church only will be named, and that is the church of the elect. . . . This is the church to which a man must belong, if he would be saved. Till we belong to this, we are nothing better than lost souls. We may have the form, the husk, the skin, and the shell of religion, but we have not got the substance and the life. . . . All were not Israel who were called Israel, and all are not members of Christ’s body who profess themselves Christians. Never let us forget that we may be staunch Episcopalians, or Presbyterians, or Independents, or Baptists, or Wesleyans, or Plymouth Brethren,—and yet not belong to the true church. And if we do not, it will be better at last if we had never been born. —J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 240–247.

The Kernel Is in the Husk

In the previous post, J. C. Ryle described the one true church, outside of which there is no salvation. This church is the body of Christ, composed of all God’s elect who have been born again (John 3). No congregation or denomination can claim to be that one true church. Let us not, however, make the mistake, as some do, of thinking that communion in a local congregation is unnecessary, that our faith is a personal, private matter between ourselves and God, and that we can worship as well—or better, even—in solitude. Such a notion is not only absent from, but contrary to, the New Testament record. No careful reader of the Bible can fail to observe that many separate churches are mentioned in the New Testament. At Corinth, at Ephesus, at Thessalonica, at Antioch, at Smyrna, at Sardis, at Laodicea, and several other places; at each we find a distinct body of professing Christians,—a body of people baptized in Christ’s name, and professing the faith of Christ’s Gospel. And these bodies of people we find spoken of as ‘the churches’ of the places which are named. Thus St Paul says to the Corinthians, ‘But . . . we have no such custom, neither the churches of Christ’ (1 Cor. 11:16). So also we read of the churches of Judea, the churches of Syria, the churches of Galatia, the churches of Asia, the churches of Macedonia. In each case the expression means the bodies of baptized Christians in the countries mentioned. . . . We know, moreover, that in all these churches there was public worship, preaching, reading of the Scriptures, prayer, praise, discipline, order, government, the ministry, and the sacraments. What kind of governments some churches had it is impossible to say positively. We read of officers who were called angels, of bishops, of deacons, of elders, of pastors, of teachers, of evangelists, of prophets, of helps, of governments. (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3; Rev. 1:20.) All these are mentioned. . . . Their two chief principles seem to be, ‘Let all things be done decently and in order;—Let all things be done unto edifying’ (1 Cor. 14:40, 26) . . . We know, finally, that the work begun by the missionary preaching of the Apostles was carried on through the instrumentality of the professing churches. It was through the means of grace used in their public assemblies that God added to the number of his people, converted sinners, and built up saints. Mixed and imperfect as these churches plainly were, within their pale were to be found nearly all the existing believers and members of the body of Christ. Everything in the New Testament leads us to suppose that there could have been few believers, if any, who were not members of some one or other of the professing churches scattered up and down the world. . . . Let us look upon visible churches, with their outward forms and ordinances, as being to the one true church what the husk is to the kernel of the nut. Both grow together,—both husk and kernel. Yet one is far more precious than the other. Just so the true church is far more precious than the outward and visible.—The husk is useful to the kernel. It preserves it from many injuries, and enables it to grow. Just so the outward church is useful to the body of Christ; it is within the pale of its ordinances that believers are generally born again, and grow up in faith, hope, and charity.—The husk is utterly worthless without the kernel. Just so the outward church is utterly worthless except it guards and covers over the inward and the true.—The husk will die, but the kernel has a principle of life in it. Just so the forms and ordinances of the outward church will all pass away, but that which lives and lasts for ever is the true church within.—To expect the kernel without the husk, is expecting that which is contrary to the common order of the laws of nature. To expect to find the true church, and members of the true church, without having an orderly and well-governed and visible church, is expecting that which God, in the ordinary course of things, does not give. —J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 247–250, 254.

Where is Christ, as man?

I suppose I’ve already posted enough on the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Table, but at the risk of beating a dead horse, here is one more. We know that Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, was, and remains, both God and man. These two natures, divine and human, are complete—that is, he is not half-God and half-man, but fully God and fully man. Consequently, his two natures cannot be divided. Therefore, the issue of the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Table can be put to rest by the answer to one question: But where is Christ, as man? That is the point. Where is the body that was born of the Virgin Mary? Where is the head that was crowned with thorns? Where are the hands that were nailed to the cross, and the feet that walked by the sea of Galilee? Where are the eyes that wept tears at the grave of Lazarus? Where is the side that was pierced with a spear? Where is the ‘visage that was marred more than any man, and the form more than the sons of men’? (Isa. 52:14). Where, in a word, is the man Christ Jesus? That is the question. I answer in the words of Scripture, that ‘Christ is passed into the heavens’,—that he ‘has entered into the holy place,’ that,—’He has entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us’,—and that ‘the heavens must receive him until the time of restitution of all things’ (Heb. 4:14; 9:12–24; Acts 3:21). Let us mark this well. Christ, as man, is in heaven, and not in the grave. . . . If ever there was a fact proved by unanswerable evidence in this world, it is the fact that Jesus rose from the dead!—That he died on a Friday, is certain. That he was buried in a sepulchre hewn out of rock that night, is certain. That the stone over the place was sealed, and a guard of soldiers set around it, is certain. That the grave was opened and the body gone on Sunday morning, is certain. That the soldiers could give no account of it, is certain. That the disciples themselves could hardly believe that their Master had risen, is certain. That after seeing him several times for forty days, they at last were convinced, is certain. That, once convinced, they never ceased to teach and hold, even to death, that their Master had risen, is certain. That the unbelieving Jews could neither shake the disciples out of their belief, nor show Christ’s dead body, nor give any satisfactory account of what had become of it, is equally certain. All this is certain, certain, certain! The resurrection of Christ is a great, unanswerable, undeniable fact. There are none so blind as those that will not see. Once more let us mark this point. Christ, as man, is in heaven and not on the Communion Table, at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. He is not present at that holy sacrament under the form of bread and wine, as the Roman Catholics, and some Anglicans, say. The consecrated bread is not the body of Christ, and the consecrated wine is not the blood of Christ. Those sacred elements are the emblem of something absent, and not of something present. The words of the Prayer-book state this fact with unmistakable clearness: The sacramental bread and wine remain still in their very natural substance, and therefore may not be adored (for that were idolatry to be abhorred of all faithful Christians); and the natural body and blood of our Saviour Christ are in heaven and not here, it being against the truth of Christ’s natural body to be at one time in more places than one.—Rubric at the end of the Communion Service. Let these things sink down into our hearts. It is a point of vast importance in this day, to see clearly where Christ’s natural body and blood are. Right knowledge of this point may save our souls from many ruinous errors. Let us not be moved, for a moment, by the infidel, when he sneers at miracles, and tries to persuade us that a religion based on miracles cannot be true. . . . Ask him to grapple, like a man, with the greatest miracle of all,—the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Ask him to explain away the evidence of that miracle, if he can. Remind him that, long before he died, Jesus Christ staked the truth of his Messiahship on his resurrection, and told the Jews not to believe him if he did not rise from the dead. Remind him that the Jews remembered this, and did all they could to prevent any removal of our Lord’s body, but in vain. Tell him, finally, that when he has overthrown the evidence of Christ’s resurrection, it will be time to listen to his argument against miracles in general, but not till then. The man Christ Jesus is in heaven, and not on earth. The mere fact that his natural body and blood are in heaven, is one among many proofs of the truth of Christianity. Let us not be moved by the Roman Catholic, any more than by the infidel. Let us not listen to his favourite doctrine of Christ’s body and blood being ‘really present’ in the elements of bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper. It is his common argument that we should believe the doctrine, though we cannot understand it; and that it is a pleasant, comfortable, and reverent thought, that Christ’s natural body and blood are in the bread and wine in some mysterious way, though we know not how. Let us beware of the argument. It is not only without foundation of Scripture, but full of dangerous heresy. Let us stand fast on the old doctrine, that Christ’s natural body and blood ‘cannot be in more places than one at one time.’ Let us maintain firmly that Christ’s human nature is like our own, sin only excepted, and cannot therefore be at once in heaven and on the Communion Table. He that overthrows the doctrine of Christ’s real, true, and proper humanity, is no friend to the Gospel, any more than he that denies his divinity. Tell me that my Lord is not really man, and you rob me of one half of my soul’s comfort. Tell me that his body can be on earth and yet in heaven at the same time, and you tell me that he is not man. Let us resist this mischievous doctrine. Christ, as man, is in heaven, and in heaven alone. —J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 247–272, 275.

The One Mediator

It is important to know that Jesus is in heaven. Having been both our priest and final, all-sufficient sacrifice, he now continues his priestly work of intercession on our behalf. We need not doubt that Christ, as our Priest, is ever interceding for us in heaven. It is written, ‘He is able to save them to the uttermost who come unto God by him because he ever liveth to make intercession for them’ (Heb. 7:25). It is asked by St Paul, ‘Who is he that condemneth?’ and one reason he gives why there is no condemnation for believers, is the fact that ‘Christ maketh intercession for us’ (Rom. 8:34). Of the manner of that intercession we cannot of course speak particularly: we may not intrude into things unseen. But it may suffice us to remember how our Lord prayed for his people in the seventeenth chapter of John, and how he told Peter he prayed for him, that his faith might not fail (Luke 22:32). Our great High Priest knows how to intercede. . . . We need not doubt that Christ as a Priest in heaven is continually doing the work of a Receiver of sinners, and a Mediator between God and man. The priest was the person to whom the Israelite was bidden to go, when he was ceremonially unclean and wanted forgiveness. The command was distinct: ‘Go to the priest’. The Heavenly Priest is the person to whom labouring and heavy-laden souls ought always to be directed when they want pardon and rest. He that feels the burden of sin on his conscience and wants it taken away, ought to be told that there is One appointed by the Father for the very purpose of taking it away, and that the first step he must take is to go to him . . . Let us thank God daily that Christ is doing the work of a Priest for us in heaven. Let us glory in his death, but let us not glory less in his life. Let us praise God daily that Jesus ‘died for our sins according to the Scriptures’; but let us never forget to praise him that he ‘rose again for us, and sat down at the right hand of God’. Let us be thankful for the precious blood of Christ; but let us not be less thankful for his precious intercession. . . . Christ’s Priesthood is the great secret of a saint’s perseverance to the end. Left to ourselves there would be little likelihood of our getting safe home. We might begin well and end ill. So weak are our hearts, so busy the devil, so many the temptations of the world, that nothing could prevent our making shipwreck. But, thanks be to God, the Priesthood of Christ secures our safety.—He who never slumbers and never sleeps is continually watching over our interests, and providing for our need. While Satan pours water on the fire of grace, and strives to quench it, Christ pours on oil, and makes it bum more brightly. Start us in the narrow way of life, with pardon, grace, and a new heart, and leave us to ourselves, and we should soon fall away. But grant us the continual intercession of an Almighty Priest in heaven,—God as well as Man, and Man as well as God,—and we shall never be lost. ‘Because I live’, says our Lord, ‘ye shall live also’ (John 14:19). Let us ever beware of any doctrine which interferes with the Priesthood of Christ. Any system of religion which teaches that we need other mediators besides Jesus,—other priests besides Jesus,—other intercessors besides Jesus,—is unscriptural and dangerous to men’s souls. . . . ‘There is no office of Christ,’ said John Owen, ‘that Satan labours so hard to obscure and overthrow as his priestly one’. Satan cares little, comparatively, for Christ the Prophet, and Christ the King, so long as he can persuade man to forget Christ the Priest. For ever let us stand fast on this point. That Christ is carrying on the office of a Priest in heaven, is the crown and glory of Christian theology. —J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 278, 280–282.

Pain Is Our Friend

A while ago, during a visit from our grandchildren, I watched with a mixture of exasperation and amusement as our toddling grandson explored my office, testing the limits of his reach, and relocating everything he could possibly get his grabby little hands on. Eventually, he made his way to the edge of a table on which a candle stood, burning. For a while, he just looked at the candle, watching the flame dance and flicker. Of course, he couldn’t just look for long. Soon, his little fingers were reaching upwards. A first-time parent would have rushed to rescue him from sure death, but being a veteran father of I-forget-how-many, I saw a teachable moment. Sure, I could have said, “No,” and removed the candle, but that measure would have to be repeated endlessly until the inevitable happened anyway, so, saving myself and everyone else involved the trouble, I just watched as he reached out and poked his finger directly into the flame. You can guess what happened next: He stood there with his finger in the flame until it was burned to a smoldering black crisp, screaming the entire time. “That’ll teach him,” I said. No, of course that’s not how it went. His finger was in the flame less than a second before he yanked it out with a holler of pain. “That’ll teach him,” I said—for real, this time. And it did. I am thoroughly convinced he will never do that again. Why? You know why: because it hurt. Pain is our friend. Pain spares us from injury. My grandson was just fine, because fire hurts, and he could feel it. A hug and a few Peanut M&Ms, and the healing was complete. But not everyone is so fortunate. Hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathy (HSN) is a congenital condition that affects an estimated one in 25,000. It is characterized by a loss of sensory nerve function. Those who suffer from HSN experience, to varying degrees, a reduced ability to feel pain and sense hot and cold. Consequently, they are prone to injuries that a normal sense of pain would prevent, and may fail to seek treatment of injuries because they may not even realize they have been injured. They may even die of injuries that could have been prevented, if only they could have felt the pain. While a relative few suffer from HSN, there is a far worse, far more dangerous congenital defect that affects every child ever born: insensitivity to sin. J. C. Ryle writes, No heart is in so bad a state as the heart that does not feel sin. Shall I say what is my first and foremost wish for men’s souls, if they are yet unconverted? I can wish them nothing better than thorough self-knowledge. Ignorance of self and sin is the root of all mischief to the soul. There is hardly a religious error or a false doctrine that may not be traced up to it. Light was the first thing called into being. When God created the world, He said, ‘Let there be light’ (Gen. 1:3). Light is the first thing that the Holy Ghost creates in a man’s heart, when He awakens, converts, and makes him a true Christian (2 Cor. 4:6). For want of seeing sin men do not value salvation. Once let a man get a sight of his own heart, and he will begin to cry, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ If a man has learned to feel and acknowledge his sinfulness, he has great reason to thank God. It is a real symptom of health in the inward man. It is a mighty token for good. To know our spiritual disease is one step towards a cure. To feel bad and wicked and hell-deserving, is the first beginning of being really good. What though we feel ashamed and confounded at the sight of our own transgressions! What though we are humbled to the dust, and cry, ‘Lord, I am vile. Lord, I am the very chief of sinners!’ It is better a thousand times to have these feelings and be miserable under them, than to have no feelings at all. Anything is better than a dead conscience, and a cold heart, and a prayerless tongue! If we have learned to feel and confess sin, we may well thank God and take courage. Whence came those feelings? Who told you that you were a guilty sinner? What moved you to begin acknowledging your transgressions? How was it that you first found sin a burden, and longed to be set free from it?—These feelings do not come from man’s natural heart. The devil does not teach such lessons. The schools of this world have no power to impart them. These feelings came down from above. They are the precious gifts of God the Holy Ghost. It is His special office to convince of sin. The man who has really learned to feel and confess his sins, has learned that which millions never learn, and for want of which millions die in their sins, and are lost to all eternity. —J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 295–296.

The Unity of Hell

Earlier today, I saw this statement by J. C. Ryle quoted: “Never let us be guilty of sacrificing any portion of truth upon the altar of peace.” This exhortation has never been more relevant than it is today, when so many churches are—by allowing error in their pulpits or tolerating, and even praising, erroneous teaching at conferences or in popular writing—guilty of the charge, “you tolerate the woman Jezebel.” By this tolerance, churches, many otherwise evangelical, lead (whether actively or passively) the sheep astray. Here is the full paragraph from whence the quotation is drawn: Yes! peace without truth is a false peace; it is the very peace of the devil. Unity without the Gospel is a worthless unity; it is the very unity of hell. Let us never be ensnared by those who speak kindly of it. Let us remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: ‘Think not that I came to send peace upon earth. I came not to send peace, but a sword’ (Matt. 10:34). Let us remember the praise He gives to one of the Churches in the Revelation: ‘Thou canst not bear them which are evil. Thou hast tried them which say they are Apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars’ (Rev. 2:2). Let us remember the blame He casts upon another: ‘Thou sufferest that woman Jezebel to teach’ (Rev. 2:20). Never let us be guilty of sacrificing any portion of truth upon the altar of peace. Let us rather be like the Jews, who, if they found any manuscript copy of the Old Testament Scriptures incorrect in a single letter, burned the whole copy, rather than run the risk of losing one jot or tittle of the Word of God. Let us be content with nothing short of the whole Gospel of Christ. —J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 416.


Who Is Jesus?

The Gospel
What It Means to Be a Christian

Norma Normata
What I Believe

Westminster Bookstore

  Sick of lame Christian radio?
  Try RefNet