For J.C.Ryle’s 200th Birthday….

The godly first bishop of Liverpool was born 200 years ago today. To celebrate his 200th Birthday here is a lightly edited and abreviated version of his own introduction to his best known book “Holiness.” It never cease to amaze me how fresh his work sounds despite the passing of time. The issues that he saw affecting the church in his day are all still alive and kicking in ours!

“True holiness, we surely ought to remember, does not consist merely of inward sensations and impressions. It is much more then tears, and sighs, and bodily excitement, and a quickened pulse, and a passionate feeling of attachment to our favorite preachers and our own religious party, and a readiness to quarrel with everyone who does not agree with us. It is something of “the image of Christ” which can be seen and observed by others in our private life, and habits, and character, and doings!”


INTRODUCTION TO “HOLINESS”

The twenty papers contained in this volume are a humble contribution to a cause which is exciting much interest in the present day — I mean the cause of scriptural holiness. It is a cause which everyone who loves Christ, and desires to advance His kingdom in the world, should endeavour to help forward. Everyone can do something, and I wish to add my mite.

I have had a deep conviction for many years, that practical holiness and entire self-consecration to God are not sufficiently attended to by modern Christians in this country. Politics, or controversy, or party-spirit, or worldliness — have eaten out the heart of vital faith in too many of us. The subject of personal godliness has fallen sadly into the background. The standard of Christian living has become painfully low in many quarters. The immense importance of “adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour” (Titus 2:10), and making it lovely and beautiful by our daily habits and tempers — has been far too much overlooked.

Worldly people sometimes complain with reason that “religious” people, are not so amiable and unselfish and good-natured, as others who make no profession of religion. Yet sanctification, in its place and proportion, is quite as important as justification. Sound Protestant and Evangelical doctrine is useless — if it is not accompanied by a holy life. It is worse then useless; it does positive harm. It is despised by keen-sighted and shrewd men of the world, as an unreal and hollow thing, and brings religion into contempt. It is my firm impression that we need a thorough revival of Scriptural holiness — and I am deeply thankful that attention is being directed to the point.

It is, however, of great importance that the whole subject should be placed on right foundations, and that the movement about it should not be damaged by crude, disproportion, and one-sided statements. If such statements abound, we must not be surprised. Satan knows well the power of true holiness, and the immense injury which increased attention to it will do to his kingdom. It is his interest, therefore, to promote strife and controversy about this part of God’s truth. Just as in time past he has succeeded in mystifying and confusing men’s minds about justification — so he is labouring in the present day to make men “darken counsel by words without knowledge” about sanctification. May the Lord rebuke him! I cannot however give up the hope that good will be brought out of evil, that discussion will elicit truth, and that variety of opinion will lead us all to search the Scriptures more, to pray more, and to become more diligent in trying to find out what is “the mind of the Spirit.”

I now feel it a duty, in sending forth this volume, to offer a few introductory hints to those whose attention is specially directed to the subject of sanctification in the present day. I know that I do so at the risk of seeming presumptuous, and possibly of giving offence. But something must be ventured in the interests of God’s truth. I shall therefore put my hints into the form of questions, and I shall request my readers to take them as Cautions for the Times on the Subject of Holiness.

1] I ask, in the first place, whether it is wise to speak of faith as the one thing needful, and the only thing required, as many seem to do now-a-days in handling the doctrine of sanctification? Is it wise to proclaim in so bald, naked, and unqualified a way as many do — that holiness of converted people is by faith only — and not at all by personal exertion? Is it according to the proportion of God’s Word? I doubt it.

That faith in Christ is the root of all holiness;
that the first step towards a holy life is to believe on Christ;
that until we believe — we have not a jot of holiness;
that union with Christ by faith is the secret of both beginning to be holy and continuing holy;
that the life that we live in the flesh, we must live by faith in Jesus;
that faith purifies the heart;
that faith is the victory that overcomes the world;
that by faith the ancients obtained a good report —
all these are truths which no well-instructed Christian will ever think of denying.

But surely the Scriptures teach us that in following holiness, the true Christian needs personal exertion and work — as well as faith. The very same Apostle who says in one place, “The life that I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,” says in another place, “I fight — I run — I keep under my body control.” And in other places, “Let us cleanse ourselves — let us labor, let us lay aside every weight.” (Galatians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 9:26; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 4:11; Hebrews 12:1.)

Moreover, the Scriptures nowhere teach us that faith sanctifies us in the same sense, and in the same manner, that faith justifies us! Justifying faith is a grace that “works not,” but simply trusts, rests, and leans on Christ. (Romans 4:5.) Sanctifying faith is a grace of which the very life is action — it “works by love,” and, like a main-spring, moves the whole inward man. (Galatians 5:6.)

We are frequently told that a man is “justified by faith, without the works of the law,” by Paul. But not once are we told that we are “sanctified by faith, without the deeds of the law.” On the contrary, we are expressly told by James, that the faith whereby we are visibly and demonstratively justified before man, is a faith which “if it has not works is dead, being alone.” (James 2:17.) I may be told, in reply, that no one of course means to disparage “works” as an essential part of a holy life. It would be well, however, to make this more plain than many seem to make it in these days.

(2) I ask, in the second place, whether it is wise to make so little as some appear to do, comparatively, of the many practical exhortations to holiness in daily life which are to be found in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the latter part of most of Paul’s epistles? 

Is it according to the proportion of God’s Word? I doubt it.

That a life of daily self-consecration and daily communion with God should be aimed at by everyone who professes to be a believer — that we should strive to attain the habit of going to the Lord Jesus Christ with everything we find a burden, whether great or small, and casting it upon Him — all this, I repeat, no well-taught child of God will dream of disputing. But surely the New Testament teaches us that we need something more then generalities about holy living, which often pierce no conscience and give no offence.

The details and particular ingredients of which holiness is composed in daily life, ought to be fully set forth and pressed on believers by all who profess to handle the subject.

Our tongues, our tempers, our natural passions and inclinations — our conduct as parents and children, masters and servants, husbands and wives, rulers and subjects — our dress, our employment of time, our behaviour in business, our demeanour in sickness and health, in riches and poverty — all, all these are matters which are fully treated by inspired writers. They are not content with a general statement of what we should believe and feel, and how we are to have the roots of holiness planted in our hearts. They dig down lower. They go into particulars. They specify minutely, what a holy man ought to do an be in his own family, by his own fireside, and at the work-place.

True holiness, we surely ought to remember, does not consist merely of inward sensations and impressions. It is much more than tears, and sighs, and bodily excitement, and a quickened pulse, and a passionate feeling of attachment to our favourite preachers and our own religious party, and a readiness to quarrel with everyone who does not agree with us. It is something of “the image of Christ” which can be seen and observed by others in our private life, and habits, and character, and doings! (Romans 8:29.)

(3) I ask in the third place, whether it is wise to use vague language about perfection, and to press on Christians a standard of holiness, as attainable in this world — for which there is no warrant to be shown either in Scripture or experience? I doubt it.

That believers are exhorted to “perfect holiness in the fear of God” — to “go on to perfection” — to “be perfect,” no careful reader of his Bible will ever think of denying. (2 Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 6:1; 2 Corinthians 13:11.) But I have yet to learn that there is a single passage in Scripture which teaches that a literal perfection — that a complete and entire freedom from sin, in thought, or word, or deed — is attainable, or has ever been attained, by any child of Adam in this world.

A comparative perfection, an all-around consistency in every relation of life, a soundness in every point of doctrine — this may be seen occasionally in some of God’s believing people. But as to an absolute literal perfection — the most eminent saints of God in every age have always been the very last to lay claim to it! On the contrary, they have always had the deepest sense of their own utter unworthiness and imperfection. The more spiritual light they have enjoyed — the more they have seen their own countless defects and shortcomings! The more grace they have had — the more they been “clothed with humility.” (1 Peter 5:5.)

What saint can be named in God’s Word, of whose life many details are recorded, who was literally and absolutely perfect? Which of them all, when writing about himself, ever talks of feeling free from imperfection? On the contrary, men like David, and Paul, and John, declare in the strongest language, that they feel weakness and sin in their own hearts.

In face of such facts as these, I must protest against the language used in many quarters, in these last days, about perfection. I must think that those who use it either know very little . . .

of the nature of sin,
or the attributes of God,
or of their own hearts,
or of the Bible,
or of the meaning of words.

When a professing Christian coolly tells me that he has got beyond such hymns as “Just as I am,” and that they are below his present experience, though they suited him when he first took up religion — I must think that his soul is in a very unhealthy state! When a man can talk coolly of the possibility of “living without sin” while in the body, and can actually say that he has “never had an evil thought for three months” — I can only say that in my opinion, he is a very ignorant Christian!

I protest against such teaching as this. It not only does no good, but does immense harm. It disgusts and alienates from religion, far-seeing men of the world, who know that it is incorrect and untrue. It depresses some of the best of God’s children, who feel they never can attain to “perfection” of this kind. It puffs up many weak brethren, who imagine that they are something — when they are nothing! In short, it is a dangerous delusion!

 (4) In the fourth place, is it wise to assert so positively and violently, as many do, that the seventh chapter of 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 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 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 — namely, 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. So, at any rate, it appears to me. But I will not enter into any detailed discussion of the chapter.

What I do lay stress upon, is the broad fact that the best commentators in every era of the Church have almost invariably applied the seventh chapter of Romans to advanced believers. The commentators who do not take this view have been, with a few bright exceptions, the Romanists, the Socinians, and the Arminians. Against them, is arrayed the judgment of almost all the Reformers, almost all the Puritans, and the best modern Evangelical divines. I shall be told, of course, that no man is infallible, that the Reformers, Puritans, and modern divines I refer to, may have been entirely mistaken, and the Romanists, Socinians, and Arminians may have been quite right! Our Lord has taught us, no doubt, to “call no man master.” But while I ask no man to call the Reformers and Puritans “masters,” I do ask people to read what they say on this subject, and answer their arguments, if they can. This has not been done yet!

(5) In the fifth place, is it wise to use the language which is often used in the present day about the doctrine of “Christ in us”? I doubt it. Is not this doctrine often exalted to a position which it does not occupy in Scripture? I am afraid that it is.

That the true believer is one with Christ and Christ in him, no careful reader of the New Testament will think of denying for a moment. There is, no doubt, a mystical union between Christ and the believer. With Him we died, with Him we were buried, with Him we rose again, with Him we sit in heavenly places. We have five plain texts where we are distinctly taught that Christ is “in us.” (Romans 8:10; Galatians 2:20; 4:19; Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 3:11.) But we must be careful that we understand what we mean by the expression.

That “Christ dwells in our hearts by faith,” and carries on His inward work by His Spirit — is clear and plain. But if we mean to say that beside, and over, and above this — there is some mysterious indwelling of Christ in a believer, we must be careful what we are about. Unless we take care, we shall find ourselves ignoring the work of the Holy Spirit. We shall be forgetting that in the Divine economy of man’s salvation, that . . .

election is the special work of God the Father;
atonement, mediation, and intercession, are the special work of God the Son;
and sanctification is the special work of God the Holy Spirit.

We shall be forgetting that our Lord said, when He went away, that He would send us another Comforter, who would “abide with us” forever, and, as it were, take His Place. (John 14:16.) In short, under the idea that we are honouring Christ, we shall find that we are dishonouring His special and peculiar gift — the Holy Spirit.

Christ, no doubt, as God, is everywhere — in our hearts, in Heaven, in the place where two or three are meet together in His name. But we really must remember that Christ, as our risen Head and High Priest, is specially at God’s right hand interceding for us until He comes the second time — and that Christ carries on His work in the hearts of His people, by the special work of His Spirit, whom He promised to send when He left the world. (John 15:26.) A comparison of the ninth and tenth verses of the eighth chapter of Romans, seems to me to show this plainly. It convinces me that “Christ in us” means Christ in us “by His Spirit.” Above all, the words of John are most distinct and express: “Hereby we know that He abides in us — by the Spirit which He has given us.” (1 John 3:24.)

In saying all this, I hope no one will misunderstand me. I do not say that the expression, “Christ in us” is unscriptural. But I do say that I see great danger of giving extravagant and unscriptural importance to the idea contained in the expression; and I do fear that many use it now-a-days without exactly knowing what they mean, and unwittingly, perhaps, dishonour the mighty work of the Holy Spirit.

If any reader thinks that I am needlessly scrupulous about the point, I recommend to their notice a curious book by Samuel Rutherford called “The Spiritual Antichrist.” They will see there that two centuries ago, the wildest heresies arose out of an extravagant teaching of this very doctrine of the “indwelling of Christ” in believers.

They maintained that the separate, personal life of the believer was so completely gone, that it was Christ living in him who repented, and believed, and acted! The root of this huge error was a forced and unscriptural interpretation of such texts as “I live — yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20.) And the natural result of it was that many of the unhappy followers of this school, came to the comfortable conclusion that believers were not responsible, whatever they might do! Believers, forsooth, were dead and buried — and only Christ lived in them, and undertook everything for them! The ultimate consequence was, that some thought they might sit still in a carnal security, their personal accountableness being entirely gone, and might commit any kind of sin without fear!

Let us never forget that truth, distorted and exaggerated — can become the mother of the most dangerous heresies! When we speak of “Christ being in us,” let us take care to explain what we mean. I fear some neglect this in the present day.

(6) In the sixth place, is it wise to draw such a deep, wide, and distinct line of separation between conversion and consecration, or the higher-life, so called — as many do draw in the present day? Is this according to the proportion of God’s Word? I doubt it.

There is, unquestionably, nothing new in this teaching. It is well known that Romish writers often maintain that the world is divided into three classes — unconverted, penitents, and saints. The modern teachers of this day who tell us that there are of three sorts of people — the unconverted, the converted, and the partakers of the “higher life” of complete consecration — appear to me to occupy very much the same ground! But whether the idea be old or new, Romish or English, I am utterly unable to see that it has any warrant of Scripture. The Word of God always speaks of only two classes of people . . .

the living — and the dead in sin;
the believer — and the unbeliever;
the converted — and the unconverted;
the travellers in the narrow way — and the travellers in the broad;
the wise — and the foolish;
the children of God — and the children of the devil.

Within each of these two great classes there are, doubtless, various measures of sin and grace; but it only the difference between the higher and lower end of an inclined plane. Between these two great classes there is an enormous gulf; they are as distinct . . .

as life — and death,
light — and darkness,
Heaven — and Hell.

But of a division into three classes, the Word of God says nothing at all! I question the wisdom of making new-fangled divisions which the Bible has not made, and I thoroughly dislike the notion of a second conversion.

That there is a vast difference between one degree of grace and another — that spiritual life admits of growth, and that believers should be continually urged on every account to grow in grace — all this I fully concede.

But the theory of a sudden, mysterious transition of a believer into a state of blessedness and entire consecration at one mighty bound — I cannot receive! It appears to me to be a man-made invention; and I do not see a single plain text to prove it in Scripture!

Gradual growth in grace,
gradual growth in knowledge,
gradual growth in faith,
gradual growth in love,
gradual growth in holiness,
gradual growth in humility,
gradual growth in spiritual-mindedness

— all this I see clearly taught and urged in Scripture, and clearly exemplified in the lives of many of God’s saints. But sudden, instantaneous leaps from conversion to entire consecration — I fail to see in the Bible!

I doubt, indeed, whether we have any warrant for saying that a man can possibly be converted — without being consecrated to God! More consecrated, he doubtless can be, and will be as his grace increases; but if he was not consecrated to God in the very day that he was converted and born again — I do not know what conversion means! Are not men in danger of undervaluing and underrating the immense blessedness of conversion? Are they not, when they urge on believers the “higher life” as a second conversion, underrating the length, and breadth, and depth, and height, of that great first change which Scripture calls the new birth, the new creation, the spiritual resurrection?

I may be mistaken. But I have sometimes thought, while reading the strong language used by many about “consecration,” in the last few years, that those who use it must have had previously a singularly low and inadequate view of “conversion,” if indeed they knew anything about conversion at all. In short, I have almost suspected that when they were consecrated — they were in reality converted for the first time!

I frankly confess that I prefer the old paths. I think it wiser and safer to press on all converted people the possibility of continual growth in grace, and the absolute necessity of going forward, increasing more and more, and in every year, dedicating and consecrating themselves more, in spirit, soul, and body to Christ. By all means let us teach that there is more holiness to be attained, and more of Heaven to be enjoyed upon earth — than most believers now experience.

But I decline to tell any converted man, that he needs a second conversion, and that he may some day or other pass by one enormous step into a state of entire consecration. I decline to teach it, because I think the tendency of the doctrine is thoroughly mischievous, depressing the humble-minded and meek — and puffing up the shallow, the ignorant, and the self-conceited, to a most dangerous extent.

(7) In the seventh and last place, is it wise to teach believers that they ought not to think so much of fighting and struggling against sin, but ought rather to “yield themselves to God,” and be passive in the hands of Christ? Is this according to the proportion of God’s Word? I doubt it.

It is a simple fact that the expression “yield yourselves” is only to be found in one place in the New Testament, as a duty urged upon believers. That place is in the sixth chapter of Romans, and there within six verses the expression occurs five times. (See Romans 6:13-19.) But even there, the word will not bear the sense of “placing ourselves passively in the hands of another.” Any Greek student can tell us that the sense is rather that of actively “presenting” ourselves for use, employment, and service. (See Romans 12:1.) The expression therefore stands alone.

But, on the other hand, it would not be difficult to point out at least twenty-five or thirty distinct passages in the Epistles, where believers are plainly taught to use active personal exertion, and are addressed as responsible for doing personally, what Christ would have them do, and are not told to “yield themselves” up as passive agents and sit still — but to arise and work! A holy violence, a conflict, a warfare, a fight, a soldier’s life, a wrestling — are spoken of as characteristic of the true Christian. The account of “the armour of God” in the sixth chapter of Ephesians, one might think, settles the question.

But the plain truth is, that men will persist in confounding two things that differ — that is, justification and sanctification. In justification, the word to address to man is believe — only believe. In sanctification, the word must be “watch, pray, and fight!” What God has divided — let us not mingle and confuse.

CONCLUSION

I leave the subject of my introduction here, and hasten to a conclusion. I confess that I lay down my pen with feelings of sorrow and concern. There is much in the attitude of professing Christians in this day which fills me with concern, and makes me full fear for the future.

There is an amazing ignorance of Scriptures among many, and a consequent lack of established, solid religion. In no other way can I account for the ease with which people are, like children, “tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” (Ephesians 4:14.)

There is an Athenian love of novelty abroad, and a morbid distaste for anything old and regular, and in the beaten path of our forefathers. Thousands will crowd to hear a new voice and a new doctrine, without considering for a moment whether what they hear is true!

There is an incessant craving after any teaching which is sensational, and exciting, and rousing to the feelings. There is an unhealthy appetite for a sort of spasmodic and hysterical Christianity. The religious life of many is little better then spiritual dram-drinking, and the “meek and quiet spirit” which Peter commends, is clean forgotten. (1 Peter 3:4.) Large crowds, and sensationalism, and dramatic singing, and an incessant rousing of the emotions — are the only things which many care for!

Inability to distinguish differences in doctrine is spreading far and wide, and so long as the preacher is “clever” and “earnest” — hundreds seem to think it must be all right, and call you “dreadfully narrow and uncharitable” if you hint that he is unsound! All preachers seem to be alike in the eyes of such people!

All this is sad, very sad!

For myself, I am aware that I am no longer a young minister. My mind perhaps stiffens, and I cannot easily receive any new doctrine. “The old is better.” I suppose I belong to the old school of Evangelical theology, and I am therefore content with such teachings about sanctification as I find in the old conservative authors.

But I must express a hope that my younger brethren who have taken up new views of holiness, will beware of multiplying causeless divisions.

Do they think that a higher standard of Christian is needed in the present day? So do I.

Do they think that clearer, stronger, fuller teaching about holiness is needed? So do I.

Do they think that Christ ought to be more exalted as the root and author of sanctification as well as justification? So do I.

Do they think that believers should be urged more and more to live by faith? So do I.

Do they think that a very close walk with God should be more pressed on believers as the secret of happiness and usefulness? So do I.

In all of these things, we agree. But if they want to go further, then I ask them to take care where they tread, and to explain very clearly and distinctly what they mean.

It is my heart’s desire, and prayer to God daily, that personal holiness may increase greatly among professing Christians in England. But I trust that all who endeavour to promote it will adhere closely to the proportion of Scripture, will carefully distinguish things that differ, and will separate “the precious from the vile.” (Jeremiah 15:19.)

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2 Comments

  1. An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a coworker who was conducting a little research on this. And he in fact bought me dinner simply because I found it for him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to talk about this subject here on your internet site.

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