A Sermon by J.C. Ryle
"Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord."
- Hebrews 12:14
THE text which heads this page opens up a subject of deep importance. That subject is practical holiness. It suggests a question which demands the attention of all professing Christians-Are we holy? Shall we see the Lord?
That question can never be out of season. The wise man tells us, "There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh-a time to keep silence, and a time to speak" (Eccles. 3:4, 7); but there is no time, no, not a day, in which a man ought not to be holy. Are we?
That question concerns all ranks and conditions of men. Some are rich and some are poor-some learned and some unlearned-some masters, and some servants; but there is no rank or condition in life in which a man ought not to be holy. Are we?
I ask to be heard today about this question. How stands the account between our souls and God? In this hurrying, bustling world, let us stand still for a few minutes and consider the matter of holiness. I believe I might have chosen a subject more popular and pleasant. I am sure I might have found one more easy to handle. But I feel deeply I could not have chosen one more seasonable and more profitable to our souls. It is a solemn thing to hear the Word of God saying, "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14).
I shall endeavour, by God's help, to examine what true holiness is, and the reason why it is so needful. In conclusion, I shall try to point out the only way in which holiness can be attained. I have already, in the second paper in this volume, approached this subject from a doctrinal side. Let me now try to present it to my readers in a more plain and practical point of view.
I. First, then, let me try to show what true practical holiness is-what sort of persons are those whom God calls holy.
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. I do not mean that there is any want of Scriptural matter on the subject. But I fear lest I should give a defective view of holiness, and not say all that ought to be said; or lest I should say things about it that ought not to be said, and so do harm. Let me, however, try to draw a picture of holiness, that we may see it clearly before the eyes of our minds. Only let it never be forgotten, when I have said all, that my account is but a poor imperfect outline at the best.
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.
But here let me say, I trust no man will misunderstand me. I am not without fear that my meaning will be mistaken, and the description I have given of holiness will discourage some tender conscience. I would not willingly make one righteous heart sad, or throw a stumbling-block in any believer's way.
I do not say for a moment that holiness shuts out the presence of indwelling sin. No: far from it. It is the greatest mystery 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.
And this I do boldly and confidently say, that true holiness is a great reality. It is something in a man that can be seen, and known, and marked, and felt by all around him. It is light: if it exists, it will show itself. It is salt: if it exists, its savour will be perceived. It is a precious ointment: if it exists, its presence cannot be hid.
I am sure we should all be ready to make allowance for such backsliding, for much occasional deadness in professing Christians. I know a road may lead from one point to another, and yet have many a winding and turn; and a man may be truly holy, and yet be drawn aside by many an infirmity. Gold is not the less gold because mingled with alloy, nor light the less light because faint and dim, nor grace the less grace because young and weak. But after every allowance, I cannot see how any man deserves to be called "holy", who wilfully allows himself in sins, and is not humbled and ashamed because of them. I dare not call anyone "holy" who makes a habit of wilfully neglecting known duties, and wilfully doing what he knows God has commanded him not to do. Well says Owen, "I do not understand how a man can be a true believer unto whom sin is not the greatest burden, sorrow, and trouble."
Such are the leading characteristics of practical holiness. Let us examine ourselves and see whether we are acquainted with it. Let us prove our own selves.
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 judgement-hating what He hates-loving what He loves-and measuring everything in this world by the standard of His Word. He who most entirely agrees with God, he is the most holy man.
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 Paul felt when he said, "I delight in the law of God after the inward man" (Rom. 7:22), and 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). It will be his aim to bear with and forgive others, even as Christ forgave us-to be unselfish, even as Christ pleased not Himself-to walk in love, even as Christ loved us-to be lowly-minded and humble, even as Christ made Himself of no reputation and humbled Himself. He will remember that Christ was a faithful witness for the truth-that He came not to do His own will-that it was His meat and drink to do His Father's will-that He would continually deny Himself in order to minister to others-that He was meek and patient under undeserved insults-that He thought more of godly poor men than of kings-that He was full of love and compassion to sinners-that He was bold and uncompromising in denouncing sin-that He sought not the praise of men, when He might have had it-that He went about doing good-that He was separate from worldly people-that He continued instant in prayer-that He would not let even His nearest relations stand in His way when God's work was to be done. These things a holy man will try to remember. By them he will endeavour to shape his course in life. 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); and the saying of Peter, that "Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example that ye should follow His steps" (1 Peter 2:21). Happy is he who has learned to make Christ his "all", both for salvation and example! Much time would be saved, and much sin prevented, if men would oftener ask themselves the question, "What would Christ have said and done, if He were in my place?"
d) A holy man will follow after meekness, long-suffering, 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. We see a bright example of this in the behaviour of David when Shimei cursed him-and of Moses when Aaron and Miriam spake against him (2 Sam. 16:10; Num. 12:3).
e) A holy man will follow after temperance and self-denial. He will labour to mortify the desires of his body-to crucify his flesh with his affections and lusts-to curb his passions-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); and that of the Apostle Paul, "I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1 Cor. 9:27).
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 will be full of affection towards his brethren-towards their bodies, their property, their characters, their feelings, their souls. "He that loveth another," says Paul, "hath fulfilled the law" (Rom. 13:8). He will abhor all lying, slandering, backbiting, cheating, dishonesty, and unfair dealing, even in the least things. The shekel and cubit of the sanctuary were larger than those in common use. He will strive to adorn his religion by all his outward demeanour, and to make it lovely and beautiful in the eyes of all around him. Alas, what condemning words are the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, and the Sermon on the Mount, when laid alongside the conduct of many professing Christians!
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. He will strive to be useful in his day and generation, and to lessen the spiritual wants and misery around him, as far as he can. Such was Dorcas, "full of good works and almsdeeds, which she did,"-not merely purposed and talked about, but did. Such an one was Paul: "I will very gladly spend and be spent for you," he says, "though the more abundantly I love you the less I be loved" (Acts 9:36; 2 Cor. 12:15).
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. Who shall dare to talk of strength when David can fall? There is many a hint to be gleaned from the ceremonial law. Under it the man who only touched a bone, or a dead body, or a grave, or a diseased person, became at once unclean in the sight of God. And these things were emblems and figures. Few Christians are ever too watchful and too particular about this point.
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. What a noble example Nehemiah gives us of this! When he became Governor at Jerusalem he might have been chargeable to the Jews and required of them money for his support. The former Governors had done so. There was none to blame him if he did. But he says, "So did not I, because of the fear of God" (Neh. 5:15).
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. He will understand something of Abraham's feeling, when he says, "I am dust and ashes;"-and Jacob's, when he says, "I am less than the least of all Thy mercies;"-and Job's, when he says, "I am vile;"-and Paul's, when he says, "I am chief of sinners." Holy Bradford, that faithful martyr of Christ, would sometimes finish his letters with these words, "A most miserable sinner, John Bradford." Good old Mr. Grimshaw's last words, when he lay on his death-bed, were these, "Here goes an unprofitable servant."
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. Those words of Paul should never be forgotten, "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). Holy persons should aim at doing everything well, and should be ashamed of allowing themselves to do anything ill if they can help it. Like Daniel, they should seek to give no "occasion" against themselves, except "concerning the law of their God" (Dan. 6:5). They should strive to be good husbands and good wives, good neighbours, good friends, good subjects, good in private and good in public, good in the place of business and good by their firesides. Holiness is worth little indeed, if it does not bear this kind of fruit. The Lord Jesus puts a searching question to His people, when He says, "What do ye more than others?" (Mt. 5:47).
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. He will aim to live like one whose treasure is in heaven, and to pass through this world like a stranger and pilgrim travelling to his home. To commune with God in prayer, in the Bible, and in the assembly of His people-these things will be the holy man's chiefest enjoyments. He will value every thing and place and company, just in proportion as it draws him nearer to God. He will enter into something of David's feeling, when he says, "My soul followeth hard after Thee." "Thou art my portion" (Psalm 63:8; 119:57).
II. Let me try, in the next place, to show some reasons why practical holiness is so important.
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).
Why then is holiness so important? 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" (Mt. 5:20). "Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Mt. 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 Pe. 1:15, 16). "In this," says Leighton, "law and Gospel agree."
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?-it is "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 the power (1 Pe. 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. The Twelfth Article of our Church says truly, that "Although good works cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God's judgement, yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith; insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by its fruits." James warns us there is such a thing as a dead faith-a faith which goes no further than the profession of the lips, and has no influence on a man's character (James 2:17). True saving faith is a very different kind of thing. True faith will always show itself by its fruits-it will sanctify, it will work by love, it will overcome the world, it will purify the heart. I know that people are fond of talking about death-bed evidences. They will rest on words spoken in the hours of fear, and pain, and weakness, as if they might take comfort in them about the friends they lose. But I am afraid in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred such evidences are not to be depended on. I suspect that, with rare exceptions, men die just as they have lived. The only safe evidence that we are one with Christ, and Christ in us, is holy life. They that live unto the Lord are generally the only people who die in the Lord. If we would die the death of the righteous, let us not rest in slothful desires only; let us seek to live His life. It is a true saying of Traill's, "That man's state is naught, and his faith unsound, that find not his hopes of glory purifying to his heart and life."
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).-Plainer words than these it would be difficult to find, and woe to those who neglect them! Surely that man must be in an unhealthy state of soul who can think of all that Jesus suffered, and yet cling to those sins for which that suffering was undergone. It was sin that wove the crown of thorns-it was sin that pierced our Lord's hands, and feet, and side-it was sin that brought Him to Gethsemane and Calvary, to the cross and to the grave. Cold must our hearts be if we do not hate sin and labour to get rid of it, though we may have to cut off the right hand and pluck out the right eye in doing it.
e) We must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we are true children of God. Children in this world are generally like their parents. Some, doubtless, are more so, and some less-but it is seldom indeed that you cannot trace a kind of family likeness. And it is much the same with the 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). If men have no likeness to the Father in heaven, it is vain to talk of their being His "sons". If we know nothing of holiness we may flatter ourselves as we please, but we have not got the Holy Spirit dwelling in us: we are dead, and must be brought to life again-we are lost, and must be found. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they," and they only, "are the sons of God" (Rom 8:14). We must show by our lives the family we belong to. We must let men see by our good conversation that we are indeed the children of the Holy One, or our son-ship is but an empty name. "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. We cannot live to ourselves only in this world. Our lives will always be doing either good or harm to those who see them. They are a silent sermon which all can read. It is sad indeed when they are a sermon for the devil's cause, and not for God's. I believe that far more is done for Christ's kingdom by the holy living of believers than we are at all aware of. There is a reality about such living which makes men feel, and obliges them to think. It carries a weight and influence with it which nothing else can give. It makes religion beautiful, and draws men to consider it, like a lighthouse seen afar off. The day of judgement will prove that many besides husbands have been won "without the word" by a holy life (1 Pe. 3:1). You may talk to persons about the doctrines of the Gospels, and few will listen, and still fewer understand. But your life is an argument that none can escape. There is a meaning about holiness which not even the most unlearned can help taking in. They may not understand justification, but they can understand charity.
I believe there is far more harm done by unholy and inconsistent Christians than we are aware of. Such men are among Satan's best allies. They pull down by their lives what ministers build with their lips. They cause the chariot wheels of the Gospel to drive heavily. They supply the children of this world with a never ending excuse for remaining as they are. "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." I grieve to be obliged to write such things, but I fear that Christ's name is too often blasphemed because of the lives of Christians. Let us take heed lest the blood of souls should be required at our hands. From murder of souls by inconsistency and loose walking, good Lord, deliver us! Oh, for the sake of others, if for no other reason, let us strive to be holy!
g) We must be holy, because our present comfort depends much upon it. We cannot be too often reminded of this. We are sadly apt to forget that there is a close connection between sin and sorrow, holiness and happiness, sanctification and consolation. God has so wisely ordered it, that our well-being and our well-doing are linked together. He has mercifully provided that even in this world it shall be man's interest to be holy. Our justification is not by works-our calling and election are not according to our works-but it is vain for anyone to suppose that he will have a lively sense of his justification, or an assurance of his calling, so long as he neglects good works, or does not strive to live a holy life. "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). A believer may as soon expect to feel the sun's rays upon a dark and cloudy day, as to feel strong consolation in Christ while he does not follow Him fully. When the disciples forsook the Lord and fled, they escaped danger, but they were miserable and sad. When, shortly after, they confessed Him boldly before men, they were cast into prison and beaten; but we are told "they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Ac. 5:41). Oh, for our own sakes, if there were no other reason, let us strive to be holy! He that follows Jesus most fully will always follow Him most comfortably.
h) Lastly, we must be holy, because without holiness on earth we shall never be prepared to enjoy heaven. Heaven is a holy place. The Lord of heaven is a holy Being. The angels are holy creatures. Holiness is written on everything in heaven. The book of Revelation says expressly, "There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie" (Rev. 21:27).
I appeal solemnly to everyone who reads these pages, How shall we ever be at home and happy in heaven, if we die unholy? Death works no change. The grave makes no alteration. Each will rise again with the same character in which he breathed his last. Where will our place be if we are strangers to holiness now?
Suppose for a moment that you were allowed to enter heaven without holiness. What would you do? What possible enjoyment could you feel there? To which of all the saints would you join yourself, and by whose side would you sit down? Their pleasures are not your pleasures, their tastes not your tastes, their character not your character. How could you possibly be happy, if you had not been holy on earth?
Now perhaps you love the company of the light and the careless, the worldly-minded and the covetous, the reveller and the pleasure-seeker, the ungodly and the profane. There will be none such in heaven.
Now perhaps you think the saints of God too strict and particular, and serious. You rather avoid them. You have no delight in their society. There will be no other company in heaven.
Now perhaps you think praying, and Scripture-reading, and hymn singing, dull and melancholy, and stupid work-a thing to be tolerated now and then, but not enjoyed. You reckon the Sabbath a burden and a weariness; you could not possibly spend more than a small part of it in worshipping God. But remember, heaven is a never-ending Sabbath. The inhabitants thereof rest not day or night, saying, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty," and singing the praise of the Lamb. How could an unholy man find pleasure in occupation such as this?
Think you that such an one would delight to meet David, and Paul, and John, after a life spent in doing the very things they spoke against? Would he take sweet counsel with them, and find that he and they had much in common?-Think you, above all, that he would rejoice to meet Jesus, the Crucified One, face to face, after cleaving to the sins for which He died, after loving His enemies and despising His friends? Would he stand before Him with confidence, and join in the cry, "This is our God; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation"? (Is. 25:9). Think you not rather that the tongue of an unholy man would cleave to the roof of his mouth with shame, and his only desire would be to be cast out! He would feel a stranger in a land he knew not, a black sheep amidst Christ's holy flock. The voice of Cherubim and Seraphim, the song of Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven, would be a language he could not understand. The very air would seem an air he could not breathe.
I know not what others may think, but to me it does seem clear that heaven would be a miserable place to an unholy man. It cannot be otherwise. People may say, in a vague way, "they hope to go to heaven;" but they do not consider what they say. There must be a certain "meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light." Our hearts must be somewhat in tune. To reach the holiday of glory, we must pass through the training school of grace. We must be heavenly-minded, and have heavenly tastes, in the life that now is, or else we shall never find ourselves in heaven, in the life to come.
And now, before I go any further, let me say a few words by way of application.
1) For one thing, let me ask everyone who may read these pages, Are you holy? Listen, I pray you, to the question I put to you this day. Do you know anything of the holiness of which I have been speaking?
I do not ask whether you attend you church regularly-whether you have been baptized, and received the Lord's Supper-whether you have the name of Christian-I ask something more than all this: Are you holy, or are you not?
I do not ask whether you approve of holiness in others-whether you like to read the lives of holy people, and to talk of holy things, and to have on your table holy books-whether you mean to be holy, and hope you will be holy some day-I ask something further: Are you yourself holy this very day, or are you not?
And why do I ask so straitly, and press the question so strongly? I do it because the Scripture says, "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." It is written, it is not my fancy-it is the Bible, not my private opinion-it is the word of God, not of man-"Without holiness no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14).
Alas, what searching, sifting words are these! What thoughts come across my mind, as I write them down! I look at the world, and see the greater part of it lying in wickedness. I look at professing Christians, and see the vast majority having nothing of Christianity but the name. I turn to the Bible, and I hear the Spirit saying, "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord."
Surely it is a text that ought to make us consider our ways, and search our hearts. Surely it should raise within us solemn thoughts, and send us to prayer.
You may try to put me off by saying "you feel much, and think much about these things: far more than many suppose." I answer, "This is not the point. The poor lost souls in hell do as much as this. The great question is not what you think, and what you feel, but what you DO."
You may say, "It was never meant that all Christians should be holy, and that holiness, such as I have described, is only for great saints, and people of uncommon gifts." I answer, "I cannot see that in Scripture. I read that every man who hath hope in Christ purifieth himself" (1 John 3:3)-"Without holiness no man shall see the Lord."
You may say, "It is impossible to be so holy and to do our duty in this life at the same time: the thing cannot be done." I answer, "You are mistaken. It can be done. With Christ on your side nothing is impossible. It has been done by many. David, and Obadiah, and Daniel, and the servants of Nero's household, are all examples that go to prove it."
You may say, "If I were so holy I would be unlike other people." I answer, "I know it well. It is just what you ought to be. Christ's true servants always were unlike the world around them-a separate nation, a peculiar people;-and you must be so too, if you would be saved!"
You may say, "At this rate very few will be saved." I answer, "I know it. It is precisely what we are told in the Sermon on the Mount." The Lord Jesus said so 1,900 years ago. "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matt. 7:14). Few will be saved, because few will take the trouble to seek salvation. Men will not deny themselves the pleasures of sin and their own way for a little season. They turn their backs on an "inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away." "Ye will not come unto Me," says Jesus, "that ye might have life" (John 5:40).
You may say, "These are hard sayings: the way is very narrow." I answer, "I know it. So says the Sermon on the Mount." The Lord Jesus said so 1,900 years ago. He always said that men must take up the cross daily, and that they must be ready to cut off hand or foot, if they would be His disciples. It is in religion as it is in other things, "there are no gains without pains." That which costs nothing is worth nothing.
Whatever we may think fit to say, we must be holy, if we would see the Lord. Where is our Christianity if we are not? We must not merely have a Christian name, and Christian knowledge, we must have a Christian character also. We must be saints on earth, if ever we mean to be saints in heaven. God has said it, and He will not go back: "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." "The Pope's calendar," says Jenkyn, "only makes saints of the dead, but Scripture requires sanctity in the living." "Let not men deceive themselves," says Owen; "sanctification is a qualification indispensably necessary unto those who will be under the conduct of the Lord Christ unto salvation. He leads none to heaven but whom He sanctifies on the earth. This living Head will not admit of dead members."
Surely we need not wonder that Scripture says "Ye must be born again" (John 3:7). Surely it is clear as noon-day that many professing Christians need a complete change-new hearts, new natures-if ever they are to be saved. Old things must pass away-they must become new creatures. "Without holiness no man," be he who he may, "shall see the Lord."
2) Let me, for another thing, speak a little to believers. I ask you this question, "Do you think you feel the importance of holiness as much as you should?"
I own I fear the temper of the times about this subject. I doubt exceedingly whether it holds that place which it deserves in the thoughts and attention of some of the Lord's people. I would humbly suggest that we are apt to overlook the doctrine of growth in grace, and that we do not sufficiently consider how very far a person may go in a profession of religion, and yet have no grace, and be dead in God's sight after all. I believe that Judas Iscariot seemed very like the other Apostles. When the Lord warned them that one would betray Him, no one said, "Is it Judas?" We had better think more about the Churches of Sardis and Laodicea than we do.
I have no desire to make an idol of holiness. I do not wish to dethrone Christ, and put holiness in His place. But I must candidly say, I wish sanctification was more thought of in this day than it seems to be, and I therefore take occasion to press the subject on all believers into whose hands these pages may fall. I fear it is sometimes forgotten that God has married together justification and sanctification. They are distinct and different things, beyond question, but one is never found without the other. All justified people are sanctified, and all sanctified are justified. What God has joined together let no man dare to put asunder. Tell me not of your justification, unless you have also some marks of sanctification. Boast not of Christ's work for you, unless you can show us the Spirit's work in you. Think not that Christ and the Spirit can ever be divided. I doubt not that many believers know these things, but I think it good for us to be put in remembrance of them. Let us prove that we know them by our lives. Let us try to keep in view this text more continually: "Follow holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord."
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 would say it with all reverence, but say it I must-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. I grieve to feel obliged to speak in this way, but I am sure there is a cause.
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; Phl. 3:14).
I do not set up myself to be better than other people, and if anyone asks, "What are you, that you write in this way?" I answer, "I am a very poor creature indeed." But I say that I cannot read the Bible without desiring to see many believers more spiritual, more holy, more single-eyed, more heavenly-minded, more whole-hearted than they are in the nineteenth century. I want to see among believers more of a pilgrim spirit, a more decided separation from the world, a conversation more evidently in heaven, a closer walk with God-and therefore I have written as I have.
Is it not true that we need a higher standard of personal holiness in this day? Where is our patience? Where is our zeal? Where is our love? Where are our works? Where is the power of religion to be seen, as it was in times gone by? Where is that unmistakable tone which used to distinguish the saints of old, and shake the world? Verily our silver has become dross, our wine mixed with water, and our salt has very little savour. We are all more than half asleep. The night is far spent, and the day is at hand. Let us awake, and sleep no more. Let us open our eyes more widely than we have done hitherto. "Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us."-"Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of God" (Heb. 12:1; 2 Cor. 7:1). "Did Christ die," says Owen, "and shall sin live? Was He crucified in the world, and shall our affections to the world be quick and lively? Oh, where is the spirit of him, who by the cross of Christ was crucified to the world, and the world to him!"
III. Let me, in the last place, offer a word of advice to all who desire to be holy.
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 5:26). 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 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 fullness 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 strengtheneth 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; Phl. 4:13; Gal. 2:20).
May all who read these pages know these things by experience, and not by hearsay only. May we all feel the importance of holiness, far more than we have ever done yet! May our years be holy years with our souls, and then they will be happy ones! Whether we live, may we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, may we die unto the Lord; or if He comes for us, may we be found in peace, without spot, and blameless!
J. C. Ryle (John Charles Ryle) lived in the 1800’s and had a powerful and impacting career in ministry. His books are still widely read today and even though he started in rural churches in the United Kingdom, he eventually became one of the most popular preachers in London.
In the sermon, “Unbelief – A Marvel,” Ryle talks about how incredible it is that people do not believe in their maker. He goes through common reasons that hold people back and what the people of God can do to challenge that problem.
Special thanks to Ed Backell for reading this episode of Revived Thoughts.
Pastor Ed Backell is a Washington state native, and has taught for 30 years in churches in Oregon, Washington and Nebraska, currently in Warden, WA. He has traveled extensively throughout the United States and Canada with various musical groups.
As a youth minister, he specialized in creating teen performance groups that helped students use their gifts and talents to explore and share their own faith. He holds an M. Div. from Bethel Seminary in St Paul, MN, as well as an M. A. in Ministry.
He was called to Warden Community Church in May, 2010. He is married to Jami, his bride of 30 years, and they have three daughters. Ed is a creative person, avid musician, published author, voracious reader, computer geek, and a pretty darn good ethnic cook!
Listen to the sermon below. Courtesy of www.revivedthoughts.com
Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, the son of David.— Matthew 22:42
Christmas is a season which almost all Christians observe in one way or another. Some keep it as a religious season. Some keep it as a holiday. But all over the world, wherever there are Christians, in one way or another Christmas is kept.
Perhaps there is no country in which Christmas is so much observed as it is in England. Christmas holidays, Christmas parties, Christmas family-gatherings, Christmas services in churches, Christmas hymns and carols, Christmas holly and mistletoe,—who has not heard of these things? They are as familiar to English people as anything in their lives. They are among the first things we remember when we were children. Our grandfathers and grandmothers were used to them long before we were born. They have been going on in England for many hundred years. They seem likely to go on as long as the world stands.
But, reader, how many of those who keep Christmas ever consider why Christmas is kept? How many, in their Christmas plans and arrangements, give a thought to Him, without whom there would have been no Christmas at all? How many ever remember that the Lord Jesus Christ is the cause of Christmas ? How many ever reflect that the first intention of Christmas was to remind Christians of Christ's birth and coming into the world? Reader, how is it with you? What do you think of at Christmas?
Bear with me a few minutes, while I try to press upon you the question which heads this tract. I do not want to make your Christmas merriment less. I do not wish to spoil your Christmas cheer. I only wish to put things in their right places. I want Christ Himself to be remembered at Christmas! Give me your attention while I unfold the question—"What think ye of Christ?"
I. Let us consider, firstly, why all men ought to think of Christ.
II. Let us examine, secondly, the common thoughts of many about Christ.
III. Let us count up, lastly, the thoughts of true Christians about Christ.
Reader, I dare say the demands upon your time this Christmas are many. Your holidays are short. You have friends to see. You have much to talk about. But still, in the midst of all your hurry and excitement, give a little time to your soul. There will be a Christmas some year, when your place will be empty. Before that time comes, suffer me as a friend to press home on your conscience the inquiry,—"What think ye of Christ?"
I. First, then, let us consider why all men ought to think of Christ.
This is a question which needs to be answered, at the very outset of this tract. I know the minds of some people when they are asked about such things as I am handling today. I know that many are ready to say, "Why should we think about Christ at all ? We want meat, and drink, and money, and clothes, and amusements. We have no time to think about these high subjects. We do not understand them. Let parsons, and old women, and Sunday-school children mind such things if they like. We have no time in a world like this to be thinking of Christ."
Such is the talk of thousands in this country. They never go either to church or chapel. They never read their Bibles. The world is their god. They think themselves very wise and clever. They despise those whom they call "religious people." But whether they like it or not, they will all have to die one day. They have all souls to be lost or saved in a world to come. They will all have to rise again from their graves, and to have a reckoning with God. And shall their scoffing and contempt stop our mouths, and make us ashamed? No, indeed! not for a moment! Listen to me and I will tell you why.
All men ought to think of Christ, because of the office Christ fills between God and man. He is the eternal Son of God, through whom alone the Father can be known, approached, and served. He is the appointed Mediator between God and man, through whom alone we can be reconciled with God, pardoned, justified, and saved. He is the Divine Person whom God the Father has sealed to be the giver of everything that man requires for his soul. To Him are committed the keys of death and hell. In His favour is life. In Him alone there is hope of salvation for mankind. Without Him no child of Adam can be saved. "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." "He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." (I Cor. iii. 11; 1 John v.12.) And ought not man to think of Christ? Shall God the Father honour Him, and shall not man? I tell every reader of this tract that there is no person, living or dead, of such immense importance to all men as Christ. There is no person that men ought to think about so much as Christ.
All men ought to think of Christ, because of what Christ has done for all men. He thought upon man, when man was lost, bankrupt, and helpless by the fall, and undertook to come into the world to save sinners. In the fullness of time He was born of the Virgin Mary, and lived for man thirty-three years in this evil world. At the end of that time He suffered for sin on the cross, as man's substitute. He bore man's sins in His own body, and shed His own lifeblood to pay man's debt to God. He was made a curse for man, that man might be blessed. He died for man that man might live. He was counted a sinner for man that man might be counted righteous. And ought not man to think of Christ? I tell every reader of this tract that if Christ had not died for us, we might all of us, for anything we know, be lying at this moment in hell.
All men ought to think of Christ, because of what Christ will yet do to all men. He shall come again one day to this earth with power and glory, and raise the dead from their graves. All shall come forth at His bidding. Those who would not move when they heard the church-going bell, shall obey the voice of the Archangel and the trump of God. He shall set up His judgment-seat, and summon all mankind to stand before it. To Him every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that He is Lord. Not one shall be able to escape that solemn assize. Not one but shall receive at the mouth of Christ an eternal sentence. Every one shall receive according to what he has done in the body, whether it be good or bad. And ought not men to think of Christ? I tell every reader of this tract, that whatever he may choose to think now, a day is soon coming when his eternal condition will hinge entirely on his relations to Christ.
But why should I say more on this subject? The time would fail me if I were to set down all the reasons why all men ought to think of Christ. Christ is the grand subject of the Bible. The Scriptures testify of Him.—Christ is the great object to whom all the Churches in Christendom profess to give honour. Even the worst and most corrupt branches of it will tell you that they are built on Christ.—Christ is the end and substance of all sacraments and ordinances.—Christ is the grand subject which every faithful minister exalts in the pulpit.—Christ is the object that every true pastor sets before dying people on their deathbeds.—Christ is the great source of light and peace and hope.
There is not a spark of spiritual comfort that has ever illumined a sinner's heart, that has not come from Christ. Surely it never can be a small matter whether we have any thoughts about Christ.
Reader, I leave this part of my subject here. There are many things which swallow up men's thoughts while they live, which they will think little of when they are dying. Hundreds are wholly absorbed in political schemes, and seem to care for nothing but the advancement of their own party.—Myriads are buried in business and money matters, and seem to neglect everything else but this world.
—Thousands are always wrangling about the forms and ceremonies of religion, and are ready to cry down everybody who does not use their shibboleths, and worship in their way. But an hour is fast coming when only one subject will be minded, and that subject will be Christ! We shall all find—and many perhaps too late—that it mattered little what we thought about other things, so long as we did not think about Christ.
Reader, I tell you this Christmas, that all men ought to think about Christ. There is no one in whom all the world has such a deep interest. There is no one to whom all the world owes so much. High and low, rich and poor, old and young, gentle and simple,—all ought to think about Christ.
II. Let us examine, secondly, the common thoughts of many about Christ.
To set down the whole list of thoughts about Christ, would indeed be thankless labour. It must content us to range them under a few general heads. This will save us both time and trouble. There were many strange thoughts about Christ when He was on earth. There are many strange and wrong thoughts about Christ now, when He is in heaven.
The thoughts of some people about Christ are simply blasphemous. They are not ashamed to deny His Divinity. They refuse to believe the miracles recorded of Him. They pretend to find fault with not a few of His sayings and doings. They even question the perfect honesty and sincerity of some things that He did. They tell us that He ought to be ranked with great Reformers and Philosophers, like Socrates, Seneca, and Confucius, but no higher.—Thoughts like these are purely ridiculous and absurd. They utterly fail to explain the enormous influence which Christ and Christianity have had for eighteen hundred years in this world. There is not the slightest comparison to be made between Christ and any other teacher of mankind that ever lived. The difference between Him and others is a gulf that cannot be spanned, and a height that cannot be measured. It is the difference between gold and clay,—between the sun and a candle. Nothing can account for Christ and Christianity, but the old belief that Christ is very God. Reader, are the thoughts I have just described your own? If they are, take care!
The thoughts of some people about Christ are vague, dim, misty, and indistinct.That there was such a Person they do not for a moment deny. That He was the Founder of Christianity, and the object of Christian worship, they are quite aware. That they hear of Him every time they go to public worship, and ought to have some opinion or belief about Him, they will fully admit. But they could not tell you what it is they believe. They could not accurately describe and define it. They have not thoroughly considered the subject They have not made up their minds! —Thoughts such as these are foolish, silly, and unreasonable. To be a dying sinner with an immortal soul, and to go on living without making up one's mind about the only Person who can save us, the Person who will at last judge us, is the conduct of a lunatic or an idiot, and not of a rational man. Reader, are the thoughts I have just described your own? If any are, take care!
The thoughts of some men about Christ are mean and low. They have, no doubt, a distinct opinion about His position in their system of Christianity. They consider that if they do their best, and live moral lives, and go to church pretty regularly, and use the ordinances of religion, Christ will deal mercifully with them at last, and make up any deficiencies.—Thoughts such as these utterly fail to explain why Christ died on the cross. They take the crown off Christ's head, and degrade Him into a kind of make-weight to man's soul. They overthrow the whole system of the Gospel, and pull up all its leading doctrines by the roots. They exalt man to an absurdly high position; as if he could pay some part of the price of his soul!—They rob man of all the comfort of the Gospel; as if he must needs do something and perform some work to justify his own soul!—They make Christ a sort of Judge far more than a Saviour, and place the cross and the atonement in a degraded and inferior position! Reader, are the thoughts I have just described your own? If they are, take care !
The thoughts of some men about Christ are dishonouring and libellous. They seem to think that we need a mediator between ourselves and our Saviour! They appear to suppose that Christ is so high, and awful, and exalted a Person, that poor, sinful man may not approach Him! They say that we must employ an Episcopacy ordained minister as a kind of go-between, to stand between us and Jesus, and manage for our souls! They send us to saints, or angels, or the Virgin Mary, as if they were more kind and accessible than Christ!—Thoughts such as these are a practical denial of Christ's priestly office. They overthrow the whole doctrine of His peculiar business, as man's Intercessor. They hide and bury out of sight His especial love to sinners and His boundless willingness to receive them. Instead of a gracious Saviour, they make Him out an austere and hard King. Reader, are the thoughts I have just described your own? If they are, take care!
The thoughts of some men about Christ are wicked and unholy. They seem to think that they may live as they please, because Christ died for sinners! They will indulge every kind of wickedness, and yet flatter themselves that they are not blameworthy for it, because Christ is a merciful Saviour! They will talk complacently of God's election, and the necessity of grace, and the impossibility of being justified by works and the fullness of Christ, and then make these glorious doctrines an excuse for lying, cheating, drunkenness, fornication, and every kind of immorality.—Thoughts such as these are as blasphemous and profane as downright infidelity. They actually make Christ the patron of sin. Reader, are these thoughts I have described your own? If they are, take care!
Reader, two general remarks apply to all these thoughts about Christ of which I have just been speaking. They all show a deplorable ignorance of Scripture. I defy any one to read the Bible honestly and find any warrant for them in that blessed Book. Men cannot know their Bibles when they hold such opinions.—They all help to prove the corruption and darkness of human nature. Man is ready to believe anything about Christ except the simple truth. He loves to set up an idol of his own, and bow down to it, rather than accept the Saviour whom God puts before him.
I leave this part of my subject here. It is a sorrowful and painful one, but not without its use. It is necessary to study morbid anatomy, if we would understand health. The ground must be cleared of rubbish before we build.
III. Let us now count up, lastly, the thoughts of true Christians about Christ.
The thoughts I am going to describe are not the thoughts of many. I admit this most fully. It would be vain to deny it. The number of right thinkers about Christ in every age has been small. The true Christians among professing Christians have always been few. If it were not so, the Bible would have told an untruth. "Strait is the gate," says the Lord Jesus, "and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.—Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat." "Many walk," says Paul, "of whom I tell you, even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ; whose end is destruction." (Matt vii. 13, 14. Phil. iii. 18, 19.)
True Christians have high thoughts of Christ. They see in Him a wondrous Person, far above all other beings in His nature,—a Person who is at one and the same time perfect God, mighty to save, and perfect Man, able to feel.—They see in Him an All-powerful Redeemer, who has paid their countless debts to God, and delivered their souls from guilt and hell.—They see in Him an Almighty Friend, who left heaven for them, lived for them, died for them, rose again for them,—that He might save them for evermore.—They see in Him an Almighty Physician, who washed away their sins in His own blood, put His own Spirit in their hearts, delivered them from the power of sin, and gave them power to become God's children.—Happy are they who have such thoughts! Reader, have you?
True Christians have trustful thoughts of Christ. They daily lean the weight of their souls upon Him by faith, for pardon and peace. They daily commit the care of their souls to Him, as a man commits a treasure to a safe keeper. They daily cling to Him by faith, as a child in a crowd clings to its mother's hand. They look to Him daily for mercy, grace, comfort, help, and strength, as Israel looked to the pillar of cloud and fire in the wilderness for guidance. Christ is the Rock under their feet, and the staff in their hands, their ark and their city of refuge, their sun and their shield, their bread and their medicine, their health and their light, their fountain and their shelter, their portion and their home, their door and their ladder, their root and their head, their advocate and their physician, their captain and their elder brother, their life, their hope, and their all. Happy are they who have such thoughts! Reader, have you?
True Christians have experimental thoughts of Christ. The things that they think of Him, they do not merely think with their heads. They have not learned them from schools, or picked them up from others. They think them because they have found them true by their own heart's experience. They have proved them, and tasted them, and tried them. They think out for themselves what they have felt . There is all the difference in the world between knowing that a man is a doctor or a lawyer, while we never have occasion to employ him, and knowing him as "our own," because we have gone to him for medicine or law. Just in the same way there is a wide difference between head knowledge and experimental thoughts of Christ. Happy are they who have such thoughts? Reader, have you?
True Christians have loving and reverent thoughts of Christ. They love to do the things that please Him. They like, in their poor weak way, to show their affection to Him by keeping His words. They love everything belonging to Him,--His day, His house, His ordinances, His people, His Book. They never find His yoke heavy, or His burden painful to bear, or His Commandments grievous. Love lightens all. They know something of the mind of Mr. Standfast, in "Pilgrim's Progress," when he said, as he stood in the river,—"I have loved to hear my Lord spoken of; and whenever I have seen the print of His shoe in the earth, then I have coveted to set my foot over it." Happy are they who have such thoughts? Reader, have you?
True Christians have hopeful thoughts of Christ. They expect to receive far more from Him one day than they have ever received yet. They hope that they shall be kept to the end, and never perish. But this is not all. They look forward to Christ's second coming and expect that then they shall see far more than they have seen, and enjoy far more than they have yet enjoyed. They have the earnest of an inheritance now in the Spirit dwelling in their heart. But they hope for a far fuller possession when this world has passed away. They have hopeful thoughts of Christ's second Advent, of their own resurrection from the grave of their reunion with all the saints who have gone before them, of eternal blessedness in Christ's kingdom. Happy are they who have such thoughts! They sweeten life, and lift men over many cares. Reader, have you such thoughts ?
Reader, thoughts such as these are the property of all true Christians. Some of them know more of them and some of them know less. But all know something about them. They do not always feel them equally at all time! They do not always find such thoughts equally fresh and green in their minds. They have their winter as well as their summer, and their low tide as well as their high water. But all true Christians are, more or less, acquainted with these thoughts. In this matter churchmen and dissenters, rich and poor, all are agreed, if they are true Christians. In other things they may be unable to agree and see alike. But they all agree in their thoughts about Christ. One word they can all say, which is the same in every tongue. That word is "Hallelujah," praise to the Lord Christ! One answer they can all make, which in every tongue is equally the same. That word is, "Amen," so be it!
And now, reader, I shall wind up my Christmas tract, by simply bringing before your conscience the question which forms its title. I ask you this day, —"What think ye of Christ?"
What others think about Him is not the question now. Their mistakes are no excuse for you.—Their correct views will not save your soul. The point you have before you is simply this,—"What do you think yourself?"
Reader, this Christmas may possibly be your last. Who can tell but you may never live to see another December come round? Who can tell but your place may be empty, when the family party next Christmas is gathered together? Do not, I entreat you, put off my question or turn away from it. It can do you no harm to look at it and consider it. What do you think of Christ?
Begin, I beseech you, this day to have right thoughts of Christ, if you never had them before. Let the time past suffice you to have lived without real and heartfelt religion.—Let this present Christmas be a starting point in your soul's history. Awake to see the value of your soul, and the immense importance of being saved. Break off sharp from sin and the world. Get down your Bible and begin to read it. Call upon the Lord Jesus Christ in prayer, and beseech Him to save your soul. Rest not, rest not till you have trustful, loving, experimental, hopeful thoughts of Christ.
Reader, mark my words! If you will only take the advice I have now given you, you will never repent it. Your life in future will be happier. Your heart will be lighter. Your Christmas gatherings will be more truly joyful. Nothing makes Christmas meetings so happy as to feel that we are all travelling on towards an eternal gathering in heaven.
Reader, I say for the last time, if you would have a happy Christmas, have right thoughts about Christ.
“What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”—MARK viii. 36.
IT is a sad proof, beloved, of our evil and corrupt nature, that our Lord Jesus Christ should have thought it necessary to use such language and to ask such a question. He was preaching to His own people—to the children of Abra-ham, Isaac and Jacob, to the nation which for fifteen hundred years had alone enjoyed the privilege of knowing the true God. He was not instructing igno-rant heathen, but Israelites, to whom pertained the adoption and the glory and the covenant, and the giving of the law and the service of God and the prom-ises; and yet behold He deals with them as if they had still to learn the first principles of religious knowledge—“What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” But it is far more sad, beloved, and far more deplorable, that at the present hour, eighteen hundred years after Jesus died for men, it should still be necessary for a minister of the gospel to urge upon you the very same words. Who, indeed, would have thought it possible that we should be obliged to remind you that the care of the soul is the one thing needful—needful for all: for the rich, because of their temptations; for the poor, because of their trials; for the old, because death is close at hand; for the young, because life with all its intoxicating follies is before them, and they can never have a more convenient season?—to remind you that, alt-hough men have different abilities and fill different stations here on earth, they have one thing at least in common, they have ALL immortal souls, they must all give account of themselves at the day of judgment. And yet, “hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth,” we are obliged to tell you, professing Christians, all this. I say obliged, and is there not a cause? Mark now what I am about to say, and listen to my proofs.
I appeal, then, to your consciences, whether I do not say the truth in Christ, when I declare my belief that the greater number of baptised persons are living just as if this world was their abiding home and resting place, and the things of this world their only object—as if there was no such text as “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” As if Jesus had never come down on earth, preached, suffered, died and risen again for human guilt; as if the Bible was a beautiful book, but a thing to be admired and respected more than studied; as if churches and ministers were conven-ient enough for keeping people in order, but not witnesses of truth and mes-sengers of glad tidings to a lost and ruined creation. I often observe, when persons meet, they ask each other a great deal about their bodily health (“Are you quite well?” they say, “Have you got over that cold, or that fever, or that rheumatism?”) but I never yet met with anyone who made a point of inquir-ing about his friend’s soul; and yet we are told plainly in the Bible, that the body (comparatively speaking) is vile and perishable, but the soul precious and eternal. Men seem to go blindly forward, intent upon the earth they walk on, and confining all their anxiety to the life that now is; one generation after another is struggling to get on in this world, but few indeed appear to care where they shall be found in the next
Seeing then, beloved, that these things cannot be spoken against, for who shall gainsay them?—seeing that, even in this parish, I have found already, to my deep sorrow, there are some persons quite careless and indifferent about religion, some who drink, some who live immoral lives, some who without good reasons attend church only once a day [there were two services on a Sunday], some who only attend now and then when it is convenient, (think what a profanation for a sinful creature to talk of honouring his Maker and Redeemer and Judge when it is convenient), some who never attend at all, and go nowhere, some who appear to think it no sin to go to sleep and some to talk in God’s own house, before the very eyes of Christ who is now in the midst of you,—seeing that these things are so, I feel it my solemn duty, in love and charity towards you, to begin the year by laying open the first foundations of religious belief. I shall place side by side the world and the soul, and shortly compare their respective value; and if after that you choose to lose your own souls (which God forbid), you shall not say that I did not at least attempt to give you warning. May the Holy Ghost convince you all of the importance of the subject, and give you new hearts, for Christ’s sake.
I. What then shall I say of the things of this world, which men appear to think so valuable—money, houses, land, clothes, food, drink, learning, hon-ours, titles, pleasures, and the like? Beloved, I shall say two things. First, they are all really worthless: capable, no doubt, of being turned to a good use (every creature of God, says the Bible, is good if sanctified by the word of God and prayer), but I mean this, that if you suppose they are in themselves able to make you really happy, you are woefully deceived. If any unconverted person in this parish could have just as much as he wished of every earthly good thing, he would still find in a very short time that he was not one whit happier than before. They are all comfortless without a new heart and a living faith in Christ Jesus. I dare say you think I am mistaken, but let me tell you many a rich man has tried the experiment, and can bear witness that the case is so. Many a one could tell you that he seeks out everything which money can purchase, he passes his life in a constant round of amusement and excite-ment, going from one pleasure to another, and yet he must confess that peace of mind has been like a shadow or will-o’-the-wisp, always before his eyes but never within his grasp. And if this does not convince you, read the book of Ecclesiastes, and there you will find the deliberate opinion of the wisest man that ever lived—I mean Solomon—and you will see that he put the question to the proof in his own case; and what was the result? “Vanity of vanities,” saith the preacher, “all is vanity.” “I was great,” he says, “and in-creased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. And whatsoever my eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.”
Secondly, I say that all the things of the world are perishable. Surely, dear friends, this cannot require any evidence. You must have seen with your own eyes that none of the things I have mentioned are sure, lasting, permanent, incorruptible, and to be depended on. Money and property may be lost; health may fail; friends may be deceitful; and unless we can make a covenant with death and hell, we ourselves may suddenly be cut off in the midst of our days and hurried to our last account. Oh, remember the parable in Luke xii. 16. We do not read that he was immoral or an evil-liver in any way, yet see the conclusion our Lord draws. There may be times when everything looks bright and sunshiny, but let us not forget the days of darkness, for they shall be many—the days when you shall say in the morning “Would God it were evening,” and in the evening “Would God it were morning,” for the longer you live the more will you feel the truth of Job’s words, “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down; he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not” (xiv. 1, 2). There is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again; but “man dieth and wasteth away, yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?”
II. Such is the world; and now what shall I say of the soul, which people appear to hold so cheap?
First, then, let me tell you it is the most valuable part of man, because it is the part in which we differ from the brute creation. It is that wonderful principle by which God made a distinction between ourselves and the other works of His hand, for we read that “God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,” and then what was the grand conclusion?—“man became a living soul.” It was the soul for which Christ was content to take our nature on Him, and suffer death upon the cross; the soul, of whose interests you are so careless, was the cause which brought Him down from the right hand of God, to give His own blood as the price of its redemption. Think, beloved, I beseech you, what a privilege it must be to have a soul. I once heard an anecdote of a gentleman who was visiting a large lunatic asylum or madhouse near London, when he met with a patient who was only out of his mind upon certain subjects, as I daresay you know is sometimes the case; and this poor creature asked him a startling, a most wonderful question. “Sir,” he said, “did you say your prayers this morning?” “Yes,” was the answer. “Then, sir, I trust you thanked God that you have the use of your reason.” Beloved, I wish you to apply this to your own case. Have you ever thanked God that you have got a soul capable of renewal, of regeneration, capable of eternal life? Oh, if you have not, go down upon your knees this day, and acknowledge the mercies you have re-ceived, and your own ingratitude and unworthiness.
This leads me to the second thing I have to say about the soul. It is eternal. This frail body of ours shall one day perish; the worm shall feed sweetly on it; “ashes to ashes, and dust to dust,” will probably be read over the fairest and strongest in this church; but the soul shall never perish, and when the earth and all that it contains are burning up, the soul shall enter upon a new state of existence, which shall never change, and that state shall be everlast-ing life or everlasting fire.
Such is the soul, and such is the world; and may we not wonder, with such undeniable facts before us, that any can be found so foolish as to think of the last more than of the first, to cleave to earth and disregard heaven? This is indeed to come down to the level of the beasts that perish, to call the sword less valuable than the sheath which contains it, and the jewel less pre-cious than the case in which it is enclosed. “Wherefore, asks the prophet Isaiah, “do ye spend your money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.”
Now, if the heart of man were less deceitful than it is, such general argu-ment might be enough: but I dare not stop here, for it is no light matter—it is your life; and therefore I will bring before your notice the testimony of two most unexceptionable witnesses, the dying and the dead. Ask them for an answer to the question “What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” and I would be content to leave the decision of our text in their hands.
Ask the dying sinner; stand by his bedside, and inquire of him, whether it proves a comfortable and supporting thought that he has cared more for the world than for his soul. Perhaps you never saw the deathbed of one who had not got his feet upon the rock. Oh! it is a fearful, an instructive, a soul-moving sight! When the heart begins to beat faintly and the eyes to grow dim, when friends are weeping around and human medicines avail no longer, when all the intoxication of worldly pleasure or business is past and far away, when each lies in his own silent chamber, with nothing apparently between himself and God, when something whispers “Thou shalt not come down from that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die,” in that solemn hour, beloved, we have little idea how small appears this earth and how broad eter-nity; how much the memory of sin improves; how deeply a guilty conscience darkens. You would then hear him acknowledge that his life had been a grand mistake; you would hear him confess that the care of the soul was indeed the one thing needful, and bitterly repent the time he had lost, the opportunities he had neglected, and the instruction he had despised. God grant I may be spared the pain of seeing any of you in such a plight!
And then, beloved, turn to the bedside of one of God’s own children in his last moments: you might perhaps observe some few doubts and fears, from a strong sense of his own unworthiness, and a knowledge of his own sinfulness—for Satan is strong and the flesh weak—though it is far more probable you would hear him say, “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and at the latter day He shall stand upon the earth, and though after my skin worms devour this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God “; “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” But this at least is most certain: you never would hear one single member of Christ declare that he only regretted he had not cared enough about the world, that he had paid too much attention to the welfare of his own soul.
Let us now examine the witness of the dead upon this momentous ques-tion. Think not that I am going to incur the charge of intruding into things which I have not seen: I shall simply lay before you one of the most remark-able passages in the New Testament, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. (Luke xvi.) The words are so simple that I should only weaken their force if I were to add any comment; I only ask you to remark that little is said about Lazarus, excepting that he was poor, yet we see he was rich in faith and had treasure in heaven. Nothing is said against the rich man: we do not learn that he was immoral or cruel, and yet it is clear he had laid up all his treasure upon earth. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
Beloved, are not these things written for our learning? Are not these the words of Him who spake to the world the things which He had heard of His Father? Is it not then a wonderful and a horrible thing that so many of you can live on in utter carelessness about your soul, setting your affections upon things below, giving God your spare time and the season when you have nothing to do, but giving all your hearts to that which cannot profit you in this life and will not deliver you from condemnation in the life to come. “Oh that mine head were water and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep night and day for the slain of the daughter of my people!” for unbelief such as this is marvellous, inexplicable, unaccountable, incomprehensible.
I trust, beloved, I have now proved to you how false and unworthy is the estimate men usually place upon the world and upon the soul. I have endeavoured to show you a more excellent way; but I cannot conclude without sup-plying a few hints, which may assist each of you in finding out whether he is loving his own soul at this minute or not.
Many a one, I dare say, is disposed to think that all this may be very true—you knew it long ago—but it does not apply to yourself: you wish your soul to be saved.
You wish to be saved. There are few that do not; but unfortunately men generally want to be saved in their own way, and not according to the Bible; they love the crown, although they will seldom take up the cross. Friend, you need not be in any uncertainty about it; you may soon know what your state is; it is all to be found in this little Book; the marks, the signs, the tokens, the evidences are so clearly recorded, that he who runs may read. And what are they? Listen, I beseech you.
It is written here, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” “There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not.” Do you know this? Have you been brought to the wholesome conclusion that you are no better than a lost sinner by nature, wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, without one spark of natural goodness, deserving of nothing but God’s wrath and condemnation? Oh! if you have not, tremble for yourself and repent: be very sure you are losing your own soul.
Again, it is written: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the king-dom of God”; “Ye must be born again.” Have you gone through that mighty change? Do you feel an abhorrence of former carelessness and indifference, a desire to serve God from the heart, a putting away of old things and a put-ting on of new? Has godly sorrow wrought in you repentance unto salvation not to be repented of? Oh, if it has not, tremble for yourself: know for a cer-tainty you are losing your own soul.
Again it is written, “He that believeth not shall be damned.” “Without faith it is impossible to please Him.” Have you any of this faith? Have you been convinced of the utter insufficiency of your own righteousness, of the wretched poverty of your own best works? Have you come in humility and lowly-mindedness, renouncing all confidence in yourself, to the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world, trusting simply in His blood and righteousness, resting solely on His merits and intercession? Oh! if you have not, tremble for yourself and repent. Be not deceived: you are losing your own soul.
Lastly, it is written: “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” What do you know of this holiness? Can you say that God the Holy Ghost has actually begun the blessed and never-dying work of sanctification within you? Do you feel any pure love towards God and your neighbours? Is it your supreme desire to advance God’s glory? Have you any zeal for the extension of His kingdom? Do you strive not to be conformed to this world? Do you profess to regulate every thought and word and action by the Holy Scriptures? Do you hunger and thirst after a complete mortification of sin, and look forward with longing to the time when Satan shall be bound, and there shall be no more struggle between the flesh and the spirit? Are you meek and gentle towards all men? Do you redeem the time daily, looking on every minute as a talent for which you are accountable, and aiming to be employed as far as possible in the things which are just and honourable and lovely and of good report? Are the ordinances of Christ’s Church sweet and precious to your soul? Are prayer and praise a delight—in public, in your family, in private? Is your Bible your daily food, a light to your feet and a lantern to your path? Are you above the fear of men, and can you think lightly of their praise in comparison with that which is of God? Do you count all things but loss if you can but win Christ, and the life that now is as nothing compared with that which is to come? Oh! if you know not something, however little, of these things, tremble for yourself and repent: rest assured you are losing your own soul.
O beloved, be merciful to yourselves. Cease to think so much about this vile body, this perishable world; think more about those precious souls which Jesus purchased with His own blood—about that eternal resting-place where your Saviour sitteth at the right hand of God. “Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give you.”
True Christian, a word for you. You know these things; you can say, “By the grace of God I have been brought to see the emptiness of this world, and the value of my soul; by the grace of God I am what I am.” Oh, remember then, to make full proof that you are one of Christ’s flock, by your daily conduct, your habits, your temper.
Let your life throughout the coming year be a silent witness to the Gos-pel. Strive to assist Christ’s ministers, in your families and among your friends and acquaintances, by speaking to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, by showing them what great things your heavenly Fa-ther has done for you. Let all take knowledge that to have been with Jesus has made you happier, holier, better in every relation of life; and so perchance it may please God to give some repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, and thus their souls may be delivered from the snare of the devil, and saved in the great day when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed.
I ASK you a plain question at the beginning of a new year: Are you ready?
It is a solemn thing to part company with the old year. It is a still more solemn thing to begin a new one. It is like entering a dark passage: we know not what we may meet before the end. All before us is uncertain: we know not what a day may bring forth, much less what may happen in a year. Reader, are you ready?
Are you ready for sickness? You cannot expect to be always well. You have a body fearfully and wonderfully made: it is awful to think how many diseases may assail it.
"Strange that a harp of thousand strings
Should keep in tune so long!"
Pain and weakness are a hard trial. They can bow down the strong man and make him like a child. They can weary the temper and exhaust the patience, and make men cry in the morning, "Would God it were evening," and in the evening, "Would God it were morning." All this may come to pass this very year. Your reason may be shattered,-your senses may be weakened, your nerves may be unstrung: the very grasshopper may become a burden. Reader, if sickness comes upon you, are you ready?
Are you ready for affliction? "Man," says the Scripture, "is born to sorrow." This witness is true. Your property may be taken from you, your riches may make themselves wings and flee away, your friends may fail you, your children may disappoint you, your servants may deceive you; your character may be assailed, your conduct may be misrepresented: troubles, annoyances, vexations, anxieties, may surround you on every side, like a host of armed men; wave upon wave may burst over your head; you may feel worn and worried, and crushed to the dust. Reader, if affliction comes upon you, are you ready?
Are you ready for bereavements? No doubt there are those in the world that you love. There are those whose names are graven on your heart, and round whom your affections are entwined: there are those who are the light of your eyes, and the very sunshine of your existence. But they are all mortal: any one of them may die this year. Before the daisies blossom again, any one of them may be lying in the tomb. Your Rachel may be buried,-your Joseph may be taken from you,-your dearest idol may be broken: bitter tears and deep mourning may be your portion. Before December you may feel terribly alone. Reader, if bereavement comes upon you, are you ready?
Are you ready for death? It must come some day: it may come this year. You cannot live always. This very year may be your last. You have no freehold in this world,-you have not so much as a lease: you are nothing better than a tenant at God's will. Your last sickness may come upon you, and give you notice to quit,-the doctor may visit you, and exhaust his skill over your case,-your friends may sit by your bedside, and look graver and graver every day: you may feel your own strength gradually wasting, and find something saying within, "I shall not come down from this bed, but die." You may see the world slipping from beneath your feet, and all your schemes and plans suddenly stopped short. You may feel yourself drawing near to the coffin, and the grave, and the worm, and an unseen world, and eternity, and God. Reader, if death should come upon you, are you ready?
Are you ready for the Second Coming of Christ? He will come again to this world one day. As surely as He came the first time, 1800 years ago, so surely will He come the second time. He will come to reward all His saints, who have believed in Him and confessed Him upon earth. He will come to punish all His enemies,-the careless, the ungodly, the impenitent, and the unbelieving. He will come very suddenly, at an hour when no man thinketh: as a thief in the night. He will come in terrible majesty, in the glory of His Father, with the holy angels. A flaming fire shall go before Him. The dead shall be raised,-the judgment shall be set,-the books shall be opened! Some shall be exalted into heaven: many, very many, shall be cast down to hell. The time for repentance shall be past. Many shall cry, "Lord, Lord, open to us!" but find the door of mercy closed forever. After this there will be no change. Reader, if Christ should come the second time this year, are you ready?
O reader, these are solemn questions! They ought to make you examine yourself. They ought to make you think. It would be a terrible thing to be taken by surprise. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
But shall I leave you here? I will not do so. Shall I raise searchings of heart, and not set before you the way of life? I will not do so. Hear me for a few moments, while I try to show you the man that is ready.
He that is ready has a ready Saviour. He has Jesus ever ready to help him. He lives the life of faith in the Son of God. He has found out his own sinfulness, and fled to Christ for peace. He has committed his soul and all its concerns to Christ's keeping. If he has bitter cups of affliction to drink, he knows they are mixed by the hand that was nailed to the cross for his sins. If he is called to die, he knows that the grave is the place where the Lord lay. If those whom he loves are taken away, he remembers that Jesus is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother, and a husband who never dies. If the Lord should come again, he knows that he has nothing to fear. The Judge of all will be that very Jesus who has washed his sins away. Happy is that man who can say, with Hezekiah, "The Lord was ready to save me" (Isaiah xxxviii. 20).
He that is ready has a ready heart. He has been born again, and renewed in the spirit of his mind. The Holy Ghost has shown him the true value of all here below, and taught him to set his affections on things above. The Holy Ghost has shown him his own deserts, and made him feel that he ought to be thankful for everything; and satisfied with any condition. If affliction comes upon him, his heart whispers, "There must be a needs be. I deserve correction. It is meant to teach me some useful lesson." If bereavement comes upon him, his heart reminds him that the Lord gave and the Lord must take away, whenever He sees fit. If death draws near, his heart says, "My times are in Thy hand: as Thou wilt, when Thou wilt, and where Thou wilt." If the Lord should come, his heart would cry, "This is the day I have long prayed for: the kingdom of God is come at last." Blessed is he who has a ready heart.
He that is ready has a home ready for him in heaven. The Lord Jesus Christ has told him that He is gone "to prepare a place" for him. A house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, awaits him. He is not yet come to his full inheritance: his best things are yet to come. He can bear sickness, for yet a little time he shall have a glorious body. He can bear losses and crosses, for his choicest treasures are far beyond the reach of harm. He can bear disappointments, for the springs of his greatest happiness can never be made dry. He can think calmly of death: it will open a door for him from the lower house to the upper chamber,-even the presence of the King. He is immortal till his work is done. He can look forward to the coming of the Lord without alarm. He knows that they who are ready will enter in with Him to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Happy is that man whose lodging is prepared for him in the kingdom of Christ.
Reader, do you know anything of the things I have just spoken of? Do you know anything of a ready Saviour, a ready heart, and a ready home in heaven? Examine yourself honestly. How does the matter stand?
Oh, be merciful to your own soul! Have compassion on that immortal part of you. Do not neglect its interest, for the sake of mere worldly objects. Business, pleasure, money, politics, will soon be done with forever. Do not refuse to consider the question I ask you,-
ARE YOU READY? ARE YOU READY?
Reader, if you are not ready, I beseech you to make ready without delay. I tell you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that all things are ready on God's part for your salvation. The Father is ready to receive you,-the Lord Jesus is ready to wash your sins away,-the Spirit is ready to renew and sanctify you,-angels are ready to rejoice over you,-saints are ready to hold out the right hand to you. Oh, why not make ready this very year?
Reader, if you have reason to hope you are ready, I advise you to make sure. Walk more closely with God,-get nearer to Christ,-seek to exchange hope for assurance. Seek to feel the witness of the Spirit more closely and distinctly every year. Lay aside every weight, and the sin that so easily besets you. Press towards the mark more earnestly. Fight a better fight, and war a better warfare every year you live. Pray more,-read more,-mortify self more,-love the brethren more. Oh that you may endeavour so to grow in grace every year, that your last things may be far more than your first, and the end of your Christian course far better than the beginning!
Profiting from the Scriptures
By J.C. Ryle
(1) For one thing, begin reading your Bible this very day. The way to do a thing — is to do it; and the way to read the Bible — is actually to read it! It is not merely meaning, or wishing, or resolving, or intending, or thinking about it — which will advance you one step. You must positively read. There is no royal road in this matter, any more than in the matter of prayer. If you cannot read yourself, you must persuade somebody else to read it to you. But one way or another, through eyes or ears — the words of Scripture must actually pass before your mind.
(2) For another thing, read the Bible with an earnest desire to understand it. Do not think for a moment, that the great object is to turn over a certain quantity of printed paper, and that it matters nothing whether you understand it or not. Some ignorant people seem to imagine, that all is done if they advance so many chapters every day, though they may not have a notion what they are all about, and only know that they have pushed on their bookmark ahead so many pages. This is turning Bible reading into a mere ritual form. It is almost as bad as the Popish habit of 'buying indulgences' — by saying an astounding number of 'Ave-Marias' and 'Pater-nosters' (Hail-Mary's and Our-Father's — on their 'rosary beads'.) It reminds one of the poor Hottentot who ate up a Dutch hymn-book because he saw it comforted his neighbors' hearts! Settle it down in your mind as a general principle, that a Bible not understood — is a Bible that does no good! Say to yourself often as you read, "What is this all about?" Dig for the meaning like a man digging for gold.
(3) For another thing, read the Bible with child-like faith and humility. Open your heart — as you open God's book, and say,"Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!" Resolve to believe implicitly whatever you find there, however much it may run counter to your own desires and prejudices. Resolve to receive heartily every statement of truth — whether you like it or not. Beware of that miserable habit into which some readers of the Bible fall — they receive some doctrines because they like them; and they reject others because they are condemning to themselves, or to some relation, or friend. At this rate, the Bible is useless! Are we to be judges of what ought to be in God's Word? Do we know better than God? Settle it down in your mind — that you will receive all and believe all, and that what you cannot understand — you will take on trust. Remember, when you pray — that you are speaking to God, and God hears you. But, remember, when you read Scripture — that God is speaking to you, and you are not to "dictate," but to listen!
(4) For another thing, read the Bible in a spirit of obedience and self-application. Sit down to the study of it with a daily determination that you will . . .
live by its rules,
rest on its statements,
and act on its commands.
Consider, as you travel through every chapter, "How does this affect my thinking and daily conduct? What does this teach me?" It is poor work to read the Bible from mere curiosity, and for speculative purposes — in order to fill your head and store your mind with mere opinions; while you do not allow the book to influence your heart and life. That Bible is read best — which is practiced most!
(5) For another thing, read the Bible daily. Make it a part of every day's business to read and meditate on some portion of God's Word. Private means of grace are just as needful every day for our souls — as food and clothing are for our bodies. Yesterday's food will not feed the laborer today; and today's food will not feed the laborer tomorrow. Do as the Israelites did in the wilderness. Gather your manna fresh every morning. Choose your own seasons and hours. Do not scramble over and hurry your reading. Give your Bible the best, and not the worst part of your time! But whatever plan you pursue, let it be a rule of your life to visit the throne of graceand God's Word every day.
(6) For another thing, read all of the Bible — and read it in an orderly way. I fear there are many parts of the Word which some people never read at all. This is to say at the least, a very presumptuous habit. "All Scripture is profitable." (2 Timothy 3:16.) To this habit may be traced that lack of well-proportioned views of truth, which is so common in this day. Some people's Bible-reading is a system of perpetual 'dipping and picking'. They do not seem to have an idea of regularly going through the whole book.
This also is a great mistake. No doubt in times of sickness and affliction, it is allowable to search out seasonable portions. But with this exception, I believe it is by far the best plan to begin the Old and New Testaments at the same time — to read each straight through to the end, and then begin again. This is a matter in which every one must be persuaded in his own mind. I can only say it has been my own plan for nearly forty years, and I have never seen cause to alter it.
(7) For another thing, read the Bible fairly and honestly. Determine to take everything in its plain, obvious meaning — and regard all forced interpretations with great suspicion. As a general rule, whatever a verse of the Bible seems to mean — it does mean! Cecil's rule is a very valuable one, "The right way of interpreting Scripture is to take it as we find it, without any attempt to force it into any particular theological system."
(8) In the last place, read the Bible with Christ continually in view. The grand primary object of all Scripture, is to testify of Jesus! Old Testament ceremonies are shadows of Christ. Old Testament deliverers are types of Christ. Old Testament prophecies are full of Christ's sufferings, and of Christ's glory yet to come.
The first coming and the second;
the Lord's humiliation and His glorious kingdom;
His cross and the crown —
shine forth everywhere in the Bible. Keep fast hold on this clue, if you would read the Bible aright!
I might easily add to these hints, if space permitted. Few and short as they are — you will find them most profitable when implemented.
Do You Believe?
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish—but have everlasting life." John 3:16
Look at the well-known text which heads this page. Its words are probably familiar to your ears. You have very likely heard them, or read them, or quoted them, a hundred times. But have you ever considered what a vast amount of divinity this text contains? No wonder that Luther called it "the Bible in miniature!" And have you ever considered what an immensely solemn question arises out of this text? The Lord Jesus says, "Whoever believes shall not perish." Now, reader, DO YOU BELIEVE?
Questions about religion are seldom popular. They frighten people. They oblige them to look within and to think. The insolvent tradesman does not like his books to be searched. The faithless steward does not like his accounts to be examined. And the unconverted professing Christian does not like to be asked home-questions about his soul.
But questions about religion are very useful. The Lord Jesus Christ asked many questions during His ministry on earth. The servant of Christ ought not to be ashamed to do likewise. Questions about things necessary to salvation—questions which probe the conscience, and bring men face to face with God—such questions often bring life and health to souls. I know few questions more important than the one before you today. DO YOU BELIEVE?
Reader, the question before you is no easy one to answer. Think not to thrust it aside by the off-hand answer, "Of course I believe." I tell you this day, that true belief is no such "matter of course" as you suppose. I tell you that myriads of Protestants and Roman Catholics are constantly saying on Sundays, "I believe," who know nothing whatever of believing. They cannot explain what they mean. They neither know what, nor in whom, they believe. They can give no account of their faith. Reader, a belief of this kind is utterly useless. It can neither satisfy, nor sanctify, nor save.
I invite you in all affection, to consider the question which heads this tract. I ask you to give me your attention while I try to place it before you in its full proportions. In order to see clearly the importance of "believing," you should ponder well the words of Christ to which I have already referred. It is by the unfolding of these words, that I shall hope to make you feel the weight of the question, "Do you believe?"
There are four things which I wish to show you, and to impress upon your mind.
I. God's mind towards the world—He "loved" it.
2. God's gift to the world—"He gave His only begotten Son."
3. The only way to obtain the benefit of God's gift—"Whoever believes on Him shall not perish."
4. The marks by which true belief may be known.
Reader, I invite you to follow me step by step through the four points I have just stated. Do not throw down this tract in anger or impatience—but read it to the end. One thing I desire in writing it, and that is, YOUR SALVATION.
I. Let us consider, in the first place—God's mind towards the world—He "loved" it.
The extent of the Father's love towards the world is a subject on which there is some difference of opinion. It is a subject on which I have long taken my side, and never hesitate to speak my mind. I believe that the Bible teaches us, that God's love extends to all mankind. "His tender mercies are over all His works" (Psalm 145:9). He did not love the Jews only—but the Gentiles also. He does not love His own elect only. He loves all the world.
But what kind of love is this with which the Father regards all mankind? It cannot be a love of delight, or else He would cease to be a perfect God. He is one who cannot bear that which is evil. Oh, no! The world-wide love of which Jesus speaks—is a love of kindness, pity, and compassion. Fallen as man is, and provoking as man's ways are, the heart of God is full of kindness towards him. While as a righteous Judge He hates sin, He is yet able in a certain sense--to love sinners! The length and breadth of His compassion are not to be measured by our feeble measures. We are not to suppose that He is such a one as ourselves. Righteous and holy and pure as God is, it is yet possible for God to love all mankind.
Think, reader, for a moment, how wonderful is this extent of God's love. Look at the state of mankind in every part of the earth, and mark the amazing quantity of wickedness and ungodliness by which earth is defiled. Look at the millions of heathen worshiping stocks and stones, and living in a spiritual darkness "which may be felt." Look at the millions of Roman Catholics, burying the truth under man-made traditions, and giving the honor due to Christ to the church, the saints, and the priest. Look at the millions of Protestants who are content with a mere formal Christianity, and know nothing of Christian believing or Christian living--except the name. Look at the land in which we live at this very day, and mark the sins which abound even in a privileged nation like our own. Think how drunkenness, and immorality, and lying, and swearing, and pride, and covetousness, and infidelity—are crying aloud to God from one end of Great Britain to the other. And then remember that God loves this world! No wonder that we find it written that He is "merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth" (Exod. 34. 6). His compassions fail not. He is "not willing that any should perish—but that all should come to repentance." He "would have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." He "has no pleasure in the death of him who dies." (2 Peter 3. 9: 1 Tim. 2. 4: Ezek. 33. 11.) There lives not the man or woman on earth whom God regards with absolute hatred or complete indifference. His mercy is like all His other attributes. It passes knowledge. God loves the world.
Reader, there are divers and strange doctrines abroad in the present day about the love of God. It is a precious truth which Satan labors hard to obscure by misrepresentation and perversion. Grasp it firmly, and stand on your guard.
Beware of the common idea that God the Father is only an angry Being, whom sinful man can only regard with fear, and from whom he must flee to Christ for safety. Cast it aside as a baseless and unscriptural notion. Contend earnestly for all the attributes of God—for His holiness and His justice, as well as for His love. But never allow for one moment that there is any lack of love towards sinners in any Person in the Blessed Trinity. Oh, no! Such as the Father is—such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father loves, and the Son loves, and the Holy Spirit loves. When Christ came on earth, the kindness and love of God toward man appeared. (Titus 3:4.) The cross is the effect of the Father's love, and not the cause. Redemption is the result of the compassion of all three Persons in the Trinity. To place the Father and the Son in opposition one to another, is weak and crude theology. Christ died, not because God the Father hated—but because He loved the world.
Beware, again, of the common doctrine that God's love is limited and confined to His own elect, and that all the rest of mankind are passed by, neglected, and let alone. This also is a notion that will not bear examination by the light of Scripture. The father of a prodigal son can surely love and pity him, even when he is walking after his own lusts, and refusing to return home. The Maker of all things may surely love the work of His own hands with a love of compassion, even when rebellious against Him. Let us resist to the death, the unscriptural doctrine of universal salvation. It is not true that all mankind will be finally saved. But let us not fly into the extreme of denying God's universal compassion. It is true that God "loves the world." Let us maintain jealously the privileges of God's elect. It is true that they are loved with a special love, and will be loved to all eternity. But let us not exclude any man or woman from the pale of God's kindness and compassion. We have no right to pare down the meaning of words when Jesus says, "God loved the world." The heart of God is far wider than that of man. There is a sense in which the Father loves all mankind.
I hold firmly the doctrine of election—as one of the sheet anchors of my beliefs. I delight in the blessed truth that God has loved His own elect with an everlasting love, before the foundation of the world. But all this is beside the question before us. That question is, "How does God regard all mankind?" I reply unhesitatingly, that God loves them. God loves all the world with a love of compassion.
Reader, if you never took up the service of Christ in real earnest, and have the least desire to begin, take comfort in the truth now before you. Take comfort in the thought that God the Father is a God of infinite love and compassion. Do not hang back and hesitate, under the idea that God is an angry Being, who is unwilling to receive sinners, and slow to pardon. Remember this day that love is the Father's darling attribute. In Him there is perfect justice, perfect purity, perfect wisdom, perfect knowledge, infinite power. But, above all, never forget there is in the Father a perfect love and compassion. Draw near to Him with boldness, because Jesus has made a way for you. But draw near to Him also with boldness, because it is written that "He loved the world."
Reader, if you have taken up the service of God already, never be ashamed of imitating Him whom you serve. Be full of love and kindness to all men, and full of special love to those who believe. Let there be nothing narrow, limited, contracted, stingy, or sectarian in your love. Do not only love your family and your friends—love all mankind. Love your neighbors and your fellow countrymen. Love strangers and foreigners. Love heathen and Muhammadans. Love the worst of men with a love of pity. Love all the world. Lay aside all envy and malice—all selfishness and unkindness. To keep up such a spirit, is to be no better than an infidel. Let everything you do—be done with charity. Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and be not weary of doing them good, to your life's end. The world may sneer at such conduct and call it base and low-spirited. But this is the mind of Christ. This is the way to be like God! GOD LOVED THE WORLD.
2. The next thing I want you to consider is God's GIFT to the world. "He gave His only begotten Son."
The manner in which the truth before us is stated by our Lord Jesus Christ, demands special attention. It would be well for many who talk big swelling words about "the love of God" in the present day, if they would mark the way in which the Lord Jesus sets it before us.
The love of God towards the world is not a vague, abstract idea of mercy, which we are obliged to take on trust without any proof that it is true. It is a love which has been manifested by a mighty gift. It is a love which has been put before us in a plain, unmistakable, tangible form. God the Father was not content to sit in heaven, idly pitying His fallen creatures on earth. He has given the mightiest evidence of His love towards us by a gift of unspeakable value. He has "spared not His own Son—but delivered Him up for us all" (Romans 8:32). He has so loved us—that He has given us Christ! A higher proof of the Father's love could not have been given.
Again, it is not written that God so loved the world that He resolved to save it—but that He so loved it that He gave Christ. His love is not displayed at the expense of His holiness and justice. It flows down from heaven to earth through one particular channel. It is set before men in one special way. It is only—through Christ, by Christ, on account of Christ, and in inseparable connection with the work of Christ. Let us glory in God's love by all means. Let us proclaim to all the world that God is love. But let us carefully remember that we know little or nothing of God's love which can give us comfort, excepting in Jesus Christ. It is not written that God so loved the world that He will take all the world to heaven—but that He so loved it, that He has given His only begotten Son. He who ventures on God's love without reference to Christ—is building on a foundation of sand!
Who can estimate the value of God's gift, when He gave to the world His only begotten Son? It is something unspeakable and incomprehensible! It passes man's understanding. There are two which man has no arithmetic to compute, and no line to measure. One of these things is the extent of that man's loss—who loses his own soul. The other is the extent of God's gift—when He gave Christ to sinners. He gave no created thing for our redemption, though all the treasures of earth, and all the stars of heaven were at His disposal. He gave no created being to be our Redeemer, though angels, principalities and powers in heavenly places, were ready to do His will. Oh no! He gave us One who was nothing less than His own fellow, fully and truly God—His only begotten Son! He who thinks lightly of man's need and man's sin—would do well to consider man's Savior! Sin must indeed be exceeding sinful, when the Father must needs give His only Son to be the sinner's Friend and Savior!
Reader, have you ever considered to what the Father gave His only begotten Son? Was it to be received with gratitude and thankfulness by a lost and bankrupt world? Was it to reign in royal majesty on a restored earth, and put down every enemy under His feet? Was it to enter the world as a king, and to give laws to a willing and obedient people? No! The Father gave His Son to be despised and rejected by men, to be born of a poor woman, and live a life of poverty—to be hated, persecuted, slandered, and blasphemed—to be counted as a criminal, condemned as a transgressor, and die the death of a felon! Never was there such love as this! Never such condescension! The man among ourselves who cannot stoop much and suffer much in order to do good, knows nothing of the mind of Christ.
For what end and purpose did the Father give His only begotten Son? Was it only to supply an example of self-denial and self-sacrifice? No! It was for a far higher end and purpose than this. He gave Him to be a sacrifice for man's sin, and an atonement for man's transgression. He gave Him to be delivered for our offences, and to die for the ungodly. He gave Him to bear our iniquities, and to suffer for our sins—the just for the unjust. He gave Him to be made a curse for us—that we might be redeemed from the curse of the law. He gave Him who knew no sin—to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. He gave Him to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only—but for the sins of the whole world. He gave Him to be a ransom for us, and to make satisfaction for our heavy debt to God by His own precious blood. He gave Him to be the Almighty Friend of sinners—to be their Surety and Substitute—to do for them what they never could have done for themselves—to suffer what they could never have suffered—and to pay what they could never have paid. All that Jesus did and suffered on earth was according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. The chief end for which He lived and died—was to provide eternal redemption for sinners.
Reader, beware of ever losing sight of the great purpose for which Christ was given by God the Father. Let not the false teaching of modern divinity, however plausible it may sound, tempt you to forsake the old paths. Hold fast the faith once delivered to the saints, that the special object for which Christ was given—was to die for sinners, and to make atonement for them by His sacrifice on the cross. Once give up this great doctrine, and there is little worth contending for in Christianity. If Christ did not really bear our sins on the tree as our Substitute, there is an end of all solid peace.
Beware, again, of holding narrow and confined views of the extent of Christ's redemption. Regard Him as given by God the Father to be the common Savior for all the world. See in Him the fountain for all sin and wickedness, to which every sinner may come boldly, drink and live. See in Him the brazen serpent set up in the midst of the camp, to which every sin-bitten soul may look and be healed. See in Him a healing medicine of matchless value, sufficient for the needs of all the world, and offered freely to all mankind. The way to heaven is narrow enough already, by reason of man's pride, hardness, sloth, listlessness, and unbelief. But take heed that you do not make that way more narrow than it really is.
I confess, boldly—that I hold the doctrine of particular redemption, in a certain sense, as strongly as any one. I believe that none are effectually redeemed, but God's elect. They and they alone, are set free from the guilt, and power, and consequences of sin. But I hold no less strongly, that Christ's work of atonement is sufficient for all mankind. There is a sense in which He has tasted death for every man, and has taken upon Him the sin of the world. I dare not pare down, and file away, what appear to me the plain statements of Scripture. I dare not shut a door which God seems, to my eyes, to have left open. I dare not tell any man on earth that Christ has done nothing for him, and that he has no warrant to apply boldly to Christ for salvation. I must abide by the statements of the Bible. Christ is God's gift to the whole world.
Reader, I ask you to observe what a giving religion, true Christianity is. Gift, love, and free-grace are the grand characteristics of the pure gospel. The Father loves the world—and gives His only begotten Son. The Son loves us—and gives Himself for us. The Father and the Son together—give the Holy Spirit to all who ask. All Three Persons in the Blessed Trinity give grace upon grace to those who believe. Never be ashamed of being a giving Christian, if you profess to have any hope in Christ. Give freely, liberally, and self-denyingly, according as you have power and opportunity. Let not your love consist in nothing more than vague expressions of kindness and compassion. Make proof of it by actions. Help forward the cause of Christ on earth—by money, influence, pains, and prayer. If God so loved you as to give His Son for your soul—you should count it a privilege, and not a burden, to give what you can to do good to men.
Reader, if God has given you His only begotten Son, beware of doubting His kindness and love in any painful providence of your daily life! Never allow yourself to think hard thoughts of God. Never suppose that He can give you anything which is not really for your good. Remember the words of Paul: "He who spared not His own Son—but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things" (Romans 8:32.) See in every sorrow and trouble of your earthly pilgrimage—the hand of Him who gave Christ to die for your sins. That hand can never smite you—except in love. He who gave you His only begotten Son, will never withhold anything from you that is really for your good. Lean back on this thought and be content. Say to yourself in the darkest hour of trial, "This also is ordered by Him who gave Christ to die for my sins. It cannot be wrong. It is done in love. It must be well."
3. The third thing I propose to consider, is the WAY in which man obtains the benefit of God's love and Christ's salvation. It is written that "whoever believes shall not perish."
Reader, the point before you is of the deepest importance. To bring it out clearly before your eyes is one great object of the tract you are now reading. God has loved the world. God has given His Son "to be the Savior of the world" (1 John 4:14). And yet we learn from Scripture that many people in the world never reach heaven! Here at any rate is limitation. Here the gate is strait and the way narrow. Some and some only out of mankind, obtain eternal benefit from Christ. Who then, and what, are they?
Christ and His benefits are only available to those who believe. This is a doctrine repeatedly laid down in Scripture, in plain and unmistakable language. Those who will not believe in Him have no part in Him. Without believing there is no salvation. It is vain to suppose that any will be saved—merely because Christ was incarnate—or because Christ is in heaven—or because they belong to Christ's church—or because they are baptized—or because they have received the Lord's supper. All this is entirely useless to any man—except he believes. Without faith on his part, all these things together, will not save his soul. We must have personal faith in Christ, personal dealings with Christ, personal transactions with Christ—or we are lost for evermore. It is utterly false and unscriptural to say that Christ is in every man. Christ no doubt is for everyone—but Christ is not in everyone. He dwells only in those hearts which have faith—and all, unhappily, have not faith. He who believes not in the Son of God is yet in his sins—and the wrath of God abides on him! "He who believes not," says our Lord Jesus Christ in words of fearful distinctness—"He who believes not—shall be damned!" (Mark 6:16; John 3:36).
But Christ and all His benefits are the property of any person who believes. Everyone who believes on the Son of God—is at once pardoned, forgiven, justified, counted righteous, reckoned innocent, and freed from all liability to condemnation! His sins, however many—are at once cleansed away by Christ's precious blood. His soul, however guilty—is at once clothed with Christ's perfect righteousness. It matters not what he may have been in time past. His sins may have been of the worst kind. His former character may be of the blackest description. But does he believe on the Son of God? This is the one question. If he does believe, he is justified from all things in the sight of God. It matters nothing that he can bring to Christ nothing to recommend him—no good works, no long-proved amendments, no unmistakable repentance and change of life. But does he this day, believe in Jesus Christ? This is the grand question! If he does—he is at once accepted. He is accounted righteous for Christ's sake.
But what is this believing, which is of such matchless importance? What is the nature of this faith, which gives a man such amazing privileges? This is an important question. I ask your attention to the answer. Here is a rock on which many make shipwreck. And yet there is nothing really mysterious and hard to understand about saving belief. The whole difficulty arises from man's pride and self-righteousness. It is the very simplicity of justifying faith, at which thousands stumble. They cannot understand it—because they will not stoop.
Believing on Christ is no mere intellectual assent—or belief of the mind. This is no more than the faith of devils! We may believe that there was a divine Person called Jesus Christ, who lived and died and rose again, eighteen hundred years ago—and yet never believe so as to be saved. Doubtless there must be some knowledge of the gospel, before we can believe. There is no true religion in ignorance. But knowledge alone is not saving faith.
Believing on Christ again is not mere feeling something about Christ. This is often no more than temporary excitement, which, like the early dew, soon passes away. We may be pricked in conscience, and feel drawings toward the Gospel like Herod and Felix. We may even tremble and weep, and show much affection for the truth and those that profess it. And yet all this time our hearts and wills may remain utterly unchanged and secretly chained down to the world. Doubtless there is no saving faith where there is no feeling. But feeling alone—is not true faith.
True belief in Christ is the unreserved trust of a heart convinced of sin—in Christ, as an all-sufficient Savior. It is the combined act of the whole man's mind, conscience, heart, and will. It is often so weak and feeble at first, that he who has it, cannot be persuaded that he has it. And yet, like life in the newborn infant, his belief may be real, genuine, saving, and true. The moment that the conscience is convinced of sin, and the head sees Christ to be the only One who can save, and the heart and will lay hold on the hand that Christ holds out—that moment there is saving faith. In that moment a man truly believes.
True belief in Christ is so immensely important, that the Holy Spirit has graciously used many figures in the Bible in describing it. The Lord God knows the slowness of man to comprehend spiritual things. He has therefore multiplied forms of expression, in order to set true faith fully before us. The man who cannot understand "believing" in one form of words, will perhaps understand it in another.
1. Believing is the soul's COMING to Christ. The Lord Jesus says, "He who comes to Me shall never hunger." "Come unto Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (John 6:35; Matt. 11:28). Christ is that Almighty Friend, Advocate, and Physician, to whom all sinners, needing help, are commanded to apply. The believer comes to Him by faith—and is relieved.
2. Believing is the soul's RECEIVING Christ. Paul says, "You have received Christ Jesus the Lord" (Col. 2:6). Christ offers to come into man's heart with pardon, mercy, and grace, and to dwell there as its Peacemaker and King. He says, "I stand at the door and knock" (Rev. 3. 20). The believer hears His voice, opens the door, and admits Christ as his Teacher, Priest, and King.
3. Believing is the soul's BUILDING on Christ. Paul says, you are "built up in Him." "You are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Col. 2:7; Ephes. 2:20). Christ is that sure cornerstone, that strong foundation, which alone can bear the weight of a sinful soul. The believer places his hopes for eternity on Him—and is safe. The earth may be shaken and dissolved—but he is built upon a rock, and will never be confounded.
4. Believing is the soul's PUTTING ON Christ. Paul says, "As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27). Christ is that pure white robe, which God has provided for all sinners who would enter heaven. The believer puts on this robe by faith—and is at once perfect, and free from any spot in God's sight.
5. Believing is the soul's LAYING HOLD on Christ. Paul says, "We have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us" (Heb. 6:18). Christ is that true city of refuge, to which the man fleeing from the avenger of blood runs, and in which he is safe. Christ is that altar which provided a sanctuary to him who laid hold on its horns. Christ is that almighty hand of mercy, which God holds out from heaven to lost and drowning sinners. The believer lays hold on this hand by faith, and is delivered from the pit of hell.
6. Believing is the soul's EATING Christ. The Lord Jesus says, "My flesh is food indeed. He who eats of this bread shall live forever" (John 6:55, 58). Christ is that divine food which God has provided for starving sinners. He is that divine bread which is at the same time—life, nourishment and medicine! The believer feeds on this bread of life by faith. His hunger is relieved. His soul is delivered from damnation!
7. Believing is the soul's DRINKING Christ. The Lord Jesus says, "My blood is drink indeed" (John 6:55). Christ is that fountain of living water which God has opened for the use of all thirsty and sin-defiled sinners, proclaiming, "Whoever will, let him take the water of life freely!" (Rev. 22:17). The believer drinks of this living water—and his thirst is quenched.
8. Believing is the soul's COMMITTAL of itself to Christ. Paul says, "He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day" (2 Tim. 1:12). Christ is the appointed keeper and guardian of His people. It is His office to preserve from sin, death, hell, and the devil--any who are committed to His charge. The believer places his soul in the hands of this Almighty treasure-keeper, and is insured against loss to all eternity. He trusts himself to Christ—and is safe.
9. Last—but not least, believing is the soul's LOOK to Christ. Paul describes the saints as "looking unto Jesus" (Heb. 12:2). The invitation of the Gospel is, "look unto Me—and be saved" (Isaiah 45:22). Christ is that brazen serpent which God has set up in the world, for the healing of all sin-bitten souls who desire to be cured. The believer looks to Him by faith--and receives life, health, and spiritual strength!
One common remark applies to all the nine expressions which I have just gone through. They all give us the simplest idea of faith or believing--that man can desire. No one of them implies the notion of anything mysterious, great, or meritorious in the act of belief. All represent it as something within reach of the weakest and feeblest sinner, and within the comprehension of the most ignorant and unlearned. Grant for a moment that a man says, that he cannot understand what faith in Christ is. Let him look at the nine expressions under which faith is described in Scripture, and tell me, if he can, that he cannot understand them. Surely he must allow that coming to Christ, looking to Christ, committing our souls to Christ, laying hold on Christ, are simple ideas. Then let him remember that coming, looking, and committing our souls to Christ, are, in other words, believing.
And now, reader, if you love peace of conscience in your religion, I entreat you to grasp firmly the great doctrine which I have tried to set before you—and never let it go. Hold fast the grand truth, that saving faith is nothing but simple trust in Christ, that faith alone justifies, and that the one thing needful in order to obtain an interest in Christ—is to believe. No doubt repentance, holiness, and love are excellent things. They will always accompany true faith. But in the matter of justification, they have nothing to do. In that matter, the one thing needful is to believe. No doubt, belief is not the only grace to be found in the heart of a true Christian. But only belief gives him a saving interest in Christ. Prize that doctrine as the peculiar treasure of Christianity. Once let it go, or add anything to it, and there is an end of inward peace.
Prize the doctrine for its suitableness to the needs of fallen man. It places salvation within reach of the lowest and vilest sinner—if he has but heart and will to receive it. It asks him not for works, righteousness, merit, goodness or worthiness. It requires nothing of him. It strips him of all excuses. It deprives him of all pretext for despair. His sins may have been as scarlet. But will he believe? Then there is hope!
Prize the doctrine for its glorious simplicity. It brings eternal life near to the poor, and ignorant, and unlearned. It does not ask a man for a long confession of doctrinal orthodoxy. It does not require a store of head knowledge, and an acquaintance with articles and creeds. Does the man, with all his ignorance, come to Christ as a sinner, and commit himself entirely to Him for salvation? Will he believe? If he will—there is hope.
Above all, prize the doctrine for the glorious breadth and fullness of its terms. It does not say "the elect" who believe, or "the rich" who believe, or "the moral" people who believe, or "the Churchman" who believes, or "the Dissenter" who believes—these, and these only shall be saved. Oh! no, it uses a word of far wider signification: It says, "Whoever believes, shall not perish." Whoever—whatever his past life, conduct, or character; whatever his name, rank, job, or country; whatever his denomination, and whatever place of worship he may have attended; whoever believes in Christ shall not perish!
Reader, this is the Gospel. I do not marvel that Paul wrote those words, "if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other Gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you—let him be accursed!" (Gal. 1:8).
4. The fourth and last thing which I propose to consider, is a point of great practical importance. I wish to show you the MARKS by which true belief in Christ may be discerned and known.
The faith or believing of which I have spoken, is a grace of such importance, that we may naturally expect to hear of many counterfeits of it. There is a dead faith as well as a living one. There is a faith of devils as well as a faith of God's elect. There is a faith which is vain and useless, as well as a faith which justifies and saves. How shall a man know whether he has true faith? How shall he find out whether he believes to the saving of his soul? The thing may be found out! The Ethiopian may be known by the color of his skin; and the leopard may be known by his spots. True faith may always be known by certain marks. These marks are laid down unmistakably in Scripture. Reader, let me endeavor to set these marks plainly before you. Look at them carefully—and test your own soul by what I am going to say.
1. He who truly believes in Christ—has inward PEACE and HOPE. It is written, "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." "We which have believed do enter into rest" (Romans 5:1; Heb. 4:3). The believer's sins are pardoned, and his iniquities taken away. His conscience is no longer burdened with the load of unpardoned transgressions. He is reconciled to God, and is one of His friends. He can look forward to death, judgment, and eternity—without fear. The sting of death is taken away. When the great judgment of the last day is held, and the books are opened—there will be nothing laid to his charge. When eternity begins—he is provided for. He has a hope laid up in heaven, and a city which cannot be moved. He may not be fully sensible of all these privileges. His sense and view of them may vary greatly at different times—and be often obscured by doubts and fears. Like a child who is yet under age, though heir to a great fortune—he may not be fully aware of the value of his possessions. But with all his doubts and fears—he has a real, solid, true hope which will bear examination, and at his best moments, he will be able to say, "I feel a hope which makes me not ashamed." (Romans 5:5.)
2. He who truly believes in Christ—has a NEW HEART. It is written, "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature—old things are passed away; behold, all things have become new." "To as many as received Christ, He gave power to become sons of God, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man—but of God." "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ—is born of God" (2 Cor. 5:17; John 1:12, 18; 1 John 5:1.) A believer has no longer the same nature with which he was born. He is changed, renewed, and transformed after the image of his Lord and Savior. He who minds first the things of the flesh—has no saving faith. True faith, and spiritual regeneration, are inseparable companions. An unconverted person is not a genuine believer!
3. He who truly believes in Christ—is a HOLY person in heart and life. It is written that God "purifies the heart by faith," and that Christians are "sanctified by faith." "Whoever has this hope in him, purifies himself." (Acts 15:9; 26:18; 1 John 3:3.). A believer loves what God loves, and hates what God hates. His heart's desire is to walk in the way of God's commandments, and to abstain from all manner of evil. His wish is to follow after the things which are just, and pure, and honest, and lovely, and of good report, and to cleanse himself from all filthiness of flesh and spirit. He falls far short of his aim, in many things. He finds his daily life a constant fight with indwelling corruption. But he fights on, and resolutely refuses to serve sin. Where there is no holiness, we may be sure there is no saving faith! An unholy man is not a genuine believer!
4. He who truly believes in Christ—works godly WORKS. It is written, that "faith works by love" (Gal. 5:6). True belief will never make a man idle, or allow him to sit still, contented with his own religion. It will stir him to do acts of love, kindness, and charity, according as he sees opportunity. It will constrain him to walk in the steps of his Master, who "went about doing good." In one way or another, it will make him work. The works that he does may attract no notice from the world. They may seem trifling and insignificant to many people. But they are not forgotten by Him who notices a cup of cold water given for His sake. Where there is no working love—there is no faith. A lazy, selfish professing Christian, has no right to regard himself as a genuine believer!
5. He who truly believes in Christ—overcomes the WORLD. It is written, that "whoever is born of God overcomes the world—and this is the victory which overcomes the world—even our faith" (1 John 5:4). A true believer is not ruled by the world's standard of right or wrong, of truth or error. He is independent of the world's opinion. He cares little for the world's praise. He is not moved by the world's censure. He does not seek for the world's pleasures. He is not ambitious of the world's rewards. He looks at things unseen. He sees an invisible Savior, a coming judgment, a crown of glory which never fades away. The sight of these objects, makes him think comparatively little of this present world. Where the world reigns in the heart, there is no genuine faith. A man who is habitually conformed to the world, has no title to the name of a true believer!
6. He who truly believes in Christ—has an inward TESTIMONY of his belief. It is written, that "he who believes on the Son of God, has the witness in himself" (1 John 5:10). The mark before us requires very delicate handling. The witness of the Spirit is unquestionably a very difficult subject. But I cannot shrink from declaring my own firm persuasion, that a true believer always has inward feelings peculiar to himself—feelings which are inseparably connected with his faith, and flow from it—feelings of which unbelievers know nothing at all. He has the spirit of adoption, by which he regards God as a reconciled Father, and looks up to Him without fear. He has the testimony of his conscience, sprinkled with Christ's blood, that, weak as he is, he rests on Christ. He has hopes, joys, fears, sorrows, consolations, expectations, of which he knew nothing before he believed. He has internal evidences which the world cannot understand—but which are better to him than all the books of evidence in existence. Feelings are, no doubt, very deceitful. But where there are no inward pious feelings—there is no faith. A man who knows nothing of an inward, spiritual, experimental religion, is not yet a genuine believer!
7. Last—but not least, He who truly believes in Christ—has a special regard in all his religion—to the person of CHRIST Himself. It is written, "Unto you that believe Christ is precious" (1 Peter 2:7). That text deserves especial notice. It does not say "Christianity" is precious, or the "Gospel" is precious, or "salvation" is precious—but Christ Himself. A true believer's religion, does not consist in mere intellectual assent to a certain set of propositions and doctrines. It is not a mere cold belief of a certain set of truths and facts concerning Christ. It consists in union, communion, and fellowship with an actual living Person, even Jesus the Son of God. It is a life of faith in Jesus, confidence in Jesus, leaning on Jesus, drawing out of the fullness of Jesus, speaking to Jesus, working for Jesus, loving Jesus, and looking for Jesus to come again. Such life may sound like enthusiasm to many. But where there is true faith, Christ will always be known and realized, as an actual living personal Friend. He who knows nothing of Christ as his own Priest, Physician, and Redeemer, knows nothing yet of genuine believing!
Reader, I place these seven marks of believing before you, and I ask you to consider them well. I do not say, that all believers have them equally. I do not say, that no one will be saved, who cannot discover all these marks in himself. I concede, freely, that many believers are so weak in faith, that they go doubting all their days, and make others doubt about them too. I simply say, that these are the marks to which a man should first direct his attention, if he would answer the mighty question, Do you believe?
Where the seven marks, of which I have just been speaking, are utterly lacking, I dare not tell a man that he is a true believer. He may be called a Christian, and attend a Christian church. He may have been baptized with Christian baptism, and be a member of a Christian church. But if he knows nothing of peace with God, conversion of heart, newness of life, victory over the world, I dare not pronounce him a believer. He is yet dead in trespasses and sins. Except he awakes to newness of life, he will perish everlastingly.
Show me a man who has about him the seven marks which I have described, and I feel a strong confidence about the state of his soul. He may be poor and needy in this world—but he is rich in the sight of God. He may be despised and sneered at by man—but he is honorable in the sight of the King of kings. He is traveling towards heaven! He has a mansion ready for him in the Father's house. He is cared for by Christ, while on earth. He will be owned by Christ before assembled worlds, in the life which is to come.
1. And now, reader, in drawing this tract to a conclusion, I return to the QUESTION with which I began. I press that question on your conscience. I ask you, in my Master's name, whether you yet know anything of the subject of it? I ask you, while these pages are yet before your eyes, to look my inquiry in the face. I ask you, Do you believe?
DO YOU BELIEVE? I think it impossible to overrate the immense importance of the question before you. Life or death, heaven or hell, blessing or cursing—all hinge and turn upon it. He who believes on Christ—is not condemned. He who believes not—shall be damned. If you believe—you are pardoned, justified, accepted in God's sight, and have a title to everlasting life. If you do not believe—you are perishing daily. Your sins are all upon your head, sinking you down to perdition. Every hour you are so much nearer to hell.
DO YOU BELIEVE? It matters nothing what others are doing. The question concerns yourself. The folly of other men is no excuse for yours. The loss of heaven will not be less bitter, because you lose it in company. Look at home. Think of your own soul.
DO YOU BELIEVE? It is no answer to say, that "you sometimes hope Christ died for you." The Scriptures never tell us to spend our time in doubts and hesitation on that point. We never read of a single case of one who stood still on that ground. Salvation is never made to turn on the question, whether Christ died for a man or not. The turning-point is always set before us as believing.
DO YOU BELIEVE? This is the point to which all must come at last, if they would be saved. It will signify little, when we hang on the brink of the grave, what we have professed, and to what denomination we have belonged. All this will sink into nothing, in comparison with the question of this tract. All will be useless, if we have not believed.
DO YOU BELIEVE? This is the common mark of all saved souls. Episcopalians or Presbyterians, Baptists or Independents, Methodists or Plymouth Brethren, Churchmen or Dissenters, all meet on this common ground, if they are true men. On other matters they are often hopelessly disagreed. But in living by faith on Jesus Christ, they are all one.
DO YOU BELIEVE? What reason can you give for unbelief, that will bear examination? Life is short and uncertain. Death is sure. Judgment is inevitable. Sin is exceeding sinful. Hell is a dreadful reality. Christ alone can save you. There is no other name given under heaven, whereby you can be saved. If not saved, the blame will be on your own head. You will not believe! You will not come to Christ, that He may give you life!
Reader, take warning this day. You must either believe on Christ, or perish everlastingly. Rest not until you can give a satisfactory answer to the question before you. Never be satisfied, until you can say, By the grace of God I do believe!
2. I pass on from questions—to COUNSEL. I offer it to all who are convinced of sin, and dissatisfied with their own spiritual condition. I entreat you to come to Christ by faith without delay. I invite you this day to believe on Christ to the saving of your soul.
I will not let you put me off by the common objection, "We cannot believe—we must wait until God gives us faith." I grant most fully that saving faith, like true repentance, is the gift of God. I grant that we have no natural power of our own to believe on Christ, receive Christ, come to Christ, lay hold on Christ, and commit our soul to Christ. But I see faith and repentance laid down clearly in Scripture as duties which God requires at any man's hands. He "commanded all men to repent." "This is His commandment, That we should believe" (Acts 17:30: 1 John 3:23). And I see it laid down with no less clearness, that unbelief and impenitence are sins for which man will be held accountable, and that he who does not repent and believe, destroys his own soul. (Mark 16:16; Luke 13:3).
Will anyone tell me that it is right for a man to sit still in sin? Will any one say that a sinner on the road to hell ought to wait idly for some power to take him up and put him in the way of heaven? Will any one say that it is right for a man to continue quietly serving the devil, in open rebellion against God—and that he is to make no effort, no struggle, no attempt to turn towards Christ?
Let others say these things, if they will. I cannot say them. I can find no warrant for them in Scripture. I will not waste time in trying to explain what cannot be explained, and unravel what cannot be unraveled. I will not attempt to show philosophically in what way an unconverted man can look to Christ, or repent, or believe. But this I know, that it is my plain duty to bid every unbeliever to repent and believe. And this I know, that the man who will not take the invitation, will find at last that he has ruined his own soul!
Reader, trust Christ, look to Christ, cry to the Lord Jesus Christ—if you never yet believed—about your soul. If you have not the right feelings yet, ask Him to give you right feelings. If you dare not think that you have true faith yet, ask Him to give you faith. But in any case do not sit still. Do not idle away your soul into hell—in ignorant, unscriptural sloth. Do not live on in senseless inactivity—waiting for you know not what—expecting what you cannot explain—increasing your guilt every day—offending God by continuing in lazy unbelief—and hourly digging a grave in hell for your own soul. Arise and call upon Christ! Awake and cry to Jesus about your soul! Whatever difficulties there may be about believing, one thing at least is abundantly clear—no man ever perished and went to hell—from the foot of the cross. If you can do nothing else, lie down at the foot of the cross!
3. I finish all by a word of EXHORTATION to all believers into whose hands this tract may fall. I address them as fellow-pilgrims and companions in tribulation. I exhort them, if they love life, and have found any peace in believing, to pray daily for an increase of faith. Let your prayer be continually, "Lord, increase my faith."
True faith admits of many degrees. The weakest faith is enough to join the soul to Christ, and to secure salvation. A trembling hand may receive a healing medicine. The feeblest infant may be heir to the richest possessions. The least true faith gives a sinner a title to heaven, as surely as the strongest. But little faith can never give so much sensible comfort as strong faith. According to the degree of our faith will be the degree of our peace, our hope, our strength for duty, and our patience in trial. Surely we should pray continually, "Increase our faith."
Believing reader, would you have more faith? Do you find believing so pleasant, that you would like to believe more? Then take heed that you are diligent in the use of every means of grace—diligent in your private communion with God—diligent in your daily watchfulness over time, temper, and tongue—diligent in your private Bible reading—diligent in your own private prayers. It is vain to expect spiritual prosperity, when we are careless about these things. Let those who will, call it over-precise and legal to be particular about these things. I only reply, that there never was an eminent saint who neglected them.
Reader, would you have more faith? Then seek to become more acquainted with Jesus Christ. Study your blessed Savior more and more, and strive to know more of the length and breadth and height of His love. Study Him in all His offices, as the Priest, the Physician, the Redeemer, the Advocate, the Friend, the Teacher, the Shepherd of His believing people. Study Him as one who not only died for you—but is also living for you at the right hand of God; as one who not only shed His blood for you—but daily intercedes for you at the right hand of God; as one who is soon coming again for you, and will stand once more on this earth. The miner who is fully persuaded that the rope which draws him up from the pit will not break, is drawn up without anxiety and alarm. The believer who is thoroughly acquainted with the fullness of Jesus Christ, is the believer who travels from grace to glory with the greatest comfort and peace.
Reader, I commend these things to your careful attention.
Looking Unto Jesus
By J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)
"Looking unto Jesus." Hebrews 12:2
The text of Scripture which heads this page is well fitted to supply useful thoughts for Christmas. At a season like this, when we are specially invited to remember how our blessed Lord came into the world, and was born of the Virgin Mary, we surely cannot do better than ask ourselves, what we know of "Looking unto Jesus."
The Christianity which the world requires, is a Christianity for everyday life. No other religion will ever receive much heart-felt attention from mankind. It may exist; but it will never strike deep root, and satisfy souls. A mere Sunday religion is not enough. A thing put on and off with our Sunday clothes is powerless. Thinking men feel and know that there are seven days in a week, and that life is not made up of Sundays. A weekly round of forms and ceremonies within consecrated buildings, is not enough. Wise men remember that there is a world of duty and trial, outside the walls of the church, in which they have to play their part. They want something that they can carry with them into that world. A monastic religion will never do. A faith which cannot flourish except in an ecclesiastical hot-house, a faith which cannot face the cold air of worldly business, and bear fruit except behind the fence of retirement and private asceticism — such a faith is a plant which our Heavenly Father has not planted, and it brings no fruit to perfection.
A religion of spasmodic and hysterical excitement will not do. It may suit weak and sentimental minds for a little season; but it rarely lasts, and does not meet the needs of many. It lacks bone and muscle, and too often ends in deadness. It is not the wind, nor the fire, nor the earthquake—but the still small voice, which shows the real presence of the Holy Spirit. (1 Kings 19:12).
The Christianity which the world requires, and the Word of God reveals—is of a very different stamp. It is a useful everyday religion. It is a healthy, strong, manly plant, which can live in every position, and flourish in every atmosphere, except that of sin. It is a religion which a man can carry with him wherever he goes, and never need leave behind him. In the army or in the navy, at the public school or at college, in the hospital-room or at the bar, on the farm or in the shop—true heaven-born Christianity will live and not die. It will wear, and stand, and prosper in any climate—in winter and in summer, in heat and in cold. Such a religion meets the needs of mankind.
But where is such true Christianity to be found? What are its special ingredients? What is the nature of it? What are its peculiar characteristics? The answer to these questions is to be found in the three words of the text which form the title of this paper.
The secret of a vigorous, powerful, everyday Christianity—is to be ever "Looking unto Jesus!" The glorious company of the Apostles, the noble army of martyrs, the saints who in every age and land have made their mark on mankind, and turned the world upside down—all, all have had one common mint-stamp upon them. They have been men who lived "Looking unto Jesus!" The expression of the text is one of those pithy golden sayings which stand out here and there on the face of the New Testament, and demand special attention. It is like "to me to live is Christ," "Christ is all and in all," "Christ, who is our life," "He is our peace," "I live by the faith of the Son of God." (Philip. 1:21 ; Colos. 3:4, 11; Ephes. 2:14; Gal. 2:20.) To each and all of these sayings, one common remark applies. They are rich in thought and food for reflection. They contain far more than a careless eye can see on the surface.
In the phrase "looking unto Jesus," it is useful and interesting to remember that the Greek word which, in our English Bible, we render "looking," is only found here in the New Testament. Literally translated it means "looking off," looking away from other objects to one, only one, and looking on that one with a steady, fixed, intent gaze. And the object we are to look at, you will observe, is a PERSON—not a doctrine, not an abstract theological dogma—but a living Person; and that Person is Jesus the Son of God. How much matter for thought lies there!
Creeds and confessions are the necessary invention of a comparatively modern age. The first and simplest type of an apostolic early Christian was a man who trusted, and loved, a living Divine Person. Of head knowledge, and accurate theological definitions, perhaps he had but little store. Very likely he would have failed a basic exam in one of our theological schools. But one thing he did know: he knew, believed, loved, and would have died for, a living Savior, a real personal Friend in heaven, even Jesus, the crucified and risen Son of God. Well would it be for the Churches of the nineteenth century, if we had more of this simple Christianity among us, and could realize more the Person of Christ.
But, after all, the grand question which rises out of the text is this: What is it that we are to look at in Jesus? If we are to live habitually fixing the eyes of our mind on Christ, what are the special points to which we are to have regard? If "looking unto Jesus" is the real secret of a healthy, vigorous Christianity, what does the phrase mean?
I answer these questions without hesitation. I dismiss as insufficient and unsatisfactory, the idea that the Lord Jesus is only set before us here as an "example, and nothing more." I hold with that great divine, John Owen, who was once Dean of my own college at Oxford, that "Christ is proposed to us as one in whom we are to place our faith, trust, and confidence, with all our expectation of success in our Christian course." I consider there are four points of view in which we are intended to "look to Jesus," and I shall try, briefly, to put these four before you in order.
I. First, and foremost (yes! by far first), if we would look rightly to Jesus, we must look daily at His death—as the only source of inward peace. We need inward peace. So long as our conscience is asleep, deadened by indulged sin, or dulled and stupefied by incessant pursuit of the things of this world—so long can that man get on tolerably well without peace with God. But once let conscience open its eyes, and shake itself, and rise, and move—and it will make the stoutest child of Adam feel ill at ease. The irrepressible thought that this life is not all—that there is a God, and a judgment, and a something after death, an undiscovered destiny from which no traveler returns—that thought will come up at times in every man's mind, and make him long for inward peace.
It is easy to write brave words about "eternal hope," and strew the path to the grave with flowers. Such theology is naturally popular: the world loves to have it so. But after all, there is something deep down in the heart of hearts of most men, which must be satisfied. The strongest evidence of God's eternal truth, is the universal conscience of mankind. Who is there among us all, who can sit down and think over the days that are past—school days, and college days, and days of middle life, their countless things left undone that ought to have been done, and done that ought not to have been done—who, I say, can think over it all without shame, if indeed he does not turn from the review with disgust and terror, and refuse to think at all?
We all need peace. Where is the man in all England, the best and saintliest among us, whether old or young, who must not confess, if he speaks the truth, that his best things now are full of imperfection; and his life a constant succession of shortcomings? Yes! the older we grow, and the nearer we draw to death, the more we see our own great darkness and multitudinous defilements, and the more disposed we feel to cry, "Unclean! unclean! God be merciful to me a sinner!"
We need peace. Now, there is only one source of peace revealed in Scripture, and that is the sacrifice of the death of Christ, and the atonement which He has made for sin by that vicarious death on the cross. To obtain a portion in that great peace, we have only to "look" by faith to Jesus, as our Substitute and Redeemer, bearing our sin in His own body on the tree, and to cast all the weight of our souls on Him.
To enjoy that peace habitually, we must keep "daily looking back" to the same wondrous point at which we began, daily bringing all our iniquity to Him, and daily remembering that "the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6). This, I am bold to say, is the Bible way of peace. This is the old fountain of which all the true sheep of Christ have drunk for 1800 years, and have never found its waters to fail. Holy men of all ages, have agreed on one point, at least, in their respective creeds. And that point is this, that the only recipe for peace of conscience, is to "look" by faith to Jesus suffering in our stead, the just for the unjust, paying our debt by that suffering, and dying for us on the cross.
The carnal wisdom of these latter days entirely fails to find a better way of peace, than the old path of "looking" to the vicarious death of Christ. Thousands are annually growing grey, and blistering their hands in hewing out cisterns—broken cisterns, which can hold no water. They are vainly hoping that they will find some better way to heaven, than the old-fashioned way of the cross. They will never find it! They will have to turn at last, if they love life, like many before them, to the brazen serpent. They must be content, like Israel in the wilderness, to look and live, and to be saved by the blood of the Lamb!
The words which Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote in 1093 upon this subject, are well worth noticing. They are to be found in his directions for the visitation of the sick. Quaint and old-fashioned as they sound, they are wiser, I fear, than many things written in our own times. He says: "Place your trust in no other thing. Commit yourself wholly to the death of Christ. Wrap yourself wholly in this death. And if God would judge you, say, 'Lord, I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and Your judgment.' And if He shall say unto you that you are a sinner, say, 'I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and my sins.' If He shall say unto you that you have deserved damnation, say, 'Lord, I put the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between You and all my sins—and I offer His merits for my own.' If He says that He is angry with you, say, 'Lord, I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and Your anger.' "
Forever let us keep to this old path of peace, and never be ashamed of it. While others go back, and barely conceal their contempt for the so-called blood theology, let us boldly go forward, "looking unto Jesus," and saying daily to Him, "Lord, I have sinned—but You have suffered in my stead! I take You at Your word, and rest my soul on You."
So much for the first "Look to Jesus." We must look back habitually to Christ's death for peace and pardon. This is what Paul meant the Hebrews to do. Let this be the first item in our creed.
II. In the second place, if we would look rightly to Jesus—we must look daily to His life of intercession in heaven, as our principal provision of strength and help. We must surely feel that we need Almighty help every day we live, if we are true Christians. Even when started in the narrow way of life, with pardon, grace, and a new heart—we soon find that, left to ourselves, we would never get safely to our heavenly home. Every returning morning brings with it so much to be done and borne and suffered, that we are often tempted to despair. So weak and treacherous are our hearts, so busy the devil, so persecuting and ensnaring the world, that we are sometimes half inclined to look back and return to Egypt. We are such poor, weak creatures, that we cannot do two things at once. It seems almost impossible to do our duty in that place of life to which God has called us, and not to be absorbed in it and forget our souls. The cares and business and occupations of life appear to drink up all our thoughts, and swallow up all our attention. What are we to do? Where are we to look? How many are exercised with thoughts like these!
I believe the great Scriptural remedy for all who feel such helplessness as I have faintly described, is to look upward to Christ in heaven, and to keep steadily before our eyes His intercession at the right hand of God. We must learn to look UPWARD, away from ourselves and our weakness, and upward to Christ in heaven. We must try to realize daily that Jesus not only died for us and rose again, but that He also lives as our Advocate with the Father, and appears in heaven for us.
This, surely, was the mind of Paul, when he said, "Being reconciled to God by the death of His Son—we shall be saved by His life." (Romans v. 10). This, again, is what he meant when he gave that confident challenge, "Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes rather, who is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us!" (Romans 8:34). This, above all, is what he had in view when he told the Hebrews, "He is able also to save to the uttermost, those who come unto God by Him—seeing He ever lives to make intercession for them." (Heb. 7:25).
Now I venture boldly to express a doubt whether modern Christians "look to Jesus" in this point of view, and make as much as they ought of His life of intercession. It is too often a dropped link in our present-day Christianity. We are apt to think only of the atoning DEATH and the precious blood, and to forget the LIFE and priestly office of our great Redeemer! It ought not to be so. We miss much by this forgetfulness of the whole truth as it is in Jesus.
What a mine of daily comfort there is in the thought—that we have an Advocate with the Father, who never slumbers or sleeps, whose eye is always upon us, who is continually pleading our cause and obtaining fresh supplies of grace for us, who watches over us in every company and place, and never forgets us, though we, in going to and fro, and doing our daily business, cannot always think of Him! While we are fighting Amalek in the valley below, One greater than Moses is holding up His hands for us in heaven, and through His intercession we shall prevail.
Surely, if we have been satisfied with half the truth about Jesus hitherto, we ought to say, 'I will live in such fashion no more.' And here let me declare my own firm conviction—that the habit of daily looking to the intercession of Christ is one great safeguard against some modern superstitions. If Jesus did NOT live in heaven as our merciful and faithful High Priest, I could understand a little the craving which exists in many minds for that deadly opiate, which, nowadays, usurps the name and office of spiritual medicine: I mean, habitual confession to earthly priests! But I cannot understand it when I read the Epistle to the Hebrews, and see that we have a great High Priest in heaven, who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and who bids us pour out our hearts before Him, and come to Him for grace to help in time of need.
In short, I do not hesitate to assert, that a right view of Christ's priestly office is the true antidote to some of the most dangerous errors of the Church of Rome. So much for the second "look to Jesus." We ought to look habitually to His life and intercession.
III. In the third place, if we would look rightly to Jesus, we must look daily at His example, as our chief standard of holy living. We must all feel, I suspect, and often feel—how hard it is to live a Christian life, by mere rules and regulations. Scores of circumstances will continually cross our path, in which we find it difficult to see the line of duty, and feel perplexed. Prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and attention to the practical part of the Epistles, are, undoubtedly, primary resources. But surely it would cut many a knot, and solve many a problem, if we would cultivate the habit of studying the daily behavior of our Lord Jesus, as recorded in the four Gospels, and strive to shape our own behavior by His pattern. Yet this must have been what our Lord meant when He said, "I have given you an example—that you should do as I have done to you." (John 13:15). And this is what Paul meant, when he wrote, "Be followers of me—even as I am of Christ." (1 Cor. 11:1). And this is what John meant when he said, "he who says he abides in Him, ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked." (1 John 2:6).
The chief end for which anyone is said to be predestined--is "to be conformed to the image of His Son." (Romans 8:29) This, says the 17th Article, with true wisdom, is the special character of God's elect, "they are made like the image of God's only begotten Son, Jesus Christ." In the face of such evidence as this, I have a right to say that our "look" to Jesus is very imperfect, if we do not look at His example, and strive to follow it.
Let us consider for a moment what a beautifier and marvelous portrait the four Gospels hold up to our eyes, of the Man Jesus Christ. It is a portrait that extorted the admiration even of a wretched sceptic like Rousseau. It is a portrait which, even to this day, is one of the cardinal difficulties of infidelity, for there never lived the infidel who could face the question, "Tell us, if you refuse to believe the Divine origin of Christianity, tell us who and what Christ was?"
Let us Christians trace all the footsteps of our Master's career from the carpenter's shop at Nazareth to the cross of Calvary. See how in every company and position, by the Sea of Galilee, and in the Temple courts of Jerusalem, by the well of Samaria, in the house Bethany, amidst the sneering Sadducees, or the despised publicans, alone with His faithful disciples, or surrounded by bitter enemies—He is always the same—always holy, harmless, undefiled; always perfect in word and deed.
Mark what a wonderful combination of seemingly opposite qualifications is to be seen in His character. Bold and outspoken in opposing hypocrisy and self-righteousness, tender and compassionate in receiving the chief of sinners. Profoundly wise in arguing before the Sanhedrin; simple, so that a child might understand Him, in teaching the poor. Patient towards His weak disciples; unruffled in temper by the keenest provocation. Considerate for all around Him; sympathizing, self-denying, prayerful, overflowing with love and compassion, utterly unselfish, always about His Father's business, ever going about doing good, continually ministering to others, and never expecting others to minister to Him. What person ever walked on earth, like Jesus of Nazareth!
We may well be humbled and ashamed when we think how unlike the best of us are, to our great Example, and what poor, blurred copies of His character we show to mankind. Like careless children at school, we are content to copy those around us, with all their faults, and do not look constantly at the only faultless copy, the One perfect Man, in whom even Satan could find "nothing." (John 14:30). But one thing, at any rate, we must all admit. If Christians, during the last eighteen centuries, had been more like Christ, the Church would certainly have been far more beautiful, and would probably have done far more good to the world.
It is a sorrowful thought, that Christ's example should be so little remembered or looked at, in these latter days. It is a striking illustration of man's mental littleness and inability to grasp more than a portion of the truth. You may lay your hand on a hundred books which profess to grapple with points of doctrine, before you will find one which handles the mighty subject of the true pattern of Christian practice. I believe the Church has suffered greatly by neglecting the point of which I now speak. The famous book of Thomas a Kempis may have many defects, I have no doubt, and to some it is even mischievous. But I am sure it would be well if we had many more Christlike men and women, who strive at home and abroad to imitate Christ. Let us beware of this error in these latter days. Let us cultivate the daily habit of "looking to Christ as our pattern," as well as our salvation. Let us not forget that a cunning artificer will tell you that he often learns more from a pattern in five minutes—than from the best written rules and directions in an hour. We can never look too steadily at Christ's death and intercession. But we may easily look too little at the blessed steps of His most holy life. Let us shake off this reproach. Let us strive and pray that we may make the tone and temper of Jesus our model and standard in our daily behavior. Let all men see that, as the poet says, "this example has a magnet force," and that we love to follow Him whom we profess to love. "My Master, my Master!" as George Herbert loved to say. "How would my Master have behaved in my position?" should be our constant cry. "Let me go and do likewise." So much for the third "look" at Jesus. We ought to look habitually to His example.
IV. Fourthly and lastly, if we would "look" to Jesus rightly, we must look forward to His second Advent, as the truest fountain of hope and consolation. That the early Christians were always looking forward to a second coming of their risen Master, is a fact beyond all controversy. You cannot read the Epistles and fail to see that one of their chief sources of comfort, was the hope of His return. They clung tenaciously to the old promise, "This same Jesus shall come in, like manner as you have seen Him go." (Acts 1:11). In all their trials and persecutions, under Roman Emperors and heathen rulers, they cheered one another with the thought that their own King would soon come again, and plead their cause. Persecutors and oppressors would soon be swept away, and the great Shepherd of the sheep would gather them into a fold of safety. "We look for the Savior." "We wait for the Son of God from heaven." "Yet in a little while, He who shall come will come, and will not tarry." "Be patient unto the coming of the Lord." (Philip. 3:20; 1 Thess. 1:10; Heb. 10:37; James 5:7).
Many, no doubt, in their impatience, misunderstood the times and seasons, and thought that the kingdom of God would immediately appear. But, for all that, it remains a fact that a second personal advent of Christ, was the great hope of the early Church.
Now, I believe firmly that this same second advent was meant to be the hope of the Church in every age of the world. It ought to be the consolation of Christians in these latter days, as much as it was in primitive times. And I doubt whether there ever was an era when it was so useful to keep the second advent of Christ steadily in view, as it is just now. Who can look abroad at public affairs all over the globe, and avoid the impression that this old, bankrupt world needs a new order of things? The cement seems to have fallen out of the walls of human society. On all sides we hear of restlessness, anarchy, lawlessness, envy, jealousy, distrust, suspicion, and discontent. The continuance of evils of every kind, physical, moral, and social—the constantly recurring revolutions, and wars, and famines, and pestilences—the never-ending growth of superstition, skepticism, and unbelief—the bitter strife of political parties—the divisions and controversies of Christians—the overflowing of intemperance and immorality—the boundless luxury and extravagance of some classes, and the grinding poverty of others—the strikes of workmen—the conflict of labor and capital—the shiftless helplessness of statesmen to devise remedies—the commercial dishonesty—the utter failure of mere secular knowledge to really help mankind—the comparative deadness of Churches—the apparently small results of missions at home and abroad—the universal "distress of nations with perplexity," and dread of something terrible coming. These strange phenomena and symptoms, what do they all mean? Yes—what indeed!
They all seem to tell us, with no uncertain voice, that the world is out of joint, and needs a new administration, and a new King. Like a crying infant in the arms of a stranger, the world is ever fretting, and wailing, and struggling, though it hardly knows why, and will never rest and be quiet until its rightful parent takes it in hand, and puts the stranger aside. As Plato makes Socrates say, in one of his dialogues, before the FIRST advent, "We must wait for some one, be he God, or inspired man, to give us light, and take away darkness from our eyes,"—even so we Christians must fix our hopes upon the SECOND advent, and look and long for the rightful King's appearing.
And who, again, can look round his own private circle, whether great or small, and fail to see many things which are most painful and distressing; things which, like a watcher by a dying pillow, he can only look on and feel deeply, but cannot mend? Think of the ever-flowing stream of sorrow arising from poverty, sickness, disease, and death—from quarrels about money, from incompatibility of temper, from family misunderstandings, from failures in business, from disappointments about children, from separations of families in pursuit of callings. What hidden skeletons there are in many households! How many aching hearts! How many secret sorrows known only to God! How many Jacobs in the world, vexed by their children, and refusing to be comforted! How many Absaloms bowing down a father's head by their thanklessness and rebellion! How many Isaacs and Rebeccas daily grieved by self-willed sons! How many weeping widows of Nain! Where is the thoughtful Christian who does not often sigh for a better state of things, and ask himself, "How long, O Lord, faithful and true, how long are we to go on weeping, and working, binding up wounds, and drinking bitter cups, and educating, and parting, and burying, and putting on mourning? When shall the end once be?"
Now, I believe that the true Scriptural source of consolation, in the face of all that troubles us, whether publicly or privately, is to keep steadily before our eyes the second coming of Christ. Once more I say, we must "look forward to Jesus." We must grasp and realize the blessed fact that the rightful King of the world is returning soon, and shall have His own again; that He shall put down that old usurper, the devil, and take away the curse from off the earth. Let us cultivate the habit of daily looking forward to the resurrection of the dead, the gathering together of the saints, the restitution of all things, the banishment of sorrow and sin, and the re-establishment of a new kingdom, of which the rule shall be righteousness.
Any sorrow or trial may be borne, I believe—if men only have a hope of an end. All the sorrows of this world will be cheerfully borne, and we shall work on with a light heart, if we thoroughly believe that Christ is coming again without sin unto salvation.
After all, one principal cause of human unhappiness is the indulgence of unwarrantable expectations from anybody or anything here below. I ask my younger readers especially to remember that. The less we expect from statesmen, philosophers, men of money, men of science, ay, even from visible Churches—the happier we shall be. He who leans on staffs like these, will find them pierce his hand. He who drinks only of these fountains, shall thirst again. Let us learn to fix our chief hopes on the second coming of Christ—and work, and watch, and wait confidently—like those who wait for the morning, and know for a certainty that in the time appointed by the Father, the Sun of Righteousness will arise, with healing on His wings. Then, and then alone, we shall not be disappointed.
So much for the fourth and last look to Jesus. We ought to look habitually to His second personal coming, as the hope of the Church and world. He who looks at the cross of Christ is a wise man; he who looks at the intercession and example is wiser still; but he who lives looking at all four objects—the death, the priesthood, the pattern, the second advent of Jesus—he is the wisest of all.
(a) And now let me wind up all by offering a word of friendly advice to all into whose hands this paper may fall. I offer it in all affection as one who longs to help you in the right way, who desires to promote in your heart a healthy, vigorous, everyday Christianity, and would gladly guard you against mistakes. Our greatest poet truly says, "We know what we are; but we know not what we may be."
All before us, is dark and uncertain, and mercifully kept from our eyes. I cannot tell you where the lot of many of my readers may be finally cast on earth, or what they may be called to do and bear before the end comes. But one thing I say confidently—let the keynote of your Christianity, in every quarter of the globe, be the phrase of my text— "Looking to Jesus!" Jesus dying, Jesus interceding, Jesus the example, Jesus coming again. Fix your eyes firmly on Him if you would so run as to obtain. Value the pure and reformed branch of Christ's Church, to which you belong, and all her many privileges. Love her services. Labor for her peace. Contend for her prosperity. But for your own personal religion, the salvation of your own soul, take care that your ruling idea is, "Looking to Jesus."
(b) Together with friendly advice, let me offer a friendly warning. Beware, if you love life, beware of a Christless religion. A watch without a mainspring, a steam engine without a fire, a solar system without the sun—all these are but faint and feeble images of the utter uselessness of a religion without Christ. And next to a Christless religion, beware of a religion in which Christ is not the first, foremost, chief, principal object—the very Alpha in the alphabet of your faith. He who enters upon a vast series of arithmetical calculations, requiring weeks and months of brain-exhausting toil, he knows well that his labor will be all in vain, and his conclusions faulty, if a single figure is wrong in his first line. And he who does not give Christ His rightful place and office in the beginning of his religion, must not be surprised if he never knows anything of joy and peace in believing, and goes cheerless and comfortless on his way to heaven, with "all the voyage of life bound in shallows and in misery."
(c) Finally, may I not say to all, both old and young, with this great text in view, that we shall do well to aim at greater SIMPLICITY in our own personal religion. The early Christians lacked many privileges and advantages that we enjoy. They had no printed books. They worshiped God in dens and caves and private homes, had few and simple "church clothes", and often received the Lord's Supper in vessels of wood, and not of silver or gold. They had little money, no church endowments, no universities. Their creeds were short. Their theological definitions were scanty and few. But what they knew—they knew well. They were men of one book. They knew Whom they believed. If they had wooden communion vessels, they had golden ministers and teachers. They "looked to Jesus" and realized intensely their personal relationship to Jesus. For Jesus they lived, and worked, and died.
But what are we doing? And where are we in the nineteenth century? And what deliverance are we working on earth? With all our countless advantages, our grand old cathedrals, our splendid libraries, our accurate definitions, our elaborate liturgies, our civil liberties, our religious societies, our numerous facilities—we may well doubt whether we are making such a mark on the world as the New Testament Christians made! I know we cannot put the clock back, and return to the A B C's of early Christianity. But one thing we can do: we can grasp more firmly, with every returning Christmas, the grand old foundational principles around which our modern Christianity has clustered, and swelled, and grown to its present proportions. Such a principle is that laid down in our text, "Looking unto Jesus." Then let us covenant with ourselves, that for the time to come we will try to run our race, fight our battles, fill our position, serve our generation, like men who are ever "looking to Jesus." So looking while we live—we shall see face to face when we die. And then when the last great gathering takes place, we shall joyfully exchange faith for sight, see as we have been seen, and know as we have been known!
J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)