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Bishop J.C. Ryle: “Earthly Sorrows and Following Christ”

August 28, 2007

This piece by J.C. Ryle was taken from a longer essay by him, “Ruler of the Waves” which appeared in his text Holiness. I came across it today in the publication Free Grace Broadcaster, which is a publication of Mount Zion Ministries; I think you will agree it is vintage Ryle:

EARTHLY SORROWS AND FOLLOWING CHRIST

“And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?” —Mark 4:37-40.

ON whom must we build our souls if we would be accepted with God? We must build on the Rock, Christ. From whom must we draw that grace of the Spirit which we daily need in order to be fruitful? We must draw from the Vine, Christ. To whom must we look for sympathy when earthly friends fail us or die? We must look to our elder Brother, Christ. By whom must our prayers be presented, if they are to be heard on high? They must be presented by our Advocate, Christ. With whom do we hope to spend the thousand years of glory and the after eternity? With the King of kings, Christ. Surely we cannot know this Christ too well! Surely there is not a word, nor a deed, nor a day, nor a step, nor a thought in the record of His life, which ought not to be precious to us. We should labor to be familiar with every line that is written about Jesus.

Come now, and let us study a page in our Master’s history. Let us consider what we may learn from the verses of Scripture which stand at the head of this paper. You there see Jesus crossing the lake of Galilee in a boat with His disciples. You see a sudden storm arise while He is asleep. The waves beat into the boat and fill it. Death seems to be close at hand. The frightened disciples awake their Master and cry for help. He arises and rebukes the wind and the waves, and at once there is a calm. He mildly reproves the faithless fears of His companions, and all is over. Such is the picture. It is one full of deep instruction. Come now, and let us examine what we are meant to learn.

Let us learn…that following Christ will not prevent our having earthly sorrows and troubles. Here are the chosen disciples of the Lord Jesus in great anxiety. The faithful little flock, which believed when priests, scribes, and Pharisees were all alike unbelieving, is allowed by the Shepherd to be much disquieted. The fear of death breaks in upon them like an armed man. The deep water seems likely to go over their souls. Peter, James, and John, the pillars of the Church about to be planted in the world, are much distressed.

Perhaps they had not reckoned on all this. Perhaps they had expected that Christ’s service would at any rate lift them above the reach of earthly trials. Perhaps they thought that He who could raise the dead, and heal the sick, and feed multitudes with a few loaves, and cast out devils with a word—He would never allow His servants to be sufferers upon earth. Perhaps they had supposed He would always grant them smooth journeys, fine weather, an easy course, and freedom from trouble and care.

If the disciples thought so, they were much mistaken. The Lord Jesus taught them that a man may be one of His chosen servants, and yet have to go through many an anxiety and endure many a pain.

It is good to understand this clearly. It is good to understand that Christ’s service never did secure a man from all the ills that flesh is heir to and never will. If you are a believer, you must reckon on having your share of sickness and pain, of sorrow and tears, of losses and crosses, of deaths and bereavements, of partings and separations, of vexations and disappointments, so long as you are in the body. Christ never undertakes that you shall get to heaven without these. He has undertaken that all who come to Him shall have all things pertaining to life and godliness; but He has never undertaken that He will make them prosperous, or rich, or healthy, and that death and sorrow shall never come to their family.

I have the privilege of being one of Christ’s ambassadors. In His name I can offer eternal life to any man, woman, or child who is willing to have it. In His name I do offer pardon, peace, grace, and glory, to any son or daughter of Adam who reads this paper. But I dare not offer that person worldly prosperity as a part and parcel of the Gospel. I dare not offer him long life, an increased income, and freedom from pain. I dare not promise the man who takes up the cross and follows Christ, that in the following he shall never meet with a storm.

I know well that many do not like these terms. They would prefer having Christ and good health, Christ and plenty of money, Christ and no deaths in their family, Christ and no wearing cares, and Christ and a perpetual morning without clouds. But they do not like Christ and the cross, Christ and tribulation, Christ and the conflict, Christ and the howling wind, Christ and the storm.

Is this the secret thought of anyone who is reading this paper? Believe me, if it is, you are very wrong. Listen to me, and I will try to show you that you have yet much to learn.

How should you know who are true Christians, if following Christ was the way to be free from trouble? How should we discern the wheat from the chaff, if it were not for the winnowing of trial? How should we know whether men served Christ for His own sake or from selfish motives, if His service brought health and wealth with it as a matter of course? The winds of winter soon show us which of the trees are evergreen and which are not. The storms of affliction and care are useful in the same way. They discover whose faith is real, and whose is nothing but profession and form.

How would the great work of sanctification go on in a man if he had no trial? Trouble is often the only fire which will burn away the dross that clings to our hearts. Trouble is the pruning knife which the great Husbandman employs in order to make us fruitful in good works.

If you desire to serve Christ and be saved, I entreat you to take the Lord on His own terms. Make up your mind to meet with your share of crosses and sorrows, and then you will not be surprised. For want of understanding this, many seem to run well for a season, and then turn back in disgust and are cast away.

If you profess to be a child of God, leave to the Lord Jesus to sanctify you in His own way. Rest satisfied that He never makes any mistakes. Be sure that He does all things well. The winds may howl around you and the waters swell.
But fear not, He is leading you by the right way, that He may bring you to a city of habitation (Psa 107:7).

To some extent this truth is included in the promise of Romans 8:28, because our trials are used by God to work towards His glory and towards good in our lives. And we must always remember that all things do indeed work together for good to them that love God; even if we may not see that good in terms of “health and wealth” in this life, we can be confident that it will be for spiritual good, even our sanctification.

Note: Edited to correct name from “Mt Zion” to “Mount Zion” and add the link to their website.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 28, 2007 2:09 pm

    Ahhhh, Ryle! Especially the last two paragraphs. Thanks for this Will.

  2. August 28, 2007 2:19 pm

    BTW, Will, do you have a link for Mt. Zion Ministries? I googled it and got scores of results but many look pretty far out.

  3. August 28, 2007 2:52 pm

    JA,

    Sure thing: Mt. Zion’s website is here:

    http://www.mountzion.org/

    I will edit the post and add the link. It would have helped you if I’d typed their name correctly – it is “Mount Zion” rather than “Mt. Zion.” They do a lot of great work, including their work as a correspondence school.

  4. August 28, 2007 9:05 pm

    Why do we follow Christ? “For his own sake”. An often forgotten point, but one which I started realising in Psalms, with all the emphasis on everything being for the glory of God’s name.

  5. August 28, 2007 10:24 pm

    I love the way he equates trial with assurance. Not many are willing to go here. Hebrews 12 shows us that God’s discipline shows us that we are seperated from the “bastards.” (KJV)

  6. August 28, 2007 11:18 pm

    Kathleen,

    You have profited much from reading the Psalms, I can tell! You know, the Westminster Shorter Catechism in the very first question says much the same thing:

    Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
    A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

    Mike,

    Thanks for the reminder about Hebrews 12. Whom the Lord loves, He also chastens–as both Proverbs 3 and Psalm 94 tell us as well.

  7. August 29, 2007 12:33 am

    Wil…thanks for the Mount Zion link. I just “listened” to a Spurgeon sermon…neat.

  8. August 29, 2007 12:56 am

    Yes, it IS neat. Jeff Pollard, the pastor of Mount Zion, also has a great number of his own sermons on Sermon Audio at this link. So much great stuff, so little time…

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