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Bishop J.C. Ryle: “The Christian Race” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

October 27, 2007

Tonight I came across a sermon by J.C. Ryle titled “The Christian Race” that really spoke to me, for some reason. It is based on Hebrews 12:1-2 and begins in this manner (I’ll add more as time permits):

The Christian Race


by J. C. Ryle

“Therefore let us also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

  Beloved, I have lately spoken to you much about the character and experience of true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, the men who are sowing for everlasting life.

Before, however, we continue this inquiry, I wish to warn you against forgetting the sure foundation; I wish to caution you most strongly against losing sight of the root of the whole matter—a simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. You must not stumble at the outset by supposing I want you to set up a righteousness of your own. Some think their own endeavors after holiness are to make up their title to salvation; some think that when they come to Christ, their ‘past sins’ alone are forgiven, and for the time to come, they must depend upon themselves. Alas! there always have been mistakes upon this point: men toil and labor after peace with God as if their own exertions would give them a right to lay hold on Christ, and when they find themselves far short of the Bible standard they mourn and grieve and will not be comforted; and all because they will not see that in the matter of forgiveness, in the matter of justification in the sight of God, it is not doing which is required—but believing; it is not working—but trusting; it is not perfect obedience—but humble faith.

Now, once for all, let us understand, that all who have really fled for mercy to the Lord Jesus Christ are, as Paul assures the Colossians, complete in Him! In themselves they may be poor shortcoming sinners—but seeing they have laid hold on Christ, God looks upon them as complete—completely pardoned, completely righteous, completely pure—no jot or tittle of condemnation can be laid to their charge.

They have nothing more to do with the law as a covenant of works, as a condition they must fulfill or die: the Lord does not say, “Be perfect and then you shall live,” but “Christ has given you life, and for His sake strive to be perfect.” But you will ask me, “Why do they hunger and thirst so much after holiness, since all their debt has been paid?” I answer, They work for love’s sake—for gratitude; they do not work and strive after holiness in order that they may be forgiven—but because they are forgiven already, chosen and sealed and saved and redeemed and bought with a price, and they cannot help desiring to glorify Him with their bodies and spirits—who loved them and gave Himself for them. They thirst after holiness because their Father loves holiness; they thirst after purity because their Master loves purity; they strive to be like Jesus because they hope to be one day forever with Him.

But seeing they have many a difficulty in doing the things that they desire, and are continually warring with the world, the flesh, and the devil, and sometimes are so ready to faint that they doubt whether they really are of Christ’s family or not—seeing these things are so, I have tried to give you a faint outline of their experience on recent occasions, and I purpose this afternoon to lay before you, the advice which the apostle gives them in my text.

Now, I say that the text contains five points

I. We have all a race to run.

II. Many have gone before us.

III. We must lay aside every weight.

IV. We must run with patience.

V. We must be continually looking unto Jesus.

The Lord pour down His Spirit upon each of you, and bow the hearts of all here present, as the heart of one man, that you may seek the Lord while there is yet time, and set your faces towards Jerusalem, and not die the death of the faithless and unbelieving.

I. We have all a race to run. By this you are not to understand that our own arm and our own strength can ever open for us the gates of everlasting life, and win us a place in heaven. Far from it: that is all of grace—it is another question. It simply means that all who take up the cross and follow Christ must make up their minds to meet with many a difficulty, they must calculate on labor and toil and trouble, they have a mighty work to do, and there is need for all their attention and energy. Without there will be fightings, within there will be fears; there will be snares to be avoided, and temptations to be resisted; there will be your own treacherous hearts, often cold and dead and dry and dull; there will be friends who will give you unscriptural advice, and relations who will even war against your soul. In short, there will be stumbling-blocks on every side, there will be occasion for all your diligence and watchfulness and godly jealousy and prayer—you will soon find that to be a real Christian is no light matter.

Oh what a condemnation there is here for all those easy-going people who seem to think they may pass their time as they please, and yet be numbered with the saints in glory everlasting! Are those who show less earnestness about their souls than about their earthly amusements, and those who have much to tell you about this world’s business but nothing about heaven, and those who think nothing of neglecting the commonest helps towards Zion, and count it much to give religion a few Sunday thoughts—are these men running the Christian race, and straining every nerve after the prize? I leave the answer with yourselves: judge what I say!

And those who profess to have entered the course, and yet find time to rest by the wayside and trifle with temptation, and find fault with the anxiety of others—and those who stop to take breath and boast of their attainments, and look behind them—are such running the race set before them as if it was a matter of life and death? Oh no! They may get the name of Christians—but they are not so running that they shall obtain.

But those who are taught and called of God may soon be distinguished from the sleeping children of this world. These have no leisure for vain amusements; their eyes are fixed and their thoughts are engaged upon the narrow path they have to tread, and the crown they hope to receive. They have counted the cost, and come out from the world; and their only wish is that they may finish their course with joy.

 This is quite a beginning to this sermon: the reminder that we all do have a race to run, and that there will be stumbling-blocks on all sides.  I cannot help but note that one of these stumbling blocks Ryle notes is “unscriptural advice from friends.”  May God help each of us to never be such stumbling-blocks!


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