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Bishop J.C. Ryle: “Are You Holy?” (conclusion)

January 27, 2015

In this final portion of his “Are You Holy?”, Bishop Ryle offers some words on applying the sound counsel he has already given:

And now let me wind up all with a few words, by way of application.

1.  For one thing, let me ask every one who may read this address, 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 have been speaking?

I do not ask whether you keep to your better regularly,—whether you have been baptized, and receive 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 text 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.”

Oh, brethren, what 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 you consider your ways, and search your hearts.  Surely it should raise within you solemn thoughts, and send you to prayer.

You may try to put me off by saying, “I 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 iii. 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 God 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 you were so holy you would be unlike other people.”  I answer, I know it well It is just what I want you 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.  Jesus said so 1800 years ago. 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 season.  For this 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 v. 40.)

You may say, “These are hard sayings: the way is very narrow.”  I answer, I know it.  Jesus said so 1800 years ago.  He always said that men must take up the cross daily, 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.

Brethren, whatever you may think fit to say, you must be holy, if you would see the Lord.  Where is your Christianity, if you are not?  Show it to me without holiness, if you can.  You must not merely have a Christian name, and Christian knowledge, you must have a Christian character also.  You must be a saint on earth, if ever you mean to be a saint 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 you will not wonder that Scripture says “Ye must be born again.”  (John iii. 7.)  Surely it is clear as noonday that many of you need a complete change, —new hearts, new natures,—if ever you are to be saved.  Old things must pass away,—you must become new creatures.  Without holiness no man, be he who he may, no man 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 one would betray Him, no one said, “Is it Judas?” We had better think more about 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 this paper 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.

Brethren believers, I doubt not you know these things, but I think it good to put you in remembrance of them.  Prove that you know them by your lives.  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.”

Brethren, brethren, I would say it with 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, Owen, said some two hundred years ago, that there were people whose whole religion seemed to consist in going about complaining of their own corruptions, and telling every one that they could do nothing of themselves.

Brethren, I put it to yourselves,—might not the same thing 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.

Brethren, I do not set up myself to be better than other people, and if any one asks, “What are you, that you talk in this way?”  I answer, “I am a very poor creature indeed.”  But I tell you 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.  I want to see among us 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 spoken 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.  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 that doth so easily beset us.  Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of God.  “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!”

3.  Let me, in the last place, offer a word of advice to those who desire to be holy.

Would you be holy?  Would you become new creatures?  Then begin with Christ. You will do just nothing till you feel your sin and weakness, and flee to Him.  He is the beginning of all holiness.  He 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 many 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.  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.  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.”

Would you be holy?  Would you be partakers 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.  Holiness comes not of blood,—parents cannot give it to their children; nor yet of the will of the flesh,—man cannot produce it in himself; 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 aliving 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 to be 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 xv. 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.”  Brethren, go and do likewise.

Brethren, may you and I 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 I know 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.

And now, if I have erred in anything that I have written, may the good Lord pardon me, and show me what is the mind of the Spirit.  But if, as I believe I have, told you the truth, may the Lord open your hearts, and make it a word in season to all who read it.

The good Bishop speaks the truth in this message, I think: we must not boast of the work of Christ for us unless we can see the work of the Spirit in us.  May we truly know what holiness is in our lives and our churches.

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