As we can certainly see from current events, the need to be holy is as great as ever for the Church, and we must always be asking ourselves how we can seek holiness. Bishop J.C. Ryle had a knack for asking tough questions, and his “Are You Holy?” can be very helpful in our self evaluation. This repost, a portion of “Are You Holy?”, deals with what sort of persons are those whom God calls holy?
“ARE YOU HOLY?”
” Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” —HEBREWS xii. 14.
Beloved Friends and Brethren,
I offer you this text as a subject for self-inquiry; and I invite you this day to think over the question before your eyes, “Are you holy?”
It is a question that 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. iii. 4, 7); but there is no time, no, not a day, in which a man ought not to be holy. Brethren, are you?
It is a question that 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. Brethren, are you?
I ask to be heard today about this question. How stands the account between your souls and God? Stay a little, I beseech you, while I reason with you about 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 important and more profitable to your souls. It is a solemn thing to hear God saying, “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” (Heb. xii. 14.)
I shall endeavour, by God’s help, to set before you what true holiness is, the reasons why it is so needful, and the way in which alone it can be attained. The Lord grant you may all see and feel the importance of the subject, and lay down this paper, when you have read it, wiser and better men.
I. First, then, let me try to show you what true 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 were 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 holiness? It is a hard question to answer. I do not mean that I find a want of 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 speak things about it that ought not to be spoken, and so do harm. Suffer me, however, to say a few words that may help to clear your minds. Remember only, when I have said all, that my account is but a poor imperfect outline at the best.
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 judgment,—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.
A holy man will endeavour to shun every known sin, and to keep every known commandment. He will have a decided bent of mind towards 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. vii. 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 cxix. 128.)
A holy man will strive to be like our Lord Jesus Christ; to have the mind that was in Him, and to be conformed to His image. 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 stoop to any work 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 to walk, even as He walked.” (1 John ii. 6.) And the saying of Peter, that “Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example that ye should follow His steps.” (1 Peter. ii. 21.) 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?”
But time would fail me, if I were to mention all the things which go to make up holiness of character. Still I must ask you to bear with me while I name a few things which come uppermost in my thoughts. The days we live in make me anxious that there should be no mistake upon this subject. How can we know whether we are holy, unless we have a clear view of what holiness takes in?
A holy man will follow after meekness, long suffering, gentleness, kind temper, government of his tongue. He will bear much, forbear much, overlook much, and be slow to talk of standing on his rights. You 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.
A holy man will follow after temperance and self-denial. He will labour to mortify the desire of his body; to crucify his flesh with its 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 xxi. 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. ix, 27.)
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,—their bodies, their property, their Characters, their feelings, their souls. “He that loveth another,” says Paul, “hath fulfilled the law.” (Rom. xiii. 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. 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!
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 alms deeds, 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.” (2 Cor. xii. 15.)
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.
A holy man will follow after the fire 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.” (Nehem. v.15.)
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 Abrahams 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. Grimshawe’s last words, when he lay on his deathbed, were these, “Here goes an unprofitable servant.”
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, 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.” 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 as concerning the law of their God. They should strive to be good husbands and good wives, good parents and good children; good masters and good servants, good neighbours, good friends, and good subjects. 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?”
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 lxiii. 8; cxix. 57.)
Such is the outline of holiness which I set before you; such is the character which those who are called holy follow after.
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 tell you for a moment that holiness shuts out the presence of indwelling sin. No! far from it. It is the greatest misery 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. 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. ix. 25.)
Neither do I tell you 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 “not withstanding,” 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 hath 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.
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 fain would be, if it is not what they are.
And this I do mean to 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. lt.. 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 the little I know of my own heart makes me ready to make allowance for much backsliding, for much occasional deadness. 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 any one 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.”
Brethren, such is holiness. Examine yourselves whether you are acquainted with it. Prove your own selves.
Are we in the Church today, a century or more after Bishop Ryle’s lifetime, acquainted with holiness? Do we know people who hunger and thirst after righteousness? Are we such people?
Tomorrow I will post what Bishop Ryle says about why holiness is so important.
Continuing with another repost from J.C. Ryle, this is an excerpt from the Bishop’s sermons on “Holiness”–on “True Christianity is a good fight”:
“Good” is a curious word to apply to any warfare. All worldly war is more or less evil. No doubt it is an absolute necessity in many cases—to procure the liberty of nations, to prevent the weak from being trampled down by the strong—but still it is an evil. It entails a dreadful amount of bloodshed and suffering. It hurries into eternity myriads who are completely unprepared for their change. It calls forth the worst passions of man. It causes enormous waste and destruction of property. It fills peaceful homes with mourning widows and orphans. It spreads far and wide poverty, taxation and national distress. It disarranges all the order of society. It interrupts the work of the gospel and the growth of Christian missions. In short, war is an immense and incalculable evil, and every praying man should cry night and day, “Give peace in our times.” And yet there is one warfare which is emphatically “good” and one fight in which there is no evil. That warfare is the Christian warfare. That fight is the fight of the soul.
Now what are the reasons why the Christian fight is a “good fight”? What are the points in which his warfare is superior to the warfare of this world. I want my readers to know that there is abundant encouragement, if they will only begin the battle. The Scripture does not call the Christian fight “a good fight” without reason and cause. Let me try to show what I mean.
a. The Christian’s fight is good because fought under the best of generals. The Leader and Commander of all believers is our divine Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ—a Savior of perfect wisdom, infinite love and almighty power. The Captain of our salvation never fails to lead His soldiers to victory. He never makes any useless movements, never errs in judgment, never commits any mistake. His eye is on all His followers, from the greatest of them even to the least. The humblest servant in His army is not forgotten. The weakest and most sickly is cared for, remembered and kept unto salvation. The souls whom He has purchased and redeemed with His own blood are far too precious to be wasted and thrown away. Surely this is good!
b. The Christian’s fight is good because fought with the best of helps. Weak as each believer is in himself, the Holy Spirit dwells in him, and his body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Chosen by God the Father, washed in the blood of the Son, renewed by the Spirit, he does not go to warfare at his own charges and is never alone. God the Holy Spirit daily teaches, leads, guides and directs him. God the Father guards him by His almighty power. God the Son intercedes for him every moment, like Moses on the mount, while he is fighting in the valley below. A threefold cord like this can never be broken! His daily provisions and supplies never fail. His commissariat is never defective. His bread and his water are sure. Weak as he seems in himself, like a worm, he is strong in the Lord to do great exploits. Surely this is good!
c. The Christian fight is a good fight because fought with the best of promises. To every believer belong exceeding great and precious promises, all “yes” and “amen” in Christ, promises sure to be fulfilled because made by One who cannot lie and who has power as well as will to keep His word. “Sin shall not have dominion over you.” “The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.” “He which has begun a good work . . . will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.” “My sheep . . . shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.” “Him that comes to Me I will in no wise cast out.” “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life . . . nor things present, nor things to come . . . shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:14; 16:20; Phil. 1:6; Isa. 43:2; John 10:28; 6:37; Heb. 13:5; Rom. 8:38, 39). Words like these are worth their weight in gold! Who does not know that promises of coming aid have cheered the defenders of besieged cities, like Lucknow, and raised them above their natural strength? Have we never heard that the promise of “help before night” had much to say to the mighty victory of Waterloo? Yet all such promises are as nothing compared to the rich treasure of believers, the eternal promises of God. Surely this is good!
d. The Christian’s fight is a good fight because fought with the best of issues and results. No doubt it is a war in which there are tremendous struggles, agonizing conflicts, wounds, bruises, watchings, fastings and fatigue. But still every believer, without exception, is “more than conqueror through Him that loved [him] ” (Rom. 8:37). No soldiers of Christ are ever lost, missing or left dead on the battlefield. No mourning will ever need to be put on, and no tears to be shed, for either private or officer in the army of Christ. The muster roll, when the last evening comes, will be found precisely the same that it was in the morning. The English Guards marched out of London to the Crimean campaign a magnificent body of men, but many of the gallant fellows laid their bones in a foreign grave and never saw London again. Far different shall be the arrival of the Christian army in the “city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10). Not one shall be found lacking. The words of our great Captain shall be found true: “Of those who You gave Me have I lost none” (John 18:9). Surely this is good!
e. The Christian’s fight is good because it does good to the soul of him that fights it. All other wars have a bad, lowering and demoralizing tendency. They call forth the worst passions of the human mind. They harden the conscience and sap the foundations of religion and morality. The Christian warfare alone tends to call forth the best things that are left in man. It promotes humility and charity, it lessens selfishness and worldliness, it induces men to set their affections on things above. The old, the sick, the dying, are never known to repent of fighting Christ’s battles against sin, the world and the devil. Their only regret is that they did not begin to serve Christ long before. The experience of that eminent saint, Philip Henry, does not stand alone. In his last days he said to his family, “I take you all to record that a life spent in the service of Christ is the happiest life that a man can spend upon earth.” Surely this is good!
f. The Christian’s fight is a good fight because it does good to the world. All other wars have a devastating, ravaging and injurious effect. The march of an army through a land is a dreadful scourge to the inhabitants. Wherever it goes it impoverishes, wastes and does harm. Injury to persons, property, feelings and morals invariably accompanies it. Far different are the effects produced by Christian soldiers. Wherever they live, they are a blessing, They raise the standard of religion and morality. They invariably check the progress of drunkenness, Sabbath–breaking, profligacy and dishonesty. Even their enemies are obliged to respect them. Go where you please, you will rarely find that barracks and garrisons do good to the neighborhood. But go where you please, you will find that the presence of a few true Christians is a blessing. Surely this is good!
g. Finally, the Christian’s fight is good because it ends in a glorious reward for all who fight it. Who can tell the wages that Christ will pay to all His faithful people? Who can estimate the good things that our divine Captain has laid up for those who confess Him before men? A grateful country can give to her successful warriors medals, Victoria crosses, pensions, peerages, honors and titles. But it can give nothing that will last and endure forever, nothing that can be carried beyond the grave. Palaces like Blenheim and Strathfieldsay can only be enjoyed for a few years. The bravest generals and soldiers must go down one day before the king of terrors. Better, far better, is the position of him who fights under Christ’s banner, against sin, the world and the devil. He may get little praise of man while he lives and go down to the grave with little honor; but he will have that which is far better, because far more enduring. He will have “a crown of glory that fades not away” (1 Pet. 5:4). Surely this is good!
Let us settle it in our minds that the Christian fight is a good fight—really good, truly good, emphatically good. We see only part of it yet. We see the struggle, but not the end; we see the campaign, but not the reward; we see the cross, but not the crown. We see a few humble, broken–spirited, penitent, praying people, enduring hardships and despised by the world; but we see not the hand of God over them, the face of God smiling on them, the kingdom of glory prepared for them. These things are yet to be revealed. Let us not judge by appearances. There are more good things about the Christian warfare than we see.
And now let me conclude my whole subject with a few words of practical application. Our lot is cast in times when the world seems thinking of little else but battles and fighting. The iron is entering into the soul of more than one nation, and the mirth of many a fair district is clean gone. Surely in times like these a minister may fairly call on men to remember their spiritual warfare. Let me say a few parting words about the great fight of the soul.
1. It may be you are struggling hard for the rewards of this world. Perhaps you are straining every nerve to obtain money or place or power or pleasure. If that be your case, take care. You are sowing a crop of bitter disappointment. Unless you mind what you are about, your latter end will be to lie down in sorrow.
Thousands have trodden the path you are pursuing and have awoke too late to find it end in misery and eternal ruin. They have fought hard for wealth and honor and office and promotion and turned their backs on God and Christ and heaven and the world to come. And what has their end been? Often, far too often, they have found out that their whole life has been a grand mistake. They have tasted by bitter experience the feelings of the dying statesman who cried aloud in his last hours, “The battle is fought; the battle is fought; but the victory is not won.”
For your own happiness’ sake resolve this day to join the Lord’s side. Shake off your past carelessness and unbelief. Come out from the ways of a thoughtless, unreasoning world. Take up the cross and become a good soldier of Christ. “Fight the good fight of faith” that you may be happy as well as safe.
Think what the children of this world will often do for liberty, without any religious principle. Remember how Greeks and Romans and Swiss and Tyrolese have endured the loss of all things, and even life itself, rather than bend their necks to a foreign yoke. Let their example provoke you to emulation. If men can do so much for a corruptible crown, how much more should you do for one which is incorruptible! Awake to a sense of the misery of being a slave. For life and happiness and liberty, arise and fight.
Fear not to begin and enlist under Christ’s banner. The great Captain of your salvation rejects none that come to Him. Like David in the cave of Adullam, He is ready to receive all who apply to Him, however unworthy they may feel themselves. None who repent and believe are too bad to be enrolled in the ranks of Christ’s army. All who come to Him by faith are admitted, clothed, armed, trained and finally led on to complete victory. Fear not to begin this very day. There is yet room for you.
Fear not to go on fighting, if you once enlist. The more thorough and whole–hearted you are as a soldier, the more comfortable will you find your warfare. No doubt you will often meet with trouble, fatigue and hard fighting, before your warfare is accomplished. But let none of these things move you. Greater is He who is for you than all they who are against you. Everlasting liberty or everlasting captivity are the alternatives before you. Choose liberty, and fight to the last.
2. It may be you know something of the Christian warfare and are a tried and proved soldier already. If that be your case, accept a parting word of advice and encouragement from a fellow soldier. Let me speak to myself as well as to you. Let us stir up our minds by way of remembrance. There are some things which we cannot remember too well.
Let us remember that if we would fight successfully, we must put on the whole armor of God and never lay it aside until we die. Not a single piece of the armor can be dispensed with. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit, the helmet of hope—each and all are needful. Not a single day can we dispense with any part of this armor. Well says an old veteran in Christ’s army, who died two hundred years ago, “In heaven we shall appear, not in armor, but in robes of glory. But here our arms are to be worn night and day. We must walk, work, sleep in them, or else we are not true soldiers of Christ.”
Let us remember the solemn words of an inspired warrior, who went to his rest eighteen hundred years ago: “No man that wars entangles himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who has chosen him to be a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:4). May we never forget that saying!
Let us remember that some have seemed good soldiers for a little season and talked loudly of what they would do and yet turned back disgracefully in the day of battle.
Let us never forget Balaam and Judas and Demas and Lot’s wife. Whatever we are, and however weak, let us be real, genuine, true and sincere.
Let us remember that the eye of our loving Savior is upon us morning, noon and night. He will never suffer us to be tempted above what we are able to bear. He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, for He suffered Himself, being tempted. He knows what battles and conflicts are, for He Himself was assaulted by the prince of this world. Having such a High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession (Heb. 4:14).
Let us remember that thousands of soldiers before us have fought the same battle that we are fighting and come off more than conquerors through Him that loved them. They overcame by the blood of the Lamb, and so also may we. Christ’s arm is quite as strong as ever, and Christ’s heart is just as loving as ever. He who saved men and women before us is One who never changes. He is “able to save to the uttermost” all who “come unto God by Him.” Then let us cast doubts and fears away. Let us follow “them who through faith and patience inherit the promises” and are waiting for us to join them (Heb. 7:25; 6:12).
Finally, let us remember that the time is short, and the coming of the Lord draws near. A few more battles and the last trumpet shall sound, and the Prince of Peace shall come to reign on a renewed earth. A few more struggles and conflicts, and then we shall bid an eternal goodbye to warfare and to sin, to sorrow and to death. Then let us fight on to the last and never surrender. Thus says the Captain of our salvation: “He who overcomes shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son” (Rev. 21:7).
Let me conclude all with the words of John Bunyan in one of the most beautiful parts of Pilgrim’s Progress. He is describing the end of one of his best and holiest pilgrims: “After this it was noised abroad that Mr. Valiant– for–Truth was sent for by a summons, by the same party as the others. And he had this word for a token that the summons was true: ‘The pitcher was broken at the fountain’ (Eccl. 12:6). When he understood it, he called for his friends, and told them of it. Then said he, ‘I am going to my Father’s house; and though with great difficulty I have got here, yet now I do not repent me of all the troubles I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles, who will now be my Rewarder.’ When the day that he must go home was come, many accompanied him to the riverside, into which, as he went down, he said, ‘O death, where is your sting?’ And as he went down deeper, he cried, ‘O grave, where is your victory?’ So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.”
May our end be like this! May we never forget that without fighting there can be no holiness while we live, and no crown of glory when we die!
Note that Bishop Ryle here stresses the “whole armor of God”; it is clear that the good Bishop understood the importance of each piece of this armor, and may we wear well that same armor that is available to us in this spiritual warfare. Only thus will we have an end like his, and know the same holiness that he knew.
This is a repost from prior years, from Bishop J.C. Ryle’s sermons on “Holiness”. Here is a section on the fight that is true Christianity:
True Christianity! Let us mind that word “true.” There is a vast quantity of religion current in the world which is not true, genuine Christianity. It passes muster, it satisfies sleepy consciences; but it is not good money. It is not the authentic reality that called itself Christianity in the beginning. There are thousands of men and women who go to churches and chapels every Sunday and call themselves Christians. They make a “profession” of faith in Christ. Their names are in the baptismal register. They are reckoned Christians while they live. They are married with a Christian marriage service. They mean to be buried as Christians when they die. But you never see any “fight” about their religion! Of spiritual strife and exertion and conflict and self–denial and watching and warring they know literally nothing at all. Such Christianity may satisfy man, and those who say anything against it may be thought very hard and uncharitable; but it certainly is not the Christianity of the Bible. It is not the religion which the Lord Jesus founded and His apostles preached. It is not the religion which produces real holiness. True Christianity is “a fight.”
The true Christian is called to be a soldier and must behave as such from the day of his conversion to the day of his death. He is not meant to live a life of religious ease, indolence and security. He must never imagine for a moment that he can sleep and doze along the way to heaven, like one traveling in an easy carriage. If he takes his standard of Christianity from the children of this world, he may be content with such notions, but he will find no countenance for them in the Word of God. If the Bible is the rule of his faith and practice, he will find his course laid down very plainly in this matter. He must “fight.”
With whom is the Christian soldier meant to fight? Not with other Christians. Wretched indeed is that man’s idea of religion who fancies that it consists in perpetual controversy! He who is never satisfied unless he is engaged in some strife between church and church, chapel and chapel, sect and sect, faction and faction, party and party, knows nothing yet as he ought to know. No doubt it may be absolutely needful sometimes to appeal to law courts in order to ascertain the right interpretation of a church’s articles and rubrics and formularies. But, as a general rule, the cause of sin is never so much helped as when Christians waste their strength in quarreling with one another and spend their time in petty squabbles.
No, indeed! The principal fight of the Christian is with the world, the flesh and the devil. These are his never– dying foes. These are the three chief enemies against whom he must wage war. Unless he gets the victory over these three, all other victories are useless and vain. If he had a nature like an angel, and were not a fallen creature, the warfare would not be so essential. But with a corrupt heart, a busy devil and an ensnaring world, he must either “fight” or be lost.
He must fight the flesh. Even after conversion he carries within him a nature prone to evil and a heart weak and unstable as water. That heart will never be free from imperfection in this world, and it is a miserable delusion to expect it. To keep that heart from going astray, the Lord Jesus bids us, “Watch and pray.” The spirit may be ready, but the flesh is weak. There is need of a daily struggle and a daily wrestling in prayer. “I keep under my body,” cries St. Paul, “and bring it into subjection.” “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity.” “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” “Mortify . . . your members which are upon the earth” (Mark 14:38; 1 Cor. 9:27; Rom. 7:23, 24; Gal. 5:24; Col. 3:5).
He must fight the world. The subtle influence of that mighty enemy must be daily resisted, and without a daily battle can never be overcome. The love of the world’s good things, the fear of the world’s laughter or blame, the secret desire to keep in with the world, the secret wish to do as others in the world do, and not to run into extremes—all these are spiritual foes which beset the Christian continually on his way to heaven and must be conquered. “The friendship of the world is enmity with God. Whoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” “The world is crucified to me, and I unto the world.” “Whatever is born of God overcomes the world.” “Be not conformed to this world” (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15; Gal. 6:14; 1 John 5:4; Rom. 12:2).
He must fight the devil. That old enemy of mankind is not dead. Ever since the Fall of Adam and Eve he has been “going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it,” and striving to compass one great end—the ruin of man’s soul. Never slumbering and never sleeping, he is always going about as a lion seeking whom he may devour. An unseen enemy, he is always near us, about our path and about our bed, and spying out all our ways. A murderer and a liar from the beginning, he labors night and day to cast us down to hell. Sometimes by leading into superstition, sometimes by suggesting infidelity, sometimes by one kind of tactics and sometimes by another, he is always carrying on a campaign against our souls. “Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” This mighty adversary must be daily resisted if we wish to be saved. But “this kind goes not out” but by watching and praying and fighting and putting on the whole armor of God. The strong man armed will never be kept out of our hearts without a daily battle (Job 1:7; 1 Pet. 5:8; John 8:44; Luke 22:31; Eph. 6:11).
Some men may think these statements too strong. You fancy that I am going too far and laying on the colors too thickly. You are secretly saying to yourself that men and women may surely get to heaven without all this trouble and warfare and fighting. Listen to me for a few minutes, and I will show you that I have something to say on God’s behalf. Remember the maxim of the wisest general that ever lived in England: “In time of war it is the worst mistake to underrate your enemy, and try to make a little war.” This Christian warfare is no light matter. What says the Scripture? “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.” “Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand.” “Strive to enter in at the strait gate.” “Labor . . . for [the] meat that endures unto everlasting life.” “Do not think that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace but a sword.” “He who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” “Watch you, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” “War a good warfare; holding faith, and a good conscience” (1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 2:3; Eph. 6:11–13; Luke 13:24; John 6:27; Matt. 10:34; Luke 22:36; 1 Cor. 16:13; 1 Tim. 1:18, 19). Words such as these appear to me clear, plain and unmistakable. They all teach one and the same great lesson, if we are willing to receive it. That lesson is, that true Christianity is a struggle, a fight and a warfare. He who pretends to condemn “fighting” and teaches that we ought to sit still and “yield ourselves to God,” appears to me to misunderstand his Bible, and to make a great mistake.
What says the baptismal service of the Church of England? No doubt that service is uninspired and, like every uninspired composition, it has its defects; but to the millions of people all over the globe who profess and call themselves English churchmen, its voice ought to speak with some weight. And what does it say? It tells us that over every new member who is admitted into the Church of England the following words are used: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” “I sign this child with the sign of the cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under His banner against sin, the world and the devil, and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end.” Of course we all know that in myriads of cases baptism is a mere form and that parents bring their children to the font without faith or prayer or thought and consequently receive no blessing. The man who supposes that baptism in such cases acts mechanically, like a medicine, and that godly and ungodly, praying and prayerless parents, all alike get the same benefit for their children must be in a strange state of mind. But one thing, at any rate, is very certain. Every baptized churchman is by his profession a “soldier of Jesus Christ,” and is pledged “to fight under His banner against sin, the world and the devil.” He that doubts it had better take up his Prayer Book and read, mark and learn its contents. The worst thing about many very zealous churchmen is their total ignorance of what their own Prayer Book contains.
Whether we are churchmen or not, one thing is certain—this Christian warfare is a great reality and a subject of vast importance. It is not a matter like church government and ceremonial, about which men may differ, and yet reach heaven at last. Necessity is laid upon us. We must fight. There are no promises in the Lord Jesus Christ’s epistles to the seven churches, except to those who “overcome.” Where there is grace there will be conflict. The believer is a soldier. There is no holiness without a warfare. Saved souls will always be found to have fought a fight.
It is a fight of absolute necessity. Let us not think that in this war we can remain neutral and sit still. Such a line of action may be possible in the strife of nations, but it is utterly impossible in that conflict which concerns the soul. The boasted policy of non–interference, the “masterly inactivity” which pleases so many statesmen, the plan of keeping quiet and letting things alone—all this will never do in the Christian warfare. Here at any rate no one can escape serving under the plea that he is “a man of peace.” To be at peace with the world, the flesh and the devil, is to be at enmity with God and in the broad way that leads to destruction. We have no choice or option. We must either fight or be lost.
It is a fight of universal necessity. No rank or class or age can plead exemption, or escape the battle. Ministers and people, preachers and hearers, old and young, high and low, rich and poor, gentle and simple, kings and subjects, landlords and tenants, learned and unlearned—all alike must carry arms and go to war. All have by nature a heart full of pride, unbelief, sloth, worldliness and sin. All are living in a world beset with snares, traps and pitfalls for the soul. All have near them a busy, restless, malicious devil. All, from the queen in her palace down to the pauper in the workhouse, all must fight, if they would be saved.
It is a fight of perpetual necessity. It admits of no breathing time, no armistice, no truce. On weekdays as well as on Sundays, in private as well as in public, at home by the family fireside as well as abroad, in little things, like management of tongue and temper, as well as in great ones, like the government of kingdoms, the Christian’s warfare must unceasingly go on. The foe we have to do with keeps no holidays, never slumbers and never sleeps. So long as we have breath in our bodies, we must keep on our armor and remember we are on an enemy’s ground. “Even on the brink of Jordan,” said a dying saint, “I find Satan nibbling at my heels.” We must fight until we die.
Let us consider well these propositions. Let us take care that our own personal religion is real, genuine and true. The saddest symptom about many so–called Christians is the utter absence of anything like conflict and fight in their Christianity. They eat, they drink, they dress, they work, they amuse themselves, they get money, they spend money, they go through a scanty round of formal religious services once or twice every week. But of the great spiritual warfare—its watchings and strugglings, its agonies and anxieties, its battles and contests— of all this they appear to know nothing at all. Let us take care that this case is not our own. The worst state of soul is when the strong man armed keeps the house, and his goods are at peace, when he leads men and women captive at his will, and they make no resistance. The worst chains are those which are neither felt nor seen by the prisoner (Luke 11:21; 2 Tim. 2:26).
We may take comfort about our souls if we know anything of an inward fight and conflict. It is the invariable companion of genuine Christian holiness. It is not everything, I am well aware, but it is something. Do we find in our heart of hearts a spiritual struggle? Do we feel anything of the flesh lusting against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh, so that we cannot do the things we would? (Gal. 5:17.) Are we conscious of two principles within us, contending for the mastery? Do we feel anything of war in our inward man? Well, let us thank God for it! It is a good sign. It is strongly probable evidence of the great work of sanctification. All true saints are soldiers. Anything is better than apathy, stagnation, deadness and indifference. We are in a better state than many. The most part of so–called Christians have no feeling at all. We are evidently no friends of Satan. Like the kings of this world, he wars not against his own subjects. The very fact that he assaults us should fill our minds with hope. I say again, let us take comfort. The child of God has two great marks about him, and of these two we have one. He may be known by his inward warfare, as well as by his inward peace.
One thing for certain may be said about Bishop Ryle: he understood spiritual warfare. In a day when many of us have lost sight of the necessity for this, for prayer, and for discernment, his message is needed sorely. May God grant us this wisdom.
Recently I came across a series of sermons on the Book of Revelation by Dr. John Woodhouse that I had not known about. These have been made available by Steven Tran as .mp3 files on his website, and here is the second message in that series, titled What the Spirit says to the Churches. It is based on Revelation 2-3, and if you’d like to hear it on a player, try the one below. As usual with Dr. Woodhouse, these messages are very much worth hearing.
Here is the conclusion of Dr. Don Carson’s excellent series, “The God Who is There”, and this video is “The God Who Triumphs”. In this message, Dr. Carson explains Revelation 21:1-22:5.
If one is seeking to understand why the Donald Trump candidacy has come on as strong as it has recently, this podcast by Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin on “Who Really Rules in America” sums up the way a lot of people are thinking these days. This in turn leads to Trump’s popularity as a means of expressing dissatisfaction with both major political parties, since both parties are seen as being ruled by the elite whom Sheriff Clarke is talking about, rather than being responsive to the voters. The Soundcloud comments say this:
Sheriff Clarke tells it how it is and in this episode he delves into who truly runs the United States, who really rules in America. A class of elites…academic elites, judicial elites, political party elites, coporate elites, they all have a foot in the game.
Also, how the political elites and the media are the most dominant forces and drive issues of the day. They determine what is talked about and for how long. How many scandals have come to light and how many have actually been resolved? The VA scandal, IRS scandal, Benghazi scandal, Fast and Furious, illegal immigration and Kate Steinle, Planned Parenthood…the list goes on, and nothing gets resolved.
Plus, the Donald Trump affect on political elites and one year after Ferguson, MO, and its affect on rising crime in major cities.
In this latest in his Afterburner series, commentator Bill Whittle wonders about this question: how did our society become so stupid? I am not sure about the term “stupid”, but I do see a growing lack of discernment – which may indeed for all intents and purposes amount to the same thing.
As readers will no doubt recall, Eric Metaxas is a great interviewer, and he has done it again – this time with apologist for the Christian faith J. Warner Wallace. In this one, they are talking about Wallace’s latest book, God’s Crime Scene, where the former cold-case detective applies crime-solving techniques and thinking to solve the mystery of whether there is a Creator.
From Fr. Bill Klock of Living Word Reformed Episcopal Church in British Columbia, here is another sermon in his series on the Gospel of Luke, titled The Stone That the Builders Rejected. In this message, Fr. Bill talks about Jesus’ entry into the Temple and his encounter with the Jewish leaders and priests, and at the end of the message, Fr. Bill gives us a lot to think about:
Brothers and sisters, by virtue of our faith, by virtue of our baptism, by virtue of the indwelling Holy Spirit you and I have been made part of the new temple built by Jesus. In his first epistle, St. Peter draws out the implications of Jesus being the living capstone of the temple. If he is a living stone and we are in him, then we are living stones too. He writes, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ….You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:5, 9). He writes that we who were once not a people are now a people because the Lord has poured out his mercy on us. Jesus has taken over the vineyard, he’s pruned off the old dead wood of unfaithful Israel, and he has grafted us in. Why? In verse 12 Peter writes, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” That’s a call to live the new life Jesus has given us, a life of redemption from sin and a life of grace and peace lived in the Spirit—a life that loudly proclaims to the world that Jesus is Lord, a life that loudly proclaims there is a new King in this world, a life that calls men and women to acknowledge him, to bow before him, to receive him in faith just as we have, that they might be prepared when he returns.
Is this what we’re about? I know we think it is. But is it really? The Jewish leaders and the people of Israel worshipped in the temple. They truly believed they were serving the Lord and his kingdom, but they stood condemned by Jesus because they’d twisted and subverted the temple to their own agenda. Their light had become darkness. They failed in their mission to be a light to the world. Dear friends, let that not be true of us. Let us always be asking: Do our lives declare that Jesus is Lord? Does our common life together as a church declare that Jesus is Lord? Do we move the men and women who see us, who know us, who interact with us to give glory to God?
If you’d like to listen to the entire message, you can do so below.