J. C. Ryle on Holiness

More soul-stirring words from Ryle:

The great English pastor and author J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) is well known for his many writings. These include his seven-volume Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (1856–1869). But he might be most remembered for his important 1877 volume, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots. Almost exactly a dozen years ago I penned a piece on the book with some 18 key quotations from it. https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/02/18/ryle-on-holiness/

But the 400-plus page book has far more gems than that. So it is time to revisit the volume and offer another 18 quotes. This time I will present the page numbers as well (I am using the 2007 Hendrickson paperback edition).

“What saint can be named in God’s Word, of whose life many details are recorded, who was literally and absolutely perfect? Which of them all, when writing about himself, ever talks of feeling free from imperfection? On the contrary, men like David, and St. Paul, and St. John, declare in the strongest language that they feel in their own hearts weakness and sin. The holiest men of modern times have always been remarkable for deep humility. Have we ever seen holier men than the martyred John Bradford, or Hooker, or Usher, or Baxter, or Rutherford, or M’Cheyne? Yet no one can read the writings and letters of these men without seeing that they felt themselves ‘debtors to mercy and grace’ every day, and the very last thing they ever laid claim to was perfection!” xxvi

“There is an amazing ignorance of Scripture among many, and a consequent want of established, solid religion. In no other way can I account for the ease with which people are, like children, ‘tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine’ (Eph. 4:14.) There is an Athenian love of novelty abroad, and a morbid distaste for anything old and regular, and in the beaten path of our forefathers. Thousands will crowd to hear a new voice and a new doctrine, without considering for a moment whether what they hear is true. There is an incessant craving after any teaching which is sensational, and exciting, and rousing to the feelings.” xxxiii

“A right view of sin is the best antidote to that sensuous, ceremonial, formal kind of Christianity, which has swept over England like a flood in the last twenty-five years, and carried away so many before it. I can well believe that there is much that is attractive in this system of religion, to a certain order of minds, so long as the conscience is not fully enlightened. But when that wonderful part of our constitution called conscience is really awake and alive, I find it hard to believe that a sensuous ceremonial Christianity will thoroughly satisfy us.” 14

“He who supposes that Jesus Christ only lived and died and rose again in order to provide justification and forgiveness of sins for His people, has yet much to learn. Whether he knows it or not, he is dishonouring our blessed Lord, and making Him only a half Saviour. The Lord Jesus has undertaken everything that His people’s souls require; not only to deliver them from the guilt of their sins by His atoning death, but from the dominion of their sins, by placing in their hearts the Holy Spirit; not only to justify them, but also to sanctify them. He is, thus, not only their ‘righteousness,’ but their ‘sanctification.’ (1 Cor. 1:30.)” 21

“Sanctification, in the last place, is absolutely necessary in order to train and prepare us for heaven. Most men hope to go to heaven when they die; but few, it may be feared, take the trouble to consider whether they would enjoy heaven if they got there. Heaven is essentially a holy place; its inhabitants are all holy; its occupations are all holy. To be really happy in heaven, it is clear and plain that we must be somewhat trained and made ready for heaven while we are on earth. The notion of a purgatory after death, which shall turn sinners into saints, is a lying invention of man, and is nowhere taught in the Bible. We must be saints before we die, if we are to be saints afterwards in glory.” 29

“Genuine sanctification will show itself in habitual respect to God’s law, and habitual effort to live in obedience to it as the rule of life. There is no greater mistake than to suppose that a Christian has nothing to do with the law and the Ten Commandments, because he cannot be justified by keeping them. The same Holy Ghost who convinces the believer of sin by the law, and leads him to Christ for justification, will always lead him to a spiritual use of the law, as a friendly guide, in the pursuit of sanctification.” 33-34

“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.” 56

“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.” 60

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“In conclusion, let every reader of this paper think seriously, whether his religion costs him anything at present. Very likely it costs you nothing. Very probably it neither costs you trouble, nor time, nor thought, nor care, nor pains, nor reading, nor praying, nor self-denial, nor conflict, nor working, nor labour of any kind. Now mark what I say. Such a religion as this will never save your soul. It will never give you peace while you live, nor hope while you die. It will not support you in the day of affliction, nor cheer you in the hour of death. A religion which costs nothing is worth nothing.” 101

“Many appear to forget that we are saved and justified as sinners, and only sinners; and that we never can attain to anything higher, if we live to the age of Methuselah. Redeemed sinners, justified sinners, and renewed sinners doubtless we must be-but sinners, sinners, sinners, we shall be always to the very last. They do not seem to comprehend that there is a wide difference between our justification and our sanctification. Our justification is a perfect finished work, and admits of no degrees. Our sanctification is imperfect and incomplete, and will be so to the last hour of our life.” 149

“Many appear to think that, once converted, they have little more to attend to, and that a state of salvation is a kind of easy chair, in which they may just sit still, lie back, and be happy. They seem to fancy that grace is given them that they may enjoy it, and they forget that it is given, like a talent, to be used, employed, and improved. Such persons lose sight of the many direct injunctions ‘to increase-to grow-to abound more and more-to add to our faith,’ and the like; and in this little-doing condition, this sitting-still state of mind, I never marvel that they miss assurance.” 150

“God knows that I never speak of hell without pain and sorrow. I would gladly offer the salvation of the Gospel to the very chief of sinners. I would willingly say to the vilest and most profligate of mankind on his deathbed, ‘Repent, and believe on Jesus, and thou shalt be saved.’ But God forbid that I should ever keep back from mortal man that Scripture reveals a hell as well as heaven, and that the Gospel teaches that men may be lost as well as saved. The watchman who keeps silent when he sees a fire, is guilty of gross neglect-the doctor who tells us we are getting well when we are dying, is a false friend; and the minister who keeps back hell from his people in his sermons is neither a faithful nor a charitable man.” 223

“The history of Christ’s true Church has always been one of conflict and war. It has been constantly assailed by a deadly enemy, Satan, the prince of this world. The devil hates the true Church of Christ with an undying hatred. He is ever stirring up opposition against all its members. He is ever urging the children of this world to do his will, and to injure and harass the people of God. If he cannot bruise the head, he will bruise the heel. If he cannot rob the believers of heaven, he will vex them by the way.” 278

“Every professing Christian is the soldier of Christ. He is bound by his baptism to fight Christ’s battle against sin, the world, and the devil. The man that does not do this breaks his vow. He is a spiritual defaulter. He does not fulfil the engagements made for him. The man that does not do this is practically renouncing his Christianity. The very fact that he belongs to a Church, attends a Christian place of worship, and calls himself a Christian is a public declaration that he desires to be reckoned a soldier of Jesus Christ. Armour is provided for the professing Christian, if he will only use it.” 294-295

“I fear much for many professing Christians. I see no sign of fighting in them, much less of victory. They never strike one stroke on the side of Christ. They are at peace with His enemies. They have no quarrel with sin. I warn you, this is not Christianity. This is not the way to heaven.” 297

“The man who is content to sit ignorantly by his own fireside, wrapped up in his own private affairs, and has no public eye for what is going on in the church and the world, is a miserable patriot, and a poor style Christian. Next to our Bibles and our own hearts, our Lord would have us study our own times.” 365

“I cannot withhold my conviction that the professing Church of the nineteenth century is as much damaged by laxity and indistinctness about matters of doctrine within, as it is by sceptics and unbelievers without. Myriads of professing Christians nowadays seem utterly unable to distinguish things that differ. Like people afflicted with colour-blindness, they are incapable of discerning what is true and what is false, what is sound and what is unsound.” 370

“Let us all learn and strive to do so more and more. Let us live on Christ. Let us live in Christ. Let us live with Christ. Let us live to Christ. So doing, we shall prove that we fully realize that ‘Christ is all.’ So doing, we shall feel great peace, and attain more of that ‘holiness without which no man shall see the Lord’ (Heb. 12:14.)” 407

[1949 words]

6 Replies to “J. C. Ryle on Holiness”

  1. Thanks, Bill.
    Just a query: I have, as I suspect many do, the older James Clarke edition. What is the correlation of page numbers between that and the newer Hendrickson edition? Or is that asking too much in your busy writing schedule? (I ask in sincerity)

  2. Thanks Murray. I do not have the edition you speak of, so I cannot really say. But perhaps simply compare the first three quotes I have (the first two from the Introduction and the third from Ch. 1 on ‘Sin’) and see if they line up with the page numbering in your edition.

  3. Hi Bill, Soul stirring words indeed! Thanks so much for putting these quotes together – they really spoke to me. There is such scriptural truth and reality in what he says about the Christian’s walk ,sanctification, and a believers relationship to the Lord. What he says is just as relevant for believers and the church today as when he first penned the words. I am going to have to try and get a copy of this book. Thank you again for putting this out there.

  4. Excellent material Bill. Being humble and having a humble attitude and staying committed to The Truth in the person of Jesus and the teachings in the Bible as the only ultimate source of truth is vital. It is a challenge to stay humble in the process of sanctification because as soon as we are victorious in some endeavour, because the LORD’S guidance is the reason, we are at risk of thinking how great we are which is the fatal path to pride. Yes let’s produce good fruit by following our Saviour Jesus, but remain humble and have a contrite heart while acknowledging it is God that helps us produce good fruit all the way through.

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