JC Ryle on Practical Christian Holiness

JC Ryle (1816-1900) was the first bishop of Liverpool. He wrote many helpful works such as Holiness, Knots Untied, Light from Old Times, and Practical Religion.

Below is a quote from Practical Religion on Practical Christian Holiness (Banner of Truth), pages 11-12

“It is as certain as anything in the Bible that ‘without holiness no man shall see the Lord’ (Heb. 12:14). It is equally certain that it is the invariable fruit of saving faith, the real test of regeneration, the only sound evidence of indwelling grace, the certain consequence of vital union with Christ. – Holiness is not absolute perfection and freedom from all faults. Nothing of the kind! The wild words of some who talk of enjoying ‘unbroken communion with God’ for many mouths, are greatly to be deprecated, because they raise unscriptural exceptions in the minds of young believers, and so do harm. Absolute perfection is for heaven, and not for earth, where we have a weak body, a wicked world, and a busy devil continually near our souls. Nor is real Christian holiness ever attained, or maintained, without a constant fight and struggle. The great apostle, who said ‘I fight, -I labour, – I keep under my body and bring it into subjection’ (1 Cor. 9:27), would have been amazed to hear of sanctification without personal exertion, and to be told that believers only need to sit still, and everything will be done for them!

Yet, weak and imperfect as the holiness of the best saints may be, it is a real true thing, and has a character about it as unmistakable as light and salt. It is not a thing which begins and ends with noisy profession: it will be seen much more than heard. Genuine scriptural holiness will make a man do his duty at home and by the fireside, and adorn his doctrine in the little trials of daily life. It will exhibit itself in passive graces as well as in active. It will make a man humble, kind, gentle, unselfish, good-tempered, considerate for others, loving, meek, and forgiving. It will not constrain him to go out of the world, and shut himself up in a cave, like a hermit. But it will make him do his duty in that state to which God has called him, on Christian principles, and after the pattern of Christ. Such holiness, I know well, is not common. It is a style of practical Christianity which is painfully rare in these days. but I can find no other standard of holiness in the Word of God, – no other which comes up to the pictures drawn by our Lord and his apostles. In an age like this no reader can wonder if I press this subject also on men’s attention. Once more let us ask, – In the matter of holiness, how is it with our souls? ‘How do we do’?”

Hebrews 11: Justified by Faith – Part I

By W.E. Travis II

“Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”

John Calvin, Institutes, III.II.7

“Faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts, and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active, and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing.  Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful, and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love, and praise the God who has shown you such grace.” Luther

We have had this same understanding of faith given to us over the course of the last several months – but this definition was not told to us, nor did we read – we saw it. Our dear brother Clayton lies even at this moment dying in the hospital – the time that grace has allotted to him to live is coming to an end. This is a difficult thing for his bride, his children, his mother and father, and family and us his brethren. However, Clayton has told us multiple times that he believes in God and in God’s ordained outcome over his illness – Clayton knew that if God determined to heal him that he would be healed / Clayton knew that if God determined not to heal him then this cancer was going to be the means used of God to bring him to God. 

  • We see that Clayton’s understanding of faith is consistent with that of Calvin and Luther: Calvin said that faith is “a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence,” Luther stated, “Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace…” Clayton has put a “bold, firm, and certain” hope / faith in God – in spite of any external circumstance because Clayton’s life like our own as Believers have a hope not in what we (necessarily see) but in Him in whom we cannot see. 

John Bunyan when enduring suffering for the sake of the Gospel of Christ noted this: “By this scripture I was made to see that if ever I would suffer rightly, I must first pass a sentence of death upon everything that can be properly called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyment, and all, as dead to me, and myself as dead to them. The second was, to live upon God that is invisible, as Paul said in another place; the way not to faint, is to “look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

Hebrews 11:1 declares: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” 

We see, therefore, that our brothers in Christ – Calvin, Luther, and Clayton are in harmony with the Great God of this majestically eternal faith.

And faith is the point of our focus for this morning – because it’s the point of Hebrews 11.

    • In fact, Hebrews 11 is a treatise on the great doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. 

Over the past three years, we have examined the teaching of Hebrews upon the supremacy of Jesus the Christ. Over this course of time, we have seen Christ is superior to: 

  • All the prophets of old
  • Angels 
  • The Law
  • Moses (the greatest of the OT Prophets)
  • The Levitical Priesthood 
  • Melchizedek
  • And the entire Old Covenant as a whole

The purpose of this sermon we call the Book of Hebrews is to teach and persuade the listeners to press forward in their commitment to Christ and not to return to the old ways of Judaism.

  • This may seem like an unnecessary point to make to a group of individuals that have professed faith in Christ – to not turn their backs upon Him – to not apostatize their professed faith. 
  • However, we need to appreciate the situation as much as we are able: First-century Christian Jews were no longer to offer sacrifices for their sins, and therefore, in many ways, were to turn their backs on many of their ancient rituals. What they have known about their religion and its practices, what they had known – all that had been passed down to them by way of ancestry, what they had been explicitly commanded to do by God in the past – in regards to sin and sacrifice has all changed in light of Christ. 
    • Think of how difficult change is for you for us, for SBC Churches: To begin to understand this difficulty we need look no further than ourselves and see how hard it is for churches to let go of things they have done for only one generation –  how difficult must it be to transition from something that culturally you have been doing for nearly a millennium?! 
    • Jews grew up in a restrictive culture – especially as it was relayed on how they were to relate to God. 

In order to come to God an entire catalog of stipulations and restrictions had to be obeyed:

        • Laws on how to offer Burnt Offerings, Grain Offerings, Peace Offerings, Sin Offerings, Guilt Offerings, Laws on consecration and cleansing, Laws about clean and unclean animals, Laws about Purification After Childbirth, Leprosy, Cleansing your house, bodily discharges, making atonement, eating blood, sexual relations, laws on keeping feast days and festivals, the Sabbath, and on and on. 
        • In later days the Jewish credo was expounded to include fastidious adherence to an additional 613 laws – many, if not most being of human invention. 
          • Laws such as being allowed to swallow vinegar on the Sabbath but not to gargle it – for gargling constituted work and work was a violation of the Sabbath. 
          • A law that permitted the eating of an egg that had been laid on the Sabbath – but only if the chicken was killed the next day for violating the Sabbath. 
          • If a bird flies under your garment on the Sabbath you are not permitted to lift your garment you must wait for the bird to fly out on its own. 

These sound silly but to the first century Jewish Christian they were very much a part of not only their national identity but also their personal identity. And now in light of Christ that identity has been destroyed – because they are being instructed to now forsake all of these rites, rituals, rules, and regulations and to believe in Christ and Christ alone.

However, the point is this: their national and personal identity had been swallowed up in pharisaical religion rather than divine revelation. For if they had been paying attention they would know that Christ is not a radical deviation from OT truth, but rather He is its fulfillment. 

But how does the author challenge this long-held and deep-seated misunderstanding held by (presumptively) a large part of his audience? How is he going to penetrate their sort of Old Testament thinking? The answer in chapter 11, by giving us a list of Old Testament saints whose lives were marked by faith. The true people of God through all the ages have become the true people of God by faith, chapter 11 is loaded with illustrations. Just looking at verse 4, “By faith, Abel…” In verse 5, “By faith, Enoch..” In verse 7, “By faith, Noah…” Verse 8, “By faith Abraham.” And again in verse 17, “By faith Abraham.” And in verse 20, “By faith, Isaac.” In verse 21, “By faith, Jacob.” Verse 22, “By faith, Joseph…” Twenty-three, “By faith, Moses.” And again in verse 24. Going down further, in verse 31, “By faith, Rahab.” And then in verse 32, “There’s Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets, who by faith did all these amazing things.”

  • How were all of these OT Saints made right with God? How were they justified? 
    • How was Able justified? By the offering of his produce? No – by Faith!
    • How was Enoch justified? By his personal holiness? No – by Faith! 
    • How was Noah justified? By obedience through building the Arc? No – by Faith! 
    • How was Abraham justified? By circumcision? No – by Faith!
    • How were Isaac and Jacob justified? By being descendants of Abraham? No – by Faith!  
    • How was Moses justified? By keeping the Law? No – by Faith!
    • How has every single believer in the history of redemption been justified? By Faith!!! 
      • This is the point that must be apprehended by all – faith is what declares you right in eyes of a Holy God – never your works. 

“The believing soul by means of the pledge of its faith is free in Christ, its bridegroom, free from all sins, secure against death and hell, and is endowed with the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of Christ its bridegroom. So he takes to himself a glorious bride, “without spot or wrinkle, cleansing her by the washing of water with the word” (cf. Eph. 5:26–27) of life, that is, by faith in the Word of life, righteousness, and salvation. In this way, he marries her in faith, steadfast love, and in mercies, righteousness, and justice, as Hos. 2(:19–20) says. Who then can fully appreciate what this royal marriage means? Who can understand the riches of the glory of this grace? Here this rich and divine bridegroom Christ marries this poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all his goodness. Her sins cannot now destroy her since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by him. And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently display alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, “If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all his is mine and all mine is his,” as the bride in the Song of Solomon (2:16) says, “My beloved is mine and I am his.” This is what Paul means when he says in I Cor. 15(:57), “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” that is, the victory over sin and death, as he also says there, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” [I Cor. 15:56]. From this, you once more see that much is ascribed to faith, namely, that it alone can fulfill the law and justify without works.” (Luther) 

  • I want to leave you this morning with a parable – a parable that I pray is an encouragement to you – no matter if you be on your deathbed, in the midst of a financial struggle, immersed in a family squabble, a nagging sin of doubt, or fear, or sexual infidelity, or whatever it may be. I pray that you leave this morning with the understanding that Christ is enough. 

There once was a King who chose for himself a bride who was a poor, deformed, harlot. She had no loveliness of her own and yet the King wanted her. As their wedding day arrived the King gave to his bride a   “wedding-ring of faith” and the very second he placed that ring on her finger she became his Queen and they were forever united. They became “one” and all that was his became hers. His love, His blessings, His possessions even His kingdom now belonged to her.

Her bridegroom provided her with “all his good things”. He washed her with the water of his word, dressed her with “eternal righteousness” and presented her, despite her character,  as a “glorious bride, without spot or wrinkle”. 

This also meant that all that was hers became his.  In the intimacy of this union, the King took on himself all of his bride’s transgressions and debts. He “takes a share in the sins, death, and hell of His wife, nay, makes them His own, and deals with them no otherwise than as if they were His, and as if He Himself had sinned”.

Now this fallen woman was Queen, but she had lived all of her life as a prostitute and so she did not know how to act as Queen. Though she was freed from her condemnations and showered with all of her husband’s blessings, though she could be “fearless of death [and] safe from hell” her character was still that of a harlot. But, through her union with the King, her character no longer defined her.  Her status of Queen defined her, and the longer she lived with her King the more her character changed.

“It is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since they have been laid upon Christ and swallowed up in Him, and since she has in her Husband Christ a righteousness which she may claim as her own, and which she can set up with confidence against all her sins, against death and hell, saying, “If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is His, and all His is mine,” as it is written, “My beloved is mine, and I am His” (Luther).

_______________________

This message was preached by Pastor W.E. Travis II on March 3, 2019, to the Saints at Mt. Eden Baptist Church in Shepherdsville, KY.

On Family Worship by John Newton

A letter from John Newton on Family Worship. Banner of Truth, The Works of John Newton, Volume 1, pgs. 100-104.

Works of John Newton are available at Banner of Truth

 

On Family Worship

Sir,

A neglect of family prayer is, I am afraid, too common amongst professors in this day. I am glad that you consider it both as a duty and a privilege, and are by grace determined, that, when you shall commence master of a family, you will worship God with all your house. It was Abraham’s commendation, that he not only served the Lord himself, but was solicitous that his children and household might serve him likewise. I trust that he who inclines your heart to walk in the footsteps of faithful Abraham, will bless you in the attempt, and give you peace in your dwelling; a mercy which is seldom enjoyed, which indeed can hardly be expected, by those families which call not upon the Lord.

Though I readily comply with your request, and would be glad if I can offer anything that may assist or animate you in your good purpose, I am afraid I shall not answer your expectations with regard to the particulars of your inquiry, concerning the most proper method of conducting family worship. The circumstances of families are so various, that no determinate rules can be laid down: nor has the word of God prescribed any; because, being of universal obligation, it is wisely and graciously accommodated to suit the different situations of his people. You must, therefore, as to circumstantials, judge for yourself. You will do well to pursue such a method as you shall find most convenient to yourself and family, without scrupulously binding yourself, when the Scripture has left you free.

We have no positive precept enjoining us any set time for prayer, nor even how often we should pray, either in public or private; though the expressions of “continuing instant in prayer,” “praying without ceasing,” and the like, plainly intimate that prayer should be frequent. Daniel prayed three times a day; which the Psalmist speaks of as his practice likewise; and in one place declares his purpose of praising God seven times a day. This last expression is perhaps indefinite, not precisely seven times—but very often. Indeed, a person who lives in the exercise of faith and love, and who finds by experience that it is good for him to draw nigh to God, will not want to be told how often he must pray, any more than how often he must converse with an earthly friend. Those whom we love, we love to be much with. Love is the best casuist, and either resolves or prevents a thousand scruples and questions, which may perplex those who only serve God from principles of constraint and fear. A believer will account those his happiest days, when he has most leisure and most liberty of spirit for the exercise of prayer.

However, I think family prayer cannot be said to be stated, unless it be performed at least daily, and, when unavoidable hindrances do not prevent, twice a day. Though all times and seasons are alike to the Lord, and his ear is always open whenever we have a heart to call upon him; yet to us there is a peculiar suitableness in beginning and closing the day with prayer: in the morning, to acknowledge his goodness in our preservation through the night, and entreat his presence and blessing on our persons and callings in the course of the day; and at night, to praise him for the mercies of the day past, to humble ourselves before him for what has been amiss, to wait on him for a renewed manifestation of his pardoning love, and to commit ourselves and our concerns to his care and protection while we sleep.

You will, of course, choose those hours when you are least liable to be incommoded by the calls of business, and when the family can assemble with the most convenience: only I would observe, that it greatly preserves regularity and good order in a house, to keep constantly to the same hours when it is practicable; and likewise, that it is best not to defer evening prayer until late, if it can be well avoided; lest some who join in the exercise, and perhaps the person himself who leads in it, should be too weary or sleepy to give a due attention. On this account, I should advise to have family prayer before supper, where people have the choice and disposal of their own hours.

I think, with you, that it is very expedient and proper that reading a portion of the word of God should be ordinarily a part of our family worship; so likewise to sing a hymn or psalm, or part of one, at discretion; provided there are some persons in the family who have enough of a musical ear and voice to conduct the singing in a tolerable manner: otherwise, perhaps, it may be better omitted. If you read and sing, as well as pray, care should be taken that the combined services do not run into an inconvenient length.

The chief thing to be attended to is, that it may be a spiritual service; and the great evil to be dreaded and guarded against in the exercise of every duty that returns frequently upon us, is formality. If a stated course of family prayer is kept up as constantly in its season as the striking of the clock, in time it may come to be almost as mechanically performed, unless we are continually looking to the Lord to keep our hearts alive.

It most frequently happens, that one or more members of a family are unconverted persons. When there are such present, a great regard should be had to them, and everything conducted with a view to their edification, that they may not be disgusted or wearied, or tempted to think that it is little more than the fashion or custom of the house; which will probably be the case, unless the master of the family is lively and earnest in performance of the duty, and likewise circumspect and consistent in every part of his behavior at other times. By leading in the worship of God before children, servants, or strangers, a man gives bond (as it were) for his behavior, and adds strength to every other motive which should engage him to abstain from all appearance of evil. It should be a constant check upon our language and tempers in the presence of our families, to consider that we began the day, and propose to end it, with them in prayer. The Apostle Peter uses this argument to influence the conduct of husbands and wives towards each other; and it is equally applicable to all the members of a family; “That your prayers be not hindered,” that is, either prevented and put off, or despoiled of all life and efficacy, by the ferment of sinful passions.

On the other hand, the proper exercise of family prayer, when recommended by a suitable deportment, is a happy means of instructing children and servants in the great truths of religion, of softening their prejudices, and inspiring them with a temper of respect and affection, which will dispose them to cheerful obedience, and make them unwilling to grieve or offend.

In this instance, as in every other, we may observe, that the Lord’s commands to his people are not arbitrary appointments; but that, so far as they are conscientiously complied with, they have an evident tendency and suitableness to promote our own advantage. He requires us to acknowledge him in our families, for our own sakes; not because he has need of our poor services, but because we have need of his blessing, and without the influence of his grace (which is promised to all who seek it) are sure to be unhappy in ourselves and in all our connections.

When husband and wife are happily partakers of the same faith, it seems expedient, and for their mutual good, that, besides their private devotions, and joining in family prayer, they should pray together. They have many wants, mercies, and concerns, in common with each other, and distinct from the rest of the family. The manner in which they should improve a little time in this joint exercise cannot well be prescribed by a third person: yet I will venture to suggest one thing; and the rather, as I do not remember to have met with it in print. I conceive that it may prove much to their comfort to pray alternately, not only the husband with and for the wife, but the wife with and for the husband. The Spirit of God, by the Apostle, has expressly restrained women from the exercise of spiritual gifts in public; but I apprehend the practice I am speaking of can no way interfere with that restriction. I suppose them in private together, and then I judge it to be equally right and proper for either of them to pray with the other. Nor do I meet anything in Paul’s writings to prevent my thinking, that if he had been a married man, he would, though an Apostle, have been glad for the prayers of his wife. If you ask, how often they should pray together? I think the oftener the better, provided it does not break in upon their duties; once a day at least; and if there is a choice of hours, it might be as well at some distance from their other seasons of worship. But I would observe, as before, that in matters not expressly commanded, prudence and experience must direct.

I have written upon a supposition that you use extempore prayer; but as there are many heads of families who fear the Lord, and have not yet attained liberty to pray extempore before others, I would add, that their inability in this respect, whether real, or whether only proceeding from fear, and an undue regard to self, will not justify them in the omission of family prayer. Helps may be procured. Mr. Jenks’s Devotions are in many hands; and I doubt not but there are other excellent books of the same kind, with which I am not acquainted. If they begin with a form, not with a design to confine themselves always to one, but make it a part of their secret pleading at the Throne of Grace, that they may be favored with the gift and spirit of prayer; and accustom themselves, while they use a form, to intersperse some petitions of their own; there is little doubt but they will in time find a growth in liberty and ability, and at length lay their book entirely aside. For it being every believer’s duty to worship God in his family, his promise may be depended upon, to give them a sufficiency in all things, for those services which he requires of them.

Happy is that family where the worship of God is constantly and conscientiously maintained. Such houses are temples in which the Lord dwells, and castles garrisoned by a Divine power. I do not say, that, by honoring God in your house, you will wholly escape a share in the trials incident to the present uncertain state of things. A measure of such trials will be necessary for the exercise and manifestation of your graces; to give you a more convincing proof of the truth and sweetness of the promises made to a time of affliction; to mortify the body of sin; and to wean you more effectually from the world. But this I will confidently say, that the Lord will both honor and comfort those who thus honor him. Seasons will occur in which you shall know, and probably your neighbors shall be constrained to take notice, that He has not bid you seek him in vain. If you meet with troubles, they shall be accompanied by supports, and followed by deliverance; and you shall upon many occasions experience, that He is your protector, preserving you and yours from the evils by which you will see others suffering around you.

I have rather exceeded the limits I proposed; and therefore shall only add a request, that in your addresses at the Throne of Grace you will remember, &c (Newton’s Signature).