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’?”

Meditations in 1 John: Walking in the Light Shows that You Know God

By Colton Corter

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

(1 John 1:5-7 ESV)

Our God dwells in inapproachable light. God’s holiness, His intrinsic worth and beauty, makes the chasm between us and Him incalculable.

This makes the beginning of John’s passage really bad news. God is light and in Him there is not one single shred of darkness. God alone is completely devoid of sin. God is pure light. He enjoys His own perfections perfectly within the Godhead. He is pure. We, however, are not. Really we are quite the opposite. In our rebellion, man is dark and in us is no light at all. The Bible paints a vivid picture of man’s natural state. We are lovers of darkness (John 3:19), not victims. Our hearts are turned inward, hell-bent on pursuing our joy in everything and anyone but God. This is the grandest injustice in the whole world. God, who created everything so that He might be made much of in the affections of His created beings, is infinitely pure and worthy of our pure devotion. We are unwilling and unable to render to God what is rightfully His!

But John is talking about this message in the positive. That is because God had given us new life. God’s Spirit quickens our dead hearts and opens our blind eyes to see the glory of Christ. No longer do we love darkness and hate God. Pure light now because our highest good. That is because Jesus Christ came, full of this divine light, but was judged as if it were He who had been in love with perpetual darkness. God’s purity was drained on His pure Son. The gospel, this news about the objective work of Christ in His life, death and resurrection, takes what was our worst enemy and makes it our greatest joy. The holiness that once threatened in wrath and indignation now captivates and produces wonder-filled joy. We stand justified before an aweful and holy God.

This very fact leads us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). John doesn’t say that fellowship with God through Christ is earned by walking in the light. However, he does say that walking with this God of pure light will necessarily be characterized more and more with holiness. Salvation, in other words, leads to something: happiness and holiness. Our obedience has been purchased and is worked in us by the Spirit of God. Justification leads inevitably to sanctification. Pardon leads to life.

John is writing to give us assurance but there is such a thing as false assurance. Assurance is not the same thing as security. We can be fully persuaded that we are indeed children of God but be dead wrong (Matthew 7). If we say that we have come to know God and yet our actions don’t match up with our profession then we are lying. Fruit betrays our real root.

God’s purity affects purity in us. As we behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ found in its fullest in the gospel, we are exposed to the light of the knowledge of this glory. We are transformed as we fight to behold. We go from one degree of glory to another as we walk progressively through the Christian life with God in the light. We cannot claim to have fellowship with this God and continue in our love affair with sin and self. Grace promises so much more than that.

This is the mark of a true Christian. Certainly we aren’t perfect. But we are different. We are characterized by a warfare, even as we are characterized by unshakable gospel confidence. Notice that John says that our walking in the light is what gives us fellowship with the people of God in verse 7. The local church is comprised of those who walk in the light in such a way that testifies to the pure light of God’s glory. It is the church – full of repentant, justified and progressively sanctified people- that displays God’s manifold wisdom to the watching world (Ephesians 3:10).

Brothers and sisters, this passage finishes with an incredible encouragement. It says that if we are walking in the light, if we love the light and hate the darkness, then “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from unrighteousness.” Don’t get this wrong. All of our joy and comfort stand or fall with getting this verse right. Our walking is not the condition for the blood of Jesus cleansing our sin. The blood of Jesus creates our walking. Every good endeavor, every decision to gouge our eye or cut off our hand, was purchased by Christ and enabled by God’s holy Spirit. Sanctification is all of God’s grace. But this grace does more than just justify us. God gives us Himself and allows us to grow in our pleasure in Him. This walking in the light is proof that we have been cleansed by Jesus’ blood on the cross. Our holiness is the proof that the wrath of God due us has been satisfied on the Son. Our fight against our sin is the validation of what we have been declared to be. Subjective assurance gives us confidence in objective assurance.

We have been cleansed by the blood of Christ, positionally. This is good news. You will never been more righteous in the sight of God than you are now. But you will be more righteous than you are right now. The same blood that cleansed us initially and that stands as our confidence before God will continue to cleanse us from sin until that one glorious day when we are free to sin no more.

Meditations on 1 John: How does a series like this start?

By Colton Corter

Lord willing, I’d like to begin a series of short meditations from the book of 1 John. 1 John was inspired by the Holy Spirit so that we might know that we have saving faith in Christ. As we’ll see, the root of our salvation is proven by fruits. 1 John is a penetrating book that calls us to holiness by pointing us to the certain salvation found by faith in the Rock of Ages. I doubt that I’ll hit every line, but most posts will take a couple of verses and glean whatever we can of the glories of Christ from them.

But first I thought it would be helpful to show just how these posts have come about. You may not be interested in knowing that. I understand! However, I want you to see how I have come to see these things in the Bible, why I am writing and how to see these things for yourselves.

The series is entitled “Meditations on 1 John.” Each of these posts will be the fruit of Bible meditation. Think of Bible meditation as a combination of Bible reading and prayer. It is the process of rolling biblical truths around in your mind, squeezing out of them all that we can so that we enjoy the God of the Bible more. This type of type of study welds the head and the heart – taking what is objectively true in the Bible and submitting our subjective affections to it so that we feel deeply about God as He really is. I wonder how many of us meditate on the Bible. And yet, our brothers that have gone before us testify that Christian maturity will come by any other means.

I have just recently studied through the book of 1 John. Each night, I will write out a section of the book and study it. I’ll take two different color pens and draw lines so that it looks like something that only I could make any sense of!  During this time, I want to be focused on beholding the glory of Christ in the gospel. Therefore, I am coming to the Bible, not so much for practical “how-tos”, but to know God better (which ends up being the most practical thing in the world).

So Bible meditation takes two parts. First is the study of Scripture. Brothers, we must come to the Bible to know God. Eternal life is knowing God and His Son whom He has sent (John 17:3). We cannot know somebody that we know nothing about. To be sure, oh to be so sure, we can pursue “knowledge” in a way that puffs up and makes us stick our chests out. However, the problem with such a knowledge is not that we are too focused on our minds but that we have not yet begun to the love God with our mind. Mind and heart cannot be rightly separated. They aren’t even things to be balanced. True knowledge, all true knowledge of God, will result in increased affections, humility and holiness of life. Since the goal is to know God, we must think in theologically terms. Our longing is to see God! To do this, we need to view the Scriptures with an eye to what the whole Bible teaches about a particular doctrine. So when John says that he is writing so that we might not sin we know that he is not expecting some kind of sinless perfection, especially because he just said in the chapter before that the one who says that they don’t sin is a liar! So we want to see how different doctrines, those arising from the present text and those we have seen in other texts, connect with one another. And this takes a lifetime and will never be exhausted. What a wonderful God!

Second is prayer. We are desperate men. I am not capable of one God-honoring thought outside of God’s sovereign grace. I am to strive to know and think well, but all of my efforts are dependent on God’s enabling (1 Cor 15:10). For that reason, I am starting each time before the Book asking for God to help. John Piper taught me the acrostic IOUS:

  • Incline my heart to you, not to prideful gain or any false motive. (Psalm 119:36)
  • Open my eyes to behold the wonderful things in your Word. (Psalm 119:18)
  • Unite my heart to fear your name. (Psalm 86:11)
  • Satisfy me with your steadfast love. (Psalm 90:14)

If we come to the Bible in our own power then we will utterly fail. Our Bible reading will just become another means to another end that is by nature not god. We must ask God to help us, to open our groggy eyes. It is the Spirit that does this, so enlightening our hearts that we might discern the depth of God’s love for us in Christ. Even as you read, pause and ask God. Does something seem off or difficult? Ask God to help you! Some of my sweetest times in communion with God have come at dead-ins in my Bible study. While languishing in my own futility, God gives light and opens up His Word to me. All of this should be turned into adoration towards God.

I hope that this process is the spring from which all of my writings come from. God forbid I ever write in a way that is less than doxological and less focused on the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ clothed in the gospel. It is dangerous to write for other reasons than a desire to enjoy God and help others do the same. I am praying to the end, that God would be pleased, from what He has shown me, to take these truths (insofar as I am faithful to the text) and press them deep into your soul. Oh that God would give us low thoughts of ourselves, high esteem for the gospel of the cross and a longing to see God maximized in our lives and teaching. Glory to God alone, in the white-hot affections of His people for Christ alone!

Colton Corter is a student at SBTS and a member of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville.