Friday, June 03, 2011

Some Wisdom from the Past: J.C. Ryle

jc_ryle1

From the Introduction of his book, Holiness, Ryle offers some timeless words of warning and concern for the body of Christ:

There is much in the attitude of professing Christians in this day which fills me with concern, and makes me full fear for the future.

There is an amazing ignorance of Scriptures 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." ( Ephesians 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.--There is an unhealthy appetite for a sort of spasmodic and hysterical Christianity. The religious life of many is little better then spiritual dram-drinking, and the "meek and quiet spirit" which St. Peter commends is clean forgotten. ( 1 Peter 3:4.) Crowds, and crying, and hot rooms, and high-flown singing, and an incessant rousing of the emotions, are the only things which many care for.--Inability to distinguish differences in doctrine is spreading far and wide, and so long as the preacher is "clever" and "earnest," hundreds seem to think it must be all right, and call you dreadfully "narrow and uncharitable" if you hint that he is unsound! …All this is sad, very sad. But if, in addition to this, the true-hearted advocates of increased holiness are going to fall out by the way and misunderstand one another, it will be sadder still. We shall indeed be in evil plight.

For myself, I am aware that I am no longer a young minister. My mind perhaps stiffens, and I cannot easily receive any new doctrine. "The old is better." I suppose I belong to the old school of Evangelical theology, and I am therefore content with such teachings about sanctification as I find in the Life of Faith of Sibbes and Manton, and in The Life, Walk, and Triumph of Faith of William Romaine. But I must express a hope that my younger brethren who have taken up new views of holiness will beware of multiplying causeless divisions. Do they think that a higher standard of Christian is needed in the present day? So do I.--Do they think that clearer, stronger, fuller teaching about holiness is needed? So do I.--Do they think that Christ ought to be more exalted as the root and author of sanctification as well as justification? So do I.--Do they think that believers should be urged more and more to live by faith? So do I.--Do they think that a very close walk with God should be more pressed on believers as the secret of happiness and usefulness? So do I.--In all these things we agree. But if they want to go further, then I ask them to take care where they tread, and to explain very clearly and distinctly what they mean.

Finally, I must deprecate, and I do it in love, the use of uncouth and new-fangled terms and phrases in teaching sanctification. I plead that a movement in favor of holiness cannot be advanced by new-coined phraseology, or by disproportioned and one-sided statements--or by overstraining and isolating particular texts--or by exalting one truth at the expense of another--or by allegorizing and accommodating texts, and squeezing out of them meanings which the Holy Spirit never put in them--or by speaking contemptuously and bitterly of those who do not entirely see things with our eyes, and do not work exactly in our ways. These things do not make for peace: they rather repel many and keep them at a distance. The cause of true sanctification is not helped, but hindered, by such weapons as these. A movement in aid of holiness which produces strife and dispute among God's children is somewhat suspicious. For Christ's sake, and in the name of truth and charity, let us endeavor to follow after peace as well as holiness. "What God has joined together let not man put asunder."

It is my heart's desire, and prayer to God daily, that personal holiness may increase greatly among professing Christians in England. But I trust that all who endeavor to promote it will adhere closely to the proportion of Scripture, will carefully distinguish things that differ, and will separate "the precious from the vile." ( Jeremiah 15:19.)