I have been reading “Holiness: Its Nature, Its Hindrances, Difficulties, and its Roots” by J.C. Ryle, and I’ve been greatly encouraged and convicted by it. For this blog, I wanted to quote portions of this book for your own edification.
Regarding lessons that we should learn from the life of Lot, Ryle writes the following:
And what shall we say of these people? They often puzzle godly friends and relations. They often cause great anxiety. They often give rise to great doubts and searchings of heart. But they may be classed under one sweeping description: they are all brethren and sisters of Lot. They linger.
These are they who get the notion into their minds that it is impossible for all believers to be so very holy and very spiritual! They allow that eminent holiness is a beautiful thing. They like to read about it in books and even to see it occasionally in others. But they do not think that all are meant to aim at so high a standard. At any rate, they seem to make up their minds it is beyond their reach. These are they who get into their heads false ideas of charity, as they call it. They are morbidly afraid of being illiberal and narrow–minded and are always flying into the opposite extreme. They would sincerely please everybody, and suit everybody, and be agreeable to everybody. But they forget they ought first to be sure that they please God.
These are they who dread sacrifices and shrink from self–denial. They never appear able to apply our Lord’s command to “take up the cross” and “cut off the right hand and pluck out the right eye” (Matt. 5:29, 30). They cannot deny that our Lord used these expressions, but they never find a place for them in their religion. They spend their lives in trying to make the gate more wide and the cross more light. But they never succeed.
These are they who are always trying to keep in with the world. They are ingenious in discovering reasons for not separating decidedly and in framing plausible excuses for attending questionable amusements and keeping up questionable friendships. One day you are told of their attending a Bible reading; the next day perhaps you hear of their going to a ball. One day they fast, or go to the Lord’s table and receive the sacrament; another day they go to the racecourse in the morning and the opera at night. One day they are almost in hysterics under the sermon of some sensational preacher; another day they are weeping over some novel. They are constantly laboring to persuade themselves that to mix a little with worldly people on their own ground does good. Yet in their case it is very clear they do no good, and only get harm.
These are they who cannot find it in their hearts to quarrel with their besetting sin, whether it be sloth, indolence, ill–temper, pride, selfishness, impatience or what it may. They allow it to remain a tolerably quiet and undisturbed tenant of their hearts. They say it is their health or their constitutions or their temperaments or their trials or their way. Their father or mother or grandmother was so before themselves, and they are sure they cannot help it. And when you meet after the absence of a year or so, you hear the same thing! But all, all, all may be summed up in one single sentence. They are the brethren and sisters of Lot. They linger.
Regarding a Christian’s relationship to the world, J.C. Ryle writes:
If you would ever be saved, you must make the choice that Moses made —you must choose God before the world. Mark well what I say. Do not overlook this, though all the rest be forgotten. I do not say that the statesman must throw up his office, and the rich man forsake his property. Let no one fancy that I mean this. But I say, if a man would be saved, whatever be his rank in life, he must be prepared for tribulation. He must make up his mind to choose much which seems evil, and to give up and refuse much which seems good.
I dare say this sounds strange language to some who read these pages. I know well you may have a certain form of religion and find no trouble in your way. There is a common worldly kind of Christianity in this day, which many have and think they have enough—a cheap Christianity which offends nobody and requires no sacrifice, which costs nothing, and is worth nothing. I am not speaking of religion of this kind. But if you really are in earnest about your soul, if your religion is something more than a mere fashionable Sunday cloak, if you are determined to live by the Bible, if you are resolved to be a New Testament Christian, then, I repeat, you will soon find you must carry a cross. You must endure hard things; you must suffer in behalf of your soul, as Moses did, or you cannot be saved.
The world in the nineteenth century is what it always was. The hearts of men are still the same. The offense of the cross is not ceased. God’s true people are still a despised little flock. True evangelical religion still brings with it reproach and scorn. A real servant of God will still be thought by many a weak enthusiast and a fool. But the matter comes to this. Do you wish your soul to be saved? Then remember, you must choose whom you will serve. You cannot serve God and mammon. You cannot be on two sides at once. You cannot be a friendof Christ and a friend of the world at the same time. You must come out from the children of this world and be separate; you must put up with much ridicule, trouble and opposition, or you will be lost forever. You must be willing to think and do things which the world considers foolish and to hold opinions which are held by only a few. It will cost you something. The stream is strong, and you have to stem it. The way is narrow and steep, and it is no use saying it is not. But, depend on it, there can be no saving religion without sacrifices and self–denial.
Now are you making any sacrifices? Does your religion cost you anything? I put it to your conscience in all affection and tenderness. Are you, like Moses, preferring God to the world, or not? I beseech you not to take shelter under that dangerous word “we”—”we ought,” and “we hope,” and “we mean,” and the like. I ask you plainly, what are you doing yourself? Are you willing to give up anything which keeps you back from God; or are you clinging to the Egypt of the world and saying to yourself, “I must have it, I must have it: I cannot tear myself away”? Is there any cross in your Christianity? Are there any sharp corners in your religion, anything that ever jars and comes in collision with the earthly–mindedness around you? Or is all smooth and rounded off and comfortably fitted into custom and fashion? Do you know anything of the afflictions of the gospel? Is your faith and practice ever a subject of scorn and reproach? Are you thought a fool by anyone because of your soul? Have you left Pharaoh’s daughter and heartily joined the people of God? Are you venturing all on Christ? Search and see.
These are hard inquiries and rough questions. I cannot help it. I believe they are founded on Scripture truths. I remember it is written: “Therewent great multitudes with [Jesus]: and He turned, and said unto them, ‘If any man come to Me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yes and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross, and come after Me, cannot be My disciple’” (Luke 14:25–27). Many, I fear, would like glory, who have no wish for grace. They would sincerely have the wages, but not the work; the harvest, but not the labor; the reaping, but not the sowing; the reward, but not the battle. But it may not be. As Bunyan says, “The bitter must go before the sweet.” If there is no cross, there will be no crown.
Regarding the Christian’s warfare, Ryle writes:
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).