So on the suggestion of a blog post from Kevin DeYoung, I started to read J.C. Ryle’s book “Holiness”. It’s a relatively short book, but like books of old, each page is pack full. I’m not done with it yet but I thought it would be worth capturing some of the thoughts as I work through it. So here’s some highlights from chapter 2 of the book, from the pen of an old-time Anglican pastor.
First, his general thesis of the book is laid out.
Wrong views about holiness are generally traceable to wrong views about human corruption… The plain truth is that a right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. Without it such doctrines as justification, conversion, sanctification, are ‘words and names’ which convey no meaning to the mind. The first thing, therefore, that God does when He makes anyone a new creature in Christ, is to send light into his heart and show him that he is a guilty sinner. (p 11)
I love the balance in which he writes on this topic of sin. He’s straight forward but always with the intent to bring us to Christ.
Heavy must that weight of human sin be which made Jesus groan and sweat drops of blood in agony at Gethsemane and cry at Golgotha, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ (Matthew 27:46). Nothing, I am convinced, will astonish us so much, when we awake in the resurrection day, as the view we shall have of sin and the retrospect we shall take of our own countless shortcomings and defects. Never till the hour when Christ comes the second time shall we fully realize the ‘sinfulness of sin’. Well might George Whitefield say, ‘The anthem in heaven will be: What hath God wrought!’ (p 15)
The bulk of this chapter is dedicated to how a right view of sin works out in the believer’s life. Amazing that these words were penned over 125 years ago. How they feel like it was written for today!
a. I say, then, in the first place, that a scriptural view of sin is one of the best antidotes to that vague, dim, misty, hazy kind of theology which is so painfully current in the present age … It is a Christianity in which there is undeniably ‘something about Christ and something about grace and something about faith and something about repentance and something about holiness’, but it is not the real ‘thing as it is’ in the Bible. (p 18)
b. In the next place, a scriptural view of sin is one of the best antidotes to the extravagantly broad and liberal theology which is so much in vogue at the present time … Everything, forsooth, is true and nothing is false! Everybody is right and nobody is wrong! Everybody is likely to be saved and nobody is to be lost! The atonement and substitution of Christ, the personality of the devil, the miraculous element in Scripture, the reality and eternity of future punishment, all these mighty foundation-stones are coolly tossed overboard, like lumber, in order to lighten the ship of Christianity … (p 18)
c. In the next place, 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. (p 19)
d. In the next place, a right view of sin is one of the best antidotes to the overstrained theories of perfection of which we hear so much in these times. (p 19)
e. In the last place, a scriptural view of sin will prove an admirable antidote to the low views of personal holiness, which are so painfully prevalent in these last days of the church … We must sit down humbly in the presence of God, look the whole subject in the face, examine clearly what the Lord Jesus calls sin, and what the Lord Jesus calls doing His will. We must then try to realize that it is terribly possible to live a careless, easygoing, half-worldly life, and yet at the same time to maintain evangelical principles and call ourselves evangelical people! Once let us see that sin is far viler and far nearer to us, and sticks more closely to us than we supposed, and we shall be led, I trust and believe, to get nearer to Christ. (p 20)
Some final words from this chapter:
What need we all have of that entire change of heart called regeneration, new birth or conversion! What a mass of infirmity and imperfection cleaves to the very best of us at our very best! What a solemn thought it is that ‘without holiness no man shall see the Lord’! (Hebrews 12:14). What cause we have to cry with the publican every night in our lives, when we think of our sins of omission as well as commission, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13). (p 16)
I am convinced that the first step towards attaining a higher standard of holiness is to realize more fully the amazing sinfulness of sin. (p 22)