J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

Living or dead? : a series of home truths online

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REV. J. C. RYLE, B.A.,


*< If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare
himself to the battle?"—! Cor. xiv. 8.


No. 28 5 BROADWAY.



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Ephesians ii. 1.

Reader, —

Look at the words before your eyes,
and ponder them well. Search your own heart,
and do not lay down this paper without solemn
self-inquiry. I meet you this day with one
simple question, — Are you among the living, or
among the dead ?

Listen to me while I try to help you to an
answer. Give me your attention, while I unfold
this matter, and show you what God has said
about it in the Scriptures. If I say hard things,
it is not because I do not love you. I write
as I do, because I desire your salvation. He
is your best friend, who tells you the most truth.

I. First then, let me tell you what we all a?'e
hy nature, — we are DEAD !


" Dead" is a strong word, but it is not my
own coining and invention. I did not choose
it. The Holy Ghost told Paul to write it down
about the Ephesians, — " You hath he quickened
who were dead." (Eph. ii. 1.) The Lord Jesus
Christ naade use of it in the parable of the
prodigal son, — " This my son was dead, and is
alive again." (Luke xv. 24, 32.) You will read
it also in the Epistle to the Corinthians, — " One
died for all, then were all dead." (2 Cor. v. 14.)
Shall a mortal man be wise above that which
is written ? Must I not take heed to speak
that which I find in the Bible, and neither less
nor more ?

" Dead" is an awful idea, and one that man
is most unwilling to receive. He does not like
to allow the whole extent of his soul's disease.
He shuts his eyes to the real amount of his
danger. Many a one will allow me to say that
naturally most people " are not quite what they
ought to be, — they are thoughtless, — they are
unsteady, — they are gay, — they are wild, — they
are not serious enough." But dead ? Oh ! no !
I must not mention it. It is going too far to


say that. The idea is a stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offence.*

My dear Reader, what we like in religion is
of very little consequence. The only question
is — What is written ? What saith the Lord ?
God's thoughts are not man's thoughts, and
God's words are not man's words. God says
of every living person, who is not a decided
Christian, — be he high or low, rich or poor, old
or young, — lie is dead.

In this, as in everything else, God's words
are right. Nothino; could be said more correct,
nothing more accurate, nothing more faithful,
nothing more true. Stay a little, and let me
reason this out with you. Come and see.

What should you have said, if you had seen
Joseph weeping over his father Jacob ? — " He
fell upon his face, and wept upon him, and
kissed him." (Gen. 1.1.) But there was no re-
ply to his affection. All about that aged coun-

* " That is the reason we are no better, because our dis-
ease is not perfectly known : that is the reason we are no
better, because we know not how bad we are." — Archbishop
Usher's Sermons, preached at Oxford. 1650.


tenance was unmoved, silent, and still. Doubt-
less you would have guessed the reason. — Jacob
was dead.

What w^ould you have said, if you had heard
the Levite speaking to his wite, when he found
her lying before the door in Gibeah ? " Up,"
he said, " and let us be going. But none an-
swered." (Judg. xix. 28.) His words were
thrown away. There she lay, motionless, stiff,
and cold. You know the cause. — She was

What would you have thought, if you had
seen the Amalekite stripping Saul of his royal
ornaments in Mount Gilboa ? He " took from
him the crown that was upon his head, and the
bracelet that was on his arm." (2 Sam. i. 10.)
There was no resistance. Not a muscle moved
in that proud face. Not a finger was raised to
prevent him. And why ? — Saul was dead.

What should you have thought, if you had
met the widow's son in the gate of Nain, lying
on a bier, wrapped about with grave-clothes,
followed by his weeping mother, carried slowly
towards the tomb? (Luke vii. 12.) Doubtless


j it would have been all clear to you. It would
j have needed no explanation. — The young man
j was dead.

I Now, I say this is just the condition of every

i man by nature in the matter of his soul. I say
j this is just the state of the vast majority of
people around us in spiritual things, God calls
to them continually, — by mercies, by afflictions,
by ministers, by His word ; — but they do not
hear His voice. The Lord Jesus Christ mourns
over them, pleads with them, sends them gra-
cious invitations, knocks at the door of their
hearts ; — but they do not regard it. The crown
and glory of their being, that precious jewel,
their immortal soul, is being seized, plundered,
and taken away ; — and they are utterly uncon-
cerned. The devil is carrying them away, day
I after day, along the broad road that leads to
I destruction ; — and they allow him to make them
his captives without a struggle. And this is
going on everywhere, — all around you, — among
all classes, — through the length and breadth of
the land. You know it in your own conscience,
while you read this paper. You must be aware


of it. You cannot deny it. And what then,
I ask you, can be said naore perfectly true than
that which God says, We are all by nature
spiritually dead?

Yes ! when a man's heart is cold and uncon-
cerned about religion, — when his hands are
never employed in doing God's work,— when
his feet are hot familiar with God's ways, —
when his tongue is seldom or never used in
prayer and praise, — when his ears are deaf to
the voice of Christ in the Gospel, — when his
eyes are blind to the beauty of the kingdom of
heaven, — when his mind is full of the world,
and has no room for spiritual things, — when
these marks are to be found in a man, the word
of the Bible is the right word to use about him,
and that word is "dead."

We may not like this perhaps. We may
shut our eyes both to facts in the world, and
texts in the Word. But God's truth must be
spoken, and to keep it back does positive harm.
Truth must be spoken, however condemning it
may be. So long as n'lan does not serve God
with body, soul, and spirit, he is not really aliva


So long as he puts the first things last and the
last first, buries his talent like an unprofitable
servant, and brings the Lord no revenue of
honor, so long; in God's sight he is dead. He
is not filling the place in creation for which he
was intended. He is not using his powers and
faculties as God meant them to be used. The
poet's words are strictly true,

" He only lives who lives to God,
And all are dead beside."

This is the true explanation of sin not felt, —
and sermons not believed, — and good advice
not followed, — and the Gospel not embraced, —
and the world not forsaken, — and the cross not
taken up, — and self-will not mortified, — and evil
habits not laid aside, — and the Bible seldom
read — and the knee never bent in prayer. Why
is all this on every side ? The answer is simple.
Men are dead.

This is the true account of that host of ex-
cuses for neglect of religion, w^hich so many
make with one consent. Some have no learn-
ing, and some have no time. Some are op-
pressed with business, and some with povertv-


Some have difficulties in their own families,
and some in their own health. Some have pe-
culiar obstacles in their calling, v\'hich others,
we are told, cannot understand; and others have
peculiar drawbacks at home, and they wait to
have them removed. But God has a shorter
word in the Bible, which describes all these
people at once. He says, they are dead.

This is the true explanation of many things
which wring a faithful minister's heart. Many
around him never attend a place of worship at
all. Many attend so irregularly, that it is clear
they think it of no importance. Many attend
once on a Sunday, who might just as easily
attend twice. Many never come to the Lord's
table, — never appear at a week-day means of
grace of any kind. And why is all this ? Often,
far too often, there can only be one reply about
these people. They are dead.

See now, dear Reader, how all professing

Christians should examine themselves and try

their own state. It is not in church-yards alone

where the dead are to be found. There are

winly too many inside our churches, and close


to our pulpits, — too many on the benches, and
too many in the pews. The land is like the
valley in Ezekiel's vision, full of bones, and
those very dry. There are dead souls in all
our parishes, and dead souls in all our streets.
There is hardly a family in which all live to
God. There is hardly a house in which there
is not some one dead. Oh ! search and look at
home. Prove your own self

See too how sad is the condition of all who
have gone through no spiritual change, whose
hearts are still the same as in the day they were
born. There is a mountain of division between
them and heaven. They have yet to pass from
death to life. Oh ! that, they did but see and
know their danger ! Alas ! it is one fearful
mark of spiritual death, that, like natural death,
it is not felt. We lay our beloved ones ten-
derly and gently in their narrow beds, but they
feel nothing of what we do. " The dead," says
the wise man, " know not anything." (Eccl. ix.
5.) And this is just the case with dead souls.

See too what reason ministers have to be
anxious about their congregations. We feel


that time is short, and Hfe is uncertain. We
know that death spiritual is the high-road that
leads to death eternal. We fear lest any of
those we preach to should die in their sins, un-
prepared, unrenewed, impenitent, unchanged.
Oh! marvel not if we often speak strongly, and
plead with you warmly. We dare not give you
flattering titles, amuse you with trifles, say
smooth things, and cry peace, peace, when
life and death are at stake, and nothing less.
The plague is among you. We feel that we
stand between the living and the dead. We
must and will use great plainness of speech.
"If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who
shall prepare himself for the battle?" (1 Cor.
xiv. 8.)

II. Let me tell you, in the second place,
what every man needs who would he saved, — he
must he quickened and made alive.

Life is the mightiest of all possessions. From
death to life is the mightiest of all changes.
And no change short of this will ever avail to
fit man's soul for heaven.

Yes ! it is not a little mendina and alteration.


— a little cleansing and purifying, — a little
painting and patching, — a little turning over a
new leaf, and putting on a new outside, that is
wanted. It is the bringing in of something
altogether new, — the planting within us a rjew
nature, — a new being, — a new principle, — a
new heart, — this alone, and nothing less than
this, will ever meet the necessities of man's

To hew a block of marble from the quarry,
and carve it into a noble statue, — to break up a
waste wilderness, and turn it into a garden of
flowers, — to melt a lump of iron-stone, and forge
it into watch-springs; — all these are mighty
changes. Yet they all come short of the change
which every child of Adam requires, for they
are merely the same thing in a new form, the
same substance in a new shape. But man re-
quires the grafting in of that which he had not
before. He needs a change as great as a res-

* " It is not a little reforming will pave the man, no, nor all
the morality of the world, nor all the common graces of God'a
Spirit, nor the outward change of the life : they will not do,
unless we are quickened and have a new life wrought in us."
— Usher's Sermons.


urrection from the dead. He must become a
new creature. Old things must pass away, and
all things must become new. He must be
born again, born from above, born of God.
The natural birth is not a whit more necessary
to the life of the body, than is the spiritual
birth to the life of the soul.

I know well this is a hard saying. I know
well the children of this world dislike to hear
they must be born again. It pricks their con-
sciences. It makes them feel they are further
off from heaven than they are willing to allow.
It seems like a narrow door which they have not
yet stooped to enter, and they would fain make
the door wider, or climb in some other way.
But I dare not give place by subjection in this
matter. I will not foster a delusion, and tell
people they only need repent a little, and stir
up a gift they have within them, in order to be-
/:ome real Christians. I dare not use any other
language than that of the Bible. And I say in
the words which are written for our learning, —
we all need to be born again, we are all natu-
rally dead, and must be made alive.


Reader, if you had seen Manasseh, king of
Judah, at one time filling Jerusalem with idols,
and murdering his children in honor of false
gods, at another purifying the temple, putting
down idolatry, and living a godly life ; — if you
had seen Zacchaeus, the publican of Jericho, at
one time cheating, plundering, and covetous, at
another following Christ, and giving half his
goods to the poor ; — if you had seen the ser-
vants of Nero's household, at one time conform-
ing to their master's profligate ways, at another
of one heart and mind with the apostle Paul;
— if you had seen the ancient father, Augustine,
at one time living in open neglect of the seventh
commandment, at another walking closely with
God ; — if you had seen our own Reformer, Lati-
mer, at one time preaching earnestly against
the truth as it is in Jesus, at another spending
and being spent even to death in its cause ; —
if vou had seen the New Zealanders, or Tinne-
velly Hindoos, at one time blood-thirsty, im-
moral, and sunk in abominable superstitions, at
another holy, pure, and believing Christians ; — •
if you had seen these wonderful changes, or


any of them, I ask you what you would have
said ? Would you thave been content to call
them nothing more than amendments and altera-
tions? Would you have been satisfied with
saying that Augustine had reformed his ways,
and Latimer turned over a new leaf? Verily,
if you had said no more than this, the very
stones would have cried out. I tell you in all
these cases there was nothing less than a new
birth, a resurrection of human nature, a quicken-
ing of the dead. These are the right words to
use. All other language is weak, poor, beg-
garly, unscripturaJ, and short of the truth.

Now I will not shrink from saying plainly,
we all need the same kind of change, if we are
to be saved. The difference between us and
any of those I have just named, is far less
than it appears. Take off the outward crust,
and you will find the same nature beneath in
us and them, an evil nature requiring a com-
plete change. The face of the earth is very
different in different climates, but the heart of
the earth, I am told, is everywhere the same.
Go where you will, from one end to the other,


you would always find the granite rock beneath
your feet, if you only bored down deep enough.
And it is just the same with men's hearts.
Their customs and their colors, their ways and
their laws, may all be utterly unlike, but the
inner man is always the same; — their hearts
are all alike at the bottom, all stony, all hard,
all ungodly, all needing to be thoroughly re-
newed. The Englishman and the New Zea-
Jander, stand on the same level in this matter.
Both are naturally dead, and both need to be
made alive. Both are children of the same
father Adam, who fell by sin, and both need
to be born again, and made children of God.

Reader, whatever part of the globe we live
in, our eyes need to be opened : naturally we
never see our sinfulness, guilt, and danger.
Whatever nation we belong to, our understand- \
ings need to be enlightened :* naturally we

* " Man's understanding is so darkened that he can see
nothing of God in God, nothing of holiness in holiness, nothing
of good in good, nothing of evil in evil, nor anything of sin-
fulness in sin. Nay, it is so darkened that he fancies himself
to see good in evil, and evil in good, happiness in sin,, and
misery in holiness." — Bishop Beveridge on the Articles.


know little or nothing of the plan of salvation;
— like the Babel-builders, we think to get to
heaven our own way. Whatever church we
may belong to, our wills need to be bent in the
right direction ; — naturally we should never
choose the things which are for our peace, — we
should never conae to Christ. Whatever be
our rank in life, our affections need to be turned
to things above ; — naturally we only set them
on things below, earthly, sensual, short-lived,
and vain. Pride must give place to humility,
— self-righteousness to self-abasement, — care-
lessness to seriousness — worldliness to holiness,
— unbelief to faith. Satan's dominion must be
put down within us, and the kingdom of God
set up. Self must be crucified, and Christ must
reign. Till these things come to pass, we are
dead as stones. When these things begin to
take place, and not till then, we are alive.

Reader, I dare to say this sounds like foolish-
ness to some. I tell you that many a living
man could stand up this day and testify that it is
true. Many a one could tell you that he knows
A all by experience, and that he does indeed


feel himself a new man. He loves the things that
once he hated, and hates the things that once
he loved. He has new habits, new companions,
new ways, new tastes, new feelings, new
opinions, new sorrows, new joys, new anxieties,
new pleasures, new hopes, and new fears.* In
short, the whole bias and current of his being
is changed. Ask his nearest relations and
friends, and they would bear witness to it.
Whether they liked it or not, they vvould be
obliged to confess he was no longer the same.

Many a one could tell you that once he did
not think himself such a very great transgressor.
At any rate he fancied he was no worse than
others. Now he would say, with the apostle
Paul, he feels himself the chief of sinners. f

* " How wonderfully doth the new-born soul differ from
his former self. He liveth a new life, he walketh in a new
way, he steereth his com'se by a new compass and towards a
new coast. His principle is new, his j^attern is new, his prac-
tices are new, his projects are new, all is new. He ravels
out all he had wove before, and eraployeth himself wholly
about another work." — George Sioinnocke. 1660.

f " I cannot pray, but I sin : I cannot hear or preach a
sermon, but I sin : I cannot give an alms, or receive the sacra-
ment, but I sin : nay, I cannot so much as confess my sins,


Once he did not consider he had a bad heart.
He might have his faults, and be led away by
bad connpany and tenaptations, but he had a
good heart at the bottom. Now he would tell
you he knows no heart so bad as his own. He
finds it deceitful above all things, and des-
perately wicked.

Once he did not suppose it was a very hard
matter to get to heaven. He thought he had
only to repent, and say a few prayers, and do
what he could, and Christ would make up what
was wanting. Now he believes the way is
narrow, and few find it. He is convinced he
could never have made his own peace with

but my confessions are still aggravations of them. My re-
pentance needs to be repented of, my tears want washing,
and the very washing of my tears needs still to be washed over
again with the blood of my Redeemer." — Bishop Beveridge.

" Woe is me, that man should think there is anything in
me ! He is my witness, before whom I am as crystal, that
the secret house-devils, that bear me too often compan}', that
the corruption which I find within, make me go with low
sails." — Rutherford' s Letters. 1637.

" I am sick of all I do, and stand astonished that the Re-
deemer still continues to make use of and bless me. Surely
1 am more foolish than any man ; no one receives so much
and does so little." — Whitejield's Letters.



God. He is persuaded that nothing but the
blood of Christ could wash away his sins. His
only hope is to be justified by faith without the
deeds of the law.

Once he could see no beauty and excellence
in the Lord Jesus Christ. He could not under-
stand some ministers speaking so much about
Him. Now he would tell you he is the pearl
above all price, the chiefest among ten thousand,
— his Redeemer, his Advocate, his Priest, his
King, his Physician, his Shepherd, his all.

Once he thought lightly about sin. He could
not see the necessity of being so particular
about it. He could not think a man's words
and thoughts and actions were of such impor-
tance, and required such watchfulness. Now
he would tell you sin is the abominable thing
which he hates, the sorrow and burden of his
life. He longs to be more holy. He can enter
thoroughly into Whitefield's desire, " I want to j
go where I shall neither sin myself, nor see
others sin any more.''

Once he found no pleasure in means of grace. j
The Bible was neglected. His prayers, if he |


had any, were a mere form. Sermons were a
weariness, and often sent him to sleep. Now
all is altered. These things are the food, the
comfort, the delight of his soul.

Once he disliked earnest-minded Christians.
He shunned them as melancholy, low-spirited,
weak people. Now they are the excellent of
the earth, of whom he cannot see too much.
He is never so happy as he is in their company.
He feels if all men and women were saints ii
would be heaven upon earth.

Once he cared only for this world, its pleas-
ures, its business, its occupations, its rewards.
Now he looks upon it as an empty, unsatisfying
place, — an inn, — a lodging, — a training-school
for the life to come. His treasure is in heaven.
His home is beyond the grave.

Reader, I ask you once more, what is all this
but a new life ? Such a change as I have de-
scribed is no vision and fancy. It is a real
actual thing, which not a few in this world
have known or felt. It is not a picture of my
own imagining. It is a true thing, which many
a one could find at this moment hard by his



own doors. But wherever such a change does
take place, there you see the thing of which I
am now speaking, — you see the man made
alive, a new man, a new creature, a soul born

I would to God that changes such as these
were more common ! I would to God there
were not such multitudes, of whom we must
say even weeping, they know nothing about
the matter at all. But common or not, one
thing I say plainly, this is the kind of change
we all need. I do not hold that all must have
exactly the same experience. I allow most
fully that the change is different, in degree, ex-
tent, and intensity, in different persons. Grace
may be weak, and yet true ; — life may be feeble,
and yet real. But I do confidently affirm, we
must all go through something of this kind, if
ever we mean to be saved. Till this sort of
change has taken place, there is no life in us at
all. We may be living Churchmen, but we are
dead Christians.*

* " K we be still our old selves, no changelings at all, the
men that we came into the world, without defalcation


Take it home, every man or woman that
reads this paper, take it home to your own
conscience, and look at it well. Some time oi
other, between the cradle and the grave, all

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