J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

Living or dead? : a series of home truths online

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Redeemer, — peace with God for man without a
mighty Intercessor, — eternal life for man with-
out an eternal Saviour, — in one word, salva-
tion without Christ — all alike appear to me
utter impossibilities.

I lay these things before you, and ask you to
consider them. I know it is one of the hardest
things in the world to realize the sinfulness of
sin. To say we are all sinners is one thing ; to
have an idea what sin must be in the sight of
God is quite another. Sin is too much part of
ourselves, to allow us to see it as it is. We do
not feel our own moral deformity. We are
like those animals in creation which are vile
and loathsome to our senses, but are not so to
themselves, nor yet to one another. Their loath-
someness is their nature, and they do not per-
ceive it. Our corruption is part and parcel ot


ourselves, and at our best we have but a feeble
comprehension of its intensity.

But this you may be sure of, if you could
see your own lives v^dth the eyes of the angels
who never fell, you would never doubt this
point for a moment. Depend on it, no one can
really know what man is, and not see that the
doctrine of our text must be true. There can
be no salvation except by Christ.

2. Let me say another thing. The doc-
trine of our text must be true, because God is
what God is.

Now, what is God ? That is a deep question
indeed. We know something of his attributes.
He has not left himself without witness in cre-
ation. He has mercifully revealed to us many
things about Himself in His word. We know
that God is a Spirit, — eternal, — invisible, —
almighty, — the Maker of all things, — the Pre-
server of all things, — holy, — ^just, — all-seeing,
— all-knowing. — all-remembering, — infinite in
mercy, in wisdom, in purity.

But alas ! after all, how low and grovelling
are our highest ideas, when we come to put


down on paper what we believe God to be !
How many words and expressions we use
whose full meaning we cannot fathom! How
many things our tongues say of Him, which
our minds are utterly unable to conceive !

How small a part of Him do we see ! How
little of Him can we possibly knov^^ ! How
mean and paltry are any words of ours to con-
vey any idea of Him who made this mighty
world out of nothing, and with whom one day
is as a thousand years, and a thousand years
as one day! How weak and inadequate are
our .poor feeble intellects to conceive of Him
who is perfect in all His works, — perfect in
the greatest as well as perfect in the smallest,
— perfect in appointing the days and hours in
w^hich Jupiter, with all his satellites, shall travel
round the sun, — perfect in forming the smallest
insect that creeps over a few feet of our little
globe ! How little can our busy helplessness
comprehend a Being who is ever ordering all
things in heaven and earth by universal provi-
dence, — ordering the rise and fall of nations
and dynasties, like Nineveh and Carthage ; —


ordering the exact length to which men like
Alexander, and Tamerlane, and Napoleon shall
extend their conquests, — ordering the least step
in the life of the humblest believer among His
people, — all at the same time, — all unceas-
ingly, — all perfectly, — all for His own glory !

The blind man is no judge of the paintings
of Rubens or Titian. The deaf man is insen-
sible to the beauty of Handel's music. The
Greenlander can have but a faint notion of the
climate of the tropics. The Australian savage
can form but a remote conception of a locomo-
tive engine, however well you may describe
it. There is no place in their minds to take in
these things. They have no set of thoughts
which can comprehend them. They have no
mental fingers to grasp them. And just in the
same way, the best and brightest ideas that
man can form of God, compared with the re-
ality which we shall see one day, are weak and
faint indeed.

But, Reader, one thing, I think, is very clear,
and that is this. The more any man considers
calmly what God really is, the more he must


feel the immeasurable distance between God
and himself. The more he meditates, the more
he must see that there is a great gulf between
him and God. His conscience, I think, will
tell him, if he will let it speak, that God is per-
fect, and he imperfect ; — that God is very high,
and he very low ; — that God is glorious Ma-
jesty, and he a poor worm ; — and that if ever
he is to stand before Him in judgment with
comfort, he must have some mighty Helper, or
he will not be saved.

And what is all this but the very doctrine of
our text ? What is all this but coming round
to the conclusion I am urging upon you? With
such an one as God to give account to, we
must have a mighty Saviour. To give us
peace with such a glorious Being as God, we
must have an Almighty Friend and Advocate
on our side, — an Advocate who can answer
every charge that can be laid against us, and
plead our cause with God on equal terms. We
want this, and nothing less than this. Vague
notions of mercy will never give true peace.
And such a Saviour, such a Friend, such an


Advocate is nowhere to be found, excepting
in the person of Jesus Christ.

I lay this reason also before you. I know
well that people may have false notions of God,
as well as everything else, and shut their eyes
against truth. But I say boldly and confi-
dently, no man can have really high and honor-
able views of what God is, and escape the
conclusion that the doctrine of our text must
be true. There can be no possible salvation,
but by Jesus Christ.

3. Let me say, in the third place, this doc-
trine must be true, because the Bible is ivhat
the Bible is.

All through the Bible, from Genesis down to
Revelation, there is only one simple account of
the way in which men must be saved. It is
always the same,— only for the sake of our
Lord Jesus Christ, — through faith, — not for
our own works and deservings.

You see it dimly revealed at first. It looms
through the mist of a few promises, but there
it is.

You have it more plainly afterwards. It is


taught by the pictures and emblems of the law
of Moses, the schoolmaster dispensation. (Gal.
iii. 24.)

You have it still more clearly by-and-by.
The Prophets saw in vision many particulars
about the Redeemer yet to come.

You have it fully at last, in the sunshine
of the New Testament history, — Christ incar-
nate, — Christ crucified, — Christ rising again, —
Christ preached to the world.

But one golden chain runs through the whole
volume, — no salvation excepting by Jesus
Christ. The bruising of the serpent's head,
foretold in the day of the fall, — the clothing of
our first parents with skins, — the sacrifices of
Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, — the pass-
over, and all the particulars of the Jewish law,
— the high-priest,^the altar, — the daily oflTer-
ing of the lamb, — the holy of holies entered
only by blood, — the scapegoat, — the cities of
refuge, — all are so many witnesses to the truth
set forth in the text, — all preach with one
voice, salvation only by Jesus Christ.

In fact this truth appears to me the grand


subject of the Bible, and all the different parts
and portions of the Book are meant to throw
light upon it. I can gather from it no ideas
of pardon and peace with God, excepting in
connection with this truth. If I could read of
one soul in it, who was saved without faith in
a Saviour, I might perhaps not speak so confi-
dently. But I see that faith in Christ, — wheth-
er a coming Christ, or a crucified Christ, —
was the prominent feature in the religion of all
who went to heaven. I see Abel owning Christ
in his better sacrifice at one end of the Bible,
and the saints in glory in John's vision, rejoic-
ing in Christ at the other end of the Bible. I
see a man like Cornelius, who was devout and
feared God, and gave alms, and prayed, not
told that he had done all, and would of course
be saved, but ordered to send for Peter, and
hear of Christ. And when I see all these facts,
I feel bound to believe that the doctrine of the
text is the doctrine of the whole Bible, — no
salvation, no way to heaven excepting by Jesus

Reader, I do not know what use you make


of your Bible, — whether you read it, or wheth-
er you do not, — whether you read it all, or
Vv'hether you only read such parts as you like.
But this I tell you plainly, if you read and be-
lieve the whole Bible, you will find it hard to
escape the doctrine of the eighteenth Article
of the Church of England already quoted. I
do not see how you can consistently reject
what I have been endeavoring to prove. —
Christ is the way, — and the only way, — Christ
the truth, and the only truth, — Christ the life,
and the only life.

Such are the reasons which seem to me to
confirm the truth laid down in our text. What
man is, — what God is, — what the Bible is ; —
all appear to me to lead us on to the same great
conclusion, — no possible salvation without
Christ. I leave them with you, and pass on.

III. And now, in the third and last place,
let me show you some consequences which Jloio
naturally out of our text.

There are few parts of this subject which
seem to me more important than this. The
truth I have been trying to set before you,



bears so strongly on the condition of a great
proportion of mankind, that I consider it would
be mere affectation on my part, not to say some-
thing about it. If Christ is the only way of
salvation, what are we to feel about many
people in the world ? This is the point I am
now going to take up.

I believe that many persons will go with me
so far as I have gone, and would go no further.
They will allow my premises. They will have
nothing to say to my conclusions. They think
it uncharitable to say anything which appears
to condemn others. For my part I cannot un-
derstand such charity. It seems to me the
kind of charity which w^ould see a neighbor
drinking slow poison, but never interfere to
stop him ; — which would allow emigrants to
embark in a leaky, ill-found vessel, and not in-
terfere to prevent them ; — which would see a
blind man walking near a precipice, and think
it wrong to cry out and tell him there was

I believe the greatest charity is to tell the
greatest quantity of truth. I believe it is no


charity to hide the legitimate consequences of
such a text as we are now considering, or to
shut our eyes against them. And I solemnly
call on every one who really believes there is
no salvation in any but Christ, — and none
other name given under heaven wherel^ we
must be saved, — I solemnly call on that person
to listen to me, while I set before him some
of the tremendous consequences which the text

I am not going to speak of the heathen, who
have never heard the Gospel. Their final state
is a great depth, which the mightiest minds
have been unable to fathom. I am not asham-
ed of leaving it alone. One thing only I will
say, — if any of the heathen, who die heathen,
are saved, I believe they will owe their salva-
tion, however little they may know it on this
side of the grave, to the work and atonement
of Christ. Just as infants and idiots among
ourselves will find in the last day they owed
all to Christ, though they never knew Him, so
I believe it will be with the heathen, if any of
them are saved, whether many or few. For


this I am sure of, there is no such thing as crea-
ture naerit. My own private opinion is, that
the highest archangel, (though of course in a
very different way and degree from us,) will be
found in some way to own his standing to
Chriit, and that things in heaven, as well as
things on earth, will ultimately be found all in-
debted to the name of Jesus. But I leave the
case of the heathen to others, and will speak
of matters nearer home.

One mighty consequence then which seems
to be learned from this text, \st1ie utter useless-
ness of any religion without Christ.

There are many to be found in Christen-
dom at this day, who have a religion of this
kind. They would not like to be called Deists,
but Deists they are. That there is a God, —
that there is what they are pleased to call Prov-
idence, — that God is merciful, — that there will
be a state after death, — this is about the sum
and substance of their creed. And as to the
distinguishing tenets of Christianity, they do
not seem to recognize them at all. Now I de-
nounce such a system as a baseless fabric, — its


seeming foundation man's fancy, — its hopes, an
utter delusion. The god of such people is an
idol of their own invention, and not the glori-
ous God of the Scriptures, — a miserably imper-
fect being, even on their own showing, — with-
out holiness, without justice, without any at-
tribute but that of vague indiscriminate mercy.
Such a religion may possibly do as a toy to
live with ; — it is far too unreal to die with. It
utterly fails to meet the wants of man's con-
science. It offers no remedy. It affords no
rest for the soles of our feet. It cannot com-
fort, for it cannot save. Reader, beware of it,
if you love life. Beware of a religion with-
out Christ.

Another consequence to be learned from the
text is, the folly of any religion in which
Christ has not the first place.

I need not remind you how many hold a
system of this kind. The Socinian tells us that
Christ was a mere man ; that his blood had no
nrore efficacy than that of another; that His
death on the cross was not a real atonement
and propitiation for man's sins; and that after


all doing is the way to heaven, and not be-
lieving. I solemnly declare that I believe such
a system is ruinous to men's souls. It seems
to me to strike at the root of the whole plan
of salvation which God has revealed in the
Bible, and practically to nullify the greater part
of the Scriptures. It overthrows the priest-
hood of the Lord Jesus, and strips Him of His
office. It converts the whole system of the
law of Moses touching sacrifices and ordi-
nances, into a meaningless form. It seems to
say that the sacrifice of Cain was just as good
as the sacrifice of Abel. It turns man adrift
on a sea of uncertainty, by plucking from
under him the finished work of a divine Medi-
ator. Beware of it, Reader, no less than of
Deism, if you love life. Beware of the least
attempt to depreciate and undervalue Christ's
person, ofllces, or work. The name whereby
alone you and I can be saved, is a name above
every name, and the slightest contempt poured
upon it is an insult to the King of kings. The
salvation of your soul has been laid by God the
Father on Christ, and no other ; and if He were


not very God of very God, He never could
accomplish it, — there could be no salvation
at all.

Another consequence to be learned from our
text is, the great error committed by those who
add anything to Christ, as necessary to sal-

It is an easy thing to profess belief in the
Trinity, and reverence for our Lord Jesus
Christ, and yet to make some addition to
Christ, as the ground of hope, and so to over-
throw the doctrine of the text as really and
completely as by denying it altogether.

The Church of Rome does this systemati-
cally. She adds things over and above the
requirements of the Gospel, of her own inven-
tion. She speaks as if Christ's finished work
was not Ti sufficient foundation for a sinner's
soul ; and as if it was not enough to say, " Be-
lieve on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt
be saved." She sends men to penances and
absolution, to masses and extreme unction, to
fasting and bodily mortification, to the Virgin
and the saints, — as if these things could add to


the safety there is in Christ Jesus. And in
doing this she sins against our text with a high
hand. Let us beware of any Romish hanker-
ing after additions to the simple way of the
Gospel, from whatever quarter it may come.

But I fear the Church of Rome does not stand
alone in this matter. I fear therf^re thousands
of professing Protestants, who are often erring
in the same direction, although of course in a
very different degree. They get into a way
of adding, perhaps insensibly, other names to
the name of Christ, or attaching an importance
to them which they nej^et ought to receive.
The ultra Churchman in-^ngland, who thinks
God's covenanted mercies are tied to 'epis-
copacy, — the ultra Presbyterian in Scotland,
who cannot reconcile prelacy with an intel-
ligent knowledge of the Gospel, — -the ultra
Free-kirk man by his side, who seems to think
lay patronage and vital Christianity almost in-
compatible, — the ultra Dissenter, who traces
every evil in the Church to its connection with
the state, and can talk of nothing but the volun-
tary system, — the ultra Baptist, who shuts out


from the Lord's table every one who has not
received his views of adult baptism, — the ultra
Plymouth Brother, who believes all knowledge
to reside with his own body, and condemns
every one outside as a poor weak babe ; — all
these, I say, however unwittingly, appear to
me to have a most uncomfortable tendency to
add to the doctrine of our text. All seem to
me to be practically declaring that salvation is
not to be found simply and solely in Christ. All
seem to me to be practically adding another
name to the name of Jesus whereby men must
be saved, even the name of their own party
and sect. All seem to me to be practically re-
plying to the question, " What shall I do to be
saved?" not merely, "Believe on the Lord
Jesus Christ," but also, " Come and join us."

Now I call upon every true Christian to
beware of such ultraism, in whatsoever form
he may be inclined to it. In saying this, I
would not be misunderstood. I Hke every one
to be decided in his views of ecclesiastical
matters, and to be fully persuaded of their cor-
rectness. All I ask is, that you will not put



these things in the place of Christ, or place
them anywhere near Him, or speak of them
as if you thought them needful to salvation.
However dear to us our own peculiar views
may be, let us beware of thrusting them in be-
tween the sinner and the Saviour. Let us be-
ware, in short, of adding to the doctrine of the
text. In the things of God's word, be it re-
membered, addition, as well as subtraction, is
a great sin.

The last consequence which seems to me to
be learned from our text is, the utter absurdity
of supposing that we ought to he satisfied
with a marts state of soul if he is only sincere.

This is a very common heresy indeed, and
one against which we all need to be on our
guard. There are thousands who say, in the
present day, " We have nothing to do with the
opinions of others. They may perhaps be
mistaken, though it is possible they are right
and we are wrong; — but if they are sincere
we hope they will be saved, even as we." And
all this sounds liberal and charitable, and people
like to fancy their own views are so.


Now, I believe such notions are entirely con-
tradictory to the Bible, whatever else they may
be. I cannot find in Scripture that any one
ever got to heaven merely by sincerity, or was
accepted with God if lie was only earnest in
maintaining his own views. The priests of
Baal were sincere when they cut themselves
with knives and lancets till the blood gushed
out ; but still that did not prevent Elijah from
commanding them to be treated as wicked
idolaters. Manasseh, king of Judah, was doubt-
less sincere when he burned his children in the
fire to Moloch ; but who does not know that
he brought on himself great guilt by so doing ?
The Apostle Paul, when a Pharisee, was sin-
cere while he made havoc of the Church ; but
when his eyes were opened he mourned over
this as a special wickedness. Let us beware
of allowing for a moment, that sincerity is
everything, and that we have no right to think
ill of a man's spiritual state, because of the
opinions he holds, if he is only earnest in hold-
ing them. On such principles the Druidical
sacrifices, the car of Juggernaut, the Indian


Suttees, the systematic murders of the Thugs
the fires of Smithfield, might each and all be
defended. It will not stand. It will not bear
the test of Scripture. Once allow such no-
tions to be true, and you may as well throw
your Bible aside altogether. Sincerity is not
Christ, and therefore sincerity cannot put
away sin.

I dare be sure these consequences sound very
unpleasant to the minds of some who may read
them. But I tell you of them advisedly and
deliberately. I say calmly that a religion
without Christ, — a religion that takes away
from Christ, — a religion that adds anything to
Christ, — a religion that puts sincerity in the
place ot Christ, — all are dangerous, — all are to
be avoided, and all are alike contrary to the
doctrine of our text.

You may not like this. I am sorry for it.
You think me uncharitable, — illiberal, — nar-
row-minded, — bigoted, and so forth. Be it so.
But you will not tell me my doctrine is not
that of the word of God, and of the Church of
England, whose minister I am. That Doctrine


is salvation in Christ to the very uttermost,^
but out of Christ no salvation at all.

I feel it a duty to bear my solemn testimony
against the spirit of the day you live in ; to
warn you against its infection. It is not
Atheism I fear so much in the present times as
Pantheism. It is not the system which says
nothmg is true, so much as the system which'
says everything is true. It is not the system
which says there is no Saviour, so much as the
system which says there are many Saviours,
and many ways to peace. It is the system
which is so liberal, that it dares not say any-
thing is false. It is the system wiiich is so
charitable, that it will allow everything to be
true. It is the system which seems ready to
allow honor to others as well as our Lord Jesus
Christ, and to hope well of all men, however
contradictory their religious opinions may be.
Confucius and Zoroaster, — Socrates and Ma-
homet, — the Indian Brahmins and the African
devil- worshippers, — Arius and Pelagius, — Igna-
tius Loyola and Socinus, all are to be treated
respectfully, none are to be condemned. It is


the system which bids us smile complacently on
all the creeds and systems of religion, — the
'Bible and the Koran, — the Hindoo Vedas and
the Persian Zendavesta, — the old wives' fables
of Rabbinical writers and the rubbish of Pat-
ristic traditions, — the Racovian Catechism and
the Thirty-nine Articles, — the Revelations of
Emanuel Swedenborg and the Book of Mor-
mon of Joseph Smith ; — all are to be listened
to, none are to be denounced as lies. It is the
system which is so scrupulous about the feel-
ings of others, that we are never to say they
are wrong. It is the system which is so lib-
eral, that it calls a man a bigot, if he dares to
say, " I know m}^ views are right." This is
the system, this is the tone of feeling which I
fear in this day. This is the system which I
desire emphatically to testify against and de-

What is it but a bowing down before a great
idol, speciously called liberality ? What is it
all but a sacrificing of truth upon the altar of a
caricature of charity ? Beware of it, Reader,
— beware that the rushing stream of public


opinion does not carry you away. Beware of
it, if you believe the Bible. Beware of it, if
you are a consistent member of the Church of«
England. Has the Lord God spoken to us in
the Bible, or has He not ? Has He shown us
the way of salvation plainly in that Bible, or
has He not ? Has He declared to us the dan-
gerous state of all out of that way, or has He
not ? Gird up the loins of your mind, and look
these questions fairly in the face, and give them
an honest answer. Tell us that there is some
other inspired book beside the Bible, and then
we shall know what you mean. Tell us that
the whole Bible is not inspired, and then we
shall know where to meet you. But grant for
a moment that the Bible, the whole Bible, and
nothing but the Bible is God's truth, and then

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleLiving or dead? : a series of home truths → online text (page 11 of 16)