J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

Living or dead? : a series of home truths online

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I know not in what way you can escape the
doctrine of the text. From the liberality which
says everybody is right, — from the charity
which forbids you to say anybody is wrong, —
from the peace which is bought at the expense
of truth, may the good Lord deliver you !
I speak for myself. — I find no resting-place


between downright evangelical Christianity and
downright infidelity -r- whatever others may
^nd. I see no half-way house between them,
or houses that are roofless and cannot shelter
my weary soul. I can see consistency in an
infidel, however much I may pity him. I can
see consistency in the full maintenance of evan-
gelical truth. But as to a middle course be-
tween the two, I cannot see it, and I say so
plainly. Let it be called illiberal and unchar-
itable, I can hear God's voice nowhere except
in the Bible, and I can see no salvation for sin-
ners in the Bible excepting through Jesus
Christ. In Him I see abundance. Out of Him
I see none. And as for those who hold reli-
gions in which Christ is not all, whoever they
may be, I have a most uncomfortable feeling
about their safety. I do not for a moment say
that none of them are saved, but I say that
those who are saved are saved by their dis-
agreement with their own principles, and in
spite of their own system. The man who wrote
the famous line,

" He can't be wrong whose life is in the right,


was a great poet, undoubtedly, but he was a
wretched divine.

Let me conclude with a few words, by way
of application.

First of all, if there is no salvation except-
ing in Christ, make sure that you have an in-
terest in that salvation yourself. Do not be
content with hearing and approving, and as-
senting to the truth, and go no further. Seek
to have a personal interest in this salvation.
Lay hold by faith for your own soul. Rest
not till you know and feel that you have got
actual possession of that peace with God,
which Jesus offers, and that Christ is yours
and you are Christ's. If there were two or
three or more ways of getting to heaven, there
would be no necessity for pressing this matter
upon you. But if there is only one way you
will hardly wonder that I say " make sure that
you are in it."

Secondly, if there is no salvation excepting
in Christ, try to do good to the souls of all who
do not know Him as a Saviour. There are
millions in this miserable condition, — millions


in foreign lands, — millions in your own country,
— millions who are not trusting in Christ. You
ought to feel for them, if you are a true Chris-
tian; — you ought to pray for them; — you ought
to work for them, while there is yet time. Do
you really believe that Christ is the only way
to heaven ? — then live as if you believed it.

Look round the circle of your own relatives
and friends. Count them up one by one, and
think how many of them are not yet in Christ.
Try to do good to them in some way or other.
Act as a man should act who believes his
friends to be in danger. Do not be content
with their being kind and amiable, gentle and
good-tempered, moral and courteous, — be miser-
able about them till they come to Christ, and
trust in Him, — for miserable you ought to be.
Let nobody alone who is out of Christ, if only
you have opportunities of reaching him. I
know all this may sound like enthusiasm and
fanaticism. I wish there was more of it in the
world. Anything, I am sure, is better than a
quiet indifference about the souls of others, as
if everybody vv'as in the way to heaven. Noth-




ing, to my mind, so proves our little faith, as
our little feeling about the spiritual condition
of those around us.
i Thirdly, if there is no salvation excepting in

j Christ, let us love all who love the Lord Jesus
in sincerity and exalt Him as their Saviour,
whoever they may be. Let us not draw back
and look shy on others, because they do not
see eye to eye with ourselves in everything
Whether a man be a Free-kirk-man or an In-
dependent, a Wesleyan or a Baptist, let us love
him if he loves Christ, and gives Christ His
rightful place. We are all fast travelling to-
wards a place where names and forms and
Church-government will be nothing, and Christ
will be all. Let us get ready for that place
betimes, by loving all who are in the way that
leads to it.

This is the true charity, to believe all things,
and hope all things, so long as we see Bi-
ble doctrines maintained, and Christ exalted.
Christ must be the single standard by which
all opinions must be measured. Let us honor
all who honor Him. But let us never forget


that the same Apostle Paul who wrote about
charity, says also, " If any man love ijot the
Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema."
(1 Cor. xvi. 22.) If our charity and liberality
are wider than that of the Bible, they are
worth nothing at all. Indiscriminate love is no
love at all, and indiscriminate approbation of
all religious opinions, is only a new name for
infidelity. Let us hold out the right hand to
all who love the Lord Jesus, but let us beware
how we go beyond this.

Lastly, if there is no salvation excepting by
Christ, you must not be surprised if ministers
of the Gospel preach much ^bout Him. We
cannot tell you too much about the Name
which is above every name. You cannot hear
of Him too often. You may hear too much
about controversy in our sermons, — you may
hear too much of men and books, of works and
duties, of forms and ceremonies, of sacraments
and ordinances. But there is one subject
which you never hear too much of, — you can
never hear too much of Christ.

When we are wearied of p-reaching Him,


we are false ministers. When you are wea-
ried of hearing of Him, your souls are in an
unhealthy state. When we have preached Him
all our lives, the half of His excellence will
remain untold. When you see Him face to
face in the day of His appearing, you will find
there was more in Him than your heart ever

Let me leave you with the words of an old
writer, to which I desire humbly to subscribe :
— " I know no true religion but Christianity ;
no true Christianity but the doctrine of Christ,
— the doctrine of His divine person, of His
divine office, of His divine righteousness, and
of His divine Spirit, which all that are His
receive. I know no true ministers of Christ,
but such as make it their business, in their
calling, to commend Jesus Christ, in His saving
fulness of grace and glory, to the faith and love
of men ; — no true Christian but one united ^to
Christ by faith and love, unto the glorifying
of the name of Jesus Christ in the beauty
of Gospel holiness. Ministers and Christians


of this spirit have been for many years my
brethren and companions, and I hope shall
ever be, whithersoever the hand of God shall
lead me."

(Clirist ani tljE tran ^inw.






Luke xxiu. 39-43

Reader, —

You know these verses, I suppose. It
would be strange indeed if you did not. Few
passages in the New Testament are more famil-
iar to men's ears.

And it is right and good that these verses
should be well known. They have comforted
many troubled minds. They have brought


peace to many uneasy consciences. They
have been a healing balm to many wounded
hearts. They have been a medicine to many
sin-sick souls. They have smoothed down not
a few dying pillows. Wherever the Gospel of
Christ is preached, they will always be hon-
ored, loved, and had in remembrance.

Reader, I wish to speak to you about these
verses. Listen to me while I try to unfold the
leading lessons which they are meant to teach.
I cannot see the state of your heart before God,
but I can see truths in this passage which no
man can ever know too well.

I. First of all you are meant to learn from
these verses Chrisfs poioer and willingness to
save sinners.

This is the main doctrine to be gathered from
the history of the penitent thief It teaches
you that which ought to be music in the ears
of all who hear it, — it teaches you that Jesus
Christ is mighty to save.

I ask you if any man's case could look more
hopeless and desperate, than that of this peni-
tent thief once did?


He was a wicked man — a malefactor, — a
thief, if not a murderer. We know this, for
such only were crucified. He was suffering
a just punishment for breaking the laws. And
as he had lived wicked, so he seemed deter-
mined to die wicked, — for when he first was
crucified he railed on our Lord.

And he was a dying man. He hung there,
nailed to a cross, from which he was never to
come down alive. He had no longer power to
stir hand or foot. His hours were numbered.

j The grave was ready for him. There was but

I a step between him and death.

j If ever there was a soul hovering on the

I brink of hell, it was the soul of this thief. If
ever there was a case that seemed lost, gone,
and past recovery, it was his. If ever there
was a child of Adam whom the devil made sure
of as his own, it was this man.

I But see now what happened. He ceased to

I rail and blasphem.e, as he had done at the first.

i He began to speak in another manner alto-
gether. He turned to our blessed Lord in
prayer. He prayed Jesus to " remember him


when He came into His kingdom." He asked
that his soul might be cared for, his sins par-
doned, and himself thought of in another world.
Truly this was a wonderful change.

And then mark what kind of answer he re-
ceived. Some would have said he was too
wicked a man to be saved. But it was not so.
Some would have fancied it was too late, the
door was shut, and there was no room for
mercy. But it proved not too late at all. The
Lord Jesus returned him an immediate answer,
— spoke kindly to him, — assured him he should
be with Him that day in paradise, — pardoned
him completely — cleansed him thoroughly from
his sins — received him graciously — ^justified
him freely — raised him from the gates of hell,
— gave him a title to glory. Of all the multi-
tude of saved souls, none ever received so
glorious an assurance of his own salvation, as
did this penitent thief. Go over the whole list
from Genesis to Revelation, and you will find
none who had such words spoken to them as
these, ''To-day shalt thou be with me in


Reader, the Lord Jesus never gave so com-
plete a proof of His power and will to save, as
He did upon this occasion. In the day when
He seemed most weak, He showed that he was
a strong deliverer. In the hour when his body
was racked with pain, He showed that He
could feel tenderly for others. At the time
when He Himself was dying, he conferred on
a sinner eternal life.

Now have I not a right to say, " Jesus is
able to save to the uttermost all them that
come unto God through Him ?" Behold the
proof of it. If ever sinner was too far gone to
be saved, it was this thief. Yet he was plucked
as a brand from the fire.

Have I not a right to say, " Christ will re-
ceive any poor sinner who comes to Him with
the prayer of faith, and cast out none ?" Be-
hold the proof of it. If ever there was one that
seemed too bad to be received, this was the
man. Yet the door of mercy was wide open
j even for him.

I Have I not a right to say, " By grace ye may

I be saved through faith, not of works, — fear not,


only believe ?" Behold the proof of it. This
thief was never baptized. He belonged to no
visible church. He never received the Lord's
Supper. He never did any work for Christ.
He never gave money to Christ's cause, — But
he had faith, and so he was saved.

Have I not a right to say, " The youngest
faith will save a naan's soul, if it only be true ?"
Behold the proof of it. This man's faith was
only one day old, but it led him to Christ, and
preserved him from hell.

Why then should any man or woman de-
spair with such a passage as this in the Bible ?
Jesus is a physician who can cure hopeless
cases. He can quicken dead souls, and call
the things which be not as though they were.

Never should any man or woman despair !
Jesus is still the same now that He was eighteen
hundred years ago. The keys of death and
hell are in His hand. When He opens none
can shut.*

* " Saviour, what a precedent is this of thy free and
powerful grace 1 Where thou wilt give, what unworthiness
can bar us from thy mercy ? When thou wilt give, what


What though your sins be more in number
than the hairs of your head ? What though
your evil habits have grown witli your growth,
and strengthened with your strength ? What
though you have hitherto hated good, and loved
evil, all the days of your life ? These things
are sad indeed ; but there is hope even for you.
Christ can heal you. Christ can cleanse you.
Christ can raise you from your low estate.
Heaven is not shut against you. Christ is able
to admit you, if you will humbly commit your
soul into His hands.

Reader, are ijour sins forgiven ? If not, 1
set before you this day a full and free salva-
tion. I invite you to follow the steps of the
penitent thief, — come to Christ, and live. I
tell you that Jesus is very pitiful, and of tender
mercy. I tell you He can do everything that
your soul requires. Though your sins be as
scarlet, He can make them white as snow ;
though they be red like crimson, they shall be

time can prejudice our vocation ? Who can despair of thy
goodness when he, that in the morning was posting to hell,
is in the evening with thee in paradise V— Bishop Hall.


as wool. Why should you not be saved as
well as another? Come unto Christ by faith,
and live.

Reader, are you a true believer? If you
are, you ought to glory in Christ. Glory not
in your own faith, your own feelings, your own
knowledge, your own prayers, your own amend-
ment, your own diligence. Glory in nothing
but Christ. Alas! the best of us knows but
little of that merciful and mighty Saviour. We
do not exalt Him and glory in Him enough.
Let us pray that we may see more of the ful-
ness there is in Him.

Reader, do you ever try to do good to others ?
If you do, remember to tell them about Christ.
Tell the young, tell the poor, tell the aged, tell
the ignorant, tell the sick, tell the dying, — tell
them all about Christ. Tell them of His power,
and tell them of His love. Tell them of His
doings, and tell them of His feelings. Tell
them of what He has done for the chief of sin-
ners. Tell them what He is willing to do to
the last day of time. Tell it them over and
over again. Never be tired of speaking of


Christ. Say to them broadly and fully, freely
and unconditionally, unreservedly and undoubt-
ingly, " Come unto Christ as the penitent thief
did, — -come unto Christ, and you shall be saved."

II. The second lesson you are meant to
learn from this passage is this. If some are saved
in the very hour of death, others are not.

This is a truth that never ought to be passed
over, and I dare not leave it unnoticed. It is
a truth that stands out plainly in the sad end
of the other malefactor, and is only too often

What became of the other thief who was
crucified ? Why did he not turn from sin, and
c^l upon the Lord ? Why did he remain
hardened and impenitent ? Why was he not
saved ? It is useless to try to answer such
questions. Let us be content to take the fact as
we find it, and see what it is meant to teach us.

We have no right whatever to say this thief
was a worse man than his companion. There
is nothing to prove it. Both plainly were wick-
ed men. Both were receiving the due reward
of their deeds. Both hung by the side of our


Lord Jesus Christ. Both heard Him pray for
His murderers. Both saw Him suffer patiently.
But while one repented, the other remained
hardened. While one began to pray, the other
went on railing. While one was converted in
his last hours, the other died a bad man as he
had lived. While one was taken to paradise,
the other went to his own place, the place of
the devil and his angels.

Now these things are written for our warn-
ing. There is warning as well as comfort in
these verses, and that very solemn warning too.

They tell me loudly, that though some may
repent and be converted on their death-beds, it
does not at all follow that all will. A death-
bed is not always a saving time.

They tell me loudly, that two men may have
the same opportunities of getting good for their
souls, may be placed in the same position, see
the same things, and hear the same things, —
and yet only one shall take advantage of them,
repent, believe, and be saved.

They tell me, above all, that repentance and
faith are the gifts of God, and are not in a


man's own power; and that if any one flatters
himself he can repent at his own time, choose
his own season, seek the Lord when he please,
and, like the penitent thief, be saved at the very
last, — he may find at length that he is greatly

And it is good and profitable to bear this in
mind. There is an immense amount of delu-
sion in the world on this very subject. I see
many allowing life to slip away, all unprepared
to die. I see many allowing that they ought
to repent, but always putting oflf their own re-
pentance. And I believe one grand reason is,
that most men suppose they can turn to God
just when they like. They wrest the parable
of the laborer in the vineyard, which speaks of
the eleventh hour, and use it as it never was
meant to be used. They dwell on the pleasant
part of the verses I am now considering, and
forget the rest. They talk of the thief that
went to paradise, and was saved, and forget
the one who died as he had lived, — and was

* '■• He that puts off his repentance and seeking for pardon


Reader, take heed that you do not fall into
this naistake. Look at the history of men in
the Bible, and see how often these notions I
have been speaking of are contradicted. Mark
well how many proofs there are that two men
may have the same light offered them, and
only one use it ; and that no one has a right
to take liberties with God's mercy, and pre-
sume he will be able to repent just when he

Look at Saul and David. They lived about
the same time. They rose from the same rank
in life. They were called to the same position
in the world. They enjoyed the ministry of

to the very last, in reliance upon this example, does but
tempt God, and turn that to his own poison which God in-
tended for better ends."

" The mercies of God are never recorded in Scripture for
man's presumption, and the failings of men never for imita-
tion." — Lightfoot. Sermon. 1G84.

" Most ungrateful and foolish is the conduct of those who
take encouragement from the penitent thief to put off repent-
ance to a dying moment; — most ungrateful in perverting the
grace of their Redeemer into an occasion of renewing their
provocations against Him ; — and most foolish to imagine that
what our Lord did in so singular circumstances, is to be
drawn into an ordinary precedent." — Doddridge.


the same prophet, Saaiuel. They reigned the
same number of years. — Yet one was saved,
and the other lost.

Look at Sergius Paulus and Gallio. They
were both Roman governors. They were both
wise and prudent men in their generation.
They both heard the Apostle Paul preach. But
one believed, and was baptized, — the other
" cared for none of these things." (Acts xviii. 17.)

Look at the world around you. See what is
going on continually under your eyes. Two
sisters will often attend the same ministry, listen
to the same truths, hear the same sermons ;
and yet only one shall be converted to God,
while the other remains totally unmoved. Two
friends often read the same religious book.
One is so moved by it, that he gives up all for
Christ : the other sees nothing at all in it, and
continues the same as before. Hundreds have
read Doddridge's Rise and Progress without
profit. With Wilberforce it was one of the
beginnings of spiritual life. Thousands have
read Wilberforce's Practical View of Christi-
anity, and laid it down again unaltered ; — from


the time Legh Richmond read it he became
another man. No man has any warrant for
saying, Salvation is in my own power.

Reader, I do not pretend to explain these
things. I only put them before you as great
facts. And I ask you to consider them well.

You must not misunderstand me. *I do not
want to discourage you. I say these things in
all affection to give you warning of danger. I
do not say them to drive you back from heav-
en ; — I say them rather to draw you on, and
bring you to Christ while He can be found.

I want you to beware of presumption* Do
not abuse God's mercy and compassion. Do
not continue in sin, I beseech you, and think
you can repent, and believe, and be saved, just
when you like, when you please, when you will,
and when you choose. I would always set
before you an open door. I w^ould always say,
while there is life there is hope. But if you
would be wise, put nothing off that concerns
your soul.

I want you to beware of letting slip good
thoughts and godly convictions, if you have


them. Cherish them and nourish them, lest
you lose them forever. Make the most of
them, lest they take to themselves wings and
flee away. Have you an inclination to begin
praying ? Put it in practice at once. Have
you an idea of beginning really to serve
Christ?* Set about it at once. Are you en-
joying any spiritual light ? See that you live
up to your light. Trifle not with opportunities,
lest the day come when you will want to use
them, and not be able. Linger not, lest you
become wise too late.

You may say, perhaps, " It is never too late
to repent." I answer, That is right enough
but late repentance is seldom true. And I sa^
further, you cannot be certain if you put off
repenting, you will repent at all.

You may say, " Why should I be afraid ? —
the penitent thief v/as saved " I answer, That
is true, but look again at the passage, which
tells you that the other thief was lost.

III. The third lesson you are meant to learn
from these verses is this ; the Spirit always
leads saved souls in one way.


This is a point that deserves particular at-
tention, and is often overlooked. Men look at
the broad fact that the penitent thief was
saved when he was dying, and they look no

They do not consider the evidences this
thief left behind him. They do not ob^rve the
abundant proofs he gave of the work of the
Spirit in his heart. And these proofs I wish to
trace out. I wish to show you that the Spirit
always works in one way, and that whether
He converts a man in an hour — as He did the
penitent thief — or whether by slow degrees, as
he does others, the steps by which He leads
souls to heaven are always the same.

Listen to me. Reader, and I will try to make
this clear to you. I want you to shake off the
common notion, that there is some easy royal
road to heaven from a dying-bed. I want you
thoroughly to understand that every saved soul
goes through the same experience, and that
the leading principles of the penitent thief's
religion were just the same as those of the old-
est saint that ever lived.


See then, for one thing, how strong was the
faith of this man.

He called Jesus, " Lord." He declared his
belief that he would have a kingdom. He be-
lieved that He was able to give him eternal
life and glory, and in this belief prayed to Him.
He maintained His innocence of all the

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleLiving or dead? : a series of home truths → online text (page 12 of 16)