J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

Living or dead? : a series of home truths online

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charges brought against Him : " This man,"
said he, " hath done nothing amiss." Others
perhaps may have thought the Lord innocent,
— none said so openly but this poor dying

And when did all this happen ? It happen-
ed when the whole nation had denied Christ,
— shouting, " Crucify him, crucify him ; we
have no king but Caesar," — when the chief
priests and pharisees had condemned and founa
Him guilty of death, — when even His own
disciples had forsaken Him and fled, — when He
was hanging, faint, bleeding, and dying on the
cross, numbered with transgressors, and count-
ed accursed. This was the hour when the
thief believed in Christ, and prayed to Him.


Surely such failh was never seen since the
world began.*

The disciples had seen mighty signs and
miracles. They had seen the dead raised with
a word, and lepers healed wdth a touch, —

* " I know not that since the creation of the world there
ever was a more remarkable and striking example of faith."
— Calvin's Commentary on the Gospels.

"A great faith that can see the sun under so thick a
cloud ; that can discover a Christ, a Saviour, under such a
poor, scorned, despised, crucified Jesus, and call him Lord.

" A great faith that could see Christ's kingdom through
His cross, and grave, and death, and when there was so
little sign of a kingdom, and pray to be remembered in that
kingdom." — LiylUfoot. Sermon. 1684.

" The penitent thief was the first confessor of Christ's
heavenly kingdom, — the first martyr who bore testimony
to the holiness of His sufferings, — and the first apologist
for His oppressed innocence." — Quesiiel on the Gospels.

" Probably there are few saints in glory who ever honored
Christ more illustriously than this dying sinner." — Doddridge.

" Is this the voice of a thief or a disciple ? Give me leave,
Saviour, to borrow thine own words, ' Verily I have not
found so great faith, no not in Israel.' He saw thee hanging
miserably by him, and yet styles thee Lord. He saw thee
dying, and yet talks of thy kingdom. He felt himself dying,
yet talks of a future remembrance. faith, stronger than
death, which can look beyond tlie cross at a crown ; — beyond
dissolution at a remembrance of life and glory ! Which of
thine eleven were heard to speak so gracious a word to thee
in these thy last pangs ?" — Bishop Hall.


the blind receiving sight, — the dumb made to
speak, — the lame made to walk. They had
seen thousands fed with a few loaves and fishes.
They had seen their Master walking on the
water as on dry land. They had all of them
heard Him speak as no man ever spake, and
hold out promises of good things yet to come.
They had some of them had a foretaste of His
glory in the mount of transfiguration. Doubt-
less their faith was the gift of God, but still they
had much to help it.

The dying thief saw none of the things I
have mentioned. He only saw our Lord in
agony, and in weakness, in suffering and in
pain. He saw Him undergoing a dishonorable
punishment, deserted, mocked, despised, blas-
phemed. He saw Him rejected by all the great,
and wise, and noble of His own people, — His
strength dried up like a potsherd, his life draw-
ing to the grave. (Psalm xxii. 15. Ixxxviii. 3.)
He saw no sceptre, no royal crown, no outward
dominion, no glory, no majesty, no power, no
signs of might. And yet the dying thief be-
lieved and looked forward to Christ's kingdom.


Reader, would you know if you have the
Spirit ? Then mark the question I put to you
this day : — Where is your faith in Christ ?

See, for another thing, what a right sense
of sin the thief had. He says to his com-
panion, " We receive the due reward of our
deeds." He acknowledges his own ungodli-
ness, and the justice of his punishment. He
makes no attempt to justify himself, or excuse
his wickedness. He speaks like a man hum-
bled and self-abased by the remembrance of past
iniquities. This is what all God's children feel.
They are ready to allow they are poor hell-
deserving sinners. They can say with their
hearts, as well as with their lips, " We have left
undone the things that we ought to have done,
and we have done those things that we ought
not to have done, and there is no health in us."

Reader, would you know if you had the
Spirit ? Then mark my question : — Do you
feel your sin?

See, for another thing, what brotherly love
the thief showed to his companion. He tried
to stop his railing and blaspheming, and bring


him (o a better mind. "Dost thou not fear j
God," he says, "seeing thou art in the same |
condemnation ?" There is no surer mark of j
grace than this. Grace shakes a man out of |
his selfishness, and makes him feel for the souls
of others. When the Samaritan woman was |
converted, she left her water pot, and ran to
the cit3% saying, "Come see a man that told
me all things that ever I did ; is not this the
Christ ?" (John iv. 29.) When Saul was con- I
verted, immediately he went to the synagogue I
at Damascus, and testified to his brethren of
Israel, that Jesus was the Christ. (Acts ix. 20.)

Reader, would you know if you had the
Spirit ? Then where is your charity and love
to souls ?

In one word, you see in the penitent thief a
finished work of the Holy Ghost. Every part
of the believer's character may be traced in
him. Short as his life was after conversion, he
found time to leave abundant evidence that he
was a child of God. His faith, — his prayer, —
his humility, — his brotherly love, — are unmis-
takable witnesses of the reality of his repent-


ance. He was not a penitent in name only,
but in deed and in truth.

Let no man ttierefore think, because the
penitent thief was saved, that men can be
saved without leaving any evidence of the
Spirit's work. Let such an one consider well
what evidence this man left behind, and take

It is mournful to hear what people sometimes
say about what they call death-bed evidences.
It is perfectly fearful to observe how little satis-
fies some persons, and how easily they can
persuade themselves that their friends are gone
to heaven. They will tell you when their rela-
tion is dead and gone, that " he made such a
beautiful prayer one day, — or that he talked so
well, — or that he was so sorry for his old ways,
and intended to live so differently if he got
better, — or that he craved nothing in this
world, — or that he liked people to read to him,
and pray with him." And because they have
this to go upon they seem to have a comfor-
table hope that he is saved. Christ may never
have been named. — the way of salvation may


never have been in the least mentioned. But
it matters not ; there was a Httle talk of re-
ligion, and so they are content.

Now I have no desire to hurt the feelings of
an}^ one who reads this paper, but I must and
will speak plainly on this subject.

Once for all let me say that, as a general
rule, nothing is so unsatisfactory as death-bed
evidences. The things that men say, and the
feelings they express when sick and frightened,
are little to be depended on. Often, too often,
they are the result of fear, and do not spring
from the ground of the heart. Often, too often,
they are things said by rote, caught from the
lips of ministers and anxious friends, but evi-
dently not felt. And nothing can prove all this
more clearly than the well-known fact, that the
great majority of persons who make promises
of amendment on a sick-bed, if tb^y recover,
go back to sin and the world.

When a man has lived a life of thoughtless-
ness and folly, I want something more than a
few fair words, and good wishes, to satisfy me
about his soul when he comes to his death-bed


It is not enough for me that he will let me read
the Bible to him, and pray by his bedside ; that
he says, " he has not thought so much as he
ousjht of religion, and he thinks he should be a
different man if he got better." All this does
not content me, — it does not make me feel hap-
py about his state. It is very well as far as it
goes, but it is not conversion. It is very well
in its way, but it is not faith in Christ. Until
I see conversion, and faith in Christ, I cannot
and dare not feel satisfied. Others may feel
satisfied, if they please, and after their friend's
death say, they hope he has gone to heaven.
For my part I would rather say nothing at all.
I would be content with the least measure of
repentance and faith in a dying man, even
though it were no bigger than a grain of mus-
tard seed ; but to be content with anything less
than repentance and faith seems to me next
door to infidelity.

Reader, what kind of evidence do you mean
to leave behind as to the state of your soul ?
Take example by the penitent thief, and you
will do well.


When we have carried you to your narrow
bed, let us not have to hunt up stray words,
and scraps of rehgion, in order to make out
that you were a true believer. Let us not
have to say in a hesitating way one to an-
other, " I trust he is happy, he talked so nicely
one day, and he seemed so pleased with a
chapter in the Bible on another occasion, and
he liked such a person who is a good man."
Let us be able to speak decidedly as to your
condition. Let us have some standing proof
of your penitence, your faith, and your holiness,
that none shall be able for a moment to ques-
tion your state. Depend on it, without this,
those you leave behind can feel no solid com-
fort about your soul. We may use the form
of religion at your burial, and express charita-
ble hopes. We may meet you at the church-
yard gate, and say, " Blessed are the dead tliat
die in the Lord." But this will not alter youi
condition. If you die without conversion to
God, — without repentance, — and without faith,
your funeral will only be the funeral of a lost


IV. You are meant in the next place to
learn from these verses that believers in Christ
when they die, are with the Lord.

This you may gather from our Lord's words
to the penitent thief, " This day shalt thou be
with me in paradise." And you have an ex-
pression very like it in the Epistle to the Phil-
ippians, where Paul says he has a desire to
♦'depart and be with Christ." (Phil. i. 23.)

I shall say but little on this subject. I would
simply lay it before you for your own private
meditations. To my own mind it is very full
of comfort and peace.

Believers after death are " with Christ." That
answers many a difficult question, which oth-
erwise might puzzle man's busy, restless mind.
The abode of dead saints, their joys, their feel-
ings, their happiness, all seems met by this sim-
ple ^expression, — They are with Christ.

I cannot enter into full explanations about
the state of departed believers. It is a high
and deep subject, such as man's mind can nei-
ther grasp nor fathom. I know their happiness
falls short of what it will be when their bodies


are raised again, and Jesus returns to earth.
Yet I know also they enjoy a blessed rest, — a
rest from labor, — a rest from sorrow, — a rest
from pain, — and a rest from sin. But it dees
not follow because I cannot explain these
things, that I am not persuaded they are far
happier than they ever were on earth. I see
their happiness in this very passage, " They are
with Christ," and when I see that I see enough.

If the sheep are with the Shepherd, — if the
members are with the Head, — if the children
of Christ's family are with Him who loved
them and carried them all the days of their pil-
grimage on earth, all must be well, all must be

1 cannot describe what kind of a place para-
dise is, but T ask no bris^hter view of it than
this, that Christ is there.* All other things in

* " We ought not to enter into curious and subtle argu-
ments about the place of paradise. Let us rest satisfied with
knowing that those who are engrafted by faith into the body
of Christ are partakers of life, and there enjoy after death a
blessed and joyful rest, until the perfect glory of the heavenly
life is fully manifested by the coming of Christ." — Calvin's
Commentary on the Gospels.


the picture which imagination draws of para-
dise are nothing in comparison of this. How
He is there, and in what way He is there, I
know not. Let me only see Christ in paradise
when my eyes close in death, and that suffices
me. Well does the Psalmist say, " In thy
presence is fulness of joy." It was a true say-
ing of a dying girl, when her mother tried to
comfort her by describing what paradise would
be, " There," she said to the child, " there you
will have no pains, and no sickness ; there you
will see your brothers and sisters who have
gone before you, and will be always happy."
" Ah ! mother," was the reply, " but there is
one thing better than all, and that is, Christ
will he there."

Reader, it may be you do not think much
about your soul. It may be you know little
of Christ as your Saviour, and have never
tasted by experience that He is precious. And
yet perhaps you hope to go to paradise when you
die. Surely this passage is one that should
make you think. Paradise is a place where


Christ is. Then can it be a place that you would

Reader, it may be you are a believer, and
yet tremble at the thought of the grave. It
seems cold and dreary. You feel as if all be-
fore you was dark, and gloomy, and comfort-
less. Fear not, but be encouraged by this text.
You are going to paradise, and Christ will be

V. The last thing you are meant to learn
from these verses is this, ''the eternal portion
of every man's soul is close to him."

" To-day," says our Lord to the penitent
thief, "to-day shalt thou be with me in para-
dise." He names no distant period, — He does
not talk of his entering into a state of happi-
ness as a thing "far away." He speaks of to-
day, '* this very day in which thou art hanging
on the cross."

Reader, how near that seems! How awfully
near that word brings our everlasting dwelling-
place. — Happiness or misery, — sorrow or joy,
— the presence of Christ, or the company of
devils, — all are close to us. " There is but a


Step," says David, "between me and death."
(1 Sam. XX. 3.) There is but a step, we may
say, between ourselves and either paradise oi

We none of us realize this as we ought to
do. It is high time to shake off the dreamy
state of mind in which we live on this matter-
We are apt to talk or think, even about be-
lievers, as if death was a long journey, — as
if the dying saint had embarked on a long
voyage. It is all wrong, very wrong. Their
harbor and their home is close by, and they
have entered in.

Some of us know by bitter experience what
a long and weary time it is between the death
of those we love, and the hour when we bury
them out of sight. Such weeks are the slowest,
saddest, heaviest weeks in all our lives. But,
blessed be God, the souls of departed saints are
free from the very moment their last breath is
drawn. While we are weeping, and the coffin
preparing, and the mourning being provided,
and the last painful arrangement being made,
the spirits of our beloved ones are enjoying the


presence of Christ. They are freed forever
from the burden of the flesh. They are where
the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary
are at rest.

Reader, the day that believers die they are
in paradise. Their battle is fought ; — their
strife is over. They have passed through that
gloomy valley we must one day tread ; — they
have gone over that dark river we must one-
day cross. They have drank that last bitter
cup which sin has mingled for man. They
have reached fhat place where sorrow and
sighing are no more. Surely we should not
wish them back again. We should not weep
for them, but for ourselves.

We are warring still, but they are at peace.
We are laboring, but they are at rest. We are
watching, but they are sleeping. We are wear-
ing our spiritual armor, but they have forever
put it off. We are still at sea, but they are
safe in harbor. We have tears, but they have
joy. We are strangers and pilgrims, but as
for them they are at home. Surely, better are
the dead in Christ than the living. Surely the


very hour the poor saint dies he is at once
higher and happier than the highest upon earth.*

I fear there is a vast amount of delusion on
this point. I fear that many, who are not Ro-
man Cathoh'cs, and profess not to believe in
purgatory, have, notwithstanding, some strange
ideas in their minds about the immediate con-
sequences of death. I fear that many have a
sort of vague notion that there is some interval
or space of time between death and their eter-
nal state. They fancy they shall go through a
kind of purifying change, and that though they
die unfit for heaven, they shall yet be found
meet for it after all.

But it will not stand. There is no change
after death. There is no conversion in the
grave. There is no new heart given after the

* " Yv^e give thee hearty thanks, for that it hath pleased
(liee to deliver this our brother out of the miseries of this
sinful world." — Church of England Burial Service.

" I have some of the best news to impart. One beloved
by you has accomplished her warfare ; has received an an-
swer to her prayers, and everlasting joy rests upon her
head. My dear wife, the source of my best earthly comfort
for twenty years, departed on Tuesday." — Venn's Letter to
Stillingjleet, announcing the death of his wife.


last breath is drawn. The very day we go we
launch for ever. The day we go from this
world, we begin an eternal condition. From
that day there is no spiritual alteration, — no
spiritual change. As we die, so we shall receive
after death. As the tree falls, so it must lie.

Reader, if you are an unconverted man, this
ought to make you think. Do you know you
are close to hell ? This very day you might
die, and if you died out of Christ, you would
open your eyes in hell, and in torment.

Reader, if you are a true Christian, you are
far nearer heaven than you think. This very
day, if the Lord should take you, you would
find yourself in paradise. The good land of
promise is near to you. The eyes that you
closed in weakness and pain, would open at
once on a glorious rest, such as my tongue
cannot describe.

And now let me say a few words in conclu-
sion, and I have done.

This tract may fall into the hands of some
humble-hearted and contrite sinner. — Are you
that man ? Then here is encouragement for


you. See what the penitent thief did, and do
likewise. See how he prayed, — see how he
called on the Lord Jesus Christ, — see what an
answer of peace he obtained. Brother or sister,
why should not you do the same ? Why should
not you also be saved ?

This tract may fall into the hands of some
proud and presumptuous man of the world. —
Are you that man ? Then take warning. See
how the impenitent thief died as he had lived,
and beware lest you come to a like end. Oh !
erring brother or sister, be not too confident,
lest you die in your sins. Seek the Lord while
He may be found. Turn you, turn, why will
you die ?

This tract may fall into the hands of some
professing believer in Christ. — Are you such
an one ? Then take the penitent thief's religion
as a measure by which to prove your own.
See that you know something of true repent-
ance and saving faith, of real humility and fer-
vent charity. Brother or sister, do not be sat-
isfied with the world's standard of Christianity.


Be of one mind with the penitent thief, and you
will be wise.

This tract may fall into the hands of some
one who is mourning over departed believers.
Are you such an one ? Then take comfort from
this Scripture. See how your beloved ones
are in the best of hands. They cannot be
better off. They never were so well in their
lives as they are now. They are with Jesus,
whom their souls loved on earth. Oh ! cease
from your selfish mourning. Rejoice rather
that they are freed from trouble, and have en-
tered into rest.

And this tract may fall into the hands of
some aged servant of Christ. — Are you such
an one ? Then see from these verses how near
you are at home. A few more days of labor
and sorrow, and the King of kings shall send
for you ; and in a moment your warfare shall
be at end, and all shall be peace.

/iiitli'3 (Ctinirt




Heb. xi. 24-26.

The eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the
Hebrews is a great chapter, I need not tell
you. I can well believe it must have been
most cheering and encouraging to a converted
Jew. I suppose none found so much difficulty
in a profession of Christianity as the Hebrews
did. The way was narrow to all, but pre-
eminently so to them. The cross was heavy
to all, but surely they had to carry double
weight. And this chapter would refresh them
like a cordial, — it would be as " wine to those


of a heavy heart.". Its words would be pleasant
as the honey-comb, " sweet to the soul and
health to the bones."

The three verses I am going to explain are
far from being the least interesting in the chap-
ter. Indeed I think few, if any, have so strong
a claim on our attention. And I will tell you
why I say so.

It seems to me that the work of faith here
spoken of, comes home more especially to our
own case. The men of God who are named
in the former part of the chapter are all ex-
amples to us, beyond question. But we can-
not literally do what most of them did, how-
ever much we may drink into their spirit. We
are not called upon to offer a literal sacrifice
like Abel, — or build a literal ark like Noah, — •
or leave our country literally, and dwell in
tents, and offer up our Isaac like Abraham.
But the faith of Moses comes nearer to us. It
seems to operate in a way more familiar to our
own experience. It made him take up a line
of conduct such as we must often take up our-
selves in the present day, each in our own


walk of life. And for this reason I think these
three verses deserve more than ordinary con-

Now I have nothing but the simplest things
to say about them. I shall only try to enforce
upon you the greatness of the things that
Moses did, and the principle on which he did
them. And then perhaps you will be better
prepared for the practical instructions which
the verses appear to hold out to every one who
will receive it.

May the Holy Ghost bless the subject to us
all ! May He give us the same spirit of faith,
that we may walk in the steps of Moses, do as
he did, and share his reward !

I. First then I will speak of what Moses
gave up and refused.

Moses gave up three things for the sake of
his soul. He felt that his soul would not be
saved if he kept them, — so he gave them up.
And in so doing I say that he made three of the
greatest sacrifices that man's heart can make.

1. He gave up rank and greatness.

" He refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's


daughter." You all know his history. The
daughter of Pharaoh had preserved his life,
when he was an infant, — adopted him and edu-
cated him as her own son.

If writers of history may be trusted, she
was Pharaoh's only child. Men go so far as
to say that in the common order of things
Moses would one day have been king of Egypt.
That may be, or may not — we cannot tell. It
is enough for us to know that, from his con-
nection with Pharaoh's daughter, Moses might
have been, if he had pleased, a very great man.
If he had been content with the position in
which he found himself at the Egyptian court,
he might easily have been among the first, — if
not the very first, — in all the'land of Egypt.

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleLiving or dead? : a series of home truths → online text (page 13 of 16)