J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

Living or dead? : a series of home truths online

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Think, Reader, for a moment, how great this
temptation was.

Here was a man of like passions with our-
selves. He might have had as much greatness
as earth can well give. Rank, power, place,
honor, titles, dignities, — all were before him,
and within his grasp. These are the things for
which many men are continually struggling.

296 faith's choice.

These are the prizes which there is such an
incessant race in the world around us to- obtain.
To be somebody, — to be looked up to, — to
raise themselves in the scale of society, — to get
a handle to their names ; — these are the things
for which many sacrifice time, and thought,
and health, and life itself. But Moses would not
have them at a gift. He turned his back upon
them. He refused them. He gave them up.

2. And more than this, he refused pleasure.

Pleasure of every kind, no doubt, was at his
feet, if he had liked to take it up, — sensual
pleasure, intellectual pleasure, — social pleasure,
— whatever could strike his fancy. Egypt was
a land of artists, — a residence of learned men,
— a resort of every one who had skill, or
science of any description. There was nothing
which could feed the lust of the flesh, the lust
of the eye, or the pride of life, which one in
the place of Moses might not easily have com-

Think again, Reader, how great was this
temptation also.

This, be it remembered, is the one thing for

faith's csoice. 297

which millions live. They differ perhaps in
their views of what makes up real pleasure, —
but all agree in seeking first and foremost to
obtain it. Pleasure and enjoyment in the holi-
days is the grand object to which a school-boy
looks forward. Pleasure and satisfaction in
making himself independent, is the mark on
which the young man in business fixes his eye.
Pleasure and ease in retiring from business
with a fortune, is the aim which the merchant
sets before him. Pleasure and bodily comfort
at his own house is the sum of the poor man's
wishes. Pleasure and fresh excitement in
politics, in travelling, in amusements, in com-
pany, in books, — this is the goal towards which
the rich man is straining. Pleasure is the
shadow that all alike are hunting, — high and
low, — rich and poor, — old and young, one with
another ; each perhaps pretending to despise
his neighbor for seeking it, — each in his own
way seeking it for himself, — each secretly
wondering that he does not find it, — each firmly
persuaded that somewhere or other it is to be
found. This was the cup that Moses had be-


fore his lips. He might have drank as deeply
as he liked of earthly pleasure. But he would
not have it. He turned his back upon it. He
refused it. He gave it up.

3. And more than this, he refused riches.

" The Treasures in Egypt" is an expression
that seems to tell of wealth that he might have
enjoyed, had he been content to remain with
Pharaoh's daughter. We may well suppose
these treasures would have been a mighty for-
tune. Enough is still remaining in Egypt to
give us some faint idea of the money at its
king's disposal. The pyramids, and obelisks,
and statues, are still standing there as witnesses.
The ruins at Carnac, and Luxor, and Dende-
rah, and many other places, are still the mighti-
est buildings in the world. They testify to this
day that the man who gave up Egyptian wealth,
gave up something which even our English
minds would find it hard to reckon up.

Think once more, how great was this temp-

Consider, Reader, the power of money, — the
immense influence that the love of money ob-


tains over men's minds. Look around you and
see how men covet it, and what amazing pains
and trouble they will go through to obtain it.
Tell them of an island many thousand miles
away, where something may be found which
may be profitable if imported, and at once a
fleet of ships will be sent to get it. Show them
a way to make one per cent, more of their
money, and they will reckon you among the
wisest of men, — they will almost fall down and
worship you. To possess money seems to hide
defects, — to cover over faults, — to clothe a man
with virtues. People can get over much, if
you are rich. But here is a man who might
have been rich, and would not. He would not
have Egyptian treasures. He turned his back
upon them. He refused them. He gave
them up.

Such were the things that Moses refused, —
rank, pleasure, riches, all three at once.

Add to all this that he did it deliberately. He
did not refuse these things in a hasty fit of
youthful excitement. — He was forty years old.
He was in the prime of life. He knew what


he was about. He weighed both sides of the

Add to it that he did not refuse them because
he was obliged. He was not Hke the dying
man, who tells us, " He craves nothing more
in this world ;" and why ? — Because he is leav-
ing the world, and cannot keep it. He was
not like the pauper, who makes a merit of ne-
cessity, and says, " He does not want riches ;"
and why ? — Because he cannot get them. He
was not like the old man, who boasts " that he
has laid aside worldly pleasures;" and why? — •
Because he is worn out, and cannot enjoy them.
No ! Reader. Moses refused what he might
have kept, and gave up what he might have
enjoyed. Rank, pleasure, and riches did not
leave him, but he left them.

And then judge whether I am not right in
saying that his was one of the greatest sacrifices
mortal man ever made. Others have refused
much, but none, I think, so much as Moses.
Others have done well in the way of self-sacri-
fice and self-denial, but he excels them all.

II. And now let me go on to the second


thing I wish to set before you. I will speak of
lohat Moses chose.

I think his choice as wonderful as his refusal.
He chose three things for his soul's sake. Tke
road to salvation led through them, and he fol-
lowed it; and in so doing he chose three of the
last things that man is ever disposed to take up.

1. For one thing he chose suffering and

He left the ease and comfort of Pharaoh's
court, and openly took part with the children
of Israel. They were an enslaved and perse-
cuted people, — an object of distrust, suspicion,
and hatred ; and the man who befriended them
was sure to taste something of the bitter cup
they were daily drinking.

To man's eye there seemed no chance of
their deliverance from bondage, without a long
and doubtful struggle. A settled home and
country for them must have appeared a thing
never likely to be obtained, however much
desired." In fact, if ever man seemed to be
choosing pain, trials, poverty, want, distress,


anxiety, perhaps even death, with his eyes open,
Moses was that man.

Think only. Reader, how wonderful was this

Man naturally shrinks from pain. It is in
us all to do so. We draw back by a kind of
instinct from suffering, and avoid it if we can.
If two courses of action are set before us, which
both seem right, we always take that which is
the least disagreeable to flesh and blood. We
spend our days in fear and anxiety, when we
think affliction is coming near us, and use every
means to escape it. And when it does come,
we often fret and murmur under the burden of
it ; and if we can but bear it patiently we count
it a great matter indeed.

But look here. Here is a man of like pas-
sions with yourself, and he actually chooses
affliction !

Moses saw the cup of suffering that was be-
fore him if he left Pharaoh's court, and he chose
it, preferred it, and took it up.

2. But he did more than this, he chose the
company of a despised people.


He left the society of the great and wise,
among whom he had been brought up, and
joined himself to the children of Israel. He
who had lived from infancy in the midst of
rank, and riches, and luxury, came down from
his high estate, and cast in his lot with poor
men, — slaves, bondservants, oppressed, desti-
tute, afflicted, tormented, — laborers in the

How wonderful, once more, was this choice !

Generally speaking we think it enough to
carry our own troubles. We may be sorry
for others whose lot is to be mean and de-
spised, — we may even try to help them, — we
may give money to raise them, — we may speak
for them to those on whom they depend ; but
here we generally stop.

But here is a man who does far more. He
not merely feels for despised Israel, but actually
goes down to them, adds himself to their society,
and lives with them altogether. You would
wonder if some great man in Grosvenor or
Belgrave Square were to give up house, and
fortune, and position in society, and go to live

804 faith's choice.

on a small allowance in some narrow lane in
Bethnal Green, for the sake of doing good : —
yet this would convey a very faint and feeble
notion of the kind of thing that Moses did. He
saw a despised people, and he chose their com-
pany in preference to that of the noblest in the
land. He became one with them, — their fellow,
their associate, and their friend.

3. But he did even more. He chose reproach
and scorn.

Who can conceive the torrent of mockery
and ridicule that Moses would have to stem,
in turning away from Pharaoh's court to join
Israel ?

Men would tell him he was mad, foolish
weak, silly, out of his mind ; he would lose his
influence ; he would forfeit the favor and good
opinion of all among whom he had lived.

Think again, Reader, what a choice this
was !

There are few things more powerful than
ridicule and scorn. It can do far more than
open enmity and persecution. Many a man
who would march up to a cannon's mouth, or

I faith's choice. 805

j lead a forlorn hope, or storm a breach, has
I found it impossible to face the mockery of a
j ,few companions, and has flinched from the
j path of duty to avoid it. To be laughed at !
I To be made a joke of! To be jested and
I sneered at ! To be reckoned weak and silly !
To be thought a fool ! — There is nothing grand
in all this, and many cannot make up their
minds to undergo it.

Yet there is a man who made up his mind
to it, and did not shrink from the trial. Moses
saw reproach and scorn before him, and he
chose them, and accepted them for his portion.
Such then were the things that Moses chose,
— affliction, — the company of a despised people,
— and scorn.

Set down beside all this, that Moses was no
weak, ignorant, illiterate person, who did not
know what he was about. You are specially
told he was a "learned" man, — he was one
I " mighty in words and in deeds," and yet he
j chose as he did.

I Set down too the circumstances of His

choice. He was not obliged to choose as he
: 20

306 faith's choice.

did. None compelled him to take such a course.
The things he took up did not force themselves
upon him against his will. He went after them,
— they did not come after him. All that he
did, he did of his own free choice, — voluntarily,
and of his own accord.

And then judge whether it is not true, that
his choice was as wonderful as his refusal.
Since the world began, I suppose, none ever
made such a choice as the man Moses did in
our text.

III. And now let me go on to a third thing:
— let me speak of the principle which moved
Moses, and made him do as he did.

How can this conduct of his be accounted
for ? What possible reason can be given for
it ? To refuse that which is generally called
a good, — to choose that which is commonly
thought an evil, — this is not the way of flesh
and blood, — this is not the manner of man,
— this requires some explanation. What will
that explanation be ?

You hear the answer in the text. I know not
whether its greatness or its simplicity is more


to be admired. It all lies in one little word, and
that word is, "faith/'

Moses had faith. Faith was the mainspring
of his wonderful conduct. Faith made him do
as he did, choose what he chose, and refuse
what he refused. He did it all because he be-

God set before the eyes of his mind His own
will and purpose. God revealed to him that a
Saviour was to be born of the stock of Israel,
— that mighty promises were bound up in these
children of Abraham, and yet to be fulfilled, —
that the time for fulfilling a portion of these
promises was at hand, — and Moses put credit
in this, and believed. And every step in his
wonderful career, — every action in his journey
through life, after leaving Pharaoh's court, — his
choice of seeming evil, liis refusal of seeming
good, — all must be traced up to this fountain,
all will be found to rest on this foundation, —
God had spoken to him, and he had faith in
God's w^ord.

He believed that God would keep His pi^om-
ises; that what He had said He would surely


do ; and what He had covenanted He would
surely perform.

He believed that with God nothing was im-
possible. Reason and sense might say that
the deliverance of Israel was out of the ques-
tion, — the obstacles were too many, the diffi-
culties too great. But faith told Moses that
God was all-sufficient. God had undertaken
the work, and it would be done.

He believed that God was all wise. Reason
and sense might tell him that his line of action
was absurd ; — he was throwing away useful
influence and destroying all chance of benefit-
ing his people, by breaking with Pharaoh's
daughter. But faith told Moses that if God
said, "Go this way," it must be the best.

He believed that God was all merciful.
Reason and sense might hint that a more
pleasant manner of deliverance might be found ;
that some compromise might be effiicted, and
many hardships be avoided. But faith told
Moses that God was love, and would not give
His people one drop of bitterness beyond what
was absolutely needed.


Faith was a telescope to Moses. It made
him see the godly land afar off, — rest, peace,
victory, — when dim-sighted reason could only
see trial and barrenness, storm and tempest,
weariness and pain.

Faith was an interpreter to Moses. It made
him pick out a comfortable meaning in the
dark commands of God's handwriting, while
ignorant sense could see nothing in it all but
mystery and foolishness.

Faith told Moses that all this rank and great-
ness was of the earth, earthy; a poor, vain,
empty thing, frail, fleeting, and passing a\vay ;
and that there was no true greatness like that
of serving God. He was the king, he the true
no'bleman who belonged to the family of God.
It was better to be last in heaven, than first in hell.

Faith told Moses that worldly pleasures were
pleasures of sin. They were mingled with sin,
— they led on to sin, — they were ruinous to the
soul, and displeasing to God. It would be
small comfort to have pleasure while God was
against him. Better suffer and obey God, than
be at ease and sin.

810 faith's choice.

Faith told Moses that these pleasures after
all were only for a season : — they could not last,
— they were all short-lived, — they would weary
him soon, — he must leave them all in a few

Faith told him there was a reward in heaven
for the believer, far richer than the treasures
in Egypt ; — durable riches, where rust could
not corrupt, nor thieves break through and
steal. The crown there would be incorrup-
tible ; — the weight of glory would be exceeding
and eternal ; — and faith bade him look away to
that if his eyes were dazzled with Egyptian gold.

Faith told Moses that affliction and suffering
were not real evils : — they were the school of
God, in which he trains the children of grace
for glory ; — the medicines which are needful to
purify our corrupt wills ; — the furnace which
must burn away our dross ; — the knife which
must cut loose the ties that bind us to the

Faith told Moses that this despised people
were the people of God; that to them belonged
the adoption, and covenant, and the promises,


faith's choice. 811

and the glory ; that of them the seed of the
woman was one day to be born, who should
bruise the serpent's head ; that the sp cial
blessing of God was upon them ; that they Vvere
lovely and beautiful in His eyes ; — and that it
was better to be a door-keeper among the peo-
ple of God, than to reign in the palaces of wick-

Faith told Moses that all the reproach and
scorn poured out on him was the reproach of
Christ; — that it was honorable to be mocked
and despised for Christ's sake ; — that whoso
persecuted Christ's people was persecuting
Christ Himself; — and that the day must come
when His enemies would bow before Him and
lick the dust.

All this, and much more, of which I cannot
speak particularly, Moses saw by faith. These
were the things he believed, and believing did
what he did. He was persuaded of them, and
embraced them, — he reckoned them as cer-
tainties, — he regarded them as substantial veri-
ties, — he counted them as sure as if he had
seen them with his eyes, — he acted on them as

812 faith's choice.

realities, — and this made him the man that he

]\/\rvel not that he refused greatness, riches,
and 1^ leasure. — He looked far forward. He saw
with the eye of faith kingdoms crumbling into
dust', — riches making to themselves wings and
fleeing away, — pleasures leading on to death
and judgment, — and Christ only and His little
flock enduring forever.

Wonder not that he chose affliction, a de-
spised people, and reproach. — He beheld things
below the surface. He saw with the eye of
faith affliction lasting but for a moment, — re-
proach rolled away, and ending in everlasting
honor, — and the despised people of God reign-
ing as kings with Christ in glory.

And, Reader, was he not right ? Does he not
speak to us, though dead, this very day ? The
name of Pharaoh's daughter has perished ; —
the city where Pharaoh reigned is not known ;
— the treasures in Egypt are gone : — but the
name of Moses is known wherever the Bible is


read, and is still a standing witness that whoso
liveth by faith, happy is he.



faith's choice. 813

IV. And now let me wind up all by trying
to set before you some practical lessons^ which
appear to me to follow from this text.

What has all this to do with us ? some men
will say. We do not live in Egypt, — we have
seen no miracles, — we are not Israelites, — we
are weary of the subject.

Stay a little, Reader, if this be the thought
of your heart, and by God's help I will show
you that all may learn here, and all may be

1. For one thing, if ever you would he saved,
you tnust make the choice that Moses made, —
you must prefer Godhefore the world.

Reader, mark well what I say. Do not over-
look this, though all the rest be forgotten. I
do not say that the statesman must throw up
his office, and the rich man forsake his property.
Let no one fancy that I mean this. But I say,
if a man would be saved, whatever be his rank
in life, he must be prepared for tribulation ; he
must make up his mind to choose that which
seems evil, and to give up and refuse that which
seems good.

814 faith's choice.

I dare be sure this sounds strange language
to some who read these pages. I know well
you may have a certain form of religion, and
find no trouble in your way. There is a com-
mon worldly kind of Christianity in this day,
which many have, and think they have enough,
— a cheap Christianity which offends nobody,
and requires no sacrifice, — which costs noth-
ing, and is worth nothing. I am not speaking
of religion of this kind.

But if you really are in earnest about your
soul, — if your religion is something more than
a mere fashionable cloak, — if you are deter-
mined to live by the Bible, — if you are resolved
to be a New Testament Christian, then, I re-
peat, you will soon find you must carry a cross,
— you must endure hard things, — you must
suffer because of your soul, as Moses did, or
you cannot be saved.

The world in the nineteenth century is what
it always was. The hearts of men are still the
same. The offence of the cross is not ceased.
God's true people are still a despised little flock.
True evangelical religion still brings with it

faith's choice. 315

reproach and scorn. A real servant of God
will still be thought by many a weak enthusiast
and a fool.

Reader, do you wish your souls to be saved ?
Then remember, you must choose whom you
will serve. You cannot serve God and mam-
mon. You cannot be on two sides at once.
You cannot be a friend of Christ, and a friend
of the world at the same time. You must come
out from the children of this world, and be sepa-
rate ; you must put up with much ridicule,
trouble, and opposition, or you are lost forever.
You must be willincp to think and do things
which the world considers foolish, and to hold
opinions which are only held by a few. It will
cost you something. The stream is strong, and
you have to stem it. The way is narrow and
steep, and it is no use saying it is not. But
depend on it, there can be no saving religion
without sacrifices and self-denial.

Now, Reader, are you doing anything of this
kind ? I put it to your conscience in all affec-
tion and tenderness, are you, like Moses, pre-
ferring God to the world, or not ? I beseech

316 faith's choice.

3^ou not to take shelter under that dangerous
word " we," — " we ought," — and " we hope,"
— and " we mean," — and the Hke. I ask you
plainly, what are you doing yourself? Are you
willing to give up anything which keeps you
back from God? or are you clinging to the
Egypt of the world, and saying to yourself, " I
must have it, I must have it, I cannot tear my-
self away ?" What sacrifices are you making ?
Are you making any at all ? Is there any cross
in your Christianity ? Are there any sharp
corners in your religion, anything that ever
jars and comes in collision with the earthly-
mindedness around you, or is all smooth and
rounded off, and comfortably fitted in to custom
and fashion ? Do you know anything of the
afflictions of the Gospel ? Is your faith and
practice ever a subject of scorn and reproach ?
Are you thought a fool by any one because of
your soul ? Have you left Pharaoh's daughter,
and heartily joined the people of God ? Are you
venturing all on Christ ? Search and see.

Reader, these are hard and rough sayings. — ■
I cannot help it. — I believe they are founded


on Scripture truths. I remember it is written,
" there were great multitudes with Jesus, and
he turned and said unto them, If any man come
unto me and hate not his father, and mother,
and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters,
yea and his ow^n life also, he cannot be my
disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his
cross, and come after me, cannot be my disci-
ple." (Luke xiv. 25, 27.) Many, I fear, would
like glory, who have no wish for grace, — they
would fain have the wages, but not the work, —
the harvest, but not the labor, — the reaping,
but not the sowing, — the reward, but not the
battle. But it may not be. As Bunyan says,
" the bitter must go before the sweet." If there
is no cross there will be no crown.

2. The second thing I will say is this, —
notJiing will ever enable you to choose God
before the world, except faith.

Nothing else will do it. Knowledge will
not; — feeling will not; — a regular use of out-
ward forms will not ; — good companions will
not. All these may do something, but the fruit
they produce has no power of continuance, it


818 faith's choice.

will not last. A religion springing from such
sources will only endure so long as there is no
tribulation or persecution because of the word ;
but so soon as there is any, it will dry up. It
is a clock without weights, — its face may be
beautiful, you may turn its fingers round, but
it will not go.

A religion that is to stand must have a living
foundation, and there is none other but faith.

Reader, have you got this faith ? If you
have, you will find it possible to refuse seeming
good, and choose seeming evil, — you will think
nothing of to-day's losses, in the hope of to-mor-
row's gains, — you will follow Christ in the dark,
and stand by Him to the very last. If you
have not, I warn you, you will never war a
good warfare, and so run as to obtain, — you
will soon be offended and turn back to the

There must be a real belief that God's prom-
ises are sure and to be depended on ; — a real

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleLiving or dead? : a series of home truths → online text (page 14 of 16)