J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

Living or dead? : a series of home truths online

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belief that what God says in the Bible is all
true, and that every doctrine contrary to this
is false, whoever may say it. There must be

faith's choice. 819

a real belief that all God's words are to be re-
ceived, however hard and disagreeable to flesh
and blood, and that his way is right, and all
others wrong ; this there must be, or you will
never come out from the world, take up the
cross, follow Christ, and be saved.

You must learn to believe promises better
than possession ; — things unseen better than
things seen ; — things in heaven out of sight,
better than things on earth before your eyes ; — ■
the praise of the invisible God better than the
praise of visible man. Then, and then only,
you will make a choice like Moses, and prefer
God to the world.

This was the faith by which the old saints
obtained a good report. This was the weapon
by which they overcame the world. This
made them what they were.

This was the faith that made Noah go on
building his ark, while the world looked on and
mocked, — and Abraham gave the choice of the
land to Lot, and dwell on quietly in tents, — •
and Ruth cleave to Naomi, and turn away from
her country and her gods, — and Daniel con-


tinue in prayer, though he knew the lions' den
was prepared, — and the three children refuse
to worship idols, though the fiery furnace was
before their eyes. All these acted as they did
because they believed. Well may the Apostle
Peter speak of faith as *' precious faith." (2
Peter i. 1.)

3. The third thing I shall say is this, the true
I'eason why so many are worldly and ungodly
persons is, that they have no faith.

Reader, you must be aware that multitudes
of professing Christians would never think for
a moment of doing as Moses did. It is useless
to speak smooth things, and shut our eyes to
the fact. That man must be blind who does
not see thousands around him who are daily
preferring the world to God, — placing the things
of time before the things of eternity, — the things
of the body before the things of the soul. You
may not like to hear it, but so it is.

And why do they do so ? No doubt they will
all give us reasons and excuses. Some will
talk of the snares of the world, — some of the
want of time, — some of the peculiar difficulties


of their position, — some of the cares and anxie-
ties of hfe, — some of the strength of temptation,
— some of the power of passions, — some of the
effects of bad companions. But what does it
come to after all ? There is a far shorter way
to account for the state of their souls, they do
not believe. One simple sentence, like Aaron's
rod, will swallow up all their excuses, they have
no faith.

They do not really think what God says is
true. They secretly flatter themselves with
the notion, " it will surely not be fulfilled, all of
it ; — there must surely be some other way to
heaven besides that which ministers speak of;
there cannot surely be so much danger of being
lost." In short they do not put implicit confi-
dence in the words that God has written and
spoken, and so do not act upon them. They
do not thoroughly believe hell, and so do not
flee from it ; — nor heaven, and so do not seek
it; — nor the guilt of sin, and so do not turn
from it ; — nor the holiness of God, and so do
not fear Him ; — rior their need of Christ, and
so do not trust in Him, nor love Him. They

822 faith's choice.

do not feel confidence in God, and so venture
nothing for Him. Like the boy Passion, in
Pilgrim's Progress, they must have their good
things now. They do not trust God, and so
they cannot wait.

Reader, how is it with yourself? Do you
believe all the Bible ? Ask yourself that ques-
tion. Depend on it, it is a much greater thing
to believe all the Bible than many suppose.
Happy is the man who can say, " I am a be-

We talk of infidels sometimes as if they
were the rarest people in the world. And I
grant you that open avowed infidelity is hap-
pily not common now. But there is a vast
amount of practical infidelity around us, for all
that, which is as dangerous in the end as the
principles of Voltaire and Paine. There are
many who Sunday after Sunday repeat their
creed, and make a point of declaring their
belief in all that the Apostolic and Nicene
forms contain, and yet these very persons will
live all the week as if Christ had never died?
and as if there were no judgment, and no

faith's choice. 823

resurrection of the dead, and no life everlasting
at all. There are many who will say, "Oh,
we know it all," when spoken to about eternal
things, and the value of their souls ; and yet
their lives show plainly they know not any-
thing as they ought to know ; and the sad-
dest part of their state is, that they think they do.

Reader, I warn you that knowledge not
acted upon, in God's sight, is no knowledge at
all. A faith that does not influence a man's
practice is not worthy of the name. There
are only two classes in the Church of Christ, —
those who believe, and those who do not. The
difference between the true Christian and the
mere outward professor, just lies in one word ;
— the true Christian is like Moses, " he has
faith ;" — the professor has none. The true
Christian believes, and therefore lives as he
does ; — the mere professor does not believe,
and therefore is what he is. Oh! where is your
faith! Be not faithless, but believing.

4. The last thing I will say is this, the true
secret of doing great things for God is, to have
great faith.


I suspect that we are all apt to err a little
on this point. We think too much, and talk
too much about graces, and gifts, and attain-
ments, and do not sufficiently remember that
faith is the root and mother of them all. In
walking with God, a man will go just as far as
he believes, and no further. His life Avill al-
ways be proportioned to his faith. His peace,
his patience, his courage, his zeal, his works, —
all will be according to his faith.

You read the lives of eminent Christians
perhaps. Such men as Romaine, or Newton,
or Martyn, Scott, or Simeon, or M'Cheyne ;
and you are disposed to say, " What wonderful
gifts and grace these men had !" I answer,
you should rather give honor to the mother-
grace which God puts forward in the eleventh
chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, — you
should give honor to their faith. Depend on it,
faith was the mainspring in the character of
each and all.

I can fancy some one saying, '•' They were
so prayerful ; — that made them what they
were." I answer, why did they pray much ?

faith's choice. 825

— Simply because they had much faith. What
is prayer, but faith speaking to God ?

Another perhaps will say, " They were so
diligent and laborious, — that accounts for their
success." I answer, why were they so dili-
gent ? — Simply because they had faith. What
is Christian diligence, but faith at work ?

Another will tell me, " They were so bold, —
that rendered them so useful." I answer, why
were they so bold ? — Simply because they had
much faith. What is Christian boldness, but
faith honestly doing its duty ?

And another will cry, " It was their holiness
and spirituality, — that gave them their weight."
For the last time I answer, what made them
holy ? — Nothing but a living, realizing spirit of
faith. What is holiness, but faith visible and
faith incarnate ?

Now, dear Reader, would you grow in grace,
and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ?
Would you bring forth much fruit? Would
you be eminently useful ? Would you be
bright, and shine as a light in your day? Would
you, like Moses, make it clear as noon-day that


you have chosen God before the world ? I dare
be sure that every behever will reply, " Yes !
yes ! yes ! these are the things we long for and

Then take the advice I give you this day: —
go and cry to the Lord Jesus Christ, as the
disciples did, " Lord, increase our faith." Faith
is the root of a real Christian's character. Let
your root be right, and your fruit will soon
abound. Your spiritual prosperity will always
be according to your faith. He that believeth
shall not only be saved, but shall never thirst,
— shall overcome, — shall be established, — shall
walk firmly on the waters of this world, — and
shall do great works.

Emmtor 1Cnt»


Gen. xix. 16.

Who is this man that Hngered ? — Lot, the
nephew of faithful Abraham. And when did
he linger ? — The very morning when Sodom
was to be destroyed. And where did he linger ?
— Within the walls of Sodom itself. And be-
fore whom did he linger ? — Under the eyes of
the two angels, wjjp were sent to bring him out
of the city.

Reader, the words are solemn, and full of food
for thought. I trust they will make you think.
Who knows but they are the very words your
soul requires ? The voice of the Lord Jesus
commands you to " remember Lot's wife."
(Luke xvii. 32.) The voice of one of His min-
isters invites you this day to remember Lot.

Let me try to show you, —

L What Lot was himself :


11. What the text already quoted tells you
of him :

III. What reasons may account for his lin-

gering :

IV. What kind of fruit his lingering

brought forth.

I. What was Lot?

This is a most important point. If I leave
it unnoticed, I shall perhaps miss that class of
professing Christians I want especially to bene-
fit. You would perhaps say, after reading this
paper, " Ah ! Lot was a poor, dark creature, —
an unconverted man, — a child of this world ; —
no wonder he lingered."

But mark now what I say. Lot was nothing
of the kind. Lot was a true believer, — a real
child of God, — a justified soul, — a righteous man.

Has any one of you grace in his heart ? — So
also had Lot.

Has any one of you a hope of salvation ? —
So also had Lot.

Is any one of you a new creature? — So also
was Lot.



Is any one of you a traveller in the narrow
way which leads unto life ? — So also was

Do not think this is only my private opinion,
a mere arbitrary fancy of my own, — a notion
unsupported by Scripture. Do not suppose I
want you to believe it, merely because I say it.
The Holy Ghost has placed the matter beyond
controversy, by calling him "just," and "right-
eous," (2 Peter ii. 7, 8,) and has given us evi-
dence of the grace that was in him.

One evidence is, that he lived in a wicked
place, " seeing and hearing" evil all around him,
(2 Peter ii. 8,) and yet was not wicked himself.
Now to be a Daniel in Babylon, an Obadiah in
Ahab's house, an Abijah in Jeroboam's family,
a saint in Nero's court, and a righteous man in
Sodom, a man must have the grace of God.

Another evidence is, that he " vexed his soul
with the unlawful deeds" he beheld around him.
(2 Peter ii. 8.) He was wounded, grieved,
pained, and hurt at the sight of sin. This was
feeling like holy David, who says, " I beheld
the transgressors, and was grieved, because


they kept not thy word." " Rivers of waters
run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy
law." (Psalm cxix. 136, 158.) Nothing will
account for this but the grace of God.

Another evidence is, that he " vexed his soul
from day to day" with the unlawful deeds he
saw. (2 Peter ii, 8.) He did not at length
become cool and lukewarm about sin, as many
do. Familiarity and habit did not take off the
fine edge of his feelings, as too often is the case.
Many a man is shocked and startled at the first
sight of wickedness, and yet becomes at last so
accustomed to see it, that he views it with com-
parative unconcern. This is especially the
case with those who live in great cities. But
it was not so with Lot. And this is a great
mark of the reality of his grace.

Such an one was Lot, — a just and righteous
man, a man sealed and stamped as an heir of
heaven by the Holy Ghost Himself

Reader, before you pass on, remember that
a true Christian may have many a blemish,
many a defect, many an infirmity, and yet be
a true Christian nevertheless. You do not


despise gold because it is mixed with much
dross. You must not undervalue grace because
it is accompanied by much corruption. Read
on, and you will find that Lot paid dearly for
his lingering. But do not forget, as you read,
that Lot was a child of God.

II. Let us pass on to the second thing I
spoke of JVhat does the text, already quoted,
tell us about Lofs behavior ?

The words are wonderful and astounding
" He lingered ;" and the more you consider the
time and circumstances, the more w^onderful
you will think them.

Lot knew the awful condition of the city in
which he stood ; " the cry" of its abomination
" had waxen great before the Lord :" (Gen. xix.
13,) and yet he lingered.

Lot knew the fearful judgment coming down
on all within its walls ; the angels had said
plainly, " The Lord hath sent us to destroy it :"
(Gen. xix. 13,) and yet he lingered.

Lot knew that God was a God w^ho always
kept His word, and if He said a thing would
surely do it. He could hardly be Abraham's


nephew, and live long with him, and not be
aware of this. Yet he lingered.

Lot believed there was dans^er, for he went
to his sons-in-law, and warned them to flee :
" Up," he said, " get you out of this place ; for
the Lord will destroy this city." (Gen. xix. 14.)
And yet he lingered.

Lot saw the angels of God standing by, wait-
ing for him and his family to go forth. And yet
he lingered.

Lot heard the voice of those ministers of
wrath ringing in his ears to hasten him, "Arise
lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the
city." (Gen. xix. 15.) And yet he lingered.

He was slow when he should have been
quick — backward when he should have been for-
ward — trifling when he should have been has-
tening — loitering when he should have been
hurrying — cold when he should have been
hot. It is passing strange! It seems almost
incredible! It appears too wonderful to be
true! But the Spirit writes it down for our
learning. And so it was.


And yet, Reader, there are many of the Lord
Jesus Christ's people very like Lot.

Mark well what I say. I repeat it, that
there may be no mistake about my meaning.
I have shown you that Lot lingered, — I say
that there are many Christian men and Chris-
tian women in this day very like Lot.

There are many real children of God, who
appear to know far more than they live up to,
and see far more than they practise, and yet
continue in this state for many years. Won-
derful that they go as far as they do, and yet
go no further !

They hold the Head, even Christ, and love
the truth. They like sound preaching, and
assent to every article of Gospel doctrine, when
they hear it. But still there is an indescribable
something which is not satisfactory about
them. They are constantly doing things which
disappoint the expectations of their ministers,
and of more advanced Christian friends. Mar-
vellous that they should think as they do, and
yet stand still !

They believe in heaven, and yet seem faintly


to long for it; — and in hell, and yet seena little
to fear it. They love the Lord Jesus, but the
work they do for Him is small. They hate the
devil, but they often appear to tempt him
to come to them. They know the time is
short, but they live as if it were long. They
know they have a battle to fight, yet a man
might think they were at peace. They know
they have a race to run, yet they often look
like people sitting still. They know the judge
is at the door, and there is wrath to come, and
yet they appear half asleep. Astonishing they
should be what they are, and yet be nothing

And what shall we say of these people ?
They often puzzle godly friends and relations.
They often cause great anxiety. They often
give rise to great doubts arid searchings of
heart. But they may be classed under one
sweeping description : they are all brethren
and sisters of Lot. They linger.

These are they who get the notion into their
minds that it is impossible for all believers to
be very holy and very spiritual. . They allow


that eminent holiness is a beautiful thing.
They like to read about it in books, and even
to see it occasionally in others. But they do not
think that, all are meant to aim at so high a
standard. At any rate they seem to make up
their minds it is beyond their reach.

These are they who get into their heads
false ideas of charity, as they call it. They
would fain please everybody, and suit every-
body, and be agreeable to everybody. But
they forget they ought first to be sure that they
please God.

These are they who dread sacrifices, and
shrink from self-denial. They never appear
able to apply our Lord's command, "to cut off
the right hand and pluck out the right eye."
(Matt. V. 29, 30.) They spend their lives in
trying to make the gate more wide, and the
cross more light. But they never succeed.

These are they who are always trying to
keep in with the world. They are ingenious
in discovering reasons for not separating de-
cidedly, and in framing plausible excuses for
attending questionable amusements, and keep-


ing up questionable friendships. One day you
are told of their attending a Bible reading : the
next day perhaps you hear of their going to a
ball. They are constantly laboring to per-
suade themselves that to mix a little with
worldly people on their own ground does good.
Yet in their case it is very clear they do no
good, and only get harm.

These are they who cannot find it in their
heart to quarrel with their besetting sin,
whether it be sloth, indolence, ill-temper, pride,
selfishness, impatience, or what it may. They
allow it to remain a tolerably quiet and undis-
turbed tenant of their hearts. They say it is
their health, and their constitutions, and their
temperaments, and their trials, and their way.
Their father, or mother, or grandmother, was
so before themselves, and they are sure they
cannot help it. And when you meet after the
absence of a year or so, you hear the same

But all, all, all may be summed up in one
single sentence. They are the brethren and
sisters of Lot. They linger.


Ah ! reader, if you are a lingering soul, you
are not happy. You know you are not. It
would be strange indeed if you were so.
Lingering is the sure destruction of a happy
Christianity. A lingerer's conscience forbids
him to enjoy inward peace.

Perhaps at one time you did run well. But
you have left your first love, — you have never
felt the same comfort since, and you never
will till you return to your first works. Like
Peter, when the Lord Jesus was taken pris-
oner, you are following the Lord afar off, and
like him you will find the way not pleasant but

Come and look at Lot. Come and mark Lot's
history. Come and consider Lot's lingering, and
be wise.

III. Let us next consider the reasons that
may account for Lot's lingering.

This is a question of great importance, and
I ask your serious attention to it. To know
the root of a disease is one step towards a
remedy. He that is forewarned is forearmed.

Who is there amonoj the readers of those


pages that feels secure, and has no fear of Ihi-
gering ? Come and listen while I tell you a
few passages in Lot's history. Do as he did,
and it will be a nairacle indeed if you do not
get into the same state of soul at last.

One thing, then, I observe in Lot, is this, he
made a lorong choice in early life.

There was a time when Abraham and Lot
lived together. They both became rich, and
could live together no longer. Abraham, the
elder of the two, in the true spirit of humility
and courtesy, gave Lot the choice of the coun-
try, when they resolved to part company ; *- If
thou," he said, "wilt take the left hand then I
will go to the right, or if thou depart to the right
hand then I will go to the left." (Gen. xiii. 9.)

And what did Lot do? — We are told he saw
the plains of Jordan, near Sodom, were rich,
fertile and well-watered. It was a good land
for cattle, and full of pastures. He had large
flocks and herds, and it just suited his require-
ments. And this was the land he chose for a
residence, simply because it was a rich, well-
watered land.


It was near the town of Sodom ! He cared
not for that.

The men of Sodom, who would be his neigh-
bors, were wicked ! It mattered not.

They were sinners before God exceedingly !
It made no difference to him.

The pasture was rich. The land was good.
He wanted such a country for his flocks and
herds. And before that argument all scruples
and doubts, if indeed he had any, at once went

He chose by sight, and not by faith. He
asked no counsel of God to preserve him from
mistakes. He looked to the things of time, and
not of eternity. He thought of his worldly
profit, and not of his soul. He considered only
what would help him in this life, — he forgot the
solemn business of the life to come. This was
a bad beginning.

But I observe also that Lot mixed with
sinners when there was no occasion for his
doing so.

We are first told that he " pitched his tent


toward Sodom." (Gen. xiii. 12.) This, as I
have ah'eady shown, was a great mistake.

But the next time he is mentioned, we find
liim actually living in Sodom itself. The Spirit
says expressly, "He dwelt in Sodom." (Gen.
xiv. 12.) His tents were left. The country
was forsaken. He occupied a house in the very
streets of that wicked town.

We are not told the reasons of this chansce.
We are not aware that any occasion could
have arisen for it. We are sure there could
have been no command of God. Perhaps his
wife liked the town better than the country, for
the sake of society. It is plain she had no grace
herself Perhaps she persuaded Lot it was
needful for the education of his daughters.
Perhaps the daughters urged living in the town
for the sake of gay company : they were evi-
dently light-minded young women. Perhaps
Lot liked it himself, in order to make more of
his flocks and herds. Men never want reasons
to confirm their wills. But one thing is very
clear, — Lot dwelt in the midst of Sodom with-
out good cause.


Reader, when a child of God does these two
things, which I have named, you never need be
surprised if you hear, by-and-by, unfavorable
accounts about his soul. You never need won-
der if he becomes deaf to the warning voice of
affliction, as Lot was, (Gen. xiv. 12,) and turns
out a lingerer in the day of trial and danger, as
Lot did.

Make a wrong choice, — an unscriptural
choice, — in life, and settle yourself down unne-
cessarily in the midst of worldly people, and I
know no surer way to damage your own spir-
ituality, and to go backward about your eternal

This is the way to make the pulse of your
soul beat feebly and languidly. This is the way
to make the edge of your feeling about sin
become blunt and dull. This is the way to dim
the eyes of your spiritual discernment, till you
can scarcely distinguish good from evil, and
stumble as you walk. This is the way to bring
a moral palsy on your feet and limbs, and make
you go tottering and trembling along the road
to Zion, as if the grasshopper was a burden.


This is the way to sell the pass to your worst
enemy, — to give the devil the vantage-ground
in the battle, — to tie your arms in fighting,—
to fetter your legs in running, — to dry up the
sources of your strength, — to cripple your own
energies, — to cut off your own hair, like Sam-
son, and give yourself into the hands of the
Philistines, put out your own eyes, grind at the
mill, and become a slave.

Reader, wake up and mark well what I am
saying. Settle these things down in your
mind. Do not forget them. Recollect them
in the morning. Recall them to memory at
night. Let them sink down deeply into your
heart. If ever you would be safe from Hnger-
ing, beware of needless mingling with worldly
people. Beware of Lot's choice. If you would
not settle down into a dry, dull, sleepy, idle,
barren, heavy, carnal, stupid, torpid state of
soul, beware of Lot's choice.

Remember this in choosing a dwelling-place
or residence. It is not enough that the house
is comfortable, — the situation good, — the air
fine, — the neighborhood pleasant, — the ex-

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleLiving or dead? : a series of home truths → online text (page 15 of 16)