J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

Living or dead? : a series of home truths online

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who would be saved must be made alive. The
words which good old Berridge had graven on
his tomb-stone are faithful and true, " Reader,
art thou born again ? Remember ! no salva-
tion without a new birth."

See now, my dear Reader, what an amazing
gulf there is between the Christian in name
and form, and the Christian in deed and truth.
It is not the difference of one being a little
better, and the other a little worse than his
neighbor; — it is the difference between a state
of life and a state of death. The meanest blade
of grass that grows upon a Highland mountain is
a more noble object than the fairest wax-flower
that was ever formed ; for it has that which no

of our corruptions, without addition of grace and sanctification,
surely we must geek us another Father, we are not yet the
sons of God." — Bishop Hall. 1652.

" If tliou hast anything less than regeneration, believe me,
thou canst never see heaven. There is no hope of heaven till
then, — till thou art born again." — Archbishop Ushers Sermons.


science of man can impart, — it has life. The
most splendid marble statue in Greece or Italy-
is nothing by the side of the poor sickly child
that crawls over the cottage floor; for with
all its beauty it is dead. And the weakest mem-
ber of the family of Christ is far higher and
more precious in God's eyes, than the most
gifted man of the world. The one lives unto
God, and shall live forever ; — the other, with
all his intellect, is still dead in sins.

Oh! you that have passed from death to
life, you have reason indeed to be thankful.
Remember what you once were by nature, —
dead. Think what you are now by grace, —
alive. Look at the dry bones thrown up from
the graves. Such were ye ; — and who has
made you to differ ? Go and fall low before
the footstool of your God. Bless Him for His
grace. His free distinguishing grace. Say to
Him often, " Who am I, Lord, that thou hast
brought me hitherto ? Why me, why hast thou
been merciful unto me ?"

in. Let me tell you in the third place, in
what way alone this quickening can he brought


about, — by what meaiis a dead soul can be made

Surely, if I did not tell you this, it would be
cruelty to write what I have written. Surely,
it would be leading you into a dreary wilder-
ness, and then leaving you without bread and
water ; — it would be like marching you down
to the Red Sea, and then bidding you walk
over ; — it would be commanding you to make
brick, like Pharaoh, and yet refusing to pro-
vide you with straw; — it would be like tying
your hands and feet, and then desiring you to
war a good warfare, and so run as to obtain
the prize. I will not do so. I will not leave
you, till I have pointed out the wicket-gate
towards which you must run. By God's help,
I will set before you the full provision there is
made for dead souls. Listen to "hne a little
longer, and I \\\\\ once more show you what is
written in the Scripture of truth.

One thing is very clear; — we cannot work
this mighty change ourselves. It is not in us.
We have no strength or power to do it. We
may change our sins, but we cannot change


our hearts. We may take up a new way, but
not a new nature. We may make consider-
able reforms and alterations. We may lay
aside many outward bad habits, and begin
many outward duties. But we cannot create
a new principle within us. We cannot bring
something out of nothing. The Ethiopian
cannot change his skin, nor the leopard his
spots ; no more can we put life into our own
souls.* (Jer. xiii. 23.)

Another thing is equally clear, no man can
do it for us. Ministers may preach to you,
and pray with you, — receive you at the font in
baptism, admit you at the Lord's table, and
give you the bread and wine ; — but they can-

* " There is not one good duty which the natural man can
do. If it should be said to him, Think but one good thought,
and for it thou slialt go to heaven, he could not think it.
Till God raise him from the sink of sin, as he did Lazarus
from the grave, he cannot do anything that is well-pleasing
to God. He may do the works of a moral man, but to do
the works of a man quickened and enlightened, it is beyond
his power." — Usher's Sermons,

" Nature can no more cast out nature, than Satan can cast
out Satan." — Thomas Watson. 1653.

" Nature cannot raise itself to this, any more than a man
can give natural being to himself." — Archbishop Leighton.


not bestow spiritual life. They may bring in
regularity in the place of disorder, and out-
ward decency in the place of open sin. But
they cannot go below the surface. They can-
not reach your hearts. Paul may plant and
Apollos water, but God alone can give the in-
crease. (I Cor. iii. 6.)

Who then can make a dead soul alive ? No
one can do it but God. He only who breathed
into Adam's nostrils the breath of life, can
ever make a dead sinner a living Christian.
He only who formed the world out of nothing
in the day of creation, can make man a new
creature. He only who said, " Let there be
light, and there was light," can cause spiritual
light to shine into man's heart. He only who
formed man out of the dust and gave life to his
body, can ever give life to his soul. His is the
special office to do it by His Spirit, and His
also is the power.*

Reader, the glorious Gospel contains provi-

* " To create or bring something out of nothing, is beyond
the power of the strongest creature. It is above the strength
of all men and angels to create the least blade of grass;
God challengeth this as His prerogative royal (Isaiah xL 26.)


sion for your spiritual, as well as your eternal
life. The dead must come to Christ, and He
will give them life as well as peace. He is
able to do everything which sinners need. He
cleanses them by His blood, — He makes them
alive by His Spirit. The Lord Jesus is a
complete Saviour. That mighty living Head
has no dead members. His people are not
only justified and pardoned, but quickened to-
gether with Him, and made partakers of His
resurrection. To Him the Spirit joins the
sinner, and raises him by that union from
death to life. In Him the sinner lives, after
he has believed. The spring of all his vitality
is the union between Christ and his soul,
which the Spirit begins and keeps up. Christ
is the appointed fountain of all spiritual life,
and the Holy Ghost the appointed agent who
conveys that life to our souls.*

Augustine said truly, To convert the little world man, is more
than to create the great world." — George Swinnocke. 1660.

* " Then do we begin to live, when we begin to have
union with Christ, the Fountain of Life, by His Spirit com-
municated to us : from this time we are to reckon our life."

" Christ is an universal principle of all life." — Sihbs. 1635.


Come to the Lord Jesus Christ, if you would
have Hfe. He will not cast you out. He has
gifts, even for the rebellious. The moment
the dead man touched the body of Elisha, he
revived and stood upon his feet. (2 Kings xiii.
21.) The moment you touch the Lord Jesus
with the hand of faith, you are alive unto God,
as well as forgiven all trespasses. Come, and
your soul shall live.

I never despair of any one becoming a de-
cided Christian, whatever he may have been
in days gone by. I know how great the
change is from death to life. I know the
mountains of division that seem to stand be-
tween some of you and heaven. I know the
hardness, the prejudices, the desperate sinful-
ness of the natural heart. But I remember
that God the Father made the glorious world
out of nothing. I remember the voice of the
Lord Jesus could reach Lazarus when four
days dead, and recall him even from the grave.
I remember the amazing victories the Spirit
of God has won in every nation under heaven.
1 remember all this, and feel that I never need


despair. Yes! the very man who now seems
most utterly dead in sins, may yet be raised to
a new being, and walk before God in newness
of life.

Why should it not be so ? The Holy Spirit
is a merciful and loving Spirit. He turns
away from no man because of his vileness.
He passes by no one, because his sins are
black and scarlet.

There was nothing in the Corinthians that
He should come down and quicken them.
Paul reports of them that they were " fornica-
tors, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, thieves,
covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners."
" Such," he says, " were some of you." Yet
even them the Spirit made alive. " Ye are
washed," he writes, " ye are sanctified, ye are
justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus and
by the Spirit of our God." (I Cor. vi. 9,
10, 11.)

There was nothing in the Colossians, that

He should visit their hearts. Paul tells us that

" they walked in fornication, uncleanness, m-

ordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and



covetousness, which is idolatry." Yet them
also the Spirit quickened. He made them " put
off the old man with his deeds, and put on the
new man which is renewed in knowledge after
the image of him that created him." (Coloss.
iii. 5-9, 10.)

There was nothing in Mary Magdalene that
the Spirit should make her soul alive. Once
she had been possessed with seven devils.
Time was, if report be true, she had been a
woman proverbial for vileness and iniquity.
Yet even her the Spirit made a new creature,
separated her from her sins, brought her to
Christ, made her last at the cross, and first at
the tomb.

Never, never will the Spirit turn away from
a soul because of its corruption. He never
has done so ; — He never will. It is His glory
that He has purified the minds of the most im-
pure, and made them temples for His own
abode. He may yet take the worst man who
reads this paper, and make him a vessel of

Why indeed should it not be so? The Spirit


is an Almighty Spirit. He can change the
stony heart into a heart of flesh. He can break
the strongest bad habits Hke tow before the fire.
He can make the most difficult things seem
easy, and the mightiest objections melt away
like snow in spring. He can cut the bars of
brass, and throw the gates of prejudice wide
open. He can fill up every valley, and make
every rough place smooth. He has done it
often, and He can do it again.*

The Spirit can take a Jew, — the bitterest
enemy of Christianity, — the fiercest persecutor
of true believers, — the strongest stickler for
Pharisaical notions, — the most prejudiced op-
poser of Gospel doctrine, — and turn that man
into an earnest preacher of the very faith he
once destroyed. He has done it already. — He
did it with the Apostle Paul.

The Spirit can take a Roman Catholic Monk,
brought up in the midst of Romish superstition,

* " Such i3 the power of the Holy Ghost to regenerate
men, and as it were to bring them forth anew, so that they
shall be nothing like the men they were before.'' — Hotaily
for Whitsunday.



— trained from his infancy to believe false doc-
trine, and obey the Pope, — steeped to the eyes
in error, — and make that man the clearest up-
holder of justification by faith the world ever
saw. He has done it already. — He did it with
Martin Luther.

The Spirit can take an English tinker, with-
out learning, patronage, or money, — a man at
one time notorious for nothing so much as blas-
phemy and swearing — and make that man write
a religious book, which shall stand unrivalled
and unequalled in its way by any since the time
of the Apostles. He has done so already. — He
did it with John Bunyan, the author of "Pil-
grim's Progress."

The Spirit can take a sailor, drenched in
worldliness and sin, — a profligate captain of a
slave-ship, — and make that man a most success-
ful minister of the Gospel, — a writer of letters,
which are a store-house of experimental reli-
gion, — and of hymns which are known and
sung wherever English is spoken. He has
done it ah-eady. — He did it with John New-


All this the Spirit has done, and much more,
of which I cannot speak particularly. And the
arm of the Spirit is not shortened. His power
is not decayed. Such as the Lord Jesus Christ
is, such also is the Spirit, the same yesterday,
to-day, and forever. He is still doing won-
ders, and will do to the very end.

Once more then, I say, I never despair of
any man's soul being made alive. I should if
it depended on man himself. Some seem so
hardened, I should have no hope. I should if
it depended on the work of ministers. Alas!
the very best of us are poor, weak creatures.
But 1 cannot despair, when I remember that
God the Spirit is the agent who conveys life
to the soul, for I know and am persuaded that
with him nothing is impossible.

I should not be sujprised to hear, even in
this life, that the hardest man I ever met, had
become softened, and the proudest had taken
his place at the feet of Jesus as a weaned child.

I shall not be surprised to meet many on the
right hand in the day of judgment, whom I
shall leave, when I die, travelling in the broad


way. I shall not start, and say, " What ! you
here!" I shall only remind them, "Was not
this my word, when I was yet among you, — •
nothing is impossible with Him that quickeneth
the dead."

Does any one who reads this paper desire to
help the Church of Christ? Then pray for a
great outpouring of the Spirit. He alone can
give edge to sermons, and point to advice, and
power to rebukes, and cast down the high walls
of sinful hearts. It is not better preaching
and finer writing that is wanted in this. day,
but more of the presence of the Holy Ghost.

Does any one who reads this paper feel the
slightest drawing towards God, — the smallest
concern about his immortal soul ? Then flee
to that open fountain of living waters, the Lord
Jesus Christ, and you shall receive the Holy
Ghost. (John vii. 39.) Begin at once to pray
for the Holy Spirit. Think not you are shut
up, and cut off from hope. The Holy Ghost
is promised to them that ask Him. His very
name is the Spirit of promise and the Spirit of
life. Give Him no rest till he comes down and


makes you a new heart. Cry mightily unto the
Lord, — say unto Flim "Bless me, even me also,
— quicken me, and make me alive."

And now let me wind up all I have said, with
a few words of special application. I have
told you what I believe to be the truth as it is
in Jesus. Let me try, by God's blessing, to
bring it home to your heart.

I. First, let me put this question to every
soul who reads this paper, — "Are you living, or
are you dead ?"

Suffer me, as an ambassador for Christ, to
press the inquiry on every conscience. There
are only two ways to walk in, the narrow and
the broad; — two companies in the day of judg-
ment, those on the right hand and those on the
left ; two classes of people in the professing
Church of Christ, and to one of them you
must belong. Where are you? What are
you? Are you among the living, or among
the dead?

I speak to you yourselves who read this
paper, and to none else, — not to your neigh-
bor, but to you, — not to Africans oi New


Zealanders, but to you. I do not ask whether
you are angels, or whether you have the mind
of David or Paul, — but I do ask whether you
have a well-founded hope that you are new
creatures in Christ Jesus, — I do ask whether
you have reason to believe you have put off the
old man and put on the new, — whether you are
conscious of ever having gone through a real
spiritual change of heart, — whether, in one
word, you are dead or alive ?*

Think not to put me off by saying, " You
were admitted into the church by baptism, —
you received grace and the Spirit in that sacra-

* " All hangs upon this hinge. If this be not done, ye are
undone — undone eternally. All your profession, civility,
privileges, gifts, duties, are cyphers, and signify nothing, un-
less regeneration be the figure put before them." — Swbinocke.

" Believe me, whatsoever thou art, thou shalt never be saved
for being a lord, or a kniglit, a gentleman or a rich man, a
learned man or a well-spoken eloquent man ; nor yet for
being a Calvinist, or a Lutheran, an Arminian, an Anabaptist, a
Presbyterian, an Independent, or a Protestant, formally and
merely as such ; — much less for being a Papist, or of any
such grossly deluded sect : but as a regenerate Christian it
is that thou must be saved, or thou canst have no hope." —
Richard Baxter. 1659.


ment, — you are alive." It shall not avail you.
Paul himself says of the baptized widow who
lives in pleasure, " She is dead while she liveth."
(1 Tim. V. 6.) The Lord Jesus Christ himself
tells the chief officer of the church in Sardis,
" Thou hast a name that thou livest and art
dead." (Rev. iii. 1.) The life you talk of is
nothing if it cannot be seen. Show it to me,
if I am to believe its existence. Grace is light,
and light will always be discerned. Grace is
salt, and salt will always be tasted. An in-
dwelling of the Spirit that does not show itself
by outward fruits, — and a grace that men's eyes
cannot discover, are both to be viewed with
the utmost suspicion. Believe me, if you have
no other proof of spiritual life but your baptism,
you are yet a dead soul.

Think not to tell me, " It is a question that
cannot be decided, and you call it presumptuous
to give an opinion in such a matter." This is
a vain refuge, and a false humility. Spiritual
life is no such dim and doubtful thing as you
seem to fancy. There are marks and evidences
by which its presence may be discerned by


those who know the Bible. *' We know, says
John, "that we have passed from death unto
Hfe." (1 John iii. 14.) The exact time and
season of that passage may often be hidden from
a man. The fact and reality of it will seldom
be entirely an uncertain thing. It was a true
and beautiful saying of a Scotch girl to White-
field, when asked if her heart was changed,
"Something was changed, she knew; it might
be the world, it might be her own heart ; but
there was a great change somewhere, she was
quite sure, for everything seemed different to
what it once did." Oh! cease to evade the
inquiry. Anoint your eyes with eye-salve that
you may see. Are you dead or alive ?

Think not to reply, " You do not know ; —
you allow it is a matter of importance ; — you
hope to know some time before you die ; — you
mean to give your mind to it when you have a
convenient season ; — but at present you do not

You do not know ! Yet heaven or hell is
wrapped up in this question. An eternity of
happiness or misery hinges upon your answer.


You do not leave your woi'ldly alFairs so un-
settled. You do not manage your earthly
business so loosely. You look far forward.
You provide against every possible contingency.
You insure life and property. Oh ! why not
deal in the same way with your immortal soul ?

You do not know ! Yet all around you is
uncertainty. You are a poor frail worm, — your
body fearfully and wonderfully made, — your
health liable to be put out of order in a thousand
ways. The next time the daisies bloom, it may
be over your grave. All before you is dark.
You know not what a day may bring forth,
much less a year. Oh ! why not bring your
soul's business to a point without delay ?

Reader, begin the great business of self-
examination. Rest not till you know the length
and breadth of your oun state in God's sight.
Backwardness in this matter is an evil sign. It
s})rings from an uneasy conscience. It shows
that man thinks il! of his own case. He feels
like a dishonest tradesman, tfiat his accounts
will not bear inquiry. He dreads the light.

Reader, make sure work. Take nothing for


granted. Do not measure your condition by
that of others. Bring everything to the measure
of God's word. A mistake about your soul is a
mistake for eternity. " Surely," says Leighton,
" they that are not born again, shall one day
wish they had never been born."

Sit down this day and think. Commune with
your own heart and be still. Go to your own
room and consider. Enter into your own closet,
or at any rate contrive to be alone with God.
Look the question fairly, fully, honestly in the
face. How does it touch you ? Are you among
the Hving, or among the dead ?*

2. In the second place, let me speak in full
affection to those who are dead.

What shall I say to you ? What can I say ?
What words of mine are likely to have any
effect on your hearts ?

This I will say, I mourn over your souls. I
do most unfeignedly mourn. You may be

* " If your state be good, searching into it will give you
the comfort of it. If your state be bad, searching into it can-
not make it worse ; nay, it is the only way to make it better ;
for conversion begins with conviction." — Bishoj? Hopkins.


thoughtless and unconcerned. You may care
little for what I ani saying. You may scarcely
run your eye over this paper, and after reading
it, despise it, and return to the world ; but you
cannot prevent my feeling for you, however
little you may feel for yourselves.

Do I mourn when I see a young man sapping
the foundation of his bodily health, by indulging
his lusts and passions, sowing bitterness for him-
self in his old age? Much more then will I
mourn over your souls.

Do I mourn when I see men squandering
away their inheritance, and wasting their prop-
erty on trifles and follies ? Much more then
will I mourn over your souls.

Do I mourn when I hear of one drinking slow
poisons, because they are pleasant, as the Chinese
take opium, — putting the clock of his life on, as
if it did not go fast enough, — inch by inch
digging his own grave ? Much more then will
I mourn over your souls.

I mourn to think of golden opportunities
thrown away, — of Christ rejected, — of the bloo'i
of atonement trampled under foot, — a^ the


Spirit resisted, — the Bible neglected, — heaven
despised, and the world put in the place of God,

I mourn to think of the present happiness
you are missing, — the peace and consolation
you are thrusting from you, — the misery you
are laying up in store for yourselves, and the
bitter waking up which is yet to come.

Yes ! I must mourn. I cannot help it.
Others may think it enough to mourn over
dead bodies. For my part, I think there is far
more cause to mourn over dead souls. The
children of this world find fault with us for be-
ing so grave. Truly, when I look at the world,
I marvel we can ever smile at all.

Reader, dear Reader, why will you die ? Are
the wages of sin so sweet and good that you
cannot give them up ? Is the world so satisfy-
ing that you cannot forsake it ? Is the service
of Satan so pleasant that you and he are never
to be parted ? Is heaven so poor a thing that
it is not worth seeking? Is your soul of so
little consequence that it is not worth a
struggle to have it saved? Oh! turn, turn, be-
fore it be too late. God is not willing that you


should perish. '-'As I live," He says, "I have
no pleasure in the death of him that dieth."
Jesus loves you, and grieves to see your folly.
He wept over wicked Jerusalem, saying, " I
w^ould have gathered thee, but thou wouldst
not be gathered." Surely if lost, your blood
will be upon your own head. " Awake, and
arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you


Believe me, believe me, true repentance is
that one step that no man ever repented.
Thousands have said at their latter end, " they
have served God too little :" no child of Adam
ever said, as he left this world, that he had
cared for his soul too much. The way of life
is a narrow path, but the footsteps in it are all
in one direction, — not one has ever come back
and said it was a delusion. The way of the
world is a broad way, but millions on millions
have forsaken it, and borne their testimony it
was a way of sorrow.

Oh ! that this year might be a year of life to
your soul ! Oh ! that the Spirit might come
down upon your heart, and make you a new


man. I ask it of the Lord, as the prophet did
of old, " Come from the four winds, O breath,
and breathe upon these slain, that they may

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleLiving or dead? : a series of home truths → online text (page 2 of 16)