J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

Living or dead? : a series of home truths online

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Wavering Brethren, let me ask you a simple
question. How long do you mean to continue
as 5'ou are ? When do you intend to cease
irom being almost Christians, and become de-
cided ? When do you mean to leave Agrippa,
and join Paul ? You know in your heart
and conscience you are not yet saved, — you
nave no oil in your lamps, — you have not the
marks of Christ's people, — you are not true
saints. You dare not deny what I say.

When then do you propose to alter ? What
is the thing that you are waiting for? Oh!
turn not away from my question : sit down and
answer it if you can.

Are you waiting till you are sick and un-
ivell ? Surely you will not tell me that is a
convenient season. When your body is racked
with pain, — when your mind is distracted with


all kinds of anxious thoughts, — when calm re-
flection is almost impossible, — is this a time for
beginning the mighty work of acquaintance
with God ? Do not talk so.

Are you waiting till you are old? Surely
you have not considered what you say. You
will serve Christ when your members are worn
out and decayed, and your hands unfit to work.
You will go to Him when your mind is weak,
and your memory failing. You will give up
the world when you cannot keep it. You will
set your affections on things above, when you
find nothing to set them on in things below. Is
this your plan ? Beware, lest you insult God.

Are you waiting till you have leisure ? And
when do you expect to have more time than
you have now ? Every year you live seems
shorter than the last : you find more to think
of, or to do, and less power and opportunity to
do it. And, after all, you know not whether
you may live to see another year. Boast not
yourself of to-morrow, — now is the time.

Are you waiting till your heart is perfectly
jit and ready ? That will never be. It will


always be corrupt and sinful, — a bubbling
fountain, full of evil. You will never make
it like a pure white sheet of paper, that you
can take to Jesus and say, " Here I am.
Lord, ready to have thy law written on my
heart." Delay not. Better begin as you are.

Are you waiting till the devil will let you
come to Christ without trouble ? That will
never be. Satan never gives up a single soul,
without a struggle. If you would be saved
you must fight for it. Stand not another
day. Arise and go forward at once.

Are you waiting till there is no cross to he
home ? That will never be. So long as sin is
our enemy, and our own bodies weak and
clogged by it, so long we must endure hard-
ness, if we would be good soldiers of Jesus
Christ. Go in the strength of the Lord God,
and you shall overcome. If there is no cross
there will be no crown.

Are you waiting till all around you hecome
decided ? That will never be. Heaven only
is the place where all are saints. Earth is the
place where sin reigns, and God's people are a


little flock. You must be content to journey
alone, and swim against the stream. " Narrow
is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there
be that find it." Tarry not for friends and
neighbors, — see that you are among the few.

Are you waiting till the gate is wide ? That
will never be. It will not alter, — it is not elas-
tic, — it will not stretch. It is wide enough for
the chief of sinners, if he comes in a humble
and self-abased spirit. But if there is anything
you are resolved not to give up, you will never,
with all your struggling, get in. Lay aside
every weight, — enter before the door is shut for-

And are you waiting because some few
Christians are inconsistent, and some jiro-
fessors fall away ? Their folly is no excuse
for you. Their sin will not justify your delay.
Hear the word of the Lord Jesus, " What is
that to thee, follow thou me."

Oh! wavering Brethren, are not your ex-
cuses broken reeds — webs that will not cover
you — wood, hay, and stubble, that will not
abide the fire ? Are not your reasonings and


defences unprofitable and vain? Be honest, —
confess the truth.

Turn not away from good advice. I fear
lest the time should come w^hen you will seek
to enter in, and not be able. This day I charge
you, throw away indecision, — wait no longer,
become decided for Christ.

No man is wise till he is decided. What
can be more foolish, than to live on in uncer-
tainty ? What can be more childish, than to
appear not to know what is truth ? — to have
two ways set before us, and not to be able to
decide which is right ? Christ is on one side,
and the world on the other, — the Bible is on
the right hand, and man's opinion on the left :
is it not a wonderful and horrible thing that
you can think on these things, and yet for a
moment doubt? Whether you believe the
Gospel true or false, your present position is
manifestly wrong. If it be true, you do not go
far enough, — if it be false, you go too far. Oh !
be decided, — consider your ways and be wise.

No man is safe till he is decided. All are in
peril of ruin who are not real followers of


Christ, — who are not converted and made
children of God.

Wavering Brethren, you fancy there is a
middle path between conversion and uncon-
version. You are mistaken. There seems to
be, the devil tells you there is, but in reality
there is no such thing. There are but two
kingdoms, — Christ's kingdom, and Satan's;
there is no neutral ground between : — two
parties, believers and unbelievers ; there is no
third. Consider to which you belong.

Some people, I know, will say you are in a
hopeful state. I dare not say so, while you
stand still. It would be flattery, and not charity.
I tell you rather, your state is dangerous in the
extreme. You have enough rehgion to satisfy
you in a way, — you are not as other men, care-
less, profligate, and the like, — but still you
have not enough religion to do you good. You
have not the Spirit of Christ, and are none
of His.

It is small comfort to my mind to hear that
you are not far from the kingdom of God, if
you stop there. It wants another step to make


you safe, and without that, all the rest is use-
less. I doubt not many were close to the door
of the ark, when the flood came, but all alike
were drowned who were not inside. Many, I
dare say, came up to the gates of the cities of
refuge, but none escaped the destroyer except
those who really entered in. Be decided. This
is the only way to be safe.

And no man is quite happy in his religion
till he is decided. There is little peace so long
as you are halting and irresolute. You please
no one altogether. Jesus has no consolations
for you : He will have all your heart or none.
The world is not satisfied with you : they can-
not understancf your behavior. True Chris-
tians dare not comfort you : they can only look
on you with suspicion and mistrust. You are
like the Samaritans of old, who served the
Lord and their own idols at the same time ;
they formed a middle class between the Jews
and Gentiles, and yet were friends with neither ;
— they were too much Gentiles for the Jews,
and too much Jews for the Gentiles. This is
just your case. You are trying that which


cannot be done ; you are trying to serve two
masters, and no wonder you are ill at ease.

Wavering Brethren, for your own peace
sake, I invite you to choose the better part.
Gird up the loins of your mind. Quit you like
men. Be strong. God's conduct in punishing
sin has ever been decided. Satan's conduct in
tempting sinners has ever been decided. Why
then are you not decided too ?

Cry mightily unto the Lord, that you may
be enabled to leave behind your wavering
ways. Resolve that, by His grace, you will be
true soldiers, real servants, men of God indeed ;
— that you will never rest until you know in
whom you believe. Cease to halt between two
opinions. Let your eyes look right on. Cast
loose your hold on the world. Lay hold on
Christ, and commit yourselves to Him. No
man ever came back from the narrow way,
and reported that he was sorry for his choice.
Thousands have lingered away life, as you are
doing now, and have found too late, that the
fruit of indecision is eternal sorrow.

in. The last thing I have to say is this,


there are some true Christians among you
whom I long to see more holy and more bright.
You are those who have found out your own
sinfuhiess and lost estate, and really believe on
Jesus for the saving of your souls. The eyes
of your understanding have been opened by the
Spirit, — He has led you to Christ, and you are
new men. You have peace with God. Sin is
no longer pleasant to you, — the world has no
longer the first place in your heart, — all things
are become new. You have ceased from trust-
ing in your own works. You are willing to
stand before the bar of God, and rest your soul
on the finished work of Him who died for the
ungodly. This is all your confidence, that you
have washed your robes and made them white
in the blood of the Lamb. I thank God heartily
for what He hath wrought in your souls, but I
ask you also to consider your ways.

Believing Brethren, I write to you about
your sanctification. There are those who think
you are a class in our congregations that re-
quire little writing to: you are within the pale
of salvation — you may be almost let alone. I


cannot see it. I believe you need your minis-
ter's care and exhortation as much as any, if
not more. I believe that on your growth in
grace and holiness, not merely your own com-
fort, but the salvation of many souls, under
God, depends. I believe that the converted
members of a church should be preached to,
spoken to, warned, counselled, far more than
they are. You need many words of direction.
You are still in the wilderness. You have not
crossed Jordan. You are not yet at home.

I see Paul beseeching the Thessalonians that
as they have received of Him, how they ought
to walk and please God, so they would abound
mo*'e and more. I see him watning them not
to sleep, as others do, but to watch and be
sober. I see Peter telling believers to give
diligence to make their calling and election
sure; to go on adding one grace to another ; to
grow in grace, and in the knowledge of Christ.
I wish to follow in their steps. I would remind
you "that this is the will of God, even your
sanctification," and I ask you to make it plain
it is your will too. You were not chosen out of


the world to go to sleep, but that you might be
holy. You were not called of God that you
might walk worthy of your calling. Recollect
those solemn words, " He that lacketh these
things is blind and cannot see afar off, and hath
forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.'*
(2 Peter i. 9.)

Why do I say these things ? Is it because I
think you do not know them ? No : but I want to
stir you up by putting you in remembrance. Is
it because I wish to discourage the poor in spirit,
and make the heart of the righteous sad ? No
indeed : I would not willingly do this. Is it
because I think true Christians can ever fall
away ? God fS^bid you should suppose I mean
such a thing.

But I say what I say because / am jealous
for my Lord's honor. I wish the elect of
God to be indeed a holy nation, and the sons
of adoption to live as becomes the children of a
King. I want those who are light in the Lord
to walk as children of light, shining more and
more every day.

And I say it for the good of the world. You


are almost the only book that worldly people
read. Surely your lives should be epistles of
Christ, so plain that he who runs may read
them. The world cares little for doctrine, —
the world knows nothing of experience, — but
the world can understand a close walk with

And not least I say it because of the times
you live in. I write it down deliberately, I be-
lieve there never were so many lukewarm saints
as there are now; — there never was a time in
which a low and carnal standard of Christian
behavior so much prevailed ; — there never
were so many babes in grace in the family of
God, — so many who seem to sit still, and live
on old experience, — so many who appear to
have need of nothing, and to be neither hun-
gering nor thirsting after righteousness, as at the
present time. I write this with all sorrow. It
may be too painful to please some. But I ask
you, as in God's sight, is it not true ?

There is a generation of Christians in this
age who grieve me to the heart. They make
my blood run cold. I cannot understand them.


For anything that man's eye can see, they
make no progress. They never seem to get on.
Years roll on, and they are just the same, — the
same besetting sins, the same infirmities of dis-
position, the same weakness in trial, the same
chilliness of heart, the same apathy, the same
faint resemblance to Christ, — but no new
knowledge, no increased interest in the king-
dom, no freshness, no new strength, no new
fruits, as if they grew. Are they not forgetting
that growth is the proof of life, — that even the
yew-tree grows, and the snail and the sloth
move ? Are they not forgetting how awfully
far a man may go, and yet not be a true Chris-
tian ? He may be like a waxwork figure, the
very image of a believer, and yet not have
within him the breath of God : — he may have
a name to live, and be dead after all.

Believing Brethren, these are the reasons
why I write so strongly. I want your Christi-
anity to be unmistakable. I want you all to
grow really, and to do more than others. Let
us all henceforth remember Sardis and Laodi-
cea, — let us resolve to be more holy and more


bright. Let us bury our idols. Let us put
away all strange gods. Let us cast out the old
leaven. Let us lay aside every weight and
besetting sin. Let us cleanse ourselves from
all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and perfect ho-
liness in the fear of God. Let us renew our
covenant with our beloved Lord. Let us aim
at the highest and best things. Let us resolve
by God's blessing to be more holy, and then I
know and am persuaded we shall be more use-
ful and more happy.

I name some things for prayerful considera-

1. Let us then, for one thing, begin with a
humble confession of past unprofitableness and

Let us acknowledge with shame and contri-
tion that we have not hitherto lived up to our
light. We ought to have been the salt of the
earth ; — but there has been little savor of Christ
about us. We ought to have been the light of
the world ; — but we have most of us been little
glimmering sparks that could scarcely be seen.
We ought to have been a peculiar people ;—


but the difference between us and the world
has been faint and small. We ought to have
been, like Levites, in Israel, a distinct people,
among professing Christians : — but w^e have
too otlen behaved as if we belonged to some
other tribe. We ought to have looked on this
world as an inn, and we have settled down in
it as if it were our home : — it ought to have
been counted our school of training for eter-
nity, Snd we have been at ease in it as if it
were our continuing city, or trifled away time
in it, as if we were meant to play and not to
learn. We ought to have been careful for
nothing, and we have been careful and troubled
about many things, — we have allowed the af-
fairs of this life to eat out the heart of our
spirituality, and have been cumbered w^ith much

How rarely we have heard the Gospel like
men in earnest, — and read the Bible as if we
were feeding on it, — and prayed as if w^e
wanted an answer! How poor and feeble has
been our witness against sin ! How seldom
have we looked like men about our Father's


business ! How little have we known about
singleness of eye, and wholeness of heart, and
walking in the Spirit! How weak has been
our faith, how feeble our hope, how cold our
charity ! How few of us have lived as if we
believed all that is written in the Word, and
moved through life like pilgrims travelling to a
better land !

Oh ! Brethren believers, have we not good
reason to be ashamed when we think on these
things ? \^ery grievous are they, and we ought
to feel it. Let us begin with self-abasement,
— let us cry " God be merciful to us sinners, —
take away our iniquity, for we have done very

2. In the next place, let us all seek to " abide
in Christ " more thoroughly than we have

Christ is the true spring of life in every be-
liever's soul, the head on which every member
depends, the corner-stone of all real sanctifica-
tion. Whenever I see a child of God becoming
less holy than he was, I know the secret of it,
— he is clinging less firmly to Christ than he


did. Our root must be right, if our fruit is to

Brethren, let us strive after close union and
communion with Christ. Let us go to Him
oftener, speak with Him more frequently, trust
Him more wholly, look to Him more con-
stantly, lean upon Him more entirely. This is
the way to go through the wilderness without
fainting, and to run the race set before us with
patience. Let us live the life of faith in the
Son of God. He is the vine and we are the
branches : — let all our strength be drawn from
Him : separate from him we can do nothing.
He is the Sun of righteousness ; — let us seek
our comfort in Him, and not in our own frames
and feelings. He is the bread of life ; — let us
feed on Him day by day, as Israel on the
manna, and not on our own experiences. Let
Christ become more and more all things to us :
His blood our peace, — His intercession our
comfort, — His word our warrant, — His grace
our strength, — His sympathy our support, — His
speedy coming our hope. Let others spend


their tii:»e on new books if they will, let us
rather study to learn Christ.

We know a little of Christ as our Saviour,
but Oh ! how small a portion have we seen of
the fulness that is in Him ! Like the Indians,
when America was first discovered, we are not
aware of the amazing value of the gold and
treasure in our hands. Believe me, if we did
but realize the blessedness of free and full for-
giveness in Him, we should be men of a differ-
ent stamp. The man who feels the blood of
atonement sprinkled on his conscience, — the
man who enjoys assurance that he is washed,
and justified, and accepted in the Beloved, this
is the man who will be holy indeed, this is the
man who will bear much fruit. He will labor
cheerfully, — he will suffer patiently, — he will
witness confidently, — he will press on unflinch-
ingly, — he will love warmly. Redemption is
ever fresh upon his mind, and his thought is,
" What shall I render unto the Lord for all his
benefits ?"

Brethren, let us cleave to Christ more closely.
Let us draw nearer to the cross. Let us sit at


the feet of Jesus. Let us drink into the spirit
of the apostle when he said, •' To me to live is
Christ." Let us do this, and we shall grow.

3. And let us beware of excuses.

Reasons will never be wanting in our minds
why we cannot be bright and eminent Chris-
tians just now. It is very possible to admire
a high standard of spirituality in others, while
we are content with very low practice our-
selves. We persuade ourselves there is some-
thing peculiar in our particular case, which
makes it almost impossible to shine. But let
all excuses be received, like Babylonian am-
bassadors, with great suspicion. They are
generally the devil's coinage. Let us settle it
firmly in our hearts, that there are few of us
indeed who cannot glorify God just where we
are without any change. All our excuses are
as dust in the balance when placed against that
promise, "My grace is sufficient for thee." Let
us not deceive ourselves. By the grace of God
we may be bright saints even now.

Let us not say, " We have bad health." Re-
member the apostle Paul : — he had a thorn in


the flesh, — some never-ceasing ailment, prob-
ably, — and yet it seemed a spur rather than a
hindrance to his soul.

Let us not say, " TVe have many trials/' Re-
member Job: — wave upon wave came rolling
over him, and yet his faith did not give way;
and the record of his patience is on high.

Let us not say, " We have families and chil-
dren to make us anxious and keep us back."
Remember David : — none was ever so tried at
home as he was, yet he was a man after God's
own heart.

Let us not say, " We have press of distract-
ing business to attend on." Remember Daniel:
— he had far more afl^airs on his hands prob-
ably than any of us, yet he found time to pray
three times a day, and was a proverb for godli-

Let us not say, ''I stand alone, the times
are evil, and none around me serve God." Re-
member Noah : — the whole world was against
him, yet he did not give way. By faith he held

Let us not say, " We live in families where


God is not thought of." Remember Obadiah
in Ahab's house, and Nero's servants at
Rome. What are our difficulties compared
with theirs?

Let us not say, *' We are poor and unlearn-
ed" Remember Peter and John. They were
as poor and unlearned as any of us, yet they
were pillars of the early Church, they were of
the number of those who turned the world up-
side down.

No! believing Brethren, such excuses for
not being more holy will nev^er do while
grace may be had. Let us say rather, " We
are slothful and take no trouble, — we are
unbelieving and make no bold attempt, — we
are worldly and our eyes are too dim to see
the beauty of holiness, — we are proud and
we cannot humble ourselves to take pains."
Let us say this, and we shall more likely
speak the truth. There are always ways in
which we may glorify God: there are passive
graces as well as active. But the way of
the slothful is always a hedge o^ thorns.
The wall of Jerusalem was soon built when


the Jews had " a mind to work." We com-
plain of the devil, but there is no devil after
all like our own hearts. We have not grace
because we do not ask it. The fault is all
our own.

4. Let us he on our guard against false

Unsound faith will never be the mother of
really sound practice, and in these latter days
departures from the faith abound. See then
that your loins be girt about with truth, and
be very jealous of receiving anything which
cannot be proved by the Bible. Think not
for a moment that false doctrine will meet
you face to face, saying " I am false doctrine,
and I want to come into your heart." Satan
does not go to work in that way. He dresses
up false doctrine like Jezebel, — he paints her
face and tires her head, and tries to make
her like truth. Think not that those who
preach error will never preach anything that
is true. Error would do little harm if that
was the case. No! error will come before
you mingled with much that is sound and


scriptural. The sermon will be all right ex-
cepting a few sentences. The book will be
all good excepting a few pages. And this is
the chief dansrer of religious error in these
times, — it is like the subtle poisons of days
gone by, — it works so deceitfully that it throws
men off their guard. Brethren, take care. Re-
member that even Satan himself is transformed
into an angel of light.

Keep clear of any system of religion which
confounds the world and true believers, and
makes no broad distinction between those who
are true children of God in a congregation,
and those who are not. Be not carried away
by an appearance of great self-denial and hu-
mility. It is far easier to fast and wear sack-
cloth, and be of a sad countenance, than to
receive thoroughly the doctrine of justification
by faith without the deeds of the law.

Call no man father upon earth. Build not
your faith on any minister or set of ministers.
Let no man become your Pope. Make no
Christian living your standard of what is right
in faith or practice, however high his name,


his rank, or his learning. Let your creed be
the Bible, and nothing but the Bible ; and your
example Christ, and nothing short of Him.

Take heed, lest your minds be corrupted

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleLiving or dead? : a series of home truths → online text (page 4 of 16)