J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

Living or dead? : a series of home truths online

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tion, which ought to put to shame the Chris-
tian liar, the Christian drunkard, and the
Christian thief. They have yet to learn that
the leading mark of Christianity is the remedy
it provides for sin. This is the glory and ex-
cellence of the Gospel. It meets man as he
really is. It takes him as it finds him. It goes
down to the level to which sin has brought him,
and offers to raise him up. It tells him of a
remedy equal to his disease — a great remedy
for a great disease, — a great forgiveness for
great sinners.

Reader, I ask you to consider these things

fully qualified for hell, as a fagot that is bound up for eter-
nal burnings, unless mercy plucks the brand out of the fire."
^Traill 1690.


well, if you have not considered them before.
It is no light matter whether you know your
soul's necessities or not. It is a matter of life
and death. Try, I beseech you, to become
acquainted with your own heart. Sit down
and think quietly what you are in the sight of
God. Bring together the thoughts and words
and actions of any day in your life, and meas-
ure them by the measure of God's word.
Judge yourself honestly, that you may not be
condemned at the last day. O that you may
find out what you really are! O that you may
learn to pray Job's prayer, "Make me to know
my transgression and my sin." (Job xiii. 23.)
O that you may see this great truth, that until
you SiY^' forgiven, your Christianity has done
nothing for you at all.

II. Let me point out to you, in the second
place, the way of forgiveness.

I ask your particular attention to this point,
for none can be more important. Granting
for a moment that you want pardon and for-
giveness, what ought you to do ? Whither
will you go ? Which way will you turn ?


Everything hinges on the answer you give to
this question.

Will you turn to rninisters, and put your
trust in them ? They cannot give you pardon:
they can only tell you where it is to be found.
They can set before you the bread of life : but
you yourself must eat it. They can show you
the path of peace : but you yourself must walk
into it. The Jewish priest had no power to
cleanse the leper, but only to declare him
cleansed. The Christian minister has no power
to forgive sins, — he can only pronounce who
they are that are forgiven.*

Will you turn to sacraments and ordinances,
and trust in them ? They cannot supply you
with forgiveness, however diligently ymx may
use them. By sacraments faith is confirmed

* " Ministers cannot remit sin, authoritatively and effectu-
ally, but only declaratively. They have a special office and
authority to apply the promises of pardon to broken hearts.
When a minister sees one humbled for sin, yet afraid God
hath not pardoned him, and ready to be swallowed up of
sorrow, in this case a minister for the easing of the man's
conscience may, in the name of Christ, declare to him that
he is pardoned. The minister doth not forgive sin by his
own authority, but as a herald in Christ's name pronounceth
the man's pardon." — Thomas Watson. 1660.


and grace increased, in all who rightly use
them. But they cannot justify the sinner.
They cannot put away transgression. You
may go to the Lord's table every Sunday in
your life ; but unless you look far beyond the
sign to the thing signified, you will after all die
in your sins.* You may attend a daily service
regularly, but if you think to establish a right-
eousness of your own by it in the slightest
degree, you are only getting further away from
God every day.

Will you trust in your own works and en-
deavors, your virtues and your good deeds,
your prayers and your alms ? They will
never buy for you an entrance into heaven.
They will never pay your debt to God. They
are all imperfect in themselves, and only in-

* " He that supposeth to make Christ his, and all Christ's
merits, by the receiving of the outward sign and sacrament,
and bringeth not Christ in his heart to the sacrament, he may
make himself assured rather of the devil and eternal death,
as Judas and Cain did. For the sacrament maketh not the
union, peace, and concord between God and us, but it
ratifieth, establisheth, and confirmeth the love and peace
that is between God and us before for His promise sake." —
Bishop Hooper. 1545.


crease your guilt. There is no merit or
worthiness in them at the very best. " When
ye have done all those things which are com-
manded you," says the Lord Jesus, " say we
are unprofitable servants."* (Luke xvii. 10.)

Will you trust in your own repentance and
amendment ? You are very sorry for the past.
You hope to do better for time to come. You
hope God will be merciful. Alas! if you lean
on this, you have nothing beneath you but a
broken reed. The judge does not pardon the
thief because he is sorry for what he did. To-
day's sorrow will not wipe off the score of
yesterday's sins. It is not an ocean of tears

* " What if I should fast mj body into a skeleton, and
pray my tongue and wear my ears to their very stumps ?
What though I should water my couch continually with my
tears, fasten my knees always to the earth by prayer, and
fix my eyes constantly into heaven by meditation ? What
though I should give everything I have to my poor dis-
tressed neighbors, and spend each moment of my time in
the immediate worshipping of my glorious Maker ? Would
any of this be more than I am bound to do ? Should I not
Btill be an unprofitable servant ? And if I can do more
than is my duty unto God, how can I merit anything by
what I do for Him ? How can He be indebted to me for
my paying what I owe to Him ?" — Bishop Beveridge. 1700.


that will ever cleanse an uneasy conscience,
and give it peace.

Wiiere then must a man go for pardon?
Where is forgiveness to be found ? Listen,
Reader, and by God's help I will tell you.
There is a way both sure and plain, and into
that way I desire to guide every inquirer's

That way is, simply to trust in the Lord
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as your Saviour.
It is to cast your soul, with all its sins, unre-
servedly on Christ, — to cease completely from
any dependence on your own works and
doings, either in whole or in part, and to rest
on no other work but Christ's work, no other
righteousness but Christ's righteousness, no
other merit but Christ's merit, as your ground
of hope. Take this course, and you are a
pardoned soul. " To Christ," says Peter, "give
all the prophets witness, that through His name
whosoever believeth in Him shall receive re-
mission of sins." (Acts x. 43.) " Through
this man," said Paul at Antioch, " is preached
unto you the forgiveness of sins, and by Him


all that believe are justified from all things."
(Acts xiii. 38.) " In Him," writes Paul to the
Colossians, " we have redemption through His
blood, even the forgiveness of sins." (Col. i. 4.)

The Lord Jesus Christ, in great love and
compassion, has made a full and complete
satisfaction for sin, by His own death upon the
cross. There He offered Himself as a sacri-
fice for us, and allowed the wrath of God
which we deserved, to fall on His own head.
For our sins He gave Himself, suffered, and
died, — the just for the unjust, the innocent for
the guilty, — that He might deliver us from the
curse of a broken law, and provide a complete
pardon for all who are willing to receive it.
And b}" so doing, as Isaiah says. He has home
our sins, — as John the Baptist says, He has
taken away sin, — as Paul says, He has purged
our sins, and put away sin, — and as Daniel
says, He has made an end of sin, and finished
transgression. ( John i. 29. Heb.
i. 3; ix. 2G. Dan. ix. 24.)

And now the Lord Jesus is sealed and ap-
pointed by God the Father to be a Prince and


a Saviour, to give remission of sins to all who
will have it. The keys of death and hell are
put in His hand. The government of the gate
of heaven is laid on His shoulder. He Him-
self is the door, and by Him all that enter in
shall be saved. (Acts v. 31. Rev. i. 18.
John X. 9.)

Christ, in one word, has purchased a full for-
giveness, if you and I are willing to receive it.
He has done all, paid all, suffered all that was
needful to reconcile us to God. He has provi-
ded a garment of righteousness to clothe us.
He has opened a fountain of living waters to
cleanse us. He has removed every barrier be-
tween us and God the Father, taken every
obstacle out of the way, and made a road by
which the vilest may return. All things are
now ready, and the sinner has only to believe
and be saved, to eat and be satisfied, to ask and
receive, to wash and be clean.

And faith, simple faith, is the only thing re-
quired, in order that you and I may be forgiven.
That we will come to Jesus as sinners with our
sins, — trust in Him, — rest on Him, — lean on


Him,^ — confide in Him, — commit our souls to
Him, — and forsaking all other hope, cleave
only to Him, — this is all and everything that
God asks for. Let a man only do this, and he
shall be saved. His iniquities shall be found
completely pardoned, and his transgressions en-
tirely taken away. Every man that so trusts
is wholly forgiven, and reckoned perfectly right-
eous. His sins are clean gone, and his soul is
justified in God's sight, however bad and guilty
he may have been.*

Faith is the only thing required, not knowl-

* " We must only trust to the merits of Christ, which
satisfied the extreme jot and uttermost point of the law for us.
And this His justice and perfection He imputeth and com-
municateth with us by faith. Such as say that only faith
justifieth not, because other virtues be present, tl)ey cannot
tell what they say. Every man that will have his conscience
appeased must mark these two things: How remission of
sins is obtained, and wherefore it is obtained. Faith is the
mea7i whereby it is obtained, and the cause wherefore it is
received is the merits of Christ." — Bishop Hooper. 1547.

" When we believe in Christ, it is like as if we had no sins.
For He changeth with us : He taketh our sins and wickedriess
from us, and giveth unto us His holiness, righteousness, jus-
tice, fulfilling of the law, and so consequently everlasting life.
So that we be like as if we had done no sin at all ; for His
righteousness standeth us in good stead, as though we of our

edge. A man may be a poor unlearned sinner,
and know little of books. But if he sees
enough to find the foot of the cross, and trust
in Jesus for pardon, I will engage he shall not
miss heaven. To know Christ is the corner-
stone of all religious knowledge.

owa selves had fulfilled the law to the uttermost." — Bishop
Latimer. Sermons. 1549.

" The spiritual hand whereby we receive the sweet offer of
our Saviour is faith ; which in short is no other than an affiance
in the Mediator. Receive peace, and be happy ; believe, and
thou hast received." — Bishop Hall. 1640.

"Justifying faith consists in these two things, in having a
mind to know Christ, and a will to rest upon Him. Whoso-
ever sees so much excellency in Christ, tliat thereby he is
drawn to embrace Him as the only Rock of salvation, that
man truly believes to justification." — Archbishop Usher.

" This is the glad tidings, that we are made righteous by
Christ. It is not a righteousness wrought by us, but given
to us, and put upon us. This carnal reason cannot compre-
hend, and being proud rejects and argues against it. How
can this thing be ? But faith closes with it and rejoices in it.
Without eivher doing or sutTering, the sinner is acquitted and
justified, and stands as guiltless of breach as having fulfilled
the whole law." — Archbishop Leighton. 1670.

" Christ is now the righteousness of all them that truly do
believe in Him. He for them paid their ransom by His death.
He for them fulfilled the law in His life. So that now in
Him and by Him every true Christian man may be called a
fulfiller of the law ; forasmuch as that which their infirmity


Faith, I say, and not conversion. A man
may have been walking in the broad way up
to the very hour he first hears the Gospel. But
if in that hearing he is aw^akened to feel his
danger, and wants to be saved, let him come
to Christ at once, and wait for nothing. That
very coming is the beginning of conversion.

Faith, I repeat, and not holiness. A man
may feel all full of sin, and unworthy to be
saved. But let him not tarry outside the ark
till he is better. Let him come to Christ with-
out delay, just as he is. Afterwards he shall
be holy.

Reader, I call upon you to let nothing move
you from this strong ground, thsit faith in Christ
is the only thing needed for your justification.
Stand firm here, if you value your soul's peace.
I see many walking in darkness, and having no

lacked, Christ's justice has supplied." — Homily on Salvation
written hy Archbishop Cranmer. 1547.

" This is the call of the Gospel, He that dares trust Christ
with His soul upon the warrant of the Gospel shall be saved
forever. The Lord tries people this way. We have no more
to do but take pen in hand, and say Amen, O Lord : it is a
good bargain and a true word, and I will trust my soul on it.
This is believing." — Traill. 1690.


light, from confused notions as to what faith is.
They hear that saving faith will work by love,
and produce holiness ; and not finding all this
at once in themselves, they think they have no
faith at all. They forget that these things are
the fruits of taith, and not faith itself, and that
to doubt whether we have faith because we do
not see them at once, is like doubting whether
a tree be alive, because it does not bear fruit
the very day we plant it in the ground. I
charge you to settle it firmly in your mind that
in the matter of your forgiveness and justifica-
tion there is but one thing required, and that is
simple faith in Christ.*

* " St. Paul declareth nothing on the behalf of man con-
cerning his justification, but only a true and lively faith;
which nevertheless is the gift of God, and not man's only
work without God. And yet that faith doth not shut out re-
pentance, hope, love, dread, and the fear of God, to be joined
with faith in every man that is justified : but it shutteth them
out from the office of justifying." — Homily on Salvation, by
Archbishop Cranmer. 1547.

" How is the great benefit of justification applied to me,
and apprehended by us ? This is done on our part by faith
alone, and that not considered as a virtue inherent in us
working by love ; but only as an instrument or hand of the
soul stretched forth to lay hold on the Lord our righteous-
ness." — Archbishop Usher. 1670.


I know well that the natural heart dislikes

this doctrine. It runs counter to man's notions

of religion. It leaves him no room to boast.

Man's idea is to come to Christ with a price in

i his hand, — his regularity, his morality, his re-

I pentance, his goodness, — and so, as it were, to

buy his pardon and justification. The Spirit's

teaching is quite different ; it is first of all

to believe. " Whosoever helieveth shall not

! perish." (John iii. 16.)

Some say, such doctrine cannot be right, be-
cause it makes the way to heaven too easy. I
fear that many such persons, if the truth were
spoken, find it too hard. I believe in reality it
is easier to give a fortune in building a cathe-
dral like York Minster, or to go to the stake
and be burned, than thoroughly to receive jus-
tification by faith without the deeds of the law,
and to enter heaven as a sinner saved by

Some say this doctrine is foolishness and en-

* " It is as truly as commonly said, that such as think be-
lieving easy, know not what believing is." — Traill. 1690.

" It is harder to believe in Christ for righteousness than to
keep all the commandments, because keeping the command-


thusiasm. I answer, this is just what was said
of it 1800 years ago, and is a vain cavil now,
as it was then. So far from the charge being
true, a thousand facts can prove this doctrine
to be from God. No doctrine certainly has
produced such mighty effe.cts in the world, as
the simple proclamation of free forgiveness
through faith in Christ.

This is the glorious doctrine that was the
strength of the apostles when they went forth
to the Gentiles to preach a new religion. They
began a few poor fishermen in a despised cor-
ner of the earth. They turned the world up-
side down. They changed the face of the Ro-
man empire. They emptied the heathen tem-
ples of their worshippers, and made the whole
system of idolatry crumble away. And what
was the weapon by which they did it all ? It
was free forgiveness through faith in Jesus

This is the doctrine which brought light into

ments hath something in the heart of man agreeing with it,
but so hath not the way of justification by faith." — Philip
Henry s Sermons. 1690.



Europe 300 years ago, at the time of the blessed
Reformation, and enabled one solitary monk,
Martin Luther, to shake the whole church of
Rome. Through his preaching and writing
the scales fell from men's eyes, and the chains
of their souls were loosed. And what was the
lever that gave him his power ? It was free
forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.

This is the doctrine that revived our own
church in the middle of the last century, when
Whitefield and the Wesleys, and Romaine, and
Berridge, and Venn broke the wretched spirit
of slumber that liad come over the land, and
roused men to think. They began a mighty
work, with little seeming likelihood of success.
They began, few in number, with small en-
couragement from the rich and great. But
they prospered. And why ? — Because they
preached free forgiveness through faith in

This is the doctrine which is the true strength
of any church on earth at this day. It is not
orders, or endowments, or liturgies, or learning,
that will keep a church alive. Let free for-


giveness through Christ be faithfully proclaim-
ed in her pulpits, and the gates of hell shall not
prevail against her. Let it be buried or kept
back, and her candlestick shall soon be taken
away. When the Saracens invaded the lands
where Jerome and Athanasius, Cyprian and
Augustine, once wrote and preached, they found
bishops and liturgies, I make no question. But
I fear they found no preaching of free forgive-
ness of sins, and so they swept the churches of
those lands clean away. They were a body
witliout a vital principle, and therefore they
fell. Let us never forget the brightest days of
a church are those when Christ crucified is
most exalted. The dens and caves of the earth
where the early Christians met to hear of the
love of Jesus, were more full of glory and
beauty in God's sight than ever was St. Peter's
at Rome. The meanest barn at this day, where
the true w^ay of pardon is offered to sinners, is
a far more honorable place than is the cathe-
dral of Cologne or Milan. A church is only
useful so far as she exalts free forgiveness
through Christ.


This is the doctrine which of all others is
the mightiest engine for pulling down the
kingdom of Satan. The Greenlanders were
unmoved, so long as the Moravians told them
of the creation and the fall of man ; but when
ihey heard of redeeming love, their frozen
hearts melted like snow in spring. Preach sal-
vation by the sacraments, exalt the church
above Christ, and keep back the doctrine of the
atonement, and the devil cares little, — his goods
are at peace. But preach a full Christ and a
free pardon, and then Satan will have great
wrath, for he knows he has but a short time.
John Berridge said he went on preaching mo-
rality and nothing else, till he found there was
not a moral man in his parish. But when he
changed his plan, and began to preach the love
of Christ to sinners, then there was a stirring
of the dry bones, and a mighty turning to God.

This is the only doctrine which will ever
bring peace to an uneasy conscience, and rest
to a troubled soul. A man may get on pretty
well without it so long as he is asleep about
his spiritual condition. But once let him


awake from his slumber, and nothing will ever
calm him but the blood of atonement and the
peace of Christ.* How any one can under-
take to be a minister of religion without a firm
grasp of this doctrine, I never can understand.
For myself, I can only say, I should think my
office a most painful one, if I had not the mes-
sage of free forgiveness to convey. It would
be miserable work indeed to visit the sick and
dying, if I could not say, " Behold the Lamb
of God, — believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and
thou shalt be saved." The right hand of a
Christian minister is the doctrine of free for-
giveness through faith in Christ. Give us this
doctrine, and we have power: we will never
despair of doing good to men's souls. Take

* " Man's conscience can never rest nor be at peace, until
it be settled in the full persuasion of remission of sins in the
death and resurrection of Jesus Christ ; whereby God re-
ceiveth us into His favor, and is at one with us through Him."
— Archbishop Sandys. 1585.

See also a most interesting account of the effect produced
on Luther, when in great distress of soul, by the words, " I
believe in the forgiveness of sins," repeated to him by an
aged monk. — UAubigne's History of the Reformation. One
vol. edition, page 68.


away this doctrine, and we are weak as water.
We may read the prayers, and go through a
round of forms, but we are like Samson with
his hair shorn, our strength is gone. Souls
will not be benefited by us, and good will not
be done.

Reader, I commend the things I have been
saying to your notice. I am not ashamed of
free pardon through faith in Christ, whatever
some may say against the doctrine. I am not
ashamed of it, for its fruits speak for them-
selves. It has done things that no other doc-
trine can do. It has effected moral changes
which laws and punishments have failed to
work, — which magistrates and policemen have
labored after in vain, which mechanics' insti-
tutes and secular knowledge have proved
utterly powerless to produce. Just as the
fiercest lunatics in Bethlehem Hospital became
suddenly gentle when kindly treated, even so
the worst and most hardened sinners have often
become as little children, when told of Jesus
'joving them and willing to forgive. I can well
understand Paul ending his Epistle to the erring


Galatiaiis with that solemn burst of feehng,
"God forbid that I should glory save in the
cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Gal. vi. 14.)
The crown has indeed fallen from a Christian's
head, when he leaves the doctrine of justifica-
tion by faith.

See now how you should ask yourself
whether you have really received the truth
which I have been dwelling on, and know it by
experience. Jesus, and faith in Him, is the
only way to the Father. He that thinks to
climb into paradise by some other road, will
find himself fearfully mistaken. Other foun-
dation can no man lay for an immortal soul
than that of which I have been feebly speak-
ing. He that ventures himself here is safe.
He that is off this rock has got no standing
ground at all.

See too how you should seriously consider
what kind of a ministry you are in the habit
of attending, supposing you have a choice.
You have reason indeed to be careful. It is
not all the same where you go, whatever peo-
ple may say. There are many places of wor-


ship, I fear, where you might look long for
Christ crucified, and never find Him. He is
buried under outward ceremonies, — thrust be-
hind the baptismal font, — lost sight of under the
shadow of the church. " They have taken
away my Lord, and I know not where they
have laid Him." Take heed where you settle
yourself Try all by this single test, "Is Jesus
and free forgiveness proclaimed here ?" There
may be comfortable pews — there may be good
singing, — there may be learned sermons. But
if Christ's Gospel is not the sun and centre of
the whole place, do not continue there. Say
rather with Isaac, "Here is the wood and the
fire, but where is the Lamb?" Be very sure

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleLiving or dead? : a series of home truths → online text (page 6 of 16)