J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

Living or dead? : a series of home truths online

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A holy man will follow after a spirit of werci/
and benevolence towai^ds others. He will not
stand all the day idle. He will not be content
with doing no harm, — he will try to do good.
He will strive to be useful in his day and gen-
eration, and to lessen the spiritual wants and
misery around him, as far as he can. Such
was Dorcas, full of good works and almsdeeds,
which she did, — not merely purposed and
talked about, hut did. Such an one was Paul,
"I will very gladly spend and be spent for you,"
he says, " though the more abundantly I love


you the less I be loved." (2 Cor. xvi. 12,

A holy man will follow after purity of heart.
He will dread all filthiness and uncleanness of
spirit, and seek to avoid all things that might
draw him into it. He knows his own heart is
like tinder, and will diligently keep clear of the
sparks of temptation. Who shall dare to talk
of strength, when David can fall ? There is
many a hint to be gleaned from the ceremonial
law. Under it the man who only touched a
bone, or a dead body, or a grave, or a diseased
person, became at once unclean in the sight of
God. And these things were emblems and
figures. Few Christians are ever too watchful
and too particular about this point.

A holy man will follow after the fear of God.
I do not mean the fear of a slave, who only
works because he is afraid of punishment, and
would be idle if he did not dread discovery.
I mean rather the fear of a child, who wishes
to live and move as if he was always beiore
his father's face, because he loves him. What
a noble example Nehemiah gives us of this 1


When he became governor at Jerusalem he
might have been chargeable to the Jews, and
required of them money for his support. The
former governors had done so. There was
none to blame him if he did. But he says,
" So did not I, because of the fear of God."
(Nehem. v. 15.)

A holy man will follow after hmnility. He
will desire in lowliness of mind to esteem all
others better than himself. He will see more
evil in his own heart than in any other in the
world. He will understand something of
Abraham's feeling, when he says, " I am dust
and ashes," and Jacob's, when he says, " I am
less than the least of all thy mercies," and
Job's, when he says, " I am vile," and Paul's,
when he says, " I am chief of sinners.". Holy
Bradford, that faithful martyr of Christ, would
sometimes finish his letters with these words,
" A most miserable sinner, John Bradford."
Good old Mr. Grimshaw's last words, when he
lay on his death-bed, were these, " Here goes
an unprofitable servant."

A holy man will follow ahev faithfulness in


all the duties and relations of life. He will
try, not merely to fill his place as well as others,
but even better, because he has higher motives
and more help than they. Those words of
Paul should never be forgotten, " Whatever
ye do, do it heartily as unto the Lord." — " Not
slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving
the Lord." (Colos. iii. 23. Rom. xii. IL) Holy
persons should aim at doing everything well,
and should be ashamed of allowing themselves
to do anything ill, if they can help it. Like
Daniel, they should seek to give no occasion
against themselves, except as concerning the
law of their God. They should strive to be
good husbands, and good wives; good parents
and good children ; good masters and good ser-
vants; good neighbors, good friends, good men
of business, and good subjects. Holiness is
worth little indeed, if it do§s not bear this kind
of fruit. The Lord Jesus puts a searching
question to His people, when he says, " What
do ye more than others ?" (Matt. v. 47.)

Last, but not least, a holy man will follow
after spiritual mindedness. He will endeavor


to set his affections entirely on things above,
and to hold things on earth with a very loose
hand. He will not neglect the business of the
life that now is, but the first place in his mind
and thoughts will be given to the life to come.
He will aim to live like one whose treasure is
in heaven, and to pass through this world like a
stranger and pilgrim travelling to his home. To
commune with God in prayer, in the Bible, and
in the assembly of His people, — these things
will be the holy man's chiefest enjoyments.
He will value every thing, and place, and com-
pany, just in proportion as it draws him nearer
to God. He will enter into something of
David's feeling, when he says, "My soul fol-
loweth after thee." "Thou art my portion."
(Psalm Ixiii. 8. cxix. 57.)

Such is the outline of holiness, which I set
before you ; such is -the character which those
who are called holy follow after.

But here let me say, I trust no man will mis-
understand me. I am not without fear that my
meaning will be mistaken, and the description
I have given of holiness \Vi\\ discourage some


tender conscience. I would not willingly make
one righteous heart sad, or throw a stumbling-
block in any believer's way.

I do not tell you for a moment that holiness
shuts out the presence of indwelling sin. No!
far from it. It is the greatest misery of a holy
man that he carries about with him a body of
death, — that often when he would do good evil
is present with him, — that the old man is
clogging all his movements, and, as it were,
trying to draw him back at every step' he takes.
But it is the excellence of a holy man that he
is not at peace with indwelling sin, as others
are. He hates it, mourns over it, and longs to
be free from its company. The work of sanc-
tification within him is like the wall of Jeru-
salem, the building goes forward, "even in
troublous times." (Dan. ix. 25.)

Neither do I tell you that holiness comes to
ripeness and perfection all at once, or that these
graces I have touched on must be found in full
bloom and vigor before you can call a man
holy. No! far from it. Sanctification is
always a progressive work. Some men's


graces are in the blade, some in the ear, and
some are like full corn in the ear. All must
have a beginning. We must never despise the
day of small things. And sanctification in the
very best is an imperfect work. The history
of the brightest saints that ever lived will
contain many a " but" and " howbeit," and
" notwithstanding," before you reach the end.
The gold will never be without some dross, —
the light will never shine without some clouds,
until we reach the heavenly Jerusalem. The
sun himself has spots upon his face. The holi-
est men have many a blemish and defect when
weighed in the balance of the sanctuary.
Their life is a continued warfare with sin, the
world, and the devil ; and sometimes you will
see them not overcoming, but overcome. The
flesh is ever lusting against the spirit, and the
spirit against the flesh, and in many things they
oflend all.

But still, for all this, I am sure that to have
such a character as I have faintly drawn, is
the heart's desire and prayer of all true Chris-
tians. They press towards it, if they do not


reach it. They may not attain to it, but they
always aim at it. It is what they fain would
be, if it is not what they are.

And this I do mean to say, that true holiness
is a great reality. It is something in a m^n
that can be seen, and known, and marked, and
felt, by all around him. It is light : if it exists
it will show itself. It is salt : if it exists its
savor will be perceived. It is a precious oint-
ment : if it exists its presence cannot be hid.

I am sure the little I know of my own heart
makes me ready to make allowance for much
backsliding, for much occasional deadness. I
know a road may lead from one point to
another, and yet have many a winding and
turn ; and a man may be truly holy, and yet
be drawn aside by many an infirmity. Gold is
not the less gold because mingled with alloy,
nor light the less light because faint and dim,
nor grace the less grace because young and
weak. But, after every allowance, I cannot
see how any man deserves to be called holy,
who wilfully allows himself in sins, and is not
humbled and ashamed because of them. I


dare not call any one holy who makes a habit
of wilfully neglecting known duties, and wil-
fully doing what he knows God has commanded
him not to do. Well, says Owen, " I do not
understand how a man can be a true believer
unto whom sin is not the greatest burden, sor-
row, and trouble."

Reader, such is holiness. Examine yourself
whether you are acquainted with it. Prove
your own self.

II. Let me try, in the next place, to show
you some reasons why holiness is so important.

Can holiness save us ? Can holiness put
away sin, — cover iniquities, — make satisfac-
tion for transgressions, — pay our debt to God ?
No ! not a whit. God forbid that I should ever
tell you so. Holiness can do none of these
things. The brightest saints are all unprofit-
able servants. Our purest works are no better
than filthy rags, when tried by the light of
God's holy law. The white robe which Jesus
offers, and faith puts on, must be our only
righteousness, — the name of Christ our only
confidence, — the Lamb's book of Hfe our only


title to heaven. With all our holiness we are
no better than sinners. Our best things are
stained and tainted with imperfection. They
are all more or less incomplete, — wrong in the
motive, or defective in the performance. By
the deeds of the law shall no child of Adam
ever be justified. " By grace are ye saved
through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is
the gift of God : not of works, lest any man
should boast." (Ephes. ii. 8, 9.)

Why then is holiness so important ? Why
does the apostle say, " without it no man shall
see the Lord ?" Let me set before you a few

For one thing we must be holy, because the
voice of God in Scripture plainly commands
it. The Lord Jesus says to His people, " Ex-
cept your righteousness shall exceed the right-
eousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall
in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."
(Matt. V. 20.) " Be ye perfect, even as your
Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matt.
V. 48.) Paul tells the Thessalonians, " This is
the will of God, even yom' sanctification."


(1 Thess. iv. 3.) And Peter says, "As He
which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in
all manner of conversation. Because it is
written, Be ye holy for I am holy." (1 Peter
i. 15, 16.) "In this," says Leighton, "law and
Gospel agree."

We must be holy, because this is one grand
end and purpose for ichich Christ came into
the world. Paul writes to the Corinthians,
" He died for all, that they which live should
not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto
Him which died for them and rose again."
(2 Cor. V. 15.) And to the Ephesians, "Christ
loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that
He might sanctify and cleanse it." (Ephes. v.
25, 26.) And to Titus, " He gave Himself for
us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity,
and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zeal-
ous of good works." (Titus ii. 14.) In short,
to talk of men being saved from the guilt of
sin, without being at the same time saved from
its power in their hearts, is to contradict the
witness of all Scripture. Are believers said to
be elect ? — it is " through sanctification of the


Spirit." Are they predestinated ? — it is " to
be conformed to the image of God's Son." Are
they chosen ? — it is " that they may be holy,"
Are they called ? — it is *' with a holy calling."
Are they afflicted ? — it is that they may be
" partakers of holiness." Jesus is a complete
Saviour. He does not merely take away the
guilt of a believer's sin, He does more, — He
breaks its power.

We must be holy, because this is the only
sound evidence that we have a saving faith
in our Lord Jesus Christ. The twelfth Arti-
cle of our Church says truly, " Although good
works cannot put away our sins, and endure
the severity of God's judgment ; yet are they
pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and
do spring out necessarily of a true and lively
faith ; insomuch that by them a lively faith
may be as evidently known as a tree discerned
by its fruits." James warns us there is such a
thing as a dead faith, — a faith which goes no
further than the profession of the lips, and has
no influence on a man's character. (Jam. ii.
17.) True saving faith is a very different kind


of thing. True faith will always show itself
by its fruits, it will sanctify, — it will work by
love, — it will overcome the world, — it will
purify the heart. I know that people are fond
of talking about "death-bed evidences." They
will rest on words spoken in the hours of fear
and pain and weakness, as if they might take
comfort in them about the friends they lose.
But I am afraid in ninety-nine cases out of a
hundred such evidences are not to be depended
on. I suspect men generally die just as they
have lived. The only safe evidence that you
are one with Christ, and Christ in you, is a holy
life. They that live unto the Lord are generally
the only people who die in the Lord. If we
would die the death of the righteous, let us not
rest in slothful desires only, let us seek to live
his life. It is a true saying of Traill's, " that
man's state is naught, and his faith unsound,
that finds not his hopes of glory purifying to his
heart and life."

We must be holy, because this is the only
proof that we love the Lord Jesus Christ in
sincerity. This is a point on which He has


spoken Himself most plainly in the fourteenth
and fifteentli chapters of John. "If ye love
me, keep my commandments." " He that hath
my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is
that loveth me." " If a man love me he will
keep my saying." " Ye are my friends if ye
do whatsoever I command you." Plainer words
than these it would be difficult to find, and woe
to those who neglect them ! Surely that man
must be in an unhealthy state of soul who can
think of all that Jesus suffered, and yet cling to
those sins for which that suffering was under-
gone. It was sin that wove the crown of
thorns, — it was sin that pierced our Lord's
hands, and feet, and side, — it was sin that
brought Him to Gethsemane and Calvary, to
the cross, and to the grave. Cold must our
hearts be, if we do not hate sin, and labor to
get rid of it, though we have to cut off the
right hand, and pluck out the right eye in do-
ing it.

We must be holy, because this is the only
sound evidence that we are true children of
God. Children in this world are generally like


their parents. Some, doubtless, are more so,
and some less, — but it is seldom indeed that
you cannot trace a kind of family likeness.
And it is much the same with the children of
God. If men have no likeness to the Father
in heaven, it is vain to talk of their being His
sons. If we know nothing of holiness we may
flatter ourselves as we please, but we have not
the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, — we are dead,
and must be brought to life again, — we are
lost, and must be found. As many as are led
by the Spirit of God, they, and they only, are
the sons of God. (Rom. viii. 14.) We must
show by our lives the family we belong to, —
we must let men see by our good conversation
that we are indeed the children of the Holy
One, or our son-ship is but an empty name.
" Say not," says Gurnall, " that thou hast royal
blood in thy veins, and art born of God, except
thou canst prove thy pedigree by daring to be

We must be holy, because this is the most
likely way to do good to others. We cannot
live to ourselves only in this world. Our lives


will always be doing either good or harm to
those who see them. They are a silent ser-
mon which all can read. It is sad indeed when
they are a sermon for the devil's cause, and
not for God's. I believe that far more is done
for Christ's kingdom by the holy living of be-
lievers, than we are at all aware. There is a
reality about such living which makes men
feel, and obliges them to think. It carries a
weight and influence with it which nothing else
can give. It makes religion beautiful, and
draws men to consider it like a light-house seen
afar off. The day of judgment will prove that
many besides husbands have been won " with-
out the word'' by a holy life. (1 Peter iii. 1.)
You may talk to people about the doctrines of
the Gospel, and few will listen, and still fewer
understand. But your life is an argument that
none can escape. There is a meaning about
holiness which not even the most unlearned
can help taking in. They may not under-
stand justification, but they can unde^*^ tian-
charity. -i. When

And I believe there is far more bldly before


by unholy and inconsistent Christians than we
are at all aware. Such men are among Satan's
best allies. They pull down by their lives what
ministers build with their lips. They cause the
chariot wheels of the Gospel to drive heavily.
They supply the children of this world with a
never-ending excuse for remaining as they are.
" I cannot see the use of so much religion,"
said an irreligious tradesmen not long ago ;
" I observe that some of my customers are al-
ways talking about the Gospel, and faith, and
election, and J;he blessed promises and so forth ;
— and yet these very people think nothing of
cheating me of pence and half-pence, when
they have an opportunity. Now if religious
persons can do such things, I do not see what
good there is in religion." Oh ! Reader, I
blush to be obliged to read such things. I fear
that Christ's name is too often blasphemed be-
cause of the lives of Christians. Let us take
heed lest the blood of souls be required at our
"^j^ From murder of souls by inconsistency

likely itjl walking, good Lord deliver us ! Oh !

live to oUi


for the sake of others, if for no other reason, let
us strive to be holy !

We must be holy, because our present com-
fort depends much upon it. We cannot be
too often reminded of this. We are sadly apt
to forget that there is a close connection be-
tween sin and sorrow, holiness and happiness,
sanctification and consolation. God has so
wisely ordered it, that our well-being and our
well-doing are linked together. He has merci-
fully provided that even in this world it shall
be man's interest to be holy. Our justification
is not by works, — our calling and election are
not according to our works, — but it is vain for
any one to suppose that he will have a lively
sense of his justification, or an assurance of
his calling, so long as he does not strive to live
a holy life. A believer may as soon expect to
feel the sun's rays upon a dark and cloudy day,
as to feel strong consolation in Christ, while he
does not follow Him fully. When the disciples
forsook the Lord and fled, they escaped dan-
ger, but they were miserable and sad. "When
shortly after they confessed Hin: boldly before


men, they were cast into prison and beaten,
but we are told, " They rejoiced that they were
counted worthy to suffer shame for His name."
(Acts V. 41.) Oh ! for our own sakes, if there
were no other reason, let us strive to be holy !
He that follows Jesus most fully, will always
follow Him most comfortably.

Lastly, we must be holy, because without
holiness on earth we should never he prepared
to enjoy heaven. Heaven is a holy place. The
Lord of heaven is a holy Being. The angels
are holy creatures. Holiness is written on
everything in heaven. The book of Revelation
says expressly, " there shall in nowise enter into
it, anything that defileth, neither whatsoever
worketh abomination, or maketh a lie." (Rev.
xxi. 27.)

Reader, how shall we ever find a place in
heaven, if we die unholy ! Death works no
change. The grave makes no alteration.
Each will rise again with the same character
in which he breathed his last. Where will
our place be if we are strangers to holiness


Suppose for a moment that you were allowed
to enter heaven without hoHness. What would
you do ? What possible enjoyment could you
feel there ? To which of all the saints would
you join yourself, and by whose side would
you sit down? Their pleasures are not your
pleasures, their tastes are not your tastes, their
character not your character. How could
you possibly be happy if you had not been
holy on earth ?

Now perhaps, you love the company of the
light and the careless, the worldly-minded and
the covetous, the reveller and the pleasure-
seeker, the ungodly and the profane. There
will be none such in heaven.

Now perhaps, you think the saints of God too
strict, and particular, and serious. You rather
avoid them. You have no delight in their
society. There will be no other company in

Now perhaps, you think praying, and Scrip-
ture reading, and hymn-singing, dull and
melancholy, and stupid work, a thing to be tol-
erated now and then, but not enjoyed. You


reckon the Sabbath a burden, and a weariness :
you could not possibly spend more than a small
part of it in worshipping God. But remember,
heaven is a never-ending Sabbath. The in-
habitants thereof rest not day or night, saying,
" Holy, holy, holy. Lord God Almighty," and
singing the praise of the Lamb. How could
an unholy man find pleasure in occupation
such as this ?

Think you that such an one would delight to
meet David, and Paul, and John, after a life
spent in doing the very things they spoke
against ? Would he take sweet counsel with
them, and find that he and they had much in
common ? Think you, above all, that he would
rejoice to meet Jesus, the Crucified One, face
to face, after cleaving to the sins for which He
died, — after loving His enemies, and despising
his friends? Would he stand before him in
confidence, and join in the cry, " This is our
God, we have waited for Him, we will be glad,
and rejoice in his salvation ?" Think you not
rather that the tongue of an unholy man would
cleave to the roof of his mouth with shame,


and his only desire would be to be cast out?
He would feel a stranger -in a land he knew
not, a black sheep amidst Christ's holy flock.
The voice of Cherubim and Seraphim, the song
of Angels and Archangels, and all the company
of heaven would be a language he could not
understand. The very air would seem an air
he could not breathe.

Reader, I know not what you may think,
but to me it does seem clear, that heaven would
be a miserable place to an unholy man. It
cannot be otherwise. People may say, in a
vague way, " they hope to go to heaven," but
they do not consider what they say. There
must be a certain meetness for the inheritance
of the saints in light. Our hearts must be
somewhat in tune. To reach the holiday of
glory we must pass through the training school
of grace. Reader, you must be heavenly
minded, and have heavenly tastes, in the life
that now is, or else you will never find yourself
in heaven in the life to come.

And now let me wind up all with a few
words, by way of application.




1. For one thing, let me ask every one who
may read these pages, Are you holy ? Listen,
I pray you, to the question I put to you this
day. Do you know anything of the holiness
of which I have been speaking ?

I do not ask whether you keep to your
church regularly, — whether you have been
baptized, and receive the Lord's Supper, —
whether you have the name of Christian ; — I
ask something more than all this, Are you holy,
or are you not ?

1 do not ask whether you approve of holi-
ness in others, — whether you like to read the
lives of holy people, and to talk of holy things,
and to have on your table holy books, —
whether you mean to be holy, and hope you
will be holy some day, — I ask something fur-
ther. Are you yourself holy this very day, or
are you not ?

And why do I ask so straitly, and press the
question so strongly ? I do it because the text
says, " Without holiness no man shall see the
Lord.'* It is written, it is not my fancy — it is
cig Bible, not my private opinion, — it is the


word of God, not of man, " Without holiness
no man shall see the Lord.'^

Oh ! Reader, what words are these ! What
thoughts come across my mind, as I write them
down ! I look at the world, and see the greater

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleLiving or dead? : a series of home truths → online text (page 9 of 16)