Written by J. C. Ryle.
Adapted from, Two Classes
Edited for thought, sense and space.
.“His fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
A SIMPLE question…
The question is a very serious one. It is drawn from a verse of Scripture which I now place before your eyes: “His fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12). The words of that verse were spoken by John the Baptist, the Prophet of the Highest. They are a prophecy about our Lord Jesus Christ, and a prophecy which has not yet been fulfilled. They are a prophecy which we shall all see fulfilled one day, and God alone knows how soon.
I invite everyone to consider the great truths which this verse contains. Listen, before you begin once more your appointed path of duty. Listen, before you start once more on some round of business. Listen, before you plunge once more into some course of useless idleness and folly. Listen to one who loves your soul, and would desire to help to save it, or draw it nearer to Christ. Who knows what a day may bring forth? Who can tell whether you will live to see to-morrow?
Let us look at the two great classes into which this world may be divided.
There are only two classes of people in the world in the sight of God, and both are mentioned in the text which I have already quoted in this paper. There are those who are called the wheat, and there are those who are called the chaff.
Viewed with the eye of man, the earth contains many different sorts of inhabitants. Viewed with the eye of God, it only contains two. Man’s eye looks at the outward appearance:—this is all he thinks of. The eye of God looks at the heart:—this is the only part of which He takes any account. And tried by the state of their hearts, there are but two classes into which people can be divided:—either they are wheat, or they are chaff.
Who are the wheat in the world?
The wheat means all men and women who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ,—all who are led by the Holy Spirit,—all who have felt themselves sinners, and fled for refuge to the salvation offered in the Gospel, —all who love the Lord Jesus and live to the Lord Jesus, and serve the Lord Jesus,—all who have taken Christ for their only confidence, and the Bible for their only guide, and regard sin as their deadliest enemy and look to heaven as their only home. All such, of every Church, name, nation, people, and tongue,—of every rank, station, condition, and degree,—all such are God’s wheat.
Show me people of this kind anywhere, and I know what they are. I know not that they and I may agree in all particulars, but I see in them the handiwork of the King of kings, and I ask no more. I know not whence they came, and where they found their religion; but I know where they are going, and that is enough for me. They are the children of my Father in heaven. They are part of His wheat.
All such, though sinful and vile, and unworthy in their own eyes, are the precious part of mankind. They are the sons and daughters of God the Father. They are the delight of God the Son. They are the habitation of God the Spirit. The Father beholds no iniquity in them:—they are the members of His dear Son’s body: in Him He sees them, and is well pleased. The Lord Jesus discerns in them the fruit of His own travail and work upon the cross, and is well satisfied. The Holy Ghost regards them as spiritual temples which He Himself has reared, and rejoices over them. In a word, they are the wheat of the earth.
Who are the chaff in the world?
The chaff means all men and women who have no saving faith in Christ, and no sanctification of the Spirit, whosoever they may be. Some of them perhaps are infidels, and some are formal Christians. Some are sneering Sadducees, and some self-righteous Pharisees. Some of them make a point of keeping up a kind of Sunday religion, and others are utterly careless of everything except their own pleasure and the world. But all alike, who have the two great marks already mentioned—no faith and no sanctification,—all such are chaff. From Paine and Voltaire to the dead Churchman who can think of nothing but outward ceremonies,—from Julian and Porphyry to the unconverted admirer of sermons in the present day,—all, all are standing in one rank before God: all, all are chaff
They bring no glory to God the Father. They honour not the Son, and so do not honour the Father that sent Him. They neglect that mighty salvation which countless millions of angels admire. They disobey that Word which was graciously written for their learning. They listen not to the voice of Him who condescended to leave heaven and die for their sins. They pay no tribute of service and affection to Him who gave them life, and breath, and all things. And therefore God takes no pleasure in them. He pities them, but He reckons them no better than chaff.
Yes! you may have rare intellectual gifts, and high mental attainments: you may sway kingdoms by your counsel, move millions by your pen, or keep crowds in breathless attention by your tongue; but if you have never submitted yourselves to the yoke of Christ, and never honoured His Gospel by heartfelt reception of it, you are nothing in His sight. Natural gifts without grace are like a row of cyphers without a unit before them: they look big, but they are of no value. The meanest insect that crawls is a nobler being than you are: it fills its place in creation, and glorifies its Maker with all its power, and you do not. You do not honour God with heart, and will, and intellect, and members, which are all His You invert His order and arrangement, and live as if time was of more importance than eternity, and body better than soul. You dare to neglect God’s greatest gift,—His own incarnate Son. You are cold about that subject which fills all heaven with hallelujahs. And so long as this is the case, you belong to the worthless part of mankind. You are the chaff of the earth.
Let this thought be graven deeply in your mind, whatever else you forget. Remember there are only two sorts of people in the world. There are wheat, and there are chaff.
I know well the world dislikes this way of dividing professing Christians. The world tries hard to fancy there are three sorts of people, and not two. To be very good and very strict does not suit the world:—they cannot, will not be saints. To have no religion at all does not suit the world:—it would not be respectable;—”Thank God,” they will say, “we are not so bad as that.” But to have religion enough to be saved, and yet not go into extremes,—to be sufficiently good, and yet not be peculiar,—to have a quiet, easy-going, moderate kind of Christianity, and go comfortably to heaven after all,— this is the world’s favourite idea. There is a third class,—a safe middle class,—and in this middle class the majority of men persuade themselves, they will be found.
There were two classes in the day of Noah’s flood, those who were inside the ark, and those who were without;—two in the parable of the Gospel net, those who are called the good fish, and those who are called the bad; —two in the parable of the ten virgins, those who are described as wise, and those who are described as foolish;—two in the account of the judgment day, the sheep and the goats;—two sides of the throne, the right hand and the left;—two abodes when the last sentence has been passed, heaven and hell.
You attend church, perhaps. You like good people. You can distinguish between good preaching and bad. You think Protestantism true, and support it cordially. You subscribe to religious societies. You attend religious meetings. You sometimes read religious books. It is well: it is very well. It is good: it is all very good. It is more than can be said of many. But still this is not a straightforward answer to my question,—Are you wheat or are you chaff?
Have you been born again? Are you a new creature? Have you put off the old man, and put on the new? Have you ever felt your sins, and repented of them? Are you looking simply to Christ for pardon and life eternal? Do you love Christ? Do you serve Christ? Do you loathe heart-sins, and fight against them? Do you long for perfect holiness, and follow hard after it? Have you come out from the world? Do you delight in the Bible? Do you wrestle in prayer? Do you love Christ’s people? Do you try to do good to the world? Are you vile in your own eyes, and willing to take the lowest place? Are you a Christian in business, tastes, tempers, and daily private habits,—on week-days, and by your own fireside?
Oh, think, think, think on these things, and then perhaps you will be better able to tell the state of your soul.