Are You a True Christian? The Privileges of the True Christian

Written by, J.C. Ryle

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“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give eternal life to them. They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” –John 10:27-29

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About the first part of this text, this passage contains two things—first the character of true Christians, and secondly their privileges—first what they are to their Savior, and secondly what their Savior is to them.

Let me, then, remind you what the text says of their character. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27)

 1    God’s children, His real believing people, are compared to sheep, because they are gentle, quiet, harmless and inoffensive; because they are useful and do good to all around them; because they love to be together, and dislike separation; and lastly because they are very helpless and wandering and liable to stray.

2    Jesus calls them “My sheep,” as if they were His peculiar property. “Mine,” He would have us know, by election, “Mine” by purchase, and “Mine” by adoption.

3    Christ’s sheep hear His voice, they listen humbly to His teaching, they take His word for their rule and guide.

4    Christ’s sheep follow Him, they walk in the narrow path He has marked out, they do not refuse because it is sometimes steep and narrow–but wherever the line of duty lies they go forward without doubting.

It only remains for us now to consider the other part of my text, which respects the blessings and privileges which Jesus the Good Shepherd bestows upon His people. The Lord grant that none of you may take to yourselves promises which do not belong to you—that none may take liberty from God’s exceeding mercy to continue sleeping in sin. Glorious and comfortable things are written in this passage—but remember they are given to Christ’s flock only; I fence it out against all that are unbelieving and impenitent and profane. I warn you plainly, except you will hear the voice of Christ and follow Him, you have no right or portion in this blessed fountain of consolations.

Hear now what Jesus says of His believing people: “I know them. . . . I give unto them eternal life; they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”

Before we look into the meaning of these words more closely, I wish to answer two questions which may arise in the minds of some before me. Of whom is the Lord Jesus speaking? Are we to suppose He only has in view patriarchs and prophets and apostles—men like Abraham and David and Job and Daniel, men who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, worked signs and miracles, and shed their blood for the kingdom of God’s sake? Are these the sort of people who alone can take comfort from those blessed words, “I know them . . . . they shall never perish.” Is everyone else to go on doubting to his life’s end? God forbid that I should tell you so! it would be doing Satan’s work to preach such doctrine. This text may become the property of the worst of sinners—if he will only hear Christ’s voice and follow Him.

Scribes and Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians, tax collectors and harlots, drunkards and fornicators, murderers, thieves and adulterers, liars and blasphemers. worldly-minded and covetous ones—all and each of them may lay firm hold on this text, and inherit its precious treasures—if they will only hear Christ’s voice and follow Him. It is for all who repent and believe the Gospel; it is for all who mourn over their past sins with a true godly sorrow, and flee to the Lord Jesus Christ with faith and prayer as their only hope, their all-sufficient Savior, their all in all. There is not one single man or woman of whom it shall not be written in the Lamb’s book of life, “This is one known of God, this is an heir of eternal life, this is a man or a woman that is never to perish, never to be plucked out of the Lord’s hand,” if you will only give up your sins and take Christ Jesus for your Shepherd and Redeemer.

Your repentance may seem very faint, your faith may appear weak as water—but if there be so much as a grain of mustard seed, if there be enough to lead you a penitent to the foot of the cross, you shall find yourself one day numbered with the saints in glory everlasting.

The other question I wish to answer is this: why did the Lord Jesus Christ give us this full and complete promise? Because He knew that true Christians would always be a very doubting, fearful, faint-hearted generation, always ready to believe they shall not be saved, always afraid they shall never see the New Jerusalem, because of the inbred corruption which they find continually in their hearts. He saw they would require the strong wine of assurance like this, and so He has provided this and like texts, as a reviving cordial to cheer and enliven their hearts, whenever they feel desponding and feeble-minded and ready to halt, in their pilgrimage through this weary world.

We will now look narrowly into the parts of this promise.

I . First, says the Lord Jesus Christ of His sheep who hear His voice and follow Him…

“I know them.” I know their number, their names, their particular characters, their besetting sins, their troubles, their trials, their temptations, their doubts, their prayers, their private meditations; I know everything about every one of them. Think what a comfortable saying that is! The world knows nothing about Christ’s sheep; to be sure, the world remarks there are a few people, here one and there one, who live differently to others, who seem to be more serious in their deportment, who appear to be taken up with some important consideration or other—but the world only wonders they can be so particular about little sins, and when their ways run counter to the world, the world is vastly offended.

But as for their fear of sin, and their carefulness about souls, the world neither knows nor understands what they are about; the secret springs of their conduct are all hidden.

Again, a Christian’s friends often do not know him. They may possibly respect him and allow him to hold on his way unopposed— though this, alas! is not always the case—but as for his pleasures and his pains, his constant warfare with the flesh, the world and the devil, his dread of falling into temptation, his delight in all means of grace, they can neither explain nor comprehend it; there is a something hidden in his character of which they know nothing.

Be comforted, all you who are tried and buffeted with difficulties in your way towards heaven, difficulties from without and difficulties from within, difficulties abroad and difficulties at home, grief for your own sins and grief for the sins of others: The Good Shepherd Jesus knows you well, though you may not think it. You never shed a secret tear over your own corruption, you never breathed a single prayer for forgiveness and helping grace, you never made a single struggle against wickedness, which He did not remark and note down in the book of His remembrance. You need not fear His not understanding your needs, you need not be afraid your prayers are too poor and unlearned to be attended to; He knows your particular necessities far better than you do yourselves, and your humble supplications are no sooner offered up than heard. You may sometimes sigh and mourn for lack of Christian fellowship, you may sometimes lament that you have not more around you with whom you might take sweet converse about salvation—but remember there is a Good Shepherd, who is ever about your path and about your bed, His eyes are on all your movements, and no husband, brother, father, mother, sister, friend, could take more tender interest in your soul’s welfare than He does. If you transgress He will grieve—but He will chasten and bring you back; if you bear good fruit, He will rejoice and give more grace; if you sorrow He will bind up your broken heart and pour in balm; He is ever watching and observing and listening; no believer is so humble and lowly, but He is acquainted with all their ways.

And does not Jesus know the men of this world, the faithless and ungodly? Unquestionably He does. He knows their proceedings; there is not a single sin they have committed but will appear written down in full in the great book—but He only knows them as His enemies—as careless, thoughtless ones, who will not take the trouble to hear His voice and follow Him—and in the last day, when all shall stand before Him, He will say, “I know you not: you would not seek to know me on earth, and I know nothing of you in heaven; depart, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” No doubt there will be many a Balaam there, many a barren fig-tree, many a foolish virgin, many a fruitless vine, many a loud-talking hypocrite, who will say, “Lord, Lord, open to us! Have we not taught in Your name, and in Your name quoted many texts, and in Your name made a great profession?” but still the answer will be, “I never knew you . . . depart from Me, you who work iniquity.”

Oh, what a blessed and comfortable thing to be known by Christ, known and marked as His friends, His relations, His dear children, His beloved family, His purchased possession! Here we are often cast down, often discouraged, often persecuted, often spoken against, often misunderstood—but let us take courage, our Lord and Master knows all. A day shall come when we shall no longer see through a glass darkly—but face to face—a day when we shall know even as we are now known; for the union between us and our Redeemer, which we so often feel disposed to doubt, shall then be clearly seen, and we shall no more go out to battle.

II    What is the next part of my text? The Lord Jesus says of His sheep, “I give unto them eternal life!”

What is the portion which Jesus gives His people? “eternal life”—a perfect, never-ending happiness for that which is the most important part of a man—his immortal soul. They shall not be hurt by the second death, which alone is to be really feared. What greater things could our Lord bestow upon His people? Health and riches and honor and pleasures, houses and lands, and wives and children—what are they? How long do they last?—it is but threescore years and ten, and we must leave them all—and six feet of vile earth is room enough for us.

Naked came we into the world, and naked must we return unto the dust, and carry nothing with us. What is the difference between the rich and the poor in death? They both go unto one and the same place; the worm feeds sweetly on them both; it is but a short time, and you would not be able to distinguish between their bones. But if the poor man sleeps in Jesus, while the rich man dies in his sins, oh, what a mighty gulf then is between them! The rich will take up his abode in that fire which is never quenched; the poor will awake to find he has an everlasting treasure in heaven, even eternal life. Eternal life! compared to which this world’s concerns, weighty and important as they seem, are like a drop of water.

Amazing indeed that men should trouble themselves about the things of earth, and sweat and toil after a little more gold and silver, and spend their strength upon these frail, sickly bodies of ours, to get enjoyment for them, and yet remain careless and dead and frozen about the life of that precious talent the soul!

But about eternal life? “I,” says the Lord Jesus Christ, “do give it to my people.” Who says this? He says it who bought and paid the full price; He who has in His hands the keys of death and hell; He who opens and no man shuts, He who shuts and no man opens; He says it who is the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, who is not a man that He should lie, who never breaks His promise; He says it who has a right to say it, for He came down to do His Father’s will and die in our stead to obtain redemption for us, and when He declares “I give eternal life,” death and hell must be silent, none can gainsay Him.

“I give,” He declares, “eternal life.”

He does not speak after the fashion of the world; this world is cold, and calculating and heartless; there is little giving—it is all bargaining and selling and paying what is the value of things. Blessed be God, the Lord Jesus does not deal with sinners as they deal with each other. He gives eternal life freely, and of grace, and for nothing, without money and without price. He does not give it because we are worthy or deserving, nor yet because we shall show ourselves worthy and deserving—but He gives it as a free gift, because He loves us and has set His affection upon us.

Consider with yourselves how glorious that doctrine is; how thoroughly it takes away all excuse from the impenitent. Pardon and forgiveness are here unconditionally bestowed; we are not told that we must pay off so much every day, and then shall be saved—that would drive us to doubt and despair—but if a man will only hear Christ’s voice and follow Him, “Behold “says Jesus, “I give unto him eternal life, there remains no condemnation for him.”

III. The third promise in my text is as follows: Jesus says of His sheep, “They shall never perish!”

They shall never be finally cast away, if they have once been sealed and numbered in my flock. They may have many a slip and many a fall, they may experience many a shortcoming and many a backsliding—but they shall never be lost eternally, they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation. Where are those fearful Christians, who think they may be Christ’s sheep and yet come short at last? behold the assurance of Him who cannot lie, “they shall never perish!”

Yes! true Christians shall never perish! Is not that great work begun within their hearts by the Holy Spirit? has not the power of God Himself been employed in converting them from darkness to light? and shall we dare say that God will take in hand the smallest thing, and yet leave it unfinished and not bring it to perfection? Have they not been born again of incorruptible seed, and shall this seed be choked and bear no fruit? Have they not been made by grace new creatures, and is it possible that grace can have raised them to newness of life in vain? Where in the whole world can you find a work which the Lord has attempted, and yet been obliged to give up and leave all incomplete? Then far be it from us to suppose that a true believer can ever be cast away! If man had any share in his conversion one might reasonably doubt—but it is not so, it is the work of God, and what He does shall always be brought to perfection.

The building which the Holy Spirit has founded shall never be allowed to decay, it shall never be left half-finished, and the top-stone shall certainly be one day laid on with shouting. True Christians shall never perish. Are they not Christ’s special property, the servants of His house, the members of His family, the children of His adoption? Then surely He will never let them be overthrown, He will watch them as tenderly as we watch over our own flesh and blood, He will guard them as we guard our valuable and precious possessions, He will cherish them as we cherish that which is most dear to our hearts; He never would have laid down His life for their sakes if He had intended to give them up.

“Never perish!” Kings of the earth and mighty men shall depart and be no more seen; thrones and dominions and principalities, rich men and honorable men shall be swept into the tomb—but the humblest Christian cottager shall never see death everlasting, and when the heavens shall pass away as a scroll, and earth shall be burned up, that man shall be found to have a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. That man may be poor in this world and lightly esteemed—but I see in him one who shall be a glorious saint, when those who perchance had more of this life’s good things shall be in torment; I am confident that nothing shall ever separate him from the love of Christ. He may have his doubts—but I know he is provided for; he shall never be lost.

IV    There remains one thing more. Jesus adds, “Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”

There is assurance upon assurance, that none may have an excuse for doubting. There is always something plucking at Christ’s sheep: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, the devil, and the world are ever striving hard to destroy them—but they shall not succeed! Do you think the devil will give up his kingdom without a mighty struggle? Oh no, he goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour; he wars a constant warfare with all who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ—but the word of God is pledged that he shall never prevail. Not all the powers of darkness shall avail to quench one single spark of real gospel faith.

And now, beloved, in CONCLUSION, let me speak a word of exhortation to all among you who hear Christ’s voice and follow Him.

O that the Spirit may come down among you, and add to your number a hundredfold! Are you indeed Christ’s sheep? Can you feel within yourselves the working of His Blessed Spirit, mortifying the works of the flesh, and drawing up your minds to heavenly things?

Have you the witness in yourselves that you have gone through a real spiritual change, that you hate the sins which once you loved, and love the things which once you despised? Have you good reason to believe that you have indeed put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new man with the lamb-like nature of your blessed Master? Then, oh, rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory! Pray that you may not stand still—but go on from grace to grace and strength to strength; pray that you may bear much spiritual fruit, for thus is your Father glorified, and then will you make your own calling and election sure to yourselves.

Are you indeed Christ’s sheep? Then beware of ever trusting to yourselves; nothing offends the Good Shepherd more than to see the members of His flock, forgetting that in Him alone is all their safety, and glorying in their own attainments and performances. Think not of your weak endeavors; think not to say, “I do very little, and therefore have very little hope—by-and-by I trust I shall do much, and then I shall have much hope”; your best performances and attempts towards heaven are in themselves but broken reeds, and can bear no weight; they are precious as evidences of spiritual life—but they cannot justify. Think only of your Savior Jesus Christ, trust Him entirely, love Him affectionately, look to Him continually. As long as you lean on Him you are strong and none can touch you. Without Him and in your own might, you are weak and unstable as water.

Are you indeed Christ’s sheep? Then beware of wandering from the pasture He has provided. The devil and the old Adam would often persuade you there is no need for this diligence in using means of grace: “Surely,” they will say, “you are not such a babe but you can leave these fields for a short season; surely you need not keep so closely in your Shepherd’s sight.” Christian, take heed and beware of the charmer, charm he ever so wisely. Diligent private prayer, diligent Scripture searching, diligent gospel hearing—these are the pastures in which Jesus feeds His flock, and if you turn aside, if you become slack in using them, be sure your soul will soon starve for lack of its accustomed nourishment, and you will return to the fold weak and lame and lean and diseased.

Once more, and I have done. Are you indeed Christ’s sheep? then be sure you will have many a trial; where indeed would be the value of a Savior, if there were not enemies to be saved from? Yes! you will have many a trial! Satan has great wrath against all who have escaped his snares, and he will bring every weapon to bear against your peace; he will start many a doubt within your mind, he will stir up many a vile and blasphemous imagination within the chambers of your heart, many a horrid thought you once would have believed impossible—but still remember those words, “never perish.” Yes! you will have many a trial! When did the ungodly world ever patronize and encourage a true Christian? Oh no, the world will mock and despise, and laugh and frighten, and misrepresent you, and spread false reports, and throw traps in your way, and if it dares it will persecute you.

And then there is the flesh, sleepy and drowsy and fond of excuses, always trying to make you believe you have more difficulties than anybody else, deceitful, treacherous, needing constant watchfulness—but still the world and the flesh can never turn you back, except you are a graceless traitor. Remember those blessed words “never perish.” Christian, you may be perplexed—but you never need despair; you may be persecuted but you are not forsaken, cast down but not destroyed; you may have tribulation—but you shall not have condemnation; you shall be saved from your enemies and from the hand of all who hate you. Fear none of these things which you shall suffer; be faithful unto death, and your Good Shepherd shall give you a crown of life.

Verily He is gone before to prepare a place for those whom He knows, and where He is in glory there they shall be also. “What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who didn’t spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how would he not also with him freely give us all things? Who could bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes rather, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Could oppression, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written, “For your sake we are killed all day long. We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing—will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31-39)

The Christian Race

Written by J. C. Ryle

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“Therefore let us also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

I wish to warn you against forgetting the sure foundation…

I wish to caution you most strongly against losing sight of the root of the whole matter — a simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. You must not stumble at the outset by supposing I want you to set up a righteousness of your own. Some think their own endeavors after holiness are to make up their title to salvation; some think that when they come to Christ, their ‘past sins’ alone are forgiven, and for the time to come, they must depend upon themselves. Alas! there always have been mistakes upon this point: men toil and labor after peace with God as if their own exertions would give them a right to lay hold on Christ, and when they find themselves far short of the Bible standard they mourn and grieve and will not be comforted; and all because they will not see that in the matter of forgiveness, in the matter of justification in the sight of God, it is not doing which is required — but believing; it is not working — but trusting; it is not perfect obedience — but humble faith.

Now, once for all, let us understand, that all who have really fled for mercy to the Lord Jesus Christ are, as Paul assures the Colossians, complete in Him! In themselves they may be poor shortcoming sinners — but seeing they have laid hold on Christ, God looks upon them as complete — completely pardoned, completely righteous, completely pure — no jot or tittle of condemnation can be laid to their charge.

They have nothing more to do with the law as a covenant of works, as a condition they must fulfill or die: the Lord does not say, “Be perfect and then you shall live,” but” Christ has given you life, and for His sake strive to be perfect.” But you will ask me, “Why do they hunger and thirst so much after holiness, since all their debt has been paid?” I answer, They work for love’s sake — for gratitude; they do not work and strive after holiness in order that they may be forgiven — but because they are forgiven already, chosen and sealed and saved and redeemed and bought with a price, and they cannot help desiring to glorify Him with their bodies and spirits — who loved them and gave Himself for them. They thirst after holiness because their Father loves holiness; they thirst after purity because their Master loves purity; they strive to be like Jesus because they hope to be one day forever with Him.

But seeing they have many a difficulty in doing the things that they desire, and are continually warring with the world, the flesh, and the devil, and sometimes are so ready to faint that they doubt whether they really are of Christ’s family or not — seeing these things are so, I have tried to give you a faint outline of their experience on recent occasions, and I purpose this afternoon to lay before you, the advice which the apostle gives them in my text.

Now, I say that the text contains five points:

I. We have all a race to run.
II. Many have gone before us.
III. We must lay aside every weight.
IV. We must run with patience.
V. We must be continually looking unto Jesus.

The Lord pour down His Spirit upon each of you, and bow the hearts of all here present, as the heart of one man, that you may seek the Lord while there is yet time, and set your faces towards Jerusalem, and not die the death of the faithless and unbelieving.

I. We have all a race to run

By this you are not to understand that our own arm and our own strength can ever open for us the gates of everlasting life, and win us a place in heaven. Far from it: that is all of grace — it is another question. It simply means that all who take up the cross and follow Christ must make up their minds to meet with many a difficulty, they must calculate on labor and toil and trouble, they have a mighty work to do, and there is need for all their attention and energy. Without there will be fightings, within, there will be fears; there will be snares to be avoided, and temptations to be resisted; there will be your own treacherous hearts, often cold and dead and dry and dull; there will be friends who will give you unscriptural advice, and relations who will even war against your soul. In short, there will be stumbling-blocks on every side, there will be occasion for all your diligence and watchfulness and godly jealousy and prayer — you will soon find that to be a real Christian is no light matter.

Oh what a condemnation there is here for all those easy-going people who seem to think they may pass their time as they please, and yet be numbered with the saints in glory everlasting! Are those who show less earnestness about their souls than about their earthly amusements, and those who have much to tell you about this world’s business but nothing about heaven, and those who think nothing of neglecting the commonest helps towards Zion, and count it much to give religion a few Sunday thoughts — are these men running the Christian race, and straining every nerve after the prize? I leave the answer with yourselves: judge what I say!

And those who profess to have entered the course, and yet find time to rest by the wayside and trifle with temptation, and find fault with the anxiety of others — and those who stop to take breath and boast of their attainments, and look behind them — are such running the race set before them as if it was a matter of life and death? Oh no! They may get the name of Christians — but they are not so running that they shall obtain.

But those who are taught and called of God may soon be distinguished from the sleeping children of this world. These have no leisure for vain amusements; their eyes are fixed and their thoughts are engaged upon the narrow path they have to tread, and the crown they hope to receive. They have counted the cost, and come out from the world; and their only wish is that they may finish their course with joy.

II. The second thing you may learn from the text is this: Many have gone before us. “We are encompassed with a great cloud of witnesses.”

The witnesses here spoken of are those patriarchs and prophets who are mentioned in the eleventh chapter, and the apostle calls upon us to remember them and their troubles and take courage. Are we frail earthen vessels? So were they. Are we weak and encompassed with infirmities? So were they. Are we exposed to temptation and burdened with this body of corruption? So were they. Are we afflicted? So were they. Are we alone in our generation, the scorn of all our neighbors? So were they. Have we trials of cruel mockings? So had they. What can we possibly be called upon to suffer which they have not endured? What consolations did they receive which we may not enjoy?

You may talk of your cares and business and families — but their portion was just like yours; they were men of like passions; they did not neglect business, and yet they gave their hearts to God. They show the race can always be run by those who have the will. Yes, they were all flesh and blood like ourselves, and yet by grace they became new creatures; and so by faith they “obtained a good report; “ by faith they confessed themselves strangers and pilgrims on the earth; through faith they “quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength after being weak, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. Some men were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection, and others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. They wandered in deserts, mountains, caves, and holes in the ground.”

But grace exceedingly abounded, and all fought a good fight and finished their course and kept the faith, and to God Almighty every one of them appeared in Zion.

Take courage, fainting Christians: you are encompassed with a great cloud of witnesses! The race that you are running has been run by millions before; you think that no one ever had such trials as yourself — but every step that you are journeying has been safely trod by others; the valley of the shadow of death has been securely passed by a multitude of trembling, doubting ones like yourself. They had their fears and anxieties, like you — but they were not cast away. The world, the flesh and the devil can never overwhelm the weakest woman who will set her face towards God. These millions journeyed on in bitterness and tears like your own, and yet not one perished — they all reached their eternal home.

III. The third point to be considered is the apostle’s advice, to “lay aside every weight.”

By this he means that we must give up everything which is really hurtful to our souls. We must act like men who throw off all their long and flowing garments, as an encumbrance, when about to enter a race. We must cast away everything which hinders us upon our road towards heaven — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life; the love of riches, pleasures, and honors, the spirit of lukewarmness and carelessness and indifference about the things of God — all must be rooted out and forsaken if we are anxious for the prize. We must mortify the deeds of the body, we must crucify our affections for this world. We must look well to our habits and inclinations and employments, and if we find anything coming in as a stumbling-block between ourselves and salvation, we must be ready to lay it aside as if it were a millstone about our necks, although it cost us as much pain as cutting off a hand or plucking out a right eye. Away with everything which keeps us back; our feet are slow at the very best, we have a long course to run, we cannot afford to carry weight, if we are really contending for everlasting life.

But above all we must take heed that we lay aside the sin which does most easily beset us, the sin which from our age — or habit — or taste — or disposition — or feelings, possesses the greatest power over us. I know of two which are always at our elbows, two sins which try the most advanced Christians even to the end, and these are pride and unbelief. Pride in our own difference from others, pride in our reputation as Christians, pride in our spiritual attainments. Unbelief about our own sinfulness, unbelief about God’s wisdom, unbelief about God’s mercy. Oh, they are heavy burdens, and sorely do they keep us back, and few really know they are carrying them, and few indeed are those who will not discover them at the very bottom of the chamber of their hearts, waiting an opportunity to come out.

But there are particular besetting sins, of which each separate Christian can alone furnish an account; each single one of us has some weak point, each one has got a thin, weak spot in his wall of defense against the devil, each one has a traitor in his camp ready to open the gates to Satan, and he who is wise will never rest until he has discovered where this weak point is.

This is that special sin which you are here exhorted to watch against, to overcome, to cast forth, to spare no means in bringing it into subjection — that it may not entangle you in your race towards Zion. One man is beset with lust, another with a love of drinking, another with evil temper, another with malice, another with covetousness, another with worldly-mindedness, another with idleness — but each of us has got about him some besetting infirmity, which is able to hinder him far more than others, and with which he must keep an unceasing warfare — or else he will never so run as to obtain the prize.

Oh these bitter besetting sins! How many have fallen in their full course, and given occasion to God’s enemies to blaspheme, from thinking lightly of them, from not continually guarding against them, from a vain notion that they were altogether cut off! They have been over-confident and presumptuous. They have said “We are the temple of the Lord, and we cannot greatly stumble,” and they have forgotten that hidden root, that branch of the old Adam; and so day after day, little by little, shoot after shoot, it grew, it strengthened, it filled their heart, it blighted their few graces; and suddenly, without time to think, they have slipped and fallen headlong in the race, and now they are hurrying down stream amidst that miserable party, the backsliders, and who can tell what their end may be?

But what was the simple cause? They disregarded some besetting sin. Go, child of God, and search the chambers of your heart! See whether you can find there some seed of evil, some darling thing which you have tenderly spared hitherto, because it was a little one. Away with it! There must be no mercy, no compromise, no reserve! It must be laid aside, plucked up, torn up by the roots — or it will one day trip you up, and prevent you running your race towards Zion. The gates of heaven are broad enough to receive the worst of sinners — but too narrow to admit the smallest grain of unforsaken sin!

IV. The fourth point to be noticed in the text is the frame of mind in which we are to run: “let us run with patience.”

I take this patience to mean that meek, contented spirit, which is the child of real living faith, which flows from a confidence that all things are working together for our good. Oh, it is a most necessary and useful grace! There are so many crosses to be borne when we have entered the course, so many disappointments and trials and fatigues, that, except we are enabled to possess our souls in patience, we shall never persevere unto the end. But we must not turn back to Egypt, because some bring up an evil report of the promised land; we must not faint because the journey is long and the way lies through a wilderness, we must press forward without flagging, not murmuring when we are chastened — but saying, with Eli, “It is the Lord: let Him do that which seems good to Him.”

Look at Moses, in Hebrews 11: “When he was come to years, he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward; he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.”

Look at Job, when God permitted Satan to afflict him: “Naked,” he says, “I came out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there: the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” “What? Shall we receive good from the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”

Look at David, the man after God’s own heart. How many waves of trouble passed over that honored head; how many years he fled from the hand of Saul, how much tribulation did he suffer from his own family; and hear what he says when he is fleeing from his own son Absalom, and a certain Benjamite came forth and cursed him. “Behold, my son seeks my life: how much more may this Benjamite do it? Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord has bidden him. It may be that the Lord will look on my affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day.” Mark too, as you read his Psalms, how often you come on that expression, “waiting upon God”: it seems as if he thought it the highest grace a Christian can attain to.

Look lastly at your blessed Lord Himself. Peter says, “He left us an example, that we should walk in His steps: who did no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth: who when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not — but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” Paul says: “For consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest you be wearied and faint in your minds. You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks unto you as unto children — My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked of Him: for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”

O yes, beloved, we must run with patience — or we shall never obtain. There may be many things we cannot understand, much that the flesh could perhaps wish otherwise — but let us endure unto the end, and all shall be made clear, and God’s arrangements shall be proved best. Think not to have your reward on earth, do not draw back because your good things are all yet to come. Today is the cross — but tomorrow is the crown. Today is the labor — but tomorrow is the wages. Today is the sowing — but tomorrow is the harvest. Today is the battle — but tomorrow is the rest. Today is the weeping — but tomorrow is the joy. And what is today compared to tomorrow? Today is but threescore years and ten — but tomorrow is eternity. Be patient and hope unto the end.

V. The last point is the most important in the text. It is the object on which our eyes are to be fixed

We are to run our race “looking unto Jesus.” We are to run, depending on Him for salvation, renouncing all trust in our own poor frail exertions, and counting our own performances no better than filthy rags, and resting wholly and entirely, simply and completely, upon that perfect righteousness which He worked out for us upon the cross. We need not run uncertain of the end; we need not fight in ignorance of what shall follow. We have only to behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and believe that He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, and will soon present us spotless and unblameable in His Father’s sight.

And then we are to run, making Jesus our Example, taking no lower pattern than the Son of God Himself, endeavoring to copy His meekness, His humility, His love, His zeal for souls, His self-denial, His purity, His faith, His patience, His prayerfulness. And as we look — we shall daily become more like Him!

And then we are to run, looking for our blessed Lord’s appearing, praying always with all prayer and supplication that He will hasten His coming and kingdom and accomplish the number of His elect. Unto those who look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation; and their vile bodies in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, shall be made like unto His glorious body, and they shall be forever with their Lord!

Oh, this looking unto Jesus! Here is the secret cause which kept that cloud of witnesses steadfast and unmovable in this narrow way! Here is the simple rule for all who wish to enter on the course which lands a man in Paradise! Look not to earth: it is a sinful, perishable place, and they who build upon it shall find their foundation of the earth earthy; they will not stand the fire. Set not your affections upon it — or else you will perish together; the earth shall be burned up, and if you cling to it, in death you shall not be divided!

Look not to yourselves! You are by nature wretched and miserable, and poor and blind and naked; you cannot make atonement for your past transgressions, you cannot wipe out a single page in that long black list. And when the King shall ask you for your wedding garment you will be speechless. Look simply unto Jesus, and then the weight shall fall from off your shoulders, and the course shall be clear and plain, and you shall run the race which is set before you. Truly a man may be mistaken for a season, and walk in darkness for a time — but if he once determines to look to Jesus, he shall not greatly err.

Who now are the men and women in this congregation who have not entered on the grand struggle for life? This day, you Christless, sleeping ones, this day I charge you to be honest and merciful to your souls. Turn! O turn you from your evil ways! Turn from your self-pleasing and self-indulging; seek you the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near; cry mightily unto the Lord Jesus Christ, before the night comes and you sleep for evermore. I know the thoughts that are in the hearts of those among you who ever think, (for many come and go without thinking): I know your thoughts; you cannot make up your mind to lay aside every weight, you cannot throw overboard the sin that does so easily beset you. Alas! Like Herod you would do many things — but not all: you will not give up that Herodias. That darling bosom-sin — the world, the business, the drink, the pleasure — you cannot give it up, it must have the first place in your heart. I testify, I warn you, I take you to record that God has declared there shall never enter into heaven anything that defiles. And if you are determined not to give up your sins, your sins will cleave to you like lead and sink you in the pit of destruction. You need not wait: you must show some inclination; God will not convert you against your will; except you show the desire, how can you expect He will give you the grace?

But where are the men and women who are running the race and struggling towards the heavenly Jerusalem? Think not that you have anything which makes your journey more difficult than others. The saints at God’s right hand were perfected through sufferings; and you must run with patience. Millions have gone safely through, and so shall you.

Beware of cumbering yourselves with any weight of earthly cares. Examine your hearts most closely, and purge out each besetting sin with a godly prayerful jealousy. Remember that blessed rule, “looking unto Jesus.” Peter did run well for a time, when he left the ship to walk upon the sea to Jesus — but when he saw the waves and the storm he was afraid and began to sink. Thus many a one sets out courageously — but after a while corruptions rise high within, corruptions are strong without, the eye is drawn off Jesus, the devil gets an advantage — and the soul begins to sink. Oh, keep your eye steadily fixed on Christ, and you shall go through fire and water and they shall not hurt you.

Are you tempted? Look unto Jesus. Are you afflicted? Look unto Jesus. Do all speak evil of you? Look unto Jesus. Do you feel cold, dull, backsliding? Look unto Jesus. Never say, “I will heal myself and then look unto Jesus, I will get into a good frame and then take comfort in my Beloved.” This is the delusion of Satan. But whether you are weak or strong, in the valley or on the mount, in sickness or in health, in sorrow or in joy, in going out or in coming in, in youth or in age, in richness or in poverty, in life or in death — let this be your motto and your guide, “LOOKING UNTO JESUS!”

THE GREAT SEPARATION

Taken and adapted from, “Practical Religion”
Written by J.C. Ryle

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“His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor, gathering His wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” –Matthew 3:12

The verse of Scripture, which is now before our eyes…

…contains words that were spoken by John the Baptist. They are a prophecy about our Lord Jesus Christ, and a prophecy that has not yet been fulfilled. They are a prophecy which we will see fulfilled one day, and God alone knows how soon.

I. Let me show you, in the first place, the two great classes into which mankind 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 begins 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 tested by the state of their hearts, there are only two classes into which people can be divided—either they are wheat, or they are chaff.

Who are the wheat in the world? This is a point that demands special consideration.

The wheat refers to 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 people, of every Church, name, nation, people, and language—of every rank, occupation, and condition—all such people are God’s “wheat.”

Show me people of this kind anywhere, and I know what they are. I do not know whether 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 do not know where they came from 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 people, 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 a dwelling place of God the Holy Spirit. The Father sees no iniquity in them—they are the members of His dear Son’s mystical body: in Him He sees them, and is well pleased. The Lord Jesus sees in them the fruit of His own suffering and work upon the cross, and is well satisfied. The Holy Spirit regards them as spiritual temples, which He Himself has created, and rejoices over them. In a word, they are the “wheat” of the earth.

Who are the chaff in the world? This again is a point that demands special attention.

The chaff refers to all men and women who have no saving faith in Christ, and no sanctification of the Spirit. Some of them are atheists, and some are “Christians” in name only. 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 every one of them has the two great marks already mentioned—no faith and no sanctification—every one of them is “chaff.” Those who attend Church and can think of nothing but outward ceremonies—the unconverted admirer of sermons—all are standing in one class before God: every one of them is “chaff.”

They bring no glory to God the Father, because, “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent Him.” (John 5:23) They neglect that mighty salvation which countless millions of angels admire. They disobey that Word which was graciously written for their understanding. They do not listen to the voice of Him who condescended to leave heaven and die for their sins. They do not serve nor love Him who gave them “life and breath and everything else.” And therefore God takes no pleasure in them. He pities them, but He considers them no better than “chaff.”

Yes! You may have rare intellectual gifts and great 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 yourself to the rule of Christ, and never honored His Gospel by heartfelt reception of it, then you are nothing in His sight. The most insignificant insect that crawls in the dirt 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 honor God with heart, and will, and intellect, and with the members of your body, which are all His. You overturn His order and arrangement, and live as if your time on earth was more important than eternity, and the body better than the soul. You dare to neglect God’s greatest gift—His own incarnate Son. You are cold about that subject which fills heaven with hallelujahs. And as long as this is the case, then you belong to the worthless part of mankind. You are the “chaff” of the earth.

There are many and various minds in every congregation that gathers for religious worship. There are some who attend for a mere form, and some who really desire to meet Christ—some who come there to please others, and some who come to please God—some who’s hearts are open are very alert to the message, and some who have closed their hearts and consider the whole service a drudgery. But the eye of the Lord Jesus only sees two divisions in the congregation—the wheat and the chaff.

I know full well that the world dislikes this way of dividing professing Christians. The world tries hard to convince us that there are three classes of people and not two. The first class of people are the very good and the very strict; however, this does not suit the world: they cannot and will not be saints. Yet, the third class, which has no religion at all, does not suit the world either: it would not be respectable. “Thank God,” they will say, “we are not as bad as they are.” Then there is the second class—a safe middle class, the world thinks—and in this middle class the majority of men persuade themselves is where they belong. In this class a person only needs enough religion to be saved, and yet not go into extremes—to be minimally good, and yet not be exceptional—to have a quiet, easy-going, moderate kind of Christianity, and go comfortably to heaven when they die—this is the world’s favorite class.

I denounce this notion of a middle class as an immense and soul-ruining delusion. I warn you strongly not to be carried away by it. It is as vain an invention as the Roman Catholic’s purgatory. It is a refuge of lies—a castle in the air—a Russian ice-palace—a vast unreality—an empty dream. This middle class is a class of Christians that is nowhere spoken of in the Bible.

There were two classes in the day of Noah’s flood: those who were inside the ark, and those who were outside; 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.

And just as there are only two classes in the visible Church on earth—those who are in their natural state of unbelief and sin, and those who are in the state of grace; those who are on the narrow road, and those who are traveling on the broad road; those who have faith, and those who do not have faith; those who have been converted, and those who have not been converted; those who are with Christ, and those who are against Him; those who gather with Him, and those who scatter; those who are “wheat,” and those who are “chaff,”—into these two classes the whole professing Church of Christ may be divided. Apart from these two classes there is none.

You must examine yourselves! Are you among the wheat, or among the chaff? Neutrality is impossible. Either you are in one class, or in the other. Which is it of the two?

Perhaps you attend church. You go to the Lord’s table. You like good people. You can distinguish between good preaching and bad. You think Roman Catholicism is a false religion, and heartily oppose it. You think Protestantism is true and warmly support it. You attend Christian meetings. You sometimes read Christian books. 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 convicted of your sins and repented of them? Are you looking only to Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life? Do you love Christ? Do you serve Christ? Do you hate your sins and fight against them? Do you long for perfect holiness and strive 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? Do you live like a Christian at work, and on weekdays, and also in the privacy of your own home? Oh, think, think, think on these things, and then perhaps you will be better able to tell the state of your soul.

I implore you not to turn away from my question, however unpleasant it may be. Answer it, though it may prick your conscience and convict your heart. Answer it, though it may prove you in the wrong and expose your fearful danger. Do not rest, do not rest, until you know how it is between you and God. It is a thousand times better to find out that you are living an evil life of sin, and repent immediately, than live on in uncertainty and be eternally lost.

II. Let me show you, in the second place, the time when the two great classes of mankind will be separated.

The verse at the beginning of this paper tells of a coming separation. It says that Christ will one day do to His professing Church what the farmer does to his corn. He will sift it. He “will clear His threshing floor.” And then the wheat and the chaff will be divided.

There is no separation yet. Good and bad are now all mingled together in the visible Church of Christ. Believers and unbelievers—converted and unconverted—holy and unholy—all are to be found now among those who call themselves Christians. They sit side by side in our churches. They kneel side by side in prayer. They listen side by side to our sermons. They sit side by side at the Lord’s table and receive the same bread and wine from our hands.

But it will not always be so. Christ will come the second time with His winnowing fork is His hand. He will purge His Church, even as He purified the temple. And then the wheat and the chaff will be separated, and each will go to its own place.

(a) Before Christ comes separation is impossible.

It is not in man’s power to make the separation. There is no minister on earth who can read the hearts of every person in his congregation. He may speak decidedly about some, but not everyone. Who has oil in their lamps, and who has not—who has grace as well as profession, and who has profession only and no grace—who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil—all these are questions which in many cases we cannot accurately answer. The winnowing fork was not put into our hands.

There are some Christians whose grace is sometimes so weak and feeble that they look like unbelievers. Unbelievers sometimes are so convincing and well dressed that they look like Christians. I believe that many of us would have said that Judas was as good as any of the Apostles; and yet he proved to be a traitor. I believe that we would have said that Peter was a reprobate when he denied his Lord; and yet he repented immediately. We are fallible men. “For we know in part and we prophesy in part.”

(1 Corinthians 13:9) We scarcely understand our own hearts. It is any great wonder that we cannot read the hearts of others?

But it will not always be this way. There is One coming who never makes a mistake in judgment and is perfect in knowledge. Jesus will purge His floor. Jesus will sift the chaff from the wheat. I wait for this. Till then I will lean to the side of love in my judgments. I would rather tolerate a lot of chaff in the Church than to cast out one grain of wheat. He will soon come with “His winnowing fork is in His hand,” and then everyone’s identity will be known.

(b) Before Christ comes it is useless to expect to see a perfect Church.

There cannot be a perfect Church. In this life the wheat and the chaff will always be found together. I pity those who leave one Church and join another because of a few faults and questionable members. I pity them because they are fostering ideas, which can never be realized. I pity them because they are seeking that which cannot be found. I see “chaff” everywhere. I see imperfections and weaknesses in every congregation on earth. I believe there are only a few communion tables of the Lord, if any, where all the communicants are converted. I often see loud-talking Christians exalted as saints. I often see holy and contrite believers looked upon as having no grace at all. I believe that those who demand a perfect Church will go fluttering about, like Noah’s dove, all their days, and never find rest.

Does you desire a perfect Church? You must wait for the Second Coming of Christ. Then, and not until then, you will see “a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish. (Ephesians 5:27) Then, and not until then, the threshing floor will be purged.

(c) Before Christ returns it is vain to look for the conversion of the world.

How can the whole world be converted, if the Bible says that Christ will find wheat and chaff growing side by side in the day of His Second Coming? I believe some Christians expect that missions will fill the earth with the knowledge of Christ, and that in time sin will disappear and a state of perfect holiness will gradually be manifest. I cannot agree with them. I think they are mistaking God’s purposes, and sowing for themselves bitter disappointment. I expect nothing of the kind. I see nothing in the Bible or in the world around me to make me expect it. I have never heard of a single congregation in all of England or Scotland, which was entirely converted to God—so why am I to look for a different result from the preaching of the Gospel in other countries of the world? I only expect to see a few raised up as witnesses to Christ in other nations, some in one place and some in another. Then I expect the Lord Jesus will come in glory with His winnowing fork in His hand. And when He has purged His floor, and not until then, His kingdom will begin.

No separation and no perfection until Christ comes! This is my creed. I am not moved when the unbeliever asks me, “How can Christianity be true if the whole world is not converted?” I answer, “It was never promised that the whole world would be saved before the return of Christ.” The Bible tells me that believers will always be few in number and that evil and divisions and heresies will always abound, and that when my Lord returns to earth He will find plenty of chaff.

The Exceeding Wickedness of Willful Impenitence

Taken and adapted from, “Expository Thoughts on the Gospels”
Written by, J.C. Ryle

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“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces, who call to their companions and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you didn’t dance. We mourned for you, and you didn’t lament.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.”

Then he began to denounce the cities in which most of his mighty works had been done, because they didn’t repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. You, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, you will go down to Hades. For if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in you, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, on the day of judgment, than for you.”–Matthew 11:16-24

These sayings of the Lord Jesus were called forth by the state of the Jewish nation…

…when He was upon earth. But they speak loudly to us also, as well as to the Jews. They throw great light on some parts of the natural man’s character. They teach us the perilous state of many immortal souls in the present day.

The first part of these verses shows us the unreasonableness of many unconverted men in the things of religion. The Jews, in our Lord’s time, found fault with every teacher whom God sent among them. First came John the Baptist preaching repentance–an austere man, a man who withdrew himself from society, and lived an ascetic life. Did this satisfy the Jews? No! They found fault and said, “He has a devil.” Then came Jesus the Son of God, preaching the Gospel, living as other men lived, and practicing none of John the Baptist’s peculiar austerities. And did this satisfy the Jews? No! They found fault again, and said, “Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” In short, they were as perverse and hard to please as ‘contrary children’.

It is a mournful fact, that there are always thousands of professing Christians just as unreasonable as these Jews. They are equally perverse, and equally hard to please. Whatever we teach and preach, they find fault. Whatever be our manner of life, they are dissatisfied.

Do we tell them of salvation by grace, and justification by faith? At once they cry out against our doctrine as licentious and antinomian. Do we tell them of the holiness which the Gospel requires? At once they exclaim, that we are too strict, and precise, and righteous overmuch. Are we cheerful? They accuse us of levity. Are we grave? They call us gloomy and sour. Do we keep aloof from balls, and races, and plays? They denounce us as puritanical, exclusive and narrow-minded. Do we eat, and drink, and dress like other people, and attend to our worldly callings and go into society? They sneeringly insinuate that they see no difference between us and those who make no religious profession at all, and that we are not better than other men. What is all this but the conduct of the Jews over again? “We played the flute for you, and you didn’t dance. We mourned for you, and you didn’t lament.” He who spoke these words knew the hearts of men.

The plain truth is, that true believers must not expect unconverted men to be satisfied, either with their faith or their practice. If they do, they expect what they will not find. They must make up their minds to hear objections, cavils, and excuses, however holy their own lives may be.

Well says Quesnel, “Whatever measures good men take, they will never escape the censures of the world. The best way is not to be concerned at them.” After all, what says the Scripture? “The mind of the flesh is hostile towards God.” “The natural man doesn’t receive the things of God’s Spirit.” (Rom. 8:7, 1 Cor. 2:14.) This is the explanation of the whole matter.

The second part of these verses shows us the exceeding wickedness of willful impenitence. Our Lord declares that it shall be “more tolerable for Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, in the day of judgment,” than for those towns where people had heard His sermons, and seen His miracles, but not repented.

There is something very solemn in this saying. Let us look at it well. Let us think for a moment what dark, idolatrous, immoral, profligate places Tyre and Sidon must have been. Let us call to mind the unspeakable wickedness of Sodom. Let us remember that the cities named by our Lord, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, were probably no worse than other Jewish towns, and at all events, were far better than Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom. And then let us observe, that the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, –are to be in the lowest hell, because they heard the Gospel, and yet did not repent–because they had great religious advantages, and did not use them. 

Surely these words ought to make the ears of every one tingle, who hears the Gospel regularly, and yet remains unconverted. How great is the guilt of such a man before God! How great the danger in which he daily stands? Moral, and decent, and respectable as his life may be, he is actually more guilty than an idolatrous Tyrian or Sidonian, or a miserable inhabitant of Sodom. They had no spiritual light: he has, and neglects it. They heard no Gospel; he hears, but does not obey it. Their hearts might have been softened, if they had enjoyed his privileges. Tyre and Sidon “would have repented.” Sodom “would have remained until this day.” His heart under the full blaze of the Gospel remains hard and unmoved. There is but one painful conclusion to be drawn. His guilt will be found greater than theirs at the last day. Most true is the remark of an English bishop, “Among all the aggravations of our sins, there is none more heinous than the frequent hearing of our duty.”

Let us settle it in our minds that it will never do to be content with merely hearing and liking the Gospel. We must go further than this. We must actually “repent and be converted.” We must actually lay hold on Christ, and become one with Him. Until then we are in dreadful danger. It will prove more tolerable to have lived in Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, than to have heard the Gospel in England, and at last died unconverted.

God’s Love Sandwiched Between Two Theives

Written by J.C. Ryle
Edited for space

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“And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? “And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds but this man hath done nothing amiss. “And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.”
–Luke 23:39-43.

Few passages in the New Testament are more familiar to men’s ears.

And it is right and good that these verses should be well known. They have comforted many troubled minds. They have brought peace to many uneasy consciences. They have been a healing balm to many wounded hearts. They have been a medicine to many sin-sick souls. They have smoothed down not a few dying pillows. Wherever the Gospel of Christ is preached, they will always be honoured, loved, and had in remembrance.

First of all, you are meant to learn from these verses, Christ’s power and willingness to save sinners.

This is the main doctrine to be gathered from the history of the penitent thief. It teaches you that which ought to be music in the ears of all who hear it,—it teaches you that Jesus Christ is mighty to save.

I ask you if any man’s case could look more hopeless and desperate, than that of this penitent thief once did?

He was a wicked man,—a malefactor,—a thief, if not a murderer. We know this, for such only were crucified. He was suffering a just punishment for breaking the laws. And as he had lived wicked, so he seemed determined to die wicked,—for when he first was crucified, he railed on our Lord.

And he was a dying man. He hung there, nailed to a cross, from which he was never to come down alive. He had no longer power to stir hand or foot. His hours were numbered. The grave was ready for him. There was but a step between him and death. If ever there was a soul hovering on the brink of hell, it was the soul of this thief. If ever there was a case that seemed lost, gone, and past recovery, it was his. If ever there was a child of Adam whom the devil made sure of as his own, it was this man.

But see now what happened. He ceased to rail and blaspheme, as he had done at the first. He began to speak in another manner altogether. He turned to our blessed Lord in prayer. He prayed Jesus to “remember him when He came into His kingdom.” He asked that his soul might be cared for, his sins pardoned, and himself thought of in another world. Truly this was a wonderful change.

And then mark what kind of answer he received. Some would have said he was too wicked a man to be saved. But it was not so. Some would have fancied it was too late: the door was shut, and there was no room for mercy. But it proved not too late at all.

The Lord Jesus returned him an immediate answer,—spoke kindly to him,—assured him he should be with Him that day in Paradise: pardoned him completely,—cleansed him thoroughly from his sins,—received him graciously,—justified him freely,—raised him from the gates of hell,—gave him a title to glory. Of all the multitude of saved souls, none ever received so glorious an assurance of his own salvation, as did this penitent thief. Go over the whole list, from Genesis to Revelation, and you will find none who had such words spoken to them as these: “To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.”

The Lord Jesus never gave so complete a proof of His power and will to save, as He did upon this occasion. In the day when He seemed most weak, He showed that He was a strong deliverer. In the hour when His body was racked with pain, He showed that he could feel tenderly for others. At the time when He Himself was dying, He conferred on a sinner eternal life.

Now, have I not a right to say, Christ is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by Him? Behold the proof of it. If ever sinner was too far gone to be saved, it was this thief. Yet he was plucked as a brand from the fire.

Have I not a right to say, Christ will receive any poor sinner who comes to Him with the prayer of faith, and cast out none? Behold the proof of it. If ever there was one that seemed too bad to be received, this was the man. Yet the door of mercy was wide open even for him.

Have I not a right to say, by grace ye may be saved through faith, not of works: fear not, only believe? Behold the proof of it. This thief was never baptized. He belonged to no visible Church. He never received the Lord’s Supper. He never did any work for Christ. He never gave money to Christ’s cause. But he had faith, and so he was saved.

Have I not a right to say, the youngest faith will save a man’s soul, if it only be true? Behold the proof of it. This man’s faith was only one day old, but it led him to Christ, and preserved him from hell.

Why then should any man or woman despair with such a passage as this in the Bible? Jesus is a physician who can cure hopeless cases. He can quicken dead souls, and call the things which be not as though they were.

Never should any man or woman despair! Jesus is still the same now that He was eighteen hundred years ago. The keys of death and hell are in His hand. When He opens none can shut.

What though your sins be more in number than the hairs of your head? What though your evil habits have grown with your growth, and strength­ened with your strength? What though you have hitherto hated good, and loved evil, all the days of your life? These things are sad indeed; but there is hope, even for you. Christ can heal you. Christ can raise you from your low estate. Heaven is not shut against you. Christ is able to admit you, if you will humbly commit your soul into His hands.

Are your sins forgiven? If not, I set before you this day a full and free salvation. I invite you to follow the steps of the penitent thief: come to Christ, and live. I tell you that Jesus is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. I tell you He can do everything that your soul requires. Though your sins be as scarlet, He will make them white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Why should you not be saved as well as another? Come unto Christ, and live.

Are you a true believer? If you are, you ought to glory in Christ.

Glory not in your own faith, your own feelings, your own knowledge, your own prayers, your own amendment, your own diligence. Glory in nothing but Christ. Alas, the best of us knows but little of that merciful and mighty Saviour! We do not exalt Him and glory in Him enough. Let us pray that we may see more of the fullness there is in Him. 

Remember to tell everyone about Christ. Tell the young, tell the poor, tell the aged, tell the ignorant, tell the sick, tell the dying,—tell them all about Christ. Tell them of His power, and tell them of His love. Tell them of His doings, and tell them of His feelings. Tell them what lie has done for the chief of sinners. Tell them what He is willing to do to the last day of time. Tell it them over and over again. Never be tired of speaking of Christ. Say to them, broadly and fully, freely and unconditionally, unreservedly and doubtingly, “Come unto Christ as the penitent thief did: come unto Christ, and you shall be saved.”

If some are saved in the very hour of death, others are not.

This is a truth that never ought to he passed over, and I dare not leave it unnoticed. It is a truth that stands out plainly in the sad end of the other malefactor, and is only too often forgotten.

What became of the other thief who was crucified?

Why did he not turn from his sin, and call upon the Lord? Why did he remain hardened and impenitent? Why was he not saved? It is useless to try to answer such questions. Let us be content to take the fact as we find it, and see what it is meant to teach us.

We have no right whatever to say this thief was a worse man than his companion.

There is nothing to prove it. Both plainly were wicked men. Both were receiving the due reward of their deeds. Both hung by the side of our Lord Jesus Christ. Both heard Him pray for His murderers. Both saw Rim suffer patiently. But while one repented, the other remained hardened. While one began to pray, the other went on railing. While one was converted in his last hours, the other died a bad man as he had lived. While one was taken to paradise, the other went to his own place, the place of the devil and his angels.

Now these things are written for our warning.

There is warning, as well as comfort in these verses, and that very solemn warning too. They tell me loudly, that though some may repent and be converted on their death-beds, it does not at all follow that all will A death-bed is not always a saving time.

They tell me loudly that two men may have the same opportunities of getting good for their souls,—may be placed in the same position, see the same things, and hear the same things; and yet only one shall take advantage of them, repent, believe, and be saved.

They tell me, above all, that repentance and faith are the gifts of God, and are not in a man’s own power; and that if any one flatters himself he can repent at his own time, choose his own season, seek the Lord when he pleases, and, like the penitent thief, be saved at the very last,—he may find at length he is greatly deceived.

Take heed that you do not fall into this mistake. Look at the history of men in the Bible, and see how often these notions I have been speaking of are contradicted. Mark well how many proofs there are that two men may have the same light offered them, and only one use it; and that no one has a right to take liberties with God’s mercy, and presume he will be able to repent just when he likes.

Look at Saul and David. They lived about the same time. They rose from the same rank in life. They were called to the same position in the world. They enjoyed the ministry of the same prophet, Samuel. They reigned the same number of years.—Yet one was saved and the other lost.

Look at Sergius Paulus and Gallio. They were both Roman Governors. They were both wise and prudent men in their generation. They both heard the apostle Paul preach. But one believed and was baptized,—the other “cared for none of these things.”

Look at the world around you. See what is going on continually under your eyes. Two sisters will often attend the same ministry, listen to the same truths, hear the same sermons; and yet only one shall be converted unto God, while the other remains totally unmoved. Two friends often read the same religious book. One is so moved by it, that he gives up all for Christ; the other sees nothing at all in it, and continues the same as before. Hundreds have read Doddridge’s “Rise and Progress” without profit: with Wilberforce it was one of the beginnings of spiritual life. Thousands have read Wilberforce’s “Practical View of Christianity,” and laid it down again unaltered;—from the time Legh Richmond read it he became another man. No man has any warrant for saying, Salvation is in my own power.

I want you to beware of presumption. Do not abuse God’s mercy and compassion. Do not continue in sin, I beseech you, and think you can repent, and believe, and be saved, just when you like, when you please, when you will, and when you choose. I would always set before you an open door. I would always say, “While there is life there is hope.” But if you would be wise, put nothing off that concerns your soul.

I want you to beware of letting slip good thoughts and godly convictions, if you have them. Cherish them and nourish them, lest you lose them for ever. Make the most of them, lest they take to themselves wings and flee away. Have you an inclination to begin praying? Put it in practice at once. Have you an idea of beginning really to serve Christ? Set about it at once. Are you enjoying any spiritual light? See that you live up to your light. Trifle not with opportunities, lest the day come when you will want to use them, and not be able. Linger not, lest you become wise too late.

You may say, perhaps, “it is never too late to repent.” I answer, That is right enough, but late repentance is seldom true. And I say further, You cannot be certain if you put off repenting, you will repent at all.

You may say, “Why should I be afraid?—the penitent thief was saved.” I answer, That is true, but look again at the passage which tells you that the other thief was lost.

The Spirit always leads saved souls in one way.

The Spirit always works in one way, and that whether He converts a man in an hour, as He did the penitent thief,—or whether by slow degrees, as he does others, the steps by which He leads souls to heaven are always the same.

I want you to shake off the common notion that there is some easy royal road to heaven from a dying bed. I want you thoroughly to understand that every saved soul goes through the same experience, and that the leading principles of the penitent thief’s religion were just the same as those of the oldest saint that ever lived.

See then, for one thing, how strong was the faith of this man.

He called Jesus, “Lord.” He declared his belief that He would have a kingdom. He believed that He was able to give him eternal life and glory, and in this belief prayed to Him. He maintained His innocence of all the charges brought against Him. “This man,” said he, “hath done nothing amiss.” Others perhaps may have thought the Lord innocent,—none said so openly but this poor dying man. And when did all this happen? It happened when the whole nation had denied Christ,—shouting, “Crucify Him: crucify Him. We have no king but Cæsar!”—when the chief priests and Pharisees had condemned and found Him guilty of death,—when even His own disciples had forsaken Him and fled,—when He was hanging, faint, bleeding and dying on the cross, numbered with transgressors, and accounted accursed. This was the hour when the thief believed in Christ, and prayed to Him. Surely such faith was never seen since the world began.

The disciples had seen mighty signs and miracles. They had seen the dead raised with a word,—and lepers healed with a touch,—the blind receiving sight,—the dumb made to speak,—the lame made to walk. They had seen thousands fed with a few loaves and fishes. They had seen their Master walking on the water as on dry land. They had all of them heard Him speak as no man ever spake, and hold out promises of good things yet to come. They had some of them had a foretaste of His glory in the mount of transfiguration. Doubtless their faith was the gift of God, but still they had much to help it.

The dying thief saw none of the things I have mentioned. He only saw our Lord in agony, and in weakness, in suffering, and in pain. He saw Him undergoing. a dishonourable punishment; deserted, mocked, despised, blasphemed. He saw Him rejected by all the great, and wise, and noble of His own people,—His strength dried up like a potsherd, His life drawing nigh to the grave. (Ps. 22:15; 88:3) He saw no sceptre, no royal crown, no outward dominion, no glory, no majesty, no power, no signs of might. And yet the dying thief believed, and looked forward to Christ’s kingdom.

See another thing, what a right sense of sin the thief had. He says to his companion, “We receive the due reward of our deeds.” He acknowledges his own ungodliness, and the justice of his punishment. He makes no attempt to justify himself, or excuse his wickedness. He speaks like a man humbled and self-abased by the remembrance of past iniquities. This is what all God’s children feel. They are ready to allow they are poor hell-deserving sinners. They can say with their hearts, as well as with their lips, “We have left undone the things that we ought to have done, and we have done those things that we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us.”

Do you feel your sin?

Then see another thing, what brotherly love the thief showed to his companion. He tried to stop his railing and blaspheming, and bring him to a better mind. “Dost not thou fear God,” he says, “seeing thou art in the same condemnation?” There is no surer mark of grace than this. Grace shakes a man out of his selfishness, and makes him feel for the souls of others. When the Samaritan woman was converted, she left her water-pot and ran to the city, saying, “Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?” When Saul was converted, immediately he went to the synagogue at Damascus, and testified to his brethren of Israel, that Jesus was the Christ.

Would you know if you have the Spirit? Then where is your charity and love to souls?

In one word, you see in the penitent thief a finished work of the Holy Ghost. Every part of the believer’s character may be traced in him. Short as his life was after conversion, he found time to leave abundant evidence that he was a child of God. His faith, his prayer, his humility, his brotherly love, are unmistakable witnesses of the reality of his repentance. He was not a penitent in name only, but in deed and in truth.

It may be you are a believer, and yet tremble at the thought of the grave. It seems cold and dreary. You feel as if all before you was dark, and gloomy, and comfortless. Fear not, but be encouraged by this text. You are going to paradise, and Christ will be there.

Some of us know by bitter experience, what a long and weary time it is between the death of those we love, and the hour when we bury them out of our sight. Such weeks are the slowest, saddest, heaviest weeks in all our lives. But, blessed be God, the souls of departed saints are free from the very moment their last breath is drawn. While we are weeping, and the coffin preparing, and the mourning being provided, and the last painful arrangement being made, the spirits of our beloved ones are enjoying the presence of Christ. They are freed for ever from the burden of the flesh. They are “where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.”

Here is encouragement for you. See what the penitent thief did, and do likewise. See how he prayed,—see how he called on the Lord Jesus Christ,—see what an answer of peace he obtained. Brother or sister, why should not you do the same? Why should not you also be saved?

Some are proud and presumptuous men of the world,—Are you that man? Then take warning. See how the impenitent thief died as he had lived, and beware lest you come to a like end. Oh, erring brother or sister, be not too confident, lest you die in your sins! Seek the Lord while He may be found. Turn you, turn: why will you die?

Some are professing believers in Christ.—Are you such an one? Then take the penitent thief’s religion as a measure by which to prove your own. See that you know something of true repentance and saving faith, of real humility and fervent charity. Brother or sister, do not be satisfied with the world’s standard of Christianity. Be of one mind with the penitent thief, and you will be wise.

Some are mourning over departed believers.—Are you such an one? Then take comfort from this Scripture. See how your beloved ones are in the best of hands. They cannot be better off. They never were so well in their lives as they are now. They are with Jesus, whom their souls loved on earth. Oh, cease from your selfish mourning! Rejoice rather that they are freed from trouble, and have entered into rest.

Some aged servants of Christ.—Are you such an one? Then see from these verses how near you are to home. A few more days of labour and sorrow, and the King of kings shall send for you; and in a moment your warfare shall be at end, and all shall be peace.

CHRISTIANITY: Judged by the Gospel, Tried by its Fruits

Taken from, “Tried by its Fruits”
Written by J.C. Ryle

012909 Abide

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“Every tree is known by his own fruit.”
—Luke 6:44

The Christianity which I call fruit-bearing…

…which shows its Divine origin by its blessed effects on mankind,—the Christianity which you may safely defy infidels to explain away,—that Christianity is a very different thing. Let me show you some of its leading marks and features.

A. For one thing, fruit-bearing Christianity has always taught the inspiration, sufficiency, and supremacy of Holy Scripture. It has told men that “God’s Word written” is the only trustworthy rule of faith and practice in religion, that God requires nothing to be believed that is not in this Word, and that nothing is right which contradicts it. It has never allowed reason, the verifying faculty, or the voice of the Church, to be placed above, or on a level with Scripture. It has steadily maintained that, however imperfectly we may understand it, the Old Book is meant to be the only standard of life and doctrine.

B. For another thing, fruit-bearing Christianity has always taught fully the sinfulness, guilt and corruption of human nature. It has told men that they are born in sin, deserve God’s wrath and condemnation, and are naturally inclined to do evil. It has never allowed that men and women are only weak and pitiable creatures, who can become good when they please, and make their own peace with God. On the contrary, it has steadily declared man’s danger and vileness, and his pressing need of a Divine forgiveness and satisfaction for his sins, a new birth or conversion, and an entire change of heart.

C. For another thing, fruit-bearing Christianity has always set before men the Lord Jesus Christ as the chief object of faith and hope in religion, as the Divine Mediator between God and men, the only source of peace of conscience, and the root of all spiritual life. It has never been content to teach that He is merely our Prophet, our Example, and our Judge. The main things it has ever insisted on about Christ are the atonement for sin He made by His death, His sacrifice on the cross, the complete redemption from guilt and condemnation by His blood, His victory over the grave by His resurrection, His active life of intercession at God’s right hand, and the absolute necessity of simple faith in Him. In short, it has made Christ the Alpha and the Omega in Christian theology.

D. Last, but not least, fruit-bearing Christianity has always honoured the Person of God the Holy Ghost, and magnified His work. It has never taught that all professing Christians have the grace of the Spirit in their hearts, as a matter of course, because they are baptized, or because they belong to the Church, or because they are communicants. It has steadily maintained that the fruits of the Spirit are the only evidence of having the Spirit, and that those fruits must be seen,—that we must be born of the Spirit, led by the Spirit, sanctified by the Spirit, and feel the operations of the Spirit,—and that a close walk with God in the path of His commandments, a life of holiness, charity, self-denial, purity, and zeal to do good, are the only satisfactory marks of the Holy Ghost.

Such is true fruit-bearing Christianity. Well would it have been for the world if there had been more of it during the last nineteen centuries! Too often, and in too many parts of Christendom, there has been so little of it, that Christ’s religion has seemed extinct, and has fallen into utter contempt. But just in proportion as such Christianity as I have described has prevailed, the world has benefited, the infidel been silenced, and the truth of Divine revelation been acknowledged. The tree has been known by its fruit.

This is the Christianity which, in the days of the Primitive Church, “turned the world upside down.” It was this that emptied the idol temples of their worshippers, routed the Greek and Roman philosophers, and obliged even heathen writers to confess that the followers of the “new superstition,” as they called it, were people who loved one another, and lived very pure and holy lives.

This is the Christianity which, after dreary centuries of ignorance, priestcraft, and superstition, produced the Protestant Reformation, and changed the history of Europe. The leading doctrines which were preached by Luther and Zwingli on the Continent, and by Latimer and his companions in England, were precisely those which I have briefly described. That they bore rich fruit, in an immense increase of general morality and holiness, is a simple fact which no historian has ever denied.

This is the Christianity which, in the middle of last century, delivered our own Church from the state of deadness and darkness into which she had fallen. The main truths on which Whitfield, and Wesley, and Romaine, and Venn, and their companions, continually insisted, were the truth about sin, Christ, the Holy Ghost, and holiness. And the results were the same as they were in the primitive days, and at the era the Reformation. Men persecuted and hated all who taught these truths. But no one could say that they did not make men live and die well.

This is the Christianity which is doing good at this day, wherever good is done. Search the missionary stations in Africa, India, or China. Visit the great over-grown, semi-heathen parishes in colliery districts or manufacturing towns in our own land. In every case you will find the same report must be made. The only religious teaching which can show solid, positive results, is that which gives prominence to the doctrines which I have endeavoured to describe. Wherever they are rightly taught, Christianity can point to fruits which are an unanswerable proof of its Divine origin.

So much for fruit-bearing Christianity. I leave the subject with one remark about it. Let it never be forgotten that its leading principles are those which are least likely to please the natural man. On the contrary, they are precisely those which are calculated to be unpopular and to give offence. Proud man does not like to be told that he is a weak, guilty sinner,—that he cannot save his own soul, and must trust in the work of another,—that he must be converted and have a new heart,—that he must live a holy, self-denying life, and come out from the world. Surely the mere fact that this kind of unpopular teaching characterizes successful Christianity, and bears fruit in the world, is a strong evidence that Christianity is a Divine revelation, and really comes from God.

And now I will conclude with four words of practical application, which I shall address to four different classes of people.

1.   In the first place, I have a word for those who are tempted to give way to scepticism and unbelief, and are half disposed to throw overboard Christianity altogether. What shall I say to you? Listen, and I will tell you.

I entreat you, before you go any further, to deal honestly with the religion of faith and those who profess it, and try it by its fruits. That there is such a religion in the midst of us, and that there are thousands who profess it, are simple facts which nobody can deny. These thousands believe without doubting certain great truths of Christianity, and live and die in their belief. Let it be admitted that, in some points, these men of faith do not agree,—such as the Church, the ministry, and the sacraments. But after every deduction, there remains an immense amount of common theology, about which their faith is one. On such points as sin, and God, and Christ, and the atonement, and the authority of the Bible, and the importance of holiness, and the necessity of prayer, and self-denial, and the value of the soul, and the reality of heaven and hell, and judgment, and eternity,—on such points as these, I say, these men of faith are very much of one mind.

Now, I ask all sceptics and agnostics, is it honest to turn away from these men of faith and their religion with contempt, because they have many weaknesses and infirmities? Is it fair to despise their religion, and wrap yourself up in unbelief, because of their controversies and strifes, their feeble literature and their party spirit? Is it fair to ignore the fruits of peace, and hope and comfort, which they enjoy? Mark the solid work which, with all their faults, they do in the world, in lessening sorrow and sin, and increasing happiness, and improving their fellow-men. What fruits and work can unbelief show which will bear comparison with the fruits of faith? What good has secularism, or agnosticism, or deism, done to mankind? What missions have they sent forth to the world? What cities or countries on earth have they civilized, purified, and made more holy and happy? What have the gods which some despisers of revelation seem to worship,—evolution, development, matter, force, destiny,—what have they done to enable men to meet the many ills to which all flesh is heir? What aching consciences have they relieved? What broken hearts have they bound up? What sick-beds have they cheered? What bereaved parents and widows have they comforted? We ask in vain. We shall get no answer. Look these facts in the face and deal honestly with them. Systems ought to be judged by their “fruits” and results. When the so-called systems of modern unbelief and scepticism, and free thought, can point to as much good done in the world by their adherents as simple faith has done by the hand of its friends, we may give them some attention. But till they do that, I boldly say that the simple, old-fashioned religion of faith has a just claim on our respect, esteem, and obedience, and ought not to be lightly esteemed, ridiculed, or despised.

2.   In the second place, I have a word for those professing Christians who have no life or reality about their religion, and are only nominal members of Christ’s Church. I need hardly say there are myriads of people in this condition. They are not sceptics, and would be justly offended if you called them infidels or agnostics. Yet, if truth must be spoken, except going to church or chapel on Sundays, they give no sign of Christianity. If you mark their daily life, they seem neither to think, nor feel, nor care for their souls, or God, or eternity.

Now, I warn any who are in this state, and I say it with pain, that you are the true cause of a vast proportion of infidelity. I remember a careless sceptic saying,—“Do you think I am going to believe your Christianity when I see so many of your church-goers behaving as they do? Do you mean to tell me that they think their creed is true, and that they really believe in a resurrection and a judgment to come? It will be time enough for me to believe when I see your people really believing. At present your Christianity seems a great sham and a mere form.” Alas! such talk as this is only too much justified by facts. Nothing, nothing, I am convinced, does so much to help the progress of modern infidelity as the utter absence of reality and earnestness among professing Christians. Men and women who crowd churches on Sundays, and then live worldly selfish lives all the week, are the best and most efficient allies of scepticism. “If you believed what you repeat under the pulpit,” the sceptic says, “you would never live as you live at home.” Oh! that people would think of the mischief done by inconsistency. “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead.” It is bad enough to ruin your own soul. But do not add to your sin by ruining others.

3. In the third place, I have a word for those sincere but weak-minded Christians who are surprised and frightened at the unbelief of these latter days, and live in a constant state of panic and alarm. 

I ask you, then, to look to your Bibles, and lay aside your fears. There is nothing in unbelief which ought to surprise you. Search the Scriptures, and you will find that the unbelief of the twentieth century is only an old enemy in a new dress, an old disease in a new form. Since the day when Adam and Eve fell, the devil has never ceased to tempt men not to believe God, and has said, directly or indirectly, “Ye shall not die even if you do not believe.” In the latter days especially we have warrant of Scripture for expecting an abundant crop of unbelief:—“When the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”—“Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse.”—“There shall come in the last days scoffers.” (Luke 18:5; 2 Tim. 3:13; 2 Peter 3:3). Here in England scepticism is that natural rebound from semi-popery and superstition, which many wise men have long predicted and expected. It is precisely that swing of the pendulum which far-sighted students of human nature looked for; and it has come.

But as I tell you not to be surprised at the widespread scepticism of the times, so also I must urge you not to be shaken in mind by it, or moved from your steadfastness. There is no real cause for alarm. The ark of God is not in danger, though the oxen seem to shake it. Christianity has survived the attacks of Hume and Hobbes and Tindal,—of Collins and Woolston and Bolingbroke and Chubb,—of Voltaire and Payne and Holyoake. These men made a great noise in their day, and frightened weak people: but they produced no more effect than idle travellers produce by scratching their names on the pyramid of Egypt. Depend on it, Christianity in like manner will survive the attacks of the clever writers of these times. The startling novelty of many modern objections to Revelation, no doubt, makes them seem more weighty than they really are. It does not follow, however, that hard knots cannot be untied because our fingers cannot untie them, or that formidable difficulties cannot be explained because our eyes cannot see through or explain them. When you cannot answer a sceptic, be content to wait for more light; but never forsake a great principle. In religion, as in many scientific questions, said Faraday, “the highest philosophy is often a judicious suspense.” We can afford to wait.

4. In the last place, I have a word for all true believers who lament the spread of unbelief, though their own faith is unshaken. 

I must plainly say, and I say it with sorrow, that we who profess faith, and are never troubled with unbelief, are not altogether free from blame. Too often our faith is little better than a mere “otiose assent” to certain theological propositions, but not a living, burning, active principle, which works by love, purifies the heart, overcomes the world, and brings forth much fruit of holiness and good works. It is not the faith which made primitive Christians rejoice under Roman persecution, and made Luther stand up boldly before the Diet of Worms, and made Ridley and Latimer “love not their lives to the death,” and made Wesley give up his position at Oxford to become an evangelist of England. We are verily guilty in this matter. If there was more real living faith on earth, I suspect there would be less unbelief. Scepticism, in many a case, would shrink, and dwindle, and melt away, if it saw faith more awake, and alive, and active, and stirring. Let us, for Christ’s sake, and the sake of souls, amend our ways in this matter. Let us pray daily, “Lord, increase our faith.” Let us live, and move, and have our being, and deal with men, as if we really believed every jot and tittle of our creeds, and as if a dying, risen, interceding, and coming Christ were continually before our eyes. We may depend on it the old saying is true,—“the inconsistency of believers is the infidel’s best argument.”

This, I am firmly convinced, is the surest way to oppose and diminish unbelief. Let the time past suffice us to have lived content with a cold, tame assent to creeds. Let the time to come find us living, active believers. It was a solemn saying which fell from the lips of an eminent minister of Christ on his death-bed,” We are none of us more than half awake.” If believers were more thorough, and real, and whole-hearted in their belief, there would be far less unbelief in the world.

“Every tree is known by his own fruit.” If the tree of Christianity bore more fruit, the axe of infidelity would never harm it, and would be laid to its root in vain.