Written by J. C. Ryle
Edited for thought and space
WHO is this man that lingered? —Lot, the nephew of faithful Abraham.
And when did he linger? —The very morning Sodom was to be destroyed.
And where did he linger? —Within the walls of Sodom itself.
And before whom did he linger? —Under the eyes of the two angels, who were sent to bring him out of the city.
These words are solemn, and full of food for thought. I trust they will make you think. Who knows but they are the very words your soul requires? The voice of the Lord Jesus commands you to “remember Lot’s wife.” (Luke xvii. 32.) The voice of one of His ministers invites you this day to remember Lot.
Perhaps you would say, “Ah, Lot was a poor, dark creature,—an unconverted man,—a child of this world!—no wonder he lingered.” But mark now what I say. Lot was nothing of the kind. Lot was a true believer,—a real child of God,—a justified soul,—a righteous man.
Has any one of you grace in his heart?—So also had Lot.
Has any one of you a hope of salvation?—So also had Lot.
Is any one of you a “new creature”?—So also was Lot.
Is any one of you a traveller in the narrow way which leads unto life?—So also was Lot.
Do not think this is only my private opinion,—a mere arbitrary fancy of my own, the Holy Ghost has placed the matter beyond controversy, by calling him “just,” and “righteous” (2 Peter ii. 7, 8), and has given us evidence of the grace that was in him.
One evidence is, that he lived in a wicked place, “seeing and hearing” evil all around him (2 Peter ii. 8), and yet was not wicked himself. Now to be a Daniel in Babylon,—an Obadiah in Ahab’s house,—an Abijah in Jeroboam’s family,—a saint in Nero’s court, and a righteous man in Sodom, a man must have the grace of God.
Another evidence is, that he “vexed his soul with the unlawful deeds” he beheld around him. (2 Peter ii. 8.) He was wounded, grieved, pained, and hurt at the sight of sin. This was feeling like holy David, who says, “I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved, because they kept not Thy word.” “Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not Thy law.” (Psalm cxix. 136, 158.) Nothing will account for this but the grace of God.
Such an one was Lot, —a just and righteous man, a man sealed and stamped as an heir of heaven by the Holy Ghost Himself.
Before you pass on, remember that a true Christian may have many a blemish, many a defect, many an infirmity, and yet be a true Christian nevertheless. You do not despise gold because it is mixed with much dross. You must not undervalue grace because it is accompanied by much corruption. Read on, and you will find that Lot paid dearly for his “lingering.” But do not forget, as you read, that Lot was a child of God.
What does the text, tell us about Lot’s behaviour?
The words are wonderful and astounding: “He lingered;” and the more you consider the time and circumstances, the more wonderful you will think them.
Lot knew the awful condition of the city in which he stood; “the cry” of its abomination “had waxen great before the Lord” (Gen. xix. 13): and yet “he lingered.”
Lot knew the fearful judgment coming down on all within its walls; the angels had said plainly, “The Lord hath sent us to destroy it” (Gen. xix. 13): and yet Lot knew that God was a God who always kept His word, and if He said a thing would surely do it. He could hardly be Abraham’s nephew, and live long with him, and not be aware of this. Yet “he lingered.”
Lot believed there was danger,—for he went to his sons-in-law, and warned them to flee: “Up!” he said, “Get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city.” (Gen. xix. 14.) And yet “he lingered.”
Lot saw the angels of God standing by, waiting for him and his family to go forth. And yet “be lingered.”
Lot heard the voice of those ministers of wrath ringing in his ears to hasten him. “Arise! lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.” (Gen. xix. 15.) And yet “he lingered.”
He was slow when he should have been quick,—backward when he should have been forward,—trifling when he should have been hastening,—loitering when he should have been hurrying,—cold when he should have been hot. It is passing strange! It seems almost incredible! It appears too wonderful to be true! But the Spirit writes it down for our learning. And so it was.
And yet, reader, there are many of the Lord Jesus Christ’s people very like Lot.
Mark well what I say. I repeat it that there may be no mistake about my meaning. I have shown you that Lot “lingered,”—I say that there are many Christian men and Christian women in this day very like Lot.
There are many real children of God who appear to know far more than they live up to, and see far more than they practise, and yet continue in this state for many years. Wonderful that they go as far as they do, and yet go no further!
They hold the Head, even Christ, and love the truth. They like sound preaching, and assent to every article of Gospel doctrine, when they hear it. But still there is an indescribable something which is not satisfactory about them. They are constantly doing things which disappoint the expectations of their ministers, and of more advanced Christian friends. Marvellous that they should think as they do, and yet stand still!
They believe in heaven, and yet seem faintly to long for it;—and in hell, and yet seem little to fear it. They love the Lord Jesus; but the work they do for Him is small. They hate the devil; but they often appear to tempt him to come to them. They know the time is short; but they live as if it were long, They know they have a battle to fight; yet a man might think they were at peace. They know they have a race to run; yet they often look like people sitting still. They know the Judge is at the door, and there is wrath to come; and yet they appear half asleep. Astonishing they should be what they are, and yet be nothing more!
And what shall we say of these people? They often puzzle godly friends and relations. They often cause great anxiety. They often give rise to great doubts and searchings of heart. But they may be classed under one sweeping description: they are all brethren and sisters of Lot. They linger.
These are they who get the notion into their minds, that it is impossible for all believers to be very holy and very spiritual. They allow that eminent holiness is a beautiful thing. They like to read about it in books, and even to see it occasionally in others. But they do not think that all are meant to aim at so high a standard.
These are they who get into their heads false ideas of charity, as they call it. They would fain please everybody, and suit everybody, and be agreeable to everybody. But they forget they ought first to be sure that they please God.
These are they who dread sacrifices, and shrink from self-denial. They never appear able to apply our Lord’s command, to “cut off the right hand and pluck out the right eye.” (Matt. v. 29, 30.) They spend their lives in trying to make the gate more wide, and the cross more light. But they never succeed.
These are they who are always trying to keep in with the world. They are ingenious in discovering reasons for not separating decidedly, and in framing plausible excuses for attending questionable amusements, and keeping up questionable friendships. One day you are told of their attending a Bible reading: the next day perhaps you hear of their going to a ball. They are constantly labouring to persuade themselves that to mix a little with worldly people on their own ground does good. Yet in their case it is very clear they do no good, and only get harm.
These are they who cannot find it in their heart to quarrel with their besetting sin, whether it be sloth, indolence, ill-temper, pride, selfishness, impatience, or what it may. They allow it to remain a tolerably quiet and undisturbed tenant of their hearts. They say it is their health, or their constitutions, or their temperaments, or their trials, or their way. Their father, or mother, or grandmother, was so before themselves, and they are sure they cannot help it. And when you meet after the absence of a year or so, you hear the same thing.
But all, all, all may be summed up in one single sentence. They are the brethren and sisters of Lot. They linger.
If you are a lingering soul, you are not happy! You know you are not. It would be strange indeed if you were so. Lingering is the sure destruction of a happy Christianity. A lingerer’s conscience forbids him to enjoy inward peace.
Perhaps at one time you did run well. But you have left your first love,—you have never felt the same comfort since, and you never will till you return to your first works. Like Peter, when the Lord Jesus was taken prisoner, you are following the Lord afar off; and, like him, you will find the way not pleasant, but hard.
Come and look at Lot. Come and mark Lot’s history. Come and consider Lot’s lingering, and be wise.
Let us next consider the reasons that may account for Lot’s lingering.
This is a question of great importance, and I ask your serious attention to it. To know the root of a disease is one step towards a remedy. He that is forewarned is forearmed.
Who is there among the readers of this paper that feels secure, and has no fear of lingering? Come and listen while I tell you a few passages of Lot’s history. Do as he did, and it will be a miracle indeed if you do not get into the same state of soul at last.
One thing then I observe in Lot is this, he made a wrong choice in early life.
And what did Lot do? —We are told he saw the plains of Jordan, near Sodom, were rich, fertile and well watered. It was a good land for cattle, and full of pastures. He had large flocks and herds, and it just suited his requirements. And this was the land he chose for a residence, simply because it was a rich, well watered land.
It was near the town of Sodom! He cared not for that.
The men of Sodom, who would be his neighbours, were wicked! It mattered not.
They were sinners before God exceedingly! It made no difference to him.
The pasture was rich. The land was good. He wanted such a country for his flocks and herds. And before that argument all scruples and doubts, if indeed he had any, at once went down.
He chose by sight, and not by faith. He asked no counsel of God to preserve him from mistakes. He looked to the things of time, and not of eternity. He thought of his worldly profit, and not of his soul. He considered only what would help him in this life,—he forgot the solemn business of the life to come. This was a bad beginning.
But I observe also that Lot mixed with sinners when there was no occasion for his doing so.
We are first told that he “pitched his tent toward Sodom.” (Gen. xiii. 12.) This, as I have already shown, was a great mistake.
But the next time he is mentioned, we find him actually living in Sodom itself. The Spirit says expressly, “He dwelt in Sodom.” (Gen. xiv. 12.)
His tents were left. The country was forsaken. He occupied a house in the very streets of that wicked town.
We are not told the reasons of this change. We are not aware that any occasion could have arisen for it. We are sure there could have been no command of God. Perhaps his wife liked the town better than the country, for the sake of society. But one thing is very clear,—Lot dwelt in the midst of Sodom without good cause.
Reader, when a child of God does these two things, which I have named, you never need be surprised if you hear, by and by, unfavourable accounts about his soul You never need wonder if he becomes deaf to the warning voice of affliction, as Lot was (Genesis xiv. 12), and turns out a lingerer in the day of trial, and danger, as Lot did.
Make a wrong choice,—an unscriptural choice,—in life, and settle yourself down unnecessarily in the midst of worldly people, and I know no surer way to damage your own spirituality, and to go backward about your eternal concerns.
This is the way to make the pulse of your soul beat feebly and languidly.
This is the way to make the edge of your feeling about sin become blunt and dull.
This is the way to dim the eyes of your spiritual discernment, till you can scarcely distinguish good from evil, and stumble as you walk.
This is the way to sell the pass to your worst enemy,—to give the devil the vantage ground in the battle,—to tie your arms in fighting,—to fetter your legs in running,—to dry up the sources of your strength,—to cripple your own energies,—to cut off your own hair, like Samson, and give yourself into the hands of the Philistines, put out your own eyes, grind at the mill, and become a slave.
If ever you would be safe from lingering, beware of needless mingling with worldly people.
Beware of Lot’s choice. If you would not settle down into a dry, dull, sleepy, barren, heavy, carnal, stupid, torpid state of soul, beware of Lot’s choice.
Remember this in choosing a dwelling-place, or residence. It is not enough that the house is comfortable,—the situation good,—the air fine,—the neighbourhood pleasant,—the expenses small,—the living cheap. There are other things yet to be considered. You must think of your immortal soul. Will the house you think of help you towards heaven or hell?—Is the Gospel preached within an easy distance?—Is Christ crucified with in reach of your door?—Is there a real man of God near, who will watch over your soul? I charge you, if you love life, not to overlook this. Beware of Lot’s choice.
Remember this in choosing a calling, a place, or profession in life. It is not enough that the salary is high,—the wages good,—the labour light,—the advantages numerous,—the prospects of getting on most favourable. Think of your soul, your immortal soul. Will it be fed or starved? Will it be prospered or drawn back? I beseech you, by the mercies of God, to take heed what you do. Make no rash decision. Look at the place in every light, the light of God as well as the light of the world. Gold may be bought too dear. Beware of Lot’s choice.
Remember this in choosing a husband or wife, if you are unmarried. It is not enough that your eye is pleased,—that your tastes are met,—that your mind finds congeniality,—that there is amiability and affection,—that there is a comfortable home for life. There needs something more than this. There is a life yet to come. Think of your soul, your immortal soul. Will it be helped upwards, or dragged downwards by the union you are planning?—Will it be made more heavenly, or more earthly,—drawn nearer to Christ, or to the world?—Will its religion grow in vigour, or will it decay? I pray you, by all your hopes of glory, allow this to enter into your calculations. Think, as old Baxter said, and think, and think, and think again, before you commit yourself. “Be not unequally yoked.” (2 Cor. vi. 14.) Matrimony is nowhere named among the means of conversion. Remember Lot’s choice.
Grace is a tender plant. Unless you cherish it and nurse it well, it will soon become sickly in this evil world. It may droop, though it cannot die.
The brightest gold will soon become dim, when exposed to a damp atmosphere.
The hottest iron will soon become cold. It requires pains and toil to bring it to a red heat. It requires nothing but letting alone, or a little cold water, to become black and hard.
You may be an earnest zealous Christian now. You may feel like David in his prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” (Psalm xxx. 6.) But be not deceived. You have only got to walk in Lot’s steps, and make Lot’s choice, and you will soon come to Lot’s state of soul. Allow yourself to do as he did,—presume to act as he acted, and be very sure you will soon discover you have become a wretched lingerer, like him.
You will find, like Samson, the presence of the Lord is no longer with you. You will prove to your own shame an undecided, hesitating man, in the day of trial. There will come a canker on your religion, and eat out its vitality without your knowing it. There will come a consumption on your spiritual strength, and waste it away insensibly.
And at length you will wake up to find your hands hardly able to do the Lord’s work, and your feet hardly able to carry you along the Lord’s way, and your faith no bigger than a grain of mustard seed;—and this, perhaps, at some turning point in your life, at a time when the enemy is coming in like a flood, and your need is the sorest.
Ah, if you would not become a lingerer in religion, consider these things! Beware of doing what Lot did.
But what kind of fruit Lot’s lingering spirit bore at last.
There are not a few who will feel disposed to say, “After all Lot was saved,—he was justified,—he got to heaven. I want no more. If I do but get to heaven, I shall be content.”
If this be the thought of your heart, just stay a moment, and listen to me a little longer. I will show you one or two things in Lot’s history which deserve attention, and may perhaps induce you to alter your mind.
I always will contend that eminent holiness, and eminent usefulness, are most closely connected,—that happiness and following the Lord fully go side by side,—and that if believers will linger, they must not expect to be useful in their day and generation, or to enjoy great comfort and peace in believing.
Mark then, for one thing, Lot did no good among the inhabitants of Sodom.
Lot lived in Sodom many years. No doubt he had many precious opportunities for speaking of the things of God, and trying to turn away souls from sin. But Lot seems to have effected just nothing at all. He appears to have had no weight or influence with the people who lived around him. He possessed none of that respect and reverence which even the men of the world will frequently concede to a bright servant of God.
Not one righteous person could be found in all Sodom, outside the walls of Lot’s home. Not one of his neighbours believed his testimony. Not one of his acquaintances honoured the Lord when he worshipped. Not one of his servants served his master’s God. Not one of “all the people from every quarter” cared a jot for his opinion when he tried to restrain their wickedness. His life carried no weight. His words were not listened to. His religion drew none.
And truly I do not wonder. As a general rule, lingering souls do no good to the world, and bring no credit to God’s cause. Their salt has too little savour to season the corruption around them. They are not epistles of Christ who can be known and read of all. (2 Cor. iii. 2.) There is nothing magnetic, and attractive, and Christ-reflecting about their ways. Remember this.
Mark another thing. Lot helped no relation towards heaven.
We are not told how large his family was. But this we know,—he had a wife and two daughters at least, in the day he was called out of Sodom, if he had not more children besides.
But whether Lot’s family was large or small, one thing, I think, is perfectly clear,—there was not one among them all that feared God.
When he “went out and spake to his sons-in-law, which married his daughters,” and warned them to flee from the coming judgments, we are told, “he seemed to them as one that mocked.” (Gen. xix. 14.) What fearful words those are. It was as good as saying, “Who cares for anything you say?” So long as the world stands, those words will be a painful proof of the contempt with which a lingerer in religion is regarded.
And what was Lot’s wife? She left the city in his company, but she did not go far. She had not faith to see the need of such a speedy flight. She left her heart in Sodom when she began to flee. She looked back from behind her husband, in spite of the plainest command not to do so (Gen. xix. 17), and was at once turned into a pillar of salt.
And what were Lot’s two daughters? They escaped indeed,—but only to do the devil’s work. They became their father’s tempters to wickedness, and led him to commit the foulest of sins.
In short, Lot stood alone in his family. He was not made the means of keeping one soul back from the gates of hell.
And I do not wonder. Lingering souls are seen through by their own families, and, when seen through, despised. Their nearest relations understand inconsistency, if they understand nothing else in religion. They draw the sad, but not unnatural conclusion, “Surely if he believed all he professes to believe, he would not go on as he does.” Lingering parents seldom have godly children. The eye of the child drinks in far more than the ear. A child will always observe what you do much more than what you say. Remember this.
Mark a third thing. Lot left no evidences behind him when he died.
We know but little about Lot after his flight from Sodom, and all that we do know is unsatisfactory. His pleading for Zoar, because it was “a little one,”—his departure from Zoar afterwards,—and his conduct in the cave,—all, all tell the same story. All show the weakness of the grace that was in him, and the low state of soul into which he had fallen.
We know not how long he lived after his escape. We know not where he died, or when he died,—whether he saw Abraham again,—what was the manner of his death,—what he said, or what he thought. All these are hidden things. We are told of the last days of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David,—but not one word about Lot. Oh, what a gloomy death-bed the death-bed of Lot must have been!
The Scripture appears to draw a veil around him on purpose. There is a painful silence about his latter end. He seems to go out like an expiring lamp, and leave an ill savour behind him. And had we not been specially told in the New Testament that Lot was “just” and “righteous,” I verily believe we should have doubted whether Lot was a saved soul at all.
But I do not wonder at his sad end. Lingering believers will generally reap according as they have sown. Their lingering often meets them when their spirit is in departing. They have little peace at the last. They reach heaven, to be sure, but they reach it in darkness and storm. They are saved, but “saved so as by fire.” (1 Cor. iii. 15.)
I do not tell you that believers who do not “linger” will, as a matter of course, be great instruments of usefulness to the world. Noah preached one hundred and twenty years, and none believed him. The Lord Jesus was not esteemed by His own people, the Jews.
Nor yet do I tell you that believers who do not linger, will, as a matter of course, be the means of converting their families and relations. David’s children were, many of them, ungodly. The Lord Jesus was not believed on even by his own brethren.
But I do say it is almost impossible not to see a connection between Lot’s evil choice and Lot’s lingering;—and between Lot’s lingering and his unprofitableness to his family and the world. I believe the Spirit meant us to see it. I believe the Spirit meant to make it a beacon to all professing Christians. And I am sure the lessons I have tried to draw from the whole history, deserve serious reflection.
Let me speak a few parting words to all who call themselves believers in Christ.
I have no wish to make your hearts sad. I do not want to give you a gloomy view of the Christian course. My only object is to give you friendly warnings. I desire your peace and comfort. I would fain see you happy, as well as safe,—and joyful, as well as justified. I speak as I have done for your good.
You live in days when a lingering, Lot-like religion abounds. The stream of profession is far broader than it once was, but far less deep in many places. A certain kind of Christianity is almost fashionable now. To belong to some party in the Church of England, and show a zeal for its interests,—to talk about the leading controversies of the day,—to buy popular religious books as fast as they come out, and lay them on your table,—to attend meetings,—subscribe to societies,—and discuss the merits of preachers,—all these are now comparatively easy and common attainments. They no longer make a person singular. They require little or no sacrifice. They entail no cross.
But to walk closely with God, to be really spiritually-minded,—to behave like strangers and pilgrims,—to be distinct from the world in employment of time, in conversation, in amusements, in dress,—to bear a faithful witness for Christ in all places,—to leave a savour of our Master in every society, to be prayerful, humble, unselfish, meek,—to be jealously afraid of sin, and tremblingly alive to our danger from the world,—these, these are still rare things. They are not common among those who are called true Christians, and, worst of all, the absence of them is not felt and bewailed as it should be.
Reader, I give you good counsel this day. Do not turn from it. Do not be angry with me for plain speaking. I bid you give diligence to make your calling and election sure. I bid you not to be slothful,—not to be careless, not to be content with a small measure of grace,—not to be satisfied with being a little better than the world. I solemnly warn you not to attempt doing what never can be done,—I mean, to serve Christ, and yet keep in with the world. I call upon you, and beseech you, I charge you, and exhort you,—by all your hopes of heaven, and desires of glory,—do not be a lingering soul.
Would you know what the times demand?—the shaking of nations,—the uprooting of ancient things,—the overturning of kingdoms,—the stir and restlessness of men’s minds?—They all say,—Christian! do not linger!
Would you be found ready for Christ at His second appearing,—your loins girded,—your lamp burning, yourself bold, and prepared to meet Him. Then do not linger!
Would you enjoy much sensible comfort in your religion,—feel the witness of the Spirit within you,—know whom you have believed,—and not be a gloomy and melancholy Christian? Then do not linger!
Would you enjoy strong assurance of your own salvation, in the day of sickness, and on the bed of death?—Would you see with the eye of faith heaven opening, and Jesus rising to receive you? Then do not linger!
Would you leave great broad evidences behind you when you are gone?—Would you like us to lay you in the grave with comfortable hope, and talk of your state after death without a doubt? Then do not linger!
Would you be useful to the world in your day and generation?—Would you draw men from sin to Christ, and make your Master’s cause beautiful in their eyes? Then do not linger!
Would you help your children and relatives towards heaven, and make them say, “We will go with you”?—and not make them infidels and despisers of all religion? Then do not linger!
Would you have a great crown in the day of Christ’s appearing, and not be the least and smallest star in glory, and not find yourself the last and lowest in the kingdom of God? Then do not linger!
Oh, let not one of us linger! Time does not,—death does not,—judgment does not,—the devil does not,—the world does not. Neither let the children of God linger.
Reader, are you a lingerer? Has your heart felt heavy, and your conscience sore, while you have been reading? Does something within you whisper, “I am the man”? Reader, listen to what I am saying,—How is it with your soul?
If you are a lingerer, you must just go to Christ at once and be cured,—you must use the old remedy. You must bathe in the old fountain. You must turn again to Christ and be healed. The way to do a thing is to do it. Do this at once.
Think not for a moment your case is past recovery. Think not because you have been long living in a dry and heavy state of soul, that there is no hope of revival. Is not the Lord Jesus Christ an appointed Physician for the soul? Did He not cure every form of disease? Did not He cast out every kind of devil? Did He not raise poor backsliding Peter, and put a new song in his mouth? Oh, doubt not, but earnestly believe that He will yet revive His work within you! Only turn from lingering, and confess your folly, and come,—come at once to Christ. Blessed are the words of the prophet: “Only acknowledge thine iniquity.”—“Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heat your backsliding.” (Jer. iii. 13, 22.)
Reader, remember the souls of others, as well as your own. If at any time you see any brother or sister lingering, try to awaken them,—try to arouse them,—try to stir them up. Let us all exhort one another as we have opportunity. Let us provoke unto love and good works. Let us not be afraid to say to each other, “Brother, or sister, have you forgotten Lot? Awake! and remember Lot;—Awake, and linger no more.”
Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: John Charles Ryle (10 May 1816 – 10 June 1900) was the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool. Ryle was born at Macclesfield, and was educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford, where he was Craven Scholar in 1836. The son of a wealthy banker, he was destined for a career in politics before choosing a path of ordained ministry. While hearing Ephesians 2 read in church in 1838, he felt a spiritual awakening and was ordained by Bishop Sumner at Winchester in 1842. For 38 years he was a parish priest, first at Helmingham and later at Stradbrooke, in Suffolk. He became a leader of the evangelical party in the Church of England and was noted for his doctrinal essays and polemical writings.
Ryle was a strong supporter of the evangelical school and a critic of Ritualism. He was a writer, pastor and an evangelical preacher. Among his longer works are Christian Leaders of the Eighteenth Century (1869), Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (7 vols, 1856–69), Principles for Churchmen (1884). Ryle was described as having a commanding presence and vigorous in advocating his principles albeit with a warm disposition. He was also credited with having success in evangelizing the blue collar community. His second son, Herbert Edward Ryle also a clergyman, became Dean of Westminster.