The Nature and Calling of Free Grace

Written by J.C. Philpot

I admire and love the grace of God; and the longer I live, the more do I love and admire it.

My sins, my corruptions, my infirmities make me feel my deep and daily need of it; and as its freeness, fulness, suitability and inexpressible blessedness are more and more opened up to my heart and conscience, so do I more and more cleave to and delight in it. What, in fact, is there which you can substitute for it?

I assume that you have some concern about religion; that the solemn realities of eternity press with more or less weight on your conscience, and that you are awakened to see the evil of sin and your own evil case as sinners. I speak not to stocks and stones; I speak to you who desire to fear God and to have your hearts right before Him. If you have no concern about the salvation of your soul, you will love many things far beyond free grace. Money, dress, amusements, the pleasures that present themselves on every side, though hollow as the tomb and vain as a drunkard’s mirth, will so charm your mind and occupy your thoughts that Christ and His gospel will have no place in your conscience. But if you have any anxiety about your eternal condition, and are brought to cry, “What shall I do to be saved?” then I ask you, what can you put in the place of free grace? Surely, you cannot be so foolish as to put your own works in its stead. Surely, you cannot be so ignorant of your ruined condition before God, and of what is revealed in the Scriptures of the way of salvation by the atoning blood of Jesus, as to substitute the words and works of man for the words and works of the God-Man?

You may doubt your own interest in His atoning blood; but you do not doubt that salvation is all of grace, and that if saved your soul can be saved by grace alone.

And why not YOU be saved? What countless trophies has grace already at the Redeemer’s feet! What hosts of ruined wretches, of souls sunk beyond all other help or hope, has free grace sought out, rescued from their destructions, plucked from the jaws of hell, and ransomed from the hand of him that was stronger than they, so that they have come and sung in the height of Zion, and flowed together to the goodness of the Lord!

Look at Paul. Where can we find among the sons of men a parallel to the great Apostle of the Gentiles? What a large capacity! What a powerful intellect he naturally possessed, but how subdued and subjugated it became by grace, and how devoted to the glory of God and the advancement of His Dear Son! How grace arrested him at Damascus’ gate, cast him down body and soul at the Redeemer’s feet, translated him from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, and changed a bloodthirsty persecutor of the church of Christ into a minister and an apostle, the greatest ever seen. As such, what a deep humility, thorough disinterestedness, noble simplicity, godly zeal, unwearied labors distinguished him from first to last-a course of more than thirty years.

How in his inspired writings he pours, as it were, from his pen the richest streams of heavenly truth! With what clearness, power, and savor he describes and enforces the way of salvation through the blood shedding and obedience of the Son of God, the blessings of free grace, the glorious privileges of the saints, and the things that make for their happiness and holiness! How in every epistle it seems as if his pen could hardly drop a line without in some way setting forth the infinite grace, the boundless mercy, and unfathomable love of God, as displayed in the gift of His dear Son, and the blessings that flow to the church through His blood and love.

But look not at Paul only. View the jewels on every side that grace has set in the Redeemer’s crown out of the most depraved and abject materials! Who, for instance, were those Ephesians to whom Paul wrote that wonderful epistle? The most foolish and besotted of idolaters, so infatuated with their image which fell down from Jupiter-most probably some huge meteoric stone, that had fallen from the sky-that they spent two hours until they wearied out their throats with crying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians; ! men debased with every lust, ripe and ready for every crime. How rich, how marvelous the grace that changed worshippers of Diana into worshippers of Jehovah, brutal howlers into singers who made melody in their heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:19), and magicians, full of curious arts and Satanic witchcraft, into saints built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets!

Now cannot the same grace, that did so much for them, do the same or similar things for us?

Is the nature of man now less vile, or is the grace of Christ now less full and free? Has the lapse of 1800 years raised man out of the depths of the Fall, eradicated sin from his constitution, cleansed the foul leprosy of his nature, and purified it into holiness? Let the thin sheet of decent morality and civilization be taken off the corpse, and here it lies in all its hideous ghastliness.

Human nature is still what it ever was dead in trespasses and sins. Or has time, which changes so many things on earth, changed things in heaven? Is not God the same gracious Father, Jesus the same compassionate Savior, the Holy Spirit the same heavenly Teacher? Is not the gospel the same glad tidings of salvation, and the power of the gospel the same to everyone that believeth? Then why should not we be blessed with the same spiritual blessings as the saints at Ephesus? Why may not the same Jesus be to us what He was to them, the same Spirit to do for us and in us what He did for and in them, and the same grace save and sanctify us which saved and sanctified them? Here and here alone is our strength, our help, our hope, our all.

Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  Joseph Charles Philpot (1802 – 1869) was known as “The Seceder”. He resigned from the Church of England in 1835 and became a Strict & Particular Baptist. While with the Church of England he was a Fellow of Worchester College, Oxford. After becoming a Strict and Particular Baptist he became the Editor of the Gospel Standard magazine and served in that capacity for twenty years.

Educated at Oxford University, he was elected a fellow of Worcester College, and appeared to have a brilliant scholastic career before him. But he was brought into solemn concern spiritually and the Lord led him into the ministry. He first preached in the Established Church at Stadhampton (Oxfordshire). In 1835, however, he was constrained, for the truth’s sake, to sever his connection with the Church of England and to resign his curacy and his fellowship. The letter to the provost stating his reasons was published and went into several editions.

The same year, he was baptized by John Warburton at Allington (Wilts). The rest of his life was spent ministering among the Strict Baptists. For 26 years, he held a joint pastorate at Stamford (Lines) and Oakham (Rutland). In addition for over twenty years, he was editor of “The Gospel Standard”, where many of his sermons first appeared.



Written by J. C. Ryle.



“Reprobate silver.”
—Jer. 9:30
–What is this that I ask about?

What is the meaning of the question before your eyes? I ask about your religion.  I offer you a solemn question on a matter that deeply concerns your soul.  I say to you, is your religion real?  Is it true?

What do I mean when I use the word “real”?  I mean that which is genuine, and sincere, and honest, and thorough.  I mean that which is not base, and hollow, and formal, and false, and counterfeit, and sham, and nominal.  Real religion is not mere show, and pretense, and skin-deep feeling, and temporary profession, and outside work.  It is something inward, solid, substantial, intrinsic, living, lasting.  You know the difference between base coin and good money,—between solid gold and tinsel,—between plated metal and silver,—between real stone and plaster imitation.  Think of these things as you consider the question which heads these thoughts.  What is the character of your religion?  Is it real?  It may be weak, and feeble, and mingled with many infirmities.  That is not the point before you today.  My question is simply this,—Is your religion real?  Is it true?

CHRISTIAN, the times in which you live demand such a question as that which is before you. 

A want of reality is a striking feature of a vast amount of religion in the present day.  Poets have sometimes told us that the world has passed through four different states or conditions.  We have had a golden age, and a silver age, a brazen age, and an iron age.  How far this is true I do not stop to inquire.  But I fear there is little doubt as to the character of the age in which we live. It is universally an age of base metal and alloy.  If we measure the religion of the age by its apparent quantity, there is much of it.  But if we measure it by its quality, there is very little indeed.  On every side we want MORE REALITY.

CHRISTIAN, I ask for attention, while I try to bring home to your conscience the question of these thoughts. 

CHRISTIAN, have you the least desire to go to heaven when you die? Do you wish to have a relation which will comfort you in life, give you good hope in death, and abide the judgment of God at the last day?  Then do not turn away from the question before you.  Sit down, and consider calmly, whether your Christianity is real and true, or base and hollow.

The point is one which, at first sight, may seem to require very few remarks to establish it.  All men, I shall be told, are fully convinced of the importance of reality.

But is this true?  Can it be said indeed that reality is rightly esteemed among Christians?  I deny it entirely.  The greater part of people who profess to admire reality, seem to think that everyone possesses it!  They tell us “that all have got good hearts at bottom,”—that all are sincere and true in the main, though they may make mistakes.  They call us uncharitable, and harsh, and censorious, if we doubt anybody’s goodness of heart.  In short, they destroy the value of reality, by regarding it as a thing which almost everyone has.

CHRISTIAN, this wide-spread delusion is precisely one of the causes why I put forth these thoughts. 

I want you to understand that reality is a far more rare and uncommon thing than is commonly supposed.  I want you to see that unreality is one of the great dangers of which Christians ought to beware.  Believe me, it is no light or easily answered inquiry, when I ask,—Is your religion real?

What saith the Scripture?  This is the only judge that can try the subject.  Turn to your Bible, and examine it fairly, and then deny, if you can, the importance of reality in religion, and the danger of not being real.

    I. Look then, for one thing, at the parables spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ.  Observe how many of them are intended to put in strong contrast the true believer and the mere nominal disciple.  The parables of the sower, of the wheat and tares, of the draw-net, of the two sons, of the wedding garment, of the ten virgins, of the talents, of the great supper, of the pounds, of the two builders, have all one great point in common.  They all bring out in striking colors the difference between reality and unreality in religion.  They all show the uselessness and danger of any Christianity which is not real, thorough, and true.

    2.  Look, for another thing, at the language of our Lord Jesus Christ about the Scribes and the Pharisees.   Eight times over in one chapter we find Him denouncing them as “hypocrites,” in words of almost fearful severity.—”Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers,” He says, “How can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matt. xxiii. 33).  What may we learn from these tremendously strong expressions?  How is it that our gracious and merciful Savior used such cutting words about people who at any rate were more moral and decent than the publicans and harlots?  It is meant to teach us the exceeding abominableness of false profession and mere outward religion, in God’s sight.  Open profligacy and wilful obedience to fleshly lusts are no doubt ruinous sins, if not given up.  But there seems nothing which is so displeasing to Christ as hypocrisy and unreality.

    3. Look, for another thing, at the startling fact, that there is hardly a grace in the character of a true Christian of which you will not find a counterfeit described in the Word of God.  There is not a feature in a believer’s countenance of which there is not an imitation.  Give me your attention, and I will show you this in a few particulars.

Is there not an unreal repentance? 

Beyond doubt there is.  Saul, and Ahab, and Herod, and Judas Iscariot, had many feelings of sorrow about sin.  But they never really repented unto salvation.

Is there not an unreal faith?

Beyond doubt there is.  It is written of Simon Magus, at Samaria, that he “believed,” and yet his heart was not right in the sight of God.  It is even written of the devils that they “believe and tremble.” (Acts viii. 13; James ii. 19).  

Is there not an unreal holiness? 

Beyond doubt there is. Joash, king of Judah, became to all appearance very holy and good while Jehoiada the priest lived.  But as soon as he died the religion of Joash died at the same time. (2 Chron. 24: 2). Judas Iscariot’s outward life was as correct as that of any of the apostles up to the time that he betrayed his Master.  There was nothing suspicious about him.  Yet in reality he was a thief and a traitor.

Is there not an unreal love and charity? 

Beyond doubt there is.  There is a love which consists in words and tender expressions, and a great show of affection, and calling other people “dear brethren,” while the heart does not love at all.  It is not for nothing that St. John says, “Let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”   It was not without cause that St. Paul said, “Let love be without dissimulation.” (1 John 3: 18 Rom. 12: 9).

Is there not an unreal humility? 

Beyond doubt there is.  There is a pretended lowliness of demeanor, which often covers over a very proud heart. St. Paul warns us against a “voluntary humility,” and speaks of “things which had a show of wisdom in will-worship and humility.” (Col. 2: 18, 23).

Is there not unreal praying? 

Beyond doubt there is.  Our Lord denounces it as one of the special sins of the Pharisees—that for a “pretense they made long prayer.” He does not charge them with not praying, or with praying too shortly.  Their sin lay in this, that their prayers were not real.

Is there not unreal worship? 

Beyond doubt there is. Our Lord says of the Jews, “This people draw nigh to Me with their mouths, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” (Matt. xv. 8.)  They had plenty of formal services in their temples and their synagogues.  But the fatal defect about them was want of reality and want of heart.

Is there not unreal talking about religion?

Beyond doubt there is.  Ezekiel describes some professing Jews who talked and spoke like God’s people, “while their hearts went after their covetousness.”  (Ezek. xxxiii. 31.)  St. Paul tells us that we may “speak with the tongue of men and angels,” and yet be no better than sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. (1 Cor. 13: 1.)

CHRISTIAN, what shall we say to these things? 

To say the least, they ought to set us thinking.  To my own mind they seem to lead to only one conclusion. They show clearly the immense importance which Scripture attaches to reality in religion.  They show clearly what need we have to take heed, lest our Christianity turn out to be merely nominal, formal, unreal, and base.

The subject is of deep importance in every age. There has never been a time, since the Church of Christ was founded, when there has not been a vast amount of unreality and mere nominal religion among professing Christians.  I am sure it is the case in the present day.  Wherever I turn my eyes I see abundant cause for the warning,—Beware of base metal in religion.  Be genuine.  Be thorough.  Be real.  Be true.

The professing church is as much damaged by laxity and indistinctness about matters of doctrine within, as it is by skeptics and unbelievers without… … Many ministers and parishoners live in a kind of mist or fog.

Written by J. C. Ryle

“Men that had understanding of the times” — 1 Chronicles 12:32

The times require at our hands distinct and decided views of Christian doctrine.

funny business manI cannot withhold my conviction that the professing church is as much damaged by laxity and indistinctness about matters of doctrine within, as it is by skeptics and unbelievers without. Myriads of professing Christians nowadays seem utterly unable to distinguish things that differ. Like people afflicted with color blindness, they are incapable of discerning what is true and what is false, what is sound and what is unsound.

If a preacher of religion is only clever and eloquent and earnest…

…they appear to think he is all right, however strange and heterogeneous his sermons may be. They are destitute of spiritual sense, apparently, and cannot detect error. Popery or Protestantism, an atonement or no atonement, a personal Holy Spirit or no Holy Spirit, future punishment or no future punishment, “high” church or “low” church or “broad” church, Trinitarianism, Arianism, or Unitarianism, nothing comes amiss to them: they can swallow all, if they cannot digest it! Carried away by a fancied liberality and charity, they seem to think everybody is right and nobody is wrong, every clergyman is sound and none are unsound, everybody is going to be saved and nobody is going to be lost. Their religion is made up of negatives; and the only positive thing about them is, that they dislike distinctness, and think all extreme and decided and positive views are very naughty and very wrong!

These people live in a kind of mist or fog.

They see nothing clearly, and do not know what they believe. They have not made up their minds about any great point in the gospel, and seem content to be honorary members of all schools of thought. For their lives they could not tell you what they think is truth about justification or regeneration or sanctification or the Lord’s Supper or baptism or faith or conversion or inspiration or the future state. They are eaten up with a morbid dread of controversy and an ignorant dislike of “party spirit,” and yet they really cannot define what they mean by these phrases.

The only point you can make out is that they admire earnestness and cleverness and charity…

…and cannot believe that any clever, earnest, charitable man can ever be in the wrong! And so they live on undecided; and too often undecided they drift down to the grave, without comfort in their religion and, I am afraid, often without hope…..For your own soul’s sake dare to make up your mind what you believe, and dare to have positive distinct views of truth and error. Never, never be afraid to hold decided doctrinal opinions; and let no fear of man and no morbid dread of being thought party–spirited, narrow or controversial, make you rest contented with a bloodless, boneless, tasteless, colorless, lukewarm, undogmatic Christianity.

Mark what I say. If you want to do good in these times, you must throw aside indecision…

…and take up a distinct, sharply cut, doctrinal religion. If you believe little, those to whom you try to do good will believe nothing.