Part 4 of Holiness by JC Ryle
I finished the last post with some stickers for the Christian’s diary - one of those stickers was the word ‘watch’. In this final post on J. C. Ryle’s, Holiness, I want to tell you the best way that we can watch our actions is by fixing our eyes on the one worth watching. According to Ryle, there is one man to watch. One human being who has shone more brightly in human history than any other. His name is Jesus of Nazareth and he is worth watching endlessly.
Watch him be born in poverty in a rural backwater. Watch him grow and astound his parents with his wisdom and learning. Watch him teach with authority in the Jewish synagogues. Watch him draw people to himself - unlikely people. Watch him talk to outcast women. Watch him talk to sinners. Watch him heal the sick and even raise the dead to life. Watch him confound and infuriate the religious leaders of his day. Watch him be beaten and questioned, and lied about, and set up and hung on a cross, crucified. Watch those final moments where he shows compassion to the man condemned to die next to him. Watch him pray for the people who have done this to him. Watch him cry out it is finished.
130 years ago, when the church I attend was built, someone had the idea to put in large dark red letters, at the front of the church: LOOK TO CHRIST ABOVE ALL. If you were to step into our church off the street this one solid, life-giving piece of advice is unmissable. If you want to become a Christ-like woman make it your life’s work to study Christ Himself.
Read the Gospels the most
In the concluding six chapters of Holiness, Ryle firmly presses the four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John upon his readers. While “it is well to be acquainted with all the doctrines and principles of Christianity” he writes, “it is better to be acquainted with Christ himself.” As we have looked at in earlier posts, it’s important to know about matters - such as faith and grace, and justification and sanctification - matters pertaining to the King. But, Ryle writes, “It is far better to be familiar with Jesus Himself, to see the King’s own face, and to behold His beauty.” There’s something inexpressible, sublime and supernatural at work in watching Jesus. Ryle describes it as “one secret of eminent holiness.”
Here are some snap-shots of Ryle’s powerful writing on the man, Jesus that captured my attention:
While there is life there is hope
Chapter 11, Christ’s Greatest Trophy contains some of the toughest talk in the book. And the most moving. Ryle says very plainly that without repentance and faith you will not enter into paradise. Let that sink in. But this whole chapter holds out great hope too. Surely no case ever looked more desperate than that of the criminal hung next to Jesus on the cross?
Ryle writes, “While there is life there is hope.” Those words leapt off the page for me. They are powerful words and I’ve heard them before. While you are alive you have time to turn to Christ. I cried reading the dying girl’s words to her mother who tries to comfort her by telling her she will be reunited with brothers and sisters who have gone before her. “Ah, mother!” is the girl’s reply, “but there is one thing better than all, and that is, Christ will be there.” I would want somebody to read this to me before I die. The choice is laid out so clearly. The facts about pardon and paradise. There is no delusion, simply what the Bible says. The comforting closeness of paradise. The danger of devils so near. “There is but a step”, says David, “between me and death.” (1 Samuel 20:3) You can’t go on after this chapter. Heaven and hell feel pressed up against you. You just have to stop and think.
How can man have peace with God?
In a later chapter also on Christ, Thirst relieved, Ryle offers seven golden sayings of the Lord which solve the problem how can man have peace with God? They are so good and so easy to memorize, they may already be familiar to you. (John 6:35; 8:12; 10:9; 14:6; Matthew 11:28; John 6:37; 7:37-38)
“Rivet them down in your mind and never let them go. When your feet touch the cold river, on the bed of sickness and in the hour of death, you will find these seven texts above all price.” (p. 324) I have an idea of making an artwork of them with my daughters.
Doing business with God
As ever Ryle offers real practical help in getting a person started in doing business with God. If you have never read a Bible before, or only occasionally or with very little interest he suggests that you begin in earnest to read it today. Start by reading Matthew, Chapter 5 to see what the Law of God requires, as explained by Jesus His Son. Next, read the first two chapters of Romans for a description of human nature. Pray for the Spirit’s teaching, “and then say whether you are not a debtor to God and a debtor in mighty need of a friend like Christ.”
Pray for light, teaching and self-knowledge. Ask God to show you what you need to know for the saving of your soul. (p.307.) It is simple plain advice. “It is the good old way in which millions have walked already and found peace to their souls.” (p 307)
For those of us who have already become one of Christ’s friends, Ryle encourages us to be thankful. “Awake to a deeper sense of the infinite mercy of having an Almighty Saviour, a title to heaven, a home that is eternal, a Friend that never dies! . . . What a comfort to think that we have in Christ something that we can never lose!” (p.317) He also encourages us to awake to the needs of others and especially those who don’t know Christ and labour in every way for the salvation of their souls.
The coloured slides of life
We all of us, in a long or a short life will experience our share of highs and lows. You could think of it as little coloured slides. Many of us may experience great love, great achievements, and some of us won’t. The very same or different people may experience crushing sadness, unfaithfulness, violence, ill-health, the death of someone we love. Some of us will struggle all our lives with materialism and greed. Some of us will struggle with depression and anxiety. Some of us will have big responsibilities and little available time. Some of us will feel our lives don’t amount to very much. That we don’t matter very much. But if we know a friendship with Jesus we have something sublime shot through those different experiences. Our blue will be a different blue. Our red a brighter, deeper red. Our yellow, intensely golden.
The experience of knowing Jesus is the great experience of life. He is the friend who knows you better than you know yourself. Your life does matter, very much. Jesus died for you. Read a Gospel. Read chapter twelve of Holiness and marvel at this Jesus who is The Ruler of the waves.
The secret to a holy life is beholding Christ’s beauty, and having it make a deep and lasting imprint on you. We should stand out for Jesus in all the small and big moments that make up a life. We should be the kindest, most gracious people. We have been bought at such a great cost. God’s own Son shed his blood for us.
“There is a love in God towards sinners which is unspeakable and unsearchable - but it is for those who hear Christ’s voice and follow Him...This old shipwrecked world is fast sinking beneath your feet: the one thing needful is to have a place in the lifeboat and get safe to shore.” (p. 226)
This is a truly wonderful book. Its riches are worth mining annually. I’m thinking through how a small group might read a selection of chapters alone and come together for questions and discussion time. I hope that these reviews have been a blessing to you and an encouragement to read more of J. C. Ryle. Most of all I hope you have been encouraged to have a closer walk with God.
About this month’s contributor, Katie Stringer
Katie is a lover of books, baking and beaches. She grew up in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and though she now lives in the inner west, wears her Bronte speedo with pride at all inner west pools. Katie studied factual and creative writing at the University of New South Wales and loves nothing better than filling up blank books and writing on the margins of novels. Before having children Katie combined teaching English as a foreign language with freelance writing. She is married to Andrew and they have three children. They love being a part of the Leichhardt community and serving together at All Souls, Leichhardt.