Holiness, JC Ryle, Part 1
Introducing J. C Ryle’s 'Holiness'
If you have this book in your hands, you have a treasure. Take and read it. It contains spiritual medicine. This book, written more than a hundred years ago, has clarified for me huge points of Christian doctrine, has encouraged and warned me, (sometimes at the same time) and most importantly has helped me read the Bible afresh with the solid and reliable view that Jesus is the golden key unlocking all the Biblical texts.
Who was J. C Ryle?
John Charles Ryle was an evangelical Anglican minister who lived during the 19th Century in Victorian England. He suffered much hardship, (he was married three times, and his first two wives died young). He was a highly intelligent and principled man and his clarity of thought on spiritual matters has survived the test of time. His style is very pithy, (even though this is a 400 page book it has a condensed feel to it). He was a famous writer of tracts and at difficult points in my life I have been handed J. C Ryle’s tracts on sickness and the duties of parents, which were a comfort to me.
Ryle penned this book, a series of sermons, in response to misleading teaching of the day. He lived at a time when most in England were active churchgoers but often spiritually impoverished due to a lack of basic Bible knowledge and sound doctrine. As a result he observed that people exhibited a low standard of personal holiness.This book is an antidote to that. In it Ryle cleans up Biblical teaching that has gone awry - in particular, the doctrine of sanctification. As a famous poetess of the day explained, “Those who think awry can scarcely act straightly.” (E. B Browning) This is a clarion call to return to solid Biblical truths, as important today as it was then. He writes in his introduction that scriptural holiness, “is a cause which everyone who loves Christ, and desires to advance His kingdom in the world, should endeavor to help forward. Everyone can do something and I wish to add my mite.” (p.xvii)
He goes straight to the heart of the problem in chapter one: Sin (something I will spend next week’s blog post on). He wants his readers to have a healthy dose of reality and proper self-knowledge, not to crush you but to have you turn to Christ to lift your burdens away. In the following chapter he then carefully explains the difference between sanctification and justification. (I found this teaching life changing - more on this in the coming weeks!)
He goes on to talk about different elements of living a holy life: The Fight, The Cost, Growth and Assurance. He spends three chapters doing a character study of Old Testament examples (Holy and not so holy) and then spends nine chapters unpacking some of the riches we have in Christ. Each is breathtaking, blistering and a salve at the same time. Not unlike the experience of reading the Bible itself.
Something that’s helpful to know about this book is that the chapters can stand alone if you are looking at a particular subject. I’d read the chapter on sin before as part of a stand-alone topical Bible study. But I urge you to read the lot - it’s worth it to reach the summit and take in Ryle’s beautiful picture of a holy life.
If I were to condense the book into one sentence it would be that without holiness no man shall see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14) It is an often overlooked verse and Ryle’s whole book is an unpacking of what that verse means and how we can go about acquiring more of that holiness, and see the Lord!
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. She 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.