I should have read ahead. What I summarized before was the preface and this is Ryle’s introduction to his book, “Holiness.” Ryle goes ahead and expounds seven questions he has for those contemporaries of his taking a “novel” view of sanctification. Ryle admits he might cause a stir with these questions but in humility writes: “But something must be ventured in the interests of God’s truth.” It with this tone, one of joy and humility in God and love for God’s grace in the lives of men, that Ryle states his seven point response. They are as follows:
1.) Is it wise to speak of faith as the only thing needed for sanctification?
Ryle goes to great lengths to affirm that it is faith in Christ alone that justifies sinners before an angry God. God’s holiness cannot be appeased by one ounce of human effort or righteousness. Ryle goes on to affirm that it is indeed union with Christ that is the root of holiness. In other words, sanctification to be sure is not left up to the power of our own wills. But sanctification cannot come to faith and stop there. It is Ryle’s point that the faith required by sanctification is one that animates and produces “I fight- I run- I keep under my body.” Holiness requires effort. Justification and sanctification, though inseparable, are distinct twin graces. They cannot be obtained by the same means. Justification rests solely on faith in the finished work of Christ. Sanctification is the outworking of practical holiness that is fueled by faith but is accompanied by work. Hard work, even.
2. What about the Sermon on the Mount or the end of most of Paul’s Epistles?
There is no doubt that Ryle would see the Sermon on the Mount as an impossiblity for us to fulfill in full. Jesus is pointed us to justification that is found by His completion of the Law. However, one we are justified our lives will be characterized by the things found in the Sermon on the Mount. In that sense, it is not impossible but normal for the Christian. We will never do this perfectly, but we should all strive to be pure in heart (Matthew 5:8). The great reward is the seeing of God! Ryle sees a pattern in the letters of Paul. The beginnings are shaped by objective indicatives (the truths about what God in Christ has accomplished on our behalf). But the latter portions often give specific things for the Christian to do or not do. The Christian faith is not primarily about a list of “dos or don’ts” but there is that aspect of holiness expected for children of God. Ryle submits that the Christian should not want holiness in the abstract but holiness in details. Ryle is saying that if the details of our lives are not effected by the grace of God, there is little stock to be put into that “grace.” He closes the section with this, and I quote at length: “It (holiness) is much more than tears and sighs, and bodily excitement, and a quickened pulse, and a passionate feeling of attachment to our own favorie preachers and our own religious party, and a readiness to quarrel with everyone who does not agree with us. It is something of “the image of Christ,” which can be seen and observed by others in our private life, and habits, and character and doings (Rom. 8:29).”
3.) Is perfection a good way to describe the Christian life?
No. Ryle says no, the Bible says no. For that reason, I must agree. Many were claiming to have passed by the struggling of sanctification, having been suddenly brought up into a state of sinless perfection. Ryle even recounts hearing someone say that they had not had an evil though in three months. Ryle sees fundamental flaws in such a person’s view of God and therefore their view of themselves. “I must think that those who use it either know very little of the nature of sin, or of the attributes of God, or of their own hearts, or of the Bible, or of the meaning of words.” Ryle remarks that the greatest saints of church history (Luther, Calvin, Owen, Edwards and etc.) were exactly those who were most aware of their shortcomings and need of grace. The more we grow in holiness the more we see our lack thereof. This is a great lesson to learn about sanctification. As we know God better, we are more aware of ourselves and our need for the gospel. Ryle points out that such heresies as “perfectionism” have driven genuine believers to the brink of despair when they find themselves unable to be perfect. He concludes, “it is a dangerous delusion.”
4.) Is it correct to say that Paul is not describing his own life in Romans 7?
Ryle certainly did not think so. To Ryle, it is clear both from church history and more importantly the Bible that Paul is describing the experience of even the most experience saint. He sees that those holding to a view saying Paul was not describing his own experience are notoriously bad theologians. It is the Armininan, Socinian, and Romanists (Catholics) who mostly hold this view. In other words, Ryle points out to the reader that to hold this particular view of Romans 7 places oneself in shady company. Contrarily, the Reformers and Puritans took the traditional view of Romans 7. But Ryle seeks to not make “masters” out of even the great Reformers and Puritans. He entreats simply, “What is the meaning of a passage of Scripture?”
JC Ryle then gives a word to his opponents about the rude language used in responding to his positions. This should serve as a lesson for the “Young, Restless and Reformed.” Ryle says that truth does not need such rhetorical weapons. The truth is just fine on its own and needs only clear, bold assertion to be useful. Bravado is of no use. If we are right (and by God’s grace we are), we should declare the truth with tears in our eyes to the glory of God’s grace.
5.) Is saying “Christ in us” wise language to use?
A bit of context is needed to illustrate Ryle’s fifth point. He is not (however much we might wish) addressing “asking Jesus into your heart,” although some application could be made here. Rather he is responding to a problem within even Reformed circles at the time of his writing. Many were saying that Christ’s indwelling of them would produces holiness without employing human effort. Basically they were saying they could live however since Christ was in them. Ryle finds it much more biblical to speak of the Holy Spirit as the main agent of sanctification. He is right on! The Spirit takes what is Christ’s and glorifies it, lifting our eyes to behold His glory and causing us to walk in obedience as a result. Christ is everywhere (so I guess in your heart) but He is physically present now at the right hand of God the Father, ever living to make intercession for us until He returns for us. Ryle is concerned that we not relegate the Holy Spirit out of a concern to be “Christ-centered.” God magnifies Christ, but only through the Holy Spirit.
6.) Are there different classes of Christians?
It was a popular teaching of Ryle’s time (and the 1990s and into today) that there were classes of Christians. What they meant by classes was that some were carnal Christians and others were consecrated Christians. Both camps were saved but only one class really served God. It is much the same as some people having Jesus “as Savior but not Lord.” Ryle’s main objection to this teaching is the lack of any biblical support for it. Ryle maintains that there are only two types of people in the Bible: believers and unbelievers, those in Adam and those in Christ. If one is in Christ the fact is proven by love and obedience. To say that some are in Christ but living like the world was credited as a failure to understand the supernatural nature of conversion by Ryle. Regeneration and repentance make the whole man new. No doubt, there are varying degrees of grace with different Christians. Some are further along than others, having been walking with the Lord for longer. But this is no warrant to seperate Christians into two categories. To be saved is to be alive to God and dead to sin. We will increase in these as we grow. But the fruit has to be present to give any reason to affirm the root has ever existed.
7.) Are we supposed to be passive in sanctification?
Ryle picks up on a similar theme again. Many were using Romans 6 to show that sanctification was simply a “yielding themselves to God.” Ryle reminds us though that the greek word used is to be rendered as actively “presenting.” So Paul does ground all of Romans 6 in Romans 3:21-5. But sanctification requires going back to the accomplishment of the gospel and then fighting for holiness tooth and nail out of that positional holiness. Sanctification is rooted in justification but it does not stop there. To say such a thing is to harken back to antinomianism. “Antinomianism” means being “against law.” Basically, it says that the gospel excludes any effort. In a sense that is correct. The essence of the gospel is free from human effort but the practical implications and overflow of the gospel employ our entire selves in the fight to see and savor the glory of Jesus Christ. Ryle gives John Bunyan’s, Pilgrim’s Progress as an example. He said, “Again, it would be easy to show that the doctrine is utterly subversive of the whole teaching of such tried and approved books as Pilgrim’s Progress, and that if we receive it we cannot do better than put Bunyan’s old book in the fire! if Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress simply yielded himself to God, and never fought, or struggled, or wrestled, I have read the famous allegory in vain.”
The Christian life is one fraught with fighting and effort. But the good Dr. Ryle gives great hope to the believer by grounding the good fight of faith in the accomplishment of Christ on the cross for our sins, effectively removing God’s wrath that we were due. Ryle gives a sense of the beauty of holiness. The more we grown in holiness, the more our families and friends will be served. More importantly, the more we grow in holiness the more happy in God we will be. We fight. But we fight for joy a battle that has been decisively wrought by the gospel.