Friday, May 2, 2008

The Puritans (Part 8) - The Necessity Of Holiness

Once again, I am amazed and deeply convicted by the writings of the Puritan's. This time it is an excerpt from a sermon by Anglican Bishop J. C. Ryle, speaking on the subject of the necessity of holiness in the life of the believer. We have gotten so far away from this type of preaching in most of our churches today that the average Christian has no idea that genuine salvation leads to personal holiness.

Do I have this down? No Way - that's why I need Christ! but just like Paul I can say:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
As each of us submits to the leading on the Holy Spirit in our lives we will find that little by little this becomes the direction of the course of our life; we will find that we are pressing on for the goal - Christ likeness - and that as we look at where we have come from we will see that we are not where we want to be, but we are also not where we were. Will the Christian ever reach perfection in this life? No. But that does not mean that the Christian doesn't strive for holiness anyway. As a Christian our ultimate goal is to do the will of our Heavenly Father, and His will is our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

It is my prayer that you would give this subject some thought today, and I hope that this excerpt from Bishop Ryle will touch you like it touched me.

"Every man who has his hope in Christ, purifies himself." 1 John 3:3

Suppose for a moment, that you were allowed to enter heaven without holiness. What would you do? What possible enjoyment could you feel there? To which of all the saints would you join yourself—and by whose side would you sit? Their pleasures are not your pleasures, their tastes are not your tastes, their character not your character. How could you possibly be happy in heaven—if you had not been holy on earth?

Now you love the company of the frivolous and careless, the worldly-minded and the covetous, the reveler and the pleasure-seeker, the ungodly and the profane. There will be none such in heaven! Now you think that the people of God are too strict and particular and serious. You rather avoid them. You have no delight in their society. But remember, there will be no other company in heaven.

Now you think that praying and Scripture reading, and hymn singing, are dull and melancholy and stupid work. But remember, the inhabitants of heaven rest not day and night, saying, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!" and singing the praise of the Lamb! How could an unholy man find pleasure in such an environment as this?

An unholy man would feel like a stranger in a land he knew not, a black sheep amid Christ's pure flock. The song of angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven—would be a language he could not understand! The very air would seem an air he could not breathe! I know not what others may think, but to me it does seem clear—that heaven would be a miserable place to an unholy man! It cannot be otherwise.

People may say, in a vague way—that they "hope to go to heaven after they die." But surely, they do not consider what they say. We must be heavenly-minded, and have heavenly tastes, in the present life—or else we shall never find ourselves in heaven, in the life to come.

Are you holy? I do not ask whether you attend your church regularly, whether you have been baptized, or whether you profess to be a Christian. Are you yourself holy this very day—or are you not? Why do I ask so straightly, and press the question so strongly? I do it because the Scripture says, "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." It is written—it is not my imagination; it is the Bible—not my private opinion; it is the Word of God—not of man: "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." (Heb. 12:14).

Alas, what searching, sifting words are these! I look at the world—and see the greater part of it lying in wickedness. I look at professing Christians—and see the vast majority having nothing of Christianity, but the mere name. I turn to the Bible and I hear the Spirit saying, "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." Surely it is a text which ought to make us solemnly consider our ways, and search our heart.

You may say, that "if you were so holy—you would be unlike other people." I answer, "I know it well. It is just what you ought to be. Christ's true servants were always unlike the world around them—a holy nation, a separate people—and you must be so too, if you would be saved!" You may say, "at this rate very few will be saved!" I answer, "I know it. It is precisely what Jesus told us in His sermon on the mount—Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads unto life, and few there are who find it!" Few will be saved, because few will take the trouble to seek salvation--men will not deny themselves the pleasures of sin for a little season.

You may say, "these are hard sayings; the way is very narrow!" I know it is. The Lord Jesus said so eighteen hundred years ago. He always said that men must take up the cross daily, and that they must be ready to cut off hand or foot, if they would be His disciples. That religion which costs nothing—is worth nothing!

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)
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