D.D., Bishop of Liverpool (1816-1910)
Excerpts quoted from J.C. Ryle, Holiness (London: James
Clarke & Co., 1956), pp. viii-xvii, 16-33.
delivered twenty papers on the subject of Scriptural Holiness
at the time when the holiness movement was gaining prominence
in America. The message of this great evangelical sage is well-balanced,
spiritual, practical, easy-to-read and, above all, soundly Biblical.
Although written in the last century, it seems he was writing
especially for our day. His words tend to convince the understanding
and arouse the conscience rather than tickle the ears and excite
the imagination. We here reproduce a vital portion of his papers
on Scriptural Holiness. The entire presentation was reprinted
in 1956 by James Clarke & Co., Carter Lane, London E.C.4, England,
under the title of Holiness. —Ed.
for the Times on the Subject of Holiness
(1) I ask, in the first place, whether it is wise
to speak of faith as the one thing needful, and the only thing required,
as many seem to do now-a-days in handling the doctrine of sanctification?
– Is it wise to proclaim in so bald, naked, and unqualified
a way as many do, that the holiness of converted people is by faith
only, and not at all by personal exertion? Is it according to the
proportion of God's Word? I doubt it.
That faith in Christ
is the root of all holiness – that the first step towards
a holy life is to believe on Christ – that until we believe
we have not a jot of holiness – that union with Christ by
faith is the secret of both beginning to be holy and continuing
holy – that the life that we live in the flesh we must live
by the faith of the Son of God – that faith purifies the heart
– that faith is the victory which overcomes the world –
that by faith the elders obtained a good report – all these
are truths which no well-instructed Christian will ever think of
denying. But surely the Scriptures teach us that in following holiness
the true Christian needs personal exertion and work as well as faith.
The very same Apostle who says in one place, "The life that
I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God,"
says in another place, "I fight – I run – I keep
under my body;" and in other places, "Let us cleanse ourselves
– let us labour, let us lay aside every weight." (Gal.
ii. 20; 1 Cor. ix. 26; 2 Cor. vii. 1; Heb. iv. 11; xii. 1.) Moreover,
the Scriptures nowhere teach us that faith sanctifies us in the
same sense, and in the same manner, that faith justifies us! Justifying
faith is a grace that "worketh not," but simply trusts,
rests, and leans on Christ. (Rom. iv. 5.) Sanctifying faith is a
grace of which the very life is action: it "worketh by love,"
and, like a main-spring, moves the whole inward man. (Gal. v. 6)
After all, the precise phrase "sanctified by faith" is
only found once in the New Testament. The Lord Jesus said to Saul,
"I send thee, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and
inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in
Me." Yet even there I agree with Alford, that "by faith"
belongs to the whole sentence, and must not be tied to the word
"sanctified." The true sense is, "that by faith in
Me they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them
that are sanctified." (Compare Acts xxvi. 18 with Acts xx.
As to the phrase "holiness
by faith," I find it nowhere in the New Testament. Without
controversy, in the matter of our justification before God, faith
in Christ is the one thing needful. All that simply believe are
justified. Righteousness is imputed "to him that worketh not
but believeth." (Rom. iv. 5.) It is thoroughly Scriptural and
right to say "faith alone justifies." But it is not equally
Scriptural and right to say "faith alone sanctifies."
The saying requires very large qualification. Let one fact suffice.
We are frequently told that a man is "justified by faith without
the deeds of the law," by St. Paul. But not once are we told
that we are "sanctified by faith without the deeds of the law."
On the contrary, we are expressly told by St. James that the faith
whereby we are visibly and demonstratively justified
before man, is a faith which "if it hath not works is dead,
being alone.”1 (James ii. 17.) I may be told, in reply, that
no one of course means to disparage "works" as an essential
part of a holy life. It would be well, however, to make this more
plain than many seem to make it in these days.
I ask, in the second place, whether it is wise to make so little
as some appear to do, comparatively, of the many practical exhortations
to holiness in daily life which are to be found in the Sermon on
the Mount, and in the latter part of most of St. Paul's epistles?
Is it according to the proportion of God's Word? I doubt it.
That a life of daily
self-consecration and daily communion with God should be aimed at
by everyone who professes to be a believer – that we should
strive to attain the habit of going to the Lord Jesus Christ with
everything we find a burden, whether great or small, and casting
it upon Him – all this, I repeat, no well-taught child of
God will dream of disputing. But surely the New Testament teaches
us that we want something more than generalities about holy living,
which often prick no conscience and give no offence. The details
and particular ingredients, of which holiness is composed in daily
life, ought to be fully set forth and pressed on believers by all
who profess to handle the subject. True holiness does not consist
merely of believing and feeling, but of doing and bearing, and a
practical exhibition of active and passive grace. Our tongues, our
tempers, our natural passions and inclinations our conduct as parents
and children, masters and servants, husbands and wives, rulers and
subjects – our dress, our employment of time, our behavior
in business, our demeanor in sickness and health, in riches and
in poverty – all, all these are matters which are fully treated
by inspired writers.
They are not content
with a general statement of what we should believe and feel, and
how we are to have the roots of holiness planted in our hearts.
They dig down lower. They go into particulars. They specify minutely
what a holy man ought to do and be in his own family, and by his
own fireside, if he abides in Christ. I doubt whether this sort
of teaching is sufficiently attended to in the movement of the present
day. When people talk of having received "such a blessing,"
and of having found "the higher life," after hearing some
earnest advocate of "holiness by faith and self-consecration,"
while their families and friends see no improvement and no increased
sanctity in their daily tempers and behavior, immense harm is done
to the cause of Christ. True holiness, we surely ought to remember,
does not consist merely of inward sensations and impressions. It
is much more than tears, and sighs, and bodily excitement, and a
quickened pulse, and a passionate feeling of attachment to our own
favorite 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. viii. 29.)
I ask, in the third place, whether it is wise to use vague language
about perfection, and to press on Christians a standard of holiness,
as attainable in this world for which there is no warrant to be
shown either in Scripture or experience? I doubt it.
That believers are exhorted
to "perfect holiness in the fear of God" – to "go
on to perfection" – to "be perfect," no careful
reader of his Bible will ever think of denying. (2 Cor. vii.1; Heb.
vi.1; 2 Cor. xiii.11.) But I have yet to learn that there is a single
passage in Scripture which teaches that a literal perfection, a
complete and entire freedom from sin, in thought, or word, or deed,
is attainable, or ever has been attained, by any child of Adam in
this world. A comparative perfection, a perfection in knowledge,
an all-round consistency in every relation of life, a thorough soundness
in every point of doctrine – this may be seen occasionally
in some of God's believing people. But as to an absolute literal
perfection, the most eminent saints of God in every age have always
been the very last to lay claim to it! On the contrary, they have
always had the deepest sense of their own utter unworthiness and
imperfection. The more spiritual light they have enjoyed the more
they have seen their own countless defects and shortcomings. The
more grace they have had the more they have been "clothed with
humility." (1 Peter v. 5.)
What saint can be named
in God's Word, of whose life many details are recorded, who was
literally and absolutely perfect? Which of them all, when writing
about himself, ever talks of feeling free from imperfection? On
the contrary, men like David, and St. Paul, and St. John, declare
in the strongest language that they feel in their own hearts weakness
and sin. The holiest men of modern times have always been remarkable
for deep humility. Have we ever seen holier men than the martyred
John Bradford, or Hooker, or Usher, or Baxter, or Rutherford, or
M'Cheyne? Yet no one can read the writings and letters of these
men without seeing that they felt themselves "debtors to mercy
and grace" every day, and the very last thing they ever laid
claim to was perfection!
In face of such facts
as these I must protest against the language used in many quarters,
in these last days, about perfection. 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. When a professing Christian coolly tells me that he has
got beyond such hymns as "Just as I am," and that they
are below his present experience, though they suited him when he
first took up religion, I must think his soul is in a very unhealthy
state! When a man can talk coolly of the possibility of "living
without sin" while in the body, and can actually say that he
has "never had an evil thought for three months," I can
only say that in my opinion he is a very ignorant Christian! I protest
against such teaching as this. It not only does no good, but does
immense harm. It disgusts and alienates from religion far-seeing
men of the world, who know it is incorrect and untrue. It depresses
some of the best of God's children, who feel they never can attain
to "perfection" of this kind. It puffs up many weak brethren,
who fancy they are something when they are nothing. In short, it
is a dangerous delusion.
In the fourth place, is it wise to assert so positively and violently,
as many do, that the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans
does not describe the experience of the advanced saint, but the
experience of the unregenerate man, or of the weak and unestablished
believer? I doubt it.
I admit fully that the
point has been a disputed one for eighteen centuries, in fact ever
since the days of St. Paul. I admit fully that eminent Christians
like John and Charles Wesley, and Fletcher, a hundred years ago,
to say nothing of some able writers of our own timer, maintain firmly
that St. Paul was not describing his own present experience when
he wrote this seventh chapter. I admit fully that many cannot see
what I and many others do see: viz., that Paul says nothing in this
chapter which does not precisely tally with the recorded experience
of the most eminent saints in every age, and that he does say several
things which no unregenerate man or weak believer would ever think
of saying, and cannot say. So, at any rate, it appears to me. But
I will not enter into any detailed discussion of the chapter. 2
What I do lay stress upon is the broad fact that the best commentators
in every era of the Church have almost invariably applied the seventh
chapter of Romans to advanced believers. The commentators who do
not take this view have been, with a few bright exceptions, the
Romanists, the Socinians, and the Arminians. Against them is arrayed
the judgment of almost all the Reformers, almost all the Puritans,
and the best modern Evangelical divines. I shall be told, of course,
that no man is infallible, that the Reformers, Puritans, and modern
divines I refer to may have been entirely mistaken, and the Romanists,
Socinians, and Arminians may have been quite right! Our Lord has
taught us, no doubt, to "call no man master.” But while
I ask no man to call the Reformers and Puritans "masters,"
I do ask people to read what they say on this subject, and answer
their arguments, if they can. This has not been done yet! To say,
as some do, that they do not want human "dogmas" and "doctrines,"
is no reply at all. The whole point at issue is, "What is the
meaning of a passage of Scripture? How is the Seventh chapter of
the Epistle to the Romans to be interpreted? What is the true sense
of its words?" At any rate let us remember that there is a
great fact which cannot be got over. On one side stand the opinions
and interpretations of Reformers and Puritans, and on the other
the opinions and interpretations of Romanists, Socinians, and Arminians.
Let that be distinctly understood.
In the face of such a
fact as this I must enter my protest against the sneering, taunting,
contemptuous language which has been frequently used of late by
some of the advocates of what I must call the Arminian view of the
Seventh of Romans, in speaking of the opinions of their opponents.
To say the least, such language is unseemly, and only defeats its
own end. A cause which is defended by such language is deservedly
suspicious. Truth needs no such weapons. If we cannot agree with
men, we need not speak of their views with discourtesy and contempt.
An opinion which is backed and supported by such men as the best
Reformers and Puritans may not carry conviction to all minds in
the nineteenth century, but at any rate it would be well to speak
of it with respect.
In the fifth place, is it wise to use the language which is often
used in the present day about the doctrine of "Christ in
us"? I doubt it. Is not this doctrine often exalted to
a position which it does not occupy in Scripture? I am afraid that
That the true believer is one with Christ and Christ in him, no
careful reader of the New Testament will think of denying for a
moment. There is, no doubt, a mystical union between Christ and
the believer. With Him we died, with Him we were buried, with Him
we rose again, with Him we sit in heavenly places. We have five
plain texts where we are distinctly taught that Christ is "in
us." (Rom. viii. 10; Gal. ii. 20; iv. 19; Eph. iii. 17; Col.
iii. 11.) But we must be careful that we understand what we mean
by the expression. That "Christ dwells in our hearts by faith,"
and carries on His inward work by His Spirit, is clear and plain.
But if we mean to say that beside, and over, and above this there
is some mysterious indwelling of Christ in a believer, we must be
careful what we are about. Unless we take care, we shall find ourselves
ignoring the work of the Holy Ghost. We shall be forgetting that
in the Divine economy of man's salvation election is the special
work of God the Father – atonement, mediation, and intercession,
the special work of God the Son – and sanctification, the
special work of God the Holy Ghost. We shall be forgetting that
our Lord said, when He went away, that He would send us another
Comforter, who should "abide with us" for ever, and, as
it were, take His place. (John xiv. 16.)
In short, under the idea
that we are honoring Christ, we shall find that we are dishonoring
His special and peculiar gift – the Holy Ghost. Christ, no
doubt, as God, is everywhere – in our hearts, in heaven, in
the place where two or three are met together in His name. But we
really must remember that Christ, as our risen Head and High Priest,
is specially at God's right hand interceding for us until
He comes the second time; and that Christ carries on His work in
the hearts of His people by the special work of His Spirit, whom
He promised to send when He left the world. (John xv. 26.) A comparison
of the ninth and tenth verses of the eighth chapter of Romans seems
to me to show this plainly. It convinces me that "Christ in
us" means Christ in us "by His Spirit." Above all,
the words of St. John are most distinct and express: "Hereby
we know that He abideth in us by the Spirit which He hath given
us." (1 John iii. 24.)
In saying all this, I
hope no one will misunderstand me. I do not say that the expression
"Christ in us" is unscriptural. But I do say that I see
great danger of giving an extravagant and unscriptural importance
to the idea contained in the expression; and I fear that many use
it now-a-days without exactly knowing what they mean, and unwittingly,
perhaps, dishonour the mighty work of the Holy Ghost. If any readers
think that I am needlessly scrupulous about the point, I recommend
to their notice a curious book by Samuel Rutherford (author of the
well-known letters), called "The Spiritual Antichrist."
They will there see that two centuries ago the wildest heresies
arose out of an extravagant teaching of this very doctrine of the
"indwelling of Christ" in believers. They will find that
Saltmarsh, and Dell, and Towne, and other false teachers, against
whom good Samuel Rutherford contended, began with strange notions
of "Christ in us," and then proceeded to build on the
doctrine antinomianism, and fanaticism of the worst description
and vilest tendency. They maintained that the separate, personal
life of the believer was so completely gone, that it was Christ
living in him who repented, and believed, and acted! The root
of this huge error was a forced and unscriptural interpretation
of such texts as "I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."
(Gal. ii. 20.) And the natural result of it was that many of the
unhappy followers of this school came to the comfortable conclusion
that believers were not responsible, whatever they might do! Believers,
forsooth, were dead and buried; and only Christ lived in them, and
undertook everything for them! The ultimate consequence was,
that some thought they might sit still in a carnal security, their
personal accountableness being entirely gone, and might commit any
kind of sin without fear! Let us never forget that truth, distorted
and exaggerated, can become the mother of the most dangerous heresies.
When we speak of "Christ being in us," let us take care
to explain what we mean. I fear some neglect this in the present
the sixth place, is it wise to draw such a deep, wide, and distinct
line of separation between conversion and consecration,
or the higher life, so called, as many do draw in the present
day? Is this according to the proportion of God's Word? I doubt
There is, unquestionably,
nothing new in this teaching. It is well known that Romish writers
often maintain that the Church is divided into three classes –
sinners, penitents, and saints. The modern teachers of this day
who tell us that professing Christians are of three sorts –
the unconverted, the converted, and the partakers of the "higher
life," of complete consecration – appear to me to occupy
very much the same ground! But whether the idea be old or new, Romish
or English, I am utterly unable to see that it has any warrant of
Scripture. The Word of God always speaks of two great divisions
of mankind, and two only. It speaks of the living and the dead in
sin – the believer and the unbeliever – the converted
and the unconverted – the travelers in the narrow way and
the travelers in the broad – the wise and the foolish –
the children of God and the children of the devil. Within
each of these two great classes there are, doubtless, various measures
of sin and of grace; but it is only the difference between the higher
and lower end of an inclined plane. Between these two great
classes there is an enormous gulf; they are as distinct as life
and death, light and darkness, heaven and hell. But of a division
into three classes the Word of God says nothing at all! I question
the wisdom of making newfangled divisions which the Bible has not
made, and I thoroughly dislike the notion of a second conversion.
That there is a vast
difference between one degree of grace and another – that
spiritual life admits of growth, and that believers should be continually
urged on every account to grow in grace – all this I fully
concede. But the theory of a sudden, mysterious transition of a
believer into a state of blessedness and entire consecration,
at one mighty bound, I cannot receive. It appears to me to be a
man-made invention; and I do not see a single plain text to prove
it in Scripture. Gradual growth in grace, growth in knowledge, growth
in faith, growth in love, growth in holiness, growth in humility,
growth in spiritual-mindedness – all this I see clearly taught
and urged in Scripture, and clearly exemplified in the lives of
many of God's saints. But sudden, instantaneous leaps from conversion
to consecration I fail to see in the Bible. I doubt, indeed,
whether we have any warrant for saying that a man can possibly be
converted without being consecrated to God! More
consecrated he doubtless can be, and will be as his grace increases;
but if he was not consecrated to God in the very day that he was
converted and born again, I do not know what conversion means. Are
not men in danger of undervaluing and underrating the immense blessedness
of conversion? Are they not, when they urge on believers the "higher
life" as a second conversion, underrating the length, and breadth,
and depth, and height, of that great first change which Scripture
calls the new birth, the new creation, the spiritual resurrection?
I may be mistaken. But I have sometimes thought, while reading the
strong language used by many about "consecration," in
the last few years, that those who use it must have had previously
a singularly low and inadequate view of "conversion,"
if indeed they knew anything about conversion at all. In short,
I have almost suspected that when they were consecrated, they were
in reality converted for the first time!
I frankly confess I prefer
the old paths. I think it wiser and safer to press on all converted
people the possibility of continual growth in grace, and
the absolute necessity of going forward, increasing more and more,
and every year dedicating and consecrating themselves more, in spirit,
soul, and body, to Christ. By all means let us teach that there
is more holiness to be attained, and more of heaven to be enjoyed
upon earth than most believers now experience. But I decline to
tell any converted man that he needs a second conversion,
and that he may some day or other pass by one enormous step into
a state of entire consecration. I decline to teach it,
because I cannot see any warrant for such teaching in Scripture.
I decline to teach it, because I think the tendency of the doctrine
is thoroughly mischievous, depressing the humble-minded and meek,
and puffing up the shallow, the ignorant, and the self-conceited,
to a most dangerous extent.
In the seventh and last place, is it wise to teach believers that
they ought not to think so much of fighting and struggling against
sin, but ought rather to "yield themselves to God,"
and be passive in the hands of Christ? Is this according to the
proportion of God's Word? I doubt it.
It is a simple fact that
the expression "yield yourselves" is only to
be found in one place in the New Testament, as a duty urged upon
believers. That place is in the sixth chapter of Romans, and there
within six verses the expression occurs five times. (See Rom. vi.
13-19.) But even there the word will not bear the sense of "placing
ourselves passively in the hands of another." Any Greek student
can tell us that the sense is rather that of actively "presenting"
ourselves for use, employment, and service. (See Rom. xxii 1.) The
expression therefore stands alone. But, on the other hand, it would
not be difficult to point out at least twenty-five or thirty distinct
passages in the Epistles where believers are plainly taught to use
active personal exertion, and are addressed as responsible for doing
energetically what Christ would have told them do, and are not told
"yield themselves" up as passive agents and sit still,
but to arise and work..
A holy violence, a conflict, a warfare, a fight, a soldier's life, a wrestling, are spoken of
as characteristic of the true Christian. The account of "the
armour of God" in the sixth chapter of Ephesians, one might
think, settles the question. 3
– Again, it would
be easy to show that the doctrine of sanctification without personal
exertion, by simply "yielding ourselves to God," is precisely
the doctrine of the antinomian fanatics in the seventeenth century
(to whom I have referred already, described in Rutherford's Spiritual
Antichrist), and that the tendency of it is evil in the extreme.
– 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. But the plain truth is, that men will persist
in confounding two things that differ – that is, justification
and sanctification. In justification the word to be addressed to
man is believe – only believe; in sanctification the word
must be "watch, pray, and fight." What God has divided
let us not mingle and confuse.
I leave the subject of
my introduction here, and hasten to a conclusion. I confess that
I lay down my pen with feelings of sorrow and anxiety. There is
much in the attitude of professing Christians in this day which
fills me with concern, and makes me full of fear for the future.
There is an amazing ignorance
of Scripture among many, and a consequent want of established, solid
religion. In no other way can I account for the ease with which
people are, like children, "tossed to and fro, and carried
about by every wind of doctrine." (Eph. iv. 14.) There is an
Athenian love of novelty abroad, and a morbid distaste for anything
old and regular, and in the beaten path of our forefathers. Thousands
will crowd to hear a new voice and a new doctrine, without considering
for a moment whether what they hear is true. – There is an
incessant craving after any teaching which is sensational, and exciting,
and rousing to the feelings. There is an unhealthy appetite for
a sort of spasmodic and hysterical Christianity. The religious life
of many is little better than spiritual dram-drinking and the "meek
and quiet spirit" which St. Peter commends is clean forgotten.
(1 Peter iii. 4.) Crowds, and crying, and hot rooms, and high-flown
singing, and an incessant rousing of the emotions, are the only
things which many care for. – Inability to distinguish differences
in doctrine is spreading far and wide, and so long as the preacher
is "clever" and "earnest," hundreds seem to
think it must be all right, and call you dreadfully "narrow
and uncharitable" if you hint that he is unsound! ...
Sanctification is that
inward spiritual work which the Lord Jesus Christ works in a man
by the Holy Ghost, when He calls him to be a true believer. He not
only washes him from his sins in His own blood, but He also separates
him from his natural love of sin and the world, puts a new principle
in his heart, and makes him practically godly in life. The instrument
by which the Spirit effects this work is generally the Word of God,
though He sometimes uses afflictions and providential visitations
"without the Word." (1 Peter iii. 1.) The subject of this
work of Christ by His Spirit is called in Scripture a "sanctified"
He who supposes that
Jesus Christ only lived and died and rose again in order to provide
justification and forgiveness of sins for His people, has yet much
to learn. Whether he knows it or not, he is dishonoring our blessed
Lord, and making Him only a half Saviour. The Lord Jesus has undertaken
everything that His people's souls require; not only to deliver
them from the guilt of their sins by His atoning death, but from
the dominion of their sins, by placing in their hearts
the Holy Spirit; not only to justify them, but also to sanctify
them. He is, thus, not only their "righteousness," but
their "sanctification." (1.Cor. i. 30.)...
then, is the invariable result of that vital union with Christ
which true faith gives to a Christian. – “He that abideth
in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit." (John
xv. 5.) The branch which bears no fruit is no living branch of the
vine. The union with Christ which produces no effect on heart and
life is a mere formal union, which is worthless before God....
again, is the outcome and inseparable consequence of regeneration.
He that is born again and made a new creature, receives a new nature
and a new principle, and always lives a new life. A regeneration
which a man can have, and yet live carelessly in sin or worldliness,
is a regeneration invented by uninspired theologians, but never
mentioned in Scripture....
again, is the only certain evidence of that indwelling of the
Holy Spirit which is essential to salvation. "If any man
have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." (Rom. viii.
9.) The Spirit never lies dormant and idle within the soul: He always
makes His presence known by the fruit He causes to be borne in heart,
character, and life....
again, is the only sure mark of God's election. . . . elect
men and women may be known and distinguished by holy lives. It is
expressly written that they are "elect through sanctification."…
again, is a thing that will always be seen. Like the Great
Head of the Church, from whom it springs, it "cannot be hid."
"Every tree is known by his own fruit." (Luke vi. 44.)
A truly sanctified person may be so clothed with humility, that
he can see in himself nothing but infirmity and defects. Like Moses,
when he came down from the Mount, he may not be conscious that his
face shines. Like the righteous, in the mighty parable of the sheep
and the goats, he may not see that he has done anything worthy of
his Master's notice and commendation: "When saw we Thee an
hungered, and fed Thee?" (Matt. xxv. 37.) But whether he sees
it himself or not, others will always see in him a tone, and taste,
and character, and habit of life unlike that of other men. The very
idea of a man being "sanctified," while no holiness can
be seen in his life, is flat nonsense and a misuse of words....
again, is a thing for which every believer is responsible. .
again, is a thing which admits of growth and degrees...
again, is a thing which depends greatly on a diligent use of
Scriptural means. When I speak of "means," I have
in view Bible reading, private prayer, regular attendance on public
worship, regular hearing of God's Word, and regular reception of
the Lord's Supper. I lay it down as a simple matter of fact, that
no one who is careless about such things must ever expect to make
much progress in sanctification....
Sanctification, again, is a thing which does not prevent a man
having a great deal of inward spiritual conflict. By conflict
I mean a struggle within the heart between the old nature and the
new, the flesh and the spirit, which are to be found together in
every believer. (Gal. v. 17.) A deep sense of that struggle, and
a vast amount of mental discomfort from it, are no proof that a
man is not sanctified. Nay, rather, I believe they are healthy symptoms
of our condition, and prove that we are not dead, but alive. A true
Christian is one who has not only peace of conscience, but war within.
He may be known by his warfare as well as by his peace....
again, is a thing which cannot justify a man, and yet it pleases
God. This may seem wonderful, and yet it is true. The holiest
actions of the holiest saint that ever lived are all more or less
full of defects and imperfections. They are either wrong in their
motive or defective in their performance, and in themselves are
nothing better than "splendid sins," deserving God's wrath
and condemnation. To suppose that such actions can stand the severity
of God's judgment, atone for sin, and merit heaven, is simply absurd.
"By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified."—"We
conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the
law." (Rom. iii. 20-28.) The only righteousness in which we
can appear before God is the righteousness of another – even
the perfect righteousness of our Substitute and Representative,
Jesus Christ the Lord. His work, and not our work, is our only title
to heaven. This is a truth which we should be ready to die to maintain.
– For all this, however, the Bible distinctly teaches that
the holy actions of a sanctified man, although imperfect, are pleasing
in the sight of God. "With such sacrifices God is well pleased."
(Heb. xiii. 16.) "Obey your parents, for this is well pleasing
to the Lord." (Col. iii. 20.) "We do those things that
are pleasing in His sight." (1 John iii. 22.) Let this never
be forgotten, for it is a very comfortable doctrine. Just as a parent
is pleased with the efforts of his little child to please him, though
it be only by picking a daisy or walking across a room, so is our
Father in heaven pleased with the poor performances of His believing
Sanctification, again, is a thing which will be found absolutely
necessary as a witness to our character in the great day of judgment.
It will be utterly useless to plead that we believed in Christ,
unless our faith has had some sanctifying effect, and been seen
in our lives. Evidence, evidence, evidence, will be the one thing
wanted when the great white throne is set, when the books are opened,
when the graves give up their tenants, when the dead are arraigned
before the bar of God.... He that supposes works are of no importance,
because they cannot justify us, is a very ignorant Christian. Unless
he opens his eyes, he will find to his cost that if he comes to
the bar of God without some evidence of grace, he had better never
have been born.
in the last place, is absolutely necessary, in order to train
and prepare us for heaven. Most men hope to go to heaven when
they die; but few, it may be feared, take the trouble to consider
whether they would enjoy heaven if they got there. Heaven is essentially
a holy place; its inhabitants are all holy; its occupations are
all holy. To be really happy in heaven, it is clear and plain that
we must be somewhat trained and made ready for heaven while we are
on earth. The notion of a purgatory after death, which shall turn
sinners into saints, is a lying invention of man, and is nowhere
taught in the Bible. We must be saints before we die, if we are
to be saints afterwards in glory....
Evidence of Sanctification
True sanctification then does not consist in talk about religion....
True sanctification does not consist in temporary religious
feelings. This again is a point about which a warning is greatly
needed. Mission services and revival meetings are attracting great
attention in every part of the land, and producing a great sensation....
Many, it may be feared, appear moved and touched and roused under
the preaching of the Gospel, while in reality their hearts are not
changed at all. A kind of animal excitement from the contagion of
seeing others weeping, rejoicing, or affected, is the true account
of their case. Their wounds are only skin deep, and the peace they
profess to feel is skin deep also. Like the stony ground hearers,
they "receive the Word with joy" (Matt. xiii. 20); but
after a little they fall away, go back to the world, and are harder
and worse than before. Like Jonah's gourd, they come up suddenly
in a night and perish in a night.... I declare I know no state of
soul more dangerous than to imagine we are born again and sanctified
by the Holy Ghost, because we have picked up a few religious feelings.
sanctification does not consist in outward formalism and
does not consist in retirement from our place in life,
and the renunciation of our social duties....
Sanctification does not consist in the occasional performance
of right actions....
Genuine sanctification will show itself in habitual respect
to God's law, and habitual effort to live in obedience to it
as the rule of life. There is no greater mistake than to suppose
that a Christian has nothing to do with the law and the Ten Commandments,
because he cannot be justified by keeping them. The same Holy Ghost
who convinces the believer of sin by the law, and leads him to Christ
for justification, will always lead him to a spiritual use of the
law, as a friendly guide, in the pursuit of sanctification. Our
Lord Jesus Christ never made light of the Ten Commandments; on the
contrary, in His first public discourse, the Sermon on the Mount,
He expounded them, and showed the searching nature of their requirements.
St. Paul never made light of the law; on the contrary, he says,
"The law is good, if a man use it lawfully."—"I delight
in the law of God after the inward man." (1 Tim. i. 8; Rom.
vii. 22.) He that pretends to be a saint, while he sneers at the
Ten Commandments, and thinks nothing of lying, hypocrisy, swindling,
ill-temper, slander, drunkenness, and breach of the seventh commandment,
is under a fearful delusion. He will find it hard to prove that
he is a “saint" in the last day!
Genuine sanctification will show itself in an habitual endeavor
to do Christ's will, and to live by His practical precepts.
These precepts are to be found scattered everywhere throughout the
four Gospels, and especially in the Sermon on the Mount. He that
supposes they were spoken without the intention of promoting holiness,
and that a Christian need not attend to them in his daily life,
is really little better than a lunatic, and at any rate is a grossly
ignorant person. To hear some men talk, and read some men's writings,
one might imagine that our blessed Lord, when He was on earth, never
taught anything but doctrine, and left practical duties to be taught
by others! The slightest knowledge of the four Gospels ought to
tell us that this is a complete mistake. What His disciples ought
to be and to do is continually brought forward in our Lord's teaching.
A truly sanctified man will never forget this. He serves a Master
who said, "Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command
you." (John xv. 14.)
Genuine sanctification will show itself in an habitual desire
to live up to the standard which St. Paul sets before the Churches
in his writings. That standard is to be found in the closing
chapters of nearly all his Epistles. The common idea of many persons
that St. Paul's writings are full of nothing but doctrinal statements
and controversial subjects – justification, election, predestination,
prophecy, and the like – is an entire delusion, and a melancholy
proof of the ignorance of Scripture which prevails in these latter
days. I defy anyone to read St. Paul's writings carefully without
finding in them a large quantity of plain, practical directions
about the Christian's duty in every relation of life, and about
our daily habits, temper, and behavior to one another. These directions
were written down by inspiration of God for the perpetual guidance
of professing Christians. He who does not attend to them may possibly
pass muster as a member of a church or a chapel, but he certainly
is not what the Bible calls a "sanctified" man.
Genuine sanctification will show itself in habitual attention
to the active graces which our Lord so beautifully exemplified,
and especially to the grace of charity....
Genuine sanctification, in the last place, will show itself in
habitual attention to the passive graces of Christianity. When
I speak of passive graces, I mean those graces which are especially
shown in submission to the will of God, and in bearing and forbearing
towards one another.... People who are habitually giving way to
peevish and cross tempers in daily life, and are constantly sharp
with their tongues, and disagreeable to all around them –
spiteful people, vindictive people, revengeful people, malicious
people – of whom, alas, the world is only too full! –
all such know little, as they should know, about sanctification....
Let us feel convinced,
whatever others may say, that holiness is happiness, and that the
man who gets through life most comfortably is the sanctified
man. No doubt there are some true Christians who from ill-health,
or family trials, or other secret causes, enjoy little sensible
comfort, and go mourning all their days on the way to heaven. But
these are exceptional cases. As a general rule, in the long run
of life, it will be found true that "sanctified" people
are the happiest people on earth. They have solid comforts
which the world can neither give nor take away. "The ways of
wisdom are ways of pleasantness."—"Great peace have they
that love Thy law." – It was said by One who cannot lie,
"My yoke is easy, and my burden is light." – But
it is also written, "There is no peace unto the wicked."
(Prov. iii. 17; Ps. cxix. 165; Matt. xi. 30; Is. xlviii. 22.)
The subject of sanctification is of such deep importance, and the
mistakes made about it so many and great, that I make no apology
for strongly recommending "Owen on the Holy Spirit" to
all who want to study more thoroughly the whole doctrine of sanctification.
No single paper like this can embrace it all.
I am quite aware that Owen's writings are not fashionable in the
present day, and that many think fit to neglect and sneer at him
as a Puritan! Yet the great divine who in Commonwealth times was
Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, does not deserve to be treated in
this way. He had more learning and sound knowledge of Scripture
in his little finger than many who depreciate him have in their
whole bodies. I assert unhesitatingly that the man who wants to
study experimental theology will find no books equal to those of
Owen and some of his contemporaries, for complete, Scriptural, and
exhaustive treatment of the subjects they handle.
Excerpts quoted from J.C. Ryle, Holiness (London: James Clarke&
Co., 1956), pp. viii-xvii, 16-33.
a double justification by God: the one authoritative, the other
declarative or demonstrative.—The first is St. Paul's scope, when
he speaks of justification by faith without the deeds of the law.
The second is St. James' scope, when he speaks of justification
by works."—T. Goodwin on Gospel Holiness. Works, Vol.
vii, p. 181.
2 Those who care to go into the subject will find it
fully discussed in the Commentaries of Willet, Elton, Chalmers,
and Haldane, and in Owen on Indwelling Sin, and in the work of Stafford
on the Seventh of Romans.
3 Old Sibbe's Sermon on "Victorious Violence"
deserves the attention of all who have his works. —Vol. vii, P, 30.
4 "There is mention in the Scripture of a twofold
sanctification, and consequently of a twofold holiness. The first
is common unto persons and things, consisting of the peculiar dedication,
consecration, or separation of them unto he service of God, by His
own appointment, whereby they become holy. Thus the priests and
Levites of old, the ark, the altar, the tabernacle, and the temple,
were sanctified and made holy; and, indeed, in all holiness whatever,
there is a peculiar dedication and separation unto God. But in the
sense mentioned, this was solitary and alone. No more belonged unto
it but this sacred separation, nor was there any other effect of
this sanctification. But, secondly, there is another kind of sanctification
and holiness, wherein this separation to God is not the first thing
done or intended, but a consequence and effect thereof. This is
real and internal, by the communicating of a principle of holiness
unto our natures, attended with its exercise in acts and duties
of holy obedience unto God. This is that which we inquire after."—John
Owen on the Holy Spirit. Vol. iii, p. 370, Works, Goold's