Leading Features of Evangelical Religion (J.C. Ryle)

I’ve shared these with a couple of groups in the last month and have received a number of comments about them. J.C. Ryle included them in his book Knots Untied. I have said before that I love J.C. Ryle. He is easily one of my favorite writers (preachers). This is an excellent list of important doctrines. One might argue for other doctrines to be included (e.g., the sovereignty of God), but the list is what it is, and it is a good emphasis on these doctrines.

“Has evangelical religion any distinctive principles? I answer, it as. Are they worth contending for? I answer, they are. To the question ‘what Evangelical religion is? The simplest answer I can give is to point out what appear to be its leading features. These I consider to be five in number.

    a) The first leading feature of Evangelical Religion is the absolute supremacy it assigns to Holy Scripture, as the only rule of faith and practice … Show us anything plainly written in that Book, and, however trying to flesh and blood, we will receive it, believe it, and submit to it. Show us anything, as religion, which is contrary to that Book, and, however specious, plausible, beautiful, and apparently desirable, we will not have it at any price … Here is rock: all else is sand.

    b) The second leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the depth and prominence it assigns to the doctrine of human sinfulness and corruption … All men … are not only in a miserable, pitiable, and bankrupt condition, but in a state of guilt, imminent danger, and condemnation before God. They are not only at enmity with their Maker and have no title to heaven, but they have no will to serve their Maker, no love to their Maker, and no meetness for Heaven … Hence we protest with all our heart against formalism, sacramentalism, and every species of mere external or vicarious Christianity. We maintain that all such religion is founded on an inadequate view of man’s spiritual need. It requires nothing less than the blood of God the Son applied to the conscience, and the grace of God the Holy Ghost entirely renewing the heart … Next to the Bible, as its foundation, it [i.e. evangelical religion] is based on a clear view of original sin.

    c) The third leading feature of Evangelical Religion is the paramount importance it attaches to the work and office of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the nature of the salvation which he has wrought out for man … All who believe on Him are, even while they live, completely forgiven and justified from all things – are reckoned completely righteous before God … We hold that an experimental [i.e. experiential] knowledge of Christ crucified and interceding, is the very essence of Christianity, and that in teaching men the Christian religion we can never dwell too much on Christ himself, and can never speak too strongly of the fullness, freeness, presentness, and simplicity of the salvation there is in him for every one that believes … We say that life eternal is to know Christ, believe in Christ, abide in Christ, have daily heart communion with Christ, by simple personal faith, and that everything in religion is useful so far as it helps forward that life of faith, but no further.

    d) The fourth leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the high place which it assigns to the inward work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of man … We maintain that the things which need most to be pressed on men’s attention are those mighty works of the Holy Spirit, inward repentance, inward faith, inward hope, inward hatred of sin, and inward love to God’s law … We hold that, as an inward work of the Holy Ghost is a necessary thing to man’s salvation, so also it is a thing that must be inwardly felt … there can be n o real conversion to God, no new creation in Christ, no new birth of the Spirit, where there is nothing felt and experienced within … We insist that where there is nothing felt within the heart of a man, there is nothing really possessed.

 e) The fifth and last leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the importance which it attaches to the outward and visible work of the Holy Ghost in the life of man … The true grace of God is a thing that will always make itself manifest in the conduct, behaviour, tastes, ways, choices and habits of him who has it. It is not a dormant thing … To tell a man he is “born of God,” or regenerated, while he is living in carelessness or sin, is a dangerous delusion … Where there is the grace of the Spirit there will always be more or less fruit of the Spirit … where there is nothing seen, there is nothing possessed.”

“Let’s Talk”

  I wholeheartedly agree with the desire in this video to talk about other options than abortion for those who are unmarried and have an unplanned pregnancy. I would also agree that the problem is in the church. God’s people can easily reflect the world and its choices rather than the Biblical ideals. The overwhelmingly more significant point I gained from the statistics in the video, however, is the underlying reality that it is “evangelicals” and/or “Christians” who are admitting to the sin of fornication. Why isn’t that addressed in the video or another one? Why is the NAE seemingly being mute about that point?

While we certainly acknowledge the value and importance of life for children who are conceived illegitimately, we ought also to value the eternal life of those who commit such sin. The Bible calls illicit sexual activity among unmarried individuals “fornication,” and it says that those who live such a lifestyle will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). For those who do not repent and live such a lifestyle, the Scriptures give no confidence that they truly belong to the household of faith. For someone who calls him/herself and evangelical, such sin calls into question their profession of Jesus as Lord.

The recent pamphlet called the “Theology of Sex” produced by the National Association of Evangelicals (found on the same website–www.naegeneration.com) does not once mention the word “fornication,” in spite of the fact that it claims to be a “robust” statement on the subject of a Biblical view of sex. While it speaks of sin as rebellion and disobedience, it highlights the nature of sin as “brokenness.” Not once does it mention the serious consequences for those who live a lifestyle of fornication. Perhaps the NAE should consider amplifying their concern about the equally serious matter of fornication among those who call themselves Christians, a problem that strikes at the very heart of what an evangelical claims to be.

“Boys and Girls Playing” by J.C. Ryle

John Charles Ryle

I recently came across a work by J.C. Ryle titled Boys and Girls Playing and other addresses to children, and my family enjoyed reading through the first sermon together. Ryle’s exposition was based upon Zechariah 8:5, and of note was his simple but profound statement:  “Boys and girls, remember this first great lesson. God takes notice of you. Mind that you take notice of God.” I am always looking for good resources to use in family devotions along with the Bible, and I am thankful to have found another good source directed to children of a younger age. Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels was explicitly written to aid families with family devotional material, and we have profited from them as well in the past.

I have been a fan of J.C. Ryle ever since I read his little booklet about the Word of God called “How Readest Thou?” J.I. Packer has a helpful brief biography combined with Ryle’s well-known work Holiness. The full title is Faithfulness and Holiness:  The Witness of J.C. Ryle. The best biography I know of about Ryle is titled That Man of Granite with the Heart of a Child by Eric Russell. It is a must read for those interested in the life of this godly expositor. He describes Ryle’s wealthy upbringing, his conversion, his university years, the financial collapse of his father’s business, and his places and years of ministry.

Ryle has been called the “great tractarian” because of the number of tracts (short sermon-like works) he wrote in his career. Sometimes he would take messages he had preached in written form to people who did not attend his services! Quite a few of Ryle’s tracts and other writings are available for free on the internet. Many of his works can be found for free on Google Books, and his works are frequently reprinted. Links to Ryle’s works can be found at http://jcrylequotes.com/.

The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth

A Thought for the New Year:

“Christians should not always remain babes, but should grow in Christian knowledge; and leaving the food of babes, they should learn to digest strong meat.” Jonathan Edwards

There is much meat in this sermon, which is titled “The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth.”

Directions for the Acquisition of Christian Knowledge

 1. Be assiduous [constant in application] in reading the Holy Scriptures. This is the fountain whence all knowledge in divinity [theology] must be derived.  Therefore let not this treasure lie by you neglected.

2. Content not yourselves with only a cursory reading, without regarding the sense. This is an ill way of reading, to which, however, many accustom themselves all their days. When you read, observe what you read. Observe how things come in. Take notice of the drift of the discourse, and compare one scripture with another. For the Scripture, by the harmony of its different parts, casts great light upon itself.

3. Procure, and diligently use, other books which may help you to grow in this knowledge.

4. Improve conversation with others to this end.

5. Seek not to grow in knowledge chiefly for the sake of applause, and to enable you to dispute with others, but seek it for the benefit of your souls, and in order to practice.

6. Seek to God, that he would direct you, and bless you, in this pursuit after knowledge.

7. Practice according to what knowledge you have. This will be the way to know more.

The Sin of Strife and Contention

“Contention is directly against that which is the very sum of all that is essential and distinguishing in true Christianity, even a spirit of love and peace. No wonder, therefore, that Christianity cannot flourish in a time of strife and contention among its professors. No wonder that religion and contention cannot live together.” Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits

Strife is among the sins Paul lists as evidence of a mind disapproved by God and incapable of reasoning according to God’s standards (Romans 1:29). Galatians 5:20 says that those who practice it (i.e., whose life is characterized by it) will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Four Sentries: Verity, Charity, Necessity and Wisdom

David prayed in Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.”

I was reminded recently of this prayer for help in communication. In applying this verse with an analogy, one writer said that the “guard” before our mouth should include four soldiers or sentries. A sentry is “a soldier posted at a given spot to prevent the passage of unauthorized persons” (AHD). These sentries are Verity, Charity, Necessity, and Wisdom. These four should guard our lips, not from what comes in but from what potentially goes out. They keep guard by refusing to let anything out of our mouths that shouldn’t be out.

The first sentry is Verity. He asks, “Is it true?” (Eph 4:15). Is this word that you are about to speak a true word? Does it correspond to reality or is it a lie? If your word is not true, Sentry Verity says, then it may not pass.

The second is Charity, who asks, “Is it loving?” (1 Cor 13; Eph 4:15; Eccl 10:12-14). Is this word that you are about to speak a loving word? It may be true, but if it is not also loving, Sentry Charity says, then it may not pass.

The third is Necessity. He asks, “Is it necessary?” (Prov 10:19; 17:29). Is this word necessary to say? It may be true. It may be loving. But is it necessary to say. Does the person already understand and know all too well what you are thinking about saying. Determining the necessity depends in part upon the recipient of your words. Sometimes repetition aids learning. Sometimes repetition is not necessary. If the word is not necessary, Sentry Necessity says, then it may not pass.

The final sentry is Wisdom. Wisdom asks, “Is this wise to say this now, in this way?  Is it best to come from me?” (Eccl 9:17; James 3:17-18). It may be true, loving and necessary, but it may not be the right time for this word to be said. It may not be the proper occasion for this word to be said. I may not be the proper person to speak this word. If I’m a child, is it my place to say this to my father or mother? If I’m an outsider to this family, would this word be better said by a family member? If the word is not a wise word, Sentry Wisdom says, then it may not pass.

Each thing that I choose to say should, in a sense, meet those sentries prior to coming out of my mouth. One by one, each Sentry should ask his question. If the answer is “no” to any of the questions, the words should be turned back and never be uttered. The sentry refuses the words and keeps them from exiting.

“Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.”

What is “Fellowship”?

As it is used in Christian vernacular, the word “fellowship” often describes a meal shared by the church after a service or simple social activity between Christians. But is “fellowship” mere conversation between Christians regardless of venue or subject of conversation? Is getting together with a group of Christians on a Sunday afternoon to watch a football game “fellowship”? Does it describe getting together with an unbeliever for coffee?

Biblically speaking, the word “fellowship” has a richer and deeper meaning than mere conversation or social activity and the concept is much broader than what takes place in the “fellowship hall” of a church building. The Greek word translated “fellowship” in the New Testament is koinonia. It is related to the word koine, which means “common,” and a study of its usage in the New Testament reveals that it means a “participation” or a “sharing” or an “association.” It refers to what believers have in common with one another. The fellowship between extended to material things like  (Acts 4:32; Romans 15:27), but it also involved spiritual things and personal relationships.

In the Bible, the fellowship is both vertical and horizontal. The Greek word koinonia describes the fellowship that we have with God–Father, Son and Spirit (1 John 1:1-3; 2 Cor 13:14; Phil 2:1). It also describes the relationship we have with “one another” as believers (1 John 1:3). So fellowship is a very personal thing. It involves our relationship with God as well as those who know Him.

The Bible teaches that God the Father initiates fellowship with believers, calling them into fellowship with His Son (1 Corinthians 1:9). As a person exercises faith in the Gospel message, he enters fellowship with God through Jesus Christ and with those who know Him (1 John 1:1-3). Implicit in John’s teaching in 1 John 1 is the thought that there are boundaries to fellowship. Paul is very explicit as he describes the boundaries with five contrasts in 2 Corinthians 6. He commands believers not to be “bound” together with unbelievers. The word he uses is heterozugeo, which means to be “yoked up” or “mismated.” Althought the word never occurs elsewhere in the NT, it is used in the Septuagint of Leviticus 19:19 in a commandment forbidding the cross-breeding of two different kinds of beasts–cattle, donkeys, etc. Paul is obviously speaking on a human level in 2 Corinthians 6, but he is not  forbidding believers to bind themselves to unbelievers in marriage. That is certainly forbidden in Scripture (1 Corinthians 7:39), but here the primary point of the passage is about worship.

It is obvious that this passage is primarily about worship because of Paul’s identification of believers in the context as the temple of God (2 Cor 6:16). Interestingly, Paul says “we are the temple of God.” He is not merely talking about a local church in Corinth (Corinth likely had many congregations), but the universal church. Paul uses the plural “we,” for Paul himself was not a member of a Corinthian assembly. It is also evident from the recipients of the book, for Paul addresses the church of God which is at Corinth, as well as all the saints who are throughout Achaia, which is a region (2 Cor 1:1-2).

Paul commands that believers must not bind ourselves, yoke ourselves up with, partner with, unbelievers from the standpoint of worship. To do so is to mix righteousness with lawlessness, light and darkness, true worship with idolatry, Christ and Belial (the Devil), and belief with unbelief. The church must be separate, and as it is separate, it distinguishes itself in a true family relationship with God. The promises of 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 include God’s reception of us and His fatherhood of us. Without that separation, we call into question our own identity as His children.

Praying for One Another

The following thoughts are from a chapter about a Puritan named Anthony Burgess in Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer by Joel Beeke and Brian Najapfour. There are many helpful points in the chapter, which focuses largely on Burgess’s teaching about Christ’s prayer in John 17. I found the following summary of Burgess’s teaching on praying for one another to be helpful:

“1)  God has made you part of the body of Christ. If a part of your own body is injured, how does it affect you? You should have the same empathy for the body of Christ as for your own body.

2) God instituted prayer as a means to help others. Instead, we are quick to criticize each other. Rather than finding fault, we should pray for fellow believers. That is our duty.

3) Praying for one another will ease differences, jealousies, and suspicions. It will make the godly of one heart and one mind. If you find yourself thinking how poorly a brother has treated you, pray for that man. It will immediately ‘quiet those winds and waves.'”  (Beeke and Najapfour, 103-104)

A Man May Make a Remark

A Man May Make a Remark
by Emily Dickinson

“A Man may make a Remark –
In itself – a quiet thing
That may furnish the Fuse unto a Spark
In dormant nature – lain –

Let us divide – with skill –
Let us discourse – with care –
Powder exists in Charcoal –
Before it exists in Fire -”

My wife recently shared this poem with me recently, and I found it to be a good reminder of the power of words. Proverbs says that death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov 18:21), and James says that the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity (James 3:6). We ought to be careful not to sin with our tongue. Dividing with skill and discoursing with care is certainly important, and disciples of Jesus Christ are obliged to be peacemakers (Matt 5:9).

This is not to say that our remarks should never cause a stir. Words can offend without being sinful. Indeed, telling the sober truth often offends and sparks fuses. Consider the first sermon of the God-Man at Nazareth (Luke 4:16ff.). Jesus’s words ignited the anger of the Jews in the synagogue and they led Him to the brow of the hill to cast him over. What was that word? He claimed that Israel was a hardhearted people that would not listen to the prophets sent to them. While the words of Elijah the prophet were received by a Sidonian widow and a Syrian soldier, they were largely rejected by the ancestors of those in the synagogue. They proved to be the true children of their fathers as they led Jesus to the brow of a hill to cast him over. They would not accept his words.

Another incendiary discourse is Jesus’s claim in John 8. His argument in John 8 centers on the fact that He is the unique Messenger of the Father (OT–Angel of the LORD). Although Jesus describes Himself as “I AM” twice in the chapter without their catching it (8:24, 28), Jesus makes the incendiary claim: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). Jesus’s clear claim to deity ignites the anger of the Jews, who pick up stones to stone him. John 10 tells a similar story.

While I think the poet’s words reflect an important ethic found in Scripture regarding our words, we must not think that a situation where there is no argument and no disagreement is necessarily healthy. Yes, we must take care in discourse. Yes, we must be skillful in dividing. But truth must be set in the sunlight, and if that truth becomes a spark, so be it. Jesus is God in the flesh. May that truth set the world aflame.