The Best Antidote to Bad Theology V: ‘The streams which once were narrow and deep have become shallow and wide’

Posted: March 8, 2012 by boydmonster in Puritan Faith, Reformed Theology, Sanctification
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This is our last installment on J.C. Ryle’s antidotes to bad theology.  In this section Ryle shows how a scriptural view of sin can prove an admirable antidote to the low views of personal holiness, which are so painfully prevalent in these last days of the church.

This is a very painful and delicate subject, I know, but I dare not turn away from it. It has long been my sorrowful conviction that the standard of daily life among professing Christians in this country has been gradually falling. I am afraid that Christ–like charity, kindness, good temper, unselfishness, meekness, gentleness, good nature, self–denial, zeal to do good and separation from the world are far less appreciated than they ought to be and than they used to be in the days of our fathers.

Into the causes of this state of things I cannot pretend to enter fully and can only suggest conjectures for consideration. It may be that a certain profession of religion has become so fashionable and comparatively easy in the present age that the streams which were once narrow and deep have become wide and shallow, and what we have gained in outward show we have lost in quality. It may be that our contemporary affluence and comfortable lifestyles have insensibly introduced a plague of worldliness and self–indulgence and a love of ease. What were once called luxuries are now comforts and necessities, and self–denial and “enduring hardness” are consequently little known. It may be that the enormous amount of controversy which marks this age has insensibly dried up our spiritual life. We have too often been content with zeal for orthodoxy and have neglected the sober realities of daily practical godliness. Be the causes what they may, I must declare my own belief that the result remains. There has been of late years a lower standard of personal holiness among believers than there used to be in the days of our fathers. The whole result is that the Spirit is grieved and the matter calls for much humiliation and searching of heart.
As to the best remedy for the state of things I have mentioned, I will venture to give an opinion. Other schools of thought in the churches must judge for themselves. The cure for evangelical churchmen, I am convinced, is to be found in a clearer apprehension of the nature and sinfulness of sin. We need not go back to Egypt and borrow semi–Roman “Catholic” practices in order to revive our spiritual life. We need not restore the confessional, or return to monasticism or asceticism. Nothing of the kind! We must simply repent and do our first works. We must return to first principles. We must go back to “the old paths.” We must sit down humbly in the presence of God, look the whole subject in the face, examine clearly what the Lord Jesus calls sin, and what the Lord Jesus calls doing His will. We must then try to realize that it is terribly possible to live a careless, easy–going, half–worldly life, and yet at the same time to maintain evangelical principles and call ourselves evangelical people! Once we see that sin is far viler and far nearer to us and sticks more closely to us than we supposed, we will be led, I trust and believe, to get nearer to Christ. Once drawn nearer to Christ, we will drink more deeply out of His fullness and learn more thoroughly to “live the life of faith” in Him, as St. Paul did. Once taught to live the life of faith in Jesus, and abiding in Him, we will bear more fruit, will find ourselves more strong for duty, more patient in trial, more watchful over our poor weak hearts, and more like our Master in all our little daily ways. Just in proportion as we realize how much Christ has done for us, will we labor to do much for Christ. Much forgiven, we will love much. In short, as the apostle says, “With open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image . . . even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).

J.C. Ryle, Holiness, 15-16.

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