This summer our staff will be reading JC Ryle’s book, Holiness. The original book, written in 1877, had 7 chapters. Ryle would update the text in 1879 adding an additional 13 chapters to the volume. I chose this text as our summer reading project for several reasons, not the least of which is that Ryle remains one of my favorite Anglican bishops and writers. Here are a few more reasons for my choice:
First, having read Sibbes (Bruised Reed) and Augustine (Treatise on Grace and Free Will) the two previous years, Ryle, standing in the same stream, brings us close to our own century. and, while he wrote in and used the language of the Victorian era the challenges he faced are strikingly similar to those we face.
Second, Ryle was a clear, strong and discursive thinker who emphasized his points by cumulative effect. Often, today, Ryle is excerpted. I think it helpful to read him in context and in whole to feel the effect of his intellect and communucative skills.
Third, in this volume Ryle lays out afresh, biblically, systematically, and in practical terms, the true fundamentals of scriptural holiness.
Fourth, much of what Ryle has to say with regard to the interior aspects of personal holiness is of perennial importance and is uniformly relevant to Christian living here and now; challenging our own shallowness and superficialities.
We would love to have you read along with us this summer and I’d welcome your comments and questions. I will post on my blog every Monday a link to the section of text we will be discussing. This week, we look at chapter 7, “Assurance.” Following is a snip:
Assurance, such as Paul expresses in the verses which head this paper, is not a mere fancy or feeling. It is not the result of high animal spirits, or a sanguine temperament of body. It is a positive gift of the Holy Ghost, bestowed without reference to men’s bodily frames or constitutions, and a gift which every believer in Christ ought to aim at and seek after.
In matters like these, the first question is this—What saith the Scripture? I answer that question without the least hesitation. The Word of God appears to me to teach distinctly that a believer may arrive at an assured confidence with regard to his own salvation.
I lay it down fully and broadly, as God’s truth, that a true Christian, a converted man, may reach such a comfortable degree of faith in Christ, that in general he shall feel entirely confident as to the pardon and safety of his soul—shall seldom be troubled with doubts—seldom be distracted with fears—seldom be distressed by anxious questionings—and, in short, though vexed by many an inward conflict with sin, shall look forward to death without trembling, and to judgment without dismay. This, I say, is the doctrine of the Bible.
Such is my account of assurance. I will ask my readers to mark it well. I say neither less nor more than I have here laid down.
Now such a statement as this is often disputed and denied. Many cannot see the truth of it at all.
The Church of Rome denounces assurance in the most unmeasured terms. The Council of Trent declares roundly that a “believer’s assurance of the pardon of his sins is a vain and ungodly confidence;” and Cardinal Bellarmine, the well-known champion of Romanism, calls it “a prime error of heretics.”
The vast majority of the worldly and thoughtless Christians among ourselves oppose the doctrine of assurance. It offends and annoys them to hear of it. They do not like others to feel comfortable and sure, because they never feel so themselves. Ask them whether their sins are forgiven, and they will probably tell you they do not know! That they cannot receive the doctrine of assurance is certainly no marvel.
But there are also some true believers who reject assurance, or shrink from it as a doctrine fraught with danger. They consider it borders on presumption. They seem to think it a proper humility never to feel sure, never to be confident, and to live in a certain degree of doubt and suspense about their souls. This is to be regretted, and does much harm.
I frankly allow there are some presumptuous persons who profess to feel a confidence for which they have no Scriptural warrant. There are always some people who think well of themselves when 104God thinks ill, just as there are some who think ill of themselves when God thinks well. There always will be such. There never yet was a Scriptural truth without abuses and counterfeits. God’s election—man’s impotence—salvation by grace—all are alike abused. There will be fanatics and enthusiasts as long as the world stands. But, for all this, assurance is a reality and a true thing; and God’s children must not let themselves be driven from the use of a truth, merely because it is abused.
My answer to all who deny the existence of real, well-grounded assurance, is simply this—What saith the Scripture? If assurance be not there, I have not another word to say.