J.C Ryle

B. Childress
Apr 10 2009 08:00 AM

      "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:"

                                                                         Hebrews 12:14

Are we holy?  Shall we see the Lord?  That question can never be out of season.  The wise man tells us, "There is a
time to weep, and a time to laugh - a time to keep silence, and a time to speak" (Ecclesiastes 3:4,7); but there is no
time, no, not a day, in which a man ought not to be holy.  Are we?

That questions concerns all ranks and conditions of men.  Some are rich and some are poor - some learned and some
unlearned - some masters, and some servants; but there is no rank or condition in life in which a man out not to be
holy.  Are we?

How stands the account between our souls and God?  In this hurrying, bustling world, let us stand still for a few minutes
and consider the matter of holiness.

I (John AC. Ryle) shall endeavor, by God's help, to examine what true holiness is, and the reason why it is so needful.  
In conclusion, I shall try to point out the only way in which holiness can be attained.

I.  First, then, let me (John C. Ryle) try to show what true practical holiness is - what sort of persons
are those whom God calls holy

A man may go great lengths, and yet never reach true holiness.  It is not knowledge - Balaam had; nor great profession
- Judas Iscariot had that; nor doing many things - Herod had that; nor zeal for certain matters in religion - Jehu had that;
nor morality and outward respectability of conduct - the young ruler had that; nor taking pleasure in hearing preachers -
the Jews in Ezekiel's time had that; nor keeping company with godly people - Joab and Gehazi and Demas had that.  Yet
none of these were holy!  These thing alone are not holiness.  A man may have any one of them, and yet never see the

What then is true practical holiness?  Let me try to draw a picture of holiness, that we may see it clearly before the eyes
of our minds.

    (a)  Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, according as we find his mind described in
    Scripture.  It is the habit of agreeing in God's judgment - hating what he hates - loving what he loves - and
    measuring everything in this world by the standard of his Word.  He who most entirely agrees with God, he is the
    most holy man.

    (b)  A holy man will endeavor to shun every known sin, and to keep every known commandment.  He will
    have a decided bent of mind toward God, a hearty desire to do his will - a greater fear of displeasing him than of
    displeasing the world, and a love to all his way.  He will feel what Paul felt when he said, "I delight in the law of
    God after the inward man" (Romans 7:22), and what David felt when he said, "I esteem all they precepts
    concerning all things to be right, and I hate every false way" (Psalms 119:128).

    (c)  A holy man will strive to be like our Lord Jesus Christ.  He will not only live the life of faith in him, and draw
    from him all his daily peace and strength, but he will also labor to have the mind that was in him, and to be
    "conformed to his image" (Romans 8:29).  It will be his aim to bear with and forgive others, even as Christ forgave
    us - to be unselfish, even as Christ pleased not himself - to walk in love, even as Christ loved us - to be lowly
    minded and humble, even as Christ made himself of no reputation and humbled himself.  He will remember that
    Christ was a faithful witness for the truth - that he came not to do his own will - that it was his meat and drink to do
    his Father's will - that he was meek and patient under undeserved insults - that he thought more of godly poor
    men than of kings - that he was full of love and compassion to sinners - that he was bold and uncompromising in
    denouncing sin - that he sought not the praise of men, when he might have had it - that he went about doing
    good - that he was separate from worldly people - that he sought not the praise of men, when he might have had
    it - that he continued instant in prayer - that he would not let even his nearest relations stand in his way when
    God's work was to be done.  These things a holy man will try to remember.  By them he will endeavor to shape his
    course in life.  He will lay to heart the saying of John, "He that saith he abideth in Christ ought himself also so to
    walk, even as he walked" (i John 2:6); and the saying of Peter, that "Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example
    that ye should follow his steps" (I Peter 2:21).  Happy is he who has learned to make Christ his "all," both for
    salvation and example!  Much time would be saved, and much sin prevented, if men would often ask themselves
    the question, "What would Christ have said and done, if he were in my place?

    (d)  A holy man will follow after meekness, longsuffering, gentleness, patience, kind tempers, government of
    his tongue.  He will bear much, forbear much, overlook much, and be slow to talk of standing on his rights.  We
    see a bright example of this in the behavior of David when Shimei cursed him - and of Moses when Aaron and
    Miriam spoke against him (II Samuel 16:10; Numbers 12:3).

    (e)  A holy man will follow after temperance and self-denial.  He will labor to mortify the desires of his body - to
    crucify his flesh with his affections and lusts - to curb his passions - to restrain his carnal inclinations, lest at any
    time they break loose.  Oh, what a word is that of the Lord Jesus to the apostles, "Take heed to yourselves, lest
    at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and cares of this life (Luke 21:34); and
    that of the Apostle Paul, "I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means when I have
    preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (I Corinthians 9:27).

    (f)  A holy man will follow after charity and brotherly kindness.  He will endeavor to observe the golden rule of
    doing as he would have men do to him, and speaking as he would have men speak to him.  He will be full of
    affection toward his brethren - toward their bodies, their property, their characters, their feelings, their souls.  "He
    that loveth another," says Paul, "hath fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8).  He will abhor all lying, slandering,
    backbiting, cheating, dishonesty, and unfair dealing, even in the least things.  The shekel and cubit of the
    sanctuary were larger than those in common use.  He will strive to adorn his religion by all his outward demeanor,
    and to make it lovely and beautiful in the eyes of all around him.  Alas, what condemning words are the thirteenth
    chapter of I Corinthians, and the Sermon on the Mount, when laid alongside the conduct of many professing

    (g)  A holy man will follow after a spirit of mercy and benevolence toward others.  He will not stand al the day
    idle.  He will not be content with doing no harm - he will try to do good.  He will strive to be useful in his day and
    generation, and to lessen the spiritual wants and misery around him, as far as he can.  Such was Dorcas, full of
    good works and almsdeeds, which she did" - not merely purposed and talked about, but did.  Such a one was
    Paul:  "I will very gladly spend and be spent for you," he says, "though the more abundantly I love you the less I
    be love "  (Acts 9:36; II Corinthians 12:15).

    (h)  A holy man will follow after purity of heart.  He will dread all filthiness and uncleanness of spirit, and seek to
    avoid all things that might draw him into it.  He know his own heart is like tinder, and will diligently keep clear of the
    sparks of temptation.  Who shall dare to talk of strength when David can fall?  There is many a hint to be gleaned
    from the ceremonial law.  Under it the man who only touched a bone, or a dead body, or a grave, or a diseased
    person, became at once unclean in the sight of God.  And these things were emblems and figures.  Few
    Christians are ever too watchful and too particular about this point.

    (i)  A holy man will follow after the fear of God.  I do not mean the fear of a slave, who only works because he is
    afraid of punishment, and would be idle if he did not dread discovery.  I mean rather the fear of a child, who
    wishes to live and move as if he was always before his father's face, because he loves him.  What a noble
    example Nehemiah gives us of this!  When he became governor at Jerusalem, he might have been chargeable to
    the Jews and required of them money for his support. The former governors had done so.  There was none to
    blame him if he did.  But he says, "So did not I, because of the fear of God" (Nehemiah 5:15).

    (j)  A holy man will follow after humility.  He will desire, in lowliness of mind, to esteem all others better than
    himself.  He will see more evil in his own heart than in any other in the world.  He will understand something of
    Abraham's feeling, when he says, "I am dust and ashes"; and Jacob's, when he says, "I am less than the least of
    all thy mercies"; and Job's, when he says, "I am vile"; and Paul's, when he says, "I am chief of sinners."  

    (k)  A holy man will follow after faithfulness in all the duties and relations in life.  He will try, not merely to fill
    his place as well as others who take no thought for their souls, but even better, because he has higher motives,
    and more help than they.  Those words of Paul should never be forgotten, "Whatever ye do, do it heartily, as
    unto the Lord."  "Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord" (Colossians 3:23; Romans 12:11).  
    Holy persons should aim at doing everything well, and should be ashamed of allowing themselves to do anything
    ill if they can help it.  Like Daniel, they should seek to give no "occasion" against themselves, except  "concerning
    the law of their God" (Daniel 6:5).  They should strive to be good husbands and good wives, good parents and
    good children, good masters and good servants, good neighbors, good friends, good subjects, good in private
    and good in public, good in the place of business and good by their firesides.  Holiness is worth little indeed, if it
    does not bear this kind of fruit.  The Lord Jesus puts a searching question to his people, when he says, "What do
    ye more than others?"  (Matthew 5:47).

    (l)  Last, but not least, a holy man will follow after spiritual mindedness.  He will endeavor to set his affections
    entirely on things above, and to hold  things on earth with a very loose hand.  He will not neglect the business of
    the life that now is; but the first place in his mind and thoughts will be given to the life to come.  He will aim to live
    like one whose treasure is in heaven, and to pass through this world like a stranger and pilgrim traveling to his
    home.  To commune with God in prayer, in the Bible, and in the assembly of his people - these things will be the
    holy man's chiefest enjoyments.  He will value every things and place and company, just in proportion as it draws
    him nearer to God.  He will enter into something of David's feeling, when he says, "My soul followeth hard after
    thee." "Thou art my portion" (Psalms 63:8; 119.57).

Such is the outline of holiness which I (John C. Ryle)  venture to sketch out.  Such is the character which those who are
called "holy" follow after.  Such are the main features of a holy man.

We should not think for one moment that holiness shuts out the presence of indwelling sin.  No, far from it.  It is the
greatest misery of a holy man that he carries about with him a  "body of death"; that often when he would do good "evil
is present with him"; that the old man is clogging all his movements, and, as it were, trying to draw him back at every
step he takes (Romans 7:21).  But it is the excellence of a holy man that he is not at peace with indwelling sin, as others
are.  He hates it, mourns over it, and longs to be free from its company.  The work of sanctification within him is like the
wall of Jerusalem - the building goes forward "even in troublous times" (Daniel 9:25).

Neither does holiness comes to ripeness and perfection all at once, or that these graces I have touched on must be
found in full bloom and vigor before you can call a man holy.  No, far from it. Sanctification is always a
.  Some men's graces are in the blade, some in the ear, and some are like full corn in the ear.  All must have a
beginning.  We must never despise "the day of small things."  And sanctification in the very best is an
imperfect work.  
The history of the brightest saints that ever lived will contain many a "but," and "howbeit," and "notwithstanding," before
you reach the end.  The gold will never be without some dross - the light will never shine without some clouds, until we
reach the heavenly Jerusalem.  The sun himself has spots upon his face.  The holiest men have many a blemish and
defect when weighted in the balance of the sanctuary.  Their life is a continual warfare with sin, the world, and the devil;
and sometimes you will see them not overcoming, but overcome.  The flesh is ever lusting against the spirit, and the
spirit against the flesh, and "in many things they offend all" (Galatians 5:17; James 3:2).

But still, for all this, I am sure that to have such a character as I have faintly drawn, is the heart's desire and prayer of all
true Christians.  They press toward it, if they do not reach it.  They may not attain to it, but they always aim at it.  It is
what they strive and labor to be, if it is not what they are.

True holiness is a great
reality.  It is something in a man that can be seen, and known, and marked, and felt by all
around him.  It is light: if it exists, it will show itself.  It is salt: if it exists, its savor will be perceived.  It is a precious
ointment: if it exists, its presence cannot be hid.

We should all be ready to make allowance for much backsliding, for much occasional deadness in professing Christians.
We all know a road may lead from one point to another, and yet have many a winding and turn; and a man may be truly
holy, and yet be drawn aside by many an infirmity.  Gold is not the less gold because mingled with alloy, nor light the
less light because faint and dim, nor grace the less grace because young and weak.  But after every allowance, I cannot
see how any man deserves to be called "holy," who willfully allows himself in sins, and is not humbled and ashamed
because of them.  I (John C. Ryle) dare not call anyone "holy" who makes a habit of willfully neglecting know duties, and
willfully doing what he know God has commanded him not to do.  

Such are the leading characteristics of practical holiness.  Let us examine ourselves and see whether we are
acquainted with it.  Let us prove our own selves.

II.  Let me (John C. Ryle)  try, in the next place, to show some reasons why practical holiness is so

Can holiness save us?  Can holiness put away sin - cover iniquities - make satisfaction for transgressions - pay our
debt to God?  No: not a whit.  God forbid that I should every say so.  Holiness can do none of these things.  The
brightest saints are all "unprofitable servants."  Our purest works are no better than filthy rags, when tried by the light of
God's holy law.  The white robe which Jesus offers, and faith puts on, must be our only righteousness - the name of
Christ our only confidence - the Lamb's Book of Life our only title to heaven.  With all our holiness we are no better than
sinners.  Our best things are stained and tainted with imperfection.  They are all more or less incomplete, wrong in the
motive or defective in the performance.  By the deeds of the law shall not child of Adam ever be justified.  "By grace are
ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast"
(Ephesians 2:8-9).

Why then is holiness so important?  Why does the apostle say, "Without it no man shall see the Lord"?  Let me (John C.
Ryle)  state a few reasons why this is so.

    (a)  For one thing, we must be holy, because the voice of God in Scripture plainly commands it.  The Lord Jesus
    says to his people, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye
    shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20).  "Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is
    in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).  Paul tells the Thessalonians, "This is the will of God, even your
    sanctification" (I Thessalonians 4:3).  And Peter says, "As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all
    manner of conversation; because it is written, 'Be ye holy, for I am holy'" (I Peter 1:15-16).  In this, law and gospel

    (b)  We must be holy, because this is one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world.  Paul
    writes to the Corinthians, "He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto
    him which died for them and rose again" (II Corinthians 5:15).  And to the Ephesians, "Christ love the church, and
    gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it" (Ephesians 5:25-26).  And to Titus, "He gave himself for
    us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works"
    (Titus 2:14).  In short, to talk of men being saved from the guilt of sin, without being at the same time saved from
    its dominion in their hearts, is to contradict the witness of all Scripture.  Are believers said to be elect? - it is
    "through sanctification of the Spirit."  Are they predestinated? - it is "to be conformed to the image of God's son."  
    Are they chosen? - it is "that they may be holy."  Are they called? - is it "with a holy calling."  Are they afflicted - it
    is that they may be "partakers of holiness."  Jesus is a complete Savior.  He does not merely take away the guilt
    of a believer's sin, he does more - he breaks its power (I Peter 1:2; Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:4; II Timothy 1:9;
    Hebrews 12:10).

    (c)  We must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we have a saving faith in our Lord Jesus
    Christ.  James warns us there is such a ting as a dead faith - a faith which goes no further than the profession of
    the lips, and has no influence on a man's character (James 2:17).  True saving faith is a very different king of
    thing.  True faith will always show itself by its fruits - it will sanctify, it will work by love, it will overcome the world, it
    will purify the heart.  I know that people are fond of talking about death-bed evidences.  They will rest on words
    spoken in the ours of fear, and pain, and weakness, as if they might take comfort in them about the friends they
    lose.  But I am afraid in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, such evidences are not to be depended on.  I  
    suspect that,  with rare exceptions, men die just as they have lived.  The only safe evidence that we are one with
    Christ, and Christ in us, is holy life.  They that live unto the Lord are generally the only people who die in the
    Lord.  If we would die the death of the righteous, let us not rest in slothful desires only; let us seek to live his life.  

    (d)  We must be holy, because this is the only proof that we love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.  This is a point
    on which he has spoken most plainly, in the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters of John.  "If ye love me, keep my
    commandments."  He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth,"  If a man love me, he
    will keep my words."  "Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you"  (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:14).  
    Plainer words than these it would be difficult to find, and woe to those who neglect them.  Surely that man must be
    in an unhealthy state of soul who can think of all the Jesus suffered, and yet cling to those sins for which that
    suffering was undergone.  It was sin that wove the crown of thorns - it was sin that pierced our Lord's hands, and
    fee, and side - it sin that brought him to Gethsemane and Calvary, to the cross and to the grave.  Cold must be
    hearts be if we do not hate sin and labor to get rid of it, though we may have to cut off the right hand and pluck
    out the right eye in doing it.

    (e)  We must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we are true children of God.  Children in this
    world are generally like their parents.  Some, doubtless, are more so, and some less - but it is seldom indeed that
    you cannot trace a kind of family likeness.  And it is much the same with the children of God.  The Lord Jesus
    says, "If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham." "If God were your Father, ye would love
    me" (John 8:39, 42).  If men have no likeness to the Father in heaven, it is vain to talk of their being his "sons."  If
    we know nothing of holiness we may flatter ourselves as we please, but we have not got the Holy Spirit dwelling in
    us: we are dead, and must be brought to life again - we are lost, and must be found.  "As many as are led by the
    Spirit of God, they," and they only, "are the sons of God" (Romans 8:14).  We must show by our lives the family
    we belong to. We must let men see by our good conversation that we are indeed the children of the Holy One, or
    our sonship is but an empty name.

    (f)  We must be holy, because this is the most likely way to do good to others.   We cannot live to ourselves only
    in this world.  Our lives will always be doing either good or harm to those who see them.  They are a silent sermon
    which all can read.  It is sad indeed when they are a sermon for the devil's cause, and not for God's.  I believe
    that far more is done for Christ's kingdom by the holy living of believers than we are at all aware of.  There is a
    reality about such living which makes men feel, and obliges them to think.  It carries a weight and influence with it
    which nothing else can give.  It makes religion beautiful, and draws men to consider it, like a lighthouse seen afar
    off.  The day of judgment will prove that many besides husbands have been won "without the word" by a holy life
    (I Peter 3:1).   You may talk to persons about the doctrines of the Gospels, and few will listen, and still fewer
    understand.  But your life is an argument that non can escape.  There is a meaning about holiness which not
    even the most unlearned can help taking in.  They may not understand justification, but they can understand
    charity.  I believe there is far more harm done by unholy and inconsistent Christians than we are aware of.  Such
    men are among Satan's best allies.  They pull down by their lives what ministers build with their lips.  They cause
    the chariot wheels of the gospel to drive heavily.  They supply the children of this world with a never-ending
    excuse for remaining as they are.  "I cannot see the use of so much religion," said an irreligious tradesman not
    long ago: "I observe that some of my customers are always talking about the gospel, and faith, and election, and
    the blessed promises, and so forth; and yet these very people think nothing of cheating me of pence and half-
    pence, when they have an opportunity.  Now, if religious persons can do such things, I do not see what good
    there is in religion."  I (John C. Ryle) grieve to be obliged to write such things, but I fear that Christ's name is too
    often blasphemed because of the lives of Christians.  Let us take heed lest the blood of souls should be required
    at our hands.  From murder of souls by inconsistency and loose walking.  

    (g)  We must be holy, because our present comfort depends much upon it.  We cannot be too often reminded of
    this.  We are sadly apt to forget that there is a close connection between sin and sorrow, holiness and happiness,
    sanctification and consolation.  God has so wisely ordered it, that our well-being and our well-doing are linked
    together.  He has mercifully provided  that even in this world it shall be man's interest to be holy.  Our justification
    is not by works - our calling and election are not according to our works - but it is vain for anyone to suppose that
    he will have a lively sense of his justification, or an assurance of his calling, so long as he neglects good works, or
    does not strive to live a holy life.  "Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments."  "Hereby
    we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts" (I John 2:3; 3:19).  A believer may as soon expect
    to feel the sun's rays upon a dark and cloudy day, as to feel strong consolation in Christ while he does not follow
    him fully.  When the disciples forsook the Lord and fled, they escaped danger, but they were miserable and sad.  
    When, shortly after, they confessed him boldly before men, they were cast into prison and beaten; but we are told
    "They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name"  (Acts 5:41).  He that follows Jesus
    most fully will always follow him most comfortably.  

    (h)  Lastly, we must be holy, because without holiness on earth we shall never be prepared to enjoy heaven.  
    Heaven is a holy place.  The Lord of heaven is a holy Being.  The angels are holy creatures.  Holiness is written
    on everything in heaven.  The book of Revelation says expressly, "There shall in no wise enter into it anything
    that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie"  (Revelation 21:27).

How shall we ever be at home and happy in heaven, if we die unholy?  Death works no change.  The grave makes no
alteration.  Each will rise again with the same character in which he breathed his last.  Where will our place be if we are
strangers to holiness now?

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
down?  Their pleasures are not your pleasures, their tastes not your tastes, their character not your character.  How
could you possibly be happy, if you had not been holy on earth?

Now perhaps you love the company of the light and the 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 perhaps you think the saints of God too strict and particular, and serious.  You rather avoid them.  You have no
delight in their society.  There will be no other company in heaven.

Now perhaps you think praying, and Scripture reading, and hymn singing, dull and melancholy, and stupid work - a
thing to be tolerated now and then, but not enjoyed.  You reckon the Sabbath a burden and a weariness;  you could not
possibly spend more than a small part of it in worshipping God.  But remember, heaven is a never-ending Sabbath.  
The inhabitants thereof rest not day or night, saying, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty" and singing the praise of the
Lamb.  How could an unholy man find pleasure in occupation such as this?

Think you that such a one would delight to meet David, and Paul, and John, after a life spent in doing the very things
they spoke against?  Would he take sweet counsel with them, and find that he and they had much in common?  Think
you, above all, that he would rejoice to meet Jesus, the Crucified One, face to face, after cleaving to the sins for which
he died, after loving his enemies and despising  his friends?  Would he stand before him with confidence, and join in the
cry.  "This is our God;  we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation"? (Isaiah 25:9).  Think you not
rather that the tongue of an unholy man would cleave to the roof of his mouth with shame, and his only desire would be
to be cast out!  He would feel a stranger in a land he knew not, a black sheep amidst Christ's holy flock.  The voice of
cherubim and seraphim, 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.

Heaven would be a miserable place to an unholy man.  It cannot be otherwise.  People may say, in a vague way "they
hope to go to heaven"; but they do not consider what they say.  There must be a certain "meetness for the inheritance
of the saints in light."  Our hearts must be somewhat in tune.  To reach the holiday of glory, we must pass through the
training school of grace.  We must be heavenly minded, and have heavenly tastes, in the life that now is, or else we
shall never find ourselves in heaven, in the life to come.


Holiness, by J.C. Ryle, Copyright 2007, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.