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Book Review: Holiness

Holiness - By: J.C. Ryle John Piper has said on occasion that one should not come to the Lord in prayer with a cold heart. He encourages those who struggle with prayer and the warm-hearted prayer to find a writer who warms the heart and read them for 5 or 10 minutes, and when the fire has been kindled, pray. I would say, I have found the writer who warms my heart: J. C. Ryle. I have read other works by Ryle and have always come away amazed at the beauty and truth in his writing. Holiness, I would think the most well-known of his books, is no less beautiful and truthful. Yet there is so much in this one book, that reading it once will not do.

First published in 1877, and reprinted by The Banner of Truth Trust in 2016, Holiness reads as if Ryle were living today. For instance, “We have too often been content with zeal for orthodoxy, and have neglected the sober realities of daily practical godliness,” (p. 17). We live in a day where the church is fighting for the right beliefs but not so much for right living. Apparently seeking to be a Christian separate from the Church has been an issue for some time. In his chapter, headed “The Church Which Christ Builds,” the good bishop wrote, “Outside of the church which is ‘built on the rock’ there can be NO SALVATION,” (p. 290).

By far, my most favorite chapter within the book is the one speaking to “Assurance.” In proving his point about how one can be a Christian by faith and yet not have assurance of their salvation, Ryle wrote:

Faith is life. How great the blessing! Who can describe or realize the gulf between life and death? ‘A living dog is better than a dead lion’ (Eccles. 9:4). And yet life may be weak, sickly, unhealthy, painful, trying, anxious, weary, burdensome, joyless, smileless to the very end. Assurance is more than life. It is health, strength, power, vigour, activity, energy, manliness, beauty, (p. 148).

This was the only chapter where he put extensive notes at the end, my guess is that it may be because in its 1877 printing there were only 7 chapters and “Assurance” was the last chapter in the original. I actually enjoyed the notes more than the chapter itself, but the chapter was the highlight of my reading.

This book is just under 450 pages long. If you’re not a “big” book reader, don’t sweat it. Take your time. This is not a book to fly through and especially not to skim. As indicated, this is one of those books that you may read for 5 or 10 minutes before prayer time to warm the heart toward God.

Originally printed with 7 chapters, it now has 21 chapters. Every single chapter is worth the read. I cannot think of another book (outside of the Bible) that is so desperately needed today than Holiness by J. C. Ryle. I give it 5 stars; if I could, I’d give it 6 for good measure. If you’re like me, you’ll want the hardback edition, which you can get from Amazon for $27.73 with Prime shipping. However, if you like Kindle you can get it for $.99! You can also get it from Christian Book Distributors for $26.99 not including shipping. However, you get a copy be sure to get one and read it, slowly and thoughtfully. You may not agree with everything in this, but I promise you, you’ll be all the better for reading it.

Thomas Brooks on the Assurance of Faith

After many months, I am still making my way through J. C. Ryle’s Holiness. It is not that it is not a good book; it is an excellent book. It is simply that I come back to it as a way of refreshing my soul when it grows heavy. That being said. . . in one of the chapters, the one on Assurance, I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I thought I would. However, when I got to the end of the chapter, Ryle included notes from other theologians, authors, and pastors. As I read those, I realized all that Ryle was seeking to say, but in my opinion did not say it as well as these other men. One of my favorites in the notes was Thomas Brooks. Here is what he wrote:

A man may have true grace that hath not the assurance of the love and favour of God, or the remission of his sins, and salvation of his soul. A man may be God’s, and yet he not know it; his estate may be good, and yet he not see it; he may be in a safe condition, when he is not in a comfortable position. All may be well with him in the court of glory, when he would give a thousand worlds that all were but well in the court of conscience.

Assurance is requisite to the well-being of a Christian, but not to the being; it is requisite to the consolation of a Christian, but not to the salvation of a Christian; it is requisite to the well-being of grace, but not to the mere being of grace. Though a man cannot be saved without faith, yet he may be saved without assurance. God hath in many places of the Scripture declared that without faith there is no salvation; but God hath not in any one place of Scripture declared that without assurance there is no salvation.

This was quoted in Holiness, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016, p. 172-173) from Thomas Brooks’ Heaven on Earth.

For those who struggle with assurance, I hope Brooks’ words are of some comfort. It is faith, however small it may be, however weak it may seem, that saves. It is not large faith nor strong faith that saves. It is simply faith without qualifiers. Assurance is, in one sense, a luxury that many do not receive. At the same time, it is a luxury that some may have no business of owning, as they have assurance without the faith which is far, far deadlier and detrimental.