Tag Archives: J. C. Ryle

Look at My Muscles, Dad

When my children were younger, they would suddenly get it into their heads to start exercising. They’d do some jumping jacks and some push-ups, taking all of five minutes. After they were done, they would flex their biceps and say something to the effect of, “Look at my muscles, Dad. See how strong I’m getting? I’ve been working out.” Not wanting to crush their spirits, I would praise their efforts, after all I remember doing the same thing when I was younger. Not surprisingly, it would be weeks (or even months) before they would work out again. This is how Christians, including me, act towards growing in our strength. A little Bible reading here; a little Bible reading there. A prayer today; another next week. The difference is that many times, we don’t become giddy with accomplishments like a young child after doing push-ups. We lament that we are not growing in faith and strength.

Paul wrote to Timothy that he was to “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7, ESV). The word for “train” is where we get the word “gymnasium.” It has reference to training or to exercising. Training might work, but exercising is not helpful in our culture since many exercise like my children and I used to do. The best word is perhaps “discipline.” My godliness is linked to my discipline—my buckling down and getting to business, consistently and intentionally. If I were to consistently and intentionally do all the disciplines that Don Whitney wrote about (Bible reading, study, meditation, and memorization, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving others, stewardship of money and time, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning on my own) there is no telling what type of man I’d become! Two things are for sure: I would be a very busy man and I would be so busy, I wouldn’t have time to get ensnared by sin. That isn’t to say that I would never sin, but that being captured by it would be nearly impossible. Holiness, or as Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:7: godliness, would be a near given state of being.

In some ways, I wish Dr. Whitney’s book was introduced by the concluding chapter, but then again, it probably would not have had the impact that it does as a conclusion. In that chapter, he articulated what discipline really was: “But even though disciplining yourself is sometimes difficult and involves struggle, self-discipline is not self-punishment. It is instead an attempt to do what, prompted by the Spirit, you actually want in your heart to do.”[1] This will probably be the point that I am going to take with me. I’m not seeking to make my life drudgery by disciplining myself; I’m seeking to give my life godliness. That’s what I really want. It is easy to forget the reason for doing anything, especially the things that go against the flesh. The flesh has a way of fogging up the mind. Whitney reminds the reader that the heart (not the stony heart, but the born again, heart of flesh) wants godliness and holiness. It is a struggle, but it is one worth fighting.

In my bullet-journal, I have a habit tracker in which I record whether or not I did a certain habit (good or bad). My goal is to actually add a Spiritual Discipline’s tracker which would include all of the disciplines Dr. Whitney wrote about. I was planning on having it done by August, but as the saying goes: “No time like the present.” As J. C. Ryle wrote, “Tomorrow is the devil’s day.” Thus, I will be sure to finish my Spiritual Discipline’s tracker today, and begin today with disciplining myself unto godliness. May God allow me to supplement my faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge and knowledge with self-control and self-control with steadfastness and steadfastness with godliness and godliness with brotherly affection and brotherly affection with love (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-7).

[1] Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, (Downers Grove, IL: 1992), 244.

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.