Sunday, November 18, 2012

Book Review: Practical Religion

Practical Religion. J.C. Ryle. 1878. 336 pages.

In July, I reviewed J.C. Ryle's Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots. It was a wonderful book and an introduction to a great writer. Though his books were published over a hundred years ago, his messages to believers still hold true for they are solidly based on the Bible. (Granted, I'm not so sure his warnings to his readers to avoid attending balls and to avoid card parties are equally relevant. But the general principle to be careful with your time and to give God your best still remains just as true.)

Practical Religion challenges readers to see if they are in the faith, to see if they are truly in God's family, if they've made a genuine connection with the Savior. There are chapters on what it means to be a Christian, how a Christian acts and behaves, what a Christian life looks like day by day, week by week, etc. There are chapters on prayer, on Bible reading, on church attendance, on worship, on service to others, on communion. There are chapters on how a Christian is supposed to live in the world. And there are chapters on heaven.

The chapters include:

  • Self-inquiry
  • Self-exertion
  • Reality
  • A Call to Prayer
  • Bible Reading
  • The Lord's Supper
  • Christian Love
  • Zeal
  • Freedom
  • Happiness
  • Formal Religion
  • The World
  • Riches and Poverty
  • The Best Friend
  • Sickness
  • The Family of God
  • Our Home
  • Heirs of God
  • The Great Gathering
  • The Great Separation
  • Eternity

If you are interested in reading any particular chapter, you can find the book online.

Favorite quotes from the first five chapters:

From "Self-Inquiry,"
They know that there is no forgiveness of sin excepting in Christ Jesus. They can tell you that there is no Savior for sinners, no Redeemer, no Mediator, excepting Him who was born of the Virgin Mary, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, dead, and buried. But here they stop, and get no further! They never come to the point of actually laying hold of Christ by faith, and becoming one with Christ and Christ in them. They can say, He is a Savior — but not my Savior; a Redeemer — but not my Redeemer; a Priest — but not my Priest; an Advocate — but not my Advocate: and so they live and die unforgiven! No wonder that Martin Luther said, "Many are lost because they cannot use possessive pronouns."    
Sense of sin and deep hatred of it, faith in Christ and love to Him, delight in holiness and longing after more of it,  love for God's people, and distaste for the things of the world — these, these are the signs and evidences which always accompany conversion.
Let it be distinctly understood that union with Christ is one thing — and communion is another thing. There can be no communion with the Lord Jesus without union first; but unhappily there may be union with the Lord Jesus, and afterwards little or no communion at all. The difference between the two things is not the difference between two distinct steps — but the higher and lower ends of an inclined plane.
Union is the common privilege of all who feel their sins, and truly repent, and come to Christ by faith, and are accepted, forgiven, and justified in Him. Too many believers, it may be feared, never get beyond this stage!
Partly from ignorance, partly from laziness, partly from the fear of man, partly from secret love of the world, partly from some unmortified besetting sin — they are content with a little faith, and a little hope, and a little peace, and a little measure of holiness. And they live on all their lives in this condition — doubting, weak, hesitant, and bearing fruit only "thirty-fold" to the very end of their days!
Communion with Christ is the privilege of those who are continually striving to grow in grace, and faith, and knowledge, and conformity to the mind of Christ in all things — who "forget what is behind," and "do not consider themselves yet to have taken hold of it — but "press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14)
Union is the bud — but communion is the flower.
Union is the baby — but communion is the strong man.
Expect little from self — but much from Christ. Look more to Jesus — and less to self.
From, "Self-Exertion"
There is a gate which leads to pardon, peace with God, and Heaven. Whoever goes in by that gate, shall be saved. Never, surely, was a gate more needed. Sin is a vast mountain between man and God. How shall a man climb over it? Sin is a high wall between man and God. How shall man get through it? Sin is a deep gulf between man and God. How shall man cross over it? God is in Heaven — holy, pure, spiritual, undefiled, light without any darkness at all — a Being who cannot bear that which is evil, or look upon iniquity. Man is a poor fallen worm, crawling on earth for a few years — sinful, corrupt, erring, defective — a being whose imagination is only evil, and whose heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. How shall man and God be brought together? How shall man ever draw near to his Maker without fear and shame? Blessed be God, there is a way! There is a road. There is a path. There is a door. It is the gate spoken of in the words of Christ, "the narrow gate."

This gate was made for sinners by the Lord Jesus Christ. From all eternity He covenanted and engaged that He would make it. In the fullness of time He came into the world and made it, by His own atoning death on the cross. By that death He made satisfaction for man's sin, paid man's debt to God, and bore man's punishment. He built a great gate at the cost of His own body and blood. He reared a ladder on earth whose top reached to Heaven. He made a door by which the chief of sinners may enter into the holy presence of God, and not be afraid. He opened a road by which the vilest of men, believing in Him, may draw near to God and have peace. He cries to us, "I am the door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved." (John 10:9.) "I am the way: no man comes unto the Father but by Me." (John 14:6.) "By Him," says Paul, "we have boldness and access with confidence." (Ephesians 3:12.) Thus was the gate of salvation formed.

This gate is called the narrow gate, and it is not called so without cause. It is always narrow, and difficult to pass through to some people, and it will be so as long as the world stands. It is narrow to all who love sin — and are determined not to part with it. It is narrow to all who set their affection on this world — and seek first its pleasures and rewards. It is narrow to all who dislike trouble — and are unwilling to take pains and make sacrifices for their souls. It is narrow to all who like company — and want to keep in with the crowd. It is narrow to all who are self-righteous — and think they are good people, and deserve to be saved. To all such, the great gate which Christ made, is narrow and strait. In vain they seek to pass through. The gate will not admit them. God is not unwilling to receive them; their sins are not too many to be forgiven: but they are not willing to be saved in God's way.
It is no mark of a healthy state of soul, when there is much complaining and little praise. It is an amazing mercy that there is any gate of salvation at all; but it is a still greater mercy when we are taught to enter in by it and be saved.
What shall I say of those who seldom or never read the Bible? There are thousands of people, I fear, who answer this description. They know the Book by name; they know it is commonly regarded as the only Book which teaches us how to live and how to die — but they can never find time for reading it! Newspapers, reviews, novels, romances, they can read — but not the Bible! And is this "striving" to enter in? I speak to men of common sense. Let them judge what I say.

What shall I say of those who never pray? There are multitudes, I firmly believe, in this condition. Without God they rise in the morning, and without God they lie down at night. They ask nothing; they confess nothing; they return thanks for nothing; they seek nothing. They are all dying creatures — and yet they are not even on speaking terms with their Maker and their Judge! And is this striving"? I speak to men of common sense. Let them judge what I say.
Do not suppose that it needs some great scarlet sin to bring you to the pit of eternal destruction! You have only to sit still and do nothing — and you will find yourself there at last.
Whatever you do for God — do it with all your heart and mind and strength. In other things be moderate — and dread running into extremes. In soul matters fear moderation just as you would fear the plague! Care not what men think of you. Let it be enough for you that your Master says, "STRIVE!"
The cross is only for a little season — the crown is forever!
From, "Reality"
Never be content to wear a cloak of religion. Be all that you profess. Though you may err — be real. Though you may stumble — be true. Keep this principle continually before your eyes, and it will be well with your soul throughout your journey from grace to glory.
From "A Call to Prayer"
Just as it is with the mind and body, so it is with the soul. There are certain things absolutely needful to the soul's health and well-being. Each must attend to these things for themselves. Each must repent for themselves. Each must apply to Christ for themselves. And for themselves — each must speak to God and pray. You must do it for yourself, for by nobody else it can be done. To be prayerless is to be without God, without Christ, without grace, without hope, and without Heaven. It is to be in the road to Hell. Now can you wonder that I ask the question, DO YOU PRAY?
Choose your own hours and seasons. At the very least, speak with God in the morning — before you speak with the world: and speak with God at night — after you are done with the world. But settle it in your minds, that praying is one of the great things of every day. Do not drive it into a corner. Do not give it the scraps and parings of your duty. Whatever else you make a business of — make a business of prayer.
How can we expect to be saved by an "unknown" God? And how can we know God without prayer? We know nothing of men and women in this world, unless we speak with them. We cannot know God in Christ, unless we speak to Him in prayer. If we wish to be with Him in heaven, we must be His friends on earth. If we wish to be His friends on earth, we must pray. Yes, we must pray on earth, or we shall never praise in heaven. We must go through the school of prayer, or we shall never be fit for the holiday of praise.
Praying and sinning will never live together in the same heart. Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer. 
There is everything on God's part to make prayer easy if people will only attempt it. All things are ready on his side. Every objection is anticipated. Every difficulty is provided for. The crooked places are made straight and the rough places made smooth. There is no excuse left for the prayerless person.

There is a way by which any person, however sinful and unworthy, may draw near to God the Father. Jesus Christ has opened that way by the sacrifice he made for us upon the cross. The holiness and justice of God need not frighten sinners and keep them back. Only let them cry to God in the name of Jesus, and they shall find God upon the throne of grace, willing and ready to hear. The name of Jesus is a never-failing passport for our prayers. In that name, a person may draw near to God with boldness, and ask with confidence. God has engaged to hear him. Think of this. Is this not an encouragement?

There is an Advocate and Intercessor always waiting to present the prayers of those who come to God through him. That advocate is Jesus Christ. He mingles our prayers with the incense of his own almighty intercession. So mingled, they go up as a sweet savor before the throne of God. Poor as they are in themselves, they are mighty and powerful in the hand of our High Priest and Elder Brother. The bank-note without a signature at the bottom is nothing but a worthless piece of paper. The stroke of a pen confers on it all its value. The prayer of a poor child of Adam is a feeble thing in itself — but once endorsed by the hand of the Lord Jesus, it avails much. There was an officer in the city of Rome who appointed to have his doors always open, in order to receive any Roman citizen who applied to him for help. Just so the ear of the Lord Jesus is ever open to the cry of all who need mercy and grace. It is his office to help them. Their prayer is his delight! Think of this. Is this not and encouragement?

There is the Holy Spirit ever ready to help our infirmities in prayer. It is one part of his special office is assist us in our endeavors to speak to God. We need not be cast down and distressed by the fear of not knowing what to say. The Spirit will give us words, if we seek his aid. The prayers of the Lord's people are the inspiration of the Lord's Spirit, the work of the Holy Spirit who dwells within them as the Spirit of grace and supplication. Surely the Lord's people may well hope to be heard. It is not merely those who pray — but the Holy Spirit pleading in them. Think of this. Is not this an encouragement?

There are exceeding great and precious promises to those who pray. What did the Lord Jesus mean when he spoke such words as these: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened unto you: for every one who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened." Matthew 7:7,8. "All things whatever you shall ask in prayer believing — you shall receive ." Matthew 12:22. "Whatever you shall ask in my name — that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you shall ask anything in my name — I will do it." John 14:13,14.

What did the Lord mean when he spoke the parables of The friend at midnight and The importunate widow? Luke 11:5, 18:1. Think over these passages. If this is not an encouragement to pray, words have no meaning.
Prayer can lighten crosses for us, however heavy. It can bring down to our side One who will help us to bear them. Prayer can open a door for us when our way seems hedged up. It can bring down One who will say, "This is the way — walk in it." Prayer can let in a ray of hope when all our earthly prospects seem darkened. It can bring down One who will say, "I will never leave you, nor ever forsake you." Prayer can obtain relief for us when those we love most are taken away, and the world feels empty. It can bring down One who can fill the gap in our hearts with himself, and say to the angry waves within, "Peace, be still!" Oh that people were not so like Hagar in the wilderness, blind to the well of living waters close beside them.
There is a friend ever waiting to help us, if we will unbosom to him our sorrow — a friend who pitied the poor and sick and sorrowful, when he was upon earth — a friend who knows the heart of man, for he lived thirty-three years as a man among us — a friend who can weep with the weepers, for he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief — a friend who is able to help us, for there never was an earthly pain which he could not cure. That friend is Jesus Christ. The way to be happy — is to be always opening our hearts to him.
From "Bible-Reading"
All other books in the world, however good and useful in their way, are more or less defective. The more you look at them--the more you see their defects and blemishes. The Bible alone is absolutely perfect. From beginning to end, it is "the Word of God."
A man may get to Heaven without money, without learning, without health, or without friends--but without Bible knowledge he will never get there at all.
How glorious and soul-satisfying is the description it gives us of God's plan of salvation, and the way by which our sins can be forgiven! The coming into the world of Jesus Christ, the God-man, to save sinners--the atonement He has made by suffering in our stead, the just for the unjust--the complete payment He has made for our sins by His own blood--the justification of every sinner who simply believes on Jesus--the readiness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to receive, pardon, and save to the uttermost--how unspeakably grand and cheering are all these truths! We would know nothing of them without the Bible.
How comforting is the account it gives us of the great Mediator of the New Testament--the God-man Christ Jesus! Four times over His picture is graciously drawn before our eyes. Four separate witnesses tell us of . . .His miracles and His ministry, His sayings and His doings, His life and His death, His power and His love, His kindness and His patience, His ways, His words, His works, His thoughts, His heart!  Blessed be God, there is one thing in the Bible which the most prejudiced reader can hardly fail to understand--and that is the character of Jesus Christ!
How blessed are the hopes which the Bible holds out to the believer in Christ Jesus! Peace in the hour of death, rest and happiness on the other side of the grave, a glorious body in the morning of the resurrection, a full and triumphant acquittal in the day of judgment, an everlasting reward in the kingdom of Christ, a joyful meeting with the Lord's people in the day of gathering together. These, these are the future prospects of every true Christian. They are all written in the book--in the book which is all true!
The Bible is "able to make a man wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 3:15.) It alone can show you the way which leads to Heaven, teach you everything you need to know, point out everything you need to believe, and explain everything you need to do. It alone can show you what you are--a sinner, what God is--perfectly holy, the great giver of pardon, peace, and grace--Jesus Christ.
The Bible applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit, is the grand instrument by which souls are first converted to God.
The Bible applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit, is the chief means by which men are built up and established in the faith, after their conversion. It is able to cleanse them, to sanctify them, to instruct them in righteousness, and to thoroughly furnish them for all good works. (Psalm 119:9; John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17.) The Spirit ordinarily does these things by the written Word; sometimes by the Word read, and sometimes by the Word preached--but seldom, if ever, without the Word. The Bible can show a believer how to walk in this world so as to please God. It can teach him how to glorify Christ in all the relations of life--and can make him a good master, servant, subject, husband, father, or son. It can enable him to bear afflictions and privations without murmuring, and say, "It is well." It can enable him to look down into the grave, and say, "I fear no evil." (Psalm 23:4.) It can enable him to think on judgment and eternity, and not feel afraid. It can enable him to bear persecution without flinching, and to give up liberty and life rather than deny Christ's truth.
Is he drowsy in soul? The Bible can awaken him.
Is he mourning? The Bible can comfort him.
Is he erring? The Bible can restore him.
Is he weak? The Bible can make him strong.
Is he in company? The Bible can keep him from evil.
Is he alone? The Bible can talk with him. (Proverbs 6:22.)
All this the Bible can do for all believers--for the least as well as the greatest--for the richest as well as the poorest. It has done it for thousands already--and is doing it for thousands every day!
The man who has the Bible, and the Holy Spirit in his heart--has everything which is absolutely needful to make him spiritually wise and mature.
A man must make the Bible alone his rule. He must receive nothing, and believe nothing, which is not according to the Word. He must try all religious teaching by one simple test--Does it square with the Bible? What says the Scripture?
Tell me what the Bible is to a man--and I will generally tell you what he is. This is the spiritual pulse--if we would know the state of the heart. I have no notion of the Spirit dwelling in a man and not giving clear evidence of His presence. And I believe it to be a signal evidence of the Spirit's presence--when the Word is really precious to a man's soul.
The health of a man's soul may be known by his treatment of the Bible.

The way to do a thing--is to do it; and the way to read the Bible--is actually to read it! It is not merely meaning, or wishing, or resolving, or intending, or thinking about it--which will advance you one step. You must positively read.
Settle it down in your mind as a general principle, that a Bible not understood--is a Bible that does no good! Say to yourself often as you read, "What is this all about?" Dig for the meaning like a man digging for gold.
Open your heart--as you open God's book, and say, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!" Resolve to believe implicitly whatever you find there, however much it may run counter to your own desires and prejudices. Resolve to receive heartily every statement of truth--whether you like it or not. Beware of that miserable habit into which some readers of the Bible fall--they receive some doctrines because they like them; and they reject others because they are condemning to themselves, or to some relation, or friend. At this rate, the Bible is useless! Are we to be judges of what ought to be in God's Word? Do we know better than God? Settle it down in your mind--that you will receive all and believe all, and that what you cannot understand--you will take on trust. Remember, when you pray--that you are speaking to God, and God hears you. But, remember, when you read Scripture--that God is speaking to you, and you are not to "dictate," but to listen!
Give your Bible the best, and not the worst part of your time! But whatever plan you pursue, let it be a rule of your life to visit the throne of grace and God's Word every day.
A religion of deep Bible knowledge, is a firm and lasting possession! It enables a man not merely to say," I feel hope in Christ,"--but "I know whom I have believed." (2 Timothy 1:12.)
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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