Practical Religion

by J.C. Ryle

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As with all Ryle’s works, Practical Religion is clear, concise and penetrating. It was designed to be a companion to his other books, Old Paths, Knots Untied and Holiness, providing guidance on how the Christian believer is to live. In Ryle’s own words, it ‘treats of the daily duties, dangers, experience, and privileges of all who profess and call themselves true Christians.’

Far from advocating a works-based religion, these papers are all about how a Christian can practically respond to the grace that has been freely given to him in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Ryle was a great enemy of hypocritical and nominal religion, or ‘churchianity’ as he called it. These articles remain a great plea for a real, heartfelt devotion to the Lord in love and service, founded on the great doctrines of Scripture.
No Christian who reads any one of these papers will be left unaffected. ‘Believer in Christ, remember this! Whatever you do in religion, do it well. Be real. Be thorough. Be honest. Be true.’

 

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Outline

  • Chapter 1: Self-Inquiry
      • We live in an age of peculiar spiritual privileges
      • We live in an age of peculiar spiritual danger
    • 1) Do we ever think about our souls at all?
    • 2) Do we ever do anything about our souls?
    • 3) Are we trying to satisfy our consciences with a mere formal religion?
    • 4) Have we received the forgiveness of our sins?
    • 5) Do we know anything by experience of conversion to God?
    • 6) Do we know anything of practical Christian holiness?
    • 7) Do we know anything of enjoying the means of grace?
    • 8) Do we ever try to do any good in the world?
    • 9) Do we know anything of living the life of habitual communion with Christ?
    • 10) Do we know anything of being ready for Christ’s coming?
    • Practical application:
      • a) Are you asleep and utterly thoughtless about religion?
      • b) Are you feeling self-condemned, and afraid that there is no hope for your soul?
      • c) Are you a professing believer without much joy and peace and comfort?
      • d) Are you a believer oppressed with doubts and fears, on account of your feebleness, infirmity, and sense of sin?
      • e) Are you sometimes downcast by the trials you meet with in the way to heaven, bodily trials, family trials, trials of circumstances, trials from neighbours, and trials from the world?
  • Chapter 2: Self-Exertion
    • 1. Description: the ‘strait gate’ — the way of salvation
      • This gate was made for sinners by the Lord Jesus Christ
      • This gate is called the strait gate, and it is not called so without cause
      • Strait as this gate is, it is the only one by which men can get to heaven
      • Strait as this gate is, it is a gate ever ready to open
      • Strait as this gate is, it is one through which thousands have go in and been saved
      • Think:
        • Think what a privilege it is to have a gate at all
        • Think what a thankful man you ought to be if you have really gone in at the strait gate
    • 2. Plain command: ‘Strive to enter in’
      • ‘STRIVE’ teaches that a man must use means diligently, if he would have his soul saved
      • ‘STRIVE’ teaches that man is a free agent, and will be dealt with by God as a responsible being
      • ‘STRIVE’ teaches that a man must expect many adversaries and a hard battle, if he would have his soul saved
      • ‘STRIVE’ teaches that it is worthwhile for a man to seek salvation
      • ‘STRIVE’ teaches that laziness in religion is a great sin
      • ‘STRIVE’ teaches that all outside the strait gate are in great danger
      • About those who don’t strive:
        • Those who are irregular about public worship on Sundays
        • Those who come regularly to a place of worship, but come entirely as a matter of form
        • Those who seldom or never read the Bible
        • Those who never pray
    • 3. Awful prophecy: ‘Many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able’
      • A time is coming when seeking God shall be useless
      • A time is coming when many shall be shut out from heaven for ever
      • Knowledge shall come to many too late
      • Repentance shall come to many too late
      • Faith shall come to many too late
      • A desire of salvation shall come to many too late
      • Consider the things we value:
        • What are the dear things now?
        • And what are the cheap things now?
        • A day is coming when the value of everything shall be altered
      • Parting considerations:
        • Have you entered in a the strait gate or not?
        • Enter in without a day’s delay
        • Tell others of the blessings which you have found
  • Chapter 3: Reality
    • 1. Importance of reality in religion
      • 1) The parables spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ
      • 2) The language of our Lord Jesus Christ about the scribes and the Pharisees
      • 3) That there is hardly a grace in the character of a true Christian of which you will not find a counterfeit described in the Word of God
        • Is there not an unreal repentance?
        • Is there not an unreal faith?
        • Is there not an unreal holiness?
        • Is there not an unreal love and charity?
        • Is there not an unreal humility?
        • Is there not an unreal worship?
        • Is there not an unreal talking about religion?
        • How much:
          • How much religion among some members of the Church consists of nothing but Churchmanship/Churchianity
          • How much religion among some Dissenters consists of nothing but dissent
          • How much Ritualistic religion is utterly unreal
          • How much Evangelical religion is completely unreal
          • How much Revivalist religion in the present day is utterly unreal
    • 2. Tests by which we may prove whether our own religion is real
      • 1) Try it by the place which it occupies in your inner man
      • 2) Try it by the feelings towards sin which it produces
      • 3) Try it by the feelings toward Christ which it produces
      • 4) Try it by the fruit it bears in your heart and life
      • 5) Try it by your feelings and habits about means of grace
      • Application
        • An inquiry: Is your own religion real or unreal? genuine or base?
        • A warning: To all who know in their consciences that their religion is not real–remember the greatness of their danger and exceeding guilt
        • Advice: To all who feel pricked in conscience, cease trifling and playing with religion, and become honest followers of the Lord Jesus Christ
        • Encouragement: To all who have manfully taken up the cross, persevere and do not be moved by difficulties and opposition

Preface

  • viii – “After forty years of Bible reading and praying, meditation and theological study, I find myself clinging more tightly than ever to ‘Evangelical’ religion, and more than ever satisfied with it. It wears well: it stands the fire. I know no system of religion which is better. In the faith of it I have lived for the third of a century, and in the faith of it I hope to die.”

Chapter 1: Self-Inquiry

  • p1 – “If ever self-inquiry about religion was needed, it is needed at the present day.”
  • p2 – “Surely I have a right to say that we live in an age of spiritual privileges. But are we any better for it? In an age like this it is well to ask, ‘How do we do about our souls?'”
  • p2 – “Never perhaps since the world began was there such an immense amount of mere outward profession of religion as there is in the present day. A painfully large proportion of all the congregations in the land consists of unconverted people, who know nothing of heart religion, never come to the Lord’s table, and never confess Christ in their daily lives.”
  • p2 – “Myriads of those who are always running after preachers, and crowding to hear special sermons, are nothing better than empty tubs, and tinkling cymbals, without a jot of real vital Christianity at home.”
  • p3 – “The life of many religious professors, I fear, in this age, is nothing better than a continual course of spiritual dram-drinking. The are always morbidly craving fresh excitement; and they seem to care little what it is if they only get it.”
  • p3 – “All preaching seems to come alike to them; and they appear unable to ‘see differences,’ so long as they hear what is clever, have their ears tickled, and sit in a crowd.”
  • p4 – “From the beginning of the year to the end they are absorbed in the pursuit of business, pleasure, politics, money, or self-indulgence of some kind or another. Death, and judgment, and eternity, and heaven, and hell, and a world to come, are never calmly looked at and considered.”
  • p6 – “There is no actual separation from the service of the world and sin, no real taking up the cross and following Christ, no positive doing in their Christianity. Their life is spent in playing the part of the son in our Lord’s parable, to whom the father said, ‘Go, work in my vineyard: and he answered, I go sir, and went not’.”
  • p6 – “In a day like this, when hearing and thinking, without doing, is so common, no one can justly wonder that I press upon men the absolute need of self-examination.”
  • p7 – “Beginning at the wrong end, by making the outward things first, they know nothing of inward joy and peace, and pass their lives in a constant struggle, secretly conscious that there is something wrong, and yet not knowing why.”
  • p7 – “If you love life, do not be content with the husk, and shell, and scaffolding of religion.”
  • p8 – “In short, all of us must confess that we are more or less ‘sinners,’ and, as sinners, are guilty before God; and, as guilty, we must be forgiven, or lost and condemned for ever at the last day.”
  • p8 – “It is a thing which each individual must receive for himself by his own personal faith, lay hold on by faith, appropriate by faith, and make his own by faith; or else, so far as he is concerned, Christ will have died in vain.”
  • p8 – “Jesus is able and willing to save; but man must come to Jesus and believe. All that believe are at once justified and forgiven: but without believing there is no forgiveness at all.”
  • p9 – “‘Many are lost because they cannot use possessive pronouns.'” [Martin Luther]
  • p9 – “We are all by nature so weak, so worldly, so earthly-minded, so inclined to sin, that without a thorough change we cannot serve God in life, and could not enjoy him after death.”
  • p10 – “High or low, rich or poor, gentle or simple, we all need a complete change,–a change which it is the special office of the Holy Ghost to give us.”
  • p10 – “Call it what you please,–new birth, regeneration, renewal, new creation, quickening, repentance,–the thing must be had if we are to be saved: and if we have the thing it will be seen.”
  • p10 – “Sometimes they flatter themselves they are born again, because they have been baptized, and go to church, and receive the Lord’s supper; while they are totally destitute of the marks of the new birth…”
  • p10 – “No doubt there are plenty of sham conversions in such a day of religious excitement as this. But bad coin is no proof that there is no good money: nay, rather it is a sign that there is some money current which is valuable, and is worth imitation.”
  • p11 – “Holiness is not absolute perfection and freedom from all faults. Nothing of the kind!…Absolute perfection is for heaven, and not for earth, where we have a weak body, a wicked world, and a busy devil continually near our souls.”
  • p11 – “[Genuine scriptural holiness] will make a man humble, kind, gentle, unselfish, good-tempered, considerate for others, loving, meek, and forgiving. It will not constrain him to go out of the world, and shut himself up in a cave, like a hermit. But it will make him do his duty in that state to which God has called him, on Christian principles, and after the pattern of Christ.”
  • p12 – “When I speak of the means of grace, I have in my mind’s eye five principal things,–the reading of the Bible, private prayer, public worship, the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, and the rest of the Lord’s day.”
  • p12 – “As long as the world stands, the state of a man’s soul will always depend greatly on the manner and spirit in which he uses means of grace.”
  • p13 – “Tell me what a man does in the matter of Bible reading and praying, in the matter of Sunday, public worship, and the Lord’s supper, and I will soon tell you what he is, and on which road he is travelling.”
  • p13 – “A Christian who was content to go to heaven himself, and cared not what became of others, whether they lived happy and died in peace or not, would have been regarded as a kind of monster in primitive times, who had not the Spirit of Christ. Why should we suppose for a moment that a lower standard will suffice in the present day?”
  • p14 – “The poorest man or woman, without a single penny to give, can always show his deep sympathy to the sick and sorrowful, and by simply good nature and tender helpfulness, can lessen the misery and increase the comfort of somebody in this troubled world.”
  • p15 – “Partly from ignorance, partly from laziness, partly from 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, halting, and bearing fruit only ‘thirty-fold’ to the very end of their days!”
  • p15 – “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…”
  • p15 – “Union is the bud, but communion is the flower: union is the babe, but communion is the strong man. He that has union with Christ does well; but he that enjoys communion with him does far better.”
  • p16 – “The greater part of believers seem content with the barest elementary knowledge of justification by faith, and half a dozen other doctrines, and go doubting, limping, halting, groaning along the way to heaven, and experience little either of the sense of victory or joy.”
  • p17 – “The ancient Christians made it a part of their religion to look for his return. Backward they looked to the cross and the atonement for sin, and rejoiced in Christ crucified. Upward they looked to Christ at the right hand of God, and rejoiced in Christ interceding. Forward they looked to the promised return of their Master, and rejoiced in the thought that they would see him again. And we ought to do the same.”
  • p18 – “Each and all cannot do better than be found doing his duty, but doing it as a Christian, and with a heart packed up and ready to be gone.”
  • p18 – “Oh, awake and sleep no more! Look at the churchyards and cemeteries. One by one the people around you are dropping into them, and you must lie there one day. Look forward to a world to come, and lay your hand on your heart, and say, if you dare, that you are fit to die and meet God.”
  • p18 – “Cast aside your fears, and accept the offer of our Lord Jesus Christ to sinners.”
  • p19 – “Bring all your sins, and unbelief, and sense of guilt, and unfitness, and doubts, and infirmities,–bring all to Christ.”
  • p19 – “Very likely you are sitting at ease, content with a little faith, and a little repentance, a little grace and a little sanctification, and unconsciously shrinking back from extremes. You will never be a very happy Christian at this rate, if you live to the age of Methuselah. Change your plan, if you love life and would see good days, without delay.”
  • p19 – “What though your faith be feeble? It is better than no faith at all. The least grain of life is better than death.”
  • p20 – “Look up to a sympathizing Saviour at God’s right hand, and pour out your heart before him. He can be touched with the feeling of your infirmities, for he suffered himself being tempted.”
  • p20 – “Are you alone? So was he. Are you misrepresented and calumniated? So was he. Are you forsaken by friends? So was he. Are you persecuted? So was he. Are you wearied in body and grieved in spirit? So was he.–Yes! He can feel for you, and he can help as well as feel. Then learn to draw nearer to Christ.”

Chapter 2: Self-Exertion

  • p22 – “There is a gate which leads to pardon, peace with God, and heaven. Whosoever goes in by that gate shall be saved. Never, surely, was a gate more needed.”
  • p22 – “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?”
  • p23 – “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.”
  • p24 – “The question to be considered is not whether you are a great sinner or a little sinner–whether you are elect or not,–whether you are converted or not. The question is simply this, ‘Do you feel your sins? Do you feel labouring and heavy laden? Are you willing to put your soul into Christ’s hand?'”
  • p26 – “I want you not merely to go to church or chapel, but to go with heart and soul to the gate of life. I want you not merely to believe there is such a gate, and to think it a good thing, but to enter by faith and be saved.”
  • p27 – “Beware that you do not despise the gate and perish in unbelief. Better a thousand times not to know of the gate than to know of it and yet tarry outside.”
  • p27 – “True Christians ought to be more full of thanksgiving than they are. I fear that few sufficiently remember what they were by nature, and what debtors they are to grace.”
  • p28 – “Doubtless no one can change his own heart, or wipe away one of his sins, or make himself in the least degree acceptable to God; but I do say that if man could do nothing but sit still, Christ would never have said ‘Strive.'”
  • p28 – “I hear Jesus saying to sinners, ‘Come–repent–believe–labour–ask–seek–knock.’ I see plainly that our salvation, from first to last, is entirely of God; but I see with no less plainness that our ruin, if lost, is wholly and entirely of ourselves.”
  • p28 – “That roaring lion, the devil, will never let a soul escape from him without a struggle. The heart which is naturally sensual and earthly will never be turned to spiritual things without a daily fight.”
  • p28 – “What great and good thing was ever done without trouble? Wheat does not grow without ploughing and sowing; riches are not obtained without care and attention; success in life is not won without hardships and toil; and heaven, above all, is not be reached without the cross and the battle.”
  • p29 – “If there be anything that deserves a struggle in this world, it is the prosperity of the soul.”
  • p29 – “And what shall be said of the man who neglects his soul, and makes no effort to enter the strait gate? There can be only one reply. He is omitting a positive duty. Christ says to him, ‘Strive,’ and behold, he sits still!”
  • p30 – “Their fathers taught them to come; their custom has always been to come: it would not be respectable to stay away. But they care nothing for the worship of God when they do come. Whether they hear law or gospel, truth or error, it is all the same to them. They remember nothing afterwards. They put off their form of religion with their Sunday clothes, and return to the world.”
  • p31 – “What shall I say of those who never pray?…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!”
  • p31 – “There comes the devil on Monday morning, and offers his countless snares; there comes the world, and holds out its seeming prizes: our hearers follow them greedily. They work hard for this world’s good; they toil at Satan’s bidding: but for the one thing needful they will not ‘strive’ at all.”
  • p32 – “Do not suppose that it needs some great scarlet sin to bring you to the pit of destruction. You have only to sit still and do nothing, and you will find yourself there at last.”
  • p32 – “I repeat it, you have only to do nothing, and you will be lost.
  • p33 – “It is a maxim among good farmers that the more they do for the land the more the land does for them. I am sure it should be a maxim among Christians that the more they do for their religion the more their religion will do for them.”
  • p33 – “In other things be moderate, and dread running into extremes. In soul matters fear moderation just as you would fear the plague.”
  • p34 – “There is a time coming when seeking God shall be useless. Oh, that men would remember that! Too many seem to fancy that the hour will never arrive when they shall seek and not find: but they are sadly mistaken.”
  • p35 – “They shall comprehend at last why ministers seemed so anxious, and preached so long, and entreated them so earnestly to be converted. But, alas, they shall know all this too late!”
  • p36 – “But a day is coming upon us all when the value of everything shall be altered. A day is coming when bank notes shall be as useless as rags, and gold shall be as worthless as the dust of the earth. A day is coming when thousands shall care nothing for the things for which they once lived, and shall desire nothing so much as the things which they once despised.”
  • p37 – “It was a weighty saying of some wise men, that ‘hell is truth, known too late.’ I fear that thousands of professing Christians in this day will find this out by experience.”
  • p37 – “It is a melancholy consideration for the faithful minister of the gospel, that all who hear him will one day allow that his counsel was good. Mocked, despised, scorned, neglected as his testimony may be on earth, a day is coming which shall prove effectually that truth was on his side.”
  • p38 – “Time is short: eternity hastens on. The cross is only for a little season: the crown is for ever. Make sure work about that crown: leave nothing uncertain.”
  • p39 – “Oh, think, think what a state this is to live in! Think, think above all things, what a state this is to die in! Your life is but a vapour. A few more years at most and you are gone: your place in the world will soon be filled up; your house will be occupied by another. The sun will go on shining; the grass and daisies will soon grow thick over your grace; your body will be food for the worms, and your soul will be lost to all eternity.”
  • p40 – “Tell me, if you can, of anyone who ever reached heaven excepting through ‘the strait gate.’ I know of none.”
  • p40 – “Tell me, if you can, of anyone who ever entered in at the strait gate without ‘striving.’ I know of none excepting those who die in infancy.”
  • p40 – “Tell me, if you can, of anyone who ever strove earnestly to enter, and failed to succeed. I know of none.”
  • p40 – “Tell me, if you can, of anyone who ever entered in at the strait gate, and was afterwards sorry. I know of none.”
  • p40 – “Make a beginning this very day. Go to that merciful and mighty Saviour in prayer, and pour out your heart before him. Confess to him your guilt and wickedness and sin. Unbosom yourself freely to him: keep nothing back. Tell him that you cast yourself and all your soul’s affairs wholly on his hands, and ask him to save you according to his promise, and put his Holy Spirit within you.”
  • p41 – “I want all converted people to be missionaries. I do not want them all to go out to foreign lands, and preach to the heathen; but I do want all to be of a missionary spirit, and to strive to do good at home.”
  • p42 – “Let us tell our relatives and friends, that we have proved the way of life and found it pleasant, that we have tasted the bread of life and found it good.”
  • p42 – “Let us look round the circle of those among whom we live, and consider their state before God. Are there not many of them yet outside the gate, unforgiven, unsanctified, and unfit to die? Let us watch for opportunities of speaking to them. Let us tell them of the strait gate, and entreat them to ‘strive to enter in.'”
  • p43 – “Oh, for more love and boldness among believers! Think what a blessing to be allowed to speak one converting word!”

Chapter 3: Reality

  • p45 – “‘Real’ religion is not mere show, and pretence and skin-deep feeling, and temporary profession, and outside work. It is something inward, solid, substantial, intrinsic, living, lasting.”
  • p46 – “The greater part of people who profess to admire reality, seem to think that everyone possesses it!–They tell us ‘that all have got good hearts at bottom,’–that all are sincere and true in the main, though they may make mistakes. They call us uncharitable, and harsh, and censorious, if we doubt anybody’s goodness of heart. In short, they destroy the value of reality, by regarding it as a thing which almost everyone has.”
  • p47 – “How is it that our gracious and merciful Saviour used such cutting words about people who at any rate were more moral and decent than the publicans and harlots? It is meant to teach us the exceeding abominableness of false profession and mere outward religion in God’s sight.”
  • p47 – “Open profligacy and wilful obedience to fleshly lusts are no doubt ruinous sins, if not given up. But there seems nothing which is so displeasing to Christ as hypocrisy and unreality.”
  • p49 – “Wherever I turn my eyes I see abundant cause for the warning,–‘Beware of base metal in religion. Be genuine. Be thorough. Be real. Be true.'”
  • p49 – “How much religion among some members of the Church of England consists of nothing but Churchmanship! They belong to the Established Church. They are baptized at her fonts, married at her Communion rails, buried in her churchyards, preached to on Sundays by her ministers. But the great doctrines laid down in her Articles and Liturgy have no place in their hearts, and no influence on their lives.”
  • p50 – “You will sometimes see men professing great affection for the pure ‘gospel,’ while they are practically inflicting on it the greatest injury. They will talk loudly of soundness in the faith, and have a keen nose for heresy.”
  • p51 – “Their religion is like Jonah’s gourd, which came up in a night and perished in a night. They have neither root nor vitality. They only injure God’s cause and give occasion to God’s enemies to blaspheme. And is Christianity like this real? It is nothing of the kind. It is base metal from the devil’s mint, and is worthless in God’s sight.”
  • p52 – “It is not enough that [religion] is in your head. You may know the truth, and assent to the truth, and believe the truth, and yet be wrong in God’s sight.–It is not enough that it is on your lips.”
  • p52 – “[Real religion] will not merely regard sin as a blemish and misfortune, which makes men and women objects of pity and compassion. It will see in sin the abominable thing which God hates, the thing which makes man guilty and lost in his Maker’s sight, the thing which deserves God’s wrath and condemnation.”
  • p53 – “[Real religion] will produce in the man who has it repentance, faith, hope, charity, humility, spirituality, kind temper, self-denial, unselfishness, forgiveness, temperance, truthfulness, brotherly-kindness, patience, forbearance.”
  • p54 – “If means of grace, whether public or private, are not as necessary to your soul as meat and drink are to your body, you may well doubt whether your religion is ‘real.'”
  • p55 – “An unreal Christianity is specially offensive to that Great God with whom we have to do. He is continually spoken of in Scripture as the God of Truth. Truth is peculiarly one of his attributes. Can you doubt for a moment that he abhors everything that is not genuine and true? Better, I firmly believe, to be found an ignorant heathen at the last day, than to be found with nothing better than a nominal religion. If your religion is of this sort, beware!”
  • p56 – “Never, never forget that Christ can cleanse you from any quantity of sins, if you only commit your soul to him. But one thing he does ask of those who come to him; he asks them to be real, honest, and true.”
  • p56 – “Your repentance may be feeble, but let it be real; your faith may be weak, but let it be real; your desires after holiness may be mingled with much infirmity, but let them be real.”
  • p56 – “You may often find few with you, and many against you. You may often hear hard things said of you. You may often be told that you go too far, and that you are extreme. Heed it not. Turn a deaf ear to remarks of this kind. Press on.”
  • p57 – “If there is anything which a man ought to do thoroughly, really, truly, honestly, and with all his heart, it is the business of his soul.”
  • p57 – “If there is anything in the world of which a man need not be ashamed, it is the service of Jesus Christ.”