by J. C. Ryle
"Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14).
The text which heads this page opens up a subject of deep
importance. That subject is practical holiness. It suggests a question which
demands the attention of all professing Christians-Are we holy? Shall we see
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" (Eccles. 3:4, 7); but there is no time, no, not a day, in which a man
ought not to be holy. Are we?
That question 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 ought not
to be holy. Are we?
I ask to be heard today about this question. 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 believe I
might have chosen a subject more popular and pleasant. I am sure I might
have found one more easy to handle. But I feel deeply I could not have
chosen one more seasonable and more profitable to our souls. It is a solemn
thing to hear the Word of God saying, "Without holiness no man shall see the
Lord" (Heb. 12:14).
I shall endeavour, 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 have already, in the second
paper in this volume, approached this subject from a doctrinal side. Let me
now try to present it to my readers in a more plain and practical point of
I. First, then, let me 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 that: 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 was
holy! These things alone are not holiness. A man may have any one of them,
and yet never see the Lord.
What then is true practical holiness? It is a hard question to answer.
I do not mean that there is any want of Scriptural matter on the subject.
But I fear lest I should give a defective view of holiness, and not say
all that ought to be said; or lest I should say things about it that ought
not to be said, and so do harm. Let me, however, try to draw a picture of
holiness, that we may see it clearly before the eyes of our minds. Only
let it never be forgotten, when I have said all, that my account is but a
poor imperfect outline at the best.
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 judgement-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 endeavour 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 ways. He will feel what
Paul felt when he said, "I delight in the law of God after the inward
man" (Rom. 7:22), and what David felt when he said, "I esteem all Thy
precepts concerning all things to be right, and I hate every false way"
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 labour to have the mind that was in
Him, and to be "conformed to His image" (Rom. 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
would continually deny Himself in order to minister to others-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
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 endeavour 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"
(1 John 2:6); and the saying of Peter, that "Christ suffered for us,
leaving us an example that ye should follow His steps" (1 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 oftener 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, long-suffering, 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 behaviour of David when
Shimei cursed him-and of Moses when Aaron and Miriam spake against him
(2 Sam. 16:10; Num. 12:3).
e) A holy man will follow after temperance and self-denial. He will
labour 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" (1 Cor. 9:27).
f) A holy man will follow after charity and brotherly kindness. He
will endeavour 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 towards his brethren-towards their bodies, their
property, their characters, their feelings, their souls. "He that loveth
another," says Paul, "hath fulfilled the law" (Rom. 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 demeanour, and to make it lovely and
beautiful in the eyes of all around him. Alas, what condemning words are
the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, and the Sermon on the Mount, when
laid alongside the conduct of many professing Christians!
g) A holy man will follow after a spirit of mercy and benevolence
towards others. He will not stand all 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 an 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 loved" (Acts 9:36; 2 Cor. 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 knows 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" (Neh. 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." Holy Bradford, that faithful martyr of
Christ, would sometimes finish his letters with these words, "A most
miserable sinner, John Bradford." Good old Mr. Grimshaw's last words,
when he lay on his death-bed, were these, "Here goes an unprofitable
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"
(Col. 3:23; Rom. 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" (Dan. 6:5).
They should strive to be good husbands and good wives, good neighbours,
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?" (Mt. 5:47).
l) Last, but not least, a holy man will follow after spiritual
mindedness. He will endeavour 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 travelling 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 thing
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" (Psalm 63:8; 119:57).
Such is the outline of holiness which I 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.
But here let me say, I trust no man will misunderstand me. I am not
without fear that my meaning will be mistaken, and the description I have
given of holiness will discourage some tender conscience. I would not
willingly make one righteous heart sad, or throw a stumbling-block in any
I do not say for a moment that holiness shuts out the presence of
indwelling sin. No: far from it. It is the greatest mystery 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
(Rom. 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" (Dan. 9:25).
Neither do I say that holiness comes to ripeness and perfection all at
once, or that these graces I have touched on must be found in full bloom
and vigour before you can call a man holy. No: far from it. Sanctification
is always a progressive work. 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 weighed 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" (Gal. 5:17; James
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 towards 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 labour
to be, if it is not what they are.
And this I do boldly and confidently say, that 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 savour will be perceived. It is a
precious ointment: if it exists, its presence cannot be hid.
I am sure we should all be ready to make allowance for such
backsliding, for much occasional deadness in professing Christians. I 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 wilfully allows himself in sins, and is
not humbled and ashamed because of them. I dare not call anyone "holy" who
makes a habit of wilfully neglecting known duties, and wilfully doing what
he knows God has commanded him not to do. Well says Owen, "I do not
understand how a man can be a true believer unto whom sin is not the
greatest burden, sorrow, and trouble."
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 try, in the next place, to show some reasons why practical
holiness is so important.
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 ever 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 no 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" (Eph. 2:8,
Why then is holiness so important? Why does the Apostle say, "Without it
no man shall see the Lord"? Let me set out in order a few reasons.
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" (Mt.
5:20). "Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect"
(Mt. 5:48). Paul tells the Thessalonians, "This is the will of God, even
your sanctification" (1 Thess. 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'" (1 Pe. 1:15, 16). "In this,"
says Leighton, "law and Gospel agree."
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" (2 Cor. 5:15). And to the
Ephesians, "Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He
might sanctify and cleanse it" (Eph. 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?-it is "with a holy calling." Are they
afflicted?-it is that they may be "partakers of holiness". Jesus is a
complete Saviour. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer's
sin, He does more-He breaks the power (1 Pe. 1:2; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4;
c) We must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we
have a saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. The Twelfth Article of our
Church says truly, that "Although good works cannot put away our sins, and
endure the severity of God's judgement, yet are they pleasing and
acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and
lively faith; insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently
known as a tree discerned by its fruits." James warns us there is such a
thing 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 kind 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 hours 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. It is a true saying of
Traill's, "That man's state is naught, and his faith unsound, that find
not his hopes of glory purifying to his heart and 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 Me."-"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 that 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 feet,
and side-it was sin that brought Him to Gethsemane and Calvary, to the
cross and to the grave. Cold must our hearts be if we do not hate sin and
labour 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" (Rom 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
son-ship is but an empty name. "Say not," says Gurnall, "that thou hast
royal blood in thy veins, and art born of God, except thou canst prove thy
pedigree by daring to be holy."
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 judgement will
prove that many besides husbands have been won "without the word" by a
holy life (1 Pe. 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 none 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 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, good Lord,
deliver us! Oh, for the sake of others, if for no other reason, let us
strive to be holy!
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" (1 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" (Ac. 5:41). Oh, for our own sakes, if
there were no other reason, let us strive to be holy! 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" (Rev. 21:27).
I appeal solemnly to everyone who reads these pages, 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 reveller 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 an 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"? (Is. 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.
I know not what others may think, but to me it does seem clear that
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.
And now, before I go any further, let me say a few words by way of
1) For one thing, let me ask everyone who may read these pages, Are
you holy? Listen, I pray you, to the question I put to you this day. Do
you know anything of the holiness of which I have been speaking?
I do not ask whether you attend you church regularly-whether you have
been baptized, and received the Lord's Supper-whether you have the name
of Christian-I ask something more than all this: Are you holy, or are
I do not ask whether you approve of holiness in others-whether you
like to read the lives of holy people, and to talk of holy things, and
to have on your table holy books-whether you mean to be holy, and hope
you will be holy some day-I ask something further: Are you yourself holy
this very day, or are you not?
And why do I ask so straitly, and press the question so strongly? I
do it because the Scripture says, "Without holiness no man shall see the
Lord." It is written, it is not my fancy-it is the Bible, not my private
opinion-it is the word of God, not of man-"Without holiness no man shall
see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14).
Alas, what searching, sifting words are these! What thoughts come
across my mind, as I write them down! I look at the world, and see the
greater part of it lying in wickedness. I look at professing Christians,
and see the vast majority having nothing of Christianity but the name. I
turn to the Bible, and I hear the Spirit saying, "Without holiness no
man shall see the Lord."
Surely it is a text that ought to make us consider our ways, and
search our hearts. Surely it should raise within us solemn thoughts, and
send us to prayer.
You may try to put me off by saying "you feel much, and think much
about these things: far more than many suppose." I answer, "This is not
the point. The poor lost souls in hell do as much as this. The great
question is not what you think, and what you feel, but what you DO."
You may say, "It was never meant that all Christians should be holy,
and that holiness, such as I have described, is only for great saints,
and people of uncommon gifts." I answer, "I cannot see that in
Scripture. I read that every man who hath hope in Christ purifieth
himself" (1 John 3:3)-"Without holiness no man shall see the Lord."
You may say, "It is impossible to be so holy and to do our duty in
this life at the same time: the thing cannot be done." I answer, "You
are mistaken. It can be done. With Christ on your side nothing is
impossible. It has been done by many. David, and Obadiah, and Daniel,
and the servants of Nero's household, are all examples that go to prove
You may say, "If I were so holy I would be unlike other people." I
answer, "I know it well. It is just what you ought to be. Christ's true
servants always were unlike the world around them-a separate nation, a
peculiar people;-and you must be so too, if you would be saved!"
You may say, "At this rate very few will be saved." I answer, "I know
it. It is precisely what we are told in the Sermon on the Mount." The
Lord Jesus said so 1,900 years ago. "Strait is the gate, and narrow is
the way, that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matt.
7:14). Few will be saved, because few will take the trouble to seek
salvation. Men will not deny themselves the pleasures of sin and their
own way for a little season. They turn their backs on an "inheritance
incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away." "Ye will not come
unto Me," says Jesus, "that ye might have life" (John 5:40).
You may say, "These are hard sayings: the way is very narrow." I
answer, "I know it. So says the Sermon on the Mount." The Lord Jesus
said so 1,900 years ago. He always said that men must take up the cross
daily, and that they must be ready to cut off hand or foot, if they
would be His disciples. It is in religion as it is in other things,
"there are no gains without pains." That which costs nothing is worth
Whatever we may think fit to say, we must be holy, if we would see
the Lord. Where is our Christianity if we are not? We must not merely
have a Christian name, and Christian knowledge, we must have a Christian
character also. We must be saints on earth, if ever we mean to be saints
in heaven. God has said it, and He will not go back: "Without holiness
no man shall see the Lord." "The Pope's calendar," says Jenkyn, "only
makes saints of the dead, but Scripture requires sanctity in the
living." "Let not men deceive themselves," says Owen; "sanctification is
a qualification indispensably necessary unto those who will be under the
conduct of the Lord Christ unto salvation. He leads none to heaven but
whom He sanctifies on the earth. This living Head will not admit of dead
Surely we need not wonder that Scripture says "Ye must be born again"
(John 3:7). Surely it is clear as noon-day that many professing
Christians need a complete change-new hearts, new natures-if ever they
are to be saved. Old things must pass away-they must become new
creatures. "Without holiness no man," be he who he may, "shall see the
2) Let me, for another thing, speak a little to believers. I ask you
this question, "Do you think you feel the importance of holiness as much
as you should?"
I own I fear the temper of the times about this subject. I doubt
exceedingly whether it holds that place which it deserves in the
thoughts and attention of some of the Lord's people. I would humbly
suggest that we are apt to overlook the doctrine of growth in grace, and
that we do not sufficiently consider how very far a person may go in a
profession of religion, and yet have no grace, and be dead in God's
sight after all. I believe that Judas Iscariot seemed very like the
other Apostles. When the Lord warned them that one would betray Him, no
one said, "Is it Judas?" We had better think more about the Churches of
Sardis and Laodicea than we do.
I have no desire to make an idol of holiness. I do not wish to
dethrone Christ, and put holiness in His place. But I must candidly say,
I wish sanctification was more thought of in this day than it seems to
be, and I therefore take occasion to press the subject on all believers
into whose hands these pages may fall. I fear it is sometimes forgotten
that God has married together justification and sanctification. They are
distinct and different things, beyond question, but one is never found
without the other. All justified people are sanctified, and all
sanctified are justified. What God has joined together let no man dare
to put asunder. Tell me not of your justification, unless you have also
some marks of sanctification. Boast not of Christ's work for you, unless
you can show us the Spirit's work in you. Think not that Christ and the
Spirit can ever be divided. I doubt not that many believers know these
things, but I think it good for us to be put in remembrance of them. Let
us prove that we know them by our lives. Let us try to keep in view this
text more continually: "Follow holiness, without which no man shall see
I must frankly say I wish there was not such an excessive
sensitiveness on the subject of holiness as I sometimes perceive in the
minds of believers. A man might really think it was a dangerous subject
to handle, so cautiously is it touched! Yet surely when we have exalted
Christ as "the way, the truth, and the life," we cannot err in speaking
strongly about what should be the character of His people. Well says
Rutherford, "The way that crieth down duties and sanctification, is not
the way of grace. Believing and doing are blood-friends."
I would say it with all reverence, but say it I must-I sometimes fear
if Christ were on earth now, there are not a few who would think His
preaching legal; and if Paul were writing his Epistles, there are those
who would think he had better not write the latter part of most of them
as he did. But let us remember that the Lord Jesus did speak the Sermon
on the Mount, and that the Epistle to the Ephesians contains six
chapters and not four. I grieve to feel obliged to speak in this way,
but I am sure there is a cause.
That great divine, John Owen, the Dean of Christ Church, used to say,
more than two hundred years ago, that there were people whose whole
religion seemed to consist in going about complaining of their own
corruptions, and telling everyone that they could do nothing of
themselves. I am afraid that after two centuries the same thing might be
said with truth of some of Christ's professing people in this day. I
know there are texts in Scripture which warrant such complaints. I do
not object to them when they come from men who walk in the steps of the
Apostle Paul, and fight a good fight, as he did, against sin, the devil,
and the world. But I never like such complaints when I see ground for
suspecting, as I often do, that they are only a cloak to cover spiritual
laziness, and an excuse for spiritual sloth. If we say with Paul, "O
wretched man that I am," let us also be able to say with him, "I press
toward the mark." Let us not quote his example in one thing, while we do
not follow him in another" (Rom. 7:24; Phl. 3:14).
I do not set up myself to be better than other people, and if anyone
asks, "What are you, that you write in this way?" I answer, "I am a very
poor creature indeed." But I say that I cannot read the Bible without
desiring to see many believers more spiritual, more holy, more
single-eyed, more heavenly-minded, more whole-hearted than they are in
the nineteenth century. I want to see among believers more of a pilgrim
spirit, a more decided separation from the world, a conversation more
evidently in heaven, a closer walk with God-and therefore I have written
as I have.
Is it not true that we need a higher standard of personal holiness in
this day? Where is our patience? Where is our zeal? Where is our love?
Where are our works? Where is the power of religion to be seen, as it
was in times gone by? Where is that unmistakable tone which used to
distinguish the saints of old, and shake the world? Verily our silver
has become dross, our wine mixed with water, and our salt has very
little savour. We are all more than half asleep. The night is far spent,
and the day is at hand. Let us awake, and sleep no more. Let us open our
eyes more widely than we have done hitherto. "Let us lay aside every
weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us."-"Let us cleanse
ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness
in the fear of God" (Heb. 12:1; 2 Cor. 7:1). "Did Christ die," says
Owen, "and shall sin live? Was He crucified in the world, and shall our
affections to the world be quick and lively? Oh, where is the spirit of
him, who by the cross of Christ was crucified to the world, and the
world to him!"
III. Let me, in the last place, offer a word of advice to all who
desire to be holy.
Would you be holy? Would you become a new creature? Then you must begin
with Christ. You will do just nothing at all, and make no progress till you
feel your sin and weakness, and flee to Him. He is the root and beginning of
all holiness, and the way to be holy is to come to Him by faith and be
joined to Him. Christ is not wisdom and righteousness only to His people,
but sanctification also. Men sometimes try to make themselves holy first of
all, and sad work they make of it. They toil and labour, and turn over new
leaves, and make many changes; and yet, like the woman with the issue of
blood, before she came to Christ, they feel "nothing bettered, but rather
worse" (Mark 5:26). They run in vain, and labour in vain; and little wonder,
for they are beginning at the wrong end. They are building up a wall of
sand; their work runs down as fast as they throw it up. They are baling
water out of a leaky vessel: the leak gains on them, not they on the leak.
Other foundation of "holiness" can no man lay than that which Paul laid,
even Christ Jesus. "Without Christ we can do nothing" (John 15:5). It is a
strong but true saying of Traill's, "Wisdom out of Christ is damning
folly-righteousness out of Christ is guilt and condemnation-sanctification
out of Christ is filth and sin-redemption out of Christ is bondage and
Do you want to attain holiness? Do you feel this day a real hearty desire
to be holy? Would you be a partaker of the divine nature? Then go to Christ.
Wait for nothing. Wait for nobody. Linger not. Think not to make yourself
ready. Go and say to Him, in the words of that beautiful hymn-
"Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, flee to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace."
There is not a brick nor a stone laid in the work of our sanctification
till we go to Christ. Holiness is His special gift to His believing people.
Holiness is the work He carries on in their hearts, by the Spirit whom He
puts within them. He is appointed a "Prince and a Saviour, to give
repentance" as well as remission of sins.-"To as many as receive Him, He
gives power to become sons of God" (Acts 5:31; John 1:12, 13). Holiness
comes not of blood-parents cannot give it to their children: nor yet of the
will of man-ministers cannot give it you by baptism. Holiness comes from
Christ. It is the result of vital union with Him. It is the fruit of being a
living branch of the True Vine. Go then to Christ and say, "Lord, not only
save me from the guilt of sin, but send the Spirit, whom Thou didst promise,
and save me from its power. Make me holy. Teach me to do Thy will."
Would you continue holy? Then abide in Christ. He says Himself, "Abide in
Me and I in you,-he that abideth in Me and I in him, the same beareth much
fruit" (John 15:4, 5). It pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness
dwell-a full supply for all a believer's wants. He is the Physician to whom
you must daily go, if you would keep well. He is the Manna which you must
daily eat, and the Rock of which you must daily drink. His arm is the arm on
which you must daily lean, as you come up out of the wilderness of this
world. You must not only be rooted, you must also be built up in Him. Paul
was a man of God indeed-a holy man-a growing, thriving Christian-and what
was the secret of it all? He was one to whom Christ was "all in all". He was
ever "looking unto Jesus". "I can do all things," he says, "through Christ
which strengtheneth me." "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. The
life that I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God". Let us go and
do likewise (Heb. 12:2; Phl. 4:13; Gal. 2:20).
May all who read these pages know these things by experience, and not by
hearsay only. May we all feel the importance of holiness, far more than we
have ever done yet! May our years be holy years with our souls, and then
they will be happy ones! Whether we live, may we live unto the Lord; or
whether we die, may we die unto the Lord; or if He comes for us, may we be
found in peace, without spot, and blameless!
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