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J. C. Ryle on Holiness and Sanctification Index

The Nature of Sanctification
By John C. Ryle

The Doctrine of Sanctification - Part 1 of 4

John Charles Ryle was born in 1816 in Macclesfield, England. The son of a wealthy banker, he was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. He was spiritually awakened in 1838 on hearing Ephesians 2 read in church. He was appointed bishop of Liverpool at Disraeliís recommendation in 1880.C. H. Spurgeon called him "the best man in the Church of England." He upheld the Reformation doctrine of grace, as found in the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church, and he recommended the English Reformers, Puritans, and eighteenth-century evangelicals as models for both doctrine and devotion. More than 12 million of his tracts were sold in over a dozen languages during his lifetime. Their influence on popular Christianity, like that of Spurgeonís sermons, was incalculable. He died in 1900. This series is adapted from Ryleís book entitled simply, Holiness, first published in 1879.

What Does the Bible Mean When It Speaks of a "Sanctified" Man?

Sanctification is that inward spiritual work which the Lord Jesus Christ works in a man by the Holy Spirit, when He calls him to be a true believer. He not only washes him from his sins in His own blood but He also separates him from his natural love of sin and the world. The instrument by which the Spirit effects this work is generally the Word of God, though He sometimes uses afflictions and providential visitations "without the Word" (1 Pet. 3:1). The subject of this work of Christ by His Spirit is called in Scripture a "sanctified" man.

The subject of sanctification is of such vast importance that it requires marking out on every side. To clear away the confusion between doctrines and doctrines, I shall therefore not hesitate to lay before my readers a series of connected propositions or statements, drawn from Scripture, which I think will be found useful in defining the exact nature of sanctification.

1. Sanctification is the invariable result of that vital union with Christ which true faith gives to a Christian. "He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit" (John 15:5). The union with Christ which produces no effect on heart and life is a mere formal union, which is worthless before God. The faith which has not a sanctifying influence on the character is no better than the faith of devils (James 2:19). True faith works by love. It constrains a man to live unto the Lord from a deep sense of gratitude for redemption.

2. Sanctification is the outcome and inseparable consequence of regeneration. He that is born again and made a new creature receives a new nature and a new principle, and always lives a new life. In a word, where there is no sanctification there is no regeneration, and where there is no holy life there is no new birth. It is written plainly that he who is born of God is one whose "seed remaineth in himÖ." (1 John 3:9).

3. Sanctification is the only certain evidence of that indwelling of the Holy Spirit which is essential to salvation. "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His" (Rom. 8:9). The Spirit never lies dormant and idle within the soul. He always make His presence known by the fruit He causes to be borne in heart, character, and life. "The fruit of the Spirit," says Paul, "is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, and such like" (Gal. 5:22). The Spirit cannot be seen by our bodily eyes, but just as we know there is a wind by the effect it produces on waves and trees and smoke, so we may know the Spirit is in a man by the effects He produces in the manís conduct. It is nonsense to suppose that we have the Spirit if we do not also "walk in the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25).

4. Sanctification, again, is the only sure mark of Godís election. The names and number of the elect are a secret thing, which God, no doubt wisely, has not revealed to man. It is not given to us in this world to study the pages of the Book of Life and see if our names are there. But if there is one thing clearly and plainly laid down about election it is this: that elect men and women may be distinguished by holy lives. It is expressly written that they are "electÖthrough sanctification" (1 Pet. 1:2), "chosenÖto salvation through sanctification"(2 Thess. 2:13), "predestinate[d] to be conformed to the image of Godís Son" (Rom. 8:29), and "chosen in [Christ] before the foundation of the world that they should be holy" (Eph. 1:4). He that boasts of being one of Godís elect, while he is willfully and habitually living in sin, is only deceiving himself.

5. Sanctification is a thing that will always be seen. Like the great Head of the church, from whom it springs, it cannot be hid. "Every tree is known by his own fruit" (Luke 6:44). A truly sanctified person may be so clothed with humility that he can see in himself nothing but infirmity and defects. Like the righteous in the parable of the sheep and the goats, he may not see that he has done anything worthy of his Masterís notice and commendation (cf. Matt. 25:37). But whether he sees it himself or not, others will always see in him a tone and taste and habit of life unlike that of other men. Life may be very feeble, but if the pulse only beats a little, it will be felt.

6. Sanctification is a thing for which every believer is responsible. I maintain that believers are eminently and peculiarly responsible, and under a special obligation to live holy lives. They are not as others, dead and blind and unrenewed; they are alive unto God, and have light and knowledge, and a new principle within them. If the Savior of sinners gives us renewing grace and calls us by His Spirit, we may be sure that He expects us to use our grace and not to go to sleep. It is forgetfulness of this which causes many believers to "grieve the Holy Spirit," and makes them very useless and uncomfortable Christians.

7. Sanctification, again, admits of growth and degrees. A man may climb from one step to another in holiness. More pardoned and more justified than he is when he first believes he cannot be. But more sanctified he certainly may be. If there is any point on which Godís holiest saints agree it is this: they see more and know more and feel more and do more and repent more and believe more as they get on in spiritual life, and in proportion to the closeness of their walk with God. In short, they "grow in grace," as Peter exhorts believers to do (2 Pet. 3:18).

8. Sanctification is also a thing which depends greatly on a diligent use of scriptural means: Bible reading, private prayer, regular attendance on public worship, regular hearing of Godís Word, and regular reception of the Lordís Supper. They are appointed channels through which the Holy Spirit conveys fresh supplies of grace to the soul, and strengthens the work which He has begun in the inward man. Our God is a God who works by means, and He will never bless the soul of that man who pretends to be so high and spiritual that he can get on without them.

9. Sanctification, again, does not prevent a man from having a great deal of inward spiritual conflict. By conflict I mean a struggle within the heart between the old nature and the new, the flesh and the spirit, which are to be found together in every believer (Gal. 5:17). A deep sense of that struggle, and a vast amount of mental discomfort from it, does not prove that a man is not sanctified. Nay, rather, I believe they are healthy symptoms of our condition, and prove that we are not dead, but alive. A true Christian is one who has not only peace of conscience but war within. The heart of the best Christian, even at his best, is a field occupied by two rival camps.

10. Sanctification, further, cannot justify a man, yet it pleases God. The holiest actions of the holiest saint that ever lived are all more or less full of defects and imperfections. To suppose that such actions can stand the severity of Godís judgment, atone for sin, and merit heaven is simply absurd. "We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Rom. 3:20-28). Nevertheless, the Bible distinctly teaches that the holy actions of a sanctified man, although imperfect, are pleasing in the sight of God. "With such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Heb. 13:16). "WeÖdo those things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3;22).

11. Sanctification, again, will be found absolutely necessary as a witness to our character in the great Day of Judgment. It will be utterly useless to plead that we believed in Christ, unless our faith has had some sanctifying effect in our lives. Without some evidence that our faith in Christ was real and genuine, we shall only rise again to be condemned. The question will not be how we talked and what we professed, but how we lived and what we did. If anything is certain about judgment, it is certain that menís works and doings will be considered and examined (John 5:29; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:13).

12. Sanctification, finally, is absolutely necessary to train and prepare us for heaven. Heaven is essentially a holy place; its inhabitants are all holy; its occupations are all holy. To be really happy in heaven, it is clear that we must be somewhat trained and made ready for heaven while we are on earth. What could an unsanctified man do in heaven, if by chance he got there? No man can possibly be happy where he is not in his element.

J. C. Ryle on Holiness and Sanctification Index
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