We Must Be Holy!
J. C. Ryle
We must be holy on earth before we die—if we desire to go to heaven after death! If we hope to dwell with God forever in the life to come—we must endeavor to be like Him in the life that now is. We must not only admire holiness, and wish for holiness—we must be holy.
Holiness cannot justify and save us. Holiness cannot cover our iniquities, make satisfaction for transgressions, pay our debts to God. Our best works are no better than filthy rags, when tried by the light of God's law. The righteousness which Jesus Christ brought in, must be our only confidence—and the blood of His atonement, our only hope. All this is perfectly true, and yet we must be holy.
We must be holy—because God in the Bible plainly commands it. "As He who has called you is holy—so be holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be holy—for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:15, 16).
We must be holy—because this is one great end for which Christ came into the world. "He died for all, that those who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them, and rose again" (2 Cor. 5:15).
We must be holy—because this is the only sound evidence that we have a saving faith in Christ. "Faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone." "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:17, 26).
We must be holy—because this is the only proof that we love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. What can be more plain than our Lord's own words? "If you love Me—keep my commandments." "He who has my commandments, and keeps them—he it is that loves Me." (John 14:15, 21).
We must be holy—because this is the only sound evidence that we are God's children. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." "Whoever does not righteousness is not of God" (Romans 8:14; I John 3:10).
Lastly, we must be holy—because without holiness on earth, we should never be prepared and fit for heaven. It is written of the heavenly glory, "There shall never enter into it anything that defiles, neither whatever works abomination, or makes a lie" (Rev. 21:27). Paul says expressly, "Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord!" (Heb. 12:14).
Ah, reader, the last text I have just quoted is very solemn. It ought to make you think. It was written by the inspiration of God—it is not my private fancy. Its words are the words of the Bible—not of my own invention. God has said it, and God will stand to it: "Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord."
What tremendous words these are! 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 you consider your ways, and search your hearts. Surely it should raise within you solemn thoughts, and send you 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. Are you holy?
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 this in Scripture. I read that "every man who has hope in Christ, purifies 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 God on your side, nothing is impossible. It has been done by many: Moses, and Obadiah, and Daniel, and the servants of Nero's household, are all examples that go to prove it.
You may say, If you were so holy—you would be unlike other people. I answer, I know it well—it is just what I want you 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. Jesus said so eighteen hundred years ago. 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 season; for this they turn their backs on "an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading!" "You will not come to Me," says Jesus, "that you might have life" (John 5:40).
You may say, These are hard sayings—the way is very narrow. I answer, I know it! Jesus said so, eighteen hundred years ago. He always said that men must take up the cross daily, that they must be ready to cut off hand or foot—if they would be His disciples. It is in true religion, as it is in other things, "There are no gains without pains." That which costs nothing is worth nothing!
Reader, whatever you may think fit to say, you must be holy—if you would see the Lord in eternal glory. Where is your Christianity, if you are not holy? Show it to me without holiness, if you can. You must not merely have a Christian name and Christian knowledge, you must have a Christian character also. You must be a saint on earth—if ever you mean to be a saint 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 one, "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 Jesus unto salvation. He leads none to heaven—but whom He sanctifies on the earth. This living Head will not admit of dead members!"
Surely you will not wonder that Scripture says, "You must be born again" (John 3:7). Surely it is clear as noon-day, that many of you need a complete change—new hearts, new natures—if ever you are to be saved. Old things must pass away, you must become new creatures! Without holiness, no man, be he who he may—no man shall ever see the Lord.
Reader, consider well what I have said. Do you feel any desire to be holy? Does your conscience whisper, "I am not holy yet—but I would like to become so"? Listen to the advice I am going to give you. May the Lord grant you may take it and act upon it!
Would you be holy? Would you become a new creature? Then begin with Christ! You will do just nothing, until you feel your sin and weakness—and flee to Him! He is the beginning of all holiness. He is not only wisdom and righteousness to His people—but sanctification also. Men sometimes try to make themselves holy first—and sad work they make of it! They toil, and labor, and turn over many new leaves, and make many changes—and yet, like the woman with the issue of blood—they feel nothing bettered, but rather worse. They run in vain, and labor in vain! 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. It is a strong but true saying of Traill's, "Wisdom outside of Christ—is damning folly! Righteousness outside of Christ—is guilt and condemnation! Sanctification outside of Christ—is filth and sin! Redemption outside of Christ—is bondage and slavery!" "But from Him you are in Christ Jesus--who for us became wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption." 1 Corinthians 1:30
Would you be holy? Would you be partakers of the Divine nature? Then go to Christ! Wait for nothing! Wait for nobody! Do not linger! Think not to make you yourself ready. Go, and say to Him, in the words of that beautiful hymn—
"Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Your cross I cling!
Naked, flee to You for dress;
Helpless, look to You for grace!"
There is not a brick nor a stone laid in the work of our sanctification, until 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 Savior, to give repentance as well as remission of sins. To as many as receive Him—He gives power to become sons of God. Holiness does not come by blood—parents cannot give it to their children. Holiness does not come by the will of the flesh—man cannot produce it in himself. Holiness does not comes by 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 You did promise, and save me from its power. Make me holy! Teach me to do Your will."
Would you continue holy, when you have once been made so? Then abide in Christ. He says Himself, "Abide in Me, and I in you. He who abides in Me, and I in him—brings forth much fruit" (John 15:4, 5).
Jesus 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.
Reader, may you and I 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 he holy years with our souls, and then I know they will be happy ones! But this I say once more, "We must be holy!"