There are some books that demand to be read. I once heard a Pastor say, "You can't call yourself an educated Christian if you have not read The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan." Well, that statement may be a bit strong. For various reasons, 'educated Christians' may go years without reading books that they are suppose to read. Perhaps we should be more Spurgeon like and read The Pilgrim's Progress many times but we should hold out the possibility that one could be an 'educated Christian' without having read such a classic. Another such book is Holiness: It's Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots by J.C. Ryle. I am here to make a confession that may indeed cause others to dismiss me from the ranks of educated Christians. I have never read Holiness, until now.
The book has been on my shelf forever in at least a couple of editions. But it has merely served to keep company with the books around it. Recently, I acquired a portion of a Pastor's library. Gradually I have been processing those books and selling many of them. However, I put a number of them to the side to keep in my own library. I especially love hardback books. Included in the lot was the Charles Nolan unabridged hardback edition of Ryle's classic book all dressed in red. I could almost hear the faint voice of someone singing in the background, Tolle lege (take up and read).
Recently I preached a message from Romans 13:8-10 which teaches that we owe love to everyone. If I had read page 44 in Holiness I would have included these words from Ryle.
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 will abhor all lying, slandering, backbiting, cheating, dishonesty, and unfair dealing, even in the least things...He will strive to adorn his religion by all his outward demeanour , and to make it lovely and beautiful in the eys of all around him. Alas, what condemning words are the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians and the Sermon on the Mount, when laid alongside the conduct of many professing Christians!
In the message I made the challenge that every person that we see and think of--that we first of all ask the question, "what do I owe that person?" The answer is always love. Every person, all the time, in every situation! I am to "be full of affection" towards them. Ryle says that we are to be "full of affection towards their "bodies, their property, their characters, their feelings, their souls." That is another way of saying that we are to be considerate and thoughtful. We are to fight lustful thoughts, take care of what belongs to others, be concerned about how folks feel and have utmost interest in the eternal welfare of everyone. Every person that we think of, every person that we know, have feelings, interests, property, hopes, dreams and will spend eternity somewhere. Ryle gives warm application when he reminds us to be "full of affection." He also reminds us that such love touches the "outward demeanour" and "makes it lovely and beautiful in the eyes of all around..." It is not just actions but attitude that we should be concerned with. We must have a loving demeanor that sweetens all of our deeds.
There are a lot of words being written today about holiness and sanctification. J.C. Ryle's book, Holiness, first published in 1877, would be a great book to read or re-read (especially if you want to be an educated Christian)!