First published in 1967 and reprinted in 1992, Bishop J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) published a work that should be read by every pastor and member of a Bible-believing local church. Entitled “Warnings to the Churches,” Ryle’s burden was to encourage strong and serious Christian living. Ryle lamented in his day that, “I fear much for many professing Christians. I see no sign of fighting in them, much less of victory. They never strike one stroke on the side of Christ. They are at peace with His enemies. They have no quarrel with sin. I often fear much for those who hear the Gospel regularly. I fear lest you become so familiar with the sound of its doctrines, that insensibly you become dead to its power. I fear lest your religion should sink down into vague talk about your own weakness and corruption, and a few sentimental expressions about Christ, while real, practical fighting on Christ’s side is altogether neglected. Oh! Beware of this state of mind. This is not Christianity. This is not the way to heaven.”
Ryle’s concern was about Christians playing church and some pastors thinking they are almost infallible regarding the teaching and leading of their flocks. A dark cloud of apathy, both now and then, has covered our land. Even in the most vibrant of churches there are professing believers who have no desire to be a contributing part of the body of Christ. They are good arm-chair quarterbacks, so they think. They have lost their zeal for the cause of Christ. They have fallen asleep in time of harvest. Some things never change. Though Paul praised many in the local churches of his day, he gave very stern advice to others. To the Romans he said, “Now it is time high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11). To the church at Corinth he stated, “Do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play'” (I Corinthians10:7). To the churches in Galatia he warned, “If you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:15). To the Ephesians, “Walk worthy….keep the unity” (Ephesians 4:1, 3). To the saints in Philippi, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3). And to the faithful brethren in Colosse, “Put off…put on …he who does wrong will be repaid…there is no partiality ….redeem the time” (Colossians 3:8, 10,25; 4:5).
It is always time for a reality check regarding our seriousness about Christian living. Where have the “Carriers of the Cross” gone? Are we genuinely born-again? Are we living a life of obedience to God and attentiveness to the ministry of the Holy Spirit? Do we daily examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith and our attitudes are right in relationship to God, others and His work? Are we using our gifts for His glory and the edification of the body? Where has the pulpit challenge gone that says, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). To “will” is to determine; to “come” is to pursue; to “deny” is to die to self; to “take up” is to devote one’s self to Christ alone; the “cross” cries sacrifice; to do this “daily” is a requirement; to not “follow” is to walk outside the will of God, to fulfill the lusts of the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24).
If Paul felt it necessary to call the church to strong and serious Christian living, as well as many other great heralders of the past like J.C. Ryle, certainly there is still a need and place for such proclamation today. During the great revivals in Northampton, USA, Jonathan Edwards and his people were so fearful of losing the blessing of God through division, that on March 16, 1742, they made a resolution. As local churches, would we be so bold as to make such a covenant? Or maybe simply re-visit on a regular basis the covenants that years ago were found in the flyleaf of our hymnals? At least, let’s think about it, and maybe even pray about it!
1. In all our conversation, concerns and dealing with our neighbors we will be honest, just and upright.
2. If we wrong others in any way we will not rest until we have made restitution.
3. We promise that we will not permit ourselves to indulge in any kind of backbiting.
4. We will be careful not to do anything to others out of a spirit of revenge.
5. When there is a difference of opinion concerning another’s rights, we will not allow private interest to influence us.
6. We will not tolerate the exercise of enmity or ill will or revenge in our hearts.
7. If we find that we have a secret grudge against another we will not gratify it but root it out.
8. We will not allow over-familiarity in our talk with others, or anything that might stir up licentious behavior.
9. We resolve to examine ourselves on a very regular basis, knowing that the heart is very deceitful.
10. We will run with perseverance the race that is set before us, working out our salvation with fear and trembling.
“I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. ” 1 Tim 3:15
–Maynard H. Belt
Photo by: Michael Pollak (Creative Commons)