“‘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 the Lord?”-J.C. Ryle
In the third chapter of his book, Holiness, Ryle deals with three things: what true holiness is, the reason it is so needful, and the way in which holiness can be attained. It’s the first of these that is our present focus. He asks, “What sort of persons are those whom God calls holy?” Men and women can go a very far way in the “appearance” of holiness, and yet not be holy people. Just ask Balaam, Judas, Herod, Jehu, Joab and Gehazi, and Demas. Holiness is not knowledge, profession, zeal, morality, outward respectability, taking pleasure in the preached Word, or keeping good company. Rather in twelve points Ryle paints a picture of what true gospel holiness looks like:
- Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, which mind is revealed in the Scriptures. It is, hating what he hates and loving what he loves, and measuring all things by his Word.
- A holy man will shun every known sin, and 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.”
- A holy man will strive to be like the 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 labor to have the mind that was in Him, and to be ‘conformed to His image.’”
- A holy man will follow after meekness, longsuffering, gentleness, patience, kind tempers, and government of his tongue.
- A holy man will follow after temperance and self-denial; crucifying the desires of his body and flesh and restraining carnal passions.
- A holy man will follow after charity and brotherly kindness.
- A holy man will be a man of mercy and benevolence towards others, trying to do good and be useful in his generation.
- A holy man will follow after purity of the heart. “He knows his own heart is like a tinder, and will diligently keep clear of the sparks of temptation.”
- A holy man will follow after the fear of God. Not the fear of a slave, but the fear of a child who lives always before the face of his Father.
- A holy man will pursue humility.
- A holy man will strive after faithfulness in all the duties and relationships of his life.
- A holy man will aim at spiritual mindedness, “He will endeavor to set his affections entirely on things above, and to hold things on earth with a very loose hand.”
It cannot be overlooked that after this list, Ryle moves to some pastoral considerations. This list isn’t intended to discourage tender consciences, or make holy hearts sad. So he reminds us of a couple of truths: first, holiness in this life is not the eradication of every sin, but like Paul we find ourselves doing what we hate (Romans 7). But a holy man is not at peace with indwelling sin. Secondly, holiness comes to ripeness through time. Sanctification is a progressive work, and grace is not always in full bloom. Nevertheless, the picture he has painted 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 labor to be, if it is not what they are.”