Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Cross of Christ (pt 1)
...by J.C. Ryle

"Far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." -Galatians 6:14

What do we think and feel about the cross of Christ? We live in a Christian land. We probably attend the worship of a Christian church. We have, most of us, been baptized in the name of Christ. We profess and call ourselves Christians. All this is well—it is more than can be said of millions in the world. But what do we think and feel about the cross of Christ?

I want to examine what one of the greatest Christians who ever lived, thought of the cross of Christ. He has written down his opinion—he has given his judgment in words that cannot be mistaken. The man I mean is the Apostle Paul. The place where you will find his opinion, is in the letter which the Holy Spirit inspired him to write to the Galatians. The words in which his judgment is set down, are these, "But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Now what did Paul mean by saying this? He meant to declare strongly, that he trusted in nothing but "Jesus Christ crucified" for the pardon of his sins and the salvation of his soul. Let others, if they would, look elsewhere for salvation; let others, if they were so disposed, trust in other things for pardon and peace—for his part the apostle was determined to rest on nothing, lean on nothing, build his hope on nothing, place confidence in nothing, boast in nothing, "except in the cross of Jesus Christ."

I wish to say something about "the cross" to the readers of this volume. Believe me, the subject is one of the deepest importance. This is no mere question of controversy. It is not one of those points on which people may agree to differ, and feel that differences will not shut them out of heaven. A man must be right on this subject, or he is lost forever. Heaven or hell, happiness or misery, life or death, blessing or cursing in the last day—all hinges on the answer to this question, "What do you think about the cross of Christ?"

Let me show you, first of all, what the Apostle Paul did NOT boast in.

There are many things that Paul might have boasted in, if he had thought as some do in this day. If ever there was one on earth who had something to boast of in himself, that man was the great apostle of the Gentiles. Now if he did not dare to boast, who shall?

He never boasted in his national privileges. He was a Jew by birth, and, as he tells us himself, "A Hebrew of the Hebrews." (Phil. 3:5.) He might have said, like many of his brethren, "I have Abraham for my forefather I am not a dark unenlightened heathen; I am one of the favored people of God—I have been admitted into covenant with God by circumcision. I am a far better man than the ignorant Gentiles." But he never said so. He never boasted in anything of this kind. Never, for one moment!

He never boasted in his own works. None ever worked so hard for God as he did. He was "more abundant in labors" than any of the apostles. (2 Cor. 11:23.) No man ever preached so much, traveled so much, and endured so many hardships for Christ's cause. None was ever made the means of converting so many souls, did so much good to the world, and made himself so useful to mankind. No Father of the early Church, no Reformer, no Puritan, no Missionary, no minister, no layman—no one man could ever be named, who did so many good works as the Apostle Paul. But did he ever boast in them, as if they were in the least meritorious, and could save his soul? Never! Never for one moment!

He never boasted in his knowledge. He was a man of great gifts naturally, and, after he was converted, the Holy Spirit gave him greater gifts still. He was a mighty preacher, and a mighty speaker, and a weighty writer. He was as great with his pen as he was with his tongue. He could reason equally well with Jews and Gentiles. He could argue with infidels at Corinth, or Pharisees at Jerusalem, or self-righteous people in Galatia. He knew many deep things. He had been in the third heaven, and "heard unspeakable words." (2 Cor. 12:4.) He had received the spirit of prophecy, and could foretell things yet to come. But did he ever boast in his knowledge, as if it could justify him before God? Never—never! Never for one moment!

He never boasted in his graces. If ever there was one who abounded in graces, that man was Paul. He was full of love. How tenderly and affectionately he used to write! He could feel for souls like a mother or a nurse feeling for her child. He was a bold man. He cared not whom he opposed when truth was at stake. He cared not what risks he ran when souls were to be won. He was a self-denying man—in hunger and thirst often, in cold and nakedness, in watchings and fastings. He was a humble man. He thought himself less than the least of all saints, and the chief of sinners. He was a prayerful man. See how it comes out at the beginning of all his Epistles. He was a thankful man. His thanksgivings and his prayers walked side by side. But he never boasted in all this, never valued himself on it—never rested his soul's hopes on it. Oh, no—never for a moment!

He never boasted in his Churchmanship. If ever there was a good Churchman, that man was Paul. He was himself a chosen apostle. He was a founder of churches, and an ordainer of ministers—Timothy and Titus, and many elders, received their first commission from his hands. He was the beginner of services and sacraments in many a dark place. Many an one did he baptize; many an one did he receive to the Lord's Table; many a meeting for prayer, and praise, and preaching, did he begin and carry on. He was the setter up of discipline in many a young Church. Whatever ordinances, and rules, and ceremonies were observed in many Churches, were first recommended by him. But did he ever boast in his office and Church standing? Does he ever speak as if his Churchmanship would save him, justify him, put away his sins, and make him acceptable before God? Oh, no! Never—never! Never for a moment!

Now if the apostle Paul never boasted in any of these things, who in all the world, from one end to the other—who has any right to boast in them in our day? If Paul said, "God forbid that I should boast in anything whatever except the cross," who shall dare to say, "I have something to boast of—I am a better man than Paul"?

Who is there among the readers of this paper that trusts in any goodness of his own? Who is there that is resting on his own amendments—his own morality—his own churchmanship—his own works and performances of any kind whatever? Who is there that is leaning the weight of his soul on anything whatever of his own, in the smallest possible degree? Learn, I say, that you are very unlike the apostle Paul. Learn that your religion is not apostolic religion.

Who is there among the readers of this paper that trusts in his religious profession for salvation? Who is there that is valuing himself on his baptism, or his attendance at the Lord's table—his church-going on Sundays, or his daily services during the week—and saying to himself, "What more do I lack?" Learn, I say, this day, that you are very unlike Paul. Your Christianity is not the Christianity of the New Testament. Paul would not boast in anything but "the cross." Neither ought you.

Oh, let us beware of self-righteousness! Open sin kills its thousands of souls. Self-righteousness kills its tens of thousands! Go and study humility with the great apostle of the Gentiles. Go and sit with Paul at the foot of the cross. Give up your secret pride. Cast away your vain ideas of your own goodness. Be thankful if you have grace—but never boast in it for a moment. Work for God and Christ, with heart and soul and mind and strength—but never dream for a second of placing confidence in any work of your own.

Think, you who take comfort in some fancied ideas of your own goodness—think, you who wrap up yourselves in the notion, "all must be right, if I keep to my Church,"—think for a moment what a sandy foundation you are building upon! Think how miserably defective your hopes and pleas will look in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment! Whatever people may say of their own goodness while they are strong and healthy, they will find but little to say of it when they are sick and dying. Whatever merit they may see in their own works here in this world, they will discover none in them when they stand before the tribunal of Christ. The light of that great day of judgement will make a wonderful difference in the appearance of all their doings. It will strip off the tinsel, shrivel up the complexion, expose the rottenness of many a deed that is now called good. Their wheat will prove nothing but chaff—their gold will be found nothing but dross. Millions of so-called 'good works' will turn out to have been utterly defective and graceless. They passed current, and were valued among men—they will prove light and worthless in the balance of God. They will be found to have been like the whitened sepulchers of old—fair and beautiful on the outside—but full of corruption on the inside. Alas, for the man who can look forward to the day of judgment, and lean his soul in the smallest degree on anything of his own now!

"Howsoever people when they sit at ease, do vainly tickle their own hearts with the wanton conceit of I know not what proportionable correspondence between their merits and their rewards, which in the trance of their high speculations, they dream that God has measured and laid up as it were in bundles for them—we see notwithstanding by daily experience in a number even of them, that when the hour of death approaches, when they secretly hear themselves summoned to appear and stand at the bar of that Judge, whose brightness causes the eyes of angels themselves to dazzle, all those idle imaginations do then begin to hide their faces. To name merits then is to lay their souls upon the rack. The memory of their own deeds is loathsome unto them. They forsake all things wherein they have put any trust and confidence. No staff to lean upon, no rest, no ease, no comfort then—but only in Christ Jesus."—Richard Hooker. 1585.

Once more I say, let us beware of self-righteousness in every possible shape and form. Some people get as much harm from their fancied virtues as others do from their sins. Rest not, rest not until your heart beats in tune with Paul's. Rest not until you can say with him, "far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!"


scripturesearcher said...

j. C. Ryle was a giant for God, a faithful, courageous preacher of TRUTH, and I wish today's pastors and others could discover him and be blessd by his books!

Thank you for sharing this page and helping introduce others to this noble expositor of the Bible.


Calvinist Gadfly said...

Ryle's article should be required reading for every Christian. Thanks Steve.

Sparks said...

Imagine....Sunday July 16, 2006..
If in every church, on every radio, television and internet broadcast...this message was proclaimed without "watering down". If every person who claims to be a Christian opened themselves up to the hearing of this message and began to apply it to their lives.
If every Christian then took this message to the world.
I can only imagine....

Christopher Redman said...

Great message! This type of preaching is vitally needed in our churches today!

God Bless,

gigantor1231 said...

While it is true that Paul was highly qualified for the task that God chose him for, and he chose not to boast in his qualifications, let us not forget one of the most amazing aspects of who he was. Perhaps it is why he said;

"13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief;
14 and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.
15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all."
New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (1 Ti 1:13). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

Paul had many things to boast in with respect to the world but he chose that which was a stumbling stone to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. The most striking reason for this is the fact of what Paul alluded to in verse 13 of the preceeding passage, he was a murderer by his hearty approval, persecutor, violent agressor and blasphemer Acts 7:58; 8:1; 22:20; 26:10. Inspite of these most heinous of crimes Christ chose to show him mercy and made him the greatest apostle of the New Testament. What great hope this gives the common man who thinks he is unworthy, who had more reason to say he was unworthy when he was shown who he truly was? In being shown who he was he was given the greatest grace of all!
While J.C. Ryle is right in that Paul had all the worldly training in the world and in that he could have boasted, it is more striking when you consider who he really was! In that revelation of self Paul knew that all of his training and experience was null and void, filthy rags, he truly had only the cross to boast in.
I agree that J.C. Ryle was a profound teacher, and it would not hurt to read more of his works and works like his, however, our first book to pick up and endeavor to master should be the Bible itself. Perhaps if we did this we could write books of our own that are as profound as Ryle's, Tozer's, Spurgeon's etc.... We need more men and women to abandon there own boasting, men and women who choose to become less that Christ might become more. Forget all of the religous tags of Calvinism, Baptist, Arminianist or what ever your choice might be, we are cross bearers, stumbling blocks and fools to the world, we are disciples of Jesus Christ and in him and him only let us find our boast!

Seth McBee said...

Ryle is great...alan...I agree with your sentiment.

Thanks for the post Steve...

David Ponter said...

You do realise dont you that Ryle is classed as an Amyraldian? He did not believe in the form of limited atonement I think you want to express. For him, substitutionary atonement had a very different connotation.

Take care,

donsands said...

J. C. Ryle, what an humble extraordinary servant of Christ our Lord. Always edifying to read this man of God's words.
Thanks Steve.

Anonymous said...

Thank you brother for being bold in times when hearts fail. Living Dangerously in the hands of GOD.