“Zeal without knowledge is an army without a general” by J.C. Ryle

“Let us notice, secondly, in these verses, the extraordinary conduct of two of the apostles, James and John.

We are told that a certain Samaritan village refused to show hospitality to our Lord. ‘They did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.’ (Luke 9:53)

And then we read of a strange proposal which James and John made. ‘They said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elijah did?’ (Luke 9:54)

Here was zeal indeed, and zeal of a most plausible kind,—zeal for the honor of Christ! Here was zeal, justified and supported by a scriptural example, and that the example of no less a prophet than Elijah!

But it was not a zeal according to knowledge. The two disciples, in their heat, forgot that circumstances alter cases, and that the same action which may be right and justifiable at one time, may be wrong and unjustifiable at another.

They forgot that punishments should always be proportioned to offences, and that to destroy a whole village of ignorant people for a single act of discourtesy, would have been both unjust and cruel.

In short, the proposal of James and John was a wrong and inconsiderate one. They meant well, but they greatly erred.

Facts like this in the Gospels are carefully recorded for our learning. Let us see to it that we mark them well, and treasure them up in our minds.

It is possible to have much zeal for Christ, and yet to exhibit it in most unholy and unchristian ways.

It is possible to mean well and have good intentions, and yet to make most grievous mistakes in our actions.

It is possible to fancy that we have Scripture on our side, and to support our conduct by scriptural quotations, and yet to commit serious errors.

It is as clear as daylight, from this and other cases related in the Bible, that it is not enough to be zealous and well-meaning.

Very grave faults are frequently committed with good intentions. From no quarter perhaps has the Church received so much injury as from ignorant but well-meaning men.

We must seek to have knowledge as well as zeal. Zeal without knowledge is an army without a general, and a ship without a rudder.

We must pray that we may understand how to make a right application of Scripture. The Word is no doubt ‘a light to our feet, and a lantern to our path.’

But it must be the Word rightly handled, and properly applied.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1858/2012), 1: 254-255. Ryle is commenting on Luke 9:51-56.

“He is always ready to save” by J.C. Ryle

“Let us notice in these verses, the steady determination with which our Lord Jesus Christ regarded His own crucifixion and death.

We read that “when the time was come that He should be received up, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51) He knew full well what was before Him.

The betrayal, the unjust trial, the mockery, the scourging, the crown of thorns, the spitting, the nails, the spear, the agony on the cross,—all, all were doubtless spread before His mind’s eye, like a picture.

But He never flinched for a moment from the work that He had undertaken. His heart was set on paying the price of our redemption, and going even to the prison of the grave, as our surety.

He was full of tender love towards sinners. It was the desire of His whole soul to procure for them salvation.

And so, ‘for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame.’ (Heb. 12:2)

Forever let us bless God that we have such a ready and willing Saviour. Forever let us remember that as He was ready to suffer, so He is always ready to save.

The man that comes to Christ by faith should never doubt Christ’s willingness to receive Him.

The mere fact that the Son of God willingly came into the world to die, and willingly suffered, should silence such doubts entirely.

All the unwillingness is on the part of man, not of Christ. It consists in the ignorance, and pride, and unbelief, and half-heartedness of the sinner himself. But there is nothing wanting in Christ.

Let us strive and pray that the same mind may be in us which was in our blessed Master.

Like Him, let us be willing to go anywhere, do anything, suffer anything, when the path of duty is clear, and the voice of God calls.

Let us set our faces steadfastly to our work, when our work is plainly marked out, and drink our bitter cups patiently, when they come from a Father’s hand.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1858/2012), 1: 253-254. Ryle is commenting on Luke 9:51-56.

“None ought to be so humble as a Christian” by J.C. Ryle

“Of all creatures none has so little right to be proud as man.

And of all men none ought to be so humble as a Christian.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1858/2012), 1: 250. Ryle is commenting on Luke 9:46-50.

“The head may be very dull when the heart is right” by J.C. Ryle

“We have, lastly, in these verses, an example of the spiritual ignorance which may be found even in the hearts of good men.

We are told that our Lord said to His disciples, “The Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men.”

They had heard the same thing from His lips little more than a week before. But now, as then, the words seemed lost upon them. They heard as though they heard not.

They could not realize the fact that their Master was to die. They could not realize the great truth that Christ was to be “cut off” before He was to reign, and that this cutting off was a literal death upon the cross.

It is written, “They understood not this saying,”—“it was hid from them,”—“they perceived it not.”

Such slowness of understanding may surprise us much at this period of the world. We are apt to forget the power of early habits of thought, and national prejudices, in the midst of which the disciples had been trained.

“The throne of David,” says a great divine, “did so fill their eyes that they could not see the cross.”

Above all, we forget the enormous difference between the position we occupy who know the history of the crucifixion and the Scriptures which it fulfilled, and the position of a believing Jew who lived before Christ died and the veil was rent in twain.

Whatever we may think of it, the ignorance of the disciples should teach us two useful lessons, which we shall all do well to learn.

For one thing, let us learn that men may understand spiritual things very feebly, and yet be true children of God. The head may be very dull when the heart is right.

Grace is far better than gifts, and faith than knowledge.

If a man has faith and grace enough to give up all for Christ’s sake, and to take up the cross and follow Him, he shall be saved in spite of much ignorance. Christ shall own him at the last day.

Finally, let us learn to bear with ignorance in others, and to deal patiently with beginners in religion. Let us not make men offenders for a word.

Let us not set our brother down as having no grace, because he does not exhibit clear knowledge.

Has he faith in Christ? Does he love Christ? These are the principal things.

If Jesus could endure so much weakness in His disciples, we may surely do likewise.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1858/2012), 1: 247-248. Ryle is commenting on Luke 9:37-45.

“The child of many prayers shall seldom be cast away” by J.C. Ryle

“We have first, in these verses, an example of what a parent should do when he is troubled about his children.

We are told of a man in sore distress about his only son. This son was possessed by an evil spirit, and grievously tormented by him, both in body and soul.

In his distress the father makes application to our Lord Jesus Christ for relief. “Master,” he says, “I beseech Thee look upon my son: for he is mine only child.”

There are many Christian fathers and mothers at this day who are just as miserable about their children as the man of whom we are reading.

The son who was once the “desire of their eyes,” and in whom their lives were bound up, turns out a spendthrift, a profligate, and a companion of sinners.

The daughter who was once the flower of the family, and of whom they said, “This same shall be the comfort of our old age,” becomes self-willed, worldly minded, and a lover of pleasure more than a lover of God.

Their hearts are well nigh broken. The iron seems to enter into their souls. The devil appears to triumph over them, and rob them of their choicest jewels.

They are ready to cry, “I shall go to the grave sorrowing. What good shall my life do to me?”

Now what should a father or mother do in a case like this?

They should do as the man before us did. They should go to Jesus in prayer, and cry to Him about their child. They should spread before that merciful Saviour the tale of their sorrows, and entreat Him to help them.

Great is the power of prayer and intercession! The child of many prayers shall seldom be cast away.

God’s time of conversion may not be ours. He may think fit to prove our faith by keeping us long waiting.

But so long as a child lives, and a parent prays, we have no right to despair about that child’s soul.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1858/2012), 1: 245-246. Ryle is commenting on Luke 9:37-45.

“There is one foundation of hope and peace for sinners” by J.C. Ryle

“This passage shows us that the Old Testament saints in glory take a deep interest in Christ’s atoning death.

We are told that when Moses and Elijah appeared in glory with our Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration, they ‘talked with Him.’ (Luke 9:30) And what was the subject of their conversation?

We are not obliged to make conjectures and guesses about this. St. Luke tells us, ‘they spake of His decease, which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.’ (Luke 9:31)

They knew the meaning of that death. They knew how much depended on it. Therefore they ‘talked’ about it.

It is a grave mistake to suppose that holy men and women under the Old Testament knew nothing about the sacrifice which Christ was to offer up for the sin of the world.

Their light, no doubt, was far less clear than ours. They saw things afar off and indistinctly, which we see, as it were, close at hand.

But there is not the slightest proof that any Old Testament saint ever looked to any other satisfaction for sin, but that which God promised to make by sending Messiah.

From Abel downwards the whole company of old believers appear to have been ever resting on a promised sacrifice, and a blood of almighty efficacy yet to be revealed.

From the beginning of the world there has never been but one foundation of hope and peace for sinners—the death of an Almighty Mediator between God and man.

That foundation is the centre truth of all revealed religion. It was the subject of which Moses and Elijah were seen speaking when they appeared in glory. They spoke of the atoning death of Christ.

Let us take heed that this death of Christ is the ground of all our confidence. Nothing else will give us comfort in the hour of death and the day of judgment.

Our own works are all defective and imperfect. Our sins are more in number than the hairs of our heads. (Psalm 40:12)

Christ dying for our sins, and rising again for our justification, must be our only plea, if we wish to be saved.

Happy is that man who has learned to cease from his own works, and to glory in nothing but the cross of Christ!

If saints in glory see in Christ’s death so much beauty, that they must needs talk of it, how much more ought sinners on earth!”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1858/2012), 1: 241-242. Ryle is commenting on Luke 9:28-36.

“He humbled Himself to become man” by J.C. Ryle

“The New Testament begins with the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. No part of the Bible is so important as this, and no part is so full and complete.

Four distinct Gospels tell us the story of Christ’s doing and dying. Four times over we read the precious account of His works and words.

How thankful we ought to be for this! To know Christ is life eternal. To believe in Christ is to have peace with God. To follow Christ is to be a true Christian.

To be with Christ will be heaven itself. We can never hear too much about Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of St. Matthew begins with a long list of names. Sixteen verses are taken up with tracing a pedigree from Abraham to David, and from David to the family in which Jesus was born.

Let no one think that these verses are useless. Nothing is useless in creation. The least mosses, and the smallest insects, serve some good end. Nothing is useless in the Bible.

Every word of it is inspired. The chapters and verses which seem at first sight unprofitable, are all given for some good purpose, Look again at these sixteen verses, and you will see in them useful and instructive lessons.

Learn from this list of names, that God always keeps His word. He had promised, that in Abraham’s seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed. He had promised to raise up a Saviour of the family of David. (Gen. 12:3; Isaiah 11:1.)

These sixteen verses prove, that Jesus was the son of David and the son of Abraham, and that God’s promise was fulfilled.—Thoughtless and ungodly people should remember this lesson, and be afraid. Whatever they may think, God will keep His word.

If they repent not, they will surely perish.—True Christians should remember this lesson, and take comfort. Their Father in heaven will be true to all His engagements.

He has said, that He will save all believers in Christ. If He has said it, He will certainly do it. “He is not a man that He should lie.” “He abideth faithful: He can not deny Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13.)

Learn next from this list of names the sinfulness and corruption of human nature. Observe how many godly parents in this catalogue had wicked and ungodly sons.

The names of Roboam, and Joram, and Amon, and Jechonias, should teach us humbling lessons. They had all pious fathers. But they were all wicked men.

Grace does not run in families. It needs something more than good examples and good advice to make us children of God.

They that are born again are not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:13.) Praying parents should pray night and day, that their children may be born of the Spirit.

Learn lastly from this list of names, how great is the mercy and compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Think how defiled and unclean our nature is; and then think what a condescension it was in Him to be born of a woman, and “made in the likeness of men.”

Some of the names we read in this catalogue remind us of shameful and sad histories. Some of the names are those of persons never mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. But at the end of all comes the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Though He is the eternal God, He humbled Himself to become man, in order to provide salvation for sinners. “Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor.”

We should always read this catalogue with thankful feelings. We see here that no one who partakes of human nature can be beyond the reach of Christ’s sympathy and compassion.

Our sins may have been as black and great as those of any whom St. Matthew names. But they can not shut us out of heaven, if we repent and believe the gospel.

If Jesus was not ashamed to be born of a woman, whose pedigree contained such names as those we have read today, we need not think that He will be ashamed to call us brethren, and to give us eternal life.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1856/2012), 2-3. Ryle is commenting on Matthew 1:1-17.

“Jesus has all power in heaven and earth” by J.C. Ryle

“The miracle before us is one among many proofs that with Christ nothing is impossible.

The Saviour of sinners is Almighty. He “calleth those things which be not as though they were.” (Rom. 4:17)

When He wills a thing, it shall be done. When He commands a thing, it shall come to pass.

He can create light out of darkness, order out of disorder, strength out of weakness, joy out of sorrow, and food out of nothing at all. Forever let us bless God that it is so!

We might well despair, when we see the corruption of human nature, and the desperate hardness and unbelief of man’s heart, if we did not know the power of Christ.

‘Can these dry bones live? Can any man or woman be saved? Can any child, or friend of ours ever become a true Christian? Can we ourselves ever win our way through to heaven?’

Questions like these could never be answered, if Jesus was not Almighty.

But thanks be to God, Jesus has all power in heaven and earth.

He lives in heaven for us, able to save to the uttermost, and therefore we may hope.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1858/2012), 1: 229-230. Ryle is commenting on Luke 9:12-17.

“Be careful to make time for being alone with God” by J.C. Ryle

“Let us mark, secondly, the importance to Christians of occasional privacy and retirement.

We are told, that when the apostles returned from their first ministerial work, our Lord ‘took them and went aside privately into a desert place.’ (Luke 9:10) We cannot doubt that this was done with a deep meaning.

It was meant to teach the great lesson that those who do public work for the souls of others, must be careful to make time for being alone with God.

The lesson is one which many Christians would do well to remember.

Occasional retirement, self-inquiry, meditation, and secret communion with God, are absolutely essential to spiritual health. The man who neglects them is in great danger of a fall.

To be always preaching, teaching, speaking, writing, and working public works, is, unquestionably, a sign of zeal. But it is not always a sign of zeal according to knowledge.

It often leads to untoward consequences. We must make time occasionally for sitting down and calmly looking within, and examining how matters stand between our own selves and Christ.

The omission of the practice is the true account of many a backsliding which shocks the Church, and gives occasion to the world to blaspheme.

Many could say with sorrow, in the words of Canticles, “They made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard have I not kept.’ (Song of Solomon 1:6)”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1858/2012), 1: 226-227. Ryle is commenting on Luke 9:7-11.

“God’s chosen instrument for doing good to souls” by J.C. Ryle

One of the principal works which the apostles were commissioned to take up was preaching.

We read that our Lord ‘sent them to preach the kingdom of God,” and that “they went through the towns preaching the Gospel.’ (Luke 9:6)

The importance of preaching, as a means of grace, might easily be gathered from this passage, even if it stood alone. But it is but one instance, among many, of the high value which the Bible everywhere sets upon preaching.

It is, in fact, God’s chosen instrument for doing good to souls. By it sinners are converted, inquirers led on, and saints built up.

A preaching ministry is absolutely essential to the health and prosperity of a visible church.

The pulpit is the place where the chief victories of the Gospel have always been won, and no Church has ever done much for the advancement of true religion in which the pulpit has been neglected.

Would we know whether a minister is a truly apostolical man? If he is, he will give the best of his attention to his sermons.

He will labor and pray to make his preaching effective, and he will tell his congregation that he looks to preaching for the chief results on souls.

The minister who exalts the sacraments, or forms of the Church, above preaching, may be a zealous, earnest, conscientious, and respectable minister; but his zeal is not according to knowledge. (Romans 10:2)

He is not a follower of the apostles.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1858/2012), 1: 222-223. Ryle is commenting on Luke 9:1-6.