“‘The LORD our righteousness.’ (Jer. 23:6)
A soul truly sensible of his own unrighteousness would not have this sentence, ‘The LORD our righteousness,’ blotted out of the Bible for ten thousand thousand worlds.”
“Why then should any man or woman despair with such a passage as this in the Bible? Jesus is a physician who can cure hopeless cases.
He can quicken dead souls, and call the things which be not as though they were.
Never should any man or woman despair! Jesus is still the same now that He was eighteen hundred years ago. The keys of death and Hell are in His hand. When He opens none can shut.
What though your sins be more in number than the hairs of your head?
What though your evil habits have grown with your growth, and strengthened with your strength?
What though you have hitherto hated good, and loved evil, all the days of your life?
These things are sad indeed; but there is hope even for you. Christ can heal you. Christ can cleanse you. Christ can raise you from your low estate.
Heaven is not shut against you. Christ is able to admit you, if you will humbly commit your soul into His hands.
Reader, are your sins forgiven? If not, I set before you this day a full and free salvation. I invite you to follow the steps of the penitent thief,—come to Christ, and live.
I tell you that Jesus is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. I tell you He can do everything that your soul requires.
Though your sins be as scarlet, He can make them white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Why should you not be saved as well as another? Come unto Christ by faith, and live.
Reader, are you a true believer? If you are, you ought to glory in Christ.
Glory not in your own faith, your own feelings, your own knowledge, your own prayers, your own amendment, your own diligence. Glory in nothing but Christ.
Alas! the best of us knows but little of that merciful and mighty Saviour. We do not exalt Him and glory in Him enough. Let us pray that we may see more of the fulness there is in Him.
Reader, do you ever try to do good to others? If you do, remember to tell them about Christ.
Tell the young, tell the poor, tell the aged, tell the ignorant, tell the sick, tell the dying,—tell them all about Christ.
Tell them of His power, and tell them of His love.
Tell them of His doings, and tell them of His feelings.
Tell them of what He has done for the chief of sinners.
Tell them what He is willing to do to the last day of time.
Tell it them over and over again. Never be tired of speaking of Christ.
Say to them broadly and fully, freely and unconditionally, unreservedly and undoubtingly, ‘Come unto Christ as the penitent thief did,—come unto Christ, and you shall be saved.'”
–J.C. Ryle, Living or Dead? A Series of Home Truths (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1851), 262–265.
“The true Christian is one whose religion is in his heart and life. It is felt by himself in his heart. It is seen by others in his conduct and life.
He feels his sinfulness, guilt, and badness, and repents. He sees Jesus Christ to be that Divine Saviour whom his soul needs, and commits himself to Him.
He puts off the old man with his corrupt and carnal habits, and puts on the new man. He lives a new and holy life, fighting habitually against the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Christ Himself is the corner stone of His Christianity.
Ask him in what he trusts for the forgiveness of his many sins, and he will tell you, in the death of Christ.
Ask him in what righteousness he hopes to stand innocent at the judgment day, and he will tell You it is the righteousness of Christ.
Ask him by what pattern he tries to frame his life, and he will tell you that it is the example of Christ.
But, beside all this, there is one thing in a true Christian which is eminently peculiar to him. That thing is love to Christ.
Knowledge, faith, hope, reverence, obedience, are all marked features in a true Christian’s character. But his picture would be very imperfect if you omitted his “love” to his Divine Master.
He not only knows, trusts, and obeys. He goes further than this,—he loves.
This peculiar mark of a true Christian is one which we find mentioned several times in the Bible. “Faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” is an expression which many Christians are familiar with.
Let it never be forgotten that love is mentioned by the Holy Ghost in almost as strong terms as faith. Great as the danger is of him “that believeth not,” the danger of him that “loveth not” is equally great. Not believing and not loving are both steps to everlasting ruin.
Hear what St. Paul says to the Corinthians: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maran-atha.” (1 Cor. 16:22) St. Paul allows no way of escape to the man who does not love Christ.
He leaves him no loop-hole or excuse. A man may lack clear head-knowledge, and yet be saved.
He may fail in courage, and be overcome by the fear of man, like Peter.
He may fall tremendously, like David, and yet rise again.
But if a man does not love Christ, he is not in the way of life. The curse is yet upon him. He is on the broad road that leadeth to destruction.
Hear what St. Paul says to the Ephesians, “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” (Eph. 6:24) The Apostle is here sending his good wishes, and declaring his good will to all true Christians.
Many of them, no doubt, he had never seen. Many of them in the early Churches, we may be very sure, were weak in faith, and knowledge, and self-denial.
How, then, shall he describe them in sending his message? What words can he use which will not discourage the weaker brethren? He chooses a sweeping expression which exactly describes all true Christians under one common name.
All had not attained to the same degree, whether in doctrine or practice. But all loved Christ in sincerity.
Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ Himself says to the Jews, “If God were your Father, ye would love Me.” (John 8:42) He saw His misguided enemies satisfied with their spiritual condition, on the one single ground that they were children of Abraham.
He saw them, like many ignorant Christians of our own day, claiming to be God’s children, for no better reasons than this, that they were circumcised and belonged to the Jewish Church.
He lays down the broad principle that no man is a child of God, who does not love God’s only begotten Son.
No man has a right to call God Father, who does not love Christ. Well would it be for many Christians if they were to remember that this mighty principle applies to them as well as to the Jews.
No love to Christ,—then no sonship to God!
Hear once more what our Lord Jesus Christ said to the Apostle Peter, after He rose from the dead. Three times He asked him the question, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me.” (John 21:15–17)
The occasion was remarkable. He meant gently to remind His erring disciple of His thrice-repeated fall. He desired to call forth from Him a new confession of faith, before publicly restoring to him his commission to feed the Church.
And what was the question that He asked him? He might have said,—“Believest thou? Art thou converted? Art thou ready to confess Me? Wilt thou obey Me?”
He uses none of these expressions. He simply says, “Lovest thou Me?”
This is the point, He would have us know, on which a man’s Christianity hinges. Simple as the question sounded, it was most searching.
Plain and easy to be understood by the most unlearned poor man, it contains matter which tests the reality of the most advanced apostle. If a man truly loves Christ, all is right;—if not, all is wrong.
Would you know the secret of this peculiar feeling towards Christ which distinguishes the true Christian? You have it in the words of St. John, “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
That text no doubt applies specially to God the Father. But it is no less true of God the Son.
A true Christian loves Christ for all He has done for him.
He has suffered in his stead, and died for him on the cross.
He has redeemed him from the guilt, the power, and the consequences of sin, by His blood.
He has called him by His Spirit to self-knowledge, repentance, faith, hope, and holiness.
He has forgiven all his many sins, and blotted them out.
He has freed him from the captivity of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
He has taken him from the brink of hell, placed him in the narrow way, and set his face toward heaven.
He has given him light instead of darkness, peace of conscience instead of uneasiness, hope instead of uncertainty, life instead of death.
Can you wonder that the true Christian loves Christ?
And he loves Him besides, for all that He is still doing.
He feels that He is daily washing away his many shortcomings and infirmities, and pleading his soul’s cause before God.
He is daily supplying all the needs of his soul, and providing him with an hourly provision of mercy and grace.
He is daily leading him by His Spirit to a city of habitation, bearing with him when he is weak and ignorant, raising him up when he stumbles and falls, protecting him against his many enemies, preparing an eternal home for him in heaven.
Can you wonder that the true Christian loves Christ?
Does the debtor in jail love the friend who unexpectedly and undeservedly pays all his debts, supplies him with fresh capital, and takes him into partnership with himself?
Does the prisoner in war love the man who at the risk of his own life, breaks through the enemies’ lines, rescues him, and sets him free?
Does the drowning sailor love the man who plunges into the sea, dives after him, catches him by the hair of his head, and by a mighty effort saves him from a watery grave?
A very child can answer such questions as these. Just in the same way, and upon the same principles, a true Christian loves Jesus Christ.”
–J.C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (Carlise, PA: Banner of Truth, 1877/2014), 322-325.
“’Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen in Israel this day?’ (2 Samuel 3:38)
David’s poignant words on the death of Abner will have come instinctively to the minds of many Christians throughout the world on hearing of the death, on 30 July 1997, of William Still, minister of Gilcomston South Church, Aberdeen.
Ill-health in the last two years had increasingly limited Mr. Still’s ministry to preaching on Sundays, and on 8 May 1997, the date of his eighty-sixth birthday, he demitted the pastoral church of the congregation he had served with unstinting devotion for fifty-two years.
The fruit of his ministry in the university city of Aberdeen has spread, both in personal influence and in prayer, to the ends of the earth in the multitude of spiritual sons and daughters who constitute his true children (he remained single throughout his life).
His example of biblical ministry has been a beacon to guide and encourage countless gospel ministers; his deep pastoral love for his own congregation, his commitment to shaping a truly Christian fellowship, his investment of profound personal care and prayer in the lives of countless people– students who sat under his ministry while at college, as well as many others– and, in addition, the penetrating insights of his writings– these constitute his spiritual legacy.
Mr. Still believed that, in some senses, his one lengthly ministry was really several ministries. Certainly it passed through various stages. In the post-war years there were bright and busy evangelistic meetings with large numbers of converts ‘falling into the Lord’s hands like plums,’ as he put it.
Then came the first revolution: he ‘stumbled’ on expository preaching as on successive Sundays he found himself, as if by accident, preaching consecutively through a portion of Romans. As he began to see the effect of such preaching he sensed that here was a wiser, richer, more fruitful and more lasting way in which true Christian character would be built; now he must go deeper.
The extravagances came to an end; extensive corporate prayer on Saturday nights became the order of the day– and would remain so throughout the years. The apostolic model: ‘prayer and the ministry of the word’ (Acts 6:4) became the staple diet of congregational life.
He continued to find the light of Scripture breaking into and reshaping his thinking– and as he did so, he drew the congregation through the experience with him!– until his theology became increasingly moulded by Scripture and distinctively Reformed in character.
He preached (and wrote) his way through the entire Bible several times. And it is doubtful if any living minister has so lovingly and enthusiastically read the chapters of the Westminster Assembly’s Confession of Faith to his congregation the way Mr. Still frequently did.
Certainly few others will have read with such enthusiasm so much of John Owen’s writings (as well as portions of John Murray’s commentary on Romans) to the teenagers and students who at various times and in different places sat under his ministry!
In this covenant theology Mr. Still found a doctrinal resting-place and focus for his growing convictions on the nature of the life of the church.
Those who knew Mr. Still well personally will recognize that these paragraphs do not begin adequately to express the many-sidedness of his life and work, or what it was like actually to sit under his ministry and to be cared for and pastored by him.
Perhaps, therefore, a few words of a more personal nature may be added without intruding into this brief tribute.
I first came to hear Mr. Still preach when I was seventeen. For three decades thereafter he taught and exemplified for me the grace of God in the gospel of Christ and, for all the age gap, made me his friend.
He invested loving care, prayer and time in my life in a manner and to a depth which would be impossible to describe. He was, at various times, counsellor, encourager, comforter and cautioner.
He cared for and loved my family; he sorrowed with us in our griefs and rejoiced in our joys; he seemed to take more delight than we ourselves did in any hint of fruitfulness, success or honour we experienced.
And he always sought to think the best of us.
Perhaps the most touching thing of all for me personally was to witness the way his being seemed to melt with a mixture of humble incredulity and thankful gratitude to the Lord whenever we tried to express to him what his life and ministry had meant to us.
What was especially remarkable about all this is how the same quality of love could have been showered on so many others.
Yet it was; we knew it, as did they. It would grieve him, I know, if I did not immediately add that this was all of grace. But it was also very evidently of grace.
He had clearly learned from the Lord Jesus how to love many with the same love which was simultaneously completely individualised.
Perhaps I can say nothing more telling about Mr. Still than that since his death every time I have thought of how he now contemplates the face of the Lord Jesus Christ a further thought has immediately and instinctively followed: How glorious that Saviour must be who can and does recreate His grace so lovingly in such frail humanity!
William Still was a burning and a shining light. Those who knew him best will inevitably feel that they will not see his like again, and sense an unrepayable debt for the privilege of receiving his ministry and the Christ-centred affection of his pastoral care.
He walked with God and has entered into his rest in the Saviour whom he trusted and loved; his works will follow him.
He was, indeed, a prince and a great man (2 Samuel 3:38).”
–Sinclair Ferguson, “William Still (1911-1997), Minister of Gilcomston South Church, Aberdeen, 1945-1997,” The Banner of Truth Magazine, No. 409 (Oct. 1997): 6-10.
“For your own soul’s sake dare to make up your mind what you believe, and dare to have positive distinct views of truth and error.
Never, never be afraid to hold decided doctrinal opinions.
And let no fear of man and no morbid dread of being thought party-spirited, narrow, or controversial, make you rest contented with a bloodless, boneless, tasteless, colourless, lukewarm, undogmatic Christianity.
Mark what I say. If you want to do good in these times, you must throw aside indecision, and take up a distinct, sharply-cut, doctrinal religion.
If you believe little, those to whom you try to do good will believe nothing.
The victories of Christianity, wherever they have been won, have been won by distinct doctrinal theology:
This is the only teaching which for eighteen centuries God has honoured with success, and is honouring at the present day both at home and abroad.
Let the clever advocates of a broad and undogmatic theology,– the preachers of the Gospel of earnestness, and sincerity and cold morality,– let them, I say, show us at this day any English village or parish, or city, or town, or district, which has been evangelized without ‘dogma,’ by their principles.
They cannot do it, and they never will. Christianity without distinct doctrine is a powerless thing.
It may be beautiful to some minds, but it is childless and barren. There is no getting over facts.
The good that is done in the earth may be comparatively small. Evil may abound, and ignorant impatience may murmur, and cry out that Christianity has failed.
But, depend on it, if we want to ‘do good’ and shake the world, we must fight with the old apostolic weapons, and stick to ‘dogma.’
No dogma, no fruits! No positive Evangelical doctrine, no evangelization!”
–J.C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (Carlise, PA: Banner of Truth, 1877/2014), 398-399.
“Union with Christ in His death and resurrection is the element of union which Paul most extensively expounds. But the principle of Romans 6 is a wider one: if we are united to Christ, then we are united to Him at all points of His activity on our behalf.
We share in His death (we were baptized into His death), in His burial (we were buried with Him by baptism), in His resurrection (we are resurrected with Christ), in His ascension (we have been raised with Him), in His heavenly session (we sit with Him in heavenly places, so that our life is hidden with Christ in God) and we will share in His promised return (when Christ, who is our life, appears, we also will appear with Him in glory (Rom. 6:14; Col. 2:11-12; 3:1-4).
This, then, is the foundation of sanctification in Reformed theology. It is rooted, not in our humanity and our achievement of holiness or sanctification, but in what God has done in Christ, and for us in union with Him.
Rather than view Christians first and foremost in the microcosmic context of their own progress, the Reformed doctrine first of all sets them in the macrocosm of God’s activity in redemptive history. It is seeing oneself in this context that enables the individual Christian to grow in true holiness.
This general approach is well illustrated by Paul’s key statements: ‘We know that our old self [anthropos, man] was crucified with [Christ] in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin’ (Rom. 6:6).’
What is here said to be accomplished already is the central element in sanctification (we are no longer slaves to sin, we are servants of God). It is accomplished by doing away with ‘the body of sin’– an expression which may refer in the context of Romans 6 to the physical body, or more generally, to bodily existence as the sphere in which sin’s dominion is expressed.
In Christ, sin’s status is changed from that of citizen with full rights to that of an illegal alien (with no rights– but for all that, not easily deported!). The foundation of this is what Paul describes as the co-crucifixion of the old man with Christ.
The ‘old man’ (ho palaios anthropos) has often been taken to refer to what I was before I became a Christian (‘my former self’). That is undoubtedly implied in the expression.
But Paul has larger canvas in mind here. He has been expounding the fact that men and women are ‘in Adam’ or ‘in Christ’. To be ‘in Adam’ is to belong to the world of the ‘old man’, to be ‘in the flesh”, a slave to sin and liable to death and judgment.
From this perspective, Paul sees Jesus Christ as the second man, the last Adam, the new man. He is the first of a new race of humans who share in His righteousness and holiness. He is the first of the new age, the head of the new humanity, through His resurrection (compare 1 Cor. 15:45-49). By grace and faith we belong to Him.
We too share in the new humanity. If we are in Christ, we share in the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), we are no longer ‘in the flesh’, but ‘in the Spirit’ (Rom. 8:9). The life and power of the resurrection age have already begun to make their presence felt in our life.
What is so significant here is the transformation this brings to the Christian’s self-understanding. We do not see ourselves merely within the limited vision of our own biographies: volume one, the life of slavery in sin; volume two, the life of freedom from sin.
We see ourselves set in a cosmic context: in Adam by nature, in Christ by grace; in the old humanity by sin, in the new humanity by regeneration. Once we lived under sin’s reign; now we have died to its rule and are living to God.
Our regeneration is an event of this magnitude! Paul searches for a parallel to such an exercise of divine power and finds it in two places: the creation of the world (2 Cor. 4:6; 5:17) and the resurrection and ascension of Christ (Eph. 1:19-20).
Against this background Paul urges radical consecration and sanctification (Rom. 6:11-14). In essence his position is that the magnitude of what God has accomplished is itself an adequate foundation and motivation for the radical holiness which should characterize our lives.
In actual practice, it is the dawning of this perspective which is the groundwork for all practical sanctification.
Hence Paul’s emphasis on “knowing’ that this is the case (Rom. 6:3, 6, 9), and his summons to believers to ‘consider’ themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11).
‘Consider’ (‘reckon’, KJV) does not mean to bring this situation into being by special act of faith. It means to recognize that such a situation exists and to act accordingly.
Sanctification is therefore the consistent practical outworking of what it means to belong to the new creation in Christ. That is why so much of the New Testament’s response to pastoral and personal problems in the early church was: ‘Do you not know what is true of you in Christ?‘ (Rom. 6:3, 16; 7:1; 1 Cor. 3:16; 5:6; 6:2, 3, 9, 15, 19; 9:13, 24).
Live by the Spirit’s power in a manner that is consistent with that! If you have died with Christ to sin and been raised into new life, quit sinning and live in a new way.
If, when Christ appears, you will appear with Him and be like Him, then live now in a manner that conforms to your final destiny!”
–Sinclair Ferguson, “Christian Spirituality: The Reformed View of Sanctification,” in Some Pastors and Teachers (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2017), 534-536.