I have been reading some of J.C. Ryle’s Practical Religion this past week, and found the chapter on Self-Exertion to be very challenging and rewarding. I thought this was a great snippet:
“It is a maxim among good farmers that the more they do for the land the more the land does for them. I am sure it should be a maxim among Christians that the more they do for their Christianity the more their Christianity will do for them.”
The book is available in print at your favorite bookstore, but can also be viewed on-line here at the wonderful GraceGems web site.
Here’s a larger clip from this chapter, with this quote in context. It’s worth reading the whole thing if you go out to GraceGems. I will have another post coming soon discussing the gist of this chapter in conjunction with “the narrow way” and the passage, “the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and the violence take it by force.” For now, though, here’s Ryle:
It is a solemn thing to be a minister of the Gospel. It is a painful thing to look on, and notice the ways of mankind in spiritual matters. We hold in our hands that great law Book of God, which declares that without repentance, and conversion, and faith in Christ, and holiness, no man living can be saved. In discharge of our office we urge men to repent, believe, and be saved; but, to our grief, how frequently we have to lament that our labor seems all in vain. Men attend our churches, and listen, and approve, but do not “make every effort” to be saved. We show the sinfulness of sin; we unfold the loveliness of Christ; we expose the vanity of the world; we set forth the happiness of Christ’s service; we offer the living water to the wearied and heavy laden sons of toil: but, to our dismay, how often we seem to speak to the winds. Our words are patiently heard on Sundays; our arguments are not refuted: but we see plainly in the week that men are not “making every effort” to be saved. There comes the devil on Monday morning, and offers his countless snares; there comes the world, and holds out its illusive prizes: our hearers follow them greedily. They work hard for this world’s goods; they toil at Satan’s bidding: but the one thing they need to do they won’t–they will not “make every effort” at all.
I am not writing from hear-say. I speak what I have seen. I write down the result of thirty-seven years’ experience in the ministry. I have learned lessons about human nature during that period which I never knew before. I have seen how true are our Lord’s words about the narrow road. I have discovered how few there are that “make every effort” to be saved.
Seriousness about fleeting matters is common enough. Striving to be rich and prosperous in this world is not rare at all. Pains about money, and business, and politics–pains about trade, and science, and fine arts, and amusements–pains about rent, and wages, and labor, and land–pains about such matters I see in abundance both in the city and the country. But I see few who take pains about their souls. I see few anywhere who “make every effort” to enter in through the narrow door.
I am not surprised at all this. I read in the Bible that it is only what I am to expect. The parable of the great supper is an exact picture of things that I have seen with my own eyes ever since I became a minister (Luke 14:16). I find, as my Lord and Savior tells me, that “men make excuse.” One has his piece of land to see; another has his oxen to prove; a third has his family hindrances. But all this does not prevent my feeling deeply grieved for the souls of men. I grieve to think that they should have eternal life so close to them, and yet be lost because they will not “make every effort” to enter in and be saved.
I do not know in what state of soul many readers of this paper may be. But I warn you to take heed that you do not perish forever because you did not “make every effort.” Do not suppose that it needs some great scarlet sin to bring you to the pit of destruction. You have only to sit still and do nothing, and you will find yourself eventually in the pit of Hell. Yes! Satan does not ask you to walk in the steps of Cain, and Pharaoh, and Ahab, and Belshazzar, and Judas Iscariot. There is another road to Hell that is guaranteed to get you there–the road of spiritual sluggishness, spiritual laziness, and spiritual sloth. Satan has no objection to you being known as a respectable member of the Christian Church. He will let you give your offerings; he will allow you to sit comfortably in church every Sunday that you live. He knows full well, that so long as you do not “make every effort,” you must come at last to the place where the destroying maggot never dies, and the fire that is never quenched. Be careful that you do not come to this end. I repeat it, “you have only to do nothing, and you will be lost.”
If you have been taught to “make every effort” for your soul’s well-being, I beg you never to suppose you can go too far. Never give way to the idea that you are too concerned about your spiritual condition, and that there is no need for so much carefulness. Settle it rather in your mind that “in all labor there is profit,” and that no labor is so profitable as that bestowed on the soul. It is a maxim among good farmers that the more they do for the land the more the land does for them. I am sure it should be a maxim among Christians that the more they do for their Christianity the more their Christianity will do for them.
Watch out for the slightest inclination to be careless about such things as reading the Bible, going to church, praying, and the taking of the Lord’s Supper. Beware of shortening your prayers, Bible reading, your private communion with God. Be careful that you do not give way to a thoughtless, lazy manner of using weekly services of the Church. Fight against any rising disposition to be sleepy, critical, and fault-finding, while you listen to the preaching of the Gospel. Whatever you do for God, do it with all your heart, mind and strength. In other things be moderate, and dread running into extremes. In matters of the soul fear moderation just as you would fear the plague. Don’t care what men may think of you. Let it be enough for you that your Master says, “make every effort.”
(J.C. Ryle, Practical Religion)