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Comments on Chapter 1 of J C Ryleís book "Holiness"
by Chris Anderson

(Ryle's book "Holiness" is available online here or via any Christian bookshop.)

The first chapter of Ryleís classic book deals with the topic of sin. That fact is no accident, for Ryle observes that "a right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. With that I wholeheartedly concur, and I fear that manís failure to make much of sin has resulted in his making little of Godís holiness, of Godís grace and of Christís sacrifice. In Ryleís words: "Dim or indistinct views of sin are the origin of most of the errors, heresies and false doctrines of the present day."

Ryle addresses the topic of sin under three basic divisions: first, he presents a theological discussion. For the sake of clear discussion, I will use captial letters (A, B, etc.) for his divisions in this section. Next, he makes two observations on the basis of the doctrines. I will use numbers (1, 2) to designate these. He concludes with "practical uses" or applications of this doctrine to his own day. I will use lower case letters (a, b, etc.) to list them. For the sake of clarity, please refer to the section you are discussing using this key.

Theological Discussion

A. The Definition of Sin

Ryle deals with sin first as a principle, an inclination to evil, a "vast moral disease which affects the whole human race." This is interesting, since we too often point to acts when defining sin. After addressing "sin," Ryle addresses "sins." He commends "a deeper study of Leviticus" to heighten our awareness of sins.

B. The Origin and Source of Sin

Ryle teaches that sin comes "from within" and that it is "a family disease, which we all inherit from our first parents."

C. The Extent of Sin

"Sin is a disease which pervades and runs through every part of our moral constitution and every faculty of our minds. The understanding, the affections, the reasoning powers, the will, are all more or less infected."

Beyond the biblical evidence of sinís influence on the entire man and the entire race, Ryle cites the prevalence of sin even in the remotest parts of the world as evidence that sin is a "universal disease of all mankind."

He also notes that this sin continues to reside even in those who have been born again, though it no longer has dominion.

D. The Guilt, Vileness and Offensiveness of Sin in the Sight of God.

Ryle highlights the sinfulness of sin by demonstrating how it is rebellion against a holy God. He explains that the awfulness of sin is seen most clearly at Calvary:

No proof of the fullness of sin, after all, is so overwhelming and unanswerable as the cross and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and the whole doctrine of His substitution and atonement. Terribly black must that guilt be for which nothing but the blood of the Son of God could make satisfaction.

E. The Deceitfulness of Sin.

Ryle speaks of mankindís proneness to toy with, minimize and excuse sin:

We are too apt to forget that temptation to sin will rarely present itself to us in its true colors, saying, "I am your deadly enemy and I want to ruin you forever in hell." Oh, no! Sin comes to us, like Judas, with a kiss, and like Joab, with an outstretched hand and flattering words. The forbidden fruit seemed good and desirable to Eve, yet it cast her out of Eden. The walking idly on his palace roof seemed harmless enough to David, yet it ended in adultery and murder. Sin rarely seems sin at its first beginnings. Let us then watch and pray, lest we fall into temptation.

Two Observations

Ryle moves on to address "two thoughts which appear to [him] to rise with irresistible force out of the subject."

1. Sin demonstrates the great cause we have for "humiliation and self-abasement."

Ryle here makes a point which he will repeat on a number of occasions: "How true it is that the holiest saint is in himself a miserable sinner and a debtor to mercy and grace to the last moment of his existence!"

2. Sin demands our gratitude "for the glorious gospel of the grace of God."

Thus, a magnifying of sinís heinousness results in a magnifying of Godís grace and of Christís great sacrifice.


Ryle concludes the chapter by drawing attention to what he calls "practical uses to which the whole doctrine of sin may be profitably turned in the present day":

a. "[A] scriptural view of sin is one of the best antidotes to that vague, dim, misty, hazy kind of theology which is so painfully current in the present age."

Here he urges us to bring the Law to bear on the consciences of sinners. Contrary to todayís easy evangelism, Ryle insists that men will be unprepared to partake of sinís Remedy until they have been overcome by its terribleness.

b. "[A] scriptural view of sin is one of the best antidotes to the extravagantly broad and liberal theology which is so much in vogue at the present time."

c. "[A] right view of sin works as an antidote to a ceremonial and formal kind of Christianity which has carried away so many in its wake."

Ryle bemoans the "semi-Romish" character that had invaded the church. Again he makes the point that a full knowledge of sin is the surest cure: "Let him see the scope of his sin, and he will also see his need for his Savior."

d. "[A] right view of sin is one of the best antidotes to the overstrained theories of perfection of which we hear so much in these times."

Ryle gladly gives another drubbing to this error, as he did in the Introduction.

e. "[A] scriptural view of sin will prove an admirable antidote to the low views of personal holiness, which are so painfully prevalent in these last days of the church."

Again he bemoans the falling "standard of life" among the professing believers of his day, and again he cites lack of godly virtues as proof of the problem.

He offers this concern which I feel is particularly worth the notice of my fundamental brethrenÖat least as a warning, if not as a corrective:

It may be that the enormous amount of controversy which marks this age has insensibly dried up our spiritual life. We have too often been content with zeal for orthodoxy and have neglected the sober realities of daily practical godliness.

The final sentence of Ryleís first chapter provides a powerful exhortation to men of our own era:

I am convinced that the first step towards attaining a higher standard of holiness is to realize more fully the amazing sinfulness of sin.


Chris Andersenís blog http://mytwocents.wordpress.com/