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The Sword of the Spirit in the Hand of a Master Swordsman
on September 9, 2005
J. C. Ryle is quickly becoming one of my favorite Christian writers. This book is, quite simply, THE BEST single work on the Christian life I have ever read. Ryle's insight is phenomenal, his exegesis is impecable and his humility is stunning--and all of this while maintaining one of the simplest, most approachable, most readable styles of any theologian ever. I was hesitant to pick up a book written by an 18th century Anglican (particularly one I knew virtually nothing about), but my hesitance was by no means merited.
Ryle speaks to the heart and soul of every man. He wields the sword of the Spirit like a skillful surgeon, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow. He addresses hard and trying subjects which most modern evangelicals have chosen to ignore: the power and depth of indwelling sin, the necessity of a holy life, the struggle and fight of faith, counting the cost of following Christ... and that's only in the first 5 chapters! 'Holiness' is one of four volumes of what has been called Ryle's body of 'Practical Theology.' Each of these volumes is infinitely worthy in its own right, but 'Holiness' stands just a little taller than the rest. It is unique, not in its content--for Ryle's message is the message of scripture--but in its simplicity and singleness of focus.
Ryle just plain makes sense. His treatment of the texts which head the chapters is based on plain interpretation, common-sense exegesis and practical application. As he is fond of saying when interpreting plain-as-day passages which are often twisted and confounded by scholars and skeptics, 'If words have any meaning at all, then this is what the passage says.' But what is more astounding is that he does not side-step the difficult issues. Instead he takes them head on, making Christian theology and the principles of holy living seem so simple and obvious and straight-forward that I sometimes wonder what Bible I've been reading all these years to have missed so many beautiful truths. Christian, read J. C. Ryle. You will not regret it. He is a man who first and foremost loves the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the vital center of all his teaching and writing and the sole reason for his great power in ministry. Whether you are an erudite scholar or a hard-laboring farmer, a pastor or a layman, a spiritual elder or a babe in Christ--no matter where you are--Ryle's writings are for you. The love of Christ and the faith of this great 18th century saint cling to every page like an aromatic perfume.
To whet your appetite here is a quote from one of my favorite chapters, 'The Fight': 'There are thousands of men and women who go to churches and chapels every Sunday, and call themselves Christians. Their names are in the baptismal register. They are reckoned Christians while they live. They are married with a Christian marriage service. They mean to be buried as Christians when they die. But you never see any "fight" about their religion! Of spiritual strife, and exertion, and conflict, and self-denial, and watching, and warring, they know literally nothing at all. Such Christianity may satisfy man... but it certainly is not the Christianity of the Bible. It is it not the religion which the Lord Jesus founded, and His apostles preached. It is not the religion which produces real holiness. True Christianity is "a fight"' (p. 63).