Practical Advice on Bible Reading from J.C. Ryle

Ryle Practical ReligionHave you ever wanted to make it a point to read the Bible on a regular basis, but just weren’t sure how to go about it? If that describes you, here is some practical advice for you from J.C. Ryle’s book, Practical Religion (p.122-125):

  1. Start today. Just get started, and worry about figuring out the perfect way to do it later. You can always change how you go about it as you go. Ryle writes,

    “The way to do a thing is to do it, and the way to read the Bible is actually to read it. It is not meaning, or wishing, or resolving, or intending, or thinking about it, which will advance you one step. You must positively read.” (p.122)

  2. “Read the Bible with an earnest desire to understand it.” Don’t just set a certain number of pages as your goal. Make it your aim to learn and understand what you are reading from the Scriptures. Better even a verse or two rightly understood than 50 pages hurried over as a mere duty or checklist item marked off for the day. As Ryle notes, “a Bible not understood is a Bible that does no good.”
  3. “Read the Bible with childlike faith and humility.” Be prepared to learn; more than that, to have your mind changed and renewed. Do not accept only what seems agreeable with what you already think or believe. He writes, “Do we know better than God? Settle it down in your mind that you will receive all and believe all, and that what you cannot understand you will take on trust.”
  4. Read the Bible with an eye toward obeying it & applying it to your life. We are not reading for reading’s sake or for curiosity alone. At times the Word of God will shine a spotlight (or more precisely a searchlight!) on our sins and shortcomings. There God will show us what He would change in us to conform us more to the image of Christ. Where you see a command or a prohibition, take it to heart and seek to obey and apply it to your life.
  5. Read the Bible daily. If man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4), and yet we need to eat on a regular basis in order to live, how much more do we need a steady diet of God’s Word in order to sustain us!
  6. Read all of the Bible, and read it in an orderly fashion. If we fail to read the Bible this way, we will almost certainly skip around and miss a great many things.  Don’t forget that the Apostle Paul tells us that. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV). All of God’s Word is breathed out by God. And He gave all of it to us with good reason, for our benefit. It is all necessary for us.
  7. “Read the Bible fairly and honestly.” Try your best to take everything you read there in its most plain and simple meaning. If what you read there does not fit neatly into your preconceived notion or previously taught theological system, maybe the thing to do is not to try to shoe-horn that passage to make it fit with your notion or system, but rather to reconsider your notion or system instead.
  8. “Read the Bible with Christ continually in view.” The whole Bible (not just the New Testament, but the Old Testament as well!) is ultimately about the Lord Jesus Christ. (See Luke 24:27; John :5:39-47.) That being the case, we will have a difficult time rightly understanding the Scriptures if we do not perceive the chief end for which they were given – to point us to Jesus Christ.

There is obviously a lot more that could be said, but the advice above is a pretty good start. I hope that you find these things to be helpful in your efforts to spending time in the Word of God.

Louis Berkhof on Original Sin

BerkhofHave you ever wondered why theologians use the term original sin? The term is often used to distinguish it from the actual sins and transgressions that flow from it. But in what way is it said to be original? Louis Berkhof (as usual) is helpful in dealing with this question. In his Systematic Theology, he writes:

This sin is called “original sin,” (1) because it is derived from the original root of the human race; (2) because it is present in the life of every individual from the time of his birth, and therefore cannot be regarded as the result of imitation; and (3) because it is the inward root of all of the actual sins that defile the life of man. We should guard against the mistake of thinking that the term in any way implies that the sin designated by it belongs to the original constitution of human nature, which would imply that God created man as a sinner. (p.244)

So Berkhof gives us three (3) reasons why we call it “original” sin. First, because this sin is “derived from the original root of the human race” (i.e. Adam). The sinful condition (including both guilt & the corruption of our whole nature) of all mankind is inherited from Adam and stems from his sin and fall in the garden (Genesis 3:1-24; Romans 5:12-21). Second, we call it “original” sin because this sin is “present in the life of every individual from the time of his birth.” In other words, in Adam we all come into this world as sinners; it is part of our nature, inherited from Adam. In the words of King David, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5 ESV). He is not there saying that the act of his conception was sinful  (e.g. adultery or fornication), but rather that he was a sinner from his very conception – it was a part of his fallen nature. Third, we call it original sin because it is the “inward root” of all of our actual sins and transgressions. It is cause & effect. So we are not sinners just because we sin; we sin because we are sinners by nature. The origin of our sins is to be found in Adam’s first sin and the sinful nature that we all inherit in him.

And note that the idea of original sin does not mean that the human race was originally created by God as sinful. We often say things like, “to err is human.” That may be so, but it is really only the case in Adam after the fall. Prior to the fall, “to err” was indeed possible, but it was in no way inherent in human nature as originally created by God.

 

Original Sin – Rotten to the Core

Apple 2What is original sin? The Westminster Shorter Catechism provides us with a helpful definition:

Q.18. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate [i.e. condition] into which man fell? A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.

So according to the Shorter Catechism, original sin refers to the sinful condition or state that all mankind fell into in Adam’s first sin the garden of Eden. And it basically consists in three (3) things:

  1. The Guilt of Adam’s First Sin
  2. The Want (or Lack) of Original Righteousness
  3. The Corruption of Our Whole Nature

First, the guilt of Adam’s first sin. Adam was not only the first sinner, but also the first representative (federal head) of the entire human race.  So when he sinned and fell, he did so not only for himself, but on our behalf as well.  And the proof is in the result – we are all sinners, and we all die (Romans 5:12-21).  We all sinned in Adam; we all fell in Adam, just as if we had ourselves partaken of the forbidden fruit. That is what Paul is talking about when he says that “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Romans 5:18, ESV, italics mine). Outside of Christ all of humanity shares in the guilt of Adam’s first sin.

Second, the want (or lack) of original righteousness. Too often we conceive of righteousness in merely negative terms, as if it consisted only in refraining from transgressing God’s law. That is really only half of the story. True righteousness consists also in the positive fulfilling of God’s law, the actual doing of His will. Adam was originally created as a righteous man. As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it,

Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably [i.e. subject to change], so that he might fall from it (9.2).

And fall from it he did. And we all in him as well. That is why, as Paul says in Romans 3:10, “None is righteous, no, not one.”

Third, original sin also involves the corruption of our whole nature. Every faculty of our nature was corrupted, so that we became dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-3). Outside of Christ we all now have a natural inclination toward evil and away from God. It is from this corruption of our nature that “all actual transgressions” proceed (Q.18, above). In other words, we are not just sinners because we sin, but rather we sin because we are sinners. As Paul puts it in Ephesians chapter 2, outside of Christ we are all “sons of disobedience” (v.2) and “by nature children of wrath” (v.3).

Maybe you’re reading all of this and thinking to yourself that it doesn’t seem fair. Worse than that, it seems downright hopeless. That would certainly be the case if not for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:14 tells us that Adam “was a type of the one who was to come.” And that one to come in the likeness of Adam to be the representative or federal head of a new humanity. As Paul writes in Romans 5:18-19,

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

In Jesus Christ, through faith in Him, we have the cure for the curse of original sin. Where we used to share in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, in Christ we now have “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). Where we formerly had no righteousness in Adam, in Christ we now have the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ accounted to us by faith alone (Romans 1:17). And lastly, where we used to be dead in sin in Adam,  we are now made alive from the dead in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5), so that we are “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). We are not thereby made perfect or sinless in this life, but the Spirit of Christ within us works in us to conform us more and more unto the image of Christ.

The Importance of the Lord’s Supper

bread-72103_1280Do we place much of an emphasis or priority on the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or do we barely give it a second thought? Richard Phillips, senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina, writes of how odd it is that so many believers today have such a low regard for the Lord’s Supper:

“They seldom observe it and assign to it little significance. They are largely ignorant of the theology poured into and out from it. They derive no assurance or comfort, and seek no grace, as they receive from the Lord’s Table. How remarkable this is among those supposedly devoted to the Bible!” (What Is the Lord’s Supper?, p.5-6)

You might be surprised to learn that the church down through her long history has not always viewed the Lord’s Supper with as much disinterest or apathy as many do in the church today – quite the opposite, actually! In his very helpful book about the Lord’s Supper entitled, Given For You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, Keith Mathison makes the following observation:

“One of the most interesting phenomena that one encounters when comparing the writings of the sixteenth-century Reformers with the writings of their twentieth-century heirs is the different amount of attention devoted to the Lord’s Supper. The Reformers devoted volumes of books, letters, tracts, and sermons to the subject. The sixteenth century was a time of heated controversy over such crucial doctrines as the authority of Scripture and justification by faith alone, yet the doctrine that was discussed more often than any other was that of the Lord’s Supper.” (xv)

Another writer puts it this way:

“More ink was spilled over the Lord’s Supper, and more horses were ridden to exhaustion attending conferences about it, than over any other doctrine.” (David J. Engelsma, “Martin Bucer’s “Calvinistic” Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper” (Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, Grandville, MI, 1988)

One need only ask when the last time was that you heard a sermon or any extensive teaching on the subject to see how far we have fallen from such a mindset.

To further illustrate the point, The Westminster Larger Catechism devotes no less than 10 separate questions to the subject, while the Heidelberg Catechism spends three (3) whole Lord’s days on the subject with a total of 8 questions (and some rather lengthy answers). Clearly the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper is a very important one. It is a subject that the 16th century Protestant Reformers and their heirs in the 17th century spent quite a bit of time and energy studying, teaching, and even debating about together. It was near and dear to their hearts, and should be so to ours as well.

Last but not least, we as believers are commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Jesus said, Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24). He certainly appointed and established this Sacrament for our benefit, to be a blessing and a means of grace, but that makes it no less of a command just the same. It is much like when a mother slaves all day over a hot stove to put a good, healthy meal on the table, but still often needs to tell her children to eat! Surely if it is important enough for Jesus to not only appoint it for our benefit, but also to command us to partake of it on a regular basis, we would be well-served to sit up and take notice, as well as seek to understand what the Word of God has to say about it.

May we learn to think more highly of the Lord’s Supper, to think about it more often, and (even more importantly) to think about it more biblically. And if that means that we end up disagreeing over it and debating the subject, so much the better! Better to care enough about it to vigorously debate it than to view it with apathy.

The Agreement Between the Law and the Gospel

Andy Schreiber:

Very helpful words on the way that the law & gospel do “sweetly comply” (Westminster Confession of Faith 19.7).

Originally posted on The Reformed Reader:

Image 1 In historic Reformed theology, the moral law has a very important place in the life of the Christian.  One use of the law is that it shows us our sin and drives us to Christ (Rom. 3:20, Gal. 3:23-26).  The law is distinguished from the gospel in that it cannot justify, redeem, or provide a remedy for sin like Christ does in the gospel.  As far as justification goes, the Christian is no longer under the law, but grace (Rom. 6:14); the Christian is not in a covenant of works by which he must earn his salvation, but is in the covenant of grace, where salvation is freely given and received by faith alone (WCF 19.6).

However, Christians do not throw the law out just because it cannot justify us or save us.  On the contrary, the law is a delight to the Christian – it is a lamp in…

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J.C. Ryle on the Cure for Doubts about Scripture

Ryle Practical Religion

Do you struggle with doubts as to whether or not the Bible is truly the Word of God? If that is the case, allow me to offer one simple solution by way of the pen of the great 19th century Anglican preacher J.C.Ryle. In his book, Practical Religion, Ryle writes,

Oh that men who are troubled with doubts, and questionings, and sceptical [sic] thoughts about inspiration, would calmly examine the Bible for themselves! Oh, that they would act on the advice which was the first step of Augustine’s conversion, – ‘Take it up and read it! take it up and read it!’ How many Gordian knots this course of action would cut! How many difficulties and objections would vanish away at once like mist before the rising sun! How many would soon confess, ‘The finger of God is here! God is in this book, and I knew it not.’ (p.94)

It often seems that those who doubt the Bible most are the very same people who have spent the least time actually reading it.  And while many people allow their doubts to prevent them from reading the Scriptures in the first place, reading those same Scriptures is often the very cure for the doubt or skepticism that ails them. As Ryle notes elsewhere in the same chapter of his book, “the book itself [the Bible] is the best witness of its own inspiration” (p.93).

Tolle lege – Take up and read!

A Ready Defense: Lifestyle Apologetics?

D Fence 2In 1 Peter 3:15 the Apostle Peter writes,

“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you . . . .”

This  verse is often used as a proof text of sorts for the biblical practice of what is known as apologetics.  Apologetics can be briefly defined as the “reasoned defense of the Christian religion” (Classical Apologetics, R.C. Sproul, John Gertsner, and Arthur Lindsley, p.13).  It is a reasoned or rational defense – that is, making a case for the logical coherence, rationality or reasonableness of the Christian faith.

Notice where Peter tells us to start – by honoring Christ the Lord as holy in our hearts. What does that mean? It means that we resolve to put Jesus Christ first in our hearts, to give Him preeminence above all other things in our thoughts and affections. And Peter specifically instructs us to set Jesus apart in our hearts as the Lord. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) translates this verse helpfully as “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts . . . .” We are not just to sanctify Christ in our hearts or set Him apart in general, but to set Him apart in our hearts “as Lord.”

In other words, we need to set our hearts firmly on the truth that our faithful Savior Jesus Christ is Lord, that He (and only He!) is even now ruling all things at the right hand of God the Father. Why is that so important to our witness or apologetic toward unbelievers? The key, as usual, is found in the context of the verse. In v.13-14 (the verses immediately before v.15) Peter writes,

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,”

The context of the whole passage is suffering for the name of Christ. We are not to be afraid of our enemies, the enemies of the name of Christ. We are not to allow suffering for His name to cause us to fear or be troubled. Sounds like a pretty tall order, doesn’t it? So what is the solution? What is the Christian’s antidote to the fear of man? It is the fear of the Lord! Many commentators believe that in v.15 Peter is actually quoting or alluding to Isaiah 8:12-13, which says,

“Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.”

The context and main point are more or less the same here, aren’t they? At times it may seem like the whole unbelieving world is out to get us. But when we fear that there is a “conspiracy” against us, we are thinking that our enemies are actually in charge, causing all things to work together against us, for our harm. But who is actually in control of all things? The Lord! The “LORD of hosts” (v.13) is the One we are to “honor as holy.” He is the One who should be our only fear and dread.

The fear of the Lord is the antidote to the fear of man. And when we set Jesus apart as Lord in our hearts, we will rest secure in the knowledge that He alone controls our destiny, and not a hair can fall from our heads apart from His will (Matthew 10:30). It is the Lord who makes all things (even our suffering for His name) to work together for our good (Romans 8:28). And that is where a truly biblical apologetic must start. A ready defense of the faith must always start with sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts (1 Peter 3:15).

We may not all be called to or gifted for making an intellectual or philosophical defense of the Christian faith against skeptics, atheists, and idolaters, but we are all called to make the kind of ready defense that the Apostle Peter primarily has in view here – setting apart Christ in our hearts as Lord, obeying Him even when it leads to suffering, and being willing to tell others that the Lord Jesus Christ is the reason for the hope that is within us, even in the face of suffering or persecution.