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Reading Classics Together – Holiness (Sanctification)

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“We must be saints before we die, if we are to be saints afterwards in glory.”

Today those of us who are engaged in this project to read some great Christian classics together are going to be looking at the second chapter of J.C. Ryle’s Holiness. You can read more about this effort here: Reading the Classics Together. Even if you are not participating, please keep reading. I’m sure there will be something here to benefit you. Two weeks ago we began our eight-week study of this book by looking at the Introduction to the book, and then last week progressed to the first chapter which dealt with Sin. This week we move on to the second chapter, the subject of which is Sanctification.

Where last week it seemed odd to us to begin a book dealing with holiness by discussing sin (though we saw why this was a necessity), this week we move into a chapter whose presence seems much less surprising. Ryle declares that there are three things that are, according to the Bible, absolutely necessary to the salvation of every person–justification, regeneration and sanctification. And it is to the last of these that he turns his attention in this chapter. He divides the chapter into three parts and follows this general outline:


  1. The Nature of Sanctification. He defines sanctification as “an inward spiritual work which the Lord Jesus Christ works in a man by the Holy Ghost, when He calls him to be a true believer.” He lays out twelve propositions concerning sanctification:
    1. It is the invariable result of that vital union with Christ which true faith gives to a Christian. “The faith which has not a sanctifying influence on the character is no better than the faith of devils.”
    2. It is the outcome and inseparable consequence of regeneration. “Where there is no sanctification there is no regeneration.”
    3. It is the only certain evidence of that indwelling of the Holy Spirit which is essential to salvation. “The seal that the Spirit stamps on Christ’s people is sanctification.”
    4. It is the only sure mark of God’s election. “Elect men and women may be known and distinguished by holy lives.”
    5. It is a reality that will always be seen. A man’s “sanctification will be something felt and seen, though he himself may not understand it.”
    6. It is a reality for which every believer is responsible. “Believers are eminently and peculiarly responsible and under a special obligation to live holy lives.”
    7. It is a thing which admits of growth and degrees. “A man may climb from one step to another in holiness and be far more sanctified at one period of his life than another.”
    8. It depends greatly on a diligent use of scriptural means. “He will never bless the soul of that man who pretends to be so high and spiritual that he can get on without [the means of grace].”
    9. It is a thing which does not prevent a man having a great deal of inward spiritual conflict. “A true Christian is one who has not only peace of conscience, but war within.”
    10. It is a thing which cannot justify a man, and yet it pleases God. “The Bible distinctly teaches that the holy actions of a sanctified man, although imperfect, are pleasing in the sight of God.”
    11. It is a thing which will be found absolutely necessary as a witness to our character in the great Day of Judgment. “It will be utterly useless to plead that we believed in Christ unless our faith has had some sanctifying effect and been seen in our lives.”
    12. It is absolutely necessary in order to train and prepare us for heaven. “We must be saints before we die if we are to be saints afterwards in glory.”
  2. The Visible Marks of Sanctification. Ryle lays out ten visible marks, some in the positive and some in the negative (the negative being in the form of “True sanctification does not consist of…).
  3. The Differences and Similarities Between Justification and Sanctification.
    1. Where they agree
    2. Where they disagree
  4. Application
    1. Let anyone who calls himself a Christian yet has not concern for Sanctification realize his perilous position.
    2. Test your own salvation by your progress in sanctification.
    3. Begin sanctification with Christ.
    4. Work at sanctification continually.
    5. Don’t expect too much sanctification before heaven.
    6. There is no shame in making much of holiness; holiness = happiness


Once again I found a lot to pause and ponder in this chapter. After going through with my highlighter and highlighting each of the most important points, I went through again with a pencil, looking for the best of the best. Even then I had too much to discuss here, so I will merely draw out a couple of areas that are of particular interest to me.

Early in the chapter Ryle discusses the work of Jesus Christ and all that it has accomplished for us. He roots both justification and sanctification in Christ’s atoning death. “The Lord Jesus has undertaken everything that His people’s souls require: not only to deliver them from the guilt of their sins by His atoning death, but from the dominion of their sins, by placing in their hearts the Holy Spirit; not only to justify them, but also to sanctify them. He is, thus, not only their “righteousness,” but their “sanctification” (1 Cor. 1:30).” I was struck by the beauty and the power of knowing and believing that not only has the guilt of our sin been removed at the cross, but that Christ has also made provision to deliver us from the dominion of sin. He has justified us and has given us the Holy Spirit to begin that great work of sanctification. All we owe, we owe to Him.

A little later Ryle discusses election and makes the important point that we are not only elected to eternal life, but are predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son–and chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world so that [we] should be holy. This is, I think, a fact that can often be lost in the discussions of election and predestination. Those who claim that believers are chosen for eternal life are correct, but they tell only part of the story. We are elected also to begin to model the example of the Savior in our lives and in our behavior. This is something we need to remember always! It is something we must always keep before us so we do not look only to the future while ignoring the here and now.

The third thing that really struck me was the idea that sanctification trains and prepares us for heaven. I have to confess that, until I read this chapter, this was largely a foreign idea to me. But Ryle’s words are true, I believe, and they convicted me. “We must be saints before we die, if we are to be saints afterwards in glory.” Perhaps the sharpest words he writes in the chapter are these ones: “Most men hope to go to heaven when they die; but few, it may be feared, take the trouble to consider whether they would enjoy heaven if they got there.” If heaven is a holy place filled with holy people, it only makes sense that only holy people could be happy there. So this life, this world, is a training ground for heaven–it is a place where we begin to enjoy just the shadows of the perfection and the holiness we will enjoy there. As we become a holy people and as we increasingly enjoy the company of other sanctified people, we enjoy a foretaste of the glory that awaits us. As we become holy we receive a glimpse of what will be when the Lord calls us home. “No man can possibly be happy in a place where he is not in his element, and where all around him is not congenial to his tastes, habits, and character.” No wonder, then, that we always feel a holy discontent in this world, but that we crave more worship, more holiness, more of God! As we increase in sanctification we more and more find ourselves growing into the holiness we will one day experience in its fullness.

And this is what I am taking away this week–the joy of sanctification and the beauty of holiness–and all of it for His glory. As we grow in holiness and as we are conformed ever more to the image of Jesus Christ, we receive that foretaste of heaven. And what a wondrous thing this is.

Next Time

We’ll continue the book next Thursday (September 20) with the third chapter (“Holiness”). If you are interested in joining in, please do. There is still time to purchase the book or to read it online. See this discussion (Read the Classics Together – Holiness) for information.

Your Turn

I am interested in hearing what you took away from this chapter. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Don’t feel that you need to say anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or gave you pause or confused you.

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