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Reading Classics Together – Holiness (The Cost)

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“Which of you, intended to build a tower, sitteth not down first and counteth the cost?”

Today (a day late, for which I apologize) those of us who are engaged in this project to read some great Christian classics together are going to be looking at the fourth 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.

To this point Ryle has covered Sin, Sanctification, Holiness and The Fight. This week he progresses to “The Cost.” In this chapter he examines the cost that will come with the fight for personal holiness. “What does it cost to be a true Christian? What does it cost to be a really holy man? This, after all, is the grand question. For want of thought about this, thousands, after seeming to begin well, turn away from the road to heaven, and are lost for ever in hell.”


The chapter follows this outline:

  1. The Cost of being a Christian
    1. Self-Righteousness
    2. Sins
    3. Love of ease
    4. Favor of the World
  2. The Importance of Counting the Cost – The example of those who did not
    1. The first generation of Israelites in the wilderness
    2. Some of the hearers of Jesus
    3. King Herod
    4. Demas
    5. Hearers of famous evangelical preachers
    6. Some under the influence of evangelical revivals
    7. Some children of religious parents
  3. Some Hints – Count and Compare
    1. Profit and Loss
    2. Praise and Blame
    3. Friends and Enemies
    4. Life now and Life to come
    5. The pleasure of sin and the happiness in God’s service
    6. The trouble of true Christianity and the trouble of the grave
    7. The number that turn to Christ and the number that turn away from Christ
  4. Application
    1. Does your religion cost you anything?
    2. Consider the cost God paid to save your soul.
    3. If you have counted the cost then persevere to the end.


This chapter is, in my estimation, the most unexpected of the lot. This is not to say that it is out-of-place, but more that if I had seven things to say about holiness, I’m not sure that I would have thought that “the cost” merited consideration. However, having read it, I definitely agree that it is worth considering and has a place in the book.

The point that particularly caught my attention was the simple fact that personal holiness will cost a man his sins. This is obvious, to be sure, but still profound. We might think that, as Christians, it would be easy to rid ourselves of our sin. But this is too often not the case. “Our sins are often as dear to use as our children: we love them, hug them, cleave to them, and delight in them. To part with them is as hard as cutting off a right hand, or plucking out a right eye. But it must be done.” It is amazing how tightly we cling to our sins and how much we treasure them. I think of Gollum of Lord of the Rings fame, cooing to and cuddling his precious ring, desiring that ring more than anything. And yet that ring was destroying him from the inside out. That ring eventually led to his death. And our sin can be just like this–almost a precious possession that we love like life itself. But as we pursue holiness we will need to rid ourselves of even our most treasured sins.

I suspect that, for many men, these are sins of lust. Many men harbor lust in their lives, considering it a harmless distraction, whether it involves pornography or even just stolen glances at attractive women. I will leave it to women to consider the favored sins that they are most commonly attracted to. As you think about this (whether you are a man or a woman), you may wish to consider reading Jerry Bridges’ Respectable Sins as it deals with a very similar topic.

So here, in an unexpected chapter, I found something to meditate upon and something to apply to my life. And best of all, it was something that collided perfectly with what I was reading by an author who wrote over a century later. I love it when that happens!

Next Time

We’ll continue the book next Thursday (October 11) with the fifth chapter (“Growth”). If you’ve committed to join in this reading project, please keep reading and be prepared to discuss it!

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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