J.C. Ryle is on my short list of favorite dead guys who lived a long time ago, and he appears near the top of that list. I have read most of his works and benefited tremendously from them. He has had a significant influence on my life. In fact, so great is his influence, I selected Everton as my favorite football team (that’s soccer for those of you who don’t speak footy) in the English Premier League based solely on the fact that Ryle was the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool, where Everton is located. Sad, but true.
I’ve have spent the past several weeks preaching through the Gospel of Mark, and Ryle’s commentary has been an oft-used resourced. I read ahead, I re-read, then read ahead again. It was during a read ahead moment I stumbled upon this quote:
What are we doing with the Gospel? We live in a Christian land. We have the Bible in our houses. We hear of the salvation of the Gospel frequently every year. But have we received it into our hearts? Have we really obeyed it in our lives? Have we, in short, laid hold on the hope set before us, taken up the cross, and followed Christ? If not, we are far worse than the heathen, who bow down to stocks and stones. We are far more guilty than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. They never heard the Gospel, and therefore never rejected it. But as for us, we hear the Gospel, and yet will not believe. May we search our own hearts, and take heed that we do not ruin our own souls! – Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Mark, [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1985], 115.
Written in 1857, the question is still very much a valid one – what are we doing with the gospel? One of the reasons I appreciate Ryle so much is that he is both incisive and practical. He is not prone to fluff. The 3 follow up questions he asks are worthy of our attention, as is his strong urging at the end to search our own hearts. Examine ourselves, not in a checklist Christianity approach, but examine ourselves for evidence of the gospel being at work in our hearts. I’d like to think it is the result of wisdom and maturity, but more likely it is birthed in an awareness of my limitations and out of necessity, I am daily having to come back to questions like this. I daily have to come back to examining my heart. In examining my heart, I must be wary of not looking for a performance rating, trying to assess my standing based on how I have done. Rather, I must come back to realizing that I am incapable of doing anything anyway, which is why I need the gospel – everyday. The antidote to fear, complacency, worry, pride and a whole bunch of other things I am tempted towards – everyday – is the gospel, which when applied – everyday – frees me from those things, frees me from the performance trap, frees me from my own artificially crafted and self serving criteria. That is one of the innumerable measures of the “hope set before us”, that my hope is not found in me, my abilities, or my strength. Rather hope is found in Christ and Christ alone. Why did this quote jump out at me? Because I can so easily find myself ignoring the gospel. I hear the gospel, I preach the gospel, but am I thinking/speaking/acting/living in light of the reality of the gospel’s work in my life? Am I taking the gospel seriously? Am I appropriating the full benefit of the gospel everyday? Am I examining my heart and soul on a regular basis? Are you? What are you doing with the gospel?