There are some books that I have read in the past where I have thought I could read that one again at some point. With Ryle’s Holiness immediately when I finished it, I could have easily started reading it again if I wasn’t about to start a new book. It is very theological and yet Ryle has a way of getting to a point of application at the end of every chapter. This is one of my favorite books, not because it fills my head with great theological knowledge, but because it levels me and gets right to my heart.
Lost the desire to live holy lives.
Ryle does a great job in structuring this book. Instead of immediately writing about holiness and giving steps in order to grow in it, Ryle begins this work with an introduction about how we’ve lost the desire to live holy lives and that the standard of living is so low. In the next chapter entitled Sin Ryle states, “..the first step towards attaining a higher standard of holiness is to realize more fully the amazing sinfulness of sin.” This provides the reader to get into the right mindset when thinking about holiness. Instead of puffing up the Christian, he goes right to the heart to allow the reader to see first he is a sinner. He writes about the proneness of men to regard sin as less sinful and dangerous than it really is in the sight of God. This chapter really convicted me of my tendency to minimize sin. Ryle’s reason for this first chapter on sin is given in his last statement in the chapter he says, “But sure as I am, as I said in the beginning of this paper, we must begin low, if we would build high, I am convinced that the first step towards attaining a higher standard of holiness is to realize more fully the amazing sinfulness of sin.”
The book does move on from this to speaking about what holiness is and then how to practically live it out, but I do not think Holiness would’ve been as impactful if it didn’t have such a powerful gospel presentation from the start. The chapters in this book range from theology, to the Christian life, to character studies that seem more like sermons, to the supremacy of Christ.
One of my favorite chapters in the book is Chapter 8: Moses-An Example. Here is where Ryle gives some great insight into Hebrews 11:24-26. He unpacks these verses in such a pastoral way by explaining the text very clearly and then asking convicting questions such as “Are you willing to give up anything which keeps you back from God?”
Why is this book important?
I believe it is important to go back and read classic Christian works such as Holiness to be reminded that the struggles that we are facing in our own lives and in the church are not new. For Christians it has always been a struggle to live holy lives. Ryle’s Holiness helps us to be reminded that even though its hard and may not be the most popular thing,
we must be holy,
because the voice of God in Scripture plainly commands it,
it is one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world,
because this is the only sound evidence that we have a saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ,
because this is the only proof that we love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity,
because this is the only sound evidence that we are true children of God,
because this is the most likely way to do good to others,
because our present comfort depends much upon it,
because without holiness on earth we will never be prepared to enjoy heaven.
I will end this review with a question from Ryle’s chapter on Holiness. “Do you think you feel the importance of holiness as much as you should?” “Is it not true that we need a higher standard of personal holiness in this day? Where is our patience? Where is our zeal? Where is our love? Where are our works? Where is the power of religion to be seen, as it was in times gone by? Where is that unmistakable tone which used to distinguish the saints of old and shake the world? Truly our silver has become dross, our wine mixed with water, and our salt has very little savor. We are all more than half asleep. The night is far spent, and the day is at hand. Let us awake and sleep no more. Let us open our eyes more widely than we have done up to this time. “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us.” “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of God” (Heb. 12:1; 2 Cor. 7:1).”