‘The most pertinent question to ask is this: Are you holy?’. J.C. Ryle, 19th Century Anglican Bishop, wrote Holiness for a generation of Christians who he felt were confused about sanctification and apathetic toward sin. This generation is long gone and yet this book remains a pillar of Christian reading and just as applicable as ever. In just 267 pages, J.C Ryle’s depth of wisdom and zeal is laid out for the sake of his readers. Holiness is perhaps the single most important book (bar the Bible!) for any Christian to get to grips with. Packed with Biblical truths and practical wisdom, Holiness is a classic for a reason.
The full title of J.C Ryle’s Book is, ‘Holiness: its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots’. This is exactly the subject matter explored through the book – in an orderly and stimulating exposition. Ryle discusses the nature of sin, sanctification, habits and spiritual growth in relation to holiness. Almost every sentence in the book includes a Biblical reference, showing Ryle’s dedication to explain God’s own Word – not create his own. There are two main reasons that Holiness is a book worth every Christian’s time: the challenge it presents and the assurance it promises.
Ryle is old fashioned in the best sense. He is bold, bordering on blunt. At many points in the book, he mourns the state of the Church and asks readers to question the genuineness of their faith and their willingness to turn from sin. At one point, he states, ‘The union with Christ which produces no effect on heart and life is a mere formal union, which is worthless before God. The faith which has not a sanctifying influence on the character is no better than the faith of devils’. This is the kind of stirring challenge which force readers to examine their own hearts. Ryle is confident in the truths of the Bible and is willing to make his readers uncomfortable for their own good. This is the real value of Holiness – it is like a stern lecture from someone you respect – able to produce real change.
“Of all sights in the church of Christ, I know none more painful to my own eyes, than a Christian contented and satisfied with a little grace, a little repentance, a little faith, a little knowledge, a little charity and a little holiness. I do beseech and entreat every believing soul that reads this tract not to be that kind of man’’. – J.C. Ryle
The structure of the book induces practical change too. Each chapter is set out like a sermon, with headings, points and sub-points. This means it is easy to make the connection between the Biblical principle and the practical application. Ryle is ruthlessly practical – offering advice for daily living, personal devotions, church attendance, defeating sinful habits and more.
If Ryle’s book was only read in part, it would be easy to miss the gospel centred grace that forms his foundation. The book’s absolute dedication to see Christian’s take holiness seriously is set firmly upon a foundation of Christ’s all-sufficient work. Ryle explains that sanctification does not save or justify, it is simply the right and proper response to what Christ has already done. There is such hope in this book. Holiness is not just a book for those in need of a reminder of the seriousness of sin and the call to righteousness – it is a book for the weak, the tired and the doubtful. It is a book for those who strive for holiness and fail, as we all do. It is a book for those doubting whether God can truly make them a ‘new creation’. It is a book for every Christian, in every season.
Holiness is not a light read. It is heavy, both in content and in style. This means it possibly isn’t the best book for your daily commute or beach holiday. Instead, choose to invest real time into the meaty work of classic wisdom. It could make a great book to read during devotions or with a friend. J.C Ryle has much to teach us. Join the many thousands of other Christians who have been strengthened, challenged and encouraged by this book.