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Hold Fast the Form of Sound Words
by J. C. Ryle
"Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and
love which is in Christ Jesus." 2 Timothy 1:13
I am aware it is sometimes said that the times are altered since the apostles' days, and that the state of the world is different from what it then was. But is not human nature in all its essential elements the same? Is it not the same in its moral aspect, impotency, and necessities? Does it not as much need, and as much de-pend upon, the Gospel scheme, as it did then? Is not the Gospel as exquisitely and fully adapted to its miserable condition as it was then?
Can sin be pardoned in any other way than through the atonement of Christ, or the sinner be justified by any other means than faith in the Lord our Righteousness, or the depraved heart be renewed and sanctified by any other agency than that of the Holy Spirit? Are not all the motives of evangelical doctrine as adapted, as powerful, and as ef-ficacious, now, as they were then? No alteration of subject then can be called for now, to meet the advancing state of society, since the Gospel is intended and adapted to be God's instrument for the salvation of man, in all ages of the world, in all countries, and in all states of society.
The moral epidemic of our nature is always and everywhere the same, in what ever various degrees of virulence it may exist, and the remedial system of salva-tion by grace, through faith. is God's own and unalterable specific for the dis-ease, in every age of time, in every country of the world, and in every state of so-ciety. Men may call in other physicians than Christ, and try other methods of cure, as they already have done, but they will all fail, and leave the miserable pa-tient hopeless and helpless, as regards every other means of health, beside that which the cross of Christ presents.
We reject alike as delusive and fatal the an-cient practice of conforming the evangelical scheme to systems of philosophy, and the modern notion of the progressive development of Christian doctrine by the Church. To the men who would revive the former, we say, "Beware lest any man spoil you, through a vain and deceitful philosophy, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." To the latter we say, "Je-sus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and for ever. Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines; for it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace." It appears to me that something like the same attempts are being made in this day to corrupt the Gospel by superstitious additions on the one hand, and by philosophic accommodations on the other, as were made in the early days of Christianity.
It should never be forgotten that the time when the apostles discharged their ministry was only just after the Augustan era of the ancient world. Poetry had recently bestowed some of its golden favours on the empire of letters in the works of Virgil and Horace. The light of philosophy, though waning, still shed its lustre on Greece. The arts, and their most splendid creations in architecture, sculpture and painting, still lived, though they bad ceased to advance.
It was at such a time, and amidst such scenes, the Gospel began its course. Apostolic voices were lis-tened to by sages and their pupils, who had basked in the sunshine of Athenian wisdom, and were reverberated in startling echo from temples and statues that had been shaken by the thunders of Cicero and Demosthenes; yet these holy men con-ceded nothing to the demands of philosophy, but held forth the cross as the only object they felt they had a right to exhibit.
They never once entertained the de-grading notion that they must accommodate themselves to the philosophy or the taste of the age in which they lived, and the places where they ministered. It is true the philosophy of that day was a false one, but it was not known or acknowl-edged to be such at the time.
It was admired as true, though like many systems that have succeeded it, it gave place to another, and was doomed, like some that now prevail, to wane be-fore new and rising lights. Whether the apostle addressed himself to the philoso-phers on Mars Hill, or to the barbarians on the island of Melita; whether he rea-soned with the Jews in their synagogues, or with the Greeks in the school of Tyr-annus-he had but one theme, and that was Christ, and him crucified. And what right, or what reason, have we for deviating from this high and imperative exam-ple? Be it so, that we are in a literary, philosophic, and scientific age, what then?
Is it an age that has outlived the need of the Gospel for its salvation, or to the sal-vation of which any thing else can supply a means, but the Gospel? The supposi-tion that something else than pure Christianity, as the theme of our pulpit minis-trations, is requisite for such a period as this, or that this must be presented in a philosophic guise, appears to me a most perilous sentiment, as being a disparage-ment to the Gospel itself, a daring assumption of wisdom superior to the Divine, and containing the very germ of infidelity.'
The Gospel sustains the nature of a testimony which must be exhibited in its own peculiar and simple form, a testimony to certain unique and momentous facts which must be presented as they really are, without any attempt or wish to change their nature or alter their character, in order to bring them into a nearer conformity to the systems of men. Let the taste be cultivated as it may by literature, or the mind enlightened by science, or the reason be disciplined by philosophy, the heart is still deceitful and wicked, the conscience still burdened with guilt, and the whole soul in a state of alienation from God.
The moral constitution is mortally diseased, and nothing but the Gospel can convey God's saving health, which is as much required for the spiritual restoration of the polished son of science as for the Hottentot of South Africa. All else is but pretence and empiricism, and the man who would be in earnest, and successful in the salvation of souls, must have a clear conviction and a deep impression of these facts. Philosophy must never be allowed to dilute the elixir of life, nor to evaporate it into the clouds of metaphys-ics.
-From "An Earnest Ministry, the Want of the Times," by John Angell James.
There is an amazing ignorance of Scripture among many, and a consequent want of established, solid religion. In no other way can I account for the ease with which people are, like children, "tossed to and fro. and carried about by every wind of doctrine." (Eph. iv. 14). There is an Athenian love of novelty abroad, and a morbid distaste for anything old and regular, and in the beaten path of our forefathers. Thousands will crowd to hear a new voice and a new doctrine without considering for a moment whether what they hear is true.
There is an incessant craving after any teaching which is sensational, and ex-citing, and rousing to the feelings. There is an unhealthy appetite for a sort of spasmodic and hysterical Christianity. The religious life of many is little better than spiritual dram-drinking, and the "meek and quiet spirit" which St. Peter commends is clean forgotten. (1 Peter iii. 4). Crowds, and crying, and hot rooms, and high-flown singing, and an incessant rousing of the emotions, are the only things which many care for. Inability to distinguish differences in doctrine is spreading far and wide, and so long as the preacher is "clever" and "earnest," hundreds seem to think it must be all right, and call you dreadfully "narrow and uncharitable" if you hint that he is unsound!
I must honestly declare my conviction that, since the days of the Reformation, there never has been so much profession of religion without practice, so much talking about God without walking with Him, so much hearing God's words without doing them, as in this country at present. Never were there so many empty tubs and tinkling cymbals! Never was there so much formality and so little reality. The whole tone of men's minds on what constitutes practical Christianity seems lowered.
The old golden standard of the behaviour which becomes a Christian man or woman appears debased and degenerated. You may see scores of religious people (so-called) continually doing things which in days gone by would have been thought utterly inconsistent with vital religion. They see no harm in such things as card-playing, theatre-going, dancing, incessant novel-reading, and Sunday travelling, and they cannot in the least understand what you mean by objecting to them! The ancient tenderness of conscience about such things seems dying away and becoming extinct like the dodo.
A Scriptural view of sin is one of the best antidotes to that vague, dim, misty, hazy kind of theology which is so painfully current in the present age. It is vain to shut our eyes to the fact that there is a vast quantity of so-called Christianity nowadays which you cannot declare positively unsound, but which, nevertheless, is not full measure, good weight, and sixteen ounces to the pound. It is a Christi-anity in which there is undeniably "something about Christ, and something about grace, and something about faith, and something about repentance, and something about holiness"; but it is not the real "thing as it is" in the Bible.
A Scriptural view of sin is one of the best antidotes to the extravagantly broad and liberal theology which is so much in vogue at the present time. The tendency of modern thought is to reject dogmas, creeds, and every kind of bounds in relig-ion. It is thought grand and wise to condemn no opinion whatsoever, and to pro-nounce all earnest and clever teachers to be trustworthy, however heterogeneous and mutually destructive their opinions may be.
Everything forsooth is true, and nothing is false! Everybody is right, and nobody is wrong! Everybody is likely to be saved, and nobody is to be lost! The Atonement and Substitution of Christ, the personality of the devil, the miraculous element in Scripture, the reality and eter-nity of future punishment; all these mighty foundation-stones are coolly tossed overboard like lumber, in order to lighten the ship of Christianity, and enable it to keep pace with modern science. Stand up for these great verities and you are called narrow, illiberal, old-fashioned, and a theological fossil!