Skip to content


by on January 7, 2011

Here a nice series of posts from Kevin DeYoung about J.C. Ryle on Sanctification. The posts span about 4 days on DeYoung’s blog, but I compiled them here to make it easier to read, and follow.

If you’re not familiar with J.C. Ryle check out this short biography

Ryle: The Nature of Santificaiton

On the list of my top ten Christian books of all time is Holiness by J.C. Ryle (1816-1900). The book, a collection of twenty papers on the subject of holiness first published in 1879, is pungent, practical, and, after more than a century, still wonderfully readable. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was right: “[Ryle] is preeminently and always scriptural and expository…It is exposition at its very best and highest. It is always clear and logical and invariably leads to a clear enunciation of doctrine. It is strong and virile and entirely free from the sentimentality that is often described as ‘devotional.’”

Chapter 2 on sanctification is one of many great chapters in the book. In the background for this chapter (and for many others) is Ryle’s desire to counter the “higher life” theology popular in revival meetings and Keswick circles at the time. Having no patience for quietist methods of sanctification, Ryle found “let go and let God” theology thoroughly unbiblical and argued strenuously that the life of the believer requires strenuous effort.

Ryle is clear and organized in this chapter. First, he explains the true nature of sanctification. Next, he looks at the visible signs of sanctification. Third, he explores how justification and sanctification are alike and how they are different. Finally, he provides some concluding pastoral reflections. Over the next few days I’ll provide Ryle’s main points, directly quoting from him for the most part. Wherever you see italics, those are in the original (or at least the version I have).

The True Nature of Sanctification

Sanctification, as a New Testament term, refers more to our position in holiness than our progressive growth in holiness. But as a common theological category, sanctification almost always means the latter. That’s how Ryle understands the term.

Sanctification is that inward spiritual work which the Lord Jesus Christ works in a man by the Holy Ghost, when He calls him to be a true believer. He not only washes him from his sins in His own blood, but He also separates him from his natural love of sin and the world, puts a new principle in his heart, and makes him practically godly in life. (p. 19)

With this broad definition in place, Ryle lists twelve further statements on sanctification (all emphasis is in the original).

  1. Sanctification, then, is the invariable result of that vital union with Christ which true faith gives to a Christian.
  2. Sanctification, again, is the outcome and inseparable consequence of regeneration.
  3. Sanctification, again, is the only certain evidence of that indwelling of the Holy Spirit which is essential to salvation.
  4. Sanctification, again, is the only sure mark of God’s election.
  5. Sanctification, again, is a thing that will always be seen. (p. 23)
  6. Sanctification, again, is a thing for which every believer is responsible.
  7. Sanctification, again, is a thing which admits of growth and degrees.
  8. Sanctification, again, is a thing which depends greatly on a diligent use of scriptural means.
  9. Sanctification, again, is a thing which does not prevent a man having a great deal of inward spiritual conflict.
  10. Sanctification, again, is a thing which cannot justify a man, and yet it pleases God.
  11. Sanctification, again, is a thing which will be found absolutely necessary as a witness to our character in the great day of judgment.
  12. Sanctification, in the last place, is absolutely necessary, in order to train and prepare us for heaven.

Tomorrow: The visible signs of sanctification.

Ryle: The Visible Signs of Sanctification

What does holiness look like? J.C. Ryle explains:

  1. True sanctification then does not consist in talk about religion.
  2. True sanctification does not consist in temporary religious feelings.
  3. True sanctification does not consist in outward formalism and external devoutness.
  4. Sanctification does not consist in retirement from our place in life, and the renunciation of our social duties.
  5. Sanctification does not consist in the occasional performance of right actions. (p. 32)
  6. Genuine sanctification will show itself in habitual respect to God’s law, and habitual effort to live in obedience to it as the rule of life.
  7. Genuine sanctification will show itself in an habitual endeavour to do Christ’s will, and to live by His practical precepts.
  8. Genuine sanctification will show itself in an habitual desire to live up to the standard which St. Paul sets before the churches in his writings.
  9. Genuine sanctification will show itself in habitual attention to the active graces which our Lord so beautifully exemplified, and especially to the grace of charity.
  10. Genuine sanctification, in the last place, will show itself in habitual attention to the passive graces of Christianity.

This list would make a good tool for self-examination and a good prompt for prayer. Ryle’s signs are biblical, and easier to understand that Jonathan Edwards.

Tomorrow: how justification and sanctification are alike and different.

Ryle: Justification and Sanctification

Is there any theological distinction more important than the difference between justification and sanctification. Both are necessary for the Christian, but they are not the same. Similar, but different.

So how are justification and sanctification alike?

  1. Both proceed originally from the free grace of God. It is of His gift alone that believers are justified or sanctified at all.
  2. Both are part of that great work of salvation which Christ, in the eternal covenant, has undertaken on behalf of His people. Christ is the fountain of life from which pardon and holiness both flow. The root of each is Christ.
  3. Both are to be found in the same persons. Those who are justified are always sanctified, and those who are sanctified are always justified. God has joined them together, and they cannot be put asunder.
  4. Both begin at the same time. The moment a person begins to be a justified person, he also begins to be a sanctified person. He may not feel it, but it is a fact.
  5. Both are alike necessary to salvation. No one ever reached heaven without a renewed heart as well as forgiveness, without the Spirit’s grace as well as the blood of Christ, without a meetness for eternal glory as well as a title. The one is just as necessary as the other.

But we must also recognize how the two are profoundly different (and remember, Ryle is talking about sanctification as a theological concept, that positional sanctification as the NT often used the term).

  1. Justification is the reckoning and counting a man to be righteous for the sake of another, even Jesus Christ the Lord. Sanctification is the actual making a man inwardly righteous, though it may be in a very feeble degree.
  2. The righteousness we have by our justification is not our own, but the everlasting perfect righteousness of our great Mediator Christ, imputed to us, and made our own by faith. The righteousness we have by sanctification is our own righteousness, imparted, inherent, and wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, but mingles with much infirmity and imperfection.
  3. In justification our own works have no place at all, and simple faith in Christ is the one thing needful. In sanctification our own works are of vast importance, and God bids us fight, and watch, and pray, and strive, and take pains, and labour.
  4. Justification is a finished and complete work, and a man is perfectly justified the moment he believes. Sanctification is an imperfect work, comparatively, and will never be perfected until we reach heaven.
  5. Justification admits of no growth or increase: a man is as much justified the hour he first comes to Christ by faith as he will be to all eternity. Sanctification is eminently a progressive work, and admits of continual growth and enlargement so long as a man lives.
  6. Justification has special reference to our persons, our standing in God’s sight, and our deliverance from guilt. Sanctification has special reference to our natures, and the moral renewal of our hearts.
  7. Justification gives us our title to heaven, and boldness to enter in. Sanctification give us our meetness for heaven, and prepares us to enjoy it when we dwell there.
  8. Justification is the act of God about us, and is not easily discerned by others. Sanctification is the work of God within us, and cannot be hid in its outward manifestation from the eyes of men.

Tomorrow: I’ll wrap up the chapter summary with Ryle’s pastoral reflections.

Ryle: Pastoral Reflections on Sanctification

What should we do with this teaching on sanctification? How does it matter for the average Christian? Ryle’s thoughts:

  1. For one thing, let us awake to a sense of the perilous state of many professing Christians.
  2. For another thing, let us make sure work of our own condition, and never rest till we feel and know that we are “sanctified” ourselves.
  3. For another thing, if we would be sanctified, our course is clear and plain—we must begin with Christ.
  4. For another thing, if we would grow in holiness and become more sanctified, we must continually go on as we began, and be ever making fresh applications to Christ.
  5. For another thing, let us not expect too much from our own hearts here below.
  6. Finally, let us never be ashamed of making much of sanctification, and contending for a high standard of holiness. (pg. 39-40)

Personally, I think all six of these points need more emphasis today, even the ones that seem contradictory like 2 and 5. We need more passion for holiness, more effort toward holiness, and more of a realization that the growth is slow, spotty, and at times downright disappointing. But in Christ, we can grow into the person he has already reckoned us to be.


From → Articles

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: