In a context of confusion and flashy journalism, rigour becomes a precious value.
Five tests from the pen of J.C. Ryle (1816-1900).
It was one hundred and forty years ago when J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) published his Practical Religion. The Englishman intended the book to be read in conjunction with his other works, namely, Old Paths, Knots Untied and by far his best-known book, Holiness.
Concerned for the advancement of the Christian faith amongst his readers, Ryle shared five key tests by which they could test the authenticity of their profession. It is these considerations which I wish to share with you all today.
1.- If you would know whether your faith is real, try it by the place which it occupies in your inner man
Christianity is a lot more than attending a place of worship every now and again and acquiring some measure of theological knowledge. It goes beyond the realm of all things external, penetrating deeply into the heart.
So what place does Christianity occupy in your heart? Is it the lifeblood of your soul?
As Ryle put it, “Your religion […] must be in your heart. It must occupy the citadel. It must hold the reins. It must sway the affections. It must lead the will. It must direct the tastes. It must influence the choices and decisions. It must fill the deepest, lowest, inmost seat in your soul. Is this your religion? If not, you may well doubt whether it is real and true”.
2.- If you would know whether your faith is real, try it by the feelings towards sin which it produces
Saints do not take sin lightly. A truly born-again Christian detests sin with all of his/ her heart. The Spirit shows us something of the great hatefulness of sin. There is no believer who does not wish to be free from its cursed presence.
Those who have been taught by the Lord understand that sinners are by no means innocent and harmless victims; but active adversaries of the Most High.
“The Christianity which is from the Holy Ghost will always have a very deep view of the sinfulness of sin. It will not merely regard sin as a blemish and misfortune, which makes men and women objects of pity and compassion.
It will see in sin the abominable thing which God hates, the thing which makes man guilty and lost in his Maker’s sight, the thing which deserves God’s wrath and condemnation”.
Without such a biblical view of sin, one should question whether one has truly experienced the working of God’s grace.
3.- If you would know whether your faith is real, try it by the feelings towards Christ which it produces
Jesus may be popular and well-esteemed in the world. Multitudes look upon him as an exalted teacher of morality or a great doer of good. Nevertheless, this view falls far short of the New Testament record.
Christians do not simply admire Christ’s example, but crown Christ as Saviour. They stand in a religious relationship to the Son of God and willingly submit to their Lord’s rule.
The attitude of the Christian soul towards Christ is one of absolute worship, not just a high regard of His person and works.
As well as worshipping Christ as Lord, believers rejoice in the blessed Christ. They glory in Him all the day/ week/ year long! Christ and His saving power are the twin themes of their heart. They love Christ. They cannot get enough of Him!
“Real religion will make a man glory in Christ, as the Redeemer, the Deliverer, the Priest, the Friend, without whom he would have no hope at all. It will produce confidence in him, love towards him, delight in him, comfort in him as the mediator, the food, the light, the life, the peace of the soul. Is this your religion? Do you know anything of feelings like these towards Jesus Christ? If not, you may well doubt whether your religion is real”.
4.- If you would know whether your faith is real, try it by the fruit it bears in your heart and life
True Christians, however, are not only enthralled within by Christianity and Christ, but their heart-felt faith pours over into everyday life. Whereas the religious hypocrite is merely content with an outward brand of faith; true Christianity begins deep within working its way outwards into the conduct of the regenerate.
What kind of fruit does true religion produce? First of all, repentance and faith! Then such treasures as hope, love, spirituality, kind temper, self-denial, unselfishness, forgivingness, temperance, truthfulness, brotherly-kindness, patience and forbearance.
“The degree in which these various graces appear may vary in different believers. The germ and seeds of them will be found in all who are the children of God. By their fruits they may be known. Is this your religion? If not, you may well doubt whether it is real”.
5.- If you would know whether your faith is real, try it by your feelings and habits about means of grace
Is Sunday a day of bliss and rest for your soul in the presence of God or an opportunity for you to go after your own interests? How do you feel about the public means of grace such as public prayer, public praise, public preaching of the Word, public administration of the ordinances and public congregation? Is Sunday-worship a must or something you do when you feel like it?
Beyond the public sphere, how about the private means of grace? Are you dedicated to them? How is your private prayer life? What about your private reading of the Word? Are you in private communion with the Lord? Do you seek to steer your family towards the things of the Lord?
“Or do you find these practices irksome and slur them over or neglect them altogether? These questions deserve your attention. If means of grace, whether public or private, are not as necessary to your soul as meat and drink are to your body, you may well doubt whether your religion is real”.
To sum up, Ryle’s five tests are the following:
- If you would know whether your faith is real, try it by the place which it occupies in your inner man.
- If you would know whether your faith is real, try it by the feelings towards sin which it produces.
- If you would know whether your faith is real, try it by the feelings towards Christ which it produces.
- If you would know whether your faith is real, try it by the fruit it bears in your heart and life.
- If you would know whether your faith is real, try it by your feelings and habits about means of grace.
If, upon self-examination, you find yourself void of a true faith, there is but one cure: the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ died and rose again, not for good folk, but for sinful and wicked people.
Ask God for the forgiveness of your sins and to pardon you in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Cry out to God while there is yet time and be saved!