What do you think about Christ?
by J. C. Ryle
"What do you think about Christ?" (Matthew 22:42)
Beloved, I have told you more than once, and I tell you now again, that since I have had the charge of this district it has been my heart's desire and prayer to promote your salvation. Morning and night I make my petition to my Father who is in heaven, that it will please Him to pour out the Holy Spirit upon you all, and bring you unto Christ. Has not He said "Ask, and you shall receive"—and shall I not bring your case before Him?
But you little know what an anxious situation a minister of the Church is placed in at all times, and never more so than when preparing for the pulpit. Perhaps you may think I have nothing to do but open my Bible, take the first text that meets my eye, and write off a sermon in two or three hours. But it is far otherwise. I have to watch for your souls, as one who would give account. And if you will not think about them yourselves, I must try to persuade you. Now, I search the Scriptures and compare them with what I see and observe and hear of those who live about me; and I declare to you, with grief and sorrow, in many many cases I cannot make the two agree. I find there are some people ruining body and soul by drunkenness and immorality; some who only come to church once, and that without any conceivable reason that I can discover; others who do so very irregularly, and on some Sundays do not come at all. Oh, beloved, I tell you again, as I have told many from house to house, if it is worth while to come at all, it is worth while to come regularly. One person told me the other day he never went anywhere, either to church or chapel, he had given it up; and I fear there are others like him. Believe me, when I see all this, it becomes a very difficult matter to make up my mind what texts will do you the most good.
What, I say to myself, will most awaken this people? What will most startle them? What will arouse them and make them think? What will most likely lead them to see the sinfulness of sin, the danger of trifling with their Maker and their judge, the real value of their own souls, the exceeding mercy of God in Christ Jesus? Such were some of the reflections that passed through my mind when I chose the text you have heard: "What do you think about Christ?"
Beloved, the present state of your souls depends on the nature of the answer your conscience gives: "What do you think about Christ?" You cannot answer this satisfactorily unless you are true members of His body—really united to Him by a living faith, really renewed by the Holy Spirit. There is no middle path here. You cannot make it a matter of indifference whether you think rightly of Christ or not. The question is very short, very simple—but the answer to it involves life or death. The book of Judges tells us that the Gileadites slew forty-two thousand men of Ephraim, because they could not pronounce a word aright—but the pronunciation of that single word was the proof whether they were enemies or not. And just so stands the case between you and God in the matter of my text. I ask you a little, plain question—but if you cannot give the answer God requires, I warn you, in love and tenderness, you are traveling on the broad way that leads to destruction!
There are some, I know, who believe that to think and preach so much about Christ is not true religion; that it would be better if I spoke more about plain practical duties, that it does not signify so much what men think about Christ. But I trust they are so few, that I shall say nothing to them. Plain practical duties are very well—but they cannot put away sin—or give men new hearts—or save souls. All that is Christ's office; Christ is the mainspring and subject of all Scripture; Christ, we read, is the Bishop of souls, the Author and Finisher of faith, the Bread of life, the Captain of salvation, the Cornerstone, the Door, the Mediator, the Prince of life, the Prince of peace, the Rock, the Shepherd, the Sun of righteousness, the Light of the world. And surely, then, I may fairly tell you that to think rightly of Jesus Christ is the sum and substance of religion.
I.Let us then inquire, beloved, what it is to think rightly of Christ.
1. First, then, with respect toHis Person, we must think that He is perfect God, equal with the Father, and together with Him and the Holy Spirit, making up the ever-blessed Trinity. If we do not think this we contradict the words of Scripture. If we do not think of Christ as God, we cannot explain how He can be so mighty to save—or why His fulfilment of the law and crucifixion can have been so meritorious, so complete a sacrifice for sins in the sight of His Father. If Christ had been at all inferior to God, the work that He worked upon earth for our sakes would have been the act of a servant, performing the commands of his master and doing no more than his duty. Nothing less than God could have made atonement for this guilty world.
2. We must think of Him asperfect man, of like nature with ourselves in everything, sin only excepted. If Christ had not been man He could not have suffered the punishment of our iniquities by dying on the cross; if He had not taken on Him a body and a nature liable to temptation like our own, He could never have fulfilled the law for us and in our stead; and we could not have looked upon Him with a brotherly confidence, as one who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
3. We must think of Him as the greatRedeemer and Savior, who by the voluntary sacrifice and death of Himself made atonement for the sins of the whole world, provided a means of reconciliation between His Father and mankind, and brought in an everlasting righteousness which is unto all and upon all those who believe.
4. We must think of Him as aKing. He is the great head of a spiritual dominion over the heart of all whom He chooses and calls out of the world; the chief of a spiritual kingdom which confers peculiar blessings and privileges on all who become subjects of it—a kingdom which is unseen, invisible at present—but shall be known and acknowledged by all at Christ's second coming.
5. We must think of Him as thegreat High Priest, who, like the Jewish high priest of old, has gone alone before us into the Holy of Holies, that is Heaven, to make satisfaction for the sin of His people with blood, even the blood of Himself, who ever stands at the right hand of God to make intercession for them; and can always feel for and pity them, because as man He was tempted like as they are.
6. We must think of Him as theProphet who would come, foretold by Moses shortly before his death, who has shown to mankind the way of salvation, who has clearly explained how God's mercy and God's justice can be reconciled when sinners are accounted righteous, who has taught us how God would have men to live, and has placed duties and morality upon their right foundation, and these are the inward motives and the heart.
7. Lastly, we must think of Him as the greatExample, who has left men a pattern that they should walk in His steps, who has given them, in His own person and behavior, a model of conduct in nearly every department of life which they cannot strive too much to imitate.
Now, I doubt not the greater part of you will feel disposed to say, "Do we not certainly know all these things? We have learned them long ago; we have heard them continually in church; if this is all you mean by thinking rightly of Christ, none may feel more comfortable than we do in answering the question of your text."
Yes, beloved—but this is not all. This is the point at which so many members of the Church of England stop short; here lies the snare into which so many of you fall; hitherto the devil himself will accompany you, and perhaps go further, for he believes, he trembles, he confesses Jesus to be the Holy One of God. Hearken, therefore, I beseech you, and understand that there are two ways of thinking about Christ; both indeed are necessary to salvation—but one, alas, is very often found to exist without the other. It is one thing to think of Him with the head, and another to think of Him with the heart; it is one to think about His offices as a matter of opinion, it is another to rejoice in them as infinitely important to your own soul; it is one to know these things correctly, it is another to live as if you felt them; it is one to acknowledge that Christ is a mighty gift to ruined man, it is quite another to apply this healing medicine to your own case.
Indeed I would not have you ignorant that this error is a most poisonous one, it is the very seat of Satan; and in charity to your souls I beseech you, if you love life, to take heed to your ways, to search your hearts, and come out from it. The Church of England has many privileges and advantages—there is no communion on earth which has so many to offer—but, like every other Church, she is liable to be abused by her unworthy members. She has placed in your hands a Prayer-book of unequaled beauty, propriety and spirituality—but many of you turn it to a bad account, and because you join in prayers which speak of Christ as our Redeemer, our Mediator, our Advocate—you flatter yourselves that you are in a fair way to be saved, that you are accepted in the Beloved. But know—each one, for a certainty, however suitable these prayers may be to those who can say Amen in faith, they will be found to have profited you very little if your conscience cannot also say, "He is my Redeemer, my Mediator, my Advocate."
To attend the services of this house is indeed a privilege, and one too that may not be lightly disregarded—but it is very possible to draw near with the lips and not with the heart, there is such a thing as the form of godliness without the power, and all the Prayer-books in England will never save your soul if you will not give your whole heart to God. Be not deceived: I want each one of you to make his salvation his own personal concern, and for a time to forget there is any but himself in the world to be saved—to ask his conscience "What do I think of Christ?" not What do we think? "Is Jesus my Savior?" not Is He our Savior—for men will not be judged in congregations—but separately, each standing by himself, and each in succession will be condemned who cannot say "The life that I have lived I have lived by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."
Beloved, this doctrine may seem to make the way to heaven narrow—but did not Jesus say it was so, and would not your profession be all useless, all unmeaning, without it?
You say you think that Christ is perfect God? But how can His ministers suppose you really feel and believe this, when they see you show so little concern to worship Him, to give Him thanks, to put your whole trust in Him, to cast all your burden on Him, to fear Him, and to love Him—while you appear to meditate so seldom on the mighty work He alone could perform for you, on the righteousness He alone could bring—while you do not obey His expressed will—while He says one thing and you do another? Surely, when these things are so, He cannot be your God.
You say you think that Christ is a great Redeemer. But how can we suppose you feel this, while you appear so careless about the souls which He purchased with His own blood—while you think so lightly of the sins, which could only be atoned for by His death and sufferings upon the cross—while you show so little humiliation, so little sense of your own unworthiness and desperate state without Him—while you do not use every means of strengthening and refreshing your weak spirits, that you may be fit for the inheritance of His saints in light—while you live so much for this perishable world, from the snares of which He died to deliver you? Surely, whatever you may choose to think, when these things are so, He cannot be your Redeemer.
You say you think that Christ is a great Example. But how can we imagine you believe it, while you do not frame your own lives according to the pattern He has left—while you evidently do not struggle to imitate His faith, His love, His humility, His purity, His self-denial, His meekness, His gentleness, His unwearied zeal for the good of souls? Surely, whatever you may think and say, He cannot be your Example.
O beloved, this cold, lifeless acknowledgment, this dead belief of truths because you know nothing to the contrary, can never be thinking rightly of Christ! This cannot be that saving faith which works by love, overcomes the world, and purifies the heart. If this is all, you cannot be aware of your own sinfulness, you cannot be aware of the mighty remedy required; you must be dead alike to your own necessities, and the mercy of God who has provided so great salvation. If the plague or the typhus fever were in this church, and there stood among you some sure and healing medicine, and none of you did more than look at it, and say you believed it was an infallible cure—but none stretched out a hand to lay hold upon it and use it, could any one suppose that you either believed the remedy to be certain—or the disease to be a dangerous one? But just such is your case, if you profess to believe in Christ and yet cannot call Him your own; for you may depend upon it, that as far as your salvation is concerned, 'Christ unapplied' is no Christ at all.
I am at a loss whether it would be more fitting to call such thinking of your great Redeemer ungrateful or unreasonable. Judge now for yourselves. If an inhabitant of another world were to be told there was a certain place called earth, where God once placed a man and woman, gave them everything they could desire, and made them rulers over all, he would probably say: "What goodness! how great must have been their love! What pleasure they must have felt in doing His will!" Suppose then I went on to tell him this man and woman would not believe God's word, they thought themselves wiser than their Maker, and broke the only small command imposed upon them, he would say, perhaps, "What astonishing ingratitude, folly and unbelief! doubtless they were punished deservedly!" Suppose then I proceeded to tell him that, on the contrary, God spared them, provided means of reconciliation, and in due time made manifest His mercy by sending His only-begotten Son to take guilty man's nature, fulfill the law and suffer punishment in his stead—declaring that whoever confessed his sins and put all his trust in this Almighty Savior would be saved from wrath and accounted as righteous as if he had never broken the law—do you not think that, on hearing this, he would say, "Wonderful! of course there must be very few who do not seek this Savior, make Him the chief subject of their thoughts and object of their love, the resting-place of their hope, their refuge in trial, the rock of their salvation; there must be few who do not delight to hear of Him, read about Him, talk of Him, meditate upon Him, pray to Him, honor His word, His house and His services." Beloved, what could I say next? I have stated the case fairly so far, and would not this be my only honest reply? "Many, alas, are called—but few are chosen. Many name the name of Christ—but few depart from iniquity or believe in Him to the saving of their souls."
Allow me once more to plead with you for your eternal good. Do not, I entreat you, leave this place in a state of lukewarm uncertainty as to whether you think rightly of Christ or not. If the thought of Jesus dying for sin has never weaned you from the world, made a difference in your lives, and sanctified your hearts—it has hitherto profited you nothing. If the thought of Jesus dying for sin has not shown you how sinful sin is, how hateful it is in the sight of God, has never brought you on your knees grieving for your iniquity with heartfelt repentance, has never led you to that Bible which testifies of Him—believe me it has hitherto profited you nothing, it will only increase your condemnation.
Remember, however lightly you may esteem your souls, God has set an untold value on them, for He gave His only Son for their redemption—but they cannot be saved, unless Christ dwells in your heart by faith. Awake, then, and cast away this icy garment of indifference, which is now your pride. Dare to go further than the world around you, and to think of Christ as a true Christian, as one who has sins to be atoned for, and rejoices to find a complete atonement.
I solemnly declare unto you, if you are content with a mere head-knowledge of these things and can be at ease without coming unto Jesus as your Savior and your God—you are ruining your own souls, and you shall find that Sodom and Gomorrah will rise up in judgment against you and condemn you, for if they had known these thigs, they would have repented long ago in dust and ashes.
Come, then, unto Jesus; think that He is ready to receive you, willing and mighty to save. You cannot say I wish you to do what is impossible; you cannot say I tell you to fulfill the law and then come; I do not ask you to make brick without straw, to make yourselves godly and then come. In my Master's name I offer you complete salvation if you will believe, free salvation if you will believe; everlasting life if you will believe. All things are yours if you will think rightly of Christ.
Christians, one word for you. What do you think about Christ? Do you regret that you have made Him your Redeemer and your Friend? Is His service wearisome? Is not your blessed Lord as good as His word, "I will give you rest"? Are not His ways, ways of pleasantness and paths of peace? Can you not say of Him what was said of Solomon by the Queen of Sheba: "The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom—but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard. Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!" (1 Kings 10:6-8)
Press forward, then, I beseech you, toward the mark for the prize of your high calling. Show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into this marvelous light. Let nothing tempt you to cast aside your confidence, which has great hope of reward. "Do not be weary in well doing, for in due time you shall reap, if you faint not."