Early in the the fourth chapter of J.C. Ryle’s Holiness, the author unequivocally shows from Scripture that the true Christian is called to fight, to be ‘a man of war’. Indeed, Ryle rhetorically asks, what inspired scripture can mean when we read statements and commands in it such as ‘Mortify your members which are upon the earth’ (Col 3:5), ‘Take unto you the whole armor of God’ (Eph 6:13), and ‘War a good warfare, holding faith in good conscience’ (1 Tim 1:18) but to call and rally us to fight.
Ryle helpfully notes it is ‘the World’, ‘the Flesh’, and ‘the Devil’ with which the Bible calls us to make unceasing war.
Towards the end of the chapter Ryle gives a variety of reasons why this fight is called ‘good’––the hallmark verse of the chapter being 1 Timothy 6:12, “Fight the good fight of faith”). He writes,
“The Christian’s fight is good because [it is] fought under the best of generals. The Leader and Commander of all believers is our Divine Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ––a Saviour of perfect wisdom, infinite love, and almighty power. The Captain of our salvation never fails to lead His soldiers to victory. He never makes any useless movements, never errs in judgment, never commits any mistake. His eye is on all His followers, from the greatest of them even to the least. The humblest servant in His army is not forgotten. The weakest and most sickly is cared for, remembered, and kept unto salvation. The souls whom He has purchased and redeemed with His own blood are far too precious to be wasted and thrown away. Surely this is good!”1
The chapter is later drawn to a close with a precious exhortation to,
“Remember that the time is short, and the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. A few more battles and the last trumpet shall sound, and the Prince of Peace shall come to reign on a renewed earth. A few more struggles and conflicts, and then we shall bid an eternal goodbye warfare, and to sin, to sorrow, and to death. Then let us fight on to the last, and never surrender. Thus sayeth the Captain of our salvation––”He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (Rev 21:7).2
Truly, we are to fight our flesh, the devil and the world. Amidst this war we must not, however, fail to remember and rejoice that no man is justified by the works of the law nor by the work of his sword but only by faith and faith alone in the finished work of Christ. Yet, that is not to say fighting is optional––far from it.
It is biblical, and indeed a precious thing, to know and believe and teach the strict distinctness of justification and sanctification––they are separate things. As just noted, we are justified by faith alone. Yet, if we stop there we are no longer good students of our Bible. For, we must likewise hold dear that all those who Christ has justified he will sanctify. He will not let his children love the world, go on deliberately sinning and under bondage to sin but will set them apart from the world to himself by his Spirit for good works.
He who has called, predestined and justified us is surely sanctifying us and will surely glorify us. We must remember that a warring Christian is a sanctified Christian while a passive, indolent and lazy ‘Christian’ is an oxymoron and is a man with a mere false profession. “If you live according to the flesh will die but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live” (Romans 8:5). Those who are Christ’s, those who are being sanctified, will certainly ‘fight the good fight’ and be a man or woman of war.
The fact that to some this language of warring and fighting may appear ‘puritan’, ‘fundamentalist’ or extreme is nothing short of a travesty and a testimony to the severe downgrade of Christianity in America and beyond. For this reason, I’ve included the final excerpt from Ryle in hope to encourage the reader to found their knowledge of the Christian life, of salvation and eternity on the Bible not the opinions of men and culture. One may truthfully point out that today many preachers teach there is no hell, no clear line of sexual sin, no wrath of God etc. But my friend, this is nothing but foolish, worldly talk based on human imagination. For, the Bible has clear teaching and condemns such things and describes the terrors of an eternal and wrathful hell.
Be reminded, the Apostle Paul calls many a professing believer in Crete ‘people who turn away from the truth’ and those who ‘profess to know God but deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work’ (Titus 1:14-15).
I leave you with Ryle’s warning:
“True Christianity! Let us mind that word “true.” There is a vast quantity of religion current in the world which is not true, genuine Christianity. It passes muster; it satisfies sleepy consciences; but it is not good money. It is not the real thing which was called Christianity eighteen hundred years ago. There are thousands of men and women who go to churches and chapels every Sunday, and call themselves Christians. Their names are in the baptismal register. They are reckoned Christians while they live. They are married with a Christian marriage service. They mean to be buried as Christians when they die. But you never see any “fight” about their religion! Of spiritual strife, and exertion, and conflict, and self- denial, and watching, and warring, they know literally nothing at all. Such Christianity may satisfy man, and those who say anything against it may be thought very hard and uncharitable; but it certainly is not the Christianity of the Bible. It is not the religion which the Lord Jesus founded, and His Apostles preached. It is not the religion which produces real holiness. True Christianity is “a fight.”
The true Christian is called to be a soldier, and must behave as such from the day of his conversion to the day of his death. He is not meant to live a life of religious ease, indolence, and security. He must never imagine for a moment that he can sleep and doze along the way to heaven, like one travelling in an easy carriage. If he takes his standard of Christianity from the children of this world, he may be content with such notions; but he will find no countenance for them in the Word of God. If the Bible is the rule of his faith and practice, he will find his course laid down very plainly in this matter. He must ‘fight'”.3
1Ryle, J.C. (1877). The Fight. In Holiness (pp. 84). Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth.
2Ryle, J.C. (1877). The Fight. In Holiness (pp. 90-91). Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth.
3Ryle, J.C. (1877). The Fight. In Holiness (pp. 72-73). Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth.