This sermon by J.C. Ryle was preached in 1884; if things were deteriorating then, what would Mr. Ryle think of our present world? May the Lord bless you as you read….
Signs of the Times
By J. C. Ryle, October 21, 1884
Enormous luxury, extravagance, self-indulgence, mammon-worship, and an idolatry of fashion and amusements, are sorrowful marks of our times.
With all our outward show of religion, is there any proportionate increase of internal reality? With all this immense growth of external Christianity, is there any corresponding growth of vital godliness? Is there more faith, repentance, and holiness among the worshipers in our churches? Is there more of that saving faith without which it is impossible to please God, more of that repentance unto salvation without which a man must perish, and more of that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord? Is our Lord Jesus Christ more known and trusted and loved and obeyed? Is the inward work of the Holy Spirit more realized and experienced among our people? Are the grand verities of justification, conversion, sanctification, more thoroughly grasped and rightly esteemed by our congregations? Is there more private Bible reading, private prayer, private self-denial, private mortification of the flesh, private exhibition of meekness, gentleness, and unselfishness? In a word, is there more private religion at home in all the relations of life? These are very serious questions, and I wish they could receive very satisfactory answers. I sometimes fear that there is an enormous amount of hollowness and unreality in much of the Church religion of the present day, and that, if weighed in God’s balances, it would be found terribly wanting.
For after all, we must remember that it is written, ‘Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’ The great Head of the Church has said, ‘This people draws near to me with their mouth, and honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.’ He has also said, ‘The true worshipers shall worship in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him.’ If there is one thing more clearly taught than another in the Word of God, it is the utter uselessness of formal outward worship, however beautifully conducted, when the hearts of the worshipers are not right in the sight of God. I suspect that the Temple worship in the days when our Lord Jesus Christ was upon earth was as perfectly and beautifully performed as possible. I have little doubt that the music, the singing, the prayers, the dress of the priests, the gestures, the postures, the regularity and punctuality of the ceremonial observances, the keeping of the feasts and fasts, were all perfection itself, and there was nothing faulty or defective. But where was true saving religion in those days? What was the inward godliness of men like Annas and Caiaphas and their companions? What was the general standard of living among the fierce zealots of the law of Moses who crucified the Lord of Glory? You all know as well as I do. There is only one answer. The whole Jewish Church, with all its magnificent ritual, was nothing but a great whited sepulcher, beautiful without, but utterly rotten and corrupt within. In short, the Jewish Church was intended by God to be a beacon to all Christendom, and I am certain that these are days in which its lessons ought not to be forgotten.
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