First day back home, after a few days out in the sticks with my fellow two muskateers, and then church’s annual Mid-Year Conference for students in the Lakes. Much to ‘mull over’ from the time away, and no doubt much to blog too.
A seminar on unity was really thought-provoking… how clear are we on the essentials of the gospel that has saved us, the gospel that unites God’s church… what truths would we fight for? What would we want to hold fast to when everyone else has deserted?
The doctrine of sin has to be one of those things. Was watching The Simpsons last night with my sister and it was the episode where Bart and the family travel to the Itchy & Scratch World amusement park. The theme was all about whether or not violence on kids’ TV actually caused children to be more violent – it made me think about our society: we’re so quick to point to this or that as the cause for society’s ‘downfall’. Our communities aren’t like they used to be surely? Things have changed, right?
J. C. Ryle didn’t think so. Writing about the church in the nineteenth century, he stated that one its chief wants ‘has been, and is, clearer, fuller teaching about sin.’ That is, sin, ‘doing, saying, thinking, or imagining anything that is not in perfect conformity with the mind and law of God.’
And from where does this vile offence against God come?
‘Let us, then, have it fixed down in our minds that the sinfulness of man does not begin from without, but from within. It is not the result of bad training in early years. It is not picked up from bad companions and bad examples, as some weak Christians are too fond of saying. No! It is a family disease, which we all inherit from our first parents, Adam and Eve, and with which we are born.
‘Search the globe from east to west and from pole to pole; search every nation of every climate in the four quarters of the earth; search every rank and class in our own country from the highest to the lowest—and under every circumstance and condition, the report will be always the same. The remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, completely separate from Europe, Asia, Africa and America, beyond the reach alike of Oriental luxury and Western arts and literature, islands inhabited by people ignorant of books, money, steam and gunpowder, uncontaminated by the vices of modern civilization, these very islands have always been found, when first discovered, the abode of the vilest forms of lust, cruelty, deceit and superstition. If the inhabitants have known nothing else, they have always known how to sin! Everywhere the human heart is naturally “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). For my part, I know no stronger proof of the inspiration of Genesis and the Mosaic account of the origin of man, than the power, extent and universality of sin.
John 3.6; Ephesians 2.3; Romans 8.7; Mark 7.21.
The practical applications of such a doctrine:
a) one of the best antidotes to the ‘that vague, dim, misty, hazy theology which is so painfully current in the present age.’
b) one of the best antidotes to the ‘extravagantly broad and liberal theology which is much in vogue at the present time’.
c) one of the best antidotes to that ‘sensuous, ceremonial, formal kind of Christianity…’
d) one of the best antidotes to ‘the overstrained threories of Perfection, of which we hear much in these times…’
e) an admirable antidote to the low views of personal holiness which are so painfully prevalent in these last days of the Church.
‘Once let him see his sin and he must see his Saviour… We must sit down humbly in the presence of God, look the whole subject in the face, examine clearly what the Lord Jesus calls sin, and what the Lord Jesus calls doing His will. We must then try to realize that it is terribly possible to live a careless, easy–going, half–worldly life, and yet at the same time to maintain evangelical principles and call ourselves evangelical people! Once we see that sin is far viler and far nearer to us and sticks more closely to us than we supposed, we will be led, I trust and believe, to get nearer to Christ. Once drawn nearer to Christ, we will drink more deeply out of His fullness and learn more thoroughly to “live the life of faith” in Him, as St. Paul did. Once taught to live the life of faith in Jesus, and abiding in Him, we will bear more fruit, will find ourselves more strong for duty, more patient in trial, more watchful over our poor weak hearts, and more like our Master in all our little daily ways.
All quotes from Holiness by J. C. Ryle.
The older generations of evangelicals always seem to have been better at exploding the twin myths of human progress and regress. Calvin and co. constantly remind in their writings that sin and corruption has always been at the heart of every society just as it is at the heart of every individual.