“Practical Religion” by J.C. Ryle, pages 41-45
What shall I say of those who are irregular about public worship on Sundays? There are thousands who answer this description. Sometimes, if they feel disposed, they go to some church, and attend a religious service; at other times they stay at home and read the paper, or idle about, or look over their accounts, or seek some amusement. Is this striving? I speak to men with common sense. Let them judge what I say.
What shall I say of those who come regularly to a place of worship, but come entirely out of habit? There are many in every part of our country in this condition. Their fathers taught them to come; their custom has always been to come: it would not be respectable to stay away. But they care nothing for the worship of God when they do come. Whether they hear law or gospel, truth or error, it is all the same to them. They remember nothing afterwards. They take off their form of religion with their Sunday clothes, and return to the world. Is this striving? I speak to men with common sense. Let them judge what I say.
What shall I say of those who seldom or never read the Bible? There are thousands of people, I fear, who answer this description. They know the Book by name; they know it is commonly regarded as the only book that teaches us how to live and how to die; but they can never find time for reading it. Newspapers, reviews, novels, romances, they can read, but not the Bible. Is this striving? I speak to men with common sense. Let them judge what I say.
What shall I say of those who never pray? There are multitudes, I firmly believe, in this condition. Without God they rise in the morning, and without God they lie down at night. They ask for nothing; they confess nothing; they return thanks for nothing; they seek nothing. They are all dying creatures, and yet they are not even on speaking terms with their Maker and their Judge! Is this striving? I speak to men with common sense. Let them judge what I say.
It is a solemn thing to be a minister of the Gospel. It is a painful thing to look on, and see the ways of mankind in spiritual matters. We hold in our hands that great law book of God, which declares that without repentance, and conversion, and faith in Christ, and holiness, no man living can be saved. In discharge of our office we urge man to repent, believe and be saved; but, to our grief, how frequently we have to lament that our labor seems all in vain. Men attend our churches, and listen, and approve; but do not ‘strive’ to be saved. We show the sinfulness of sin; we unfold the loveliness of Christ; we expose the vanity of the world; we set forth the happiness of Christ service; we offer the living water to the wearied and heavy-laden sons of toil; but, to our dismay, how often we seem to speak to the winds. Our words are patiently heard on Sundays; our arguments are not refuted; but we see plainly in the week that men are not ‘striving’ to be saved. Then on Monday morning the devil comes, and offers his countless snares. Then comes the world, and holds out it illusive prizes: our hearers follow them greedily. They work hard for this world’s goods; they toil at Satan’s bidding; but the one thing they need to do they won’t – they will not ‘strive’ at all.
I am not writing from hearsay. I speak what I have seen. I write down the result of 37 years experience in the ministry. I have learned lessons about human nature during that period that I never knew before. I have seen how true are our Lord’s words about the narrow road. I have discovered how few there are that ‘strive’ to be saved.
Seriousness about fleeting matters is common enough. Striving to be rich and prosperous in this world is not rare at all. Pains about money, and business, and politics; pains about trade, and science, and fine arts, and amusements; pains about rent, and wages, and labor, and land; pains about such matters I see in abundance both in the city and the country. But I see few who take pains about their souls. I see few anywhere who ‘strive’ to enter in through the narrow gate.
I am not surprised at all this. I read in the Bible that it is only what I am to expect. The parable of the great supper is an exact picture of things that I have seen with my own eyes ever since I became a minister (Luke 14:16). I find, as my Lord and Savior tells me, that ‘men make excuse’. One has his piece of land to see; another has his oxen to prove; a third has his family hindrances. But all this does not prevent my feeling deeply grieved for the souls of men. I grieve to think that they should have eternal life so close to them, and yet be lost because they will not ‘strive’ to enter in and be saved.
I do not know in what state of soul many of my readers may be. But I warn you to take heed that you do not perish forever because you did not ‘strive’. Do not suppose that it needs some great scarlet sin to bring you to the pit of destruction. You have only to sit still and do nothing, and you will find your self eventually in hell. Yes! Satan does not ask you to walk in the steps of Cain, and Pharaoh, and Ahab, and Belshazzar, and Judas Iscariot. There is a another road to hell that is guaranteed to get you there – the road of spiritual sluggishness, spiritual laziness, and spiritual sloth. Satan has no objection to you being known as a respectable member of the Christian Church. He will let you give your offerings; he will allow you to sit comfortably in church every Sunday that you live. He knows full well that so long as you do not ‘strive’, you must come in the end to the place where the destroying maggot never dies, and the fire is never quenched. Be careful that you do not come to this end. I repeat: ‘You have only to do nothing, and you will be lost’.
If you have been taught to ‘strive’ for your soul’s well-being, I beg you never to suppose you can go too far. Never give way to the idea that you are too concerned about your spiritual condition, and that there is no need for so much carefulness. Rather, be convinced in your own mind that ‘in all labor there is profit’, and that no labor is so profitable as that bestowed on the soul. It is a maxim among good farmers that the more they do for the land the more the land does for them. I am sure it should be a maxim among Christians that the more they do for their Christianity, the more their Christianity will do for them.
Watch out for the slightest inclination to be careless about such things as reading the Bible, going to church, praying and taking the Lord’s supper. Beware of shortening your prayers, your Bible reading, your private communion with God. Be careful that you do not give way to a thoughtless, lazy manner of using the weekly services of the church. Fight against any rising disposition to be sleepy, critical and fault-finding, while you listen to the preaching of the gospel. What ever you do for God, do it with all your heart, mind and strength. In other things be moderate, and dread running into extremes. In matters of the soul fear moderation just as you would fear the plague. Don’t care what man may think of you. Let it be enough for you that your Master says, ‘Strive’.