J. C. Ryle on the Means of Sanctification

From J. C. Ryle’s Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots:

“Sanctification depends greatly on a diligent use of scriptural means. The ‘means of grace’ are such as Bible reading, private prayer, and regularly worshiping God in Church, wherein one hears the Word taught and participates in the Lord’s Supper. I lay it down as a simple matter of fact that no one who is careless about such things must ever expect to make much progress in sanctification. I can find no record of any eminent saint who ever neglected them. They are appointed channels through which the Holy Spirit conveys fresh supplies of grace to the soul and strengthens the work which He has begun in the inward man. Let men call this legal doctrine if they please, but I will never shrink from declaring my belief that there are no “spiritual gains without pains.” Our God is a God who works by means, and He will never bless the soul of that man who pretends to be so high and spiritual that he can get on without them.” (Ch. 2; emphasis mine)

Ryle is correct that the use of means, or “scriptural means”, is important for Christian sanctification. Too many Protestants don’t even value these means. We value attending church events over the value of these means. Is it any surprise, then, that churches turn out so many shallow Christians rather than disciples?

My only concern is to make sure that we do not limit the “means of grace” to the three activities he lists (Bible reading, private prayer, and the worship of the church). I do not see any Biblical or practical reasons to limit the means of sanctification to these three, especially since one of the three (i.e. Bible reading) would not have been doable for many Christians throughout church history.

But the point remains: central to sanctification are means of grace. No Christian should exclude them from his or her life.


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