A Holy Violence

Is it wise to teach believers that they ought not to think so much of fighting and struggling against sin, but ought rather to “yield themselves to God,” and be passive in the hands of Christ? Is this according to the proportion of God’s Word? I doubt it.

It is a simple fact that the expression “yield yourselves” is only to be found in one place in the New Testament, as a duty urged upon believers. That place is in the sixth chapter of Romans, and there within six verses the expression occurs five times. (See Romans 6:13-19.) But even there, the word will not bear the sense of “placing ourselves passively in the hands of another.” Any Greek student can tell us that the sense is rather that of actively “presenting” ourselves for use, employment, and service. (See Romans 12:1.) The expression therefore stands alone.

J.C. Ryle 3But, on the other hand, it would not be difficult to point out at least twenty-five or thirty distinct passages in the Epistles, where believers are plainly taught to use active personal exertion, and are addressed as responsible for doing personally, what Christ would have them do, and are not told to “yield themselves” up as passive agents and sit still — but to arise and work! A holy violence, a conflict, a warfare, a fight, a soldier’s life, a wrestling — are spoken of as characteristic of the true Christian. The account of “the armor of God” in the sixth chapter of Ephesians, one might think, settles the question.

Again it would be easy to show that the doctrine of sanctification without personal exertion, by simply “yielding ourselves to God,” is precisely the doctrine of the antinomian fanatics in the seventeenth century (to whom I have referred already, described in Rutherford’s Spiritual Antichrist), and that the tendency of it is evil in the extreme!

Again, it would be easy to show that the doctrine is utterly subversive of the whole teaching of such tried and approved books as Pilgrim’s Progress, and that if we receive it — we cannot do better then put Bunyan’s old book in the fire! If Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress simply yielded himself to God, and never fought, or struggled, or wrestled — I have read the famous allegory in vain.

But the plain truth is, that men will persist in confounding two things that differ — that is, justification and sanctification. In justification, the word to address to man is believe — only believe. In sanctification, the word must be “watch, pray, and fight!” What God has divided — let us not mingle and confuse.

J.C. Ryle  “Holiness”                                                                                                                         1816—1900

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