Fire in the Mouth

Confessional Presbyterian ♠️ Reader of Ryle Co-Founder & President of Christian Worldview Discipleship (CWD) Full Time Evangelist w/ Reformed Evangelistic Fellowship (REF) Pursuing M.Div @ Heidelberg Theological Seminary (HTS) 🎧 CWD Podcasts ⤵️

How to Hear Preaching

If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
24 And He was saying to them, “Beware what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you, and more will be given to you.
—Mark 4:23–24

Hearing the truth is one principal avenue through which grace is conveyed to the soul of man. Faith comes from hearing (Romans 10:17). One of the first steps towards conversion is to receive from the Spirit a hearing ear. Seldom are men brought to repentance and faith in Christ without hearing. The general rule is that of which Paul reminds the Ephesians: You also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed (Ephesians 1:13).

Let us bear this in mind when we hear preaching decried as a means of grace. There are never lacking men who seek to cast it down from the high place which the Bible gives it. There are many who proclaim loudly that it is of far more importance to the soul to hear liturgical forms read and to receive the Lord’s Supper than to hear God’s Word expounded. Of all such notions let us beware. Let it be a settled principle with us that hearing the Word is one of the foremost means of grace that God has given to man. Let us give to every other means and ordinance its proper value and proportion. But never let us forget the words of Paul: Do not despise prophetic utterances (1 Thessalonians 5:20), and his dying charge to Timothy: Preach the word (2 Timothy 4:2). [1]

We learn, secondly from these verses, the great importance of right hearing. The words of our Lord Jesus Christ ought to impress that lesson deeply on our hearts. He says, “Take care how you listen.”

The degree of benefit which men receive from all the means of grace depends entirely on the way in which they use them.

Private prayer lies at the very foundation of religion. Yet the mere formal repetition of a set of words when the heart is far away does good to no man’s soul.

Reading the Bible is essential to the attainment of sound Christian knowledge. Yet the mere formal reading of so many chapters as a task and duty without a humble desire to be taught of God is little better than a waste of time.

Just as it is with praying and Bible reading, so it is with hearing the Word preached. It is not enough that we go to church and hear sermons. We may do so for fifty years and not [be] helped at all, but rather . . . [grow] worse. “Take care,” says our Lord, “how you listen.”

Would anyone know how to hear aright? Then let him lay to heart three simple rules:

For one thing, we must hear with faith – believing implicitly that every word of God is true and shall stand forever. The Word in old time did not profit the Jews because it was not united by faith in those who heard (Hebrews 4:2).

For another thing, we must hear with reverence – remembering constantly that the Bible is the book of God. This was the habit of the Thessalonians. They received Paul’s message not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Above all, we must hear with prayer – praying for God’s blessing before the sermon is preached, and praying for God’s blessing again when the sermon is over.

Here lies the grand defect of the hearing of many. They ask no blessing – and so they have none. The sermon passes through their minds like water through a leaky vessel and leaves nothing behind!

Let us bear these rules in mind every Sunday morning before we go to hear the Word of God preached. Let us not rush into God’s presence in a careless, reckless, and unprepared manner as if it did not matter in what way such work was done. Let us carry with us faith, reverence, and prayer. If these three are our companions, then we shall hear with profit and return with praise. [2]

[1] J.C. Ryle, ‘Expository Thoughts on Mark’
[2] J.C. Ryle, ‘Expository Thoughts on Luke’

Praying Ministry

Prayer is the main secret of success in spiritual business. It moves Him who can move heaven and earth. It brings down the promised aid of the Holy Spirit without whom the finest sermons, the clearest teaching, and the most diligent labors are all alike in vain. It is not always those who have the most eminent gifts who are most successful laborers for God. It is generally those who keep up closest communion with Christ and are most constant in prayer. It is those who cry with the prophet Ezekiel, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life” (Ezekiel 37:9). It is those who follow most exactly the apostolic model and devote [themselves] to prayer and to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). Happy is that church which has a praying as well as a preaching ministry! The question we should ask about a new minister is not merely, Can he preach well? but also, Does he pray much for his people and his work?

—J.C. Ryle, ‘Expository Thoughts on Mark’

Honor of Burial

Though   the honor of burial is of no importance to the dead, yet it is the will   of the Lord that we should observe this ceremony as a token of the last   resurrection; and therefore God was pleased with the carefulness which   was manifested by the disciples, when they came to commit to the tomb   the body of their master.

—John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists

Birthdays

The ancient custom of observing a birthday every year as an occasion of joy cannot in itself be disapproved; for that day, as often as it returns, reminds   each of us to give thanks to God, who brought us into this world, and has permitted us, in his kindness, to spend many years in it; next, to bring to our recollection how improperly and uselessly the time which God granted to us has been permitted to pass away; and, lastly, that we ought to commit ourselves to the protection of the same God for the remainder of our life.

—John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists

Food that is Unsanctified

Accordingly, Paul tells us, that every kind of food which God bestows upon us is sanctified by the word of God and prayer, (1 Timothy 4:5;) by which he means, that brutal men, who do not regard by faith the blessing of God, and do not offer to him thanksgiving, corrupt and pollute by the filth of their unbelief all that is by nature pure; and, on the other hand, that they are corrupted and defiled by the food which they swallow, because to unbelievers nothing is clean.

—John Calvin

determined not to believe

We read that the “Jews agreed that if any man did confess that Jesus was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.” They were determined not to believe. They were resolved that no evidence should change their minds and no proofs influence their will. They were like men who shut their eyes and tie a bandage over them, and refuse to have it untied. Just as in after times they stopped their ears when Stephen preached and refused to listen when Paul made his defense, so they behaved at this period of our Lord’s ministry.

Of all states of mind into which unconverted men can fall, this is by far the most dangerous to the soul. So long as a person is open, fair, and honest-minded, there is hope for him, however ignorant he may be. He may be much in the dark at present. But is he willing to follow the light, if set before him? He may be walking in the broad road with all his might. But is he ready to listen to any one who will show him a more excellent way? In a word, is he teachable, childlike, and unfettered by prejudice? If these questions can be answered satisfactorily, we never need despair about the man’s soul.

—J.C. Ryle, ‘Expository Thoughts on John’

dangerous to be unfruitful

. . . it is a most dangerous thing to be unfruitful under great religious privileges.

The manner in which our Lord conveys this lesson to us is deeply impressive. He shows us the owner of the barren fig tree complaining that it bore no fruit. “For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any.” [Luke 13:7] He describes him as even ordering the destruction of the tree as a useless hindrance to the ground. “Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?” He brings in the keeper of the vineyard pleading for the fig tree that it may be spared a little longer. “Let it alone, sir, for this year too.” [v. 8] And He concludes the parable by putting these solemn words into the vineyard-keeper’s mouth: “If it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.” [v. 9]

There is a plain warning here to all professing churches of Christ. If their ministers do not teach sound doctrine, and their members do not live holy lives, then they are in imminent peril of destruction. God is every year observing them and taking account of all their ways. They may abound in ceremonial religion. They may be covered with the leaves of forms, and services, and ordinances. But if they are destitute of the fruits of the Spirit, then they are reckoned to be useless hindrances to the ground. Unless they repent, they will be cut down.

It was so with the Jewish church forty years after our Lord’s ascension. It will be so yet with many others, it may be feared, before the end comes. The ax is lying near the root of many an unfruitful church. The sentence will yet go forth, “Cut it down!”

There is a plainer warning still in the passage for all unconverted professing Christians. There are many in every congregation who hear the gospel who are literally hanging over the brink of the bottomless pit! They have lived for years in the best part of God’s vineyard and yet have borne no fruit. They have heard the gospel preached faithfully for hundreds of Sundays and yet have never embraced it and taken up the cross and followed Christ. They do not perhaps run into open sin, but they do nothing for God’s glory. There is nothing positive about their religion. Of each of these the Lord of the vineyard might say with truth, “I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down!”

There are myriads of respectable professing Christians in this plight. They have not the least idea how near they are to destruction. Never let us forget that to be content with sitting in the congregation and hearing sermons, while we bear no fruit in our lives is conduct which is most offensive to God. It provokes Him to cut us off suddenly, and that without remedy!

—J.C. Ryle, ‘Expository Thoughts on Luke’

Keeping the Sabbath a sure test of our religion

Whatever men may please to say, the way in which we use the Sabbath is a sure test of the state of our religion. By the Sabbath may be found out whether we love communion with God. By the Sabbath may be found out whether we are in tune for heaven. By the Sabbath, in short, the secrets of many hearts are revealed. There are only too many of whom we may say with sorrow, “These men are not of God, because they keep not the Sabbath day.”

—J.C. Ryle, ‘Expository Thoughts on John’

work while it is called today

. . . what a solemn lesson Christ gives us about the use of opportunities. He says to the disciples who asked Him about the blind man, “I must work while it is called today: the night cometh, when no man can work.” [John 9:4]

That saying was eminently true when applied to our Lord Himself. He knew well that his own earthly ministry would only last three years altogether, and knowing this He diligently redeemed the time. He let slip no opportunity of doing works of mercy and attending to His Father’s business. Morning, noon, and night He was always carrying on the work which the Father gave Him to do. It was His food and drink to do His Father’s will and to finish His work. His whole life breathed one sentiment – “I must work – the night cometh, when no man can work.”

The saying is one which should be remembered by all professing Christians. The life that we now live in the flesh is our day. Let us take care that we use it well for the glory of God and the good of our souls. Let us work out our salvation with fear and trembling, while it is called today. There is no work nor labor in the grave toward which we are all fast hastening. Let us pray, and read, and keep our Sabbaths holy, and hear God’s Word, and do good in our generation like men who never forget that “the night is at hand.” Our time is very short. Our daylight will soon be gone. Opportunities once lost can never be retrieved. A second lease of life is granted to no man. Then let us resist procrastination as we would resist the devil. Whatever our hand finds to do, let us do it with our might. “The night cometh, when no man can work.”

—J.C. Ryle, ‘Expository Thoughts on John’

Think of Your Own Death

A murder, a sudden death, a shipwreck, or a railway accident will completely occupy the minds of a neighborhood and be in the mouth of everyone you meet. And yet these very people dislike talking of their own deaths and their own prospects in the eternal world beyond the grave. Such is human nature in every age. In religion, men are ready to talk of anybody’s business rather than their own!

The state of our own souls should always be our first concern. It is eminently true that real Christianity will always begin at home. The converted man will always think first of his own heart, his own life, his own deserved punishment, and his own sins.

—J.C. Ryle, ‘Expository Thoughts on Luke’

Ministers must not fear man

Those ministers that would be found faithful in the work of God, must not be afraid of the face of man. If we seek to please men, further than is for their spiritual good, we are not the servants of Christ.

—Matthew Henry (Commentary on Mark)

Greater Light, Greater Guilt

We learn, lastly from these verses, that the greater a man’s religious light is, the greater is his guilt if he is not converted. “That slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required.”

The lesson of these words is one of wide application. It demands the attention of many classes. It should come home to the conscience of every professing Christian. His judgment shall be far more strict than that of the heathen who never saw the Bible.

It should come home to every hearer of the gospel. If he remains unconverted, then he is far more guilty than the inhabitant of some dark land who never hears any teaching except a sort of semi-heathen morality.

It should come home to every child and servant in Christian families. All such are far more blameworthy in God’s sight than those who live in houses where there is no honor paid to the Word of God and prayer. Let these things never be forgotten. Our judgment at the last day will be according to our light and opportunities.

What are we doing ourselves with our religious knowledge? Are we using it wisely and turning it to good account? Or are we content with the barren, saying, “We know it! We know it!” and secretly flattering ourselves that the mere knowledge of our Lord’s will makes us better than others, while that will is not done?

Let us beware of eternal mistakes! The day will come when unimproved knowledge will be found the most perilous of possessions. Thousands will awake to find that they are in a lower place in hell than the most ignorant and idolatrous heathen. Their knowledge not used, and their light not followed, will only add to their condemnation.

—J.C. Ryle, ‘Expository Thoughts on Luke’

Persecuting Christians

The professing Christian who begins to persecute God’s people and to take pleasure in worldly society is on the high road to eternal ruin!

—J.C. Ryle, ‘Expository Thoughts on Luke’

The Servant Found Doing

We hear a great deal about people’s intentions, and hopes, and wishes, and feelings, and professions. It would be better if we could hear more about people’s practices. It is not the servant who is found wishing and professing, but the servant who is found doing whom Jesus calls blessed.

—J.C. Ryle, ‘Expository Thoughts on John’

“Abraham is our father.”

[John 8:37–47]

We are taught for one thing the ignorant self-righteousness of the natural man. We find the Jews pluming themselves on their natural descent from Abraham, as if that must of necessity cover all deficiencies – “Abraham is our father.” We find them going even further than this and claiming to be God’s special favorites and God’s own family – “We have one Father, even God.” They forgot that fleshly relationship to Abraham was useless, unless they shared Abraham’s grace. They forgot that God’s choice of their father to be head of a favored nation was never meant to carry salvation to the children, unless they walked in their father’s footsteps. All this in their blind self-conceit they refused to see. “We are Jews. We are God’s children. We are the true Church. We are in the covenant. We must be all right.” This was their whole argument!

Strange as it may seem, there are multitudes of so-called Christians who are exactly like these Jews. Their whole religion consists of a few notions neither wiser nor better than those propounded by the enemies of our Lord. They will tell you “that they are regular Church people; they have been baptized; they go to the Lord’s table” – but they can tell you no more. Of all the essential doctrines of the Gospel they are totally ignorant. Of faith, and grace, and repentance, and holiness, and spiritual mindedness, they know nothing at all. Unquestionably they are Churchmen, and so they hope to go to heaven! There are myriads in this condition. It sounds sad, but unhappily it is only too true.

Let us settle firmly in our minds that connection with a good Church and good ancestors is no proof whatever that we ourselves are in a way to be saved. We need something more than this. We must be joined to Christ himself by a living faith. We must know something experimentally of the work of the Spirit in our hearts. “Church principles” and “sound Churchmanship” are fine words and excellent party cries. But they will not deliver our souls from the wrath to come or give us boldness in the day of judgment.

—J.C. Ryle, ‘Expository Thoughts on John’

Slaves of Sin

How many on every side are total slaves, although they do not acknowledge it! They are led captive by their besetting corruptions and infirmities and seem to have no power to get free. Ambition, the love of money, the passion for drink, the craving for pleasure and excitement, gambling, gluttony, illicit relationships – all these are so many tyrants among men. Each and all have crowds of unhappy prisoners bound hand and foot in their chains. The wretched prisoners will not admit their bondage. They will even boast sometimes that they are eminently free. But many of them know better. There are times when the iron enters into their souls, and they feel bitterly that they are slaves.

There is no slavery like this. Sin is indeed the hardest of all taskmasters. Misery and disappointment in the way, despair and hell in the end – these are the only wages that sin pays to its servants. To deliver men from this bondage is the grand object of the Gospel. To awaken people to a sense of their degradation, to show them their chains, to make them arise and struggle to be free – this is the great end for which Christ sent forth His ministers. Happy is he who has opened his eyes and found out his danger. To know that we are being led captive is the very first step toward deliverance.

—J.C. Ryle, ‘Expository Thoughts on John’