Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"Strive To Enter" - Part I

For the last year, I have been reading on my Kindle J.C. Ryle, the first Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, England, until his death on June 10, 1900.  Prior to that period, Ryle held other noteworthy positions within the church between 1838 and 1880.  However, I believe Ryle's achievements were eclipsed by his position as the leader of the evangelical party in the Church of England, and was well known for his doctrinal essays and polemical writings, in which he aggressively attacked the teachings of the church of Rome, vehemently opposing its ritualistic doctrines and un-biblical papist leadership, and encouraging the Church of England congregants to stand firm on the truth of Scripture.

Although noted for his "Expository Thoughts" on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, perhaps Ryle's best literary works are his doctrinal essays, including "Old Paths," "Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots," and "Practical Religion," (all MUST READs, and kindly made free on the links!), to name just a few.  Ryle's writings are chock full of good exegesis and expository teaching on the foundations of God's character and holiness, the Gospel of salvation, worship, and communion with God, as well as clear and precise warnings against false shepherds and deceivers.

What I found truly amazing among the books I have read is the parallel between what Ryle was seeing, during his day, within and without the body of Christ and His true church, compared to what we are experiencing in today's Christian society.  It's obvious that Satan, when he devises a certain deception and finds it very effective in deceiving masses, continues to use that weapon in his attempt to tear down the church.  One would think that Ryle was writing about today's church, instead of the church he led over a century ago.

I am currently plowing through "Practical Religion: Being Plain Papers on the Daily Duties, Experience, Dangers, and Privileges of Professing Christians" that was written by Ryle in 1878.  I say "plowing," because when I read apologetics, such as this book, I take my time, absorbing one section of a chapter at a time, allowing it to soak in and benefit my mind, heart, and soul.  As I read this morning's portion, it occurred to me that it would be an excellent addition to my last post.   The warning contained within this section of the chapter of Ryle's book is drawn from Luke 13:22-30, and aptly applies to what Jesus said many can expect when they depart this world, or when the storm that is coming soon upon this world makes its entrance:

He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem.   And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them,  “Strive to enter through the narrow door.  For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.   When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’  Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’   But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.   And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.   And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” 

I would like to share with you an excerpt from Ryle's paper on these all-important verses.  Because of its length, I will do as I did in previous posts on Ryle's book, "Holiness," where I divided the chapter into more than one post (if you missed those posts on "What It Means To Count the Cost," here is Part I, Part II, and Part III).

Specifically, Ryle begins the third part of this chapter by begging the question, "At what period will the door of salvation be shut forever?  When will the 'making of every effort' to enter in be of no use?"  And, as Ryle continues in his introduction to this section, "These are serious questions.  The door is now ready to open to the chief of sinners, but a day comes when it will open no more."  (Please note that I use the English Standard Version for all Scripture verses.)

Part I

The time foretold by our LORD is the time of His own second coming to judge the world.  The patience of God will at last have an end.  The throne of grace will at last be taken down, and the throne of judgment will be set up in its place.  The fountain of living waters will finally be closed.  The narrow door will at last be barred and bolted.  The day of grace will be passed and over.  The day of reckoning with a sin-laden world will finally begin.  And then will be brought to pass the solemn prediction of the LORD Jesus, "For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able."
All prophecies of Scripture that have been fulfilled up to this time, have been fulfilled to the very letter.  They have seemed to many unlikely, improbable, impossible, up to the very time or their accomplishment; but not one word of them has ever failed.
 The promises of "good things" have come to pass, in spite of difficulties that seemed impossible:
  1.  Sarah had a son when she was well past the age for the bearing of children.
  2. The children of Israel were brought out of Egypt and planted in the promised land.
  3. The Jews were redeemed from the captivity of Babylon, after seventy years, and enabled once more to build the temple.
  4. The LORD Jesus was born of a pure virgin, lived, ministered, was betrayed, and cut off, precisely as Scripture foretold.
 The Word of God was promised in all these cases, that it should be.  And so it was.  The predictions of judgments on cities and nations have come to pass, though at the time they were first spoken they seemed incredible.  Edom is a wilderness; Tyre is a rock for drying nets; Nineveh, that "greater than great city," is laid waste, and become a desolation; Babylon is a dry land and a wilderness - her extensive walls are utterly broken down.  In all these cases the Word of God foretold that it should be so.  And so it was.
The prediction of the LORD Jesus Christ, which I press on your attention this day, will be fulfilled in like manner.  Not one word of it will fail when the time of its accomplishment is due.  "For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able."
There is a time coming when seeking God will be useless.  Oh, that men would remember that!  Too many seem to believe that the hour will never arrive when they will seek and not find; but they are sadly mistaken.  They will discover their mistake one day to their own confusion, except they repent.  When Christ comes "...many...will seek to enter and will not be able."
There is a time coming when many will be shut out from heaven forever.  It will not be the lot of a few, but of a great multitude; it will not happen to one or two in this area, and one or two in another, it will be the miserable end of a immense crowd.  "For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able."  Knowledge will come to many too late.   They will see at last the value of an immortal soul, and the happiness of having it saved.  They will understand at last their own sinfulness and God's holiness, and the glorious fitness of the Gospel of Christ.  They will comprehend at last why ministers seemed so anxious, and preached so long, and implored them so earnestly to be converted.  But to their grief, they will know all this "too late!"
Repentance will come to many too late.  They will discover their own surpassing wickedness and be thoroughly ashamed of their past folly.  They will be full of bitter regret and hopeless wailings, of keen convictions, and of piercing sorrows.  They will weep, and wail, and mourn, when they reflect on their sins.  The remembrance of their lives will be grievous to them; the burden of their guilt will seem intolerable.  But, to their grief, like Judas Iscariot, they will repent "too late!"
Faith will come to many too late.  They will no longer be able to deny that there is a God, and a devil, and a heaven, and a hell.  False religion, and skepticism, and unfaithfulness will be laid aside forever; scoffing, and joking, and free-thinking will cease.  They will see with their own eyes and feel in their own bodies that the things of which ministers spoke were not cleverly devised fables, but great real truths.  They will find out to their cost that evangelical religion was not lip service, extravagance, fanaticism, and enthusiasm: they will discover that it was the one thing they needed, and that the lack of it will cause them to be lost forever.  Like the devil, they will finally believe and tremble, but "too late!"
A desire of salvation will come to many too late.  They will long after forgiveness, and peace, and the favor of God, when they can no more be had.  They will wish they might have one more Sunday over again, have one more offer of forgiveness, have one more call to prayer.  But it will matter nothing what they think, or feel, or desire then: the day of grace will be over; the door of salvation will be bolted and barred.  It will be "too late!"
I often think what a change there will be one day in the price and estimation at which things are valued.  I look around this world in which my lot is the case; I note the current price of everything this world contains; I look forward to the coming of Christ, and the great day of God.  I think of the new order of things, which that day will bring in; I read the words of the LORD Jesus, when He describes the master of the house rising up and shutting the door; and as I read, I say to myself, "There will be a great change soon."
What are the "dear things" now?  Gold, silver, precious stones, bank notes, mines, ships, lands, houses, horses, cars, furniture, food, drink, clothes, and the like.  These are the things that are thought valuable; these are the things that command a ready market; these are the things which you can never get below a certain price.  He that has a lot of these things is counted a wealthy man.  Such is the world!
And what are the "cheap things" now?  The knowledge of God, the free salvation of the Gospel, the favor of Christ, the grace of the Holy Spirit, the privilege of being God's son, the title to eternal life, the right to the tree of life, the promise of a room in the Father's House in heaven, the promises of an incorruptible inheritance, the offer of a crown of glory that does not fade away.
These are the things that no man hardly cares for.  They are offered to the sons of men without money and without price: they may be had for nothing - freely and generously.  Whosoever will may take his share.  But, sadly, there is no demand for these things!  They go begging.  They are scarcely looked at.  They are offered in vain.  Such is the world!
But a day is coming upon us all when the value of everything will be altered.  A day is coming when banknotes will be as useless as rags, and gold will be as worthless as the dust of the earth.  A day is coming when thousands will care nothing for the things for which they once lived, and will desire nothing so much as the things which they once despised.  The mansions and palaces will be forgotten in the desire of a "house not made with hands."  The favor of the rich and great will be remembered no more, in the longing for the favor of the King of kings.  The silks, and satins, and velvets, and laces, will be lost sight of in the anxious need of the robe of Christ's righteousness.  All will be altered, all will be changed in the great day of the LORD'S return.  "For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able."
It was a weighty saying of some wise man, that "hell is truth known too late."  I fear that thousands of those who profess to be Christians in this day will find this out by experience.  They will discover the value of their souls when it is too late to obtain mercy, and see the beauty of the Gospel when they can derive no benefit from it.  Oh, that men would be wise early in life!  I often think there are few passages of Scripture more awful than that in the first chapter of Proverbs:
Because I have called and you refused to listen,
    have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
25 because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when terror strikes you,
27 when terror strikes you like a storm
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel
    and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
    and have their fill of their own devices. ~ Prov 1:24-31 (ESV)
Some reader of this paper may be one of those who neither like the faith nor practice which the Gospel of Christ requires.  You think that we are extreme when we implore you to repent and be converted.  You think we ask too much when we urge you to come out from the world, and take up the cross, and follow Christ.  But take notice that you will one day confess that we were right.  Sooner or later, in this world or the next, you will acknowledge that you were wrong.  Yes!  It is a sad consideration, for the faithful minister of the Gospel, that all who hear him will one day acknowledge that his counsel was good.  Mocked, despised, scorned, neglected as his testimony may be on earth, a day is coming which will prove that truth was on his side.  The rich man who hears us and yet makes a god of this world; the tradesman who hears us and yet makes his ledger his Bible; the farmer who hears us and yet remains cold as the clay on his land; the worker who hears us and feels no more for his soul than a stone - all, all will in time acknowledge before the world that they were wrong.  All will in time earnestly desire that very mercy which we now set before them in vain.  "For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able."
Some reader of this paper may be one of those who love the LORD Jesus Christ in sincerity.  Such a one may well take comfort when he looks forward.  You often suffer persecution now for Christianity's sake.  You have to bear hard words and unkind insinuations.  Your motives are often misrepresented, and your conduct slandered.  The reproach of the cross has not ceased.  But you may take courage when you look forward and think of the LORD's second coming.  That day will make amends for all.  You will see those who now laugh at you because you read the Bible, and pray, and love Christ, in a very different state of mind.  They will come to you as the foolish virgins came to the wise, saying, "Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out." (Matt 25:8)
You will see those who now hate you and call you fools because, like Caleb and Joshua, you bring up a good report of Christ's service.  Some day they will say, "Oh, that we had taken part with you!  You have been the truly wise, and we the foolish."
Then do not fear the reproach of men.  Confess Christ boldly before the world.  Show your colors, and do not be ashamed of your Master.  Time is short: eternity rushes on.  The cross is only for a short time: the crown is forever.  "For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able."

End Part I

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

I hope you will return to read the conclusion of Ryle's chapter regarding the door to salvation and its eventual closing.    Ryle ends his chapter with very pointed and precise questions that, prayerfully, will encourage you to "Strive to enter through the narrow door." (Luke 13:24)  It is imperative to your soul to remember that there is only One way to enter salvation's door, and the Holder of key, Jesus Christ, desires that you enter it while there is still time.

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