The Bishop: Useful Forms and Deadly Formality

“Yet all this time there is no heart in their religion. Anyone who knows them intimately can see with half an eye that their affections are set on things below, and not on things above: and that they are trying to make up for the want of inward Christianity by an excessive quantity of outward form. And this formal religion does them no real good. They are not satisfied. Beginning at the wrong end, by making the outward things first, they know nothing of inward joy and peace, and pass their lives in a constant struggle, secretly conscious that there is something wrong, and yet not knowing why. Well, after all, if they do not go on from one stage of formality to another, until in despair they take a fatal plunge, and fall into Popery! When professing Christians of this kind are so painfully numerous, no one need wonder if I press upon him the paramount importance of close self-examination. If you love life, do not be content with the husk, and shell, and scaffolding of religion. Remember our Saviour’s words about the Jewish formalists of his day: ‘This people draweth nigh with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain do they worship’ (Matt. 15:9). It needs something more than going diligently to church, and receiving the Lord’s supper to take our souls to heaven. Means of grace and forms of religion are useful in their way, and God seldom does anything for his church without them. But let us beware of making shipwreck on the very lighthouse which helps to show the channel into the harbour. Once more I ask, ‘How do we do about our souls?’” —J.C. Ryle, Practical Religion

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