J.C. Ryle on Sanctification and Feelings

One of my pet peeves in our religion is that so many base what they believe on their feelings and not the truth of God’s word. This is an extremely dangerous thing to do because our feelings are fallen and can truly mislead us. Do you remember the song, If Loving You is Wrong, I don’t Want to Be Right? That was a song that was based upon the feelings of the singer and not the truth of God’s word. He was committing adultery because it felt “right” even though condemned by God’s word. While you may not have heard that song, the error of it has permeated the church.

With that, I would like to share a quote from J.C. Ryle’s Holiness, the chapter on Sanctification.

“True sanctification does not consist in temporary religious feelings. This again is a point about which a warning is greatly needed. Mission services and revival meetings are attracting great attention in every part of the land, and producing a great sensation. The Church of England seems to have taken a new lease of life, and exhibits a new activity; and we ought to thank God for it. But these things have their attendant dangers as well as their advantages. Wherever wheat is sown, the devil is sure to sow tares. Many, it may be feared, appear moved and touched and roused under the preaching of the gospel, while in reality their hearts are not changed at all. A kind of animal excitement from the contagion of seeing others weeping, rejoicing, or affected is the true account of their case. Their wounds are only skin deep, and the peace they profess to feel is skin deep also. Like the stony-ground hearers, they “receive the Word with joy” (Matthew 13:20); but after a little they fall away, go back to the world, and are harder and worse than before… Let us beware in this day of healing wounds slightly, and crying ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.’ Let us urge on everyone who exhibits new interest in religion to be content with nothing short of the deep, solid, sanctifying work of the Holy Ghost. Reaction, after false religious excitement, is a most deadly disease of soul. When the devil is only temporarily cast out of a man in the heat of a revival, and by and by returns to his house, the last state becomes worse than the first. Better a thousand times begin more slowly, and then ‘continue in the Word’ steadfastly, than begin in a hurry, without counting the cost, and by and by look back, with Lot’s wife, and return to the world. I declare I know no state of soul more dangerous than to imagine we are born again and sanctifiied by the Holy ghost, because we have picked up a few religious feelings.”

His words, which were written in 19th Century England, are just as appropriate today as they were when he penned them. This is because Ryle is dealing with the same spiritual truth that has plagued the church in all ages, even in Christ’s day. He is writing about those who get emotional about the gospel, but are not converted by it. They see the gospel as something that is “new” and therefore something to think about, like the philosophers in Greece, sitting around talking about new ideas but never being changed by any of those ideas. Only it’s worse than that. These people demonstrate some emotional exchange that gets everyone in a lather… but the it’s all for nothing because it is JUST emotionalism.

This is one reason why I’m so reluctant to get all emotional when someone I know trusts in Christ. I’ve seen enough say a prayer, make a commitment and get baptized only to fall away after the attention of the church fades. There was no real conversion, only emotions playing on the person in question.

I will say “amen” if someone trusts in Christ. But I will only say “Hallelujah” when they are still walking with Christ year’s later. This means that the were not caught up in the emotions of the moment, but taken by our Savior and made a new man. That is the kind of man that grows in the LORD and is sanctified. That is the kind of man that is fit for heaven, not the man that just carries on as if he were watching a daily soap opera, but one that is made new by the Spirit of God.

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