Yesterday was—in many ways—a picture perfect day. It was time well-spent celebrating the risen Christ with family and dear friends. In preparation for our sunrise service, I had been reading a few pages of Expository Thoughts on John from J.C. Ryle. During the service, I had shared on these two verses from the Gospel of John, where Jesus makes some startling claims:
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
Some time ago, Banner of Truth had offered a “pastor’s special” on the seven volume set, and I was able to purchase it for next-to-nothing. The series is devotional in nature, and I’m hoping to walk through them carefully next year.
Back to John 11, Ryle’s expository thoughts on this passage are provoking ones.1 How is it that a man who lived in the 1800’s can aptly describe the casual Christianity found in 2017? He writes:
There is matter here which deserves the close consideration of all true Christians. Many of them complain of want of sensible comfort in their religion. They do not feel the inward peace which they desire. Let them know that vague and indefinite views of Christ are too often the cause of their perplexities. They must try to see more clearly the great object on which their faith rests. They must grasp more firmly His love and power toward them that believe, and the riches He has laid up for them even now in this world.
We are many of us sadly like Martha. A little general knowledge of Christ as the only Saviour, is often all that we possess. But of the fullness that dwells in Him, of His resurrection, His priesthood, His intersession, His unfailing compassion, we have tasted little or nothing at all. They are things of which our Lord might well say to many, as he did to Martha, “Believest thou this?”
Let us take shame to ourselves that we have named the Name of Christ so long, and yet know so little about Him. What right have we to wonder that we feel so little sensible comfort in our Christianity? Our slight and imperfect knowledge of Christ is the true reason of our discomfort. Let the time past suffice us to have been lazy students in Christ’s school; let the time to come find us more diligent in trying to “know Him, and the power of His resurrection.” (Phil 3:10).
If true Christians would only strive, as St. Paul says, to “comprehend… what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge,” they would be amazed at the discoveries they would make (Eph 5:18, 19). They would soon find, like Hagar, that there are wells of water near them of which they had no knowledge. They would soon discover that there is more heaven to be enjoyed on earth than they had ever thought possible.
The root of a happy religion is clear, distinct, well-defined knowledge of Jesus Christ. More knowledge would have saved Martha many sighs and tears. Knowledge alone no doubt, if unsanctified, only “puffeth up.” (1 Cor 8:1) Yet without clear knowledge of Christ in all His offices we cannot expect to be established in the faith, and steady and unmoved in the time of need.
It’s been said that J.C. Ryle’s chief aim in writing these for his congregation was to help them know Christ. His challenge is spot on for us today, as well.
1 Ryle, J.C. Expository Thoughts on John, Vol. 2 (Carlisle: The Banner of Trust Trust, 2012). 187-88.