Ignorant Formal Christianity
J.C. Ryle, "What is Needed?" 1895
I am convinced that one of our grave defects today, is a most serious diminishing of the good old custom of private reading of the Bible. Between the growth of Christian periodicals and books, I have a strong impression that Bibles are not read as much and as carefully as they were two hundred years ago.
I am well aware that there are more Bibles in Great Britain at this moment, than there ever were since the world began! There is more Bible-buying and Bible-selling, more Bible-printing and Bible-distributing, than there ever was! But all this time, I fear we are in danger of forgetting--that to have the Bible is one thing--and to read it privately ourselves quite another!
I am afraid that the Bible of many a man and woman in Great Britain is never read at all. In one house, it lies in a corner--as stiff, cold, glossy and fresh as it was, when it came from the bookseller's shop! In another house, it lies on a table, with its owner's name written in it--a silent witness against him day after day! In another house, it lies on some high shelf, neglected and dusty--to be brought down only on grand occasions, such as a birth in the family--like a heathen idol at its yearly festival. In another house, it lies deep down at the bottom of some box or drawer, among the things not wanted, and is never dragged forth into the light of day--until the arrival of sickness, or death! These things are sad and solemn. But they are true.
I am afraid that many in Great Britain who do read the Bible--yet do not read it aright. One man looks over a chapter on Sunday evening--but that is all. Another reads a chapter every day at family prayers--but that is all. A third goes a step further, and hastily reads a verse or two in private every morning, before he goes out of his house. A fourth goes further still, and reads as much as a chapter or two every day, though he does it in a great hurry, and omits reading it on the smallest inconvenience. But each and every one of these men does what he does--in a heartless, scrambling, formal kind of way. He does it coldly, as a duty. He does not do it with appetite and pleasure. He is glad when the task is over. And when the book is shut--he forgets it all! This is a sad picture. But in multitudes of cases--oh, how true!
But why do I think all this? What makes me speak so confidently? Listen to me a few moments, and I will lay before you some evidence. Neglect of the Bible, is like disease of the body--it shows itself in the face of a man's conduct. It tells its own tale. It cannot be hidden.
I fear that many neglect the Bible--because of the enormous ignorance of true religion which everywhere prevails. There are thousands of professing Christians in this country, who know literally nothing about the Gospel. They could not give you the slightest account of its distinctive doctrines. They have no more idea of the true meaning of conversion, grace, faith, justification, and sanctification--than of so many words and names written in Arabic! And can I suppose that such people search the Scriptures? I cannot suppose it. I do not believe they do!
I fear that many neglect the Bible--because of the utter indifference with which they regard false doctrine--as if it did not signify much, and was all the same thing in the long run--whether one was a Roman Catholic, or a Socinian, or a Mormonite, or a Deist, or an Agnostic. And can I suppose that such people search the Scriptures? I cannot suppose it. I do not believe they do!
I fear that many neglect the Bible--because of the readiness with which they receive false teaching. They are led astray by the first false prophet they meet with, who "comes in sheep's clothing," and has a pleasant voice, a nice manner, and a gift of eloquent speech! They swallow all that he says without inquiry, and believe him as implicitly as papists believe the Pope! And can I suppose that such people search the Scriptures? I cannot suppose it. I do not believe they do!
I declare my firm conviction, that an idle neglect of the Bible is one cause of the ignorant formal Christianity which is so widely prevalent in these latter days!
Brethren! We are drifting, drifting, drifting--and what the end will be--no man can tell.
More thoughts on this later. I think I need it to digest a little bit more.