By Ninos Hadjirousou
If you think about it for a moment, if you are a Christian, the subject of Holiness is massive. It teaches you how you ought to see God and how you ought to live for God’s glory. I believe that J.C Ryle has done such a great work on writing this classic book on the subject of Holiness that I decided to do a review on some of the things that I have been learning whilst reading it.
In 12th chapter ‘Ruler of the Waves’ Ryle begins to study the Lord Jesus Christ, particularly Mark’s record of His calming of the storm in Mark 4: 37-40. Ryle chooses to study this text carefully because, he says: “I want professing Christians to know more about Christ.” and “It is well to be familiar with faith, and grace, and justification, and sanctification. They are all matters ‘pertaining to the King’. But it is far better to be familiar with Jesus Himself, to see the King’s own face, and to behold His beauty.”
Ryle is right to point this out to us, for the way one is transformed into the image of Christ, conformed into Christ-likeness, is by studying our LORD. How else can anyone grow and mature as a Christian unless they look to their Lord and Master and learn from Him?
So, while reading the chapter I came across something which touched my heart and I wanted to share it with you. One of the points that Ryle makes is that the Lord Jesus Christ is truly and really Man. Now don’t get him wrong, he is not saying ‘Christ is not God’ neither is he trying to say that Christ is not man either. Jesus is equal to the Father, He is God, and yet He is man also.
When He came to live on this earth He became man and lived among us. Now think about this, God became man, lived the conditions that we have and has received the pain that any human being may experience. What does that tell us about Him as our High Priest? That he can understand and sympathise our weaknesses and struggles. And I will show you that in a moment.
Bishop Ryle wrote: “Like us, He was born of a woman. Like us, He grew and increased in stature. Like us, He was often hungry and thirsty, and faint and weary. Like us, He ate and drank, rested and slept. Like us, He sorrowed, and wept, and felt… He made the heavens went to and fro as a poor, weary Man on earth!”
The Lord who dwelled in the throne of Heaven, hearing the praises of the mighty angels, has become poor and weak and lived in the mist of sinful human beings. That ought to amaze us and create awe of the fact that the King became a slave, the rich and powerful becomes poor and small.
Ryle uses in the text the part where it is written ‘asleep on a pillow’ as proof that Christ has a body like ours. Ryle then takes comfort from this fact because “He is not only a powerful Saviour, but a sympathizing Saviour. He is not only the Son of God, mighty to save, but the Son of man, able to feel.” Think how important sympathy is while we live on this earth. What does it mean to feel someone else’s weakness, opening your heart to them and not only understanding them but also caring for them? Someone that you can find rest in when times are difficult. That is our Lord Jesus Christ, for He said to the people “Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”(Matthew 11:28-30). He is the Friend of friends, the one who became a humiliation for our sake, wretched sinners that we are. He is the one who can understand our weaknesses and difficulties.
If Jesus was only God and not man also, Ryle wrote “I might perhaps have trusted Him,” but, “I never could have come near to Him without fear.” There was no other way, Christ had to become man in order to receive the punishment that we deserved, so He took it for us, because He understood what was necessary for our salvation. So we don’t only have a God who became man in order to save us from our sins, but also a God who can also feel our feelings. He can feel your weaknesses and pain, and sympathize, because He also took pain, He also took humiliation, He also took rejection and all this, because He loved us first. Should that not encourage your souls?
Let’s also remember that because Christ knows our weaknesses and our struggles, He also knows better than us the tactics of our spiritual enemy the Devil.
If you are a poor and needy person, Christ was also; if you are alone in the world and rejected by those who ought to love you; Christ was also. Are you misunderstood and persecuted? Christ was also; does Satan tempt you telling you suggestions in your mind? Christ was also tempted. Do you feel as if God has left you in the dark? So did Christ Jesus.
Understand this also, that while Jesus was tempted, rejected and suffered on this earth, He remained perfect and unblemished, without a spot of sin. This would mean that what was thrown at Him was the full force of pain, rejection and temptation. He faced the worst possible death on the cross in agony and yet raised Himself up victoriously on the third day. Christ Jesus is the only person suited to understand us fully and to be able to help in our hour of need.
Reader, consider this, and don’t let go of Christ’s humanity. Because people today, particularly in Eastern Orthodoxy and in Roman Catholicism, have been taught that the Virgin Mary is more sympathizing than our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Or that the saints are more sympathizing than Jesus Christ. Roman Catholic doctrine encourages its followers to worship the ‘deity’ of the Virgin Mary, calling her ‘queen of the heavens’. As if it is she who holds the power of life and death. Roman Catholics are told to pray to her because she is said to be gentler and more patient than Jesus. It’s the same also in Eastern Orthodox doctrine. Both exalt angels and saints and Jesus’ mother and they also claim to believe what the Scriptures teach.
However, that is a lie. Ryle on this subject said that if a Catholic comes and says to us things like these: “Answer him that such an argument springs from ignorance of the Scriptures and of Christ’s true nature. Answer him, that you have not so learned Christ as to regard Him only as an austere Judge and a being to be feared. Answer him, that the four Gospels have taught you to regard Him as the most loving and sympathizing of friends, as well as the mightiest and most powerful of saviours. Answer him, that you want no comfort from saints and angels, from the Virgin Mary or from Gabriel, so long as you can repose your weary soul on THE MAN CHRIST JESUS (Emphasis added).
Indeed there is none other to worship than the loving Lord Jesus Christ. The words of Mary and of the saints themselves, in the Gospels and in the Epistles, direct us to look to the One who has taken our sins and our punishment and to believe in His resurrection (Romans 3:23-28). Believe that He is not someone who is cold and cannot understand what hardships you are going through in life. He is our great High Priest. Don’t forget that He has a body like you have, and has felt pains and temptations a you do also. Trust that He is God, but also that He was and is also very Man.