Let us be on our guard against false doctrine. Unsound faith will never be the mother of really sound practice, and in these latter days, departures from the faith abound. See then that your loins be girt about with truth, and be very jealous of receiving anything which cannot be proved by the Bible. Do not think for a moment that false doctrine will meet you face to face, saying, “I am false doctrine, and I want to come into your heart.” Satan does not go to work in that way. He dresses up false doctrine like Jezebel- he paints her face and attires her hair, and tries to make her like truth. Do not think that those who preach error will never preach anything that is true. Error, would do little harm if that was the case. No! error will come before you mingled with much that is sound and scriptural.
The sermon will be all right excepting a few sentences. The book will be all good excepting a few pages. And this is the chief danger of religious error in these times- it is like the subtle poisons of days gone by- it works so deceitfully that it throws men off their guard. Brethren, take care. Remember, that even Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Keep clear of any system of religion which confounds the world and true believers, and makes no broad distinction between those who are true children of God in a congregation, and those who are not. Do not be carried away by an appearance of great self denial and humility. It is far easier to fast and wear sackcloth, and be of a sad countenance, than to receive thoroughly the doctrine of justification by faith without the deeds of the law.
Call no man father upon earth. Do not build your faith on any minister or set of ministers. Let no man become your Pope. Make no Christian your standard of what is right in faith or practice, however high his name, his rank, or his learning. Let your creed be the Bible, and nothing but the Bible; and your example Christ, and nothing short of Him. Take heed, lest your minds be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. Be careful what books you read on religious subjects- many books of this day are leavened with doctrines which spoil the Gospel. Examine yourselves often whether you are standing in the old paths– our lost estate by nature- our recovery through our Savior’s kindness and love- our need of regeneration and renewal- our justification through grace- these are the grand doctrines, as Paul told Titus; and these are the points on which we must be sound, if we would maintain good works.
Let us then, for one thing, begin with a humble confession of past unprofitableness and shortcomings. Let us acknowledge with shame and contrition that we have not hitherto lived up to our light. We ought to have been the salt of the earth- but there has been little savor of Christ about us. We ought to have been the light of the world- but we have most of us been little glimmering sparks that could scarcely be seen. We ought to have been a peculiar people- but the difference between us and the world has been faint and small. We ought to have been, like the Levites in Israel, a distinct people among professing Christians- but we have too often behaved as if we belonged to some other tribe. We ought to have looked on this world as an inn, and we have settled down in it as if it were our home- it ought to have been counted our school of training for eternity, and we have been at ease in it as if it were our continuing city, or trifled away time in it, as if we were meant to play and not to learn.
Consider well what I have said. Death may be busy among us very soon- let us all be found in Christ and prepared. Satan will be busy among us no doubt- let us all watch and pray. Let us beware of a spirit of slumber and formality, and especially in private reading and praying. Let our path to the fountain be worn with daily journeys, let our key to the treasury of grace be bright with constant use. Let us pray more, and let us pray more earnestly. Let those who never prayed begin to pray. Let those who have prayed pray better. Pray for yourselves- that you may know the Lord Jesus, and cleave to Him- that you may be kept from falling- that you may serve your generation- that you may be sober in prosperity, patient in trial, and humble at all times. Pray for the congregation to which you belong- that the word of the Lord may have free course in it, and be glorified- that the household of faith may become stronger and stronger, and the household of unbelief weaker and weaker. Pray for your country- that her ministers may preach the Gospel, and be sound in the faith- that her rulers may value the Bible, and govern according to it- and that so her candlestick may not be taken away. And pray not least for your minister- that he may be strong to work, and willing to labor for your good, that all his sicknesses may be sanctified, and all his health given to the Lord- that he may be ever taught of the Spirit, and thus be able to teach others- that he may be kept faithful unto death, and so be ready to depart when he is called. Let us all pray, one for the other- I for you, and you for me- and we shall be blessed in our deed!
J.C. Ryle’s sermon ‘Consider your ways’