Recovering Holiness

HolinessAs I continue to reflect on the nature of pastoral ministry, ministry in the North American evangelical church, and questions of ministry integrity, I find myself returning often to the topic of holiness. Even writing the word holiness makes me feel a little bit “old school.” However, if I hold the tension of that uncomfortable feeling for a bit, I cannot help but think we may need to be a little “old school” right now on this issue.

So, I turned to a voice from an earlier time, J. C. Ryle, whose classic book Holiness has been highly regarded for years, with pastors like J. I. Packer and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones urging Christians to read it. Let me share a brief excerpt from his introduction to this book, which, I believe, puts some perspective on where we stand today in North American Christianity.

I’ve had a deep conviction for many years that practical holiness and entire self-consciousness to God are not sufficiently attended to by modern Christians in this country. Politics, or controversy, or party spirit, or worldliness have eaten out the heart of lively piety in too many of us. The subject of personal godliness has fallen sadly into the background. The standard of living has become painfully low in many quarters. Immense importance of “adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour” (Titus 2:10), and making it lovely and beautiful by our daily habits and tempers, has been far too much overlooked. Worldly people sometimes complain with reason that “religious” persons, so-called, are not so amiable, and unselfish, and good-natured, as others who make no profession of religion. Yet sanctification, in its place in proportion, is quite as important as justification. Sound Protestant and evangelical doctrine is useless if it is not accompanied by a holy life. It is worse than useless: it does positive harm. It is despised by keen-sighted and shrewd men of the world, as an unreal and hollow thing, and brings religion into contempt. It is my firm impression that we want a thorough revival about scriptural holiness, and I am deeply thankful that attention is being directed to the point.

As Ryle continues his introduction, he outlines a series of issues related to holiness, some of which apply to our own day and some of which seem more bound to his own time. It is, however, his first point that I find particularly relevant to our own context. In the midst of our heavy emphasis on grace in North American Christianity, we have at times veered off into various versions of antinomianism, where there is no place – or at least disregard – for God’s law and obedience. As with the work of Dallas Willard, sometimes simplified in the writings of John Ortberg, we find Ryle grappling with the tension between faith and work, between earning God’s favor and application of effort to honor God. On the subject of holiness, he writes:

That faith in Christ is the root of all holiness; that the first step towards a holy life is to believe on Christ; that until we believe we have not a jot of holiness; that union with Christ by faith is the secret of both beginning to be holy and continuing holy; that the life that we live in the flesh, we must live by the faith of the Son of God; that faith purifies the heart; that faith is the victory which overcomes the world; that by faith the elders obtain a good report – all these are truths which no well-instructed Christian will ever think of denying. But surely the Scriptures teach us that in following holiness the true Christian needs personal exertion and work as well as faith….Justifying faith is a grace that “worketh not,” but simply trusts, rests, and leans on Christ (Rom. 4:5). Sanctifying faith is a grace of which the very life is action: it “worketh by love,” and, like a mainspring, moves the whole inward man (Gal. 5:6).

What Ryle emphasizes, and we rightly need to recover, is the emphatic coupling of justifying grace with sanctifying grace. We need to recover the truth that our unearned salvation by grace through faith in Christ overflows into a holy life strenuously lived as worship unto the Lord through obedience. I cannot help but think that one of the things we most need to recover today in North American Christianity is holiness.

Bibliography on Prayer

Throughout our series, “Great Prayers of the Bible,” we looked at passages of Scripture in which prayer is the central activity. Along with study of those specific Bible passages, I turned to the wisdom of many authors far more brilliant than me and from many different eras for help. At times people ask me whether I have books I recommend alongside of certain preaching series. I find that a difficult question to always answer briefly, so here is a bibliography I have been gathering (and reading) over the last twenty years on the topic of prayer.

Bibliography on Prayer:

Ruth Haley Barton. “Prayer.” In Sacred Rhythms. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006.

Anthony Bloom. Beginning to Pray. New York: Paulist Press, 1970.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Prayerbook of the Bible. DBW, vol 5. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1996.

E. M. Bounds. Power Through Prayer in The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990.

Brother Lawrence. The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims. Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1967.

Walter Brueggemann. Great Prayers of the Old Testament. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

George A. Buttrick. Prayer. Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1944.

David Crump. Knocking on Heaven’s Door: A New Testament Theology of Petitionary Prayer. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.

Ronald Dunn. Don’t Just Stand There, Pray Something. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992.

Jacques Ellul. Prayer and Modern Man. Translated by C. Edward Hopkin. New York: The Seabury Press, 1970.

Richard Foster. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1993.

Ole Hallesby. Prayer. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1931.

James Houston. The Prayer (previously title The Transforming Friendship). David C. Cook, 2007.

Joyce Huggett. The Joy of Listening to God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986.

Timothy Keller. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.

Kenneth Leech. True Prayer: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980

C. S. Lewis. Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1964.

Richard N. Longenecker, ed. Into God’s Presence: Prayer in the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

Paul E. Miller. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 2009.

Andrew Murray. Teach Me to Pray. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1982/2002.

Eugene Peterson. Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1989.

________. Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

J. C. Ryle. A Call to Prayer. Moscow, ID: Charles Nolan Publishers, 2002.

Baron Friedrich von Hugel. The Life of Prayer. New York: E. P. Dutton & Sons, 1927.

Philip Yancey. Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006.

Twelve Practical Points on Prayer

This past year, I have endeavored to grow in my life of prayer. Last October, I read through a brief pamphlet by J. C. Ryle entitled A Call to Prayer. Ryle is a 19th century Anglican Bishop most famous for his book Holiness.

Here are twelve practical points with which Ryle concludes this excellent little book. I’d love to hear if you have your own 21st century practical points on prayer after reading Ryle’s insights.

  1. Pray with reverence and humility: “Let us beware of rushing into His presence with carelessness and levity. Let us say to ourselves: ‘I am on holy ground'” (25).
  2. Pray spiritually: “We should labor always to have the direct help of the Spirit in our prayers, and beware above all things of formality” (25).
  3. Pray as a regular business of life: “Just as you allot time to eating, sleeping, and business, so also allot time to prayer. Choose your own hours and seasons” (26).
  4. Pray with perseverance: “I do not maintain that prayers should always be of the same length; but I do say, let no excuse make you give up prayer” (27).
  5. Pray with earnestness: “It is desirable that we should be hearty and fervent and warm, and ask as if we were really interested in what we were doing….how unlike is this to many of our supplications! How tame and lukewarm they seem by comparison” (27-28).
  6. Pray with faith: “We should endeavor to believe that our prayers are heard, and that if we ask things according to God’s will, we shall be answered” (28).
  7. Pray with boldness: We should be like Moses (Exodus 32:12) and Joshua (Joshua 7:9) who asked great things of God.
  8. Pray with fulness: “I am afraid the private devotions of many are most painfully scanty and limited; just enough to prove they are alive and no more. They really seem to want little from God” (30).
  9. Pray particularly: “We ought not to be content with great general petitions. We ought to specify our wants before the throne of grace” (31).
  10. Pray as intercession: “We should stir ourselves up to name other names besides our own before the throne of grace” (31).
  11. Pray with thankfulness: “We must cherish a spirit of praise” (33).
  12. Pray with watchfulness over our prayers: “Prayer is the spiritual pulse….By this we may know whether it is fair or foul with our hearts” (33).