J.C. Ryle: “The Family of God”
J.C. Ryle had a love for God’s Word and a sense of practical application which has kept his writings in print. His straightforward style remains refreshing. His works include Holiness, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, and a 54 page “tract” called The Duties of Parents.
True Christians are called a family because they have all one Father. They are all children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. They are all born of one Spirit. They are all sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty. They have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba Father. (Gal. 3:26; John 3:8; 2 Cor. 6:18; Rom. 8:15.) They do not regard God with slavish fear, as an austere Being, only ready to punish them. They look up to Him with tender confidence, as a reconciled and loving parent,—as one forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, to all who believe on Jesus,—and full of pity even to the least and feeblest. The words, “Our Father which art in heaven,” are no mere form in the mouth of true Christians. No wonder they are called God’s family.
True Christians are called “a family,” because they all rejoice in one name. That name is the name of their great Head, even Jesus Christ the Lord. Just as a common family name is the uniting link to all the members of a Highland clan, so does the name of Jesus tie all believers together in one vast family. As members of outward visible Churches they have various names and distinguishing appellations. As living members of Christ, they all, with one heart and mind, rejoice in one Saviour. Not a heart among them but feels drawn to Jesus as the only object of hope. Not a tongue among them but would tell you that “Christ is all.” Sweet to them all is the thought[ of Christ’s death for them on the cross. Sweet is the thought of Christ’s intercession for them at the right hand of God. Sweet is the thought of Christ’s coming again to unite them to Himself in one glorified company for ever. In fact, you might as well take away the sun out of heaven, as take away the name of Christ from believers. To the world there may seem little in His name. To believers it is full of comfort, hope, joy, rest, and peace. No wonder they are called a family.
True Christians, above all, are called a family because there is so strong a family likeness among them. They are all led by one Spirit, and are marked by the same general features of life, heart, taste, and character. Just as there is a general bodily resemblance among the brothers and sisters of a family, so there is a general spiritual resemblance among all the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty. They all hate sin and love God. They all rest their hope of salvation on Christ, and have no confidence in themselves. They all endeavour to “come out and be separate” from the ways of the world, and to set their affections on things above. They all turn naturally to the same Bible, as the only food of their souls and the only sure guide in their pilgrimage toward heaven: they find it a “lamp to their feet, and a light to their path.” (Ps. 119: 105) They all go to the same throne of grace in prayer, and find it as needful to speak to God as to breathe. They all live by the same rule, the Word of God, and strive to conform their daily life to its precepts. They have all the same inward experience. Repentance, faith, hope, charity, humility, inward conflict, are things with which they are all more or less acquainted. No wonder they are called a family.
This family likeness among true believers is a thing that deserves special attention. To my own mind it is one of the strongest indirect evidences of the truth of Christianity It is one of the greatest proofs of the reality of the work of the Holy Ghost. Some are highly educated, and some are unable to read a letter. Some are rich and some are poor. Some are old and some are young. And yet, notwithstanding all this, there is a marvellous oneness of heart and character among them. Their joys and their sorrows, their love and their hatred, their likes and their dislikes, their tastes and their distastes, their hopes and their fears, are all most curiously alike. Let others think what they please, I see in all this the finger of God. His handiwork is always one and the same. No wonder that true Christians are compared to a family.
Take a converted Englishman and a converted Hindu, and let them suddenly meet for the first time. They will soon find common ground between them, and feel at home. The one may have been trained up at Eton and Oxford, and the other in India. And yet now in half an hour they feel that they are friends! The Englishman finds that he has more in common with his Hindu brother than he has with many an old college companion or school-fellow! Who can account for this? How can it be explained? Nothing can account for it but the unity of the Spirit’s teaching. It is one touch of grace “that makes the whole world kin.” God’s people are in the highest sense a family.
~ From J.C. Ryle’s Practical Religion