Don Whitney wrote a great book entitled Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. I’ve used it often devotionally and in small group settings. In Practical Religion, J.C. Ryle had “ten questions” of his own over a century earlier than Whitney. I thought I’d provide them here for contemplation. In the first chapter, entitled “Self-Inquiry,” Ryle suggested these ten questions to examine the validity of one’s Christian faith.
(1) Do we ever think about our souls at all? It’s shocking how scarcely Christians talk about Christ and the blessing of serving him. Ryle wrote, “They simply never think about God, unless frightened for a few minutes by sickness, death in their families, or an accident. Barring such interruptions, they appear to ignore religion altogether, and hold on their way cool and undisturbed, as if there were nothing worth thinking of except this world.”
(2) Do we ever do anything about our souls? In other words, are we consistently seeking to improve our souls by God’s means of grace? Ryle wrote, “They are always meaning, and intending, and purposing, and resolving, and wishing, and telling us they ‘know’ what is right, and ‘hope’ to be found right at last, but they never attain to any action” [emphasis his].
(3) Are we trying to satisfy our consciences with a mere formal religion? How easy this is in America, where we aspire to a civil religion that adheres simultaneously to every god and no god. Ryle wrote, “Means of grace and forms of religion are useful in their way, and God seldom does anything for His church without them. But let us beware of making shipwreck on the very lighthouse which helps to show the channel into the harbour.”
(4) Have we received the forgiveness of our sins? Our greatest need is not therapy for our “issues,” but forgiveness from our sins. Our greatest enemy is not abuse from an absent father or wicked mother. Our greatest enemy is God who, if not reconciled with us, will pour out eternal wrath on sinners like us. Ryle wrote, “In short, all of us must confess that we are more or less ‘sinners,’ and, as sinners, are guilty before God; and, as guilty, we must be forgiven, or lost and condemned for ever at the last day.”
(5) Do we know anything by experience of conversion to God? No one merges into Christian traffic unnoticed. We must be converted from darkness to light, from sinner to saint, from death to life. Ryle wrote, “Call it what you please–new birth, regeneration, renewal, new creation, quickening, repentance–the thing must be had if we are to be saved: and if we have the thing it will be seen.”
(6) Do we know anything of practical Christian holiness? Read Ephesians 4.25-32. Has the liar become truthful? Has the angry man become a lover? Has the thief become generous? Does the salty talker now season his words with grace? Has the embittered become kind and tender-hearted? Has the vengeful become a forgiver? Ryle wrote, “Genuine Scriptural holiness will make a man do his duty at home and by the fireside, and adorn his doctrine in the little trials of daily life. It will exhibit itself in passive graces as well as in active. It will make a man humble, kind, gentle, unselfish, good-tempered, considerate for others, loving, meek, and forgiving.”
(7) Do we know anything of enjoying the means of grace–the reading of the Bible, private prayer, public worship, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and the rest of the Lord’s day? How can we wonder about God’s inactivity in our souls when we’ve not availed ourselves of these graces? Ryle wrote, “Tell me what a man does in the matter of Bible-reading and praying, in the matter of Sunday, public worship, and the Lord’s Supper, and I will soon tell you what he is, and on which road he is travelling.”
(8) Do we ever try to do any good in the world? Or is that the government’s job? Ryle wrote, “A Christian who was content to go to heaven himself, and cared not what became of others, whether they lived happy and died in peace or not, would have been regarded as a kind of monster in primitive times, who had not the Spirit of Christ.”
(9) Do we know anything of living the life of habitual communion with Christ? It seems most professing Christians know little about the abundant life of abiding in Christ. Ryle wrote, “Partly from ignorance, partly from laziness, partly from fear of man, partly from secret love of the world, partly from some unmortified besetting sin, they are content with a little faith, and a little hope, and a little peace, and a little measure of holiness. And they live on all their lives in this condition–doubting, weak, halting, and bearing fruit only ‘thirty-fold’ to the very end of their days!”
(10) Do we know anything of being ready for Christ’s second coming? Oh, how we demand God provide now what he only provides in the next life! Perhaps Christ’s second coming is seen as an intrusion on our ambitions and aspirations. We might long for Christ’s return so that we can have our new body or so our enemies will finally get what they’ve got coming. But that’s not what makes Christ’s appearing glorious. We long for it because we can’t wait to be with the One who loved to make us children of God. Ryle wrote, “Readiness for that appearing is nothing more than being a real, consistent Christian.”