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The Gospel is for the Whole Man

One of the marks of a diluted Christianity is that it leaves out some element of human nature: it fails to understand that as Jesus was true and complete and entire man, then all that He assumed is redeemed, if we may reverse the theological argument used in some relatively early doctrinal controversies. I believe this truth is well protected by understanding the whole man to be acting in different ways; but however you want to distinguish the differing faculties or operations or constituent elements of humanity, the fact is that the Gospel applies to all of them. Sometimes this dilution is unconscious: by exalting one aspect we, perhaps unconsciously, depreciate others. This is one reason why it is good to read from a wide range of writings, and to read simple as well as subtle writers. With that in mind, here are some words from the first Bishop of Liverpool that serve me as a reminder that in Paul’s great analogy of the body, no part is concluded to be unnecessary. It would seem that in any area whatsoever, atomistic approaches are at best of limited utility, always a temptation, and at worst virulently destructive.

J.C. Ryle on Matthew 13:51 in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew

The first thing which we ought to notice in these verses is the striking question with which our Lord winds up the seven wonderful parables of this chapter. He said, ‘Have ye understood all these things?’

Personal application has been called the soul of preaching. A sermon without application is like a letter posted without a direction: it may be well written, rightly dated, and duly signed; but it is useless, because it never reaches its destination. Our Lord’s inquiry is an admirable example of real heart-searching application: Have ye understood?

The mere form of hearing a sermon can profit no man, unless he comprehends what it means: he might just as well listen to the blowing of a trumpet, or the beating of a drum; he might just as well attend a Roman Catholic service in Latin. His intellect must be set in motion, and his heart impressed: ideas must be received into his mind; he must carry off the seeds of new thoughts. Without this he hears in vain.

It is of great importance to see this point clearly: there is a vast amount of ignorance about it. There are thousands who go regularly to places of worship, and think they have done their religious duty, but never carry away an idea or receive an impression. Ask them, when they return home on a Sunday evening, what they have learned, and they cannot tell you a word. Examine them at the end of a year, as to the religious knowledge they have attained, and you will find them as ignorant as the heathen.

Let us watch our souls in this matter. Let us take with us to church, not only our bodies, but our minds, our reason, our hearts, and our consciences…. –Intellect, no doubt, is not everything in religion; but it does not therefore follow that it is nothing at all.

3 replies on “The Gospel is for the Whole Man”

Moreover, I find it best when the Application stings considerably. Part of our wholeness, I think, is to experience pain as fallen creatures who require iodine on our wounds, but sometimes it is so amazing when we receive gentle balm.

I enjoyed your introduction more than Ryle, and his was a very fine quote!

I thought I had commented earlier, but evidently it didn’t publish.

I think you’re right: application should be detailed, severe, forthright, earnest: pressed home on the conscience. I do understand that that sort of thing can be abused: a minister is to be a helper of the congregation’s joy, and it’s easy to lose sight of that and consider that you haven’t done well if people aren’t squirming with guilt. So there’s definitely an extreme to it; but I think that when such penetrating application is combined with great tenderness and a constant proclamation of the grounds of Christian joy, it is part of an extremely salutary ministry.

Well, thank you. I used to use the last sentence of this quote as a tag line.

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