Christ Is All!
By J. C. Ryle (1816-1900)
“...Christ is all...” (Col. 3:11). These three words are the essence and substance of Christianity. If our hearts can really go along with them, it is well with our souls. If not, we may be sure we have yet much to learn.
Christ is the mainspring both of doctrinal and practical Christianity. A right knowledge of Christ is essential to a right knowledge of sanctification as well as justification. Let me try to set before you in what sense “Christ is all”; and let me ask you, as you read, to judge yourselves honestly, that you may not make shipwreck in the judgment of the last day.
Christ Is All in the Counsels of God
There was a time when this earth had no being. As solid as the mountains look, boundless as the sea appears, high as the stars in heaven look – they once did not exist. And man, with all the high thoughts he now has of himself, was a creature of unknown.
And where was Christ then?
Even then Christ was “with God” and “was God” and was “equal with God” (John 1:1; Phil. 2:6). Even then He was the beloved Son of the Father: “Thou lovedst Me,” He says, “before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). He had glory with the Father before the world was (John 17:5). Even then He was the Savior “foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20), and believers were “chosen...in Him” (Eph. 1:4).
There came a time when this earth was created in its present order. Sun, moon and stars, sea, land and all their inhabitants were called into being. And, last of all, man was formed out of the dust of the ground.
And where was Christ then?
Hear what the Scripture says: “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). “By Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth...” (Col. 1:16). “And Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of Thine hands” (Heb. 1:10). Can we wonder that the Lord Jesus, in His preaching, should continually draw lessons from the book of nature? When He spoke of the sheep, the fish, the ravens, the corn, the lilies, the fig tree, the vine – He spoke of things which He Himself had made.
There came a day when sin entered the world. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and fell. They lost that holy nature in which they were first formed. They forfeited the friendship and favor of God and became guilty, corrupt, helpless, hopeless sinners. Sin came as a barrier between themselves and their holy Father in heaven. Had He dealt with them according to their deserts, there had been nothing before them but death, hell and everlasting ruin.
And where was Christ then?
In that very day He was revealed to our trembling parents, as the only hope of salvation. The very day they fell, they were told that the seed of the woman would yet bruise the serpent’s head – that a Savior born of a woman would overcome the devil and win for sinful man an entrance to eternal life (Gen. 3:15). Christ was held up as the true light of the world, in the very day of the fall; and never has any name been made known from that day by which souls could be saved, excepting His. By Him, all saved souls have entered heaven, from Adam downwards; and without Him none have ever escaped hell.
There came a time when the world seemed sunk and buried in ignorance of God. After four thousand years, the nations of the earth appeared to have clean forgotten the God who made them. Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Grecian and Roman empires had done nothing but spread superstition and idolatry. Poets, historians, philosophers had proved that, with all their intellectual powers, they had no right knowledge of God; and that man, left to himself, was utterly corrupt. “...The world by wisdom knew not God...” (1 Cor. 1:21). Excepting a few despised Jews in a corner of the earth, the whole world was dead in ignorance and sin.
And what did Christ do then?
He left the glory He had had from all eternity with the Father, and came down into the world to provide a salvation. He took our nature upon Him, and was born as a man. As a man He did the will of God perfectly, which we all had left undone; as a man He suffered on the Cross the wrath of God which we ought to have suffered. He brought in everlasting righteousness for us. He redeemed us from the curse of a broken law. He opened a fountain for all sin and uncleanness. He died for our sins. He rose again for our justification. He ascended to God’s right hand, and there sat down, waiting until His enemies would be made His footstool. And there He sits now, offering salvation to all who will come to Him, interceding for all who believe in Him, and managing by God’s appointment all that concerns the salvation of souls.
There is a time coming when sin shall be cast out from this world. Wickedness shall not always flourish unpunished – Satan shall not always reign – creation shall not always groan, being burdened. There shall be a time of restitution of all things. There shall be a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness, and the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Rom. 8:22; Acts 3:21; 2 Pet. 3:13; Isa. 11:9).
And where shall Christ be then? And what shall He do?
Christ Himself shall be King. He shall return to this earth and make all things new. He shall come in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, and the kingdoms of the world shall become His. The heathen shall be given to Him for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. To Him every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that He is Lord. His dominion shall be an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed (Matt. 24:30; Rev. 11:15; Psa. 2:8; Phil. 2:10-11; Dan. 7:14).
There is a day coming when all men shall be judged. The sea shall give up the dead who are in it, and death and hell shall deliver up the dead who are in them. All who sleep in the grave shall awake and come forth, and all shall be judged according to their works (Rev. 20:13; Dan. 12:2).
And where will Christ be then?
Christ Himself will be the Judge. “The Father...hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22). “When the Son of man shall come in His glory...then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats” (Matt. 25:31-32). “...We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).
In all the eternal counsels of God the Father, in creation, redemption, restitution and judgment – in all these, Christ is “all.” Surely we shall do well to consider these things. Surely it is not written in vain, “He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him” (John 5:23).
Christ Is All in the Bible
In every part of both Testaments, Christ is to be found – dimly and indistinctly at the beginning, more clearly and plainly in the middle, fully and completely at the end – but really and substantially everywhere.
It was Christ crucified who was set forth in every Old Testament sacrifice. Every animal slain and offered on an altar was a practical confession that a Savior was looked for who would die for sinners – a Savior who would take away man’s sin, by suffering, as his Substitute and Sinbearer, in his stead (1 Pet. 3:18). It is absurd to suppose that an unmeaning slaughter of innocent beasts, without a distinct object in view, could please the eternal God!
It was Christ to whom Abel looked when he offered a better sacrifice than Cain. Not only was the heart of Abel better than that of his brother, but he showed his knowledge of vicarious sacrifice and his faith in an atonement. He offered the firstlings of his flock, with the blood thereof, and in so doing declared his belief that without shedding of blood there is no remission of sin (Heb. 11:4).
It was Christ of whom Enoch prophesied in the days of abounding wickedness before the flood. “Behold,” he said, “the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment upon all...” (Jude 14-15).
It was Christ to whom Abraham looked when he dwelt in tents in the land of promise. He believed that in his seed, in one born of his family, all the nations of the earth should be blessed. By faith he saw Christ’s day, and was glad (John 8:56).
It was Christ of whom Jacob spoke to his sons, as he lay dying. He marked out the tribe out of which He would be born, and foretold that “gathering together” unto Him which is yet to be accomplished. “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be” (Gen. 49:10).
It was Christ who was the substance of the ceremonial law which God gave to Israel by the hand of Moses. The morning and evening sacrifice, the continual shedding of blood, the altar, the mercy-seat, the high priest, the Passover, the day of atonement, the scapegoat – all these were so many pictures, types and emblems of Christ and His work. God had compassion upon the weakness of His people.
It was Christ to whom God directed the attention of Israel by all the daily miracles which were done before their eyes in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud and fire which guided them, the manna from heaven which every morning fed them, the water from the smitten rock – all and each were figures of Christ. The brazen serpent, on that memorable occasion when the plague of fiery serpents was sent upon them, was an emblem of Christ (1 Cor. 10:4; John 3:14).
It was Christ of whom all the Judges were types. Joshua and Gideon and Jephthah and Samson, and all the rest whom God raised up to deliver Israel from captivity – all were emblems of Christ. All were meant to remind the tribes of that far higher Deliverer who was yet to come.
It was Christ of whom David the king was a type. Anointed and chosen when few gave him honor, despised and rejected by Saul and all the tribes of Israel, persecuted and obliged to flee for his life, a man of sorrow all his life – and yet at length a conqueror – in all these things David represented Christ.
It was Christ of whom all the prophets from Isaiah to Malachi spoke. They saw through a glass darkly. They sometimes dwelt on His sufferings, and sometimes on His glory that would follow (1 Pet. 1:11). They did not always mark out for us the distinction between Christ’s first coming and Christ’s second coming. Like two candles in a straight line, one behind the other, they sometimes saw both of the advents at the same time, and spoke of them in one breath. They were sometimes moved by the Holy Spirit to write of the times of Christ crucified, and sometimes of Christ’s kingdom in the latter days. But Jesus dying, or Jesus reigning, was the thought you will ever find uppermost in their minds.
It is Christ, I need hardly say, of whom the whole New Testament is full. The Gospels are “Christ” living, speaking and moving among men. The Acts are “Christ” preached, published and proclaimed. The Epistles are “Christ” written of, explained and exalted. But all through, from first to last, there is one name above every other, and that is the name of Christ.
Christ Is All in the Religion of All True Christians
I hold that there is a perfect harmony and unison in the action of the three Persons of the Trinity, in bringing any man to glory, and that all three cooperate and work a joint work in his deliverance from sin and hell. But, at the same time, I see clear proof in Scripture that it is the mind of the blessed Trinity that Christ should be prominently and distinctly exalted in the matter of saving souls. Christ is set forth as the “Word,” through whom God’s love to sinners is made known. Christ’s incarnation and atoning death on the Cross is the great cornerstone on which the whole plan of salvation rests. Christ is the way and door, by which alone approaches to God are to be made. Christ is the root into which all elect sinners must be grafted. Christ is the only meeting-place between God and man, between heaven and earth, between the Holy Trinity and the poor sinful child of Adam.
It is Christ whom God the Father has “sealed” and appointed to convey life to a dead world (John 6:27). It is Christ to whom the Father has given a people to be brought to glory. It is Christ of whom the Spirit testifies, and to whom He always leads a soul for pardon and peace. In short, it has “pleased the Father that in [Christ] should all fullness dwell” (Col. 1:19). What the sun is in the firmament of heaven, that Christ is in true Christianity.
Christ is all in a sinner’s justification before God. Through Him alone, we can have peace with a holy God. By Him alone we can have admission into the presence of the Most High, and stand there without fear. “...We have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him” (Eph. 3:12). In Him alone can God be just, and justify the ungodly (Rom. 3:26).
We must come in the name of Jesus, standing on no other ground, pleading no other plea than this, “Christ died on the Cross for the ungodly, and I trust in Him. Christ died for me, and I believe on Him.” The garment of our Elder Brother, the righteousness of Christ, this is the only robe which can cover us and enable us to stand in the light of heaven without shame.
The name of Jesus is the only name by which we shall obtain an entrance through the gate of eternal glory. If we come to that gate in our own names, we are lost, we shall not be admitted, we shall knock in vain. If we come in the name of Jesus, it is a passport and shibboleth, and we shall enter and live.
The mark of the blood of Christ is the only mark that can save us from destruction. When the angels are separating the children of Adam in the last day, if we are not found marked with that atoning blood, we had better never have been born.
Oh, let us never forget that Christ must be “all” to that soul who would be justified! We must be content to go to heaven as beggars saved by free grace, simply as believers in Jesus or we shall never be saved at all.
Is there a laboring, heavy-laden one among the readers of this message? Is there one who wants to be saved, and feels a vile sinner? I say to such a one, “Come to Christ, and He shall save you. Come to Christ, and cast the burden of your soul on Him. Fear not, only believe.”
Do you fear wrath? Christ can deliver you from the wrath to come. Do you feel the curse of a broken law? Christ can redeem you from the curse of the law. Do you feel far away? Christ has suffered, to bring you nigh to God. Do you feel unclean? Christ’s blood can cleanse all sin away. Do you feel imperfect? You shall be complete in Christ. Do you feel as if you were nothing? Christ shall be “all in all” to your soul. Never did saint reach heaven with any tale but this: “I was washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14).
Christ is not only all in the justification of a true Christian, but He is also all in his sanctification. No man is ever holy till he comes to Christ and is united to Him. “Without Him, separate from Him, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
And no man can grow in holiness, except he abides in Christ. Christ is the great root from which every believer must draw his strength to go forward. The Spirit is His special gift, His purchased gift for His people. A believer must not only receive Christ Jesus the Lord, but walk in Him, and be rooted and built up in Him (Col. 2:6-7).
Would you be holy? Then Christ is the manna you must daily eat, like Israel in the wilderness of old. Would you be holy? Then Christ must be the rock from which you must daily drink the living water. Would you be holy? Then you must be ever looking unto Jesus, looking at His Cross, and learning fresh motives for a closer walk with God; looking at His example, and taking Him for your pattern. Looking at Him, you would become like Him. Looking at Him, your face would shine without your knowing it. Look less at yourself and more at Christ, and you will find besetting sins dropping off and leaving you, and your eyes enlightened more every day (Heb. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18).
The true secret of coming up out of the wilderness is to come up “leaning on the Beloved” (Song 8:5). The true way to be strong is to realize our weakness and to feel that Christ must be all. The true way to grow in grace is to make use of Christ as a fountain for every minute’s necessities. We should strive to be able to say, “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
I pity those who try to be holy without Christ! Your labor is all in vain. You are putting money in a bag with holes. You are pouring water into a sieve. You are rolling a huge round stone uphill. You are building up a wall with untempered mortar. Believe me, you are beginning at the wrong end. You must come to Christ first, and He shall give you His sanctifying Spirit. You must learn to say with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).
Christ is not only all in the sanctification of a true Christian, but all in his comfort in time present.
Jesus is indeed the Brother born for adversity. He is the Friend that sticks closer than a brother, and He alone can comfort His people. He can be touched with the feeling of their infirmities, for He suffered Himself (Heb. 4:15). He knows what sorrow is, for He was a Man of sorrows. He knows what an aching body is for His body was racked with pain. He cried, “All My bones are out of joint” (Psa. 22:14). He knows what poverty and weariness are for He was often wearied and had nowhere to lay His head. He knows what family unkindness is, for even His brethren did not believe Him. He had no honor in His own house.
And Jesus knows exactly how to comfort His afflicted people. He knows how to pour in oil and wine into the wounds of the spirit, how to fill up gaps in empty hearts, how to speak a word in season to the weary, how to heal the broken heart, how to make all our bed in sickness, how to draw nigh when we are faint, and say, “Fear not, I am Thy salvation” (Lam. 3:57).
David once said, “In the multitude of my thoughts within me Thy comforts delight my soul” (Psa. 94:19). Many a believer, I am sure, could say as much. “If the Lord Himself had not stood by me, the deep waters would have gone over my soul” (Psa. 124:5).
But as Christ is all in the comforts of a true Christian in time present, so Christ is all in his hopes for time to come.
And what is the hope of a true Christian? It is just this – that Jesus Christ is coming again, coming without sin, coming with all His people, coming to wipe away every tear, coming to raise His sleeping saints from the grave, coming to gather together all His family, that they may be forever with him.
“...He that shall come will soon come, and will not tarry” (Heb. 10:37). Christ is coming, and that is enough.
Christ Will Be All in Heaven
I cannot dwell long on this point. I have not power, if I had space and room. I can ill describe things unseen and a world unknown. But this I know, that all men and women who reach heaven, will find that even there also “Christ is all.”
In the midst of the throne and surrounded by adoring angels and saints, there will be “the Lamb that was slain.” And “the Lamb shall be the light” of the place (Rev. 5:6-14; 21:23).
The praise of the Lord Jesus will be the eternal song of all the inhabitants of heaven. They will say with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain...Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever” (Rev. 5:12-13).
The service of the Lord Jesus will be one eternal occupation of all the inhabitants of heaven. We shall “serve Him day and night in His temple” (Rev. 7:15).
The presence of Christ Himself shall be one everlasting enjoyment of the inhabitants of heaven. We shall “see His face,” and hear His voice, and speak with Him as friend with friend (Rev. 22:4). His presence will satisfy all our wants (Psa. 17:15).
Is Christ all? Then let all His converted people deal with Him as if they really believed it. Let them lean on Him and trust Him far more than they have ever done yet. Alas, there are many of the Lord’s people who live far below their privileges! Christ loves His people to lean on Him, to rest in Him, to call on Him, to abide in Him. Let us all learn and strive to do so more and more. Let us live on Christ. Let us live in Christ. Let us live with Christ. Let us live for Christ. So doing, we shall prove that we fully realize that “Christ is all!”
– Condensed from the book Holiness.