It was a fight to read this chapter because I was fighting a migraine at the time. But it served as a good reminder that progressive sanctification is not automatic, nor easy. There is no passivism to be found in the Bible. Hebrews 11 is full of people who acted because they believed.
Anyway, Ryle addresses why this is a good fight (1 Timothy 6:12). He notes the horrible consequences of war in our world. Consequences that have not changed. People may choose to be pacifists when it comes to earthly conflicts. But in our internal battle against sin, no Christian may be a pacifist or appeaser. We are all to be soldiers of Christ.
Keep in mind, the battle is not between nations, or religions or theological squabbles. The battle in view is the battle with the flesh, the world and the devil. “But with a corrupt heart, a busy devil, and an ensnaring world, he must either ‘fight’ or be lost.”
Interestingly, he quotes “the wisest General that ever lived in England”. I wish I knew to whom to attribute this great quote to, but: “In time of war it is the worst mistake to underrate your enemy, and try to make a little war.” I can think of some politicians that need to read it. But the point Ryle is making, and we need to hear, is that we must not underestimate the flesh, the world and the devil. It is not a minor skirmish, or ‘police action’ or ‘act of terrorism’. The battle against sin is a full-time, full-blown war. It is not a hobby, or an option activity for the ‘serious’ Christian.
“Where there is grace there will be conflict. …. There is no holiness without a warfare. Saved souls will always be found to have fought a fight.” This should cause us to recognize our own weakness before our foes. How we need the work of Christ progressively applied to us by the Spirit through faith! How we need to recognize it is all of grace, even as we dig in or press on. We will feel the heat, and pressure, if we are to be purified and transformed. As John Owen has said, “Be killing sin or it will kill you.”
The key, as Ryle notes, is faith. Not generic faith- but a faith in Jesus. We trust in his “person, work and office” as revealed by Scripture and portrayed in the Gospel. We need our Prophet to reveal our sin, our Priest to cover our sin, and our King to kill our sin. Faith is also rooted, as Piper often notes, in God’s promises. We are to believe, and act upon, God’s promises for grace.
We are not alone in this fight, or at least should not be. Sadly we tend to isolate ourselves from the very helps God has provided. We have allies in the Word and Spirit. God has joined them together (Calvin & Owen among others) though sinful men drive them apart. We have allies in one another (Ephesians 6 speaks of tight ranks to oppose the foe). Do not go it alone, but stand by your brothers and sisters. And in the words of a great coach, “Fight, fight, fight!”