J. C. Ryle
(1816 – 1900)
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”—Mark 8:36
THE saying of our Lord Jesus Christ that stands at the head of this page ought to ring in our ears like a trumpet blast. It concerns our highest and best interests. It concerns our souls. What a solemn question these words of Scripture contain! What a mighty sum of profit and loss they propound1 to us for calculation! Where is the accountant who could reckon it up? Where is the clever arithmetician who would not be baffled by that sum? “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
I wish to offer a few plain remarks to enforce and illustrate the question that the Lord Jesus asks in the passage before us. I invite the serious attention of all who read this…May all who take it up feel more deeply than they ever yet felt the value of an immortal soul! It is the first step toward heaven to find out the true worth of our souls.
THE FIRST REMARK I HAVE TO MAKE IS THIS: EVERY ONE OF US HAS AN UNDYING SOUL… I am not ashamed to begin…with these words. I dare say that they sound strange and foolish to some readers. I dare say that some will exclaim, “Who knoweth not such things as these? Who ever thinks of doubting that we have souls?” But I cannot forget that the world is just now fixing its attention on material things to a most extravagant extent. We live in an age of progress…We live in an age when the multitude are increasingly absorbed in earthly things…We live in an age when there is a false glare on the things of time and a great mist over the things of eternity. In an age like this, it is the bounden duty of the ministers of Christ to fall back upon first principles. Necessity is laid upon us. Woe is unto us if we do not press home on men our Lord’s question about the soul! Woe is unto us if we do not cry aloud, “The world is not all. The life that we now live in the flesh is not the only life. There is a life to come. We have souls.
Let us establish it in our minds as a great fact that we all carry within our bosom something that will never die. This body of ours that takes up so much of our thoughts and time to warm it, dress it, feed it, and make it comfortable—this body alone is not all the man. It is but the lodging of a noble tenant, and that tenant is the immortal soul! The death that each of us has to die one day does not make an end of the man. All is not over when the last breath is drawn and the doctor’s last visit has been paid—when the coffin is screwed down, and the funeral preparations are made—when “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” has been pronounced over the grave—when our place in the world is filled up, and the gap made by our absence from society is no longer noticed. No all is not over then! The spirit of man still lives on. Everyone has within him an undying soul…
What though we cannot see our souls? Are there not millions of things in existence that we cannot see with the naked eye? Who that has looked through the telescope or microscope can doubt that this is the case? What though we cannot see our souls? We can feel them. When we are alone on the bed of sickness and the world is shut out; when we watch by the deathbed of a friend; when we see those whom we love lowered into the grave—at times like these, who does not know the feelings that come across men’s minds? Who does not know that in hours like these something rises in the heart, telling us that there is a life to come and that all, from the highest to the lowest, have undying souls?…I can well believe [that] you are sometimes tempted to think this world is everything and the body all that is worth caring for. But resist the temptation and cast it behind you. Say to yourself every morning when you rise and every night when you lie down, “The fashion of this world passeth away. The life that I now live is not all. There is something beside business, money, pleasure, commerce, and trade. There is a life to come. We all have immortal souls.”
THE SECOND REMARK I HAVE TO MAKE IS THIS: ANYONE MAY LOSE HIS OWN SOUL… This is a sorrowful portion of my subject. But it is one that I dare not, cannot pass by. I have no sympathy with those who prophesy nothing but peace and keep back from men the awful fact that they may lose their souls. I am one of those old-fashioned ministers who believe the whole Bible and everything that it contains. I can find no Scriptural foundation for that smooth-spoken theology that pleases so many in these days, and according to which everybody will get to heaven at last. I believe that there is a real devil. I believe that there is a real hell. I believe that it is not charity2 to keep back from men that they may be lost. Charity shall I call it?…If you saw a blind man tottering towards a precipice,3 would you not cry out, “Stop!”? Away with such false notions of charity!…It is the highest charity to bring the whole truth before men. It is real charity to warn them plainly, when they are in danger. It is charity to impress upon them that they may lose their own souls forever in hell…
Weak as we are in all that is good, we have a mighty power to do ourselves harm. You cannot save that soul of yours…remember that! You cannot make your own peace with God. You cannot wipe away a single sin. You cannot blot out one of the black records that stand in the book of God against you. You cannot change your own heart. But there is one thing you can do: you can lose your own soul…
But who is responsible for the loss of our souls? No one but ourselves. Our blood will be upon our own heads. The blame will lie at our own door. We shall have nothing to plead at the Last Day when we stand before the Great White Throne and the books are opened. When the King comes in to see His guests and says, “Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?” (Mat 22:12), we shall be speechless. We shall have no excuse to plead for the loss of our souls.
But where does the soul go when lost? There is only one solemn answer to that question. There is but one place to which it can go, and that is hell. There is no such thing as annihilation. The lost soul goes to that place where the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched—where there is blackness and darkness, wretchedness and despair forever. It goes to hell—the only place for which it is [suited], since it is not [suited] for heaven. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God” (Psa 9:17).
We live in an age of great temptation. The devil is going about and is very busy. The night is far spent. The time is short. Do not lose your own soul.
1 propound – put forward for consideration.
2 charity – love.
3 tottering…precipice – walking unsteadily toward a very steep cliff.
From “Our Souls” in Old Paths, reprinted by The Banner of Truth Trust, www.banneroftruth.org.
J. C. Ryle (1816-1900): Anglican Bishop; author of Holiness, Knots Untied, Old Paths, and many others; born at Macclesfield, Cheshire County, England.
If you have no love for souls, it is greatly to be feared that your own soul
is in imminent danger.—A. W. Pink
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