From “The Family of God,” Practical Religion, 16 (1878).
There is not a man or woman on this earth who is not a member of some “family.” The poorest as well as the richest has his relative and kin, and can tell you something of his “family.”… Family gatherings are natural, and right, and good. I approve of them with all my heart. It does me good to see them kept up. They are one of the very pleasant things which has survived the fall of man. Next to the grace of God, I see no principle which unites people so much in this sinful world as family sentiments. Community of blood is a most powerful tie… There is one great family to which I want all to belong. It is a family despised by many, and not even known by some. But it is a family of far more importance than any family on earth. To belong to it entitles a person to far greater privileges than to be the son of a king. It is the family of which Paul speaks to the Ephesians, when he tells them of the “whole family in heaven and earth.” It is the family of God.
The family before us consists of all real Christians — all who have the Holy Spirit living within them, all true believers in Christ, all the saints of every age… It includes the blessed company of all faithful people. It is the same as the elect of God, the household of faith, the mystical body of Christ, the bride, the living temple, the sheep that never perish, the Church of the firstborn, the holy universal Church. All these expressions are “the family of God” only using other names….
It does not come by natural birth, but by new birth… No one but the Holy Spirit can make you a living member of this family. It is his special function and prerogative to bring into the true Church all those who will be saved. Those who are born again are born, “not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God,” (John 1:13).
True Christians are called “a family” because they all have one Father. They are all children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. They are all born of one Spirit. They are all sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty. They have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, “Abba Father,” (Gal. 3:26; John 3:8; 2 Cor. 6:18; Rom. 8:15).
They do not regard God with a cringing kind of fear, as they would to a harsh being, that is always ready to punish them. They look up to God with tender confidence, as a reconciled and loving parent — as one forgiving evil and sin, to all who believe in Jesus and full of pity even to the least and feeblest. The words, “Our Father in heaven,” are no mere form of prayer in the mouth of true Christians. No wonder they are called God’s “family.”
True Christians are called “a family,” because they all rejoice in one name. That name is the name of their great head and elder brother, Jesus Christ the Lord. Just as a common family name is the uniting link to all the members of a clan, so does the name of Jesus tie all believers together in one vast family…
As living members of Christ, they all, with one heart and mind, rejoice in one Savior. Every heart among them feels drawn to Jesus as the only object of hope. Every tongue among them would tell you that “Christ is all.” Sweet to them all is the thought of Christ’s death for them on the cross. Sweet is the thought of Christ’s intercession for them at the right hand of God. Sweet is the thought of Christ’s coming again to unite them to himself in one glorified fellowship forever…No wonder they are called a “family.”
They are all led by one Spirit, and are marked by the same general features of life, heart, taste, and character. Just as there is a general bodily resemblance among the brothers and sisters of a family, so there is a general spiritual resemblance among all the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty. They all hate sin and love God. They all rest their hope of salvation on Christ, and have no confidence in themselves. They all endeavor to “come out and be separate” from the ways of the world, and to set their affections on things above.
They all naturally turn to the same Bible,… the only sure guide in their pilgrimage toward heaven: they find it “a lamp to their feet and a light for their path,” (Ps. 119:105). They all go to the same throne of grace in prayer, and find it as needful to speak to God as to breathe. They all live by the same rule, the Word of God, and strive to conform their daily life to its precepts. They all have the same inward experience. They all are, in varying degrees, acquainted with repentance, faith, hope, love, humility, and inward conflict. No wonder they are called “a family.”…
Let us strive to live worthy of the family to which we belong. Let us labor to do nothing that may cause our Father’s house to be spoken against. Let us endeavor to make our master’s name beautiful by our disposition, conduct, and conversation. Let us love as brethren, and abhor all quarrels. Let us behave as if the honor of “the family” depended on our behavior. So living, by the grace of God, we will make our calling and election sure, both to ourselves and others. So living, “we will have the sure hope of receiving a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” (2 Pet. 1:11). So living, we will recommend our Father’s family to others, and perhaps by God’s blessing induce them to say, “We will go with you.”
The Rt. Rev. J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) was a gifted teacher and preacher, one of the great leaders of the evangelical movement in 19th century Anglicanism. He served in a series of parish posts and became the first Bishop of Liverpool in 1880. During his twenty-year leadership of the diocese, he made great strides in connecting the church’s ministry with the needs of the working classes. His Practical Religion was a book of “plain papers” about discipleship, based on sermons and lectures he gave as a parish priest. The text has been adapted for contemporary readers.