The text which follows is a very much abridged excerpt from J. C. Ryle’s Practical Christianity, which was first published in 1867. John Charles Ryle (1816-1900) was a leader of the evangelical wing of the Church of England, and bishop of Liverpool from 1880 to 1900.
The subject perhaps was never more important than it is at the present day. There is a widely spread desire to make things pleasant in religion – to saw off the corners and the edges of the cross, and to avoid, as far as possible, self-denial. On every side, we hear professing Christians declaring loudly that we must not be narrow and exclusive, and that there is no harm in many things which the honest saints of old thought bad for their souls. We may go anywhere and do anything and keep company and plunge into anything, and all the while may be very good Christians – this is the maxim of thousands. In a day like this, I think it good to raise a warning voice and invite attention to the teaching of God’s Word: “Come out and be separate.”
When I speak of the world, I mean those people who think only or chiefly of this world’s things, and neglect the world to come: the people who are always thinking more of earth than of heaven, more of time than of eternity, more of the body than of the soul, more of pleasing man than of pleasing God. It is of them and their ways, habits, customs, opinions, practices, tastes, aims, spirit, and tone that I am speaking when I speak of the world. This is the world from which Paul tell us to ‘come out and be separate.’
I shall try to show what true separation from the world really is.
1. First and foremost, he that desires to ‘come out from the world and be separate’ must steadily and habitually refuse to to be guided by the world’s standard of right and wrong.
2. He that desires to ‘come out from the world and be separate’ must be very careful of how he spends his leisure time.
3. He that desires to ‘come out from the world and be separate’ must steadily and habitually determine not to be swallowed up and absorbed in the business of the world.
4. He that desires to ‘come out from the world and be separate’ must steadily abstain from all amusements and recreations which are inseparably connected with sin.
5. He that desires to ‘come out from the world and be separate’ must be moderate in the use of lawful and innocent recreations.
6. Last, but not least, he that desires to ‘come out from the world and be separate’ must be careful how he allows himself in friendships, intimacies, and close relationships with worldly people.
I offer these six general hints to all who wish to follow Paul’s advice and come out from the world and be separate. In all doubtful cases, we should first pray for wisdom and sound judgement. In all doubtful cases, let us often try ourselves by recollecting the eye of God. Would I really go to such and such a place, or do such and such a thing, if I really thought God was looking at me? Finally, in all doubtful cases, let us find out what the conduct of the holiest and best Christians has been under similar circumstances. We need not be ashamed to follow good examples.