I’ve often pondered what Christ meant when he called us to be watchful. What is the difference between the Christian who is watching and the Christian who isn’t watching? I’ve found great help from J.C. Ryle. Over a hundred years ago, he provided great wisdom on how to watch and keep ourselves in a state of readiness for Christ’s return.
Here are Ryle’s words in their entirety:
I exhort you to watch against everything which might interfere with a readiness for Christ’s appearing. Search your own hearts. Find out the things which most frequently interrupt your communion with Christ, and cause fogs to rise between you and the sun. Mark these things, and know them, and against them ever watch and be on your guard.
Watch against SIN of every kind and description. Think not to say of any sin whatever, “Ah! that is one of the things that I shall never do.” I tell you there is no possible sin too abominable, for the very best of us all to commit! Remember David and Uriah. The spirit may be sometimes very willing — but the flesh is always very weak. You are yet in the body. Watch and pray!
Watch against doubts and unbelief as to the complete acceptance of your soul, if you are a believer in Christ Jesus. The Lord Jesus finished the work He came to do — do not tell Him that He did not. The Lord Jesus paid your debts in full — do not tell Him that you think He left you to pay part. The Lord Jesus promises eternal life to every sinner that comes to Him — do not tell Him, even while you are coming, that you think He lies. Alas, for our unbelief! In Christ you are like Noah in the ark, and Lot in Zoar — nothing can harm you. The earth may be burned up with fire at the Lord’s appearing — but not a hair of your head shall perish. Doubt it not. Pray for more faith. Watch and pray!
Watch against inconsistency of walk — and conformity to the world. Watch against sins of temper and of tongue. These are the kind of things that grieve the Spirit of God, and make His witness within us faint and low. Watch and pray!
Watch against the leaven of false doctrine. Remember that Satan can transform himself into an angel of light. Remember that bad money is never marked bad — or else it would never pass. Be very jealous for the whole truth as it is in Jesus. Do not put up with a grain of error — merely for the sake of a pound of truth. Do not tolerate a little false doctrine — one bit more than you would a little sin. Oh, reader, remember this caution! Watch and pray!
Watch against slothfulness about the Bible and private prayer. There is nothing so spiritual, but we may at last do it formally. Most backslidings begin in the closet. When a tree is snapped in two by a high wind, we generally find there had been some long hidden decay. Oh, watch and pray!
Watch against bitterness and uncharitableness towards others. A little love is more valuable than many gifts. Be eagle-eyed in seeing the good that is in your brethren — and dim-sighted as the mole about the evil. Let your memory be a strong-box for their graces — but a sieve for their faults. Watch and pray!
Watch against pride and self-conceit. Peter said at first, “Though all men deny You — yet I never will.” And presently he fell. Pride is the high road to a fall. Watch and pray!
Watch against the sins of Galatia, Ephesus, and Laodicea. Believers may run well for a season, then lose their first love, and then become lukewarm. Watch and pray!
Watch not least against the sin of Jehu. A man may have great zeal to all appearance — and yet have very bad motives. It is a much easier thing to oppose Antichrist — than to follow Christ. It is one thing to protest against error — it is quite another thing to love the truth. So watch and pray!
Oh, my believing readers, let us all watch more than we have done! Let us watch more every year that we live. Let us watch, that we may not be surprised when the Lord appears.
Let us watch for the world’s sake. We are the books they chiefly read. They mark our ways, far more than we think. Let us aim to be plainly-written epistles of Christ!
Let us watch for our own sakes. As our walk is — so will be our peace. As our conformity to Christ’s mind — so will be our sense of Christ’s atoning blood. If a man will not walk in the full light of the sun, how can he expect to be warm?
And, above all, let us watch for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake. Let us live as if His glory was concerned in our behavior. Let us live as if every slip and fall was a reflection on the honor of our King. Let us live as if every allowed sin, was . . .
one more thorn in His head,
one more nail in His feet,
one more spear in His side!
Oh, let us exercise a godly jealousy over thoughts, words, and actions — over motives, manners, and walk! Never, never let us fear being too strict. Never, never let us think we can watch too much.
(Are You Ready for the End of Time? J.C. Ryle)
On the night our Lord was betrayed, He asked his disciples three times to watch and pray and each time they fell asleep (Matt. 26). And consequently, they weren’t ready for what was coming upon them. They failed Christ in His greatest hour of need.
Likewise, Jesus calls us to “stay awake” and watch for His return. Let this be a mark of true Christians in our time, that we are watchful and prayerful. May the Lord find us finishing the work He’s given us to do with hearts burning, “Come Lord Jesus!”