J. C. Ryle
There are few warnings in Scripture more solemn than this. Our Lord Jesus Christ says to us, "Remember Lot's wife" (Luke 17:32).
Lot's wife professed the true religion. Her husband was a "righteous man" (2 Peter 2:8). She left Sodom with him on the day when Sodom was destroyed. She looked back towards the city from behind her husband, against God's clear command. She was struck dead at once and turned into a pillar of salt. And our Lord Jesus Christ holds her up as a warning to his church. He says, "Remember Lot's wife."
It is a solemn warning, when we think of the person Jesus names. He does not bid us to remember Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, or Sarah, or Hannah, or Ruth. No. He singles out one whose soul was lost forever. He cries out to us, "Remember Lot's wife."
It is a solemn warning, when we consider the subject Jesus is addressing. He is speaking of his own second coming to judge the world: he is describing the awful state of unpreparedness in which many will be found. Judgment is on his mind when he says, "Remember Lot's wife."
It is a solemn warning, when we think of the person who gives it. Our Lord Jesus is full of love, mercy, and compassion. He is one who will never break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax. He could weep over unbelieving Jerusalem. He could pray for the men who crucified him. Yet even he thinks it good to give this solemn warning and remind us of lost souls. Even he says, "Remember Lot's wife."
It is a solemn warning, when we think of the persons to whom it was first given. Our Lord Jesus was speaking to his disciples. He was not addressing the scribes and Pharisees who hated him, but Peter, James, and John, and many others who loved him. Yet even to them he thinks it good to address a caution. Even to them he says, "Remember Lot's wife."
It is a solemn warning, when we consider the manner in which it was given. He does not merely say, "Beware of following ... take heed of imitating ... do not be like ... Lot's wife." He uses a different word: he says, "Remember." He speaks as if we are each in danger of forgetting the subject. He stirs up our lazy memories. He bids us keep the case before our minds. He cries, "Remember Lot's wife."
Consider the religious privileges which Lot's wife enjoyed. In the days of Abraham and Lot, true saving religion was scarce on the earth. There were no Bibles, no ministers, no churches, no tracts, no missionaries. The knowledge of God was confined to a few favored families. The greater part of the inhabitants of the world were living in darkness, ignorance, superstition, and sin. Not one in a thousand perhaps had such good example, such spiritual society, such clear knowledge, such plain warnings as Lot's wife. Compared with millions of her fellow creatures in her time, Lot's wife was a favored woman.
She had a believer for her husband. She had Abraham, the father of the faithful, for her uncle by marriage. The faith, the knowledge, and the prayers of these two righteous men could have been no secret to her. It is impossible that she could have dwelt in tents with them for any length of time, without knowing whose they were and whom they served. Religion with them was no formality. It was the ruling principle of their lives. It was the mainspring of their actions. Lot's wife must have seen and known all this. This was no small privilege!
When Abraham first received the promises, Lot's wife was probably there. When he built his tent between Ai and Bethel, she was probably there. When the angels came to Sodom and warned her husband to flee, she saw them. When they took them by the hand and led them out of the city, she was one of those whom they helped to escape. Once more, I say, these were no small privileges!
Yet what good effect did all these privileges have on the heart of Lot's wife? None at all. Despite all her opportunities and means of gracedespite all her special warnings and messages from heavenshe lived and died graceless, godless, impenitent, and unbelieving. The eyes of her understanding were never opened. Her conscience was never really aroused and quickened. Her will was never really brought into a state of obedience to God. Her affections were never really set on things above. The form of religion which she had was kept up for the sake of fashion, not from sincerity. It was a coat worn to please her family, but not from any sense of its value. She did as others around her in Lot's house. She conformed to her husband's ways. She did not oppose his religion. She let herself be passively towed along in his wake. But all this time her heart was wrong in the sight of God. The world was in her heart, and her heart was in the world! In this state she lived, and in this state she died.
There is much to be learned in all this. I see a lesson here which is of the utmost importance in the present day. We live in times when there are many people just like Lot's wife. Come and hear the lesson which her case is meant to teach.
Learn, then, that the mere possession of religious privileges will save no one's soul. You may have spiritual advantages of every description. You may live in the full sunshine of the richest opportunities and means of grace. You may enjoy the best of preaching and the choicest instruction. You may dwell in the midst of light, knowledge, holiness, and good company. All this may be, and yet you yourself may remain unconverted, and in the end be lost for ever.
I dare say this doctrine sounds hard to some readers. I know that many fancy that they need nothing but religious privileges in order to become decided Christians. They grant that they are not what they ought to be at present. But their position is so hard, they plead, and their difficulties are so many. If only they had a godly husband, or a godly wife... If only they had godly companions, or a godly master... If only they had better preaching of the gospel... Give them privileges, and then they will walk with God.
It is all a lie. It is an entire delusion. It requires something more than privileges to save souls. Joab was David's captain. Gehazi was Elisha's servant. Demas was Paul's companion. Judas Iscariot was Christ's disciple. And Lot had a worldly, unbelieving wife. These all died in their sins. They went down to the pit in spite of knowledge, warnings, and opportunities. And they all teach us that we need more than privileges alone. We need the sovereign grace of God in Christ Jesus.
Let us value our religious privileges, but let us never pin our hopes entirely upon them. Let us desire to benefit from them in all our movements in life, but let us never put them in the place of Christ. Let us use them thankfully, if God gives them to us, but let us take care that they produce the fruit of faith and repentance in our hearts and lives. If they do not do good, they do positive harm. They sear our consciences. They increase our responsibility. They aggravate our condemnation. The same fire which melts the wax hardens the clay. The same sun which makes the living tree grow, dries up the dead tree and gets it ready for burning. Nothing so hardens the heart of man as a sterile familiarity with sacred things. Again I say, it is not privileges alone which make people Christians; it is the sovereign grace of God in Christ Jesus. Without that, no one can ever be saved.
You who attend a sound ministrymark well what I am saying. You go to Mr. A's or Mr. B's church. You think him an excellent preacher. You delight in his sermons. You cannot hear anyone else with the same comfort. You have learned many things since you attended his ministry. You consider it a privilege to be one of his hearers. All this is very good. It is a privilege! I would be very thankful if ministers like yours were multiplied a thousandfold. But, after all, what have you got in your heart? Have you yet received the Holy Spirit? If not, you are no better than Lot's wife!
You children of Christian parentsmark well what I am saying. It is the highest privilege to be the child of a godly father and mother. It is the greatest advantage to be brought up in the midst of many prayers. It is a blessed thing indeed to be taught the gospel from our earliest infancy, and to hear of sin, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and holiness, and heaven, from the first moment we can remember anything. But, oh, take heed that you do not remain barren and unfruitful in the sunshine of all these privileges. Beware lest your hearts remain hard, impenitent, and worldly, in spite of the many advantages you enjoy. You cannot enter the kingdom of God on the credit of your parents' faith. You must eat the Bread of Life for yourself. You must have the witness of the Spirit in your own heart. You must have repentance of your own, faith of your own, and sanctification of your own. If not, you are no better than Lot's wife!
I pray God that all professing Christians in these days may lay these things to heart. May we never forget that privileges alone cannot save us. Light and knowledge, faithful preaching, abundant means of grace, and the company of holy people are all great blessings and advantages. Happy are they that have them! But after all, there is one thing without which privileges are useless. That one thing is the sovereign grace of God in Christ Jesus. Lot's wife had many privileges. But Lot's wife did not have God's grace.
The author (1816-1900) was the evangelical Anglican bishop of Liverpool, 1880-1900. He quotes the KJV. Reprinted from New Horizons, March 2001.