John Charles Ryle was born in Macclesfield, Cheshire (1816) and educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. He entered ministry around the year 1841, and served many churches up until his retirement in 1900, when he was aged 83. He died later that year.
Ryle was a minister that wrote many popular gospel tracts in his day, but he is known for his books. His Expository Thoughts on the Gospels are very helpful for young and old ministers alike. He has also written books such as Holiness, Practical Religion, and Light from Old Times.
Reading Ryle, I have learned two primary things this summer that I’d like to share with you:
1. Ryle pushes you to the text and draws theology from it.
Ryle writes in a way so that the Christian reader must rest in the Scripture. His examples in Holiness are straight from biblical examples (i.e. Lots wife). Ryle was a minister who rested in the sufficiency of Scripture because he rested in a sufficient God.
2. Ryle points to the martyrs as an example for the Christian life.
In Light from Old Times, Ryle allows the martyrs to speak for themselves. They suffered and died because of what they believed. Ryle has written this work to encourage the church on its mission in declaring the truths of the gospel of grace. Ryle has a chapter on “Why the Reformers were Burned,” the conclusion is that they were burned because of their view of the Lord’s Supper:
“The end of Rowland Taylor’s weary imprisonment came at last. On the 22nd of January 1555, he was brought before the Lord Chancellor, Bishop Gardiner, and other Commissioners, and subjected to a lengthy examination. To go into the details of all that was said on this occasion would be wearisome and unprofitable. The whole affair was conducted with the same gross unfairness and partiality which characterized all the proceedings against the English Reformers, and the result, as a matter of course, was the good man’s condemnation. To use his own words, in a letter to a friend, he was pronounced a heretic because he defended the marriage of priests, and denied the doctrine of transubstantiation. Never let it be forgotten in these days, that the denial of any corporal presence of Christ’s body and blood in the elements of the bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper, was the turning point which decided the fate of our martyred Reformers. If they gave way on that point they might have lived. Because they would not admit any corporal presence they died. These things are recorded for our learning.” – pg. 109-110 (Light From Old Times)
May we learn from these martyrs the importance of doctrine, and also the sanctity of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Doctrine matters. In a day where doctrine seems to go by the wayside, we can read first and foremost our Bibles and see that martyrs died because of what they believe about Jesus (Acts 7, Hebrews 11). We also learn from Ryle that men before us, many reformers especially, died because of important doctrinal issues. This should cause us to think more deeply about what songs we sing on Sundays, what books we hand out, etc. Doctrine is not dead. Orthodoxy did not die at the cross. But the cross influences orthodoxy. Sound doctrine is tied up in Paul’s Statement, “I wish to know nothing but Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2)”. To say you don’t desire sound doctrine, you don’t desire Christ. What you believe matters.
From the works of Ryle, we are able to see the importance of preaching, ordinances of the local church, deaths of martyrs and a clear gospel. I am thankful to God for men like Ryle who have helped the church long past their life here on earth.
Friends, you only get one life and it will soon pass. Only what is done for Christ will last!
Evan Knies (B.A., Boyce College) and his wife Lauren are originally from Louisiana. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is serving as as student pastor at Bullitt Lick Baptist Church. You can follow him on Twitter at @Evan_Knies.
Being tortured in Hades and facing the impossibility of relief, a rich man shouts across the “great chasm” and begs Abraham to send a servant named Lazarus to warn his five brothers on earth about the horrific destruction they would face at the end of an unrepentant life. In a stirring reply, Abraham’s response says just as much about Holy Scripture as it does of the human heart: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:31) There is perhaps no verse in the Bible that speaks more profoundly to the power of God’s Word to change hearts than the one proclaimed to a man burning in Hell. The Spirit that raised a dead man from the grave is the same Spirit that inspired the Holy Scriptures – the power of God unto salvation. (Rom. 8:11, 2 Tim. 3:16, Rom. 1:16) And that’s precisely what it takes to raise dead sinners in faith. (Eph. 2:1) Spirit and truth. (John 4:24)
The primacy of God’s Word is something that evangelicals have consistently touted. For instance, David Bebbington has famously offered his so-called “Bebbington Quadrilateral” – the four chief characteristics of an evangelical. Not surprisingly, Biblicism is the number one distinguishing trait. (followed by crucicentrism, activism, and conversionism) However, this proper emphasis upon Holy Scripture (sola Scriptura) can often times morph into a kind of “Bible-onlyism” that eschews church history and Christian tradition as recorded in the church councils. Many Christians today read words like “creed” or “confession” with a modern suspicion. In many ways, the transition that took place during the Great Awakening from puritanism to revivalism branded confessional Christianity as “popish” and/or “intellectual.” As a result, many churches treat church history and even statements of faith as disciplines exclusively relegated to the seminary.
However, as Timothy George has suggested, there’s a large difference between confessionalism and “creedalism,” something that most evangelicals have never advocated. (“The Priesthood of All Believers,” eds. Basden, Dockery) Contrary to the individualistic American spirit that flows through modern Christianity, hearty confessionalism should be revived in order to unite churches in bonds of belief under a continuous faith once delivered to the saints. In this time of “Restoration” movements and “post-Protestant” theology, it’s important to look to some of the older scholars of our age who can lend perspective to the ethos of our time. Better than any theologian alive, J.I. Packer has articulated the dangers of “Bible-onlyism” in a vivid way that offers us insights into the balance of Scripture and church tradition:
“The evangelical emphasis on the uniqueness of Holy Scripture as the verbalized revelation of God and on its supreme authority over God’s people is sometimes misunderstood as a commitment to the so-called restorationist method in theology. This method sets tradition in antithesis to Scripture, and places the church’s heritage of thought and devotion under a blanket of permanent suspicion, thus reducing its significance to zero…But the authentic evangelical way has always been to see tradition as the precipitate of the church’s living with the Bible and being taught by the Holy Spirit through the Bible – the fruit, that is, of the ministry that the Holy Spirit has been fulfilling in the church since Pentecost, according to Jesus’ own promise.” (“A Stunted Ecclesiology?”)
When we distance ourselves from the major confessions of the Christian past, we’re not only implicitly declaring our own unchecked hermeneutical superiority in reading the same Bible, we’re creating a false dichotomy between the faith of the saints and our own. Those denominations who hold to historical creeds are not supplanting the authority of Scripture for man-made documents. In fact, these are the churches who uphold the supremacy of Scripture the most! They’re simply attempting to do two things: (1) create a guiding framework in order to maintain the orthodox belief of the church against ad hoc “whatever strikes me” reading of the Bible, (2) and hold their people accountable for confessing that belief. Confessions aren’t simply ecclesiological. They’re soteriological.
If Scripture matters, the truth of Scripture matters. And if Scriptural truth matters, Scriptural interpretation must matter. When a church pits church tradition and Bible against one another, it quietly rests upon a postmodern cornerstone that says “in with the new and out with the old.” But in a religion that finds its cornerstone in a 2000-year-old Nazarene and its foundation in apostles and prophets, completely novel ideas about the meaning of Scripture should be held in check and tempered against the backdrop of an historical faith. (Eph. 2:20) A truly personal relationship with Christ should never become license for a completely private interpretation of His Scripture. The God who saves is the same God who gave us history as an impetus for seeking Him and as a guide for learning. (e.g., Deut. 1-3) In turn, we should take heart in the “great cloud of witnesses” who attest to the precious truths of Scripture defended for the name of Christ and on our behalf. (Heb. 12:1)
Baptist Confessions of Faith by William Lumpkin
The Battle for the Bible by Harold Lindsell
Inspiration and Authority of the Bible by B.B. Warfield
Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung
Baptists and the Bible by Bush & Nettles
By Evan Knies
“The foundation of the true church was laid at a mighty cost. It needed that the Son of God should take our nature upon him, and in that nature live, suffer, and die, not for his own sins, but for ours. It needed that in that nature Christ should go to the grave, and rise again. It needed that in that nature Christ should go up to heaven, to sit at the right hand of God, having obtained eternal redemption for all his people. No other foundation could have met the necessities of lost, guilty, corrupt, weak, helpless sinners.” – pg. 293 (Holiness)
The past few weeks have been tough. The weeks ahead will be tough. Christians, remember that our foundation is Christ. Rest in the Foundation that does not crumble under pressure. Rest in the Sovereign Solid Rock of Christ.
You only get one life and it will soon pass. Only what is done for Christ will last!