Who is, or was, Bishop Ryle? You may have heard of him – he was an outstanding evangelical Christian Bishop of the Church of England at the end of the 19th century.
Some have called him the ’embodiment of the faithful Church of Philadelphia’ as recorded in Revelation chapter 3.
In one sense he was the 19th century equivalent of someone today like John Wesley, John Macarthur, Jr. or even the Billy Graham of old.
John Ryle became an Anglican Bishop in 1880. For the next 20 years until his death he preached and wrote to all Christians, warning the Churches and the people in them that, if they did not repent and pursue holiness, they would suffer the consequences in the next life.
He did not preach works salvation, but was thoroughly evangelical in that his emphasis was totally biblical, based on the words of Jesus and the teaching of the apostles.
His emphasis was, as ours should be, that if we believe sincerely in our hearts, then our lives will show the fruit.
Any other ‘gospel’ is not the one the apostles preached.
He Warned the Churches
Today, Ryle’s messages can be seen as prophetic and contemporary. He warned that, unless the Churches preached the whole counsel of God, they would be in deep trouble in THIS world as well as the next.
This teaching can be said to have been completely true when it comes to us, over 100 years later.
He warned them about the Christian life:
‘It is a fight of absolute necessity. Let us not think that in this war we can remain neutral and sit still. To be at peace with the world, the flesh and the devil, is to be at enmity with God and in the broad way that leads to destruction … we must either fight or be lost.’
This is so true of many Churches today. I see so many Christians at peace with the world, the flesh and the devil today, and the worst part of it is they are not being fed the proper food by their ‘shepherds’.
There are lots of preachers who are misguidedly neglecting to warn their people to ‘watch and pray’ for His return, and are contributing to the weak, jelly-fluff stuff that passes for Christianity in many of our Churches.
He said: ‘There is a common, worldly kind of Christianity in this day … -a cheap Christianity which offends nobody, and is worth nothing … If you are resolved to be a New Testament Christian … you will soon find you must carry a cross.‘
He Encouraged Christians
Bishop Ryle’s words were hard, but so were the words of his Master.
The encouragement he gave was that of challenge. There is no real encouragement in mere pleasant-sounding words such as one would give to a hurt child.
Ryle’s encouragement was to read the Scriptures and pray to find God’s specific will for your life.
He knew what all Christians need in this earthly struggle:
‘If you have any desires after usefulness – if you have any wishes to promote your Lord’s glory – if you have any longings after much inward peace – be not content with a little religion,’ he wrote in his book, Holiness, still read by many people today.
‘Let me warn all careless members of Churches to beware,’ he continued, ‘lest they trifle their souls into hell. You live on year after year as if there was no battle to be fought with sin, the world and the devil.’
‘You pass through life a smiling, laughing, gentlemanlike or lady-like person, and behave as if there was no devil, no heaven, and no hell.’
These are words to US!
Ryle’s Teachings from the Bible
These are some reasons his teachings are for today and for all eternity:
1. The Authority of the Bible
Ryle says that the Methodist preachers of the 18th century ‘taught constantly the sufficiency and supremacy of Holy Scripture.’
2. The Sinfulness of Man
‘They taught always about the complete corruption of human nature.’
3. The Necessity of Christ’s Death
Ryle says they ‘taught constantly that Christ’s death upon the cross was the only satisfaction for man’s sin; and that He died as our substitute – ‘the just for the unjust’.
4. Justification by Faith
The 18th century evangelists ‘told men that faith was the one thing needful…that the moment we do believe, we live and [do obtain] all Christ’s benefits.’
5. ‘You Must be Born Again’
Both the term ‘born again’ and the necessity to preach the new birth goes right back to Jesus Himself. [John 3].
6. A Changed Life
He taught ‘the inseparable connection between true faith and personal holiness.’
7. God is both a God of Wrath and of Perfect Love. We need say no more.
Church Leaders Must Emulate Him
Let me give good Bishop Ryle the last word, talking about Wesley and 18th century England:
‘These were the doctrines by which they turned England upside down, made plooughmen and colliers weep till their dirty faces were smeared with tears, arrested the attention of peers and philosophers, stormed the strongholds of Satan, plucked thousands like brands from the burning, and altered the character of the age…
‘The fact is undeniable: God blessed these truths…and what God has blessed it ill becomes man to despise.’ (p.28-29)
If Church leaders of today do not follow his advice, what hope is there for those who follow them?