Posts Tagged ‘J. C. Ryle’
J. C. Ryle, as so often, has the knack of speaking plainly, even painfully, to our hearts, in these comments on Luke’s Gospel, chapter 22, verses 24-30:
Usefulness in the world and the Christian church, a humble readiness to do anything, a cheerful willingness to fill any post, however lowly, are the true tests of Christian greatness. The hero in Christ’s army is not the man who has rank and title and dignity and chariots and horsemen and fifty men to run before him. It is the man who is not concerned about himself but about other people. It is the man who is kind to everyone, tender to everyone, thoughtful toward everyone, ever helpful and sympathetic. It is the man who spends his time binding up the brokenhearted, befriending the friendless, comforting the sorrowful, and enlightening the ignorant. This is the truly great man in God’s sight. The world may ridicule his efforts and deny the sincerity of his motives, but while the world is sneering, God is pleased. This is the man who is walking most closely in the steps of Christ.
From J. C. Ryle:
The Christianity which I call fruit-bearing, that which shows its Divine origin by its blessed effects on mankind – the Christianity which you may safely defy unbelievers to explain away – that Christianity is a very different thing. Let me show you some of its leading marks and features.
(1) Fruit-bearing Christianity has always taught the inspiration, sufficiency, and supremacy of Holy Scripture. It has told people that God’s Word written is the only trustworthy rule of faith and practice in religion, that God requires nothing to be believed that is not in this Word, and that nothing is right which contradicts it. It has never allowed reason, a person’s mind, or the voice of the Church, to be placed above, or on a level with Scripture. It has steadily maintained that, however imperfectly we may understand it, the Old Book is meant to be the only standard of life and doctrine.
(2) Fruit-bearing Christianity has always taught fully the sinfulness, guilt and corruption of human nature. It has told people that they are born in sin, deserve God’s wrath and condemnation, and are naturally inclined to do evil. It has never allowed that men and women are only weak and pitiable creatures, who can become good when they please, and make their own peace with God. On the contrary, it has steadily declared a person’s danger and vileness, and their pressing need of a Divine forgiveness and satisfaction for their sins, a new birth or conversion, and an entire change of heart.
(3) Fruit-bearing Christianity has always set before people the Lord Jesus Christ as the chief object of faith and hope in religion, as the Divine Mediator between God and humanity, the only source of peace of conscience, and the root of all spiritual life. It has never been content to teach that He is merely our Prophet, our Example, and our Judge. The main things it has ever insisted on about Christ are the atonement for sin He made by His death, His sacrifice on the cross, the complete redemption from guilt and condemnation by His blood, His victory over the grave by His resurrection, His active life of intercession at God’s right hand, and the absolute necessity of simple faith in Him. In short, it has made Christ the Alpha and the Omega in Christian theology.
(4) Fruit-bearing Christianity has always honored the Person of God the Holy Spirit, and magnified His work. It has never taught that all professing Christians have the grace of the Spirit in their hearts, as a matter of course, because they are baptized, or because they belong to the Church, or because they partake of Holy communion. It has steadily maintained that the fruits of the Spirit are the only evidence of having the Spirit, and that those fruits must be seen, – that we must be born of the Spirit, led by the Spirit, sanctified by the Spirit, and feel the operations of the Spirit, – and that a close walk with God in the path of His commandments, a life of holiness, charity, self-denial, purity, and zeal to do good, are the only satisfactory marks of the Holy Spirit.
Summary ► Such is true fruit-bearing Christianity. Well would it have been for the world if there had been more of it during the last nineteen centuries! Too often, and in too many parts of Christendom, there has been so little of it, that Christ’s religion has seemed extinct, and has fallen into utter contempt. But just in proportion as such Christianity as I have described has prevailed, the world has benefited, the unbeliever has been silenced, and the truth of Divine revelation been acknowledged. The tree has been known by its fruit.
via J.C. Ryle Quotes.
I ask whether it is wise to speak of faith as the one thing needful, and the only thing required, as many seem to do nowadays in handling the doctrine of sanctification. Is it wise to proclaim in so bald, naked, and unqualified a way as many do that the holiness of converted people is by faith only, and not at all by personal exertion? Is it according to the proportion of God’s Word? I doubt it.
The Cripplegate points us to the wisdom of J. C. Ryle on the realities of sanctification, Biblically understood.
Hugh Latimer speaks best for himself:
For preaching of the gospel is one of God’s plough-works, and the preacher is one of God’s ploughmen. . . . Ye may not then, I say, be offended with my similitude, for because I liken preaching to a ploughman’s labour, and a prelate to a ploughman. But now you will ask me, whom I call a prelate? A prelate is that man, whatsoever he be, that hath a flock to be taught of him; whosoever hath any spiritual charge in the faithful congregation, and whosoever he be that hath cure of souls. And well may the preacher and the ploughman be likened together: first, for their labour of all seasons of the year; for there is no time of the year in which the ploughman hath not some special work to do as in my country in Leicestershire, the ploughman hath a time to set forth, and to assay his plough, and other times for other necessary works to be done. And then they also may be likened together for the diversity of works and variety of offices that they have to do. For as the ploughman first setteth forth his plough, and then tilleth his land, and breaketh it in furrows, and sometime ridgeth it up again; and at another time harroweth it and clotteth it, and sometime dungeth it and hedgeth it, diggeth it and weedeth it, purgeth and maketh it clean: so the prelate, the preacher, hath many diverse offices to do. He hath first a busy work to bring his parishioners to a right faith, as Paul calleth it, and not a swerving faith; but to a faith that embraceth Christ, and trusteth to his merits; a lively faith, a justifying faith; a faith that maketh a man righteous, without respect of works: as ye have it very well declared and set forth in the Homily. He hath then a busy work, I say, to bring his flock to a right faith, and then to confirm them in the same faith: now casting them down with the law, and with threatenings of God for sin; now ridging them up again with the gospel, and with the promises of God’s favour: now weeding them, by telling them their faults, and making them forsake sin; now clotting them, by breaking their stony hearts, and by making them supplehearted, and making them to have hearts of flesh; that is, soft hearts, and apt for doctrine to enter in: now teaching to know God rightly, and to know their duty to God and their neighbours: now exhorting them, when they know their duty, that they do it, and be diligent in it; so that they have a continual work to do. Great is their business, and therefore great should be their hire. They have great labours, and therefore they ought to have good livings, that they may commodiously feed their flock; for the preaching of the word of God unto the people is called meat: scripture calleth it meat; not strawberries, that come but once a year, and tarry not long, but are soon gone: but it is meat, it is no dainties. The people must have meat that must be familiar and continual, and daily given unto them to feed upon. Many make a strawberry of it, ministering it but once a year; but such do not the office of good prelates.
But now for the fault of unpreaching prelates, methink I could guess what might be said for excusing of them. They are so troubled with lordly living, they be so placed in palaces, couched in courts, ruffling in their rents, dancing in their dominions, burdened with ambassages, pampering of their paunches, like a monk that maketh his jubilee; munching in their mangers, and moiling in their gay manors and mansions, and so troubled with loitering in their lordships, that they cannot attend it.
And now I would ask a strange question: who is the most diligentest bishop and prelate in all England, that passeth all the rest in doing his office? I can tell, for I know him who it is; I know him well. But now I think I see you listening and hearkening that I should name him. There is one that passeth all the other, and is the most diligent prelate and preacher in all England. And will ye know who it is? I will tell you: it is the devil. He is the most diligent preacher of all other; he is never out of his diocess; he is never from his cure; ye shall never find him unoccupied; he is ever in his parish; he keepeth residence at all times; ye shall never find him out of the way, call for him when you will he is ever at home; the diligentest preacher in all the realm; he is ever at his plough: no lording nor loitering can hinder him; he is ever applying his business, ye shall never find him idle, I warrant you. And his office is to hinder religion, to maintain superstition, to set up idolatry, to teach all kind of popery. He is ready as he can be wished for to set forth his plough; to devise as many ways as can be to deface and obscure God’s glory. Where the devil is resident, and hath his plough going, there away with books, and up with candles; away with bibles, and up with beads; away with the light of the gospel, and up with the light of candles, yea, at noon-days. Where the devil is resident, that he may prevail, up with all superstition and idolatry; tensing, painting of images, candles, palms, ashes, holy water, and new service of men’s inventing; as though man could invent a better way to honour God with than God himself hath appointed. Down with Christ’s cross, up with purgatory pickpurse, up with him, the popish purgatory, I mean. Away with clothing the naked, the poor and impotent; up with decking of images, and gay garnishing of stocks and stones: up with man’s traditions and his laws, down with God’s traditions and his most holy word. Down with the old honour due to God, and up with the new god’s honour. Let all things be done in Latin: there must be nothing but Latin, not so much as Memento, homo, quod cinis es, et in cinerem reverteris: “Remember, man, that thou art ashes, and into ashes thou shalt return:” which be the words that the minister speaketh unto the ignorant people, when he giveth them ashes upon Ash-Wednesday; but it must be spoken in Latin: God’s word may in no wise be translated into English.
Oh that our prelates would be as diligent to sow the corn of good doctrine, as Satan is to sow cockle and darnel! 
These rich passages are taken from perhaps the most famous of Hugh Latimer’s sermons, the “Sermon of the Plough,” and are truly representative of this preaching prelate.
Hugh Latimer lived from about 1490 (the birth date is sometimes given as late as 1492) until 16th October 1555, when he was martyred with Nicholas Ridley (c. 1500-1555) at Oxford. His sermons are in the two volumes of his Sermons & Remains. The first volume is almost entirely sermons (thirty-three in all); the second contains fifteen sermons and some miscellaneous remains. With regret, our focus on the sermons means that we must pick up what we can of the person from our study of the preacher. Neither can we dwell much on his history as person or preacher, or the theology of his sermons, except incidentally.
The sermons span a period of about twenty-five years and three monarchs (1529 through to 1553 – two years before his death – and Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I). They are often grouped by time, occasion or place of preaching (e.g. “Seven Sermons preached before King Edward the Sixth, 1549” or “Sermons preached in Lincolnshire, 1552”) or by their matter (“Sermons on the Lord’s Prayer, 1552”). They are the productions of Latimer’s heart and mouth but not necessarily of his pen, nor were they revised by their author (with the possible exception of the “Sermon[s] before the Convocation”). Rather, they were gathered by Latimer’s friend and attendant, and one who himself became a gospel preacher, Augustine Bernher, “albeit not so fully and perfectly gathered as they were uttered; yet nevertheless truly.” We must take into account that we have, in the language of the introduction to one, “the effect and tenor” of the sermon, more a full and careful sense of the substance than a transcription of every word. So we must exercise care in making absolute judgements while confident that we get our material from one who knew the preacher well, was sympathetic to his theology, was concerned to preserve his teaching accurately, and learned to preach – at least in part – from hearing Latimer. And, we might ask, who can capture the thunder and the lightning anyway?
Latimer is a man of his time, not least in his theology (it being more of a developing Lutheranism and therefore sometimes lacking the clarity of his reforming successors, and sometimes being simply inaccurate) and his sociology. As a preacher, he can ramble with the best (or worst!): one finds either a telling phrase of pith and moment, or must resort to a paragraph or two to get the sense and flow of some holy harangue.
His capacity for the unexpected excursus (or, to be more frank, the rabbit trail) is close to unparalleled. In one sermon, speaking of Jairus’ daughter, he gives some pointed counsel on how to make sure that someone is genuinely dead before burying them, concluding, “Therefore, I admonish you not to be too hasty with dead corses: as long as they be warm, keep them in the bed; for when a man is dead indeed, he will soon be cold.” One might defend this on the grounds of pastoral or practical necessity while questioning whether or not it is entirely germane. Neither could we describe Latimer as an exegetical nonesuch (at least in the commendatory sense): we do not turn to him for a robust demonstration of the grammatico-historical approach. In terms of sermonic structure, he has a variety of approaches, none of them regular. We might kindly describe him as exegetically and homiletically untrammelled, with a style that is essentially natural and conversational.
He is not unaware of his idiosyncrasies. Some are deliberate, a part of his convictions concerning the pulpit and his concern for the people who hear him:
I have a manner of teaching, which is very tedious to them that be learned. I am wont ever to repeat those things which I have said before, which repetitions are nothing pleasant to the learned: but it is no matter, I care not for them; I seek more the profit of those which be ignorant, than to please learned men. Therefore I oftentimes repeat such things which be needful for them to know; for I would speak so that they might be edified withal.
Despite well-intentioned nitpicking, we must acknowledge that Latimer is easy to read and to hear read. P. E. Hughes speaks of him as a man “who was the most remarkable preacher of the day, and indeed one of the greatest preachers the Church universal has ever had.” Bishop Ryle is no more restrained:
Few, probably have ever addressed an English congregation with more effect than he did. No doubt his sermons now extant would not suit modern taste. They contain many quaint, odd, and coarse things. They are very familiar, rambling, and discursive, and often full of gossiping stories. But, after all, we are poor judges in these days of what a sermon ought to be. A modern sermon is too often a dull, tame, pointless religious essay, full of measured, round sentences, Johnsonian English, bald platitudes, timid statements, and elaborately concocted milk and water. It is a leaden sword, without either point or edge: a heavy weapon, and little likely to do much execution. But if a combination of sound Gospel doctrine, plain Saxon language, boldness, liveliness, directness, and simplicity, can make a preacher, few, I suspect, have ever equalled old Latimer.
With such testimonies before us, rather than try to identify and examine a typical sermon (for I am not sure one exists), we shall attempt to draw from the complete corpus briefly to explore and assess the principles and practice of this preaching prelate.
 Latimer, Sermons & Remains (Cambridge: CUP, 1844), 1:60-62. All references to the sermons are from this edition, sometimes referred to as Latimer’s Works.
 Sometimes referred to as Latimer’s Works; they are readily obtainable online, or secondhand in the Parker edition from the Cambridge University Press.
 1:xvi and 455, fn 5.
 1:341. I have to think that the fact that in three sentences he twice states that he is given to repetition for the sake of the ignorant is an example of the preaching tongue firmly in the prelatic cheek.
 Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Theology of the English Reformers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965), 127
 J. C. Ryle, Five English Reformers (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1981), 106.
Here are some good targets for the year to come. When Ryle tells us to lay aside every weight, he is aiming higher than the loss of a few pounds.
Walk more closely with God, get nearer to Christ and seek to exchange hope for assurance. Seek to feel the witness of the Spirit more closely and distinctly every year. Lay aside every weight, and the sin that so easily besets you. Press towards the mark more earnestly. Fight a better fight, and war a better warfare every year you live. Pray more, read more, mortify self more, love the brethren more. Oh that you may endeavor so to grow in grace every year, that your last things may be far more than your first, and the end of your Christian course far better than the beginning!
HT: Main Things.
Let us beware of despising the Old Testament under any pretence whatever. Let us never listen to those who bid us throw it aside as an obsolete, antiquated, useless book. The religion of the Old Testament is the germ of Christianity. The Old Testament is the Gospel in the bud. The New Testament is the Gospel in full flower.— The Old Testament is the Gospel in the blade. The New Testament is the Gospel in full car.—The saints in the Old Testament saw many things through a glass darkly. But they all looked by faith to the same Saviour, and were led by the same Spirit as ourselves. These are no light matters. Much infidelity begins with an ignorant contempt of the Old Testament.
Let us, for another thing, beware of despising the law of the Ten Commandments. Let us not suppose for a moment that it is set aside by the Gospel, or that Christians have nothing to do with it. The coming of Christ did not alter the position of the Ten Commandments one hair’s breadth. If anything, it exalted and raised their authority. (Rom. iii. 31.) The law of the Ten Commandments is God’s eternal measure of right and wrong. By it is the knowledge of sin. By it the Spirit shows men their need of Christ, and drives them to Him. To it Christ refers His people as their rule and guide for holy living. In its right place it is just as important as ” the glorious Gospel.”—It cannot save us. We cannot be justified by it. But never, never let us despise it. It is a symptom of an ignorant and unhealthy state of religion, when the law is lightly esteemed. The true Christian “delights in the law of God.” (Rom. vii. 22.)
J. C. Ryle, Expository thoughts on Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 5:13-20)