“We want more men who are not afraid to stand alone. It is truth, not numbers, which shall always in the end prevail. We have the truth, and we need not be ashamed to say so. The judgment day will prove who is right, and to that day we boldy appeal”.
This quote occupies the opening pages of Iain Murray’s biography of J.C. Ryle (1816-1900). It’s a fitting statement by Ryle himself on what a godly, biblical life and strong Protestant, orthodox and evangelical beliefs demanded in a time, much like ours today, where so many were turning from true Christianity and so few willing to defend it.
Ryle did not say those words in theory as if spoken from some comfortable popularity or well supported base he happened to have. In fact, quite the opposite was true. Although Ryle was well loved by his congregation and other strong protestants, he faced steady opposition from the liberal current sweeping the Church of England away from the reformation and orthodoxy. He was prepared to stand alone for truth and by God’s grace did just that many a time with almost minute support from fellow (so-called) evangelical leaders.
Far from unnecessarily demanding the introduction of dogma into insignificant disagreements or doctrinal beliefs, it was rather Ryle’s unflinching embrace and teaching of basic biblical Christianity that gained him many adversaries.
This included standing for both the sufficiency and inerrancy of Holy Scripture, true, eminent holiness in the life of every Christian, the rebuke of Roman Catholic doctrines including mediation, ceremonies, church authority, etc. and many other areas where Christians must hold the line in defense of biblical truth or open the door for the sweeping influence of liberalism and false religion.
J.C. Ryle wrote in his Expository Thoughts on Matthew, “Grace does not run in families. It needs something more than good examples and good advice to make us children of God. They that are born again are not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”. Perhaps Ryle would equally agree ‘standing for the biblical truth against hurricane force cultural dissent’ isn’t genetic, either.
Solomon’s wise words, “There is nothing new under the sun” ring true age after age and when one compares the theological enemies of biblical Christians in the 1800s and those of the current age, the similarity is uncanny. Ryle rightly rejected the heresy of the Roman Catholic Church and other diverging views that, among many other things, robbed Holy Scripture of any title of sufficiency and adulterated the precious truth that there is but one mediator between God and man and one authority to which we bow––Him Christ Jesus.
Many of Ryle’s beliefs are helpfully outlined in several of the Thirty-Nine Articles staunchly held to be the Church of England following the reformation. As for the centuries afterword, they found less and less favor in the minds of drifting theologians. For example, Article VI (6) reads, “Holy Scripture contains all things necessarily to salvation: so that whatever s not read in them, nor may be proved by them, is not to be required by any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith”.
This clear protestantism was in plain opposition to the many ‘evangelical’ leaders including his son Herbert, also a minister, who believed that the reformation had either not been necessary or had not been overall inconsequential and producing little change. Ryle’s son fundamentally agreed with George Bull’s statement that, “Our church was [before the reformation] where it is now. [The church] has not changed one thing [other than several inconsequential] ceremonies and traditions”. Murray comments on these quotes that “nothing is said about the reformation being a recovery of the gospel”. There could hardly be a more disastrous view of the reformation that the dissent offered by Herbert.
An important observation is to recognize that understanding the fundamental differences between Protestantism and Rome is not unrelated, but directly related to one’s view of biblical sufficiently. As Article XXII (22) states–cherished by J.C. Ryle, but inconsequential to Herbert–“The Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshiping and Adoration, as well as of Images and of Reliques, and also invocation of saints (i.e. praying to/through saints), is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warrant of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God”.
These things are not only not taught and scripture but are condemned in Scripture. Therefore Ryle, as should we, likewise opposed and condemned them.
Drifting ‘evangelicals’ and english churchman were increasingly allowing ceremonies and Rome-friendly doctrines to steal back into confessed protestant churches. The result being that the clear teaching of Scripture was maligned while unity at the expense of truth began being preferred––a thoroughly unbiblical and disastrous trade.
Consequentially, this lack of practically and experientially holding to the Scriptures as sufficient led Herbert Ryle, among a multitude of others, to write things such as, “The Christianity which does not commend itself to the reason is not of God; for the reason is of God”. This plainly contradicts Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 2:12-13 where he wrote, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual”.
Unlike what C.S. Lewis wrote, man cannot reason his way to God. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Natural man, apart from the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit is darkened in their understanding, unable to come to God and spiritually dead. Truly, ‘the world, by wisdom, knew not God’ (1 Corinthians 1:21).
Herbert Ryle, in hindsight an archetype of liberal drift occurring in the church of England in the late 1800s and early 1900s, continued to induce his own, culturally fashionable ideas into his preaching instead of preaching true to the word.
This is clearly observed within a sermon preached on Acts 12:7 (Peter unshackled and delivered from prison by an angel), where Herbert tragically spiritualized the text into a lesson about following the angel through the ‘open gates of better knowledge [of science, philosophy, higher criticism, etc.]’ and arguing ‘when we pass through the barriers of ignorance and prejudice there is a wide door open to those who will move forward’. In theory, Herbert still embraced scripture as sufficient. Yet, his works and ministry forfeited the validation that claim.
Solomon’s words quoted earlier call to memory that it should not be a surprise that this is the selfsame poison plaguing American evangelicalism today. The social justice ‘gospel’, steeped in the unbiblical, godless critical theory paradigm, standpoint epistemology and works based religion, has countless ministers ignoring the clear teaching of God’s word while turning biblical texts on their head to fit some sort of liberation theology or application resulting in reparations catering to the current cultural current.
A battle remains and rages on today––is the Bible true and sufficient for life and godliness or not? Just as in Ryle’s time, we need those who, by God’s grace ‘are not afraid to stand alone’.
During J.C. Ryle’s pastorate at Stradbroke––spanning two decades––he began preaching in a pulpit where he found the sentence ‘Woe to me if I preach not the Gospel’ carved in the pulpit wood. Ryle subsequently hand cut a line under ‘not’ with his own hand. Ryle knew the danger and I entreat my reader that we would likewise have a knowledge of our times.
Truly, there is one mediator between God and man, him Christ Jesus; one single name under heaven by which we may be saved, him Christ Jesus; one, once for all sacrifice for sin made by him Christ Jesus on the cross; and one glorious book we call all men to know, read and live increasingly sanctified lives by through the power of the Holy Spirit to adorn the gospel of Christ Jesus out of thankfulness for the free gift of justification by faith alone apart from works God has bestowed upon those who believe.
We don’t so much need men and women who will sign a their name on a doctrinal statement or a confession but who will, as it were, underline, by the cutting of their own lives and preaching, ‘Woe to me if I preach not the gospel’. James said it perfectly, when he wrote, by the Holy Spirit, “Do not be hearers of the word only, but doers also”.
Yes, we need men and women who are not afraid to stand alone for God’s truth. The time is nearly spent, the day is far gone. May the very hallmark of our lives and the striking reality of our speech, constitution and life be to uncompromisingly and unapologetically stand for the Gospel of Jesus Christ whether with others or alone. Woe to us if we don’t.