Conference Talk: Life and Ministry of J.C. Ryle – Part 1
A Faithful Minister
- In the “Liverpool Review” dated 21st November 1885, the following was written: “Dr Ryle is simply about the most disastrous episcopal failure ever inflicted upon a long-suffering diocese… he is nothing better than a political fossil.” In 1887, another newspaper wrote: “His name will stink in history”. Despite these unfavourable views, J.C. Ryle was unashamed of his evangelical stand and love for Reformed theology and the Puritans.
- A minister under Ryle’s leadership testified: “He was great in stature; great in mental power; great in spirituality; great as a preacher and expositor of God’s most holy Word; great in hospitality; great as a writer of Gospel tracts; great as a Bishop of the Reformed Evangelical Protestant Church in England, of which he was a noble defender; great as first Bishop of Liverpool. I am bold to say, that perhaps few men in the nineteenth century did as much for God, for truth, and for righteousness, among the English speaking race, and in the world, as our late Bishop.”
- Given time constraints, we would like to consider only six main points concerning J.C. Ryle and his ministry. God-willing, these points would challenge and cause us to reflect upon our own service to the Lord.
- He Learnt the Danger of Worldly Distractions
- John Charles Ryle (henceforth known as J.C. Ryle or Ryle) was born on the 10th of May 1816 at Macclesfield, a small town located in the North West of England. He is the fourth child born to John Ryle Junior and Susanna Hurt; he has three older sisters and one younger sister and brother. He was born into a wealthy family, the bulk of their fortune inherited from his grandfather, John Ryle Senior. His grandfather was a middle-class property owner, who investments at the right time in the silk and cotton industry, lifting their status to the upper-class in Macclesfield.
- John Ryle Senior was a staunch Christian, who was converted after his mother (J.C. Ryle’s great-grandmother) was converted first under the preaching of John Wesley in the 18th The Methodists at that time were much disliked by the general people because of their strict believes and practices. By God’s providence, despite much tension, John Ryle Senior became the first Methodist to hold the post of Mayor in the town. Historical documents showed that John Ryle Senior was heavily involved in supporting the local Methodist church work. It is therefore astonishing to hear J.C. Ryle confess that:
My father’s house was respectable, and well-conducted, but there really was not a bit of religion in it. We had no family prayers at all… Conversation on Sunday went on much as on a weekday. Letters were read and written, and newspapers read just the same as on weekdays. The plain truth is, that for the first 16 or 17 years of my life, there was no ministry of the gospel at the Churches we attended. The ministers were wretched… and their preaching was not [planned] to do good to anybody. We had no real religious friends or relatives and no real Christian ever visited our house… We sometimes heard rumours when we were children, of certain strange ministers who were called Evangelical, but we never came across any of them; and were… brought up to regard them as well-meaning, extravagant, fanatical enthusiasts, who carried things a great deal too far in religion. To sum up all… for about the first 18 years of my life, neither at home, nor school, nor college, nor among my relatives or friends, had I anything to do good to my soul, or to teach me anything about Jesus Christ.
- Is it not amazing that in just one generation so much have changed in the spiritual life of the Ryle family! What happened to his own father, John Ryle Junior? According to J.C. Ryle: “…my grandfather died [in 1808] unfortunately when [my father] was young [24 years old] and he came into his fortune unfortunately too soon, left the [Methodists], and got thrown into the company of men who did him no good.” Two years later, the second John Ryle also became the mayor like John Ryle Senior. This sudden inheritance of fortune and responsibility, coupled with a new and growing family, threw the second John Ryle into constant busyness, resulting in him being often absent from home and forgetting all the spiritual lessons taught to him.
- Like godly King Hezekiah who had an ungodly son named Manasseh, godliness is not something that can be automatically passed on from one generation to another. We must remember that any spiritual advantage or privilege that we may have can be lost in the midst of busying ourselves in the world. Perhaps having learnt this lesson from his father’s spiritual decline, J.C. Ryle purposely wrote an autobiography for his own family members so that the legacy of God’s grace upon him may endure and serve as a constant reminder.
To be continued.