CONFERENCE TALK: LIFE AND MINISTRY OF J.C. RYLE – PART 6 (FINAL)
- He Faced Controversy in Standing for the Truth
- Ryle disturbed the hornet’s nest of lukewarm Christianity with his preaching and stand. Complaints were brought against him very early in his ministry when he spoke against late-night cricket matches on Saturdays. And when the young Ryle refused to join in cards, dances or parties, he was ridiculed as being ‘an enthusiastic, fanatical mad dog’.
- When Ryle was in Winchester, the third son of the evangelical politician William Wilberforce, Samuel Wilberforce tried to persuade him to his inclination towards Roman Catholicism (especially on ‘baptismal regeneration’). This is made worse by Samuel’s close association with the Ryle family. Ryle never wavered in his beliefs but suspected that Wilberforce inwardly disliked him because of his uncompromising stance.
- Ryle also courted controversy when he called attention to great Christian ministers of the past, like George Whitefield and Richard Baxter. He had no problem extolling the virtues and lessons that the Puritans had. He wrote: “Settle it down in your minds, that for sound doctrine, spirituality and learning combined, the Puritans stand at the head of English divines. Settle it down in your minds that with all their faults, weaknesses and defects, they alone kept the lamp of pure evangelical religion burning in this country….” Criticisms against his lectures and writings on the Puritans were immediate, as there were many who were against the Puritans, believing that they were opponents of the Church.
- The Church Association was a new society formed in 1865 that acted as a disciplinary body that would challenge those introducing various forms of Roman Catholicism and heresies into the church. Ryle gave his full backing in this, believing that discipline is necessary to protect the Church of England from heresy and false teachings. Needless to say, this made him the target for those who wanted to return the Anglican Church back to Rome.
- Even though Ryle tried to encourage tolerance in the non-essential doctrines of the Gospel, he was very firm concerning the essentials. In addressing his fellow evangelical ministers in 1858, he said: “No doubt we all love unity; but we must distinctly maintain, that true unity can only be built on God’s truth… Better build by ourselves, better let the work go on slowly, than allow Sanballat and Tobiah to come and build by our side. I believe that all communion… [and] interchange (sharing) of pulpits with unsound men as doing… harm to the cause of God.” He called on fellow evangelicals within the Church of England to be careful over who they are associating with and counselled them to absent themselves from gathering with those who are ‘objectionable and unsound men’. His principles on these matters were applied in the appointment of ministers under his jurisdiction. Some who applied for the ministry were denied, either for ‘utter ignorance’ or ‘sad unsoundness in doctrine’. As we have seen previously, his principles were severely tested in the case of his son’s removal from working under him, as an examining/visiting minister for not believing that the Bible is the Word of God.
- The devil does not disturb where Christ is not preached. We can only wonder how Ryle would react if he is able to see the current condition of the Church of England. It is likely that he would not be surprised at the great apostasy and departure from Truth that is now the rule for all Anglicans. He always knew that a little compromise will lead to greater compromises.
- What about us? Will be stand firm on God’s doctrines and practices for the Church or will we embrace the compromises brought in by the world? Will we be ready to separate ourselves from those who embrace heresies? Are we ready to receive rejection and even persecution from the world?
After surviving a stroke and ill health, the aged J.C. Ryle retired from his duties as the Bishop of Liverpool at the end of February 1900. He was 84 years old when he passed away on the Lord’s Day, the 10th of June 1900. During the funeral, his favourite hymn was sung, “Rock of Ages”. Let us find encouragement in this faithful servant of God who clung to the Cross constantly and tightly through it all.