“If Christ is your friend, you have great privileges, and ought to walk worthy of them. Seek every day to have closer communion with Him, who is your friend, and to know more of His grace and power. True Christianity is not merely believing a certain set of dry abstract propositions; it is to live in daily personal communication with an actual living person – Jesus the Son of God. ‘To me,’ said Paul, ‘to live is Christ’ (Phil.1 :21). Seek every day to glorify your Lord and Saviour, in all your ways.”
— Bishop J.C. Ryle, Pastor and Preacher in The Best Friend: sermon preached in Chester Cathedral in 1878.
“One of the most encouraging and hopeful signs I have observed for many a long day in church circles — especially in ones who take the Bible seriously — has been a renewed and increasing interest in the writings of Bishop J.C. Ryle. In his time as a bishop in the Church of England, he was famous, outstanding and beloved as a champion and exponent of evangelical and reformed Anglicanism. For some reason, however, his name and his works are not familiar to modern evangelicals. His books are, I believe, all out of print in this country and very difficult to obtain second-hand.”
So wrote Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones in 1956 for the reprint of Ryle’s Holiness. Happily, Bishop Ryle’s books are no longer so hard to find. Surprisingly, many of my friends have never even heard of him. It’s always a great surprise and delight to be able to introduce someone you know to one of your heroes — and Bishop Ryle is most definitely one of mine.
In his day — he died 100 years ago — there were published ‘tracts’ which were distributed in London and elsewhere to the general public. Bishop Ryle’s sermons were reprinted each Monday, and sold by the thousand. He was a brilliant writer, preacher and leader, and great was his impact in the Church of England of the 1800s.
Charles Spurgeon, another of the great Victorian evangelicals — though not himself an Anglican — described Ryle as “the best man in the Church of England.” He was the first bishop of the newly-formed diocese of Liverpool, from 1880 until 1900.
What was his secret? Simply that he spoke to the people in terms they could understand, from the Bible, in a way which conveyed his deep convictions about the truths it contained. He never varied the source of his messages.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones summarizes: “The characteristics of Bishop Ryle’s method and style are obvious. He is pre-eminently and always Scriptural and expository. He never starts with a theory into which he tries to fit various scriptures. He always starts with the Word and expounds it. It is exposition at its very best and highest. It is always clear and logical and invariably leads to a clear enunciation of doctrine. It is strong and virile and entirely free from the sentimentality that is often described as ‘devotional.’”
As rector of a small parish, J.C. Ryle managed, by each Wednesday prayer meeting, to prepare a commentary on the Gospel reading for the following Sunday. These have been collected and published for the church today, and include comment on every verse of each of the four Gospels.
When I was in seminary, our instructor directed us to these volumes as models of Biblical exposition. I have no doubt the good Bishop would be shocked at the impact on the world his offerings for his own small parish have had.
Rev. Guy Bellerby, Christ’s Church (Oceanside), Nanoose Bay