‘Rainy day’ may sound sad… but rain is wonderful… as are these two quotes. The first is from J.C. Ryle. One of my favorites of his is The Christian Leaders of the Last Century. This excerpt is from volume 2, pp. 304-305. It’s worth reading through, and is the tale of an interaction that opened the eyes of one of Ryle’s important English preachers (James Hervey of Weston Favell) to the reality of righteousness in Christ alone:
The unsatisfactory character of Hervey’s theology at the beginning of his ministry is well illustrated by the following anecdote.
In one of the Northhamptonshire parishes where he preached before 1741, there lived a ploughman who usually attended the ministry of Dr. Doddridge, and was well-informed in the doctrines of grace. Hervey being ordered by his physicians, for the benefit of his health, to follow the plough, in order to smell the fresh earth, frequently accompanied this ploughman when he was working.
Knowing that he was a serious man, he said to him one morning, “What do you think is the hardest thing in religion?”
The ploughman replied; “Sir, I am a poor man, and you are a minister; I beg leave to return the question.”
Then said Mr. Hervey: “I think the hardest thing is to deny sinful self’; grounding his opinion on our Lord’s admonition, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself.”
“I argued,” said Mr. Hervey, “upon the import and extent of the duty, showing that merely to forbear sinful actions is little, and that we must deny admittance and entertainment to evil imaginations and quench irregular desires. In this way I shot my random bolt.”
The ploughman quietly replied: “Sir, there is another instance of self-denial to which the injunction of Christ equally extends, which is the hardest thing in religion, and that is to deny righteous self.
“You know I do not come to hear you preach, but go every Sunday with my family to hear Dr. Doddridge at Northampton. We rise early in the morning, and have prayer before we set out, in which I find pleasure. Walking there and back I find pleasure. Under the sermon I find pleasure. When at the Lord’s table I find pleasure. We return, read a portion of Scripture, and go to prayer in the evening, and I find pleasure. But yet, to this moment, I find it the hardest thing to deny righteous self, I mean to renounce my own strength and righteousness, and not to lean on that for holiness or rely on this for justification.”
In repeating this story to a friend, Mr. Hervey observed, “I then hated the righteousness of Christ. I looked at the man with astonishment and disdain, and though him an old fool, and wondered at what I fancied the motley mixture of piety and oddity in his notions.
“I have since seen clearly who was the fool; not the wise old ploughman, but the proud James Hervey. I now discern sense, solidity, and truth in his observations.”