Tag Archives: Ryle

Rainy Day Quote I

‘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.”

Auld Lang Syne

2010 has officially begun. Every year seems to go more quickly than the last; it will probably take me three months just to get my mind to think of this year as 2010 and not 2009.

Thinking about the New Year and times passing makes me think of Auld Lang Syne. The song is an old Scottish one, and the phrase is, loosely translated, Times gone by.

Times gone by. 2000 years since my Savior was on earth. 233-odd years of the United States as a country. 4-some odd years since my grandparents went to be with the Lord. 3 years since we were blessed with our first child.

Times gone by.

Theologically, I wonder about humanity in all these years. Are the issues the same, through the centuries? Does the church struggle with the same doctrinal questions? Were people of years past more strongly planted, more firmly founded, than we in our day are?

I’ve just finished reading a book which speaks to that question… it’s called The Christian Leaders of the Last Century. But it’s not about the 1900’s. It was written by J. C. Ryle in the 1800’s, of Christian leaders in the early 1700’s. So it is fascinating to see what he (in the 1800’s) thought the issues of church leaders were 100 years prior… what he brings out, and how the men are presented. He details 11 men in England, all clergy, including a couple that you’ve heard of (Whitehead, Wesley) and many that you (probably) haven’t.

I’ve been amazed at the piercing commentary that Ryle has of the spiritual walk and foundation of these men who lived before the United States existed. He could be speaking of people I know, of concerns I have, of struggles seen all around me.

Let me quote just a couple:

On John Berridge, curate of Stapleford:
“Berridge entered on his duties with great zeal, and a sincere desire to do good, and served his church regularly from college for no less than six years. He took great pains with his parishioners, and pressed upon them very earnestly the importance of sanctification, but without producing the slightest effect on their lives. His preaching…was striking; his life was moral, upright, and correct. His diligence as a pastor was undeniable… (but) the fact was that up to this time he was utterly ignorant of the gospel. He knew nothing aright of Christ crucified, of justification by faith in His blood, of salvation by grace, of the complete present forgiveness of all who believe…”

Berridge himself relates that He “saw the rock on which he had been splitting for many years, by endeavoring to blend the Law and the Gospel, and to unite Christ’s righteousness with his own.” His ministry over the next thirty years then bore much fruit as he preached Jesus Christ alone and salvation by faith alone.

It is striking and helpful to see J.C. Ryle, in the 1800’s, look at spiritual growth in John Berridge, in the 1700’s, and positively represent the necessity of the gospel – faith alone, imputed righteousness alone.

It’s not only with John Berridge. Another example is another clergy, James Hervey of Weston Favell. Ryle relates his early ministry as one of sincerity and purity of mind and zeal… but one who had not yet got his feet on the Rock. He relates a letter by George Whitefield, a contemporary, to Hervey:

“I long to have my dear friend come forth and preach the truth as it is in Jesus; not a righteousness or holiness of our own, whereby we make ourselves meet, but the righteousness of another, even the Lord our righteousness; upon the imputation and apprehending of which by faith we shall be made meet by His Holy Spirit to live with and enjoy God.” (Whitefield, to Hervey).

Hervey, like Berridge, was preaching morality and self-righteousness mixed into the gospel.

The wonderful account that is recorded by Ryle is… that Hervey grew.

At a later date, Hervey wrote to Whitefield:
“I own, with shame and sorrow, I have been a blind leader of the blind. My tongue and my pen have perverted the good ways of the Lord, have darkened the glory of redeeming merit and sovereign grace. I have dared to invade the glories of an all-sufficient Saviour, and to pluck the crown off His head My writings… presumed to give works a share in the redemption and recovery of a lost sinner…”

Ryle notes how interesting to see the work of the Spirit slowly in the life of Hervey, moving his theological opinions more in line with God’s truth in the grace of His Son.

How fascinating! This is the 1700’s!

From reading this book about men I do not personally know who lived before my great-great-great grandfather was alive, I’m encouraged. The issues are the same: the gospel vs. anything else. And the Spirit worked then, as now, in opening eyes and changing hearts… some quickly, some slowly, but all who are His come to know His redeeming grace from which truth, righteousness, and salvation flow.

Happy New Year, all. And as Auld Lang Syne, may you (and I) continue to grow in the grace and truth that is in Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, now and forever.