J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

The Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago online

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 17 of 36)
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forward more prominently than Rowlands. The blood, the
sacrifice, the righteousness, the kindness, the patience, the*
saving grace, the example, the greatness of the Lord Jesus, are



iqS richness of thought.

subjects which appear to run through every sermon, and to crop
out at every turn. It seems as if the preacher could never say
enough about his Master, and was never weary of commending
him to his hearers. His divinity and his humanity, his office
and his character, his death and his Hfe, are pressed on our
attention in every possible connection. Yet it all seems to
come in naturally, and without effort, as if it were the regular
outflowing of the preacher's mind, and the language of a heart
speaking from its abundance. Here, I suspect, was precisely
one of the great secrets of Rowlands' power. A ministry full of
the Lord Jesus is exactly the sort of ministry that I should
expect God to bless. Christ-honouring sermons are just the
sermons that the Holy. Spirit seals with success.

The second thing that I notice in the remains of Rowlands is
a singular richness of thought and matter. Tradition records
that he was a diligent student all his life, and spent a great deal
of time in the preparation of his sermons. I can quite beheve
this. Even in the miserable relics which we possess, I fancy I
detect strong internal evidence that he was deeply read in
Puritan divinity. I suspect that he was very familiar with the
writings of such men as Gurnall, Watson, Brooks, Clarkson,
and their contemporaries, and was constantly storing his mind
widi fresh thoughts from their pages. Those who imagine that
the great Welsh preacher was nothing but an empty declaimer
of trite commonplaces, bald platitudes, and hackneyed phrases,
with a lively manner and a loud voice, are utterly and entirely
mistaken. They will find, even in the tattered rags of his trans-
lated sermons, abundant proof that Rowlands was a man who
read much and thought much, and gave his hearers plenty to
carry away. Even in the thin little volume of eight sermons
.which I have, I find frequent quotations from Chrysostom,
Augustine, Ambrose, Bernard, and Theophylact. I find fre-
quent reference to things recorded by Greek and Latin classical
writers. I mark such names as Homer, Socrates, Plato, yEschines,



FELICITY OF LANGUAGE. 199

Aristotle, Pythagoras, Carneades. Alexander the Great, Julius
Caesar, Nero, the Augean stable, Thersites, and Xantippe, make
their appearance here and there. That Rowlands was indebted
to his friends the Puritans for most of these materials, I make
no question at all. But wherever he may have got his learning,
there is no doubt that he possessed it, and knew how to make
use of it in his sermons. In this respect I think he excelled all
his contemporaries. Not one of them shows so much reading
in his sermons as the curate of Llangeitho. Here again, I
venture to suggest, was one great secret of Rowlands' success.
The man who takes much pains with his sermons, and never
brings out what has " cost him nothing," is just the man I
expect God will bless. We want well-beaten oil for the service
of the sanctuary.

The third thing that I notice in the remains of Row^lands is
the curious felicity of the language in w^hich he expressed his
ideas. Of course this is a point on which I must speak diffi-
dently, knowing literally nothing of the Welsh tongue, and entirely
dependent on translation. But it is impossible to mistake certain
peculiarities in style w^hich stand forth prominently in every-
thing which comes from the great Welsh apostle's mind. He
abounds in short, terse, pithy, epigrammatic, proverbial sentences,'
of that kind which arrests the attention and sticks in the
memory of hearers. He has a singularly happy mode of quot-
ing Scriptures in confirming and enforcing the statement he
makes. Above all, he is rich in images and illustrations, drawn
from everything almost in the world, but always put in such a
way that the simplest mind can understand them. Much of the
peculiar interest of his preaching, I suspect, may be traced to
this talent of putting things in the most vivid and pictorial way.'
He made his hearers feel that they actually saw the things of
which he was speaking. No intelligent reader of the Bible, I
suppose, needs to be reminded that in all this Rowlands walked
in the footsteps of his divine Master. The sermons of Him



200 HIS PRACTICAL TEACHING.

who " spake as never man spake," were not elaborate rhetorical
arguments. Parables founded on subjects familiar to the
humblest intellect, terse, broad, sententious statements, were the
staple of our Lord Jesus Christ's preaching. Much of the
marvellous success of Rowlands, perhaps, may be traced up to
his wise imitation of the best of patterns, the great Head of the
Church.

The fourth and last thing which I notice in the remains of
Rowlands, is the large measure oi practical and experimental
teaching which enters into all his sermons. Anxious as he un-
doubtedly was to convert sinners and arouse the careless, he
never seems to forget the importance of guiding the Church of
God and building up believers. WarningSj counsels, encourage-
ments, consolations suited to professing Christians, are con-
tinually appearing in all his discourses. The peculiar character
of his ministerial position may partly account for this. He was
always preaching in the same place, and to many of the same
hearers, on Sundays. He was not nearly so much an itinerant
as many of his contemporaries. He could not, like Whitefield,
and Wesley* and Berridge, preach the same sermon over and
over again, and yet feel that probably none of his hearers had
heard it before. Set for the defence of the gospel at Llangeitho
every Sunday, and seeing every week the same faces looking up
to him, he probably found it absolutely necessary to " bring
forth new things as well as old," and to be often exhorting
many of his hearers not to stand still in first principles, but to
*' go on unto perfection." But be the cause what it may, there
is abundant evidence in the sermons of Rowlands that he never
forgot the believers among his people, and generally contrived
to say a good many things for their special benefit. Here
again, I venture to think, we have one more clue to his extra-
ordinary usefulness. He " rightly divided the word of truth,"
and gave to every man his portion. Most preachers of the
gospel, I suspect, fail greatly in this matter. They either neglect



HIS MANNER AND DELIVERY 201

the unconverted or the true Christians in their congregations.
They either spend their strength in perpetually teaching elemen-
tary truths, or else they dwell exclusively on the privileges and
duties of God's children. From this one-sided style of preach-
ing Rowlands seems to have been singularly free. Even in the
midst of the plainest addresses to the ungodly, he never loses
the opportunity of making a general appeal to the godly. In a
word, his ministry of God's truth was thoroughly well-balanced
and well-proportioned ; and this is just the ministry which we
may expect the Holy Ghost will bless.

The manner and delivery of this great man, when he was in
the act of preaching, require some special notice. Every sen-
sible Christian knows well that voice and delivery have a great
deal to say to the effectiveness of a speaker, and above all of
one who speaks in the pulpit. A sermon faultless both in doc-
trine and composition will often sound dull and tiresome, when
tamely read by a clergyman with a heavy monotonous manner.
A sermon of little intrinsic merit, and containing perhaps not
half-a-dozen ideas, will often pass muster as brilliant and elo-
quent, when delivered by a lively speaker with a good voice.
For want of good delivery some men make gold look hke copper,
while others, by the sheer force of a good delivery, make a few
halfpence pass for gold. Truths divine seem really " mended"
by the tongue of some, while they are marred and damaged by
others. There is deep wisdom and knowledge of human nature
• in the answer given by an ancient to one who asked what were
the first qualifications of an orator : " The first qualification,"
he said, " is action ; and the second is action ; and the third is
action." The meaning of course w^as, that it was almost im-
possible to overrate the importance of manner and delivery.

The voice of Rowlands, according to tradition, was remark-
ably powerful. We may easily believe this, when we recollect
that he used frequently to preach to thousands in the open air,
and to make himself heard by all without difticulty. But we



20 2 HIS POWERFUL VOICE.

must not suppose that power was the only attribute of his vocal
organ, and that he was nothing better than one who screamed,
shouted, and bawled louder than other ministers. There is
universal testimony from all good judges who heard him, that
his voice was singularly moving, affecting, anjd tender, and pos-
sessed a strange power of drawing forth the sympathies of his
hearers. In this respect he seems to have resembled Baxter
and Whitefield. Like Whitefield, too, his feelings never inter-
fered with the exercise of his voice; and even when his affections
moved him to tears in preaching, he was able to continue speak-
ing with uninterrupted clearness. It is a striking feature of the
moving character of his voice, that a remarkable revival of religion
began at Llangeitho while Rowlands was reading the Litany of
the Church of England. The singularly touching and melting
manner in which he repeated the words, " By thine agony and
bloody sweat, good Lord, deliver us," so much affected the whole
congregation, that almost all began to weep loudly, and an
awakening of spiritual life commenced which extended through-
out the neighbourhood.

Of the manner, demeanour, and action of Rowlands in the
delivery of his sermons, mention is made by all who write of
him. All describe them as being something so striking and
remarkable, that no one could have an idea of them but an
eye-witness. He seems to have combined in a most extraor-
• dinary degree solemnity and liveliness, dignity and familiarity,
depth and fervour. His singular plainness and directness made "
even the poorest feel at home when he preached; and yet he
never degenerated into levity or buffoonery. His images and
similes brought things home to his hearers with such graphic
power that they could not help sometimes smihng. But he
never made his Master's business ridiculous by pulpit joking. If
he did say things that made people smile occasionally, he far
more often said things that made them weep.

The following sketch by the famous Welsh preacher, Christ-



TESTIMONY OF CHRISTMAS EVANS. 203

mas Evans, will probably give as good an idea as we can now
obtain of Rowlands in the pulpit. It deserves the more atten-
tion, because it is the sketch of a Welshman, an eye-witness, a
keen observer, a genuine admirer of his hero, and one who was
himself in after-days a very extraordinary man : —

" Rowlands' mode of preaching was peculiar to himself —
inimitable. Methinks I see him now entering in his black
gown through a little door from the outside to the pulpit, and
making his appearance suddenly before the immense congrega-
tion. His countenance was in every sense adorned with ma-
jesty, and it bespoke the man of strong sense, eloquence, and
authority. His forehead was high and prominent ; his eye was
quick, sharp, and penetrating ; he had an aquiline or Roman
nose, proportionable comely lips, projecting chin, and a sono-
rous, commanding, and well-toned voice.

" When he made his appearance in the pulpit, he frequently
gave out, with a clear and audible voice. Psalm xxvii. 4 to be
sung. Only one verse was sung before sermon, in those days
notable for divine influences; but the whole congregation joined
in singing it with great fervour. Then Rowlands would stand
up, and read his text distinctly in the hearing of all. The whole
congregation were all ears and most attentive, as if they were
on the point of hearing some evangelic and heavenly oracle,
and the eyes of all the people were at the same time most
intensely fixed upon him. He had at the beginning of his dis-
course some stirring, striking idea, like a small box of ointment
which he opened before the great one of his sermon, and it
filled all the house with its heavenly perfume, as the odour of
Mary's alabaster box of ointment at Bethany ; and the congre-
gation being delightfully enlivened with the sweet odour, were
prepared to look for more of it from one box after the other
throughout the sermon.

" I will borrow another similitude in order to give some idea
of his most energetic eloquence. It shall be taken from the



204 TESTIMONY OF CHRISTMAS EVANS.

trade of a blacksmith. The smith first puts the iron into the
fire, and then blows the bellows softly, making some inquiries
respecting the work to be done, while his eye all the time is
fixed steadily on the process of heating the iron in the fire. But
as soon as he perceives it to be in a proper and pliable state,
he carries it to the anvil, and brings the weighty hammer and
sledge down on the metal, and in the midst of stunning noise
and fiery sparks emitted from the glaring metal, he fashions and
moulds it at his will.

" Thus Rowlands, having glanced at his notes as a matter of
form, would go on with his discourse in a calm and deliberate
manner, speaking with a free and audible voice ; but he would
gradually become warmed with his subject, and at length his
voice became so elevated and authoritative, that it resounded
through the whole chapel. The effect on the people was won-
derful ; you could see nothing but smiles and tears running
down the face of all. ' The first flame of heavenly devotion
under the first division having subsided, he would again look
on his scrap of notes, and begin the second time to melt and
make the minds of the people supple, until he formed them
again into the same heavenly temper. And thus he would do
six or seven times in the same sermon.

"Rowlands' voice, countenance, and appearance used to
change exceedingly in the pulpit, and he seemed to be greatly
excited ; but there was nothing low or disagreeable in him — all
was becoming, dignified, and excellent. There was such a
vehement, invincible flame in his ministry, as effectually drove
away the careless, worldly, dead spirit ; and the people so
awakened drew nigh, as it were, to the bright cloud — to Christ,
to Moses, and Elias — eternity and its amazing realities rushing
into their minds.

" There was very little, if any, inference or application at the
end of Rowlands' sermon, for he had been applying and en-
forcing the glorious truths of the gospel throughout the whole



OTHER WITNESSES, 205

of his discourse. He would conclude with a very few striking
and forcible remarks, which were most overwhelming and in-
vincible ; and then he would make a very sweet, short prayer,
and utter the benediction. Then he would make haste out of
the pulpit through the little door. His exit was as sudden as
his entrance. Rowlands was a star of the greatest magnitude
that appeared the last century in the Principality ; and perhaps
there has not been his like in Wales since the days of the
apostles."

It seems almost needless to add other testimony to this
graphic sketch, though it might easily be added. The late Mr.
Jones of Creaton, who was no mean judge, and heard the
greatest preachers in England and Wales, used to declare that
" he never heard but one Rowlands." The very first time he
heard him, he was so struck with his manner of delivery, as well
as his sermon, that it led him to a serious train of thought,
which ultimately ended in his conversion. — Charles of Bala,
himself a very eminent minister, said that there was a pecu-
liar " dignity and grandeur" in Rowlands' ministry, " as well
as profound thoughts, strength and melodiousness of voice,
and clearness and animation in exhibiting the deep things of
God." — A Birmingham minister, who came accidentally to a
place in Wales where Rowlands was preaching to an immense
congregation in the open air, says : " I never witnessed such a
scene before. The striking appearance of the preacher, and his
zeal, animation, and fervour were beyond description. Row-
lands' countenance was most expressive ; it glowed almost like
an angel's."

After saying so much about the gifts and power of this great
preacher, it is perhaps hardly fair to offer any specimens of his
sermons. To say nothing of the fact that we only possess them
in the form of translations, it must never be forgotten that true
pulpit eloquence can rarely be expressed on paper. Wise men
know well that sermons which are excellent to listen to, are just



206 SPECIMENS OF HIS SERMONS.

the sermons which do not " read " well. However, as I have
hitherto generally given my readers some illustrations of the
style of my last century heroes, they will perhaps be disap-
pointed if I do not give them a few passages from Rowlands'.

My first specimen shall be taken from his sermon on the
words, ^' All things work together for good to them that love
God" (Rom. viii. 28).

" Observe what he says. Make thou no exception, when he
makes none. All! remember he excepts nothing. Be thou
confirmed in thy faith ; give glory to God, and resolve, with Job,
' Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.' The Almighty
may seem for a season to be your enemy, in order that he may
become your eternal friend. Oh ! believers, after all your tribu-
lation and anguish, you must conclude with David, ' It is good
for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy
statutes.' Under all your disquietudes you must exclaim, * O
the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of
God ! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past
finding out!' His glory is seen when he works by means; it
is more seen when he works without means ; it is seen, above
all, when he works contrary to means. It was a great work to
open the eyes of the blind; it was a greater still to do it by
applying clay and spittle, things more likely, some think, to
take away sight than to restore. He sent a horror of great
darkness on Abraham, when he was preparing to give him the
best light. He touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh, and lamed
him, when he was going to bless him. He smote Paul with
blindness, when he was intending to open the eyes of his mind.
He refused the request of the woman of Canaan for a while,
but afterwards she obtained her desire. See, therefore, that all
the paths of the Lord are mercy, and that all things work to-
gether for good to them that love him.

" Even affliction is very useful and profitable to the godly.
The prodigal son had no thought of returning to his fathers



ON ROMANS VIII. 28. 207

house till he had been humbled by adversity. Hagar was
haughty under Abraham's roof, and despised her mistress ; but
in the wilderness she was meek and lowly. Jonah sleeps on
board ship, but in the whale's belly he watches and prays.
Manasseh lived as a libertine at Jerusalem, and committed the
most enormous crimes ; but when he was bound in chains in
the prison at Babylon his heart was turned to seek the Lord
his God. Bodily pain and disease have been instrumental in
rousing many to seek Christ, when those who were in high
health have given themselves no concern about him. The
ground which is not rent and torn with the plough bears nothing
but thistles and thorns. The vines will run wild, in process of
time, if they be not pruned and trimmed. So would our wild
hearts be overrun with filthy, poisonous weeds, if the true Vine-
dresser did not often check their growth by crosses and sanc-
tified troubles. ' It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in
his youth.' Our Saviour says, ' Every branch that beareth fruit,
my Father purgeth, that it may bring forth more fruit.' There
can be no gold or silver finely wrought without being first puri-
fied with fire, and no elegant houses built with stones till the
hammers have squared and smoothed them. So we can neither
become vessels of honour in the house of our Father till we are
melted in the furnace of affliction, nor lively stones in the walls
of new Jerusalem till the hand of the Lord has beaten off our
proud excrescences and tumours with his own hammers.

" He does not say that all things will., but do., work together
for good. The work is on the wheel, and every movement of
the wheel is for your benefit. Not only the angels who encamp
around you, or the saints who continually pray for you, but
even your enemies, the old dragon and his angels, are engaged
in this matter. It is true, this is not their design. No !
They think they are carrying on their own work of destroying
you, as it is said of the Assyrian whom the Lord sent to
punish a hypocritical nation, ' Howbeit, he meaneth not so ;'



2o8 SPECIMENS OF HIS SERMONS.

yet it was God's work that he was carrying on, though he did
not intend to do so. • All the events that take place in the
world carry on the same work — the glory of the Father and the
salvation of his children. Every illness and infirmity that may
seize you, every loss you may meet with, every reproach you
may endure, every shame that may colour your faces, every
sorrow in your hearts, every agony and pain in your flesh, every
aching in your bones, are for your good. Every change in your
condition — your fine weather and your rough weather, your
sunny weather and your cloudy weather, your ebbing and your
flowing, your liberty and your imprisonment, all turn out for
good. Oh, Christians, see what a harvest of blessings ripens
from this text ! The Lord is at work \ all creation is at work ;
men and angels, friends and foes, all are busy, working together
for good. Oh, dear Lord Jesus, what hast thou seen in us that
thou shouldst order things so wondrously for us, and make all
things — all things to work together for our good"?"

My second specimen shall be taken from his sermon on
Rev. iii. 20 : —

" Oh, how barren and unfruitful is the soul of man, until the
word descends like rain upon it, and it is watered with the dew
of heaven ! But when a few drops have entered and made it
supple, what a rich harvest of graces do they produce! Is
the heart so full of malice that the most suppliant knee can
expect no pardon? Is it as hard to be pacified and calmed as
the roaring sea when agitated by a furious tempest ? Is it a
covetous heart ; so covetous that no scene of distress can soften
it into sympathy, and no object of wretchedness extort a penny
from its gripe? Is it a wanton and adulterous heart, which
may as soon be satisfied as the sea can be filled with gold % Be
it so. But when the word shall 'drop on it as the rain, and
distil as the dew,' behold, in an instant the flint is turned into
flesh, the tumultuous sea is hushed into a calm, and the moun-
tains of Gilboa are clothed with herbs and flowers, where before



ON^ HEBREWS L 9. 2 09'*

not a green blade was to be seen ! See the mighty change !
It converts Zaccheus, the hard-hearted publican and rapacious
tax-gatherer, into a restorer of what he had unjustly gotten, and
a merciful reliever of the needy. It tames the furious perse-
cuting Saul, and makes him gentle as a lamb. It clothes Ahab
with sackcloth and ashes. It reduces Felix to such anguish of
mind that he trembles like an aspen leaf. It disposes Peter to
leave his nets, and makes him to catch thousands of souls at
one draught in the net of the gospel. Behold, the w^orld is con-
verted to the faith, not by the magicians of Egypt, but by the
outcasts of Judaea !"

The last specimen that I will give is from his sermon on
Heb. i. 9: —

" Christ took our nature upon him that he might sympathize
with us. Almost every creature is tender toward its own kind,
however ferocious to others. The bear will not be deprived of
her whelps without resistance: she will tear the spoiler to
pieces if she can. But how great must be the jealousy of the
Lord Jesus for his people ! He will not lose any of them. He
has taken them as members of himself, and as such watches
over them with fondest care. How much will a man do for
one of his members before he suffers it to be cut off % Think
not, O man, that thou wouldst do more for thy members than
the Son of God. To think so would be blasphemy, for the
pre-eminence in all things belongs to him. Yea, he is acquainted
with all thy temptations, because he was in all things tempted
as thou art. Art thou tempted to deny God % So was he.



Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 17 of 36)