J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

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

. (page 36 of 36)
Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 36 of 36)
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namely, Grimshavv, Berridge, and Venn— took their degrees at
Cambridge. Toplady was educated at Trinity College, Dublin.
Rowlands and Fletcher alone w^ere at no University at all. Let
this fact also be carefully remembered. The common notion
that the men who turned England upside down last century
were mere common-place, illiterate, ignorant, uneducated fana-
tics, is a stupid mistake. So far from this being the case, the
eleven clergymen described in this volume were in all proba-
bility better read and more furnished with knowledge than most
ministers of their day.

For another thing, the majority of the eleven clergymen who
led the revival of last .century were married men. Of the four
who never married, three died at a comparatively early age, of
consumption, namely, Hervey, Toplady, and Walker, The


most eminent one of the eleven who died unmarried was Ber-
ridge, and he, we have seen, was so quaint, that he was always
unlike other men. This fact is one that ought not to be over-
looked. In a day when celibacy is held up to admiration as
the grand secret of exalted spirituality, it is worth remembering
that devoted servants of God like Grimshaw, Rowlands, Venn,
and Romaine, could walk with God like Enoch, and yet, like
Enoch, " live according to God's ordinance in the holy estate of
matrimony." The minister who has no sons and daughters of
his own, suffers immense loss in the study of human nature.

It only remains for me now to point out a few practical
lessons which appear to flow naturally from the biographies
which fill the pages of this book. They are lessons which are
strongly impressed on my own mind. Thankful should I be
if I could impress them on the minds of others !

I. In the first place, would we know the right instrumentality
for doing good in the present day % Evil is about us and upon
us on every side, evil from Romanism, evil from infidelity,
evil from tractarianism, evil from neologianism, evil amidst the
working classes, evil amidst the educated bodies. What is the
true remedy for the disease % What is the weapon to be wielded
if we would meet the foe % Can anything be done % Is there
no hope %

I answer boldly that the true remedy for all the evils of our
day is the same remedy that proved effectual a hundred years
ago — the same pure unadulterated doctrine that the men of
whom I have been writing used to preach, and the same kind
of preachers. I am bold to say that we want nothing new —
no new systems, no new school of teaching, no new theology,
no new ceremonial, no new gospel. We want nothing but the
old truths rightly preached and rightly brought home to con-
sciences, minds, and wills. The evangelical system of theology
revived England a hundred years ago, and I have faith to believe
that it could revive it again.


There never has been good done in the world excepting by
the faithful preaching of evangelical truth. From the days of
the apostles down to this time, there have been no victories
won, no spiritual successes obtained, except by the doctrines
which wrought deliverance a hundred years ago. Where are
the conquests of neologianism and tractarianism over heathen-
ism, irreligion, immorality % Where are the nations they have
Christianized, the parishes they have evangelized, the towns
they have turned from darkness to light % You may well ask
where] You will get no answer. The good that has been
done in the world, however small, has always been done by
evangelical doctrines ; and if men who are not called " evan-
gelical" have had successes, they have had them by using
evangelical weapons. They have ploughed with our heifer, or
they would never have had any harvest to show at all.

I repeat it emphatically, for I believe it sincerely. The first
want of our day is a return to the old, simple, and sharply-cut
doctrines of our fathers in the last century; and the second want
is a generation of like-minded and like-gifted men to preach
them. Give me in any county of England and Wales a man
like Grimshaw or Rowlands or Whitefield, and there is nothing
in the present day which would make me afraid. I confidently
believe that in the face of such men and such preaching ritual-
ism, neologianism, and infidelity would be paralyzed and wither

2. Would we know, in the next place, why the ministers who
profess to follow the evangelical fathers of last century are so
much less successful than they were % The question is a deli-
cate and interesting one, and ought not to be shelved. The
suspicion naturally crosses some minds, that the doctrines which
won victories a hundred years ago are worn out, and have lost
their power. I believe that theor}^ to be an entire mistake.
The answer which I give to the inquiry is one of a very dif-
ferent kind.


I am obliged then to say plainly, that, in my judgment, we
have among us neither the men nor the doctrines of the days
gone by. We have none who preach with such peculiar power
as Whitefield or Rowlands. We have none who in self-denial,
singleness of eye, diligence, holy boldness, and unworldliness,
come up to the level of Grimshaw, Walker, Venn, and Fletcher.
It is a humbling conclusion ; but I have long felt that it is the
truth. We lack both the men and the message of the last century.
What wonder if we do not see the last century's results. Give
us like men and a like message, and I have no fear that the
Holy Ghost would grant us like results.

Wherein do evangelical Churchmen fall short of their great
predecessors in the last century % Let us look this question fairly
in the face. Let us come to particulars. They fall short in
doctrine. They are neither so full nor so distinct, nor so bold,
nor so uncompromising. They are afraid of strong statements.
They are too ready to fence, and guard, and qualify all their
teaching, as if Christ's gospel was a little baby, and could not
be trusted to walk alone. They fall short as preachers. They
have neither the fervour, nor fire, nor thought, nor illus-
tration, nor directness, nor holy boldness, nor grand simplicity
of language which characterized the last century. Above
all, they fall short in life. They are not men of one thing,
separate from the world, unmistakable men of God, minis-
ters of Christ everywhere, indifferent to man's opinion, regard-
less who is offended, if they only preach truth, always about
their Father's business, as Grimshaw and Fletcher used to be.
They do not make the world feel that a prophet is among them,
and carry about with them their Master's presence, as Moses
when he came down from the mount. I write these things with
sorrow. I desire to take my full share of blame. But I do
believe I ain speaking the truth.

It is no use trying to evade the truth on this subject. I fear
that, as a general rule, the evangelical ministry in England has


fallen far below the standard of the last century, and that the
simple account of the want of success to which so many point is,
the low standard both of doctrine and life which prevails. Ease
and popularity, and the absence of persecution, are ruinous to
some. Political questions eat out the vitality of others. An
extravagant and excessive attention to the petty details of parish
machinery withers up the ministry of others. An absurd strain-
ing after the reputation of being "intellectual" and original is
the curse of others. A desire to seem charitable and liberal,
and keep in with everybody, paralyzes the ministry of others.
The plague is abroad. We want a revival among evangelical
ministers. Once let the evangelical ministry of England return
to the ways of the last centur>', and I firmly believe we should
have as much success as before. We are where we are, because
we have come short of our fathers.

3. Last of all comes the all-important question, What ought
we to do % I answer confidently. There are three things which
we shall do well to remember, if we wish our work to prosper.
First, let us resolve to cast in our lot boldly on the side of what
I must call " evangeUcal" religion in England. Let us not be
moved by the sneers and contempt which are poured on it in
some quarters. Let us cleave to it, hold it fast, and never let
it go. Let us beware of the plausible charity which says, " All
earnest men hold the truth. No earnest man can err." Let us
beware of the idolatry of intellect, which says, "A man cannot
make mistakes in doctrine if he is a clever man." Of both these
dangers let us beware. Let us lay hold firmly on evangelical
religion as the truth of God, and never be ashamed to confess
it. Let us stand by it, and it will stand by us in the hour of
sickness and on the bed of death, in the swelHngs of Jordan,
and in the day of judgment.

Next, let us resolve to work heartily for evangelical truth,
each in his own place. There is always work for every one
before his own door. Let us never stand still because we are


in a minority. What though we stand alone in a house of
business, alone in the banking-house, alone in a regiment, alone
in a ship, alone in a family! What of it % Let us think of the
little company who shook England one hundred years ago, and
work on. It is truth, not numbers, which shall always in the end
l)revail. The three hundred at Thermopylae w^ere better than
the million of Persians. A small minority of evangelical Chris-
tians with the gospel in their hearts are stronger than a host of
servants of the Pope, the devil, and the world.

And let us pray, last of all, as well as work. Let us pray
night and day that God would revive his work in England, and
raise up many more instruments to do his will. Let us pray with
the abiding thought that God's arm is not shortened, that what he
has done he can do again, and that the same God who wrought
so mightily for England one hundred years ago can do greater
things still. Let us ask Him who holds the stars in his right
hand to revive his work among our ministers, and to raise up
men for our times. He can do it. He is willing to do it. He
waits to be entreated. Then let all who pray cry night and day
to the Lord of the harvest, " Lord, send forth more labourers
into thy harvest."


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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 36 of 36)