J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

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

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me that book ! At any price give me the book of God ! I
have it : here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be a man
of one book. Here, then, I am free from the busy ways of
men. I sit down alone : only God is here. In his presence
I open, I read his book ; for this end — to find the way to
heaven. Is there a doubt concerning the meaning of what I
read? — does anything appear dark and intricate?—! lift up my
heart to the Father of lights : Lord, is it not thy word, '' If any
man lack wisdom, let him ask of God :" thou givest liberally,
and upbraidest not. Thou hast said, if any be willing to do
thy will he shall know. I am willing to do ; let me know thy
Avill. I then search after and consider parallel passages of
Scripture, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. I meditate
thereon with all the earnestness and attention of which my
mind is capable. If any doubt still remains, I consult those
who are experienced in the ways of God ; and then the writings
whereby, being dead, they yet speak. And what I thus learn
that I teach.'

" But some may say, I have mistaken the way myself, although
I have undertaken to teach it to others. It is probable that
many will think this, and it is very possible that I have. But
I trust, whereinsoever I have mistaken, my mind is open to
conviction. I sincerely desire to be better informed. I say to
God and man, ' WHiat I know not teach thou me.'


'•Are you persuaded you see more clearly than me? It is
not unlikely that you may. Then treat me as you would
desire to be treated yourself upon a change of circumstances.
Point me out a better way than I have yet known. Show me
it is so by plain proof of Scripture. And if I linger in the path
I have been accustomed to tread, and therefore I am unwilling
to leave it, labour with me a little ; take me by the hand and
lead me as I am able to bear. But be not discouraged if I
entreat you not to beat me down in order to quicken my pace :
I can go but feebly and slowly at best : then I should not be
able to go at all. May I not request you, further, not to give
me hard names, in order to bring me into the right way.
Suppose I was ever so much in the wrong, I doubt this would
not set me right. Rather it would make me run so much the
further from you, and so get more and more out of the way.

"Nay! perhaps if you are angry, so shall I be too ; and then
there will be small hopes of finding the truth. If once anger
arises, its smoke will so dim the eyes of my soul that I shall be
able to see nothing clearly. For God's sake, if it be possible
to avoid it, let us not provoke one another to wrath. Let us
not kindle in each other this fire of hell ; much less blow it up
into a flame. If we could discern truth by that dreadful light,
would it not be loss rather than gain % For how far is love,
even with many wrong opinions, to be preferred before truth
itself without love ! We mav die without the knowledo:e of
many truths, and yet be carried into Abraham's bosom. But
if we die without love, what will knowledge avail? Just as
much as it avails the devil and his angels !"

The next specimen of John Wesley's mind shall be an extract
from a sermon preached by him at St. Mary's, Oxford, before
the University, on June 18, 1738, from the words, "By grace
ye are saved through faith " (Ephes. ii. 8). It concludes with
the following passages : — -

"At this time more especially will we speak, that by grace ye


at'C saved tlwough faiih, because never was the maintaining this
doctrine more seasonable than it is at this day. Nothing but
this can effectually prevent the increase of the Romish delusion
among us. It is endless to attack one by one all the errors of
that Church. But salvation by faith strikes at the root, and all
fall at once when this is established. It was this doctrine,
which our Church justly calls the strong rock and foundation
of the Christian religion, that first drove Popery out of these
kingdoms, and it is this alone can keep it out. Nothing but
this can give a check to that immorality which hath overspread
the land as a flood. Can you empty the great deep drop by
drop ] Then you may reform us by dissuasion from particular
vices. But let the righteousness which is of God by faith be
brought in, and so shall its proud waves be stayed. Nothing
but this can stop the mouths of those who glory in their shame,
and openly 'deny the Lord that bought them.' They can talk
as sublimely of the law as he that hath it written by God in his
heart. To hear them speak on this head might incline one to
think they were not far from the kingdom of God. But take
them out of the law into the gospel ; begin with the righteous-
ness of faith, with Christ the end of the law to every one that
believeth; and those who but now appeared almost if not alto-
gether Christians, stand confessed the sons of perdition, as far
from life and salvation (God be merciful unto them) as the
depth of hell from the height of heaven.

" For this cause the adversary so rages whenever salvation by
faith is declared to the Avorld. For this reason did he stir up
earth and hell to destroy those who preached it. And for the
same reason, knowing that faith alone could overturn the
foundation of his kingdom, did he call forth all his forces, and
employ all his arts of lies and calumny, to affright that champion
of the Lord of hosts, Martin Luther, from reviving it. Nor can
we wonder thereat ; for as that man of God observes. How
would it enrage a proud, strong man, armed, to be stopped and


set at nought by a little child coming against him with a reed
in his hand? Especially when he knew that little child would
surely overthrow him and tread him under foot. Even so,
Lord Jesus ! thus hath thy strength been even made perfect in
weakness ! Go forth then, thou little child that believest in
Ilim, and his right hand shall teach thee terrible things.
Though thou art helpless and weak as an infant of days, the strong
man shall not be able to stand before thee. Thou shalt prevail
over him, and subdue him, and overthrow him, and trample him
under thy feet. Thou shalt march on with the great Captain
of thy salvation, conquering and to conquer, until all thine
enemies are destroyed, and death is swallowed up in victory."

The next specimen that I will give of John Wesley's preach-
ing is the conclusion of his sermon on justification by faith. It
ends with the following striking paragraph. The text is
Romans iv. 5 : —

" Thou ungodly one who hearest or readest these words, thou
vile, helpless, miserable sinner, I charge thee before God, the
judge of all, go straight unto Jesus with all thy ungodliness.
Take heed thou destroy not thine own soul by pleading thy
righteousness more or less. Go as altogether ungodly, guilty,
lost, destroyed, deserving and dropping into hell ; and thus shalt
thou find favour in his sight, and know that he justifieth the un-
godly. As such thou shalt be brought unto the blood of sprink-
ling, as an undone, helpless, damned sinner. Thus look unto
Jesus ! There is the Lamb of God, who taketh away thy sins !
Plead thou no works, no righteousness of thine own ! no humi-
lity, contrition, sincerity. In no wise. That were, in very
deed, to deny the Lord that bought thee. No ! Plead thou
singly the blood of the covenant, the ransom paid for thy proud,
stubborn, sinful soul. Who art thou that now seest and feelest
both thine inward and outward ungodliness % Thou art the
man ! I want thee for my Lord. I challenge thee for a child
of God by faith. The Lord hath need of thee. Thou who


feelest thou art just fit for hell art just fit to advance his glory,
the glory of free grace, justifying the ungodly and him that
worketh not. Oh, come quickly ! Believe in the Lord Jesus ;
and thou, even thou, art reconciled to God."

The last example of John Wesley's preaching that I will
bring before the reader, is a portion of a sermon preached by
him at St. Mary's, Oxford, before the University, in 1744. The
text is Acts iv. 31, and the title of the sermon is "Scriptural
Christianity." After asking the question, "Where does Scrip-
tural Christianity exist?" he proceeds to address his hearers in
the following manner. — These hearers, we must remember, were
the University of Oxford, Heads of Houses, Professors, Fellows,
Tutors, and other residents : —

" I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, if ye do
account me a madman or a fool, yet as a fool bear with me.
It is utterly needful that some one should use great plainness
of speech towards you. It is more especially needful at this
time ; for who knoweth but it may be the last. Who knoweth
how soon the righteous Judge may say : ' I will no more be
entreated for this people. Though Noah, Daniel, and Job were
in this land, they should but deliver their own souls.' And who
will use this plainness if I do not % Therefore I, even I, will
speak. And I adjure you, by the living God, that ye steel not
your hearts against receiving a blessing at my hands. Do not
say in your hearts, *" non perstiadehis etiauisi persuaseris ;' or, in
other words, ' Lord, thou shalt not send by whom thou wilt send.
Let me rather perish in my blood than be saved by this man.'

"Brethren, I am persuaded better things of you. though I
thus speak. Let me ask you then, in tender love, and in the
spirit of meekness, is this city of Oxford a Christian city % Is
Christianity, Scriptural Christianity, found here % Are we, as a
community of men, %q filled with the Holy Ghost as to enjoy in
our hearts, and show forth in our lives, the genuine fruits of the
Spirit 1 Are ail the magistrates, all heads and governors of


colleges and halls, and their respective societies (not to speak
of inhabitants of the town), of one heart and one soul? Is the
love of God shed abroad in our hearts ? Are our tempers the
same that were in Him % Are our lives agreeable thereto ?
Are we holy, as He who hath called us is holy, in all manner
of conversation %

" In the fearj and in the presence of the great God before
whom botli you and I shall shortly appear, I pray 3^ou that are
in authority over us (whom I reverence for your office' sake), to
consider not after the manner of dissemblers with God, Are you
filled with the Holy Ghost % Are you lively portraitures of him
whom ye are appointed to represent among men % I have said.,
ye are gods., ye magistrates and rulers ; ye are by office so nearly
allied to the God of heaven. In your several stations and
degrees ye are to show forth to us the Lord our Governor.
Are all the thoughts of your hearts, all your tempers and desires,
suitable to your high calling % Are all your words like unto those
which come out of the mouth of God % Is there in all your
actions dignity and love, a greatness which words cannot ex-
press, which can flow only from a heart full of God, and yet
consistent with the character of man that is a worm, and the
son of man that is a worm %

" Ye venerable men, who are more especially called to form
the tender minds of youth, to dispel therein tlie shades of ignor-
ance and error, and train them up to be heirs unto salvation,
are you filled with the Holy Ghost, and with those fruits of the
Spirit which your important office so indispensably requires %
Is your heart whole with God, and full of love and zeal to set
up his kingdom on earth % Do you continually remind those
under your care that the one rational end of all our studies is to
know, love, and serve the only true God and Jesus Christ whom
he hath sent? Do you inculcate upon them day by day that
love alone never faileth, and that without love all learning is but
splendid ignorance, pompous folly, vexation of spirit ? Has all


you teach an r^ctual tendency to the love of God, and of all
mankind for his sake % Have you an eye to this end, in what-
ever you prescribe, touching the kind, manner, and measure of
their studies, desiring and labouring that wherever the lot of
these young soldiers of Christ is cast, they may be so many
burning and shining lights, adorning the gospel of Christ in all
things'? And, permit me to ask, do you put forth all your
strength in the vast work you have undertaken'? Do you
labour herein with all your might, exerting every faculty of
your souls, using every talent which God hath lent you, and that
to the uttermost of your power %

" Let it not be said that I speak here as if all under your care
were intended to be clergymen. Not so ; I only speak as if
they were all intended to be Christians. But what example is
set them by us who enjoy the beneficence of our forefathers,
by fellows, students, scholars, more especially those who are of
some rank and eminence % Do ye, brethren, abound in the
fruits of the Spirit, in lowliness of mind, in self-denial and
mortification, in tenderness and composure of spirit, in patience,
meekness, sobriety, temperance, and in unwearied, restless en-
deavours to do good unto all men, to relieve their outward
w^ants and to bring their souls to the true knowledge and love
of God ? Is this the general character of Fellows of colleges %
I fear it is not. Rather, have not pride and haughtiness of
spirit, impatience and peevishness, sloth and indolency, glut-
tony and sensuahty, and even a proverbial uselessness, been
objected to us, perhaps not always by our enemies nor wholly
without ground % Oh ! that God would roll away this reproach
from us, that the very memory of it might perish for ever !

" Many of us are men immediately consecrated to God, called
to minister in holy things. Are we, then, patterns to the rest,
in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity *?
Is there written on our foreheads and on our hearts. Holiness
to the Lord % From what motive did we enter upon the office'?


Was it indeed with a single eye to serve God, trusting that we
were inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon us this
ministration for the promotion of his glory, and the edifying of
his people % And have we clearly determined, by God's grace,
to give ourselves wholly to this office % Do we forsake and
set aside, as much as in us lies, all worldly cares and studies %
Do we apply ourselves wholly to this one thing, and draw all
our cares and studies this way % Are we apt to teach % Are
we taught of God, that we may be able to teach others also %
Do we know God ? Do we know Jesus Christ \ Hath God
revealed his Son in us % And hath he made us able ministers
of the new covenant % Where, then, are the seals of our
apostleshijD ] Who that were dead in trespasses and sins, have
been quickened by our word % Have we a burning zeal to save
souls from death, so that for their sakes we often forget even to
eat our bread ? Do we speak plainly, by manifestation of the
truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience % Are
we dead to the world, and the things of the world, laying up all
our treasure in heaven % Do we lord it over God's heritage, or
are we the least, the servants of all % When we bear the re-
proach of Christ does it sit heavy on us, or do we rejoice
therein \ When we are smitten on the one cheek, do we resent
it ? Are we impatient of affronts 1 or do we turn the other
cheek also, not resisting evil, but overcoming evil with good %
Have we a bitter zeal, inciting us to strive sharply and passion-
ately with them that are out of the way ? or, is our zeal the flame
of love, so as to direct all our words with sweetness, lowliness,
and meekness of wisdom ?

" Once more, what shall we say concerning the youth of this
place ? — Have you either the form or the power of Christian
godliness % Are you humble, teachable, advisable ; or stubborn,
self-willed, heady, and high-minded % Are you obedient to your
superiors as to parents, or do you despise those to whom ye
owe the tenderest reverence % Are you diligent in your every
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business, pursuing your studies with all your strength % Do you
redeem the time, crowding as much work into every day as it
can contain % Rather are ye not conscious to yourselves that
you waste away day after day, either in reading what has no
tendency to Christianity, or in gambling, or in — you know not
what % Are you better managers of your fortune than of your
time % Do you, out of principle, take care to owe no man any-
thing % Do you remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, to
spend it in the more immediate worship of God ! When you
are in his house, do you consider God is there % do you behave
as seeing him that is invisible % Do you know how to possess
your bodies in sanctification and honour ? Are not drunken-
ness and uncleanness found among you? Yea, are there not a
multitude of you who glory in their shame % Do not many of
you take the name of God in vain, perhaps habitually, with-
out either remorse or fear % Yea, are there not a multitude
among you that are forsworn % I fear a swiftly-increasing
multitude % Be not surprised, brethren. Before God and this
congregation I own myself to have been of this number,
solemnly swearing to observe all those customs which I then
knew nothing of, and those statutes which I did not so much
as read over, either then or for some years after. What is per-
jury if this is not % But if it be, oh, what a weight of sin, yea,
sin of no common dye, lieth upon us ! And doth not the Most
High regard it %

" May it not be one of the consequences of this that so many
of you are a generation of triflers, triflers with God, with one
another, and with your own souls? For how few of you spend,
from one week to another, a single hour in private prayer?
How few of you have any thought of God in the general tenor
of your conversation % Who of you is in any degree acquainted
with the work of his Spirit, his supernatural work in the souls of
men ? Can you hear, unless now and then in a church, any
talk of the Holy Spirit ? Would you not take it for granted, if


one began such a conversation, that it was either hypocrisy or
enthusiasm % In the name of the Lord God Ahnighty, I ask
what rehgion are you of? Even the talk of Christianity, ye can-
not, will not bear. Oh, my brethren, what a Christian city is
this ! It is time for thee. Lord, to lay to thine hand.

"For, indeed, what probability— wdiat possibility rather,
speaking after the manner of men — is there that Christianity,
Scriptural Christianity, should be again the religion of this place,
and that all orders of men among us should speak and live as
men filled with the Holy Spirit"? By whom should this Chris-
tianity be restored ? By those of you that are in authority %
Are you convinced, then, that this is Scriptural Christianity ?
Are you desirous it should be restored ? Do you count your
fortune, liberty, hfe, not dear unto yourselves so you may be
instrumental in restoring of it? But suppose you have the
desire, who hath any power proportioned to effect ? Perhaps
some of you have made a few vain attempts, but with how small
success ! Shall Christianity, then, be restored by young, un-
known, inconsiderable men % I know not whether ye yourselves
would suffer it. Would not some of you cry out, ' Young man,
in so doing thou reproachest us !' But there is no danger of
your being put to the proof; so hath iniquity overspread us
hke a flood. Whom then shall God send ? The famine, the
pestilence (God's last messengers to a guilty land), or the sword?
the armies of Romish aliens to reform us into our first love ?
Nay, rather let us fall into thy hand, O Lord ; and let us not
fall into the hand of man.

" Lord, save, or we perish ! Take us out of the mire, that
we sink not ! Oh, help us against these enemies, for vain is the
help of man. Unto thee all things are possible. According to
the greatness of thy power, preserve thou those that are ap-
pointed to die, and preserve us in the manner that seemeth to
thee good ; not as we will, but as thou wilt."

The reader will probably agree with me that this is a re-


markable sermon, and one of a class that is not frequently
heard in University pulpits. What was thought of it in 1744
by the Vice-chancellor, the Heads of Houses, and the Fellows
and Tutors of Colleges, we have little means of knowing. In
his journal, Wesley only remarks : " I preached this day for the
last time, I suppose, at St. Mary's. Be it so. I am now clear
of the blood of these men. I have fully delivered my own soul.
The beadle came to me afterwards, and told me, ' that the Vice-
chancellor had sent him for my notes.' I sent them without
delay, not widiout admiring the wise providence of God. Per-
haps few men of note would have given a sermon of mine the
reading, if I had put it in their hands. But by this reason it
came to be read, probably more than once, by every man of
eminence in the University." Many, perhaps, will agree with
me that, if Oxford had heard more of such plain preaching
during the last one hundred and twenty years, it would have
been well for the Church of England.

Turning away from Wesley's preaching, I will now give a
specimen of his mind of a very different description, I will
give the twelve rules which he laid down for the guidance of his
helpers in evangelistic work in the Methodist communion. They
serve to illustrate, I think, in a very striking manner, the great
shrewdness and good sense of the man, and are also good
examples of his terse, pithy style of composition. He says to
his helpers : —

" I. Be diligent. Never be unemployed for a moment; never
be triflingly employed. Never while away time ; neither spend
any more time at any place than is strictly necessary.

" 2. Be serious. Let your motto be. Holiness to the Lord.
Avoid all lightness, jesting, and foolish talking.

''3. Converse sparingly and cautiously with women, particu-
larly with young women in private.

"4. Take no step towards marriage without first acquainting
me with your design.


" 5. Believe evil of no one ; unless you see it done, take heed
how you credit it. Put the best construction on everything :
you know the judge is always supposed to be on the prisoner's

" 6. Speak evil of no one ; else your words especially would
eat as dodi a canker. Keep your thoughts within your own
breast till you come to the person concerned.

" 7. Tell every one what you think wrong in him, and that
plainly, and as soon as may be, else it will fester in your heart.
Make all haste to cast the fire out of your bosom.

" 8. Do not affect the gentleman. You have no more to do
with this character than with that of a dancing-master. A
])reacher of the gospel is the servant of all.

" 9. Be ashamed of nothing but sin ; not of fetching wood
(if time permit), or of drawing water; not of cleaning your own
shoes, or your neighbour's.

" 10. Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time ; and,
in general, do not mend our rules, but keep them ; not for
wrath, but for conscience' sake.

" IT. You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore
spend and be spent in this work. And go always not to those
who want you, but to those who want you most.

" 12. Act in all things, not according to your own will, but
as a son in the gospel. As such, it is your part to employ your
time in the manner which we direct, partly in preaching and
visiting the flock from house to house ; partly in reading, medi-
tation, and prayer. Above all, if you labour with us in the
Lord's vineyard, it is needful that you should do that part of
the work which we advise, at those times and places which we
judge most for his glory."

Comment on these rules is needless. They speak for them-
selves. Though originally drawn up with a special view to the
wants of the Methodist helpers, they contain wisdom for all
bodies of Christians. Happy would it be for all the churches


of Christ, if all the ministers of the gos])el would carry out the
spirit of these rules, and remember their wise suggestions far
more than they do.

Let us next take an illustration of the manner in which he
used to advise his preachers individually. To one who was in
danger of becoming a noisy, clamorous preacher, he writes : —

" Scream no more at peril of your soul. God now warns
you by me, whom he has set over you. Speak as earnestly as

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 8 of 36)