My Debt to J.C.Ryle
MY DEBT TO J.C.RYLE
"I have yet to learn that there is a single passage in Scripture which teaches that a literal perfection, a complete and entire freedom from sin, in thought, or word, or deed, is attainable, or ever has been attained, by any child of Adam in this world."
by Stan K. Evers
IN 1966, when I was almost twenty, I went on holiday to a "Revival Convention" in the delightful resort of Southport. That week was like heaven on earth! I was drawn closer to God and fired with new enthusiasm to serve Him, whatever the cost. Nevertheless, there was an emphasis in the preaching which disturbed me. It was referred to as entire sanctification. Instinctively, I knew that this doctrine was erroneous. Though still a young convert I could not square this teaching with 1 John, the epistle on which the morning sermons were based. In my Bible it clearly said, "if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves" (1 John 1:8). I concluded that these words were written to Christians because John called his readers "My little children" (1 John 2:1).
It was with these thoughts in my mind that I returned home and began to read Holiness by John Charles Ryle. Ryle was an evangelical clergyman who was appointed the first Bishop of Liverpool in 1880. This book helped me understand the biblical teaching on sin and sanctification.
I had got no further than the tenth page of Ryle’s introduction when I read these words: "I have yet to learn that there is a single passage in Scripture which teaches that a literal perfection, a complete and entire freedom from sin, in thought, or word, or deed, is attainable, or ever has been attained, by any child of Adam in this world." As I read on I was amazed to discover that even an apostle struggled with indwelling sin (Romans 7). Later in the book I learnt that the "normal Christian life" is not one of sinless perfection but of continual conflict with "the world, the flesh and the devil".
The first chapter on sin convinced me that sinless perfection teaching arose out of an inadequate view of the depravity of the human heart. I think that the second and third chapters on sanctification and holiness are superb! These two chapters impressed on my mind the importance of practical godliness, as evidence of election and regeneration, and gave me a good foundation for the rest of my Christian life. Ryle’s succinct treatment of the distinction between justification and sanctification helped me to see the need for clear thinking on these subjects.
As a young believer I was often troubled by doubts concerning my salvation, but Ryle’s chapter on assurance helped me to overcome many of these doubts. Ryle marshals his arguments from God’s Word and the writings of the Puritan divines to prove that the Christian may know, beyond any doubt, that he is saved. Once saved he is saved forever!
Turning over the pages of my copy of Holiness I see that I have occasionally marked a section which challenged my heart. One example will suffice, which really sums up the thrust of this excellent book: "It was sin that wove the crown of thorns – it was sin that pierced our Lord’s hands, and feet and side – it was sin that brought Him to Gethsemane and Calvary, to the cross and to the grave. Cold must our hearts be if we do not hate sin and labour to get rid of it."
J. C. Ryle also aroused my curiosity about a group of men known as "the Puritans". The early chapters of Holiness have frequent footnote quotes from these 17th century preachers. Later I delved into the riches of these men for myself and was especially helped by reading John Owen on The Mortification of Sin and his exposition of Psalm 130.
My reading of Ryle’s Holiness stimulated me to read his other writings, such as Practical Religion and his expository thoughts on the Gospels. As a Baptist pastor I’m pleased to acknowledge my spiritual debt to a former Anglican Bishop!
STAN K. EVERS (Potton, Bedfordshire)
The Gospel Magazine, September-October 2002
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