Expository Thoughts on the Gospels – A Review by Barry Shucksmith
To write a brief review of these seven precious volumes seems superfluous, to say the least. When I was an incumbent in the Liverpool Diocese, 1981-1986, the Suffragan Bishop of Warrington told me that the Diocesan staff still receive letters from overseas, addressed to Bishop Ryle, despite his ‘promotion to glory’ in 1900! Our memory will last for some, certainly our nearest and dearest, but is our influence for the Lord Jesus Christ such, that our writings will be considered up-to-date, immediately profitable, and just what we need for the present hour, although we will have been dead for a century?
Ryle’s ‘Expository Thoughts on the Gospels’ are surely, as valued today as they were on original publication? He had a genius for reaching ‘the common man’. Before going to Liverpool he laboured for many years in two rural Suffolk parishes. At Theological College (1964-68), during an arid period of theological study – which included German critics and modern liberal views – I rose early with other Spurgeon fans, to read, with considerable spiritual profit, the Metropolitan baptist’s sermons. Yet, in contrast to Spurgeon’s Victorian-styled, flowery oratory – most effective language at the time – Ryle seems so patently modern. He is brilliantly crisp, perspicuously clear, straight to the point, and void of all unnecessary padding. Yet, Spurgeon and Ryle lived, roughly, at the same time.
Perhaps, we have a glimpse of the reason why Ryle is still so popular. He writes in his introduction to Expository Thoughts, ‘…In style and composition I frankly avow that I have studied, as far as possible, to be plain and pointed, and to choose what an old divine calls ‘picked and packed’ words. I have tried to place myself in the position of one who is reading aloud to others, and must arrest their attention, if he can. I have said to myself in writing each exposition, ‘I am addressing a mixed company, and I have but a short time, – Keeping this in view, I have constantly left unsaid many things that might have been said, and have endeavoured to dwell chiefly on the things needful to salvation…’
J C Ryle was a moderate Calvinist – an old-fashioned Episcopalian conservative evangelical, who was forthright and greatly influential in his day. He was biblically sound, gospel-centred and concerned to challenge the unbeliever, root out hypocrisy and formalism wherever he found it, while edifying, encouraging, and strengthening the saints of God. Several of his other writings – now classics, like his book HOLINESS, are kept in print by the Banner of Truth Trust. But his unique treatment of the gospels is just exceptional. He was a prolific Tract-writer and it shows in his style. It is like having him in the room speaking to you personally. The Expositions are also so devotionally uplifting. Any Christian without them must be singularly impoverished.
The material is remarkably adaptable for regular Bible study, or reading at the breakfast table to the family. The homiletical outlines could be a help to any young minister. Each of the volumes has refreshing and insightful things to say to us. The whole gospel story is covered, briefly in Mark and Matthew, more fully in Luke and John. While there are few footnotes in the earlier volumes, by the time we reach John, the footnotes prove to be both full and fascinating – in some ways richer than the expositions. My paperback volumes fell apart many years ago and have been glued and often repaired. The new edition has an attractive dust-cover and strong cloth hardback covers, which will wear well. The Scriptural text (KJV) is included, an excellent-sized print for the eye is used, and everything you would wish to have for a life-time’s permanent (perhaps daily) use is here. Bodily exercise profiteth only a little (1 Timothy 4:8). Yet Jesus said, ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away; but my words shall not pass away’ (Luke 21:33). Sell your shirt and buy them!
7 Volume Set
To write a brief review of these seven precious volumes seems superfluous, to say the least. When I was an incumbent in the Liverpool Diocese, 1981-1986, the Suffragan Bishop of Warrington told me that the Diocesan staff still receive letters […]
Taken from English Churchman, with permission.