Last week, we were looking at one of the five English martyrs in a book entitled, Five English Reformers, written by J.C. Ryle. I thought that this week we would take a look at the author of that book: J.C. Ryle.
Ryle was an Anglican bishop who served as the bishop of Liverpool. Of course, he wasn’t always a bishop. He was born “John Charles Ryle” on May 10, 1816. His father was a member of Parliament and his father’s family also owned a bank. They were a very wealthy old family of England. Consequently, J.C. Ryle was sent off to England’s finest schools as a young man. He was sent first to Eton College, and there he excelled in rowing and cricket. Eton, with its rugby and football fields, can be seen from the windows of Windsor Castle. From there, Ryle went to the University of Oxford, and he was an undergraduate student at Oxford from 1834 to 1838. By his account, the most significant thing that happened while he was at Oxford was his conversion.
He was converted in 1837 by hearing Ephesians 2:8. He wrote to his family a narrative of his testimony of coming to Christ. In it he says:
Nothing I can remember to this day appeared to me so clear and distinct as my own sinfulness, Christ’s preciousness, the value of the Bible, the absolute necessity of coming out of the world, the need of being born again, and the enormous folly of the whole doctrine of baptismal regeneration. All these things seemed to flash upon me like a sunbeam, in the winter of 1837, and have stuck in my mind from that time down to this. People may account for such a change as they like, my own belief is that it is what the Bible calls conversion. Or, what the Bible calls regeneration. Before that time, I was dead in sins, and on the high road to hell. From that time, I had become alive, and have had a hope of heaven, and nothing to my mind can account for it but the free sovereign grace of God.
After he graduated from Oxford, Ryle was all set for a career that would see him following in his father’s footsteps. He wanted to become a member of Parliament himself, but all of that came crashing down when his father’s fortunes took a downturn. They lost the family bank, filed for bankruptcy, and Ryle now needed to go in another direction.
He says later that this was the work of God, directing and superintending his life. Ryle ended up going into the ministry. He has a number of parishes, even serving at Cambridge University in Oxford. But in 1880, he was appointed the bishop at Liverpool, a post he held for twenty years until his death in the year 1900.
He was not only the bishop at Liverpool, but he also wrote a number of books. He wrote a seven-volume set, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. He wrote that wonderful history Five English Reformers where we got the story of Roland Taylor from last week. He also wrote a book entitled Holiness. In the 1950s, Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote a preface to a new edition of that book. He simply says of Ryle that he starts with the Word, and he expounds it. Ryle said of his own preaching and of his own writing:
If there is no salvation excepting by Christ, we must not be surprised if ministers of the gospel preach about Him. They cannot tell us too much about the Name, which is above every name. We cannot hear of Him too much. We may hear too much about controversy in sermons. We may hear too much of works and duties, of forms and ceremonies, of sacraments and ordinances. But there is one subject which we never hear of too much; we can never hear too much of Christ.