A Tribute to The Right Reverend

John Charles Ryle, D.D.

Lord Bishop of Liverpool (AD 1816 to 1900)

John Charles Ryle, Lord Bishop of Liverpool

An Introduction to John Charles Ryle, D.D.

Preamble

The Meditation for Christians web site often features quotations or passages from the series of "Expository Notes" on the four Gospels by J.C. Ryle. We are unable to advise readers whether they are still accessible.  Yet there are some helpful passages we like to draw on and put to good use. This biographical note has been prepared to save repeating necessary details on each occasion. We do not necessarily agree with every particular opinion he presents but we much admire his scholarship, his honest and humble approach to teaching and the astute observations he is able in his works to pass on to others. (Any adaptations to the original text are shown in itallics.)

Biographical Note

John Charles Ryle lived from 1816 to 1900. He was born at Macclesfield and educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. He was ordained an Anglican priest in 1842, and after having responsibility for several parishes, was consecrated bishop of the newly created Anglican See of Liverpool in 1880, which he held till shortly before his death.

Ryle was a strong Evangelical in his beliefs, a position he defended strongly in the style and oratory of his day.

(Based on an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford University Press, 1974.)

A Response To Ryle's Evangelicalism

Bishop Ryle, in his Expository Thoughts made no pretentious claims. He was thoroughly committed to survey the best of all Christian scholarship, and bringing it to his readers. The skill with which he did this is so very impressive. It is true that he sometime made remarks, common enough in his day, about the Roman Catholic Church; but one would have to concede that he was indeed very restrained in doing so and probably never exceeded the same he received from the other direction.

Having said that he always gave credit where it was due. In his first volume on the Gospel of St John, in the Preface, he wrote:

"The Roman Catholic writers often contain much that is useful and little that is objectionable. Happy would it be for the Church of England if all her clergy knew their Bibles as well as such men as Ferus and Toletus!"

High praise indeed from an Anglican Low Church Bishop. But it is when his Lordship gave his reason for publishing his Expository Notes that he especially warms our hearts. In his own words, repeated in each preface:

In the first place, I indulge the hope that the work may be found suitable for use at family prayers. The supply of works adapted for this purpose has never yet been equal to the demand.

In the next place, I cannot help hoping that the work may prove an aid to those who visit the sick and the poor. The number of persons who visit hospitals, sickrooms, and cottages, with an earnest desire to do spiritual good, is now very great. There is reason to believe that proper books for reading on such occasions are much wanted.

Last, but not least, I trust that the work may not be found unprofitable for private reading, as a companion to the Gospels. There are not a few whose callings and engagements make it impossible for them to read large commentaries and expositions of God's Word. I have thought that such may find it helpful to their memories to have a few leading points set before their minds in connection with what they read.

I send forth the work, with an earnest prayer that it may tend to the promotion of pure and undefiled religion, help to extend the knowledge of Christ, and be a humble instrument in aid of the glorious work of converting and edifying immortal souls.

We salute this great man of God who sacrificed so much of his private time to serve those who needed help in understanding Sacred Scripture.

Would that more Church leaders could see their way to emulate his example.

A tribute from a traditional orthodox Latin (Tridentine) Catholic of the 21st century.

Publication of the Four Gospel Commentaries

All volumes of Bishop Ryle's Expository Notes were published by the very reputable and much esteemed publishers Hodder and Stoughton at 27 Paternoster Row, London in the years listed below:

St. Matthew 1911

St. Mark 1910

St. Luke Vol 1 Not dated

St. Luke Vol 2 1905

St. John Vol 1 1908

St. John Vol 2 1909

St. John Vol 3 1908

Selected Passages From the Author's Prefaces

1. St. Matthew

The plan I have adopted in drawing up the "Expository Thoughts" is as follows. I have divided the sacred text into sections or passages, averaging about twelve verses in each. I have then supplied a continuous series of short, plain "Expositions" of each of these passages. In each Exposition I have generally begun by stating as briefly as possible the main scope and purpose of the passage under consideration. I have then selected two, three, or four prominent points in the passage, singled them out from the rest, dwelt exclusively on them, and endeavoured to enforce them plainly and vigorously on the reader's attention. The points selected will be found to be sometimes doctrinal, and sometimes practical. The only rule in selection has been to seize on the really leading points of the passage.

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.

2. St. Mark

In some households the family prayers are so short and hurried, that I should despair of writing anything suitable to the master's wants. In such households a few verses of Scripture, read slowly and reverently, would probably be more useful than any commentary at all. As for those who find four pages too much to read at one time, and yet desire to read my "Expository Thoughts," I can only suggest that they have an easy remedy in their own hands: they have only to leave out one or two divisions in each exposition, and they will find it as short as they please.

I now send forth these "Expository Thoughts on St. Mark" with an earnest prayer that it may please God to use the volume for His glory. It has been written under the pressure of many public duties, and amidst many interruptions. No one is more conscious of its defects than myself. But I can honestly say, that my chief desire, if I know anything of my heart, in this and all my writings, is to lead my readers to Christ and faith in Him, to repentance and holiness, to the Bible and to prayer. If these are the results of this volume in any one case, the labour I have bestowed upon it will be more than repaid.

3. St. Luke

I now send forth this volume with an earnest prayer that the Holy Ghost may bless it, and that God may be pleased to use it for His own glory and the benefit of many souls. My chief desire in this, and all my writings, is to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ and make Him beautiful and glorious in the eyes of men, and to promote the increase of repentance, faith, and holiness upon earth. If this shall be the result of this volume the labour that it has cost me will be more than repaid.

I have a strong conviction that we want more reverent, deep-searching study of the Scripture in the present day. Most of Christians see nothing beyond the surface of the Bible when they read it. We want a more clear knowledge of Christ, as a living Person, a living Priest, a living Physician, a living Friend, a living Advocate at the right hand of God, and a living Saviour soon about to come again. Most of Christians know little of Christianity but its skeleton of doctrines. - I desire never to forget these two things. If I can do anything to make Christ and the Bible more honourable in these latter days, I shall be truly thankful and content.

J. C. Ryle

4. St. John (Volume 1)

On one point of vast importance in the present day, the reader will see that I hold very decided opinions. That point is inspiration. I feel no hesitation in avowing, that I believe in the "plenary inspiration" of every word of the original text of Holy Scripture. I hold not only that the Bible contains the Word of God, but that every jot of it was written, or brought together, by Divine inspiration, and is the Word of God. I entirely disagree with those who maintain that the writers of the Bible were partially inspired, or inspired to such a limited extent that discrepancies, inaccuracies, and contradictions to the facts of science and history, must be expected and do exist in their writings. I utterly repudiate such a theory. I consider that it practically destroys the whole value of God's Word, puts a sword in the hand of infidels and sceptics, and raises far more serious difficulties than it pretends to solve.

I grant freely that the theory of "plenary verbal inspiration," involves some difficulties. I do not pretend to answer all the objections brought against it, or to defend all that has been written by its supporters. I am content to remember that all inspiration is a miraculous operation of the Holy Ghost, and, like every operation of the Holy Ghost, must needs be mysterious.

When I speak of "plenary verbal inspiration," I do not for a moment admit the absurd theory that all parts of the Bible are equally important. I should never dream of saying that the catalogues in Chronicles are of as much value to the Church as the Gospel of St. John. But I do maintain that all parts of the Bible are equally "given by inspiration of God," and that all are to be regarded as "God's Word." If we do not see the Divine character of any particular part, it is because we have at present no eyes to see it. The humblest moss is as much the handiwork of God's creative power as the cedar of Lebanon. Yet it would be foolish to say it was an equally important part of creation. The least verse in the Bible is just as truly "given by inspiration" as the greatest. But it does not follow that it is equally valuable.

5. St. John (Volume 3)

The doctrinal tone of the notes, I must frankly avow, is thoroughly and unmistakably evangelical. After patiently studying St. John's Gospel for twelve years, with much thought, much labour, much examination of the writings of others, and, I hope I may add, with some earnest prayers, my theological opinions are what they were when I began to write. In these twelve years I trust I have learned many things: but I can truly say that I have seen no reason to alter my views of doctrine. My conviction is firm and decided, that the theology of that religious school in the Church of England, which, rightly or wrongly, is called Evangelical, is thoroughly Scriptural, and a theology of which no Christian man need be ashamed.

I freely confess that, with increasing years and experience, I have learned to think more kindly and charitably than I once did, of theologians who belong to other schools than my own. I am more and more convinced every year I live, that there are many Christians whose hearts are right in the sight of God, while their heads are very wrong. I am more and more convinced, that the differences between schools of religious thought are frequently more nominal than real more verbal than actual, and that many of them define the terms and words they use with logical accuracy.

The concluding paragraph of Dean Alford's "Prolegomena" to his "Commentary on the Book of Revelation," so thoroughly expresses my own feelings, on completing my work on St John's Gospel, that I make no excuse for inserting it here, with the omission of a few words: -

"I have now only to commend to my gracious God and Father this feeble attempt to explain a most glorious portion of His revealed Scripture. I do it with humble thankfulness, but with a sense of utter weakness before the power of His word, and of inability to sound the depth even of its simplest sentence.

May He spare the hand, which has been put forward to touch the ark! May He, for Christ's sake, forgive all rashness, all perverseness, all uncharitableness, which may be found in this book. And may He sanctify it to the use of His Church: its truth, if any, for teaching; its manifold defects for warning."

J.C. RYLE.

Stradbroke Vicarage, Suffolk,

February 1878.

Conclusion

Regardless of one's Churchmanship (as we used to say) or ones chosen Christian tradition, how can one not admire and warm to such a devoted man of God!

Many Christians today read little of the Holy Scriptures and even less about them. On this web site we try to bring a range of scholarship presented in simple narration, or as direct quotation (where copyright laws and intellectual property ethics permit) to help readers grow in a love of the Word revealed as well as the Word made flesh.

We have no hesitation in drawing from Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant scholarship and valuing their respective insights and culturally diverse contributions.

The wonderful words of Bishop John Ryle remain a valuable source of wholesome Biblical material.

We thank and praise God for his devotion to the task of presenting his notes for those of us not qualified to compile them, and for his humility and great gift of language. May we enable Christian wayfarers to profit from his labours for many years to come.

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