JC Ryle on the Truths that Changed a Nation

JC Ryle - Christian Leaders of the 18th Century

We’ve been enjoying JC Ryle’s insights into the preaching that shook England in the 18th century, and which led to many thousands coming to Christ.

In this post we’ll look at the content of the messages that were given. In outlining these for us, Ryle is obviously suggesting that there was a need, in his own day, for a revival of such preaching.

It may be that in quaint 19th century England the ministers and evangelists had softened their message, taken the edges off, in order not to offend those outside the churches.

If we really believe that the message should stay the same, even though we should package it appropriate to the context, then it is surely helpful to hear good old Bishop Ryle’s warnings and exhortations.

Ryle gives seven essential truths that the Methodist preachers all agreed on and asserted to their hearers. We’ll look at the first three in this post.

1. The Authority of the Bible
Ryle says that they ‘taught constantly the sufficiency and supremacy of Holy Scripture.’

‘They knew nothing of any part of Scripture being uninspired.

‘They never flinched from asserting that there can be no error in the Word of God.

‘To that one book they were content to pin their faith, and by it to stand or fall. This was one grand characteristic of their preaching.’ (p.26)

2. The Sinfulness of Man

‘They taught constantly the total corruption of human nature.

‘They never flattered men and women…They told them plainly that they were dead, and must be made alive again…

‘Strange and paradoxical as it may seem to some, their first step towards making men good was to show them that they were utterly bad; and their primary argument in persuading men to do something for their souls was to convince them that they could do nothing at all.’ (p.26-27)

3. The Necessity of Christ’s Death
Ryle says that the Methodist preachers of the 18th century ‘taught constantly that Christ’s death upon the cross was the only satisfaction for man’s sin; and that, when Christ died, he died as our substitute – ‘the just for the unjust’.

‘This, in fact, was the cardinal point in almost all their sermons.

‘They never taught the modern doctrine that Christ’s death was only a great example of self-sacrifice.

‘They saw in it the payment of man’s mighty debt to God.

‘They loved Christ’s person they rejoiced in Christ’s promises; they urged men to walk after Christ’s example. But the one subject above all others, concerning Christ, which they delighted to dwell on, was the atoning blood which Christ shed for us on the cross.’ (p.27)

It would probably be a good exercise for every preacher who is attempting to present the Christian message to their culture to review these points (and the three to follow) and see if any adjustment ought to be made in the content, if not the style, of their messages.

For Ryle’s next four points click here

All quotes are from JC Ryle, Christian Leaders of the 18th Century, Banner of Truth edition.

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

JC Ryle’s Thoughts on the 18th Century Awakening, Part 3

JC Ryle, the 19th century Pastor, wrote extensively about the great heroes of the 18th century awakening in England.

We’ve been enjoying his frank observations on both the source of the problems and the means of revival that God used.

Ryle specifically lifts up the role and gift of the Evangelist as being the key to the breakthroughs that took place, and we will continue to be challenged by his analysis in this post.

1. The opposition experienced by the Evangelists
Ryle writes, ‘At first people in high places affected to despise them. The men of letters sneered at them as fanatics…

‘The Church shut her doors on them…the ignorant mob persecuted them. But the movement of these few evangelists went on, and made itself felt in every part of the land.’ (p.23)

2. The Primary method for changing the cultural landscape of England was Preaching
‘The instrumentality by which the spiritual reformers of the last century carried on their operations was of the simplest description.

‘It was neither more nor less that the old apostolic weapon of preaching.

‘Beyond doubt, preaching was their favourite weapon. They wisely went back to first principles.’

3. The Evangelists preached everywhere.
‘If the pulpit was open to them they gladly availed themselves of it [but] they were equally ready to preach in a barn.

‘No place came amiss to them. In the field or by the road side, on the village green, or in a market place, in lanes, or in alleys, in cellars or in garrets, on a tub or on a table, on a bench or on a horse block, wherever hearers could be gathered [they] were ready to speak…They were instant in season and out of season…’ (p.24)

4. They preached simply
‘They rightly concluded that the very first qualification to be aimed at in a sermon is to be understood!

‘They saw clearly that thousands of able and well composed sermons are utterly useless because they are above the heads of the hearers.’

Ryle says they preached in a way that could be clearly and immediately understood: ‘To attain this they were not ashamed to crucify their style and sacrifice their reputation for learning.’  (p.24-25)

We’ll continue next time, to hear about the style of preaching which God used to turn England upside down in the 18th Century.

All quotes from Christian Leaders Of The 18th Century by J. C. Ryle, Banner of Truth edition.
You can Purchase Ryle’s excellent book from the Banner of Truth website

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

JC Ryle’s Thoughts on the 18th Century Awakening, Part 2

JC Ryle...with beard

Last time we took a brief look at Ryle’s analysis of the problem. Today we’re going to enjoy his description of how God turned things around.

What makes Ryle’s commentary so appealing is the fact that we can apply the same lessons to ourselves and trust God for major breakthrough in our various cities and nations.

1. Everyone was aware of a major change
Says Ryle: ‘That a great change for the better has come over England in the last hundred years is a fact which I suppose no well informed person would ever attempt to deny. You might as well attempt to deny that there was a Protestant Reformation in the days of Luther…’ (p.21)

2. Where the change didn’t come from
Not the Government: ‘The government of the country can lay no claim to the credit of the change.’
Not the Church of England: ‘Nor…from the Church of England as a body. The leaders of that venerable communion were utterly unequal to the times. Left to herself, the Church of England would probably have died of dignity…’
Not the ‘Free’ churches: ‘Nor…from the Dissenters. Content with their hard-won triumphs, that worthy body of men seemed to rest upon their oars.’ (p.22)

3. The change came through Evangelists
‘The men who wrought deliverance for us…were a few individuals…whose hearts God touched about the same time in various parts of the country.

‘They were not wealthy or highly connected. They were simply men whom God stirred up and brought out to do His work.

‘They did His work in the old apostolic way, by becoming the evangelists of their day.’(p.22)

4. The demeanour of these Evangelists
Ryle writes, ‘They taught one set of truths. They taught them in the same way, with fire, reality, earnestness, as men fully convinced of what they taught.

‘They taught them in the same spirit, always loving, compassionate…even weeping, but always bold, unflinching and not fearing the face of man.

‘And they taught them on the same plan, always acting on the aggressive; not waiting for sinners to come to them, but going after, and seeking sinners; not sitting idle till sinners offered to repent, but assaulting the high places of ungodliness like men storming a breach…

‘The movement of these gallant evangelists shook England from one end to another.’ (p.23)

We’ll continue with Ryle’s observations next time…

All quotes from Christian Leaders Of The 18th Century by J. C. Ryle, Banner of Truth edition.
You can Purchase Ryle’s excellent book from the Banner of Truth website

To read the first post in this series go here

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

Prayer and Passion in the Journals of George Whitefield

George Whitefield's Journals

George Whitefield's Journals

A Great Outpouring!

One week after the New Years all-night prayer meeting, which had so amazed John Wesley, they were at it again!

On Sunday Jan 7, 1739 George Whitefield records that another ‘love-feast’ took place where the brothers gathered, shared a meal together and then prayed through the night.

Again Whitefield is able to report, ‘There was a great pouring out of the Spirit amongst the brethren’, even though he was not himself so ‘overwhelmed with joy’ as he had been the week before. (GW Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p.197)

The following evening he met with small groups of 6 or 7 new believers who shared and compared their spiritual experiences. These 18th century Evangelists were thorough.

Days of Private Infilling and Public Power

For George Whitefield, the first weeks of 1739 were filled with numerous preaching opportunities, and private encounters with the Holy Spirit.

If you glance through his journals for this period you find many phrases describing this double aspect of inspiration for his ministry:

‘Mon Jan 22 – God fills me with love, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. Such is His free grace in Christ Jesus.’

‘Tues Jan 23 – Preached at St Helens with power to a crowded and attentive audience…Oh how does the Holy Ghost cause me to joy in God!’

‘Wed Jan 24 – Wrote several letters to my friends at Savannah, and was filled with the Holy Ghost. Oh, that all who deny the promise of the Father might thus receive it themselves!’ (p.201)

‘Sun Jan 28 – expounded to two large companies…with such demonstration of the Spirit as I never spoke with before. I offered Jesus Chrisst freely to sinners, and many, I believe, were truly pricked to the heart.

‘Now, my friends, your prayers are heard, God has given me a double portion of His Spirit indeed.

‘Oh free grace in Christ Jesus. With what love, peace and joy does God fill this soul of mine! Lord I am not worthy, but Thy mercies in Christ Jesus are infinite.’ (p.203)

While convincing many, the Spirit-filled Whitefield could not convince all!

‘Mon Jan 29 – Expounded twice, and sat up till near one in the morning, with my honoured brother and fellow-labourer, John Wesley, in conference with two clergymen of the Church of England, and some other strong opposers of the doctrine of the New Birth.

‘God enabled me, with great simplicity, to declare what He had done for my soul, which made them look upon me as a madman.

‘Fundamental Differences’ between those who are in Christ and those who are not

‘We speak what we do know, and testify that we have seen, and they receive not our testimony. Now therefore, I am fully convinced there is a fundamental difference between us and them. They believe only an outward Christ, we further believe that He must be inwardly formed in our hearts also.

‘But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’ (p.203-204)

This last point was to become contentious throughout the period of the Awakening. It soon became clear that the reality of the experience of the new birth was the defining Christian experience – in fact, the one experience apart from which you could not enter the Kingdom of God (see John chapter 3).

Lessons for us?

Leadership demands great skill. Christian Leadership hinges on the activity of the Holy Spirit. George Whitefield was devoted to prayer, committed to personal experiences of the Holy Spirit, unflagging in service to those outside the faith, and committed to essential doctrines, even when defending them was uncomfortable.

As we examine his life we would do well to allow the challenge of his example to change and shape us in our understanding of leadership and service.

You can purchase George Whitefield’s Journals here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Holy Spirit and Authority in Preaching (MLJ on Harris part 4)

Howell Harris

Howell Harris

We’ve been spending some time looking at the conversion experience of the Welsh Evangelist Howell Harris.

Harris, through his tireless evangelistic work is credited with being the founder of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism. He also, through his example, helped launch George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers’ ministry of preaching in the fields.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (also a Welshman) spoke about him at the Puritan Conference in London in 1973 and emphasised not only Harris’ conversion but also the fact that he received ‘a baptism of power’ in the Holy Spirit. Lloyd-Jones believed this was the key to his evangelistic success.

Indeed, thousands came to Christ. The power of the Spirit in Harris’ life affected not only his willingness to speak but also his effectiveness in speaking. He talked about ‘the authority’ of God coming upon him and moving the hearers.  He would wait for the ‘authority’ to come and then speak with greater freedom and power.

Lloyd-Jones last sermon

Lloyd-Jones also was deeply concerned for this subjective but vital aspect in his own preaching. The preached word was to come with authority.

I have friends who were at Barcombe Baptist Chapel, in East Sussex and heard Lloyd-Jones deliver his very last sermon. One told me how the Doctor started slowly and seemed to get going with some difficulty. But then, wondrously, it was as though a sudden power came upon him, that energised him and electrified the congregation. Suddenly all were awake and alert: God was speaking with authority through a man. Lloyd-Jones felt that in Harris’ case (where he would sense ‘the authority’ and then speak spontaneously without any notes or preparation and with powerful effect) it was close to the gift of prophecy in 1 Corinthians 12.

A first-hand gospel

For Harris, as well as Lloyd-Jones, this was a deeply prized token of God’s presence and favour both for him and his hearers. It had the effect of making the gospel ‘first-hand’, fresh, and immediately powerful.

Harris, describes this immediacy. He was more concerned with preaching an experienced Christ and the Spirit enabled him to do so: ‘That which I experienced, proved, and felt and saw and heard of the Word of Life, that also I proclaim.’ (quoted by MLJ in Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans and their Successors, Banner of Truth Edition p.296)

A bold man dies much loved by the people he served

Wales mourned when Harris died. A truly great and much loved hero had gone to glory. 20,000 people were present! The Countess of Huntingdon attended and wrote of the emotion that was too strong to suppress:

‘But amidst the sorrow and tears of the audience that thronged the building an interruption took place. The officiating clergyman, being unable to proceed on account of his emotion, handed the Prayer Book to another – that does not often happen – but the second clergyman also lost self-control and passed the book to a third, when he again by reason of the same cause was unable to go on; and thus in silence were the remains of the great man laid to rest in the chancel in the Parish Church at Talgarth, and in the same grave in which his wife had been buried a few years before’. (quoted by MLJ, ibid, p.301)

What about us?

Oh my dear friend, are you a Christian? Then go to God and be filled with the Holy Spirit. If you need to find a church near you try here as one option.

Have you been baptised in the Spirit? Why did you think it was just for you? There are multitudes all around you who do not know Christ. Are you going to leave them as you travel on your way to heaven? Are you not going to be stirred by God to get up and do something for Him that will help people find their way to Christ?

How long O Lord, before you pour out your Spirit once more upon your people and turn our nations to you?

To read part one of Lloyd-Jones on Howell Harris click here

To read the next post in this series click here

You can purchase ‘The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Holy Spirit, Howell Harris and Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ on Harris part 2)

Martyn Lloyd Jones, 'The Puritans and Their Successors' (1st edition)

Martyn Lloyd Jones, 'The Puritans and Their Successors' (1st edition)

Martyn Lloyd-Jones believed that Howell Harris was one of the most extraordinary preachers in the history of the church. He deeply admired the evangelistic passion that characterised Harris’ life. Here, we continue to listen to the ‘Doctor’ as he was affectionately called, as he outlines what he considers to be the source of that passion. (Page numbers refer to Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans and their Successors, Banner of Truth Edition)

On Harris’ Baptism in the Spirit

Describing Harris’ experience some three weeks after his conversion, which we have already considered, Lloyd-Jones calls it ‘that crucial experience’.

‘To me, this is the key to the understanding of Howell Harris, as it is the key to the understanding of Revival.’ (p.290)

He goes on, ‘as I have always understood this man’s story, and as I still understand it more and more, you cannot explain him or understand him, or what happened through him, except in the light of this crucial experience of June 18th…What was it? To me, there is only one expression to use. It was the expression used by these men themselves and by their successors. It was a baptism ‘of fire’ or a ‘baptism of power’.’

The Doctor continues, ‘What I would emphasize particularly is that Harris was already converted, had already received forgiveness of sins, and he knew that he had it, and had been dancing in joy. But it was now just over three weeks later that he received this crucial experience which turned him into a flaming Evangelist.’ (p.290)

On Harris’ continuing experience of the Spirit as an example to us

Having recounted that Harris essentially celebrated this experience each year, he also emphasises how Harris was not content to merely rest in that one experience of the Spirit’s power but went on to seek more of Him.

‘This to him was the turning point, the crucial event that made him an Evangelist. It is essential to an understanding of Revival. We can further demonstrate this by showing that he had several repetitions of this experience…he also had similar experiences.’

Lloyd-Jones writes, ‘Another extract from his diary says, ‘In private society till two in the morning like a drunken man. Could say nothing but glory, glory for a long time.’ (p.292)

‘May 1749, ‘The Lord came, overpowering me with love like a mighty torrent that I could not withstand or reason against or doubt.’ (p.292)

‘Even in his ‘dying testimony’ as it is called, he says ‘that we are not to speak of what we have had from the Lord, but what we now have afresh from Him.’ This was of great concern to him. This great vital experience could be repeated…’ (p.293)

Has Lloyd-Jones become over-excited? Has the Doctor embraced some terrible Charismatic or Pentecostal doctrine? Or is he fully aware of the argument he is making and its implications. He explains emphatically:

‘There is always this distinction between receiving forgiveness of sins and receiving the Holy Ghost.’ (p. 292)

So, back in 1973 when he delivered the lecture from which I have quoted, Lloyd-Jones knew exactly what he was saying and why he was saying it.

He wanted us to learn from Harris that we might encounter the power of God as Harris did, in order that we might influence our generation as Harris did.

To read part one of Lloyd-Jones on Howell Harris click here

To read the next post in this series click here

You can purchase ‘The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides