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Reformed Literature

JC Ryle

The man, the minister and the missionary


David Holloway


The Christian Institute

Ryle’s name is now reasonably well known across evangelical circles – The Upper Room, Knots Untied, Holiness – are all books that will be familiar to many of our readers. In the introduction, Holloway cites Lloyd-Jones comment that he stumbled across Ryle and that his books were not being read. Holloway then proposes two questions that he will address – firstly, why was Ryle not read for many years and the second, why should he be read?

Ryle died, aged 85, on 10 th June 1900. His life began with a very different plan from being an evangelical clergyman. Ryle was ‘born with a silver spoon in his mouth’, he was the oldest child of a member of the landed gentry who owned a bank. He was educated at Eton and Oxford and graduated as one of the top three students in his year. However, the most significant event in his Oxford career occurred shortly after illness in his final year. He arrived late in church part way through a reading from Ephesians, and the words ‘by grace are ye saved though faith and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God’, struck home and he was converted.

After leaving Oxford, he returned to the family estate near Macclesfield (Henbury Hall). Yet, his father’s bank then crashed and overnight he lost everything. Ryle’s comment was,

‘The plain fact was there was no one of the family whom it touched more than it did me. My father and my mother were no longer young and in the downhill of life; my brothers and sisters, of course, never expected to live at Henbury and naturally never thought of it as their house after a certain time. I, on the contrary, as the eldest son, twenty-five, with all the world before me, lost everything, and saw the whole future of my life turned upside down and thrown into confusion’

Later he would reflect,

‘I have not the least doubt it was all for the best. If my father’s affairs had prospered and I have never been ruined, my life, of course, would have been a very different one. I should have probably gone into Parliament very soon and it is impossible to say what the effect of this might have been upon my soul. I should have formed different connections, and moved in an entirely different circle. I shoud never have been a clergyman, never have preached, written a tract or a book. Perhaps, I might have made shipwreck in spiritual things. So I do not mean to say at all, that I wish it to have been different to what it was.’

The booklet charts Ryle’s moves through a range of livings in the Church of England and then his publications. Holloway, correctly in my opinion, remarks that although Ryle was a Victorian his writings come through very clearly and read well, many years after they were written. Both Ryle’s life and his books are really well worth reading, this is a useful introduction.