Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,
If you want the full version – which is the best version – you can read it here. But if you aren’t ready to invest that amount of time at the moment, here is a summary of how J.C. Ryle described and defined an Evangelical when he published “Knots Untied” in 1877.
He begins with the fundamental pillars of Evangelicalism:
- Holy Scripture is assigned absolute supremacy as the only rule of faith and practice. No source is the equal of the Bible. All that the Bible teaches is to be believed. Nothing which is contrary to Scripture may be embraced. “Here is rock: all else is sand.”
- The doctrine of human sin and corruption is given tremendous prominence. Mankind was not harmed at the fall, but ruined. “Man is radically diseased, and man needs a radical cure.”
- The work and office of the Lord Jesus Christ is said to be of ultimate importance. Only the person of Jesus Christ, doing the work that only Jesus Christ can do is sufficient to reconcile sinners with a holy God, and “nothing whatever is needed between the soul of man the sinner and Christ the Saviour, but simple, childlike faith”. Any and all external religion is insufficient and adds nothing to saving faith.
- The inward work of the Holy Spirit is assigned a high place. “The root and foundation of all vital Christianity in anyone, is a work of grace in the heart,” wrought by the Holy Spirit.
- The outward and visible work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is given particular importance. “Where the Spirit is, He will always make His presence known.” There is no such thing as a genuine Christian who is not transformed by the indwelling Spirit over time.
“And this I hold to be a most important difference between us and them. It is the position which we assign to these points, which is one of the grand characteristics of Evangelical theology. We say boldly that they are first, foremost, chief, and principal things in Christianity, and that want of attention to their position mars and spoils the teaching of many well-meaning Churchmen.”
Then, after defending Evangelicalism against some common accusations (a few of which are very Church-of-England-centric), Ryle concludes by enumerating things which make much of professed Christianity distinctively not Evangelical.
“We do say confidently, that there are many ways in which the faith of Christ may be marred and spoiled, without being positively denied.”
- Spoiling the Gospel by substitution. Drawing the eyes of sinners from “the grand object which the Bible proposes to faith, – Jesus Christ,” to any other thing.
- Spoiling the Gospel by addition. “Add anything to Christ, and the Gospel ceases to be a pure Gospel!”
- Spoiling the Gospel by interposition. “Interpose anything between man and Christ, and man will neglect Christ for the thing interposed!”
- Spoiling the Gospel by disproportion. “You have only to attach an exaggerated importance to the secondary things of Christianity, and a diminished importance to the first things, and the mischief is done.”
- Spoiling the Gospel by confused and contradictory directions. “Complicated and obscure statements about faith, baptism, Church privileges, and the benefits of the Lord’s Supper, all jumbled together, and thrown down without order before hearers, make the Gospel no Gospel at all!”
So there you have it. An Evangelical, according to J.C. Ryle in the mid to late 1800’s.
In a final post on the subject, I will make some observations about the average modern Evangelical compared with the much more unyieldingly biblical and rugged version described by Ryle.