Man of Granite with the Heart of a Child
J. C. Ryle is one of the most widely read evangelical authors of the 19th century. He was given many different titles by his peers. F. J. Chavasse described Ryle as, “That man of granite with the heart of a child. Truly, Ryle stands among so many for his unwavering stance on God’s Word during a time the church of England was putting into question the reliability of Scripture. He was not easily swayed by man and was as bold as a lion with the gospel. His aim in life was seeing the lost being found—the enemies of God becoming children of God. For that, Ryle also was a lover of people. He genuinely displayed God’s love towards others in his day-to-day life.
On a personal note, as an author, J. C. Ryle has probably has impacted my life more than any other. I didn’t know who he was until someone pointed me in the direction of reading his well-known book Holiness. Though I have not read every title from Ryle, I have not been disappointed with those that I have read. He wrote not just for the 19th century but his words still carry weight for today.
J.C. Ryle was born into a well-off family. His father was an owner of a silk mill in the town in Macclesfield, England. He was also a local magistrate. His father also owned a bank, which would later be used in part of God’s will to make J. C. Ryle as we know him, a man of God.
Ryle was being trained to be in politics and banking, following in his father’s footsteps. He went to school at the prestigious public school Eton and later would go to Oxford to study at Christ Church. Ryle excelled in his studies, rising to the top of his class. He was also an excellent cricket player, leading his team at Eton and Christ Church. Ryle was surrounded by different Christian influences growing up but he would say his family was nominally Christian. It was when Ryle had a serious chest infection at an important time in Oxford with final examinations approaching that he began to read his Bible and pray. The Holy Spirit was continuing to work in his life when he attended church and the sermon was on Ephesians 2. When verse 8 was read, it spoke to him with spiritual power.
His good and comfortable life would drastically change overnight. The bank his father owned went under and left his family in poverty. They had to sell their estate. Ryle and his siblings needed to split up to help make ends meet and it was a very low point for the family. Ryle, who was in a desperate state for income, entered into ministry. At first glance one could look down on Ryle’s motive to enter the ministry, but his transparency also shows God’s sovereignty in his life. He writes in his autobiography, “Submission to God’s will is perfectly compatible with intense and keen suffering under the chastisement of that will.” He saw it as God’s directing him into ministry and for that we are forever grateful.
C. Ryle served the Lord faithfully until the day the Lord called him home. He is a world changer as he impacted not only the lives of those he ministered to personally, but through the power of the written word today.
Here is what stands out about Ryle:
He knew there was power in God’s Word.
The Bible tells us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). Ryle believed this with every part of his being. Everything he did—the sermons he preached, the way he ministered to people—was based on the power and truth of God’s Word, which points people to Jesus Christ.
He knew there was no compromising and would write in his journal, “If a man will become a decided evangelical Christian, he must make up his mind to lose the world’s favors; he must be content to be thought by many a perfect fool.”
He was not swayed by the opinion of man; he only cared what God would say. He would write early in his ministry:
“The story of my life has been such, that I really cared nothing for anyone’s opinion, and resolved not to consider one jot who was offended and who not offended by anything I did. I saw no one whose opinion I cared for in the place, and I resolved to ask nobody’s counsel, in the work of my Parish, or as to the matter or manner of my preaching, but just to do what I thought the Lord Jesus Christ would like, and not to care one jot for the face of man.” 
He strived to teach with clarity for the common man.
He loved people.
He thought it was important for the pastor to be involved with his congregation. The typical day for Ryle would be busy visiting families of his congregation. This was far from being the common practice of the clergy of the time. He envisaged an ideal parish of 5,000 people, and argued that his men should visit one hundred and five homes every week.
He would encourage other young men who were entering into ministry by saying,
“However eloquent or apparently knowledgeable a preacher may be, there will be something seriously lacking in the man who is not to be found in the homes of the people. Sermons which come only from the study are not likely to be messages which bind speaker and hearers together in a common bond of affection and sympathy. A preacher must be a visitor and be ready to preach everywhere. If the excuse be offered that there is too much public work to do, to give time to the private, then the priorities are wrong.”
He loved teaching his church about church history.
I guess one of the other reasons why I like Ryle so much is because he saw the value in teaching the church about church history. He would write, “I have been lately studying the lives and private habits of those men whom God raised up to be the revivers of the church of England in the last century…We should do well to consider whether we are living as near to God as they did.
One of his well-known books, Light from Old Times, focuses on those in church history that impacted England. He saw the importance of reading them and teaching them as we can learn dividends from them.
Ryle is a world changer because he cared about God’s opinion and not man’s. Everywhere he went he would share the gospel, not just in the church. People would notice that he would walk in the crowded streets of Liverpool and always be sharing the gospel with someone. This was his passion: lost souls coming to Christ.
- Banner of Truth just came out with his biography, Prepared to Stand Alone by Iain H. Murray
- J. C. Ryle’s autobiography edited by Andrew Atherstone
- Holiness by J. C. Ryle
- Thoughts for Young Men by J. C. Ryle