Evangelical Bishop

by Bernard R. DeRemer

John Charles Ryle grew up in the center of the silk industry in England. It was also an area of strong evangelical faith, going back to 1745 when John Wesley preached in the region.

Ryle was born in 1816 at Macclesfield, Cheshire. After prep school he attended Oxford and was saved in 1837. Relatives had faithfully witnessed, then he heard a message on Ephesians 2 which gripped his heart and transformed his life.

"In preparation for sharing his father's banking business, Ryle studied law in London but after six months he had to return home because of ill health. However, he soon recovered and entered into business with enthusiasm."1

But when the bank failed the family lost everything. Ryle's father was the victim of bad advice and an untrustworthy manager. "The family was left with Mrs. Ryle's dowry, some personal property, and their clothes."

For the next 20 years Mr. Ryle struggled hard to pay back every cent of the debt. Family members helped in every way they could.

Young John felt called to the ministry and began his first pastorate at Exbury. From 1844 to 1861 he served at Helmingham. He "went through the valley during those years, burying his first wife of less than two years in 1847 and his second wife in 1860."

But better days were ahead. From 1861-80 he ministered at Stradbroke, where he met and married his third wife. The congregation was eager to hear the Word preached and he led them in physical restoration of the old church. He had workmen carve on the pulpit, "Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel."

In 1880 Ryle was appointed the first bishop of Liverpool. Evangelicals in the Church of England grew out of the great revivals of Whitefield and Wesley. John Newton, author of "Amazing Grace," was also a part of this movement.

Ryle built 90 places of worship and staffed them with 136 ministers. Also he established a ministry of "Bible women" to assist the resident clergy and take the gospel to the poor. He organized ministries for children and even used secular buildings for religious services; "by all means save some" (1 Cor. 9:22).

Ryle's literary output was considerable. He wrote more than 100 tracts and pamphlets on doctrinal and practical subjects which were widely circulated in English and foreign languages.

Wiersbe notes that Baker Book House has reprinted a number of Bishop Ryle's books, "including his monumental Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, a set that ought to be in every Bible student's library. The Best of J.C. Ryle is a good sampler for the reader not yet familiar with this giant of the faith.

"His books on Holiness, The New Birth, and Call to Prayer deal with essentials of the Christian life. The True Christian is a collection of Ryle's sermons on many subjects that relate to the Christian life.

"Banner of Truth Trust, London, has reprinted Warnings to the Churches, a series of addresses that focus primarily on the church and its ministryRyle's biographical studies, Five Christian Leaders and Five English Reformers, are also available from Banner of Truth."

"Beware of divisions. One thing the children of the world can always understand if they do not understand doctrine; that thing is angry quarreling and controversy. Be at peace among yourselves."

So wrote Bishop Ryle in his farewell message to Liverpool diocese ministers on Feb. 1, 1990. For nearly 20 years he had ministered faithfully among them. He died on June 10, but "he left behind a spiritual legacy that has enriched believers and strengthened the church."

This triumphant testimony appears on his gravestone: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:7).


1. Victorious Christians You Should Know, by Warren Wiersbe; excerpts used by permission.

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