Leading Features of Evangelical Religion (J.C. Ryle)

I’ve shared these with a couple of groups in the last month and have received a number of comments about them. J.C. Ryle included them in his book Knots Untied. I have said before that I love J.C. Ryle. He is easily one of my favorite writers (preachers). This is an excellent list of important doctrines. One might argue for other doctrines to be included (e.g., the sovereignty of God), but the list is what it is, and it is a good emphasis on these doctrines.

“Has evangelical religion any distinctive principles? I answer, it as. Are they worth contending for? I answer, they are. To the question ‘what Evangelical religion is? The simplest answer I can give is to point out what appear to be its leading features. These I consider to be five in number.

    a) The first leading feature of Evangelical Religion is the absolute supremacy it assigns to Holy Scripture, as the only rule of faith and practice … Show us anything plainly written in that Book, and, however trying to flesh and blood, we will receive it, believe it, and submit to it. Show us anything, as religion, which is contrary to that Book, and, however specious, plausible, beautiful, and apparently desirable, we will not have it at any price … Here is rock: all else is sand.

    b) The second leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the depth and prominence it assigns to the doctrine of human sinfulness and corruption … All men … are not only in a miserable, pitiable, and bankrupt condition, but in a state of guilt, imminent danger, and condemnation before God. They are not only at enmity with their Maker and have no title to heaven, but they have no will to serve their Maker, no love to their Maker, and no meetness for Heaven … Hence we protest with all our heart against formalism, sacramentalism, and every species of mere external or vicarious Christianity. We maintain that all such religion is founded on an inadequate view of man’s spiritual need. It requires nothing less than the blood of God the Son applied to the conscience, and the grace of God the Holy Ghost entirely renewing the heart … Next to the Bible, as its foundation, it [i.e. evangelical religion] is based on a clear view of original sin.

    c) The third leading feature of Evangelical Religion is the paramount importance it attaches to the work and office of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the nature of the salvation which he has wrought out for man … All who believe on Him are, even while they live, completely forgiven and justified from all things – are reckoned completely righteous before God … We hold that an experimental [i.e. experiential] knowledge of Christ crucified and interceding, is the very essence of Christianity, and that in teaching men the Christian religion we can never dwell too much on Christ himself, and can never speak too strongly of the fullness, freeness, presentness, and simplicity of the salvation there is in him for every one that believes … We say that life eternal is to know Christ, believe in Christ, abide in Christ, have daily heart communion with Christ, by simple personal faith, and that everything in religion is useful so far as it helps forward that life of faith, but no further.

    d) The fourth leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the high place which it assigns to the inward work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of man … We maintain that the things which need most to be pressed on men’s attention are those mighty works of the Holy Spirit, inward repentance, inward faith, inward hope, inward hatred of sin, and inward love to God’s law … We hold that, as an inward work of the Holy Ghost is a necessary thing to man’s salvation, so also it is a thing that must be inwardly felt … there can be n o real conversion to God, no new creation in Christ, no new birth of the Spirit, where there is nothing felt and experienced within … We insist that where there is nothing felt within the heart of a man, there is nothing really possessed.

 e) The fifth and last leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the importance which it attaches to the outward and visible work of the Holy Ghost in the life of man … The true grace of God is a thing that will always make itself manifest in the conduct, behaviour, tastes, ways, choices and habits of him who has it. It is not a dormant thing … To tell a man he is “born of God,” or regenerated, while he is living in carelessness or sin, is a dangerous delusion … Where there is the grace of the Spirit there will always be more or less fruit of the Spirit … where there is nothing seen, there is nothing possessed.”

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