Why Is The Church So Few, Feeble & Fruitless In 2017? An Answer From 1885.
J.C. Ryle wrote the following in 1885 describing the reasons for the lack of health in the Church in England then…like a scalpel how precise it is for the overall state of the Church in the United States in 2017:
“I am obliged then to say plainly, that, in my judgment, we have among us neither the men nor the doctrines of the days gone by. We have none who preach with such peculiar power as Whitfield or Rowlands. We have none who in self-denial, singleness of eye, diligence, holy boldness, and unworldliness, come up to the level of Grimshaw, Walker, Venn, and Fletcher. It is a humbling conclusion; but I have long felt that it is the truth. We lack both the men and the message of the last century (1700s). What wonder if we do not see the last century’s results. Give us like men and a like message, and I have no fear that the Holy Ghost would grant us like results.
Wherein do evangelical Churchmen fall short of their great predecessors in the last century? Let us look this question fairly in the face. Let us come to particulars.
1. They fall short in doctrine. They are neither so full nor so distinct, nor so bold, nor so uncompromising. They are afraid of strong statements. They are too ready to fence, and guard, and qualify all their teaching, as if Christ’s gospel was a little baby, and could not be trusted to walk alone. [e.g. water it down & make it more appealing to people]
2. They fall short as preachers. They have neither the fervor, nor fire, nor thought, nor illustration, nor directness, nor holy boldness, nor grand simplicity of language which characterized the last century.
3. Above all, they fall short in life. They are not men of one thing, separate from the world, unmistakable men of God, ministers of Christ everywhere, indifferent to man’s opinion, regardless who is offended, if they only preach truth, always about their Father’s business, as Grimshaw and Fletcher used to be. They do not make the world feel that a prophet is among them, and carry about with their Master’s presence, as Moses when he came down from the mount.
I write these things with sorrow. I desire to take my full share of blame. But I do believe I am speaking the truth.
It is no use trying to evade the truth on this subject. I fear that, as a general rule, the evangelical ministry in England has fallen far below the standard of the last century, and that the simple account of the want of success to which many point is, the low standard both of doctrine and life which prevails.
- Ease and popularity, and the absence of persecution, are ruinous to some.
- Political questions eat out the vitality of others.
- An extravagant and excessive attention to the petty details of parish machinery withers up the ministry of others.
- An absurd straining after the reputation of being ‘intellectual’ and original [or famous and relevant!] is the curse of others.
- A desire to seem charitable and liberal, and keep in with everybody, paralyzes the ministry of others [e.g. never offending anyone, agreeing with everyone].
The plague is abroad. We want a revival among evangelical ministers. Once let the evangelical ministry of England return to the ways of the last century, and I firmly believe we should have as much success as before. We are where we are, because we have come short of our fathers” (Christian Leaders of the 18th Century, J.C. Ryle, 1885, p.p. 430-431).
May we repent before the LORD, acknowledging our guilt and idolatry in any of these areas, and receive both His forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9).
May we return to the Truth handed down to us (2 Thessalonians 2:13-15), the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3), the only Truth that can set people free (John 8:31-32), and let go of the “new versions” which are no Gospel at all (Galatians 1:6-10), the modern twists on the Gospel that for the sake of relevance may make people happy for a time but which can never make people holy for all time.
May we cry out to the Savior for hearts of cashmere and spines of steel as live humble & holy, healthy & fruitful lives among non-Christians.
And may we, in grace & Truth, gentleness and boldness, weakness in self & strong in the power of the LORD (1 Corinthians 2:1-5), may we stand and go and fill the cities in which we live with this teaching, to the ends of the earth, no matter the cost (Acts 1:8; Acts 5:28).
1 Timothy 4:16:
“Watch your life and doctrine closely.
Persevere in them,
because if you do,
you will save both yourself and your hearers.”