Saturday, 25 January 2014

Old Paths by J. C. Ryle

J. C. Ryle, who was the first Bishop
 of Liverpool, was a leading British 
Evangelical in the nineteenth 
century. He was aware that the country was going through dramatic cultural and societal changes and that the church had to find ways of communicating the gospel to the vast numbers, especially in the towns and cities, who had not heard it. Therefore, he oversaw various developments within his own diocese to bring the gospel to the unchurched.
Ryle also realised the value of literature in bringing Christian truths before the minds of churchgoers and others. He therefore produced short papers on important Christian doctrines and explained them in clear and crisp English that was easy to understand and inspiring to read. It is not surprising that his writings are still read today. He realised the essential point that one does not have to use a lot of words in order to explain the truth. What matters is that authors use the right words and do so in a balanced and interesting way. Ryle always goes straight to the point and doesn’t lead readers down unnecessary diversions. Reading one of his explanations inevitably is helpful.
In this volume, reprinted in 2013 by the Banner of Truth, nineteen of his papers have been brought together. They are mainly on topics connected to becoming and being a Christian. There are also some on basic doctrines such as the inspiration of the Bible and the doctrine of justification by faith, both of which have been under attack in recent years, and each is explained simply and fully. The book is a reminder of the essentials of salvation and will help readers assess whether or not they are genuine Christians, which after all is the crucial matter for all of us.
One suspects that Ryle’s writing style was similar to his preaching style. While methods of communication have moved on since Ryle’s day, it is interesting to note the ways he draws readers into his presentations, especially with his use of direct questions, and also in his strong confidence that what he has to say is for their benefit. While no one wishes to be a pulpit clone, contemporary preachers can learn from Ryle’s directness how to communicate to today’s listeners.
So this volume containing material for readers in the nineteenth century will be helpful to readers in the twenty-first. 

This review appeared in the October 2013 Record of the Free Church of Scotland.

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