by Bishop J.C. Ryle
Since many religious disputes have arisen solely because there has been a lack of accurate definition, I am beginning this paper by explaining exactly what I mean by “Evangelical Religion”.
I want to consider that religion which is peculiar to those within the Church of England who are normally called “the Evangelical Party”. Whether we like it, or not; whether it is right or not, it must be agreed that there are varying schools of thought within the Church of England, with many divisions and shades of opinion even within the various parties. Here I am concerned with the unmistakable and undeniable tenets of the Evangelical school which, I maintain, are worth contending for.
This is a subject of great difficulty and delicate grounds, for it necessitates comparisons and all comparisons are odious. But sometimes comparisons are a duty. Did not Paul command “Approve the things that are excellent”? (Phil. 1;10), and while I have a sense of the difficulties, I have a deeper sense of the importance of this subject. The existence of parties cannot be ignored, and the strife is not just one about trappings and vestments in religion, but about the very foundations of the Gospel. Evangelicals must therefore consider what they have to maintain and defend; so let us distinctly understand our principles.
In defining Evangelical Religion, I can only bring forward the result of careful reading and study of the works of Evangelical fathers. I have only arrived at these conclusions after prayer, thought and pains. I am not claiming to be a mouthpiece for the Evangelical Party, for many who are called Evangelical will not agree with all in this paper. But I am writing what I believe to be the leading tenets of Evangelicalism.
WHAT EVANGELICAL RELIGION IS
I want to point out what I consider to be the five leading features of Evangelicalism.
1.) The absolute supremacy of Holy Scripture.
The first feature is the supremacy of Scripture as the only rule of faith and practice, the only test of truth and the only judge of controversy.
Evangelicals believe that man is required to accept nothing as necessary to Salvation which cannot be read in or proved from Holy Scripture. They deny any other guide for man, and reject such arguments as “The Church says so”, etc., unless what is said is in harmony with Scripture. We will accept anything in the Bible, however trying, but anything contrary, however specious, plausible or desirable, we will not have under any commendation.
Our faith can find no resting place except in the Bible; its supreme authority is one of the corner stones of our system. Here is rock, all else is sand.
2.) The doctrine of human sinfulness and corruption.
Through Adam’s fall, everyone is as far as possible gone from original righteousness, and is, naturally, inclined to evil. Before God, man is miserable, pitiable and bankrupt, and in a state of guilt, condemnation and danger. Everyone is at enmity with God, without title to heaven, and with no love for God.
Such a spiritual disease calls for as mighty a spiritual cure. So Evangelical religion will not countenance anything which even seems to encourage the idea that there is an easy cure, or that a little outward appearance or sacrament receiving is all that is needed. Thus we protest strongly against formalism, sacerdotalism (1) or any other external or vicarious (2) Christianity. Such religion is based on an inadequate view of man’s need. Nothing less than the blood of Christ and the grace of God applied to heart and soul can cure.
It is because many are ignorant of the extent of the fall and the doctrine of original sin that they cannot understand Evangelical Religion. Next to the Bible, it is based on a clear view of Original Sin.
3.) The work and office of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the salvation He has wrought for man.
Jesus Christ has by His life, death and resurrection, as our representative and substitute, obtained a complete salvation for sinners and a redemption from the guilt, power and consequences of sin. All who believe on Him are, even while they live, completely forgiven and justified, reckoned righteous before God and are interested in Christ and all His benefits.
Only simple faith between the sinner and the Saviour is involved. Anything else is only useful so far as it helps the faith. But anything relied upon as an end is just poison to the soul.
The essence of Christianity is a practical knowledge of Christ, so that in teaching Christianity we can never speak too much of Christ, or too strongly of the full, free and simple salvation for all who believe in Him.
Now this doctrine is just what the. natural man most dislikes, for man wants a religion of sight and sense – not faith; of doing, not believing. People should be warned against making a Christ of the Church, or the Ministry, or forms of worship, or Baptism, or even the Lord’s Supper. Life eternal is to know, believe in and abide in Christ. Everything in religion is useful in so far as it helps faith, but no further.
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