15 Memorable Quotes from J.C. Ryle’s “Warnings to the Churches”

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1. BEWARE OF TRUSTING TEACHERS OF RELIGION

“Beware of supposing that a teacher of religion is to be trusted, because although he holds some unsound views, he yet ‘teaches a great deal of truth.’ Such a teacher is precisely the man to do you harm: poison is always most dangerous when it is given in small doses and mixed with wholesome food. Beware of being taken in my the apparent earnestness of many of the teachers and upholders of false doctrine. Remember that zeal and sincerity and fervor are no proof whatever that a man is working for Christ, and ought to believed. Peter no doubt was in earnest when he bade our Lord spare Himself, and not go to the cross; yet our Lord said to him, ‘Get thee behind Me, Satan.’ Saul no doubt was in earnest when he went to and fro persecuting Christians; yet he did it ignorantly, and his zeal was not according to knowledge. The founders of the Spanish Inquisition no doubt were in earnest, and in burning God’s saints alive thought they were doing God service; yet they were actually persecuting Christ’s members and walking in the steps of Cain. – It is an awful fact that, ‘Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.’ (2 Corinthians 11:14) Of all the delusions prevalent in these latter days, there is none greater than the common notion that ‘if a man is in earnest about his religion he must be a good man!’ Beware of being carried away by this delusion; beware of being led astray by ‘earnest minded men!’ Earnestness is in itself an excellent thing; but it must be earnestness in behalf of Christ and His whole truth, or else it is worth nothing at all.”

2. EVEN FALSE TEACHERS ARE ZEALOUS

“Many things combine to make the present inroad of false doctrine peculiarly dangerous. There is an undeniable zeal in some of the teachers of error: their ‘earnestness’ (to use an unhappy cant phrase) makes many think they must be right. There is a great appearance of learning and theological knowledge: many fancy that such clever and intellectual men must surely be safe guides. There is a general tendency to free thought and free inquiry in these latter days: many like to prove their independence of judgment, by believing novelties. There is a wide-spread desire to appear charitable and liberal-minded: many seem half ashamed of saying that anybody can be in the wrong. There is a quantity of half-truth taught by the modern false teachers: they are incessantly using Scriptural terms and phrases in an unscriptural sense. There is a morbid craving in the public mind for a more sensuous, ceremonial, sensational, showy worship: men are impatient of inward, invisible heartwork. There is a silly readiness in every direction to believe everybody who talks cleverly, lovingly, and earnestly, and a determination to forget that Satan is often ‘transformed into an angel of light.’ (2 Corinthians 2:14) There is a wide-spread ‘gullibility’ among professing Christians: every heretic who tells his story plausibly is
sure to be believed, and everybody who doubts him is called a persecutor and a narrow-minded man. All these things are peculiar symptoms of our times. I defy any observing man to deny them. They tend to make the assaults of false doctrine in our day peculiarly dangerous. They make it more than ever needful to cry aloud, ‘Be not carried about.’”

3. THE BIBLE IS THE BEST SAFEGUARD AGAINST FALSE DOCTRINE

“Does any one ask me, What is the best safeguard against false doctrine? – I answer in one word, ‘The Bible: the Bible regularly read, regularly prayed over, regularly studied.’ We must go back to the old prescription of our Master: ‘Search the Scriptures.’ (John 5:39) If we want a weapon to wield against the devices of Satan, there is nothing like ‘the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.’ But to wield it successfully, we must read it habitually, diligently, intelligently, and prayerfully. This is a point on which, I fear, many fail. In an age of hurry and bustle, few read their Bibles as much as they should. More books perhaps are read than ever, but less of the one Book which makes man wise unto salvation. Rome and neology could never have made such havoc in the Church in the last fifty years, if there had not been a most superficial knowledge of the Scriptures throughout the land. A Bible-reading laity is the strength of a Church.”

4. DON’T MAKE A POPE OUT OF YOUR MINISTER

“Your minister may be a man of God indeed, and worthy of all honor for his preaching and practice; but do not make a pope of him. Do not place his word side by side with the Word of God. Do not spoil him by flattery. Do not let him suppose he can make no mistakes. Do not lean your whole weight on his opinion, or you may find to your cost that he can err. It is written of Joash, King of Judah, that he ‘did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest.’ (2 Chronicles 24:2) Jehoiada died, and then died the religion of Joash. Just so your minister may die, and then your religion may die too; – may change, and your religion may change; – may go away, and your religion may go. Oh, be not satisfied with a religion built upon man! Be not content with saying, ‘I have hope, because my own minister has told me such and such things.’ Seek to be able to say, ‘I have hope, because I find it thus and thus written in the Word of God.’ If your peace is to be solid, you must go yourself to the fountain of all truth. If your comforts are to be lasting, you must visit the well of life yourself, and draw fresh water for your own soul. Ministers may depart from the faith. The visible Church may be broken up. But he who has the Word of God written in his heart, has a foundation beneath his feet which will never fail him. Honor your minister as a faithful ambassador of Christ. Esteem him very highly in love for his work’s sake. But never forget that infallibility is not to be found in godly ministers, but in the Bible.”

5. CONTROVERSY IN RELIGION

“Controversy in religion is a hateful thing. It is hard enough to fight the devil, the world and the flesh, without private differences in our own camp. But there is one thing which is even worse than controversy, and that is false doctrine tolerated, allowed, and permitted without protest or molestation. It was controversy that won the battle of Protestant Reformation. If the views that some men hold were correct, it is plain we never ought to have had any Reformation at all! For the sake of peace, we ought to have gone on worshipping the Virgin, and bowing down to images and relics to this very day! Away with such trifling! There are times when controversy is not only a duty but a benefit. Give me the mighty thunderstorm rather than the pestilential malaria. The one walks in darkness and poisons us in silence, and we are never safe. The other frightens and alarms for a little season. But it is soon over, and it clears the air. It is a plain Scriptural duty to ‘contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.’ (Jude 3) “I am quite aware that the things I have said are exceedingly distasteful to many minds. I believe many are content with teaching which is not the whole truth, and fancy it will be ‘all the same’ in the end. I am sorry for them. I am convinced that nothing but the whole truth is likely, as a general rule, to do good to souls. I am satisfied that those who willfully put up with anything short of the whole truth, will find at last that their souls have received much damage. Three things there are which men never ought to trifle with, – a little poison, a little false doctrine, and a little sin.”

6. WHY THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH ALONE WITHOUT WORKS IS IMPORTANT

“No man on earth is a real child of God, and a saved soul, till he sees and receives salvation by faith in Christ Jesus. No man will ever have solid peace and true assurance, until he embraces with all his heart the doctrine that ‘we are accounted righteous before God for the merit of our Lord Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works and deservings.’ One reason, I believe, why so many professors in this day are tossed to and fro, enjoy little comfort, and feel little peace, is their ignorance on this point. They do not see clearly justification by faith without the deeds of the law.”

7. BEWARE OF ANY TEACHING THAT OBSURCES THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH

“Let us always beware of any teaching which either directly or indirectly obscures justification by faith. All religious systems which put anything between the heavy laden sinner and Jesus Christ the Savior, except simple faith, are dangerous and unscriptural. All systems which make out faith to be anything complicated, anything but a simple, childlike dependence, – the hand which receives the soul’s medicine from the physician, – are unsafe and poisonous systems. All systems which cast discredit on the simple Protestant doctrine which broke the power of Rome, carry about with them a plague-spot, and are dangerous to souls.”

8. ARM YOURSELVES WITH A THOROUGH KNOWLEDGE OF SCRIPTURE

“. . let me first of all ask everyone who reads this paper, to arm himself with a thorough knowledge of the written Word of God. Unless we do this we are at the mercy of any false teacher. We shall not see through the mistakes of an erring Peter. We shall not be able to imitate the faithfulness of a courageous Paul. An ignorant laity will always be the bane of a Church. A Bible-reading laity may save a Church from ruin. Let us read the Bible regularly, daily, and with fervent prayer, and become familiar with its contents. Let us receive nothing, believe nothing, follow nothing, which is not in the Bible, nor can be proved by the Bible. Let our rule of faith, our touchstone of all teaching, be the written Word of God.”

9. KEEP JEALOUS WATCH OVER YOUR OWN HEARTS

“. . . let me entreat all who read this paper to keep a jealous watch over their own hearts in these controversial times. There is much need of this caution. In the heat of the battle we are apt to forget our own inner man. Victory in argument is not always victory over the world or victory over the devil. Let the meekness of St. Peter in taking a reproof, be as much our example as the boldness of St. Paul in reproving. Happy is the Christian who can call the person who rebukes him faithfully, a ‘beloved brother.’ (2 Peter 3:15) Let us strive to be holy in all manner of conversation, and not least in our tempers. Let us labor to maintain an uninterrupted communion with the Father and with the Son, and to keep up constant habits of private prayer and Bible-reading. Thus we shall be armed for the battle of life, and have the sword of the Spirit well fitted to our hand when the day of temptation comes.”

10. FALSE DOCTRINE HAS NEVER CEASED TO BE THE PLAGUE OF CHRISTENDOM

“And no fact in Church history is more clearly proved than this – that false doctrine has never ceased to be the plague of Christendom for the last eighteen centuries (now twenty-one centuries). Looking forward with the eye of a prophet. St. Paul might well say ‘I fear :’ ‘I fear not merely the corruption of your morals, but of your minds.’ The plain truth is that false doctrine has been the chosen engine which Satan has employed in every age to stop the progress of the Gospel of Christ. Finding himself unable to prevent the Fountain of Life being opened, he has laboured incessantly to poison the streams which flow from it. If he could not destroy it, he has too often neutralized its usefulness by addition, subtraction, or substitution. In a word he has ‘corrupted men’s minds.’”

11. WHEN CONTROVERSY IS A POSITIVE DUTY

“Controversy is an odious thing; but there are days when it is a positive duty. Peace is an excellent thing; but, like gold, it may be bought too dear. Unity is a mighty blessing; but it is worthless if it is purchased at the cost of truth. Once more I say, Open your eyes and be on your guard.”

12. JESUS CHRIST IS THE ONLY WAY

“‘Christ is the way: men without Him are Cains, wanderers, vagabonds. His is the truth: men without Him are liars, like the devil of old. He is the life: men without Him are dead in trespasses and sins. He is the light: men without Him are in darkness, and go they know not whither. He is the vine: men that are not in Him are withered branches prepared for the fire. He is the rock: men not built on Him are carried away with a flood. He is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the author and the ender, the founder and finisher of our salvation. He that hath not Him hath neither beginning of good nor shall have end of misery. Oh, blessed Jesus, how much better were it not to be than to be without Thee! never to be born than not to die in Thee! A thousand hells come short of this, eternally to want Jesus Christ.’ This witness is true. If we can say Amen to the spirit of this passage it will be well with our souls.”

13. LET US ARM OUR MINDS WITH THE WORD OF GOD

“. . . if we would be kept from failing away into false doctrine, let us arm our minds with a thorough knowledge of God’s Word. Let us read our Bibles from beginning to end with daily diligence, and constant prayer for the teaching of the Holy Spirit, and so strive to become thoroughly familiar with their contents. Ignorance of the Bible is the root of all error, and a superficial acquaintance with it accounts for many of the sad perversions and defections of the present day. In a hurrying age of railways and telegraphs, I am firmly persuaded that many Christians do not give time enough to private reading of the Scriptures. I doubt seriously whether English people did not know their Bibles better two hundred years ago than they do now. The consequence is, that they are ‘tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine,’ and fall an easy prey to the first clever teacher of error who tries to influence their minds. I entreat my readers to remember this counsel, and take heed to their ways. It is as true now as ever, that the good textuary is the only good theologian, and that a familiarity with great leading texts, is, as our Lord proved in the temptation, one of the best safeguards against error. Arm yourself then with the sword of the Spirit, and let your hand become used to it. I am well aware that there is no royal road to Bible-knowledge. Without diligence and pains no one ever becomes ‘mighty in the Scriptures.’ ‘Justification,’ said Charles Simeon, with his characteristic quaintness, ‘is by faith, but knowledge of the Bible comes by works.’ But of one thing I am certain: there is no labour which will be so richly repaid as laborious regular daily study of God’s Word.”

14. BECOME THROUGHLY ACQUAINTED WITH THE REFORMATION

“Let us make ourselves thoroughly acquainted with the history of the English Reformation. My reason for offering this counsel is my firm conviction that this highly important part of English history has of late years been undeservedly neglected. Thousands of Churchmen now-a-days have a most inadequate notion of the amount of our debt to our martyred Reformers. They have no distinct conception of the state of darkness and superstition in which our fathers lived, and of the light and liberty which the Reformation brought in. And the consequence is that they see no great harm in the Romanizing movement of the present day, and have very indistinct ideas of the real nature and work of Popery. It is high time that a better state of things should begin. Of one thing I am thoroughly convinced: a vast amount of the prevailing apathy about the Romanizing movement of the day may be traced up to gross ignorance, both of the true nature of Popery and of the Protestant Reformation.”

15. BEWARE OF IDOLATRY

“Let us mark this well. It is high time to dismiss from our minds those loose ideas about idolatry, which are common in this day. We must not think, as many do, that there are only two sorts of idolatry–the spiritual idolatry of the man who loves his wife, or child, or money more than God; and the open, gross idolatry of the man who bows down to an image of wood, or metal, or stone, because he knows no better. We may rest assured that idolatry is a sin which occupies a far wider field than this. It is not merely a thing in pagan lands, that we may hear of and pity at missionary meetings; nor yet is it a thing confined to our own hearts, that we may confess before the mercy-seat upon our knees. It is a pestilence that walks in the Church of the Living Christ to a much greater extent than many suppose. It is an evil that, like the man of sin, “that sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4).”

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