PAST AND PRESENT MINISTERS COMPARED
J. C. Ryle, 1816 – 1900
Would we know why the ministers who profess to follow the evangelical fathers are so much less successful than they were’? The question is a delicate and interesting one, and ought not to be shelved. The suspicion naturally crosses some minds, that the doctrines which won victories a hundred years ago are worn out, and have lost their power, I believe that theory to be an entire mistake. The answer which I give to the enquiry is one of a very different kind. I am obliged to say plainly, that, in my judgment, we have among us neither the men nor the doctrines of the days gone by. It is a humbling conclusion; but I have long felt that it is the truth. 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? Let us look this question fairly in the face. Let us come to particulars. 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. They fall short as preachers. They have neither the fervour, nor fire, nor thought, nor illustration, nor directness, nor boldness, nor grand simplicity of language which characterized the last century. 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 the truth. They do not make the world feel that a prophet is among them, and carry about with them their Master’s presence, as Moses when he had come 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 so 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. An extravagant and excessive attention to petty details withers up the ministry of others. An absurd straining after the reputation of being ‘intellectual’ and original is the curse of others. A desire to seem charitable and liberal, and keep in with everybody, paralyzes the ministry of others. The plague is abroad. We want a revival among evangelical ministers. We are where we are, because we have come short of our fathers.
I repeat it emphatically, for I believe it sincerely. The first want of our day is a return to the old, simple, and sharply-cut doctrines of our fathers; and the second want is a generation of like-minded and like-gifted men to preach them. Give me in any county of England and Wales a man like Grimshaw or Rowlands, or Whitefield, and there is nothing in the present day which would make me afraid. Let us ask Him who holds the stars in His right hand to revive His work among our ministers, and to raise up men for our times. He can do it. He waits to be entreated. Then let all who pray cry night and day to the Lord of the harvest, ‘Lord, send forth more labourers into Thy harvest.’