This volume, like the one before it, is largely concerned with the doctrinalside of Christian spirituality, whereasthe two works that follow focus more on practical Christian living. In a time of theological controversy and spiritual confusion, Ryle called readers back to the “simple, unadulterated, and old-fashioned” evangelical theology and piety of generations past.
C. Ryle was born and raised in a wealthy but unspiritual home. He distinguished himself academically and athletically at Eton and Oxford. In his final year at university he experienced an evangelical conversion, the account of which has achieved a semi-legendary status among evangelicals—a testimony to the power of the public reading of Scripture. Shortly thereafter, his father’s bankruptcy ruined the family, ended Ryle’s political career before it started, and forced him into the ministry of the Church of England. Although he initially became a clergyman because he felt “shut up to it,” Ryle quickly gained a reputation for being a powerful preacher, diligent pastor, popular author, and effective controversialist. He rose through the evangelical ranks to become the undisputed leader and party spokesman—the first to hold that distinction since Charles Simeon (1759–1836). He became the first Bishop of Liverpool in 1880 at an age (64) when many clergymen contemplate retirement, and served as the chief pastor of the second city of the British Empire until his death in 1900. Bishop Ryle has been dead for more than a century, but his works on the Christian life continue to “do good to souls.”
The World and Works of J.C. Ryle
Ryle composed his major works on Christian piety in the midst of theological controversy, and it is against this background that they must be read. Biblical piety—evangelical, reformed, and protestant piety—was under assault by three enemies in the latter half of the nineteenth century.