Eighteen years ago, my parents gave me a book by J. C. Ryle which I have picked up again: Christian Leaders of the 18th Century. It contains brief biographical sketches of men who “shook England from one end to another”—men such as George Whitefield, John Wesley, William Grimshaw, and Daniel Rowlands.
Reading sections of this book again nearly two decades later, now as a preacher and pastor, I find myself drawn to and stirred by J. C. Ryle’s description of these leaders’ preaching:
“They wisely went back to first principles,” Ryle writes, “and took up apostolic plans. They held, with St. Paul, that a minister’s first work is to ‘to preach the gospel.'”
What characterized this apostolic, nation-shaking preaching? Ryle tells us:
- They preached everywhere.
- They preached simply.
- They preached fervently and directly.
Ryle also tells us the substance of their preaching:
- The sufficiency and supremacy of Holy Scripture
- The total corruption of human nature
- That Christ’s death upon the cross was the only satisfaction for man’s sin
- Justification by faith
- The universal necessity of heart conversion and new creation by the Holy Spirit
- The inseparable connection between true faith and personal holiness
- God’s eternal hatred against sin, and God’s love towards sinners