Many of my readers will have heard of ‘Bishop Ryle’. They will know something of the English clergyman who served churches in East Anglia for many years, before being appointed the first Bishop of Liverpool. J.C. Ryle was considered something of a ‘conservative’ even in his own day (he lived from 1816-1900). He defended expounded and defended evangelical churchmanship – the vigorous Protestantism of the Reformers and the Puritans – in the face of Anglo-catholicism and ‘modernism’.
But there was another ‘Bishop Ryle’. J.C. Ryle’s son, Herbert Edward (1856-1925) was a distinguished Old Testament scholar. In 1900 he was appointed Bishop of Exeter, and then a little later he became Bishop of Winchester. Like his father, he published a number of books that were influential in their day.
But who today reads anything by H.E. Ryle? Even though it was he who was the progressive thinker, and his father who was the ‘traditionalist’, it is work of Ryle Senior that has stood the test of time. I doubt that anything written by H.E. Ryle is in print today, whereas most of what J.C. Ryle wrote continues to be published, and read, and valued.
We do not despise real scholarship, or oppose genuine progress in theology. But at the heart of the Christian message ‘truth unchanged, unchanging’, there is a ‘faith delivered once for all to the saints’, there are the ‘old paths’ to which Bishop Ryle Senior pointed and still points to today.
I have yet to learn that there is any system of religious teaching, by whatever name it may be called…which produces one quarter of the effect on human nature that is produced by the old, despised system of doctrine which is commonly called Evangelical…The longer I live the more I am convinced that the world needs no new Gospel, as some profess to think. I am thorough persuaded that the world needs nothing but a bold, full, unflinching teaching of the “old paths”. (J.C. Ryle, Old Paths, preface vii)