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Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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J. C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone by Iain H. Murray. Banner of Truth. 275 pages. 2016

I was excited to read this new biography of J.C. Ryle, a respected 1800’s theologian/author, published on the 200th anniversary of his birth by Iain Murray, an author who I always enjoy reading. Ryle was born into a family that were leaders in the emerging new merchant class in Macclesfield, England, his grandfather having built a prosperous silk mill, and upon his death left an immense fortune to his son, John, J.C. Ryle’s father. John would become one of the best-known figures in the county, being elected to Parliament.
J.C. was raised in the greatest comfort and luxury, and had everything that money could buy, but his father took little notice of his children.  He would be sent to a private preparatory school for three and a half years, twenty miles from home.  He would next go to Eton College, which was twenty-one miles west of London, where he spent nearly seven years and begin his love of the sport of cricket. In 1834 he entered Christ Church, Oxford, where he spent three years. During his first 18 years he writes of being barely exposed to biblical Christianity in his home.
He did not know the exact date of his conversion, but his turning point took place in 1834. He would return from Oxford a different man.
He was attracted to the legal profession in London, where he stayed for just six months due to poor health.  His father’s bank would be ruined and all of his wealth would be lost – his properties, bank, and silk mill. J.C. writes of his life being turned upside down and thrown into confusion, stating had he not been a Christian at this time, he may have committed suicide.
He became a clergyman because that would bring him some income. At Exbury, he would visit each home in his parish at least once a month, but stated that he didn’t really learn how to preach until he was 50.
Resigning due to poor health, he would be offered the rectory of St Thomas, Winchester, serving some 3,000 people in 1843, where he would stay for only five months.
He would meet and marry Matilda in 1845. She would die just three years later of lung disease. He would marry Jessy in 1850, who would become ill six months into the marriage, dying just ten years into the marriage. He would again become a widower with five children.  He then married Henrietta in 1861, and they would enjoy long years of happiness together before her death in 1889.
Of the significance of Ryle’s writing (tracts, addresses, books), Murray writes that they must be appreciated in their wider historical context. He states that at the beginning of the nineteenth century there were few popular writers in the Church of England.  Most of his books came about in the same way: Holiness in 1877, Old Paths in 1878, Practical Religion in 1879, Coming Events and Present Duties in 1879. All brought together material previously published as separate tracts. By 1888 it is said that between 200 and 300 tracts of various lengths had been published, with over 12 million issued. From his first tract at Helmingham in 1844, the primary intention was evangelistic and pastoral. He produced a large amount of writing in his difficult years at Helmingham. Murray writes that he could produce so much of enduring value, and that in the midst of many trials, is indication enough that he was himself being fed from rich sources. Ryle would become the vicar at Stradbroke in 1861.
In 1869, he would become a rural dean of Hoxne which involved a measure of oversight for twenty-five other parishes, and in February 1872 he was made an honorary canon of Norwich.
At age 63. Ryle would become the Bishop of Liverpool. Murray writes of challenges that Ryle faced in his leadership. For the sake of unity and better relationships with other Churchman, he urged toleration over what was not fundamental. He encouraged attendance at mixed gatherings such as Convocations and Church Congresses.
One of the greatest disappointments in his life, would be his son Herbert aligning with the opposition theologically. His father saw the strength and unity of the Church in a return to definite evangelical doctrines. Herbert saw the Church attaining peace and unity by the allowance of a broad doctrinal liberty. Murray writes that despite their differences, the bond between father and son had not failed, and that they would remain close.
Ryle was to express regret that he had not come to Liverpool as a younger man when he would have been able to do more. By the beginning of 1899 Ryle’s health was in evident decline. On January 8, 1899, he preached at St. Nathaniel’s on John 17:15. It would be his last time in that pulpit. Passing his 84th birthday on May 10, he would die on June 10.
The book includes appendices on extracts from Ryle and on son Herbert.

None Other: Discovering the God of the Bible by John MacArthur. Reformation Trust. 123 pages. 2017

In this short book, respected pastor and author John MacArthur aims to get beyond the mere facts of who God is and help the reader to develop an understanding of His character. He wants us to not just know about God, but to know Him. Among the many important topics he briefly covers in this book include election, God’s sovereignty, salvation (justification, sanctification and glorification), imputation, substitution, evil and God’s holiness.
He writes that the truth about election is essential to understanding who God is, His plan of redemption, and His design for the church. We also must hold the doctrine of election with great humility. The ultimate end of election, the ultimate purpose behind God’s grace poured out on us, is the eternal glorification of the Son.
A particularly helpful section is when he looks at God’s sovereignty and human will, an issue that many struggle to understand. He writes that while some see an insurmountable contradiction between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, God’s sovereignty does not nullify our own personal responsibility for the sinful things we do. He writes that the Bible is not concerned with reconciling divine judgment with any human assumptions about justice or fairness. Scripture simply explains what God did, and we are to understand that it was just and fair because He did it. He tells us that God’s sovereignty is a truth that should provoke wonder and worship.
He tells us that salvation is God’s work, but it is nevertheless our duty to believe, and God will hold those who refuse Him responsible for their unbelief. And while the Lord knows whom He chose in eternity past, we do not have insight into His electing work. As a result, we must fervently pursue every sinner while there is still time to repent.
He states that salvation is primarily for the honor of the Son, not the honor of the sinner, and that the purpose of the Father’s love gift is not to save us so we can have a happy life; it is to save us so that we can spend eternity praising the Son. In God’s perfect plan, He sovereignly draws us to Christ. On our own, we would never choose to believe in Christ. But in God’s sovereignty, those He draws will, without fail, believe. He tells us that the Lord’s gracious choice of certain people unto eternal life is just that, His choice. It’s not based on human merit.  God has graciously, lovingly extended the offer of the gospel to all mankind. But that offer won’t last forever.
He writes that if we understand the true nature of sin, righteousness, and judgment, we should realize that it’s no mystery at all why God condemns sinners. The real mystery is why He saves anyone at all.
He writes that the gospel proclaims the way to forgiveness, redemption, a right standing with God, and the gift of eternal life. It is not a guarantee that earthly suffering will be banished from our experience, nor does it promise immediate or automatic healing from every physical affliction.
Don’t underestimate this book due to its small size. There is much gold included.

  • The Collected Works of John Piper. Uniting for the first time the entirety of John Piper’s published writings from 1970 to 2015, this 14-volume collection, published by Crossway Books and edited by David Mathis and Justin Taylor, features the latest editions of fifty of Piper’s books along with hundreds of articles and chapters, compiled into one beautifully designed resource.
  • Your Work in the Home Matters to God. Gracy Olmstead reviews Courtney Reissig’s new book Glory in the Ordinary: Why Your Work in the Home Matters to God. She writesGlory In the Ordinary is a comforting book in a performance-obsessed culture. While there’s some tough love in these chapters, there’s enough encouragement in between to ease ruffled feathers. Reissig reminds us of the gentleness of the Lord, the way he loves us in the hard moments. She reminds us of the beauty of vocation—no matter how simple or mundane that vocation may be.”
  • Learning to Live a Grace-Paced Life. Watch this interview with David Murray about his new book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture, a new book I plan to read soon.
  • Local Man’s Impressive Book Collection Entirely Ornamental. The Babylon Bee, Your Trusted Source For Christian News Satire, reports “Noting the significant amount of time and money it has taken to amass such a choice assemblage of theological works, local man Mike Carter announced Thursday that his impressive book collection is entirely ornamental.”
  • The Benedict Option: Valid Call to Spiritual Renewal; Dangerous Rx for the Church to Retreat. Hugh Whelchel writes “I appreciate the spirit of Dreher’s vision of renewal in the church, but I am concerned that his remedy would lead to isolationism and possibly increase the world’s perception of the irrelevance of the church, even if unintended. Because of the dangers of these potential consequences, I cannot endorse The Benedict Option.”
  • If Politics Can’t Save Us, What Will? Collin Hansen reviews The Benedict Option by Rod Dehner. He writes “My main fear with Dreher’s book is that the people who need it most won’t read it. How do you convince Americans that replacing fast food and cable news with fasting and hard labor will be good for their souls?”
  • Follow Spurgeon’s Example in Reading Good Books. Ray Rhodes Jr. writes “I think one of the reasons Spurgeon was so rich in language and full in doctrinal substance and strong in the spirit, in spite of his despondency and his physical oppression and his embattlements, is that he was always immersed in a great book—six a week.”
  • Two Books for Women Struggling with Pornography. David Murray writes “Sadly, research statistics are showing increasingly large numbers of women who have become porn addicts. Or maybe they are just admitting it more. Last week I chatted with Tim and Aileen Challies about what resources they would recommend for Christian women ensnared by this sin. Among many helpful suggestions, they pointed me to the following two books.”
  • A Little Book on the Christian Life. Tim Challies reviews the new release A Little Book on the Christian Life by John Calvin. He writes “Though short in length, this little booklet is full of wisdom for guiding the Christian’s journey. It’s a book that will benefit any and every Christian. It is short enough to read quickly and full enough to re-read often.
  • Steven Curtis Chapman and the Christian Life as a “Great Adventure”. Trevin Wax writes about the impact of Steven Curtis Chapman in his life and reviews Chapman’s autobiography Between Heaven & the Real World. He writes “For those of us a few laps behind in the spiritual race, his songs still inspire us and strengthen us for the road ahead. Songs about yearning and peace. Rest and restlessness. Sin and salvation. Struggle and relief. Affirmation and doubt. In other words, all the emotions that make up the Christian life. You’ll find them in Steven Curtis Chapman’s heart, in his songs, and now in this, his autobiography.”
  • Reset. Tim Challies reviews David Murray’s new book Reset. He writes “Reset is a helpful book that offers wisdom that will help men avoid patterns that lead to burnout.”
  • Grace Unlimited: Our Conversation with Bryan Chapell. Richard Doster interviews Bryan Chapell about his book Unlimited Grace, one of my favorites from 2016. Here’s my review of the book.
  • Let Andy Crouch Help Your Family Become Tech-Wise. Courtney Reisigg reviews Andy Crouch’s new book The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place. She writes “I mostly resonated with the commitments in The Tech-Wise Familyand, while I felt challenged at times, I know any pushback that might arise in my own heart is likely owing to my own desire to keep technology front and center in my life. Yet there were points I wish Crouch had provided a few more caveats to his exhortations. A weary parent could read this book and feel overwhelmed by the many suggestions.”

BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount BOOK CLUB

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

This book made a significant impact on my wife Tammy when she read and discussed it with friends thirty years ago. When I picked up my diploma the day after graduation ceremonies from Covenant Seminary last year I was given a copy of this book. After enjoying Lloyd-Jones book Spiritual Depression (and the sermons the book was taken from), I couldn’t wait to read this book, which is the printed form of sermons preached for the most part on successive Sunday mornings at Westminster Chapel in London.

This week we look at Chapter 14: Worry: Its Cause and Cure:

  • You will not find anywhere in any textbook a more thorough analysis of worry, anxiety, and the anxious care that tends to kill man in this world, than you find in this paragraph which we have been considering in detail.
  • Worry has an active imagination, and it can envisage all sorts and kinds of possibilities. It can envisage strange eventualities, and with its terrible power and activity it can transport us into the future and into a situation that is yet to come. And there we find ourselves worried and troubled and borne down by something which is purely imaginary.
  • Indeed we can go further and say that worry is never of any value at all. This is seen with particular clarity as you come to face the future. Apart from anything else, it is a pure waste of energy because however much you worry you cannot do anything about it.
  • The result of worrying about the future is that you are crippling yourself in the present.
  • You must learn to trust God day by day for every particular occasion, and never try to go ahead of Him.
  • We must learn to leave the future entirely in God’s hands.
  • We must learn this vital importance of walking with God day by day, of relying upon Him day by day, and applying to Him for the particular needs of each day.
  • I must never allow thought with regard to the future to inhibit in any way my usefulness in the present.
  • There is nothing in the Scripture which indicates that it is wrong to save or to be insured. But if I am always thinking about this insurance, or my bank balance, or as to whether I have saved enough and so on, then that is something which our Lord is concerned about and condemns.
  • All the things we have been dealing with in the last four or five chapters apply only to Christians.
  • Worry is always a failure to grasp and apply our faith.
  • A large part of faith, especially in this connection, consists of just refusing anxious thoughts. That to me is perhaps the most important and the most practical thing of all.

Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence – married to my best friend Tammy, a graduate of Covenant Seminary, St. Louis Cardinals fan, formerly a manager at a Fortune 50 organization, and in leadership at my local church. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop, and to use their strengths to their fullest potential. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinder themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony, and Achiever, and my two StandOut strength roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book of the Bible, and Colossians 3:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 being my favorite verses. Some of my other favorite books are The Holiness of God and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, and Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. I enjoy music in a variety of genres, including modern hymns, Christian hip-hop and classic rock. My book Called to Lead: Living and Leading for Jesus in the Workplace and Tammy’s book Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold are available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

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