POST 1920: J.C. Ryle and The Leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees

~Gleaning Light from the Luminaries of the Past~

Proverbs 19:20: Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future (ESV).

It is often the case that when we read the works of godly men in the past, that we will feel as though the struggles of their day are remarkably similar to our own. This is because the cycles of human history are like a bad roller coaster ride – though there are several ups and downs along the way, we keep riding along the same track; over, and over again. One day, humanity will get off this twisted, fallen ride; but until then – be advised to tighten your safety harnesses, and keep your arms inside at all times.

To retain the metaphor, the Word of God is our safety harness in life – ultimately, the Apostle Paul calls it the belt/girdle of truth (Ephesians 6:14). It keeps us from falling off into the deep end of false doctrine and corrupt living. It shows us the glory of what lies at the end by reminding us that this Vanity-Fair carnival ride will end someday, and then we will be with king Jesus for all eternity. And like a belt, we must put it on daily for our own sanctification, growth and Gospel witness. Without it, our souls will be in danger of the destructive influences that lie all around us. The days are evil, therefore we must take heed unto ourselves and put on the whole armour of God, beginning with this belt of truth.

What is true for today was also true of yesteryear. Consider, for example, J. C. Ryle. When you read his work Warnings to the Churches – one can’t help but to feel as though the world that he described was very much like our own. Ryle was concerned about the corruption of sound doctrine and clear Gospel preaching in his day by means of the incremental degradation of truth – one little jot and tittle at a time. It is the problem of incremental error that the church often ignores. For many in the modern day, it is as though error must be the size of a Mack truck in order for it to be worth resisting – but this is the very form of thought that Satan desires that we embrace. The Savior taught His disciples that leaven, by its nature, comes in very small packages; and that we should be on guard against the slightest hints of corruption and error. J. C. Ryle warns us all in view of Christ’s teaching in Matthew 16:6:

“False doctrine does not meet men face to face, and proclaim that it is false. It does not blow a trumpet before it, and endeavor openly to turn us away from the truth as it is in Jesus. It does not come before men in broad day, and summon them to surrender. It approaches us secretly, quietly, insidiously, plausibly, and in such a way as to disarm man’s suspicion, and throw him off his guard. It is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, and Satan in the garb of an angel of light, who have always proved the most dangerous foes of the Church of Christ.” [Warnings to the Churches, Beware of the Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, Matthew 16:6, pp. 56-57].

With this, if one were to say to the late Bishop: “but Bishop Ryle, it is only a little leaven!” – his response would most likely resemble this one: “Exactly!” But in the modern day, men often scoff at the kind of preaching and exegesis which seeks to honor every jot and tittle of God’s word. To them, textual wrecklessness is justifiable just so long as one has “good” intentions. The problem with such thinking is that no one is good but God alone and therefore our intentions are always suspect, and will never establish a basis for authority or truth. To be faithful to the Chief Shepherd, we must seek to proclaim His Word for His glory:

John 10:27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”

Men who value their traditions and opinions will gladly inject their own “truth” with the absolute truth of God, believing all the while that such an exercise is spiritually profitable. However, contrary to this, we must remember that Christ’s sheep will respond to His voice, and not a stranger (John 10:4-5); therefore it is crucial that we employ the plain language of the Savior, rather than our own, lest we painfully find that those in our ministry are the lost goats of Satan, who are more content to follow the wisdom of men rather than the words of the Chief Shepherd.

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