What Evangelical Religion is not

According to J. C. Ryle, Bishop of Liverpool 1880–1900

‘Last, but not least, I say that Evangelical Religion does not undervalue Christian holiness and self-denial. It is not true to say that we do. We desire as much as any to promote habitual spirituality of heart and life in Christians. We give place to none in exalting humility, charity, meekness, gentleness, temperance, purity, self-denial, good works, and separation from the world. With all our defects, we are second to no section of Christ’s Church in attaching the utmost importance to private prayer, private Bible-reading, and private communion with God.

‘But we steadily deny that true holiness consists in calling everything “holy” in religion, and thrusting forward the word “holy” with sickening frequency at every turn. We will not allow that it is really promoted by an ostentatious observance of Lent, by keeping Ecclesiastical fasts and saints’ days, by frequent communion, by joining Houses of mercy, by doing penance, by going to confession, by wearing peculiar dresses, by decorating our persons with enormous crosses, by frequent gestures, and postures expressive of humility, in public worship, by walking in procession and the like. We believe, on the contrary, that such holiness (so-called) too often begins from the outside, and is a complete delusion. It has a “show of wisdom,” and may satisfy silly young women and brainless young men, who like to compound for races and balls one part of their week, by asceticism and will-worship at another. But we utterly deny that it is the holiness recommended by St. Paul and St. Peter, St. James and St. John.

‘I leave my list of negatives here. I have not time to dwell on them further. The sum of the whole matter is this:—we give all lawful honour to learning, the Church, the ministry, the Sacrament, Episcopacy, the Prayer-book, Church ornament, unity, and holiness; but we firmly decline to give them more honour than we find given to them in God’s Word.

‘We dare not take up any other position, because of the plain teaching of the Scriptures. We read there how the ark itself was utterly useless to Israel when trusted in as a saviour, and exalted into the place of God. We read there how God Himself has said, that the sacrifices and feasts which He Himself had appointed, were “abominations” and a “weariness” to Him, when rested on as ends and not as means.—We read there how the very temple itself, with all its divinely ordained services, was denounced as a “den of thieves,” by Christ Himself. (1 Sam. iv. 1-11; Isa. 1. 11-15; Luke xix. 46.)

‘And what do we learn from all this? We learn that we must be very careful how we give primary honour to things invented by man, or even to things which, though ordained by God, are secondary things in religion. We learn, above all, that those who accuse us of undervaluing the things I have mentioned, because we refuse to make them idols, are only exposing their own ignorance of Scripture. They know not what they say, nor whereof they affirm. We may listen to their slanderous charges and misrepresentations with calm indifference. Let them show us that we do not estimate learning, the Church, the Ministry, the Sacraments, the Prayer-book, Episcopacy, unity, and holiness, with the estimate of Scripture, and we will confess that we have erred. But till they can do that, we shall firmly maintain that we are right and they are wrong.’