Monday, February 20, 2006

Recognizing Ryle's "Warnings"

Bishop J.C.Ryle (1816 - 1900) could perhaps be received as an anomaly to Baptistic life and thought. Though he was an ordained clergy in the Church of England, or Anglican Church, J.C. Ryle is one who many would love to claim, and it is good for Baptists to take notice. His work, "Warnings to the Churches: Pharisees and Sadducees" is not a work out of date and should not to be ignored or minimized. The foundation of Ryle's urgent exposition is simply "Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees" (Matthew 16:6) of which we are quickly reminded that "every word spoken by the Lord Jesus is full of deep instruction for Christians" and "is of the greatest value." People of the Book, pay attention!

The book is a sermon divided into four major points, each admonishing the believer first to observe whom the warning of the text was addressed; second, to understand the dangers the Lord warned the apostles concerning; third, "to call attention [to] the peculiar name by which our Lord Jesus Christ speaks of the doctrines of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees;" and finally, to draw applications through "safeguards and antidotes against the dangers of the present day."

First, the audience. To whom did Jesus address these words? Clearly, He spoke to His apostles the words, "Take heed and beware." Ryle quickly instructs the reader that not only are the Servants of Christ able to receive warnings, but nobody needs them more than ministers of the gospel who are to be on guard by walking humbly with God and to watch and pray. This will deter temptation. He writes, "let us take heed that our zeal for Protestantism does not puff us up. . . Let us take heed that we are spiritual men as well as Protestants, and real friends of Christ as well as enemies of anti-Christ."

Second, the dangers. Generally speaking, the warning encompasses all false doctrine subdivided into two categories: the doctrines of the Pharisees and Sadducees, each described in three words a-piece. Of the Pharisees Ryle calls them, "formalists, tradition-worshippers, and self-righteous." The Sadducees are similarly identified as freethinkers, skeptics, and rationalists. One cannot help but remember those two scoundrels, of Bunyan, namely, Formalist and Hypocrisy who sought to climb oxen the narrow wall of salvation, breaking in as thieves instead of entering through the narrow gate of the cross.

Ryle helps us remember how the first group, "did not formally deny any part of the Old Testament Scripture. But they brought in, over and above it, so much of human invention, that they virtually put Scripture aside, and buried it under their own traditions." While we may be tempted to point fingers at the cults such as the Mormons (with good cause, too) we must not turn a blind eye to the wolves in our own pen of whom Christ warns.

The second group likewise was identified as dangerous as, "the practical effect of their teaching was to shake men's faith in any revelation, and to throw a cloud of doubt over men's minds, which was only one degree better than infidelity." Due to this kind of doctrine Jesus warns His servants, "Take heed and beware."

But why? Why did Jesus give these warnings when in just a few short years Jerusalem would be destroyed and Jewish culture and religion would scatter with its people? He gave the warnings for the church and what better time could use the warnings than now? "He knew that these would be the upper and nether mill stones, between which His truth would be perpetually crushed and bruised until He came the second time. He knew that there always would be Pharisees in spirit and Sadducees in spirit, among professing Christians. He knew that their succession would never fail, and their generation never becomes extinct, and that though the names of Pharisees and Sadducees were no more, yet their principles would always exist."

One has only to skim the line of history to see what Jesus already knew, thus the necessity of the warning: there would be two parties, one holding truth, the other inclined to error. Do we need these warnings today? "I ask anybody who can see beyond his own door, or his own fireside, whether we do not live in the midst of dangers from false doctrine?"

Ryle describes further two Schools of thought concerning those who fall into constant error: the Ritualists and the Socianists. The Ritualist "professes to draw its principles from primitive tradition, the writings of the Fathers, and the voice of the Church, - a school that talks and writes so much about the Church, the ministry, and the Sacraments, that it makes them like Aaron's rod, swallow up everything else in Christianity." These are concerned with the outward appearances and the maintenance of religion in the eyes of in men. To these Ryle assigns the title of Pharisee. The Socianists Ryle quickly identifies as Roman Catholics, to whom he obviously bestows the mantle of Sadducee. In all, Ryle demonstrates deep dissatisfaction and should not be ignored so as to follow their false doctrine.

"But I will ask any honest-minded, unprejudiced Bible reader to turn to the New Testament and see what he will find there. He will find many plain warnings against false doctrine: 'Beware of false prophets,' - 'Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit,' - 'Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines,' - 'Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God.' (Matthew 7:15; Colossians 2:8; Hebrews 13:9; 1 John 4:1). He will find a large part of several inspired epistles taken up with elaborate explanations of true doctrine and warnings against false teaching. I ask whether it is possible for a minister who takes the Bible for his rule of faith to avoid giving warnings against doctrinal error?"

How can we respond when, "in the face of these notorious facts, men cry out, 'Hold your peace about false doctrine. Let false doctrine alone!' I cannot hold my peace. Faith in the Word of God, love to the souls of men, the vows I took when I was ordained, alike constrain me to bear witness against the errors of the day. And I believe that the saying of our Lord is eminently a truth for the times: 'Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.'"

The third area Ryle addresses concerns, "the peculiar name by which our Lord Jesus Christ speaks of the doctrines of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees."

Succinctly Ryle reminds his readers not only of the effects of leaven but the nature of it, working quietly, out of sight, secretly. "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."

If all Ryle has said thus far is a field of diamonds, what he describes next is the golden nugget. Ryle goes into the minds of the Pharisees and Sadducees and in so-doing gives us a grasp of the workings of so many cults and "-isms' 'of our own day. He states, "I believe the most powerful champion of the Pharisees . . . is the man who says that he agrees on all points with you in doctrine. He would not take anything away from those evangelical views that you hold; he would not have you make any change at all; all he asks you to do is to add a little more to your belief, in order to make your Christianity perfect." Such a statement is not at all enhanced by comment. The same is true of the champion of the Sadducees who, "is not the man who tells you openly that he wants you to lay aside any part of the truth, and to become a free-thinker and a skeptic. It is the man who begins with quietly insinuating doubts as to the position that we ought to take up about religion, - doubts whether we ought to be so positive in saying 'this is truth, and that falsehood,' doubts whether we ought to think men wrong who differ from us on religious opinions, since they may after all be as much right as we are."

The Bishop’s fourth point is one of application in merely a paragraph, providing safeguards and antidotes against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The point is concise: “We all need to watch more, and to pray to be held up, and preserved from falling away.” The reasons for such a bibline point is the biblical theology of presuppositional apologetics: first, human nature is corrupt with sin; second, doctrine is rooted in the authority of inspired scripture. We agree with Ryle, believing the inspired Word of God as our only rule of faith and practice; therefore, our sinful minds must be so-informed. Third, the death of Christ was not common, but one of atonement and priestly in function. Jesus intercedes for all those who come to Him in faith and our doctrine is not one that is hid but has visible work on the heart through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The concluding points fit in thusly: Man receives no benefit by intellectual faith. His heart must be changed. Man must take the study of the Bible seriously and thoroughly, so as to have his thoughts saturated in it and by it, for when “teachings” come, the poisonous leaven may be averted and avoided.

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