Light From Old Times
J.C. Ryle, 1900
The volume now in the reader's hands requires a few words of prefatory explanation. It is partly historical, and partly biographical. It is about facts and men.
Under the historical head the reader will find some account of the three most remarkable events in the history of the Reformed Church of England.
The first of these events is the ferocious attempt which was made by Queen Mary, of unhappy memory, to destroy the work of religious Reformation which was begun in the reign of Edward the Sixth.
The second event is the blind and abortive effort of Archbishop Laud to unprotestantize the Church of England, which resulted in his own execution, and well-near ruined the Church and the monarchy forever.
The third event is the daring attack on English Protestantism, which was made by James the Second, when he prosecuted the Seven Bishops, and, under the specious name of toleration, endeavored to re-establish the power of the Bishop of Rome in the land. These three events ought to be familiar to every Englishman.
n the second, tenth, and last papers in this volume I have tried to supply some condensed information about them. We live in an age when they cannot be known too well, and ought to be continually kept before the public eye.
Under the biographical head the reader will find in this volume some account of the lives and opinions of eleven remarkable men.
At the head of the eleven I have placed John Wycliffe, the morning-star of the Reformation. He lived before the invention of printing, and consequently is far less known than he ought to be, and I believe that English Christianity owes him a great debt which has never been fully paid.
Among the eleven I have placed Archbishop Laud. He is a man who did such indelible harm to the Church of England, and yet is so generally overvalued and misunderstood, that I have felt it a plain duty to place him before my readers in his true colors. I believe the wounds he inflicted on our Church will never be healed.
Of the remaining nine, six were Reformers, who were burned alive in Queen Mary's days, because they would not abjure their Protestant principles, and believe in the sacrifice of the Mass.
Three of the nine were Puritan divines, who lived in the 17th century, and made a deep mark in their day and generation.
One common remark applies both to Reformers and Puritans. They are far less known and understood in these latter times than they ought to be.
Of course I have chosen the six Reformers as subjects of biographies, deliberately, purposely, and with special reasons. What those reasons are I will proceed to explain.
(1) I hold, then, first of all, that the lives, deaths, and opinions of the leading English Reformers demand special investigation in the present day. The Church of England, as it now is, was in great measure the work of their hands. To them, with a few trifling exceptions, we owe our present Articles, Liturgy, and Homilies. That great ecclesiastical machinery, whose center is at Lambeth Palace and whose influence is more or less felt throughout the world wherever the British flag waves—was purified, remolded, and recast in its present form by their instrumentality. Can anyone doubt that it is of the utmost importance to ascertain what they thought and did, and in defense of what opinions they lived and died?
Surely common sense points out that if we want to know who is a true "Churchman," we should find out what manner of men the first Churchmen were! The natural way to ascertain what views of religion are "Church views," is to inquire what kind of views were held by our Church Reformers in the sixteenth century. In matters of doctrine we are of one mind with Cranmer, Ridley, Hooper, and Latimer. If not, our "Churchmanship" is of a somewhat peculiar and equivocal kind.
Holding these opinions, I have endeavored to produce a correct sketch of six of the leading champions of the English Reformation. Those whom I have chosen, undoubtedly, with the exception of Ridley, were not equal to Cranmer in point of learning. In popular talent, however, and general influence with their countrymen, they were probably second to none. I venture the conjecture that the middle classes and lower orders of Englishmen in the sixteenth century were more familiar with the names of two of them, namely, Bishop Hooper and Bishop Latimer, than of any of the Reformers. None, I suspect, made such a deep impression on the minds of their generation, none were so often talked of around English firesides, as the two whose lives are fully given in this volume. None, I am firmly persuaded, so thoroughly deserve to be had in honor. They were men of whom the Church of England may well be proud. She may reckon among her sons, some perhaps who were their equals; but none, I am sure, who were their superiors. For abounding usefulness in life and noble courage in death, Hooper and Latimer have never been surpassed.
(2) With regard to the Puritans, of whom I have brought forward three specimens in this volume, I believe that they deserve almost as much attention in the present day as the Reformers. I want to promote acquaintance with them in the minds of all students of English Church History. Never were men so little understood and so absurdly maligned as the Puritans. On no subject perhaps are English Churchmen so much in the dark, and require such thorough enlightening. If the biographies of Ward, Baxter and Gurnall only help to make my readers understand what "a Puritan" really was, I shall feel I have done the cause of truth some service.
The common impression of most English Churchmen about the Puritans is, that they were ignorant, fanatical dissenters, who troubled England in the seventeenth century; that they hated the Monarchical form of government, and cut off Charles the First's head; that they hated the Church of England, and caused its destruction; and that they were unlearned enthusiasts who despised knowledge and study, and regarded all forms of worship as Popery. There are some ecclesiastical orators of high rank and brilliant reputation, who are never weary of flinging the epithet "Puritanical" at Evangelical Churchmen, as the hardest word of scorn that they can employ. Let no Churchman's heart fail when he hears himself stigmatized as "a Puritan."
The man who tells the world that there is any disgrace in being "a Puritan" is only exposing his own ignorance of plain facts, or shamefully presuming on that widespread ignorance of English Church history which marks the nineteenth century.
The Puritans were not faultless, I freely admit. They said, did, and wrote many things which cannot be commended. Some of them, no doubt, were violent, fierce, narrow-minded sectarians. Yet, even then, great allowance ought to be made for the trying circumstances in which they are placed, and the incessant irritating persecution to which they were exposed. It is written, that "oppression makes a wise man mad" (Ecclesiastes 7.7). With all their faults, the leaders of the party were great and godly men. With all their defects, the Puritans, as a body, were not the men that certain writers and orators in the present day are fond of representing them to have been.
(a) The Puritans were not enemies to the monarchy. It is simply false to say that they were. The great majority of them protested strongly against the execution of Charles I., and were active agents in bringing back Charles II. to England, and placing the crown on his head after Oliver Cromwell's death. The base ingratitude with which they were afterwards treated in 1662, by the very monarch whom they helped to restore, is one of the most shameful pages in the history of the Stuarts.
(b) The Puritans were not enemies to the Church of England. They would gladly have seen her government and ceremonial improved, and more liberty allowed to her ministers in the conduct of public worship. And they were quite right! But the bulk of them were originally ordained by Bishops, and had no special objection either to Episcopacy or a Liturgy. Baxter, one of their leaders, expressly testifies, that a very few concessions in 1662 would have retained in the Church of England, sixteen hundred out of the two thousand who were driven out by the Act of Uniformity on St. Bartholomew's Day!
(c) The Puritans were not unlearned and ignorant men. The great majority of them were Oxford and Cambridge graduates, many of them Fellows of Colleges, some of them Heads and Principals of the best Houses in the two Universities. In knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin; in power as preachers, expositors, writers, and critics—the Puritans in their day were second to none. Their works still speak for them on the shelves of every well-furnished theological library. Those who hold them up to scorn in the present day, as shallow, illiterate men—are only exhibiting their own lamentable shallowness, their own ignorance of historical facts, and the extremely superficial character of their own reading.
The Puritans, as a body, have done more to elevate the national character than any class of Englishmen that ever lived. Mighty at the council board, and no less mighty in the battlefield; feared abroad throughout Europe, and invincible at home while united; great with their pens, and great with their swords—they were a generation of men who have never received from their countrymen the honor that they deserve. The body of which Milton, Selden, Blake, Cromwell, Owen, Manton, Baxter, and Charnock were members—is a body of which no well-informed Englishman should ever speak with disrespect. Lord Macaulay, no mean authority in matters of history, might well say, in his essay on Milton, "We do not hesitate to pronounce the Puritans as a brave, a wise, an honest, and an useful body." Unhappily, when they passed away, they were followed by a generation of profligates, triflers, and skeptics, and their reputations have suffered accordingly, in passing through prejudiced hands. But, judged with "righteous judgment," they will be found men "of whom the world was not worthy." The more they are really known, the more they will be esteemed.
For myself, I can only say, that the very reason why many in this day dislike the Puritans is the very reason why I love them, and delight to do honor to their names. They deserve honor, in my opinion, on account of their bold and outspoken Protestantism. They deserve honor on account of their clear, sharply-cut, distinct Evangelicalism. I want to see their writings more widely read, and their conduct more fairly judged and duly appreciated by English Churchmen. If a perusal of the three biographies I have compiled helps to make them better known and better understood, I shall feel that this volume has not been issued in vain.
For the length of the attempt I have made in this introduction to defend the Reformers and Puritans, I have no apology to make. I have defended them because they have numerous enemies and few friends in this day, and many Englishmen seem to know nothing about them. In fact, the tide of unreasoning prejudice runs strongly against them, and for many years it has been the fashion to vilify them in the pulpit, on the platform, and in the press. As long as I live, I hope I shall never be ashamed to stand up for them, and to vindicate their claim to respect. They were only human, and of course they had their faults and infirmities. But the men of this age, who are fond of abusing them, are often grossly ignorant of the writings of those whom they abuse, and "know not what they say, nor what they affirm."
The English Reformers, in particular, appear to me to deserve far better treatment than they receive in these latter days. I have already said that people seem to forget that to these very Reformers of Edward the Sixth's and Elizabeth's reigns we owe the Articles and Prayer-book, which are the glory of the Church of England, and which most Churchmen delight to honor. But, unhappily, this is not all. People forget that these same Reformers are the genuine prototypes and predecessors of a "school of thought" which, however lightly esteemed by some, is certainly not the least useful and influential within the pale of the Established Church; I mean the Evangelical School. This, however, is a point which I shall take occasion to handle at some length.
I begin by saying that of all the schools, sections, or parties into which the Church of England is unhappily divided, there is none which is so thoroughly misunderstood, and so frequently misrepresented, as that which is commonly called "Evangelical."
There is no school which, from the days of Archbishop Laud to the present time, has had to endure such hard usage, such unfair treatment, and such petty persecution, as the Evangelical school. That its distinctive opinions have long been regarded with scorn and contempt by many English people, is such a notorious fact, that I need hardly stop to prove it. But I will mention a few facts.
It is a matter of history that in the year 1662, nearly 2000 clergymen were driven out of the Church of England by the unhappy Act of Uniformity. Many of them were the ablest preachers, and the most learned, holy ministers of the time. Such were Owen, Manton, Baxter, Bates, Calamy, Philip Henry, Poole, Brooks, and Watson. Not a few of them might have been kept within our pale by some reasonable concessions. But the ruling party showed no desire to keep them: all of them were Evangelical men! We reap the consequence of their expulsion at this day. It laid the foundation of English Nonconformity.
It is certain that, in the middle of last century, the maintenance of Evangelical opinions was the true cause why Daniel Rowlands, the great Welsh preacher, George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley, and many others, were practically driven out of the Church of England. Their lives were blameless. They were faithful to the Liturgy and Prayer-Book. But they were Evangelical; and therefore the Church shut her doors on them, and obliged them to work outside of it! The result is to be seen in the hundreds of Methodist chapels all over the land, and in the undeniable strength of Nonconformity in Wales.
It is equally certain that, during the same century, Evangelical clergymen like Romaine, Venn, Grimshaw, and Berridge—retained their position in our communion with much difficulty, were regarded with coldness and distrust by ecclesiastical rulers, and were treated as little better than "tolerated heretics."
Romaine was dismissed from the morning preachership at St. George's, Hanover Square, because his sermons filled and overcrowded the Church!
Berridge would have been expelled from Everton by the Bishop of Ely, if the elder Pitt had not interfered in his behalf.
Grimshaw, of Haworth, was on the brink of secession in consequence of the harsh treatment of the Archbishop of York, and narrowly escaped.
Even at this day Evangelical Churchmen are continually told "that they are unlearned and ignorant men; that they do not interpret the formularies honestly and naturally; that they are more like Dissenters than Churchmen; that they are narrow Calvinists; that they despise the Sacraments, and are Zwinglians; that they do not understand catholic views and corporate privileges; that they are not, in a word, true Churchmen, and are out of their proper place!"
All this, and much more similar language, Evangelical Churchmen have long had to bear. But, after all, there remains one great fact which can never be denied. If agreement with the English Reformers is to be the measure of true Churchmanship, there are no truer Churchmen than those who are called Evangelical! Their title is one which cannot be overthrown. If they are wrong, then the Reformers were wrong. You cannot condemn and unchurch the "Evangelicals" without condemning and unchurching the Reformers at the same time.
In saying these things, I ask my readers not to misunderstand me. I willingly admit that there are other honest "schools of thought" within our pale besides the Evangelical school, and I disclaim all sympathy with those who would exclude them. From the time of Charles I. there have always been High, and Broad, as well as Low Churchmen, and probably there always will be until the Lord comes. The inherent imperfection of language, and the consequent impossibility of making all men put the same meaning on words, are the explanation of this condition of things. There have been at one and the same time within our camp, for 250 years and more, divines like Davenant and Andrews and Whichcote in the seventeenth century, and Bishops like Sumner and Whately and Blomfield in our own day. I have not the slightest desire to narrow our limits, to unchurch and ostracize any of the men I have named, or to confine honest and loyal Churchmanship to any one of the three schools I have just mentioned. I do not pretend to claim any exclusive possession of learning, zeal, or devoutness for any of them. But when people tell me that "Evangelicals" are "not true Churchmen," I reply unhesitatingly that the charge is not true, and shows gross and culpable ignorance, to say the least, in those who make it.
I maintain firmly that the distinctive views of those who are called Evangelical Churchmen are neither more nor less than the views of the Reformers! He who would drive out of the Church of England all Evangelicals, would drive out Ridley, Latimer, Hooper, Bradford, Jewell, and all their companions. The leading opinions of the two bodies, after an interval of three centuries, are one and the same. Whether those opinions are sound or unsound, scriptural or unscriptural, is not the point on which I insist at present. All I assert that the doctrinal views of the two parties are identical. He who says that Evangelical Churchmen are not sound Churchmen, is in the same breath condemning the very men who reformed the Church of England, and placed it on its present basis! There is no escape from this conclusion. The views of the two parties are in complete harmony, and they stand or fall together. A few instances will show what I mean.
(1) Do Evangelical Churchmen hold and teach that the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice? Do they maintain that it is able alone to make a man wise unto salvation, and that even the Creeds are only to be received and believed because they may be proved by most certain warrant of Holy Scripture? So did the Reformers!
(2) Do Evangelical Churchmen hold and teach that we are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works and deservings? Do they maintain that in the matter of our justification, our own goodness and holiness have nothing whatever to do? So did the Reformers!
(3) Do Evangelical Churchmen hold and teach that good works, which follow after justification, spring necessarily out of a true and living faith? Do they maintain that a living faith may be as evidently discerned by the good works which spring from it, as a tree is discerned by its fruit; and that, consequently, the man in whom no good works and holiness can be seen, is not yet a believer and not a converted man? So did the Reformers!
(4) Do Evangelical Churchmen hold and teach that Christ's Sacraments do not convey and confer grace, "ex opere operato," and that they only do good to those who rightly, worthily, and with faith receive them? Do they maintain that a man may be duly baptized with water in his infancy—and yet give plain proof by his life, when he has come to manhood, that he has not the grace of the Holy Spirit in his heart? So did the Reformers!
(5) Do Evangelical Churchmen hold and teach that there is no corporal presence of Christ's natural flesh and blood in the consecrated elements of bread and wine in the Lord's Supper? Do they maintain that the body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten at the Lord's Supper only after a heavenly and spiritual manner, and that the only real presence of Christ in that Sacrament is in the hearts of believing communicants? So did the Reformers!
(6) Do Evangelical Churchmen hold and teach that the Lord's Supper is a Sacrament, and not a sacrifice; and that in it there is no sacrifice, excepting that of praise and thanksgiving? Do they maintain that a clergyman is only a minister of God's Word, and not a sacrificing priest? Do they maintain that the sacrifice of the Mass, which many seem anxious to reintroduce into the Church of England, is one of the cardinal errors of the Church of Rome? So did the Reformers!
(7) Do Evangelical Churchmen object strongly to the Lord's Table being called an altar, and maintain firmly that this is an improper name, and that when there is no sacrifice and no sacrificing priest, there can be no altar? So did the Reformers!
(8) Do Evangelical Churchmen thoroughly disapprove of lighted candles during the day on Communion tables, and object to crucifixes, processions, incense-burning, gaudy sacrificial vestments, superstitious gestures and postures at the celebration of the Lord's Supper, and a close imitation of Romish ceremonial? So did the Reformers!
(9) Do Evangelical Churchmen hold and teach that the practice of habitual private Confession to a priest is nowhere taught or recommended in Scripture? Do they maintain that it is a practice to be strongly deprecated and avoided, having been proved by history to lead to most immoral and soul-ruining consequences? So did the Reformers!
(10) Do Evangelical Churchmen hold and teach that Episcopacy is not absolutely necessary to the being of a Church; however useful and desirable for its well-being, when properly administered? Do they maintain that we have no right to unchurch non-episcopal churches, and to hand them over to the uncovenanted mercies of God? So did the Reformers!
(11) Do Evangelical Churchmen hold and teach that the Church of Rome has erred, not only in ceremonies, but also in matters of faith? Do they maintain that separation from the Church of Rome was a positive duty three centuries ago, and that no one ought to think of reunion with her in this day until Rome has renounced her errors, and been reconciled to Christ? So did the Reformers!
(12) Do Evangelical Churchmen hold and teach that repentance, faith, holiness of heart and life, justification, conversion, union with Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—are the primary and principal things in religion? Do they maintain that Church-membership, reception of Christ's sacraments, and attendance on ordinances, however important and valuable in their due place—are by comparison things of secondary importance? So did the Reformers!
I commend these twelve points to the calm consideration of all my readers. I do not for a moment say that no man is a sound Churchman unless he holds exactly all distinctive Evangelical views about them. But I do say that they are precisely the kind of points about which Evangelical Churchmen are continually taunted, sneered at, ridiculed, and held up to scorn—as "unsound Churchmen, Low Churchmen, Puritans, half-Dissenters," and the like. Yet on these very points they are entirely in harmony with the men who first reformed the Church of England, the Edwardian and Elizabethan Reformers! If those who dislike Evangelical views, and look coldly on all who hold them, would undertake to prove that the distinctive opinions of the Evangelical School are a mere modern invention, and unknown to the Reformers—then I could understand their position. But until they do this, I shall firmly maintain that the treatment which Evangelical Churchmen too often receive in these latter days is neither fair, nor reasonable, nor wise. They have a right to demand more just balances and more "righteous judgment." Whatever good there may be in other schools of thought, it is certain that no men can show a better title to be called "Successors of the Reformers" than the members of the Evangelical School.
In reply to these things, I am aware that many regard the divines of the Caroline age and the Restoration as better and truer representatives of the Church of England than the Reformers. They coolly tell us that the true doctrinal standard of Churchmanship is that of 1662, when the Act of Uniformity was passed, and the Puritans were rejected from our pale. This is simply untrue. It is an ignorant assertion, which will not bear investigation for a moment.
The Thirty-nine Articles are the only doctrinal standard which the Church of England recognizes, and to which she requires all her clergy to declare solemnly their assent. Nor is this all. She requires every clergyman who is appointed to a living, to "read publicly and openly, to his congregation, the whole of the Thirty-nine Articles, and after reading to declare his assent to them." Now these very Articles were drawn up by the Edwardian and Elizabethan Reformers, and finally settled in their present shape in 1571. From that time to this time, a period of over 300 years, they have never been altered! The revisers of the Liturgy, in 1662, thought it prudent to leave the Articles untouched!
In the face of these facts, it is rather too much to tell us that the doctrine of the divines of 1662 is the true doctrinal standard of the Church of England. It is nothing of the kind. The true standard is that of the Reformers. To that standard Evangelical Churchmen appeal with confidence, and defy anyone to show that their views are not fully in agreement with it. If the Reformers were sound and loyal Churchmen, so also are the members of the Evangelical body.
I will close this paper with one bold assertion. I commend it to the attention of all who want to know the real claim of the Evangelical School to respect. I assert, then, that as Evangelical Churchmen have no cause to be ashamed of their distinctive doctrinal views; so also they have no cause to be ashamed of their distinctive plans of Church work. Which of these plans has not been borrowed by other "schools of thought" in the last thirty-five years, and too often borrowed without the slightest acknowledgment?
Who first employed laymen in Christ's work, in the face of a torrent of obloquy? The Evangelical body!
Who first called women forward, and gave them an office and position among Church workers, though not a uniform? The Evangelical body!
Who first revived a due reverence for the Lord's Supper, and first crowded communion rails with devout communicants? The Evangelical body! It would be hard to name any church at this day, where there are so many regular communicants, as there were at Grimshaw's Church at Haworth, a hundred years ago, or at St. John's, Bedford Row, within the present century.
Who first introduced hearty and congregational singing? The Evangelical body! Charles Wesley, and Toplady, and John Newton composed hymns which myriads sang, long before the compilers of "Hymns Ancient and Modern" were born.
Who first commenced special short services for the working classes? The Evangelical body! Exeter Hall was opened on Sunday evenings before Westminster Abbey or St. Paul's.
Who first attempted what are now called "mission" services? The Evangelical body! Thirty-five years ago they had preaching for six nights in succession at Birmingham and Islington parish Churches.
Who first tried prayer-meetings and short services in unconsecrated places, and were denounced as fanatical and disorderly for holding them? The Evangelical body!
Do I ask these questions in a taunting, boastful spirit? God forbid I should do so. I think I know and see the many weaknesses and defects of the Evangelical body as clearly as anyone, and am always ready to acknowledge them. As a Bishop, I hold out my hand to every loyal Churchman, and am ready to welcome him and work with him, to whatever "school" he may belong. I honor a zealous, honest, loyal, working Churchman whenever I see him, though he may not work exactly on what I think the best lines. All I say is, that Evangelical Churchmen have no more cause to be ashamed of their plans of working, than they have of their doctrinal views. Their modes of working, as well as their principles—will bear any amount of fair investigation.
I know well that the body for which I have tried to plead in these pages is only a small minority among the clergy of the Church of England. Yes! Evangelical clergymen are a minority in every Diocese, in every Convocation, in every Diocesan Conference, in every Congress; and they must not be surprised to find it so. But I charge them, and especially the younger men, to remember that majorities possess no more monopoly of truth and wisdom today than they did in the days of Athanasius. I beseech them, for the sake of Christ and their country, to stand firm, to stand together, never to compromise, and never to sacrifice a single vital principle under the vain pretense of obtaining unity and peace. Like gold, peace and unity may be bought too dear. Why should they be afraid, and faint-hearted, and weak-kneed, and give way little by little? The Lord God of Ridley and Latimer and Jewell is not dead, but alive. The laity will stand by them if they are bold, decided, and true to the principles of the Reformation. So long as the Articles and Prayer-Book remain unaltered, Evangelical Churchmen cannot justly, honestly, and legally be expelled from the Church of England.
What says the Scripture? "Watch! stand fast in the faith, behave like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with charity "(1 Corinthians 16.13, 14).
My own sentence is clear and distinct. If we cannot maintain the Established Church of England without giving up Protestantism and admitting Romanism, we had better have no Established Church at all.
Time will show, in a few years, who is right. But if the Established Church of England tolerates and sanctions the Romish Mass and the Confessional among her clergy, it is my firm conviction that the people of this country will not long tolerate the Established Church of England.
I now send forth this volume with an earnest prayer that God may be pleased to use it for His own glory and for the good of souls.
J.C. Ryle, Liverpool