J.C. Ryle was a man who would have been hated in this generation. This cannot be
stated too strongly. For instance, consider a man such as Mark Driscoll, a man who makes mistakes like anyone. But Driscoll is a bold preacher. He calls sin for what it is and urges sinners to repent. That bold message is met with stiff resistance by cold-hearted pagans and embittered people who name the name of Christ. So like Driscoll, Ryle was man who was unafraid of speaking in plain terms, biblical terms.
J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) was best known for serving as the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool. He was a prolific writer and a faithful pastor. His book Repentance is representative of his work. It is clear, biblical, and aims straight for the heart. The basis of Ryle’s work is found in Luke 13:3 – “Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish.” Ryle notes that Christ’s words may seem “stern and severe. But they are words of love, and may be the means of delivering precious souls from hell.”
The Nature of Repentance
The author reminds his readers that repentance was the first doctrine that came out of our Lord’s mouth. He defines repentance as “a thorough change of man’s natural heart, upon the subject of sin.” With the theological groundwork in place, Ryle continues by noting several marks of the penitent man.
- True repentance begins with knowledge of sin.
- True repentance goes on to work sorrow for sin.
- True repentance produces confession of sin.
- True repentance shows itself in a thorough breaking off from sin.
- True repentance shows itself by producing in the heart a settled habit of deep hatred of all sin.
Ryle remarks, “Wherever faith is, there is repentance; wherever repentance is, there is always faith.”
The Necessity of Repentance
Ryle makes it painfully clear that every creature is required to repent. Indeed, there are no exceptions: “The queen upon her throne and the pauper in the workhouse, the rich man in his drawing-room, the servant maid in the kitchen, the professor of sciences at the University, the poor ignorant boy who follows the plough – all by nature need repentance.” The author does the reader a great service by setting forth this critical requirement before God.
Three concrete reasons are offered for each creature to repent:
- Without repentance, there is no forgiveness of sins.
- Without repentance there is no happiness in the life that now is.
- Without repentance there can be no fitness in the world that is yet to come.
The Encouragements to Repentance
Ryle recognizes that sinners are generally slow in coming to Christ and repenting of their sins. He offers five encouragements for sinners who stand at the crossroads before a holy God:
- Hear for one thing, what a gracious Savior the Lord Jesus Christ is.
- What glorious promises the Word of God contains.
- What gracious declarations the Word of God contains.
- What marvelous parables our Lord Jesus spoke upon this subject.
- What wonderful examples there are in the Word of God, of God’s mercy and kindness to penitent people.
My hope is that this short review will entice many to devour Repentance by J.C. Ryle. This short book is devotional, practical, and is food for the soul. May Christ’s words in Luke 13:3 take root in your heart today – “Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish.”