A Mere Shibboleth

John Charles Ryle (1816-1900) was the first Anglican Bishop of Liverpool. He was

“the leader of the Evangelicals in the Church of England [i.e., Synagogue of Satan–CD]. A four-point Calvinist, he wrote many books which are still in print. Among them are his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (7 vols.), Knots Untied and Holiness. Ryle is practical and experimental Calvinism at its best” (Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism, p. 122).

In the Foreward to Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J.C. Ryle, J.I. Packer writes:

“Though Ryle’s rhetoric retains its Victorian tinge, his points, biblical and Puritan as they are, are uniformly relevant to Christian living here and now, and indeed speak as pungently to our own shallowness and superficialities as they did to the counterparts of these lapses a century and a quarter ago.

Lampooning Bishop Ryle as a ham-fisted, Bible-punching caveman, a heavy-handed primitive, a bull in a china shop, and a faded old clown, has been a popular sport among non-evangelicals from Ryle’s day to our own. But I see him as a single-minded Christian communicator of profound biblical, theological, and pastoral wisdom, a man and minister of giant person stature and electric force of utterance that sympathetic readers still feel (‘unction’ was the old name for it), and I aim to present him as such” (J.I. Packer).

The following quotes are from J.C. Ryle’s The Christian Leaders of the Last Century: Or England a Hundred Years Ago (sometimes entitled “Christian Leaders of the Eighteenth Century”; paragraphing is mine–CD):

“I should think my sketch of Wesley incomplete if I did not notice the objection continually made against him — that he was an Arminian in doctrine. I fully admit the seriousness of the objection. I do not pretend either to explain the charge away, or to defend his objectionable opinions. Personally, I feel unable to account for any well-instructed Christian holding such doctrines as perfection and the defectability of grace, or denying such as election and the imputed righteousness of Christ.

But, after all, we must beware that we do not condemn men too strongly for not seeing all things in our point of view, or excommunicate and anathematize them because they do not pronounce our shibboleth. It is written in God’s Word, ‘Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother?’ We must think and let think. We must learn to distinguish between things that are of the essence of the gospel and things which are of the perfection of gospel” (J.C. Ryle, Christian Leaders).

What God through the apostle Paul calls ignorance of the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel (Romans 10:1-4), J.C. Ryle labels as a mere “shibboleth.” Paul prayed for the salvation of certain ignorant ones (thus judging them to be presently lost). But Ryle would call these zealous yet ignorant persons, brothers whom he dare not judge. Ryle’s position is that the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel (Romans 10:3) is NOT of the essence of the gospel. Paul carefully and deliberately flings Ryle’s remonstration to not anathematize men over supposed “shibboleths” to the wind.

Ryle continued:

“We may think that a man preaches an imperfect gospel who denies election, considers justification to be nothing more than forgiveness, and tells believers in one sermon that they may attain perfection in this life, and in another sermon that they may entirely fall away from grace. But if the same man strongly and boldly exposes and denounces sin, clearly and fully lifts up Christ, distinctly and openly invites men to believe and repent, shall we dare to say that the man does not preach the gospel at all? Shall we dare to say that he will do no good? I, for one, cannot say so, at any rate” (Ryle, Christian Leaders).

To Ryle’s depraved and unregenerate mind, a person who flatly contradicts Paul’s teaching in 2 Timothy 1:8-12 and Jesus’ teaching in John 10:28 is merely preaching an “imperfect gospel.”


“If I am asked whether I prefer Whitefield’s gospel or Wesley’s, I answer at once that I prefer Whitefield’s: I am a Calvinist, and not an Arminian. But if I am asked to go further, and to say that Wesley preached no gospel at all, and did no real good, I answer at once that I cannot do so” (Ryle, Christian Leaders).

It is both customary and fashionable for Calvinists like Ryle to defend their brothers in Satan. This is what they are SUPPOSED to do. But it is NOT what true Christians do. True Christians judge righteous judgment based on the work of Christ ALONE. Tolerant Calvinists like Ryle judge unrighteous judgment based on the efforts of the sinner.

“That Wesley would have done better if he could have thrown off his Arminianism, I have not the least doubt; but that he preached the gospel, honoured Christ, and did extensive good, I no more doubt than I doubt my own existence…I only say, before any one despises this great man because he was an Arminian, let him take care that he really knows what Wesley’s opinions were. Above all, let him take care that he thoroughly understands what kind of doctrines he used to preach in England a hundred years ago” (Ryle, Christian Leaders).

Ryle had the audacity, the temerity, the unmitigated gall to say that John Wesley preached the gospel and honored Christ. We are quite aware of Wesley’s damnable opinions and doctrines he belched from the pit of hell. Please see:

John Wesley vs. The Gospel, part one, part two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, and eleven.

Ryle continues:

“Finally, has any one been accustomed to regard Wesley with dislike on account of his Arminian opinions? Is any one in the habit of turning away from his name with prejudice, and refusing to believe that such an imperfect preacher of the gospel could do any good? I ask such an one to remould his opinion, to take a more kindly view of the old soldier of the cross, and to give him the honour he deserves” (Ryle, Christian Leaders).

Wesley was an ignorant and zealous soldier of a powerless cross; a cross of none effect. An idolatrous and self-righteous “cross” that flitted around in Wesley’s blackened brain. John Wesley despised the true cross and counted it as foolishness, a skandalon, an utter offense.


“What though John Wesley did not use all the weapons of truth which our great Captain has provided? What though he often said things which you and I feel we could not say, and left unsaid things which we feel ought to be said? Still, notwithstanding this, he was a bold fighter on Christ’s side, a fearless warrior against sin, the world, and the devil, and an unflinching adherent of the Lord Jesus Christ in a very dark day. He honoured the Bible. He cried down sin. He made much of Christ’s blood. He exalted holiness. He taught the absolute need of repentance, faith, and conversion. Surely these things ought not to be forgotten. Surely there is a deep lesson in those words of our Master, ‘Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part’ (Mark ix. 39, 40)” (Ryle, Christian Leaders).

Ryle says that John Wesley “made much of Christ’s blood.” Clearly Ryle is one in whom the true gospel has been hid. The god of this world had blinded the minds of both Ryle and Wesley, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should shine on them (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Here is Wesley, not making much of, but profaning the precious and efficacious blood of Jesus Christ:

“Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died,” (Rom. xiv. 15,) – a clear proof that Christ died, not only for those that are saved, but also for them that perish: … (7:380-381)

“What! Can the blood of Christ burn in hell? Or can the purchase by the blood of Christ go thither?” I answer, … If the oracles of God are true, one who was purchased by the blood of Christ may go thither. For he that was sanctified by the blood of Christ was purchased by the blood of Christ. But one who was sanctified by the blood of Christ may nevertheless go to hell; may fall under that fiery indignation which shall for ever devour the adversaries. (10:297)

Ryle concludes his disgusting encomium of a clear and obvious God-hater, John Wesley.

“Then let us thank God for what John Wesley was, and not keep poring over his deficiencies, and only talking of what he was not. Whether we like it or not, John Wesley was a mighty instrument in God’s hand for good; and, next to George Whitefield, was the first and foremost evangelist of England a hundred years ago” (Ryle, Christian Leaders).

If God did not regenerate and cause John Wesley to believe the true gospel prior to his death, then Wesley was indeed a mighty instrument in God’s hand for good in the way Pharaoh was a mighty instrument in God’s hand for good (cf. Romans 9:16-24). One such “good” is the edification and instruction of His people concerning what ultimately makes them to differ from the lost. The truth conveyed in Romans 9:16-24 humbles them and causes them to tremble before Almighty God, thankful that He has graciously numbered them among the elect rather than the reprobate, knowing that it is the efficacious cross-work of Jesus Christ ALONE that makes them to differ from the “Pharaohs” of the world.