Ryle: Right Views of Central Truths

“He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed [it] unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 16:15-17).

Heretic J.C. Ryle on the passage in Matthew:

“’Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven.’ (Matt. xvi.17.) We must not, however, misunderstand the extent of Peter’s confession. He declared his faith that our Lord was the Anointed Messiah, the Son of the living God. The Messiahship and divinity of Christ were the points on which he and the other apostles laid firm hold. But the sacrifice and death of Christ and His substitution for us on the cross were not things which he either saw or understood at present. (See Matt. xvi. 22,23.)

(a) We should notice that a man’s heart may be right towards God while he remains very ignorant of some great doctrine of the Christian faith. It certainly was so with Peter and the apostles at this time” (Ryle).

In later posts, the Lord willing, I will explore with the reader some Biblical texts regarding the spiritual state of certain disciples generally, and Simon Peter (Cephas), specifically. I say this since men like J.C. Ryle are intent on citing Peter (and “other apostles”) as an epistemically humble and pious precedent for speaking peace apart from the only ground of peace (i.e., committing spiritual fornication). Though Ryle and his Reformed children may repudiate a cavalier and promiscuous use of this alleged “allowance” for spiritual fornication,  the fact remains that for Ryle such passages supposedly reveal that

“a man’s heart may be right towards God while he remains very ignorant of some great doctrine of the Christian faith” (Ryle).

And Ryle provided the all-important context for what “great doctrine” a right-heart-towards-God might be “very ignorant” of.


“(b) We should also notice that there is nothing man is so backward to see as the sacrifice of the death of Christ, the substitution, and the atonement. It is possible to be right about Christ’s divinity and Messiahship and yet be in the dark about His death. 

(c) We should notice how ignorant Christians often are of the state of others’ souls. Peter never suspected any one of the twelve to be a false apostle. It is a fearful proof that Judas must have been, in all outward demeanor and profession, just like the rest of the apostles” (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels).

Ryle, in quite brazen effect, is pitting certain Scriptures about certain disciples against such passages as Romans 10:1-4 (among others). 

J.C. Ryle on Matthew 16:21-23 (underlining emphases are mine):

“It is almost impossible for us to conceive how strange and incomprehensible these tidings must have seemed to His disciples. Like most of the Jews, they could form no idea of a suffering Messiah. They did not understand that the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah must be literally fulfilled. They did not see that the sacrifices of the law were all meant to point them to the death of the true Lamb of God. They thought of nothing but the second glorious coming of Messiah, which is yet to take place at the end of the world. They thought so much of Messiah’s crown, that they lost sight of His cross. We shall do well to remember this. A right understanding of this matter throws strong light on the lessons which this passage contains. We learn, in the first place, from these verses, that there may be much spiritual ignorance even in a true disciple of Christ. We cannot have a clearer proof of this, than the conduct of the apostle Peter in this passage. He tries to dissuade our Lord from suffering on the cross. ‘Far be it from you, Lord,’ he says, ‘this will not be done to you.’ He did not see the full purpose of our Lord’s coming into the world. His eyes were blinded to the necessity of our Lord’s death. He actually did what he could, to prevent that death taking place at all! And yet we know that Peter was a converted man. He really believed that Jesus was the Messiah. His heart was right in the sight of God.

These things are meant to teach us that we must neither regard saved men as infallible, because they are saved men, nor yet suppose they have no grace, because their grace is weak and small. One brother may possess singular gifts, and be a bright and shining light in the Church of Christ. But let us not forget that he is a man, and as a man liable to commit great mistakes. Another brother’s knowledge may be scanty. He may fail to judge rightly on many points of doctrine. He may err both in word and deed. But has he faith and love towards Christ? Does he hold the Head? If so, let us deal patiently with him. What he sees not now, he may see hereafter. Like Peter, he may now be in the dark, and yet, like Peter, enjoy one day the full light of the Gospel.

Let us learn, in the second place, from these verses, that there is no doctrine of Scripture so deeply important as the doctrine of Christ’s atoning death. We cannot have clearer proof of this, than the language used by our Lord in rebuking Peter. He addresses him by the dreadful name of ‘Satan,’ as if he was an adversary, and doing the devil’s work, in trying to prevent His death. He says to him, whom he had so lately called ‘blessed,’ ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an offence unto me.’ He tells the man whose noble confession he had just commended so highly, ‘for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men.’

Stronger words than these never fell from our Lord’s lips. The error that drew from so loving a Savior such a stern rebuke to such a true disciple, must have been a mighty error indeed. The truth is, that our Lord would have us regard the crucifixion as the central truth of Christianity. Right views of His vicarious death, and the benefits resulting from it, lie at the very foundation of Bible-religion. Never let us forget this. On matters of church government, and the form of worship, men may differ from us, and yet reach heaven in safety. On the matter of Christ’s atoning death, as the way of peace, truth is only one. If we are wrong here, we are ruined forever. Error on many other points is only a skin disease. Error about Christ’s death is a disease at the heart. Here let us take our stand. Let nothing move us from this ground. The sum of all our hopes must be, that ‘Christ has died for us.’ (1 Thess. 5:10.) Give up that doctrine, and we have no solid hope at all” (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels).

Ryle judges himself as an enemy of the cross of Christ with his very own words (cf. https://agrammatos.org/2015/05/17/a-mere-shibboleth/).

And lastly, J.C. Ryle on John 20:1-9 (underlining mine):

“‘Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first came in, and he saw and believed. (For they did not yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead.) So the disciples went back to their homes.’

The chapter we have now begun takes us from Christ’s death to Christ’s resurrection. Like Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John dwells on these two great events with peculiar fullness and particularity. And we need not wonder. The whole of saving Christianity hinges on the two facts, that Christ died for our sins, and rose again for our justification. The chapter before our eyes deserves special attention. Of all the four evangelists, none supplies such deeply interesting evidence of the resurrection, as the disciple whom Jesus loved. … We are taught, secondly, in these verses, that there are widely different temperaments in different believers.

This is a point which is curiously brought out in the conduct of Peter and John, when Mary Magdalene told them that the Lord’s body was gone. We are told that they both ran to the sepulcher; but John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, outran Peter, and reached the empty grave first. Then comes out the difference between the two men. John, of the two more gentle, quiet, tender, reserved, retiring, deep-feeling, stooped down and looked in, but went no further. Peter, more hot, and zealous, and impulsive, and fervent, and forward, cannot be content without going down into the sepulcher, and actually seeing with his own eyes. Both, we may be sure, were deeply attached to our Lord. The hearts of both, at this critical juncture, were full of hopes, and fears, and anxieties, and expectations, all tangled together. Yet each behaves in his own characteristic fashion. We need not doubt that these things were intentionally written for our learning.

Let us learn, from the case before us, to make allowances for wide varieties in the inward character of believers. To do so will save us much trouble in the journey of life, and prevent many an uncharitable thought. Let us not judge brethren harshly, and set them down in a low place, because they do not see or feel things exactly as we see and feel, and because things do not affect or strike them just as they affect and strike us. The flowers in the Lord’s garden are not all of one color and one scent, though they are all planted by one Spirit. The subjects of His kingdom are not all exactly of one tone and temperament, though they all love the same Savior, and are written in the same book of life. The Church of Christ has some in its ranks who are like Peter, and some who are like John; and a place for all, and a work for all to do. Let us love all who love Christ in sincerity, and thank God that they love Him at all. The great thing is to love Jesus.

We are taught, finally, in these verses, that there may be much ignorance even in true believersThis is a point which is brought out here with singular force and distinctness. John himself, the writer of this Gospel, records of himself and his companion Peter, 

‘As yet they knew not the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.’

How truly incredible this seems! For three long years these two leading Apostles had heard our Lord speak of His own resurrection as a fact, and yet they had not understood Him. Again and again He had staked the truth of His Messiahship on His rising from the dead, and yet they had never taken in His meaning. We little realize the power over the mind which is exercised by wrong teaching in childhood, and by early prejudices imbibed in our youth. Surely the Christian minister has little right to complain of ignorance among his hearers, when he marks the ignorance of Peter and John, under the teaching of Christ Himself.

After all we must remember that true grace, and not head knowledge, is the one thing needful. We are in the hands of a merciful and compassionate Savior, who passes by and pardons much ignorance, when He sees ‘a heart right in the sight of God.’ Some things indeed we must know, and without knowing them we cannot be saved. Our own sinfulness and guilt, the office of Christ as a Savior, the necessity of repentance and faith — such things as these are essential to salvation. But he that knows these things may, in other respects, be a very ignorant man. In fact, the extent to which one man may have grace together with much ignorance, and another may have much knowledge and yet no grace, is one of the greatest mysteries in religion, and one which the last day alone will unfold. Let us then seek knowledge, and be ashamed of ignorance. But above all let us make sure that, like Peter and John, we have grace and right hearts” (Ryle).

The main purpose of this post was to set forth in the person of J.C. Ryle a traditional and customary reasoning that, to some darkened minds, provides an excuse for not judging righteous judgment in all cases without any exception. To judge righteous judgment means to base one’s judgments on the true gospel and not on the false.

As noted above I plan to (with the Spirit of the Lord’s assistance) explore what the various passages rightly divided and harmonized in light of the true gospel might mean.

“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).