I am not an Anglican. Truth be told however, apart from some issues with the articles on the sacraments (baptism in particular) and a tendency toward apostolic succession in the priesthood – I’m a very big fan of the “39 Articles” which comprise the core of The Anglican tradition. The Articles are thoroughly Reformational and champion the authority of Scripture, the wonder of the Trinity, Christ’s substitutionary death at Calvary, justification by faith alone, and a host of other necessary doctrines central to orthodox evangelical Christianity.
It is a small wonder then that some of the true giants of the Faith have been found within The Anglican (Churchof England) communion. In older times there were stalwarts like Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (Chief overseer of the King James translation of the Bible), Bishop Ussher, J. B. Lightfoot, poet and preacher John Donne, William Gurnall, John Newton (of Amazing Grace fame) and many other heros of mine. In more modern times we have the likes of John R.W. Stott, J.I. Packer, J. Alec Motyer and Vaughn Roberts.
Among this august host is one of my personal favorites, John Charles Ryle (1816-1900), or J.C. Ryle as he is known to most. The first Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, Ryle was a preacher, teacher, writer and Biblical commentator. To me he is one of the clearest and most useful expositors in the Church of any age. He is a giant.
It is in that light that I wish to commend to you his superlative works on the Gospels. In a set titled “Expository Thoughts on the Gospels” Ryle is at his finest. These are no mere commentaries filled with dry dust and arcane minutiae. These are vibrant, cogent, practical expositions of the Scriptures written with warmth and a clarity seldom found in any other. And I want to urge you to seek these out as particularly useful in 3 ways.
1. Devotionally. It may sound odd to recommend commentaries as devotional material, but I am being very deliberate in setting this use before you first. Ryle’s style is to take a basic unit of the narrative – seldom more than 10 or 15 verses (if that) and then to give you just 3 or 4 crucial considerations to be drawn from them. These observations are seldom long, and always practical and Christ exalting. In the process, he also gives sound approaches to difficult passages, without it seeming academic or stuffy. They breathe wonderfully. I’ve used them in my own devotions for years, and never come away without something sweet for my soul, as well as useful in simply understanding the Word better. Try them. You won’t be disappointed, especially if your catalog of daily devotional material has grown too familiar or worn.
2. Small Groups. If you lead or participate in a small group and are looking for something different to work through – these are truly choice picks. Once again, the portions are short enough to be read aloud by one or several participants, and then the key points or observations can each be truly useful topics of discussion. You will be amazed at how concise the comments are, and how easily they will lend themselves to deeper reflections by a group. You will not exhaust them easily. Time will fly. And you’ll be going through the Gospels together in a very meaningful way. Even if you do not have a leader who is strong in opening the Word, these short pieces will keep you on solid ground, and moving at a very pleasurable pace.
3. Bible Study. As really reliable resources in your own Bible study, for personal use or as a preparation aid for teaching and preaching, these are invaluable. The clarity and Christ-centered focus of the applications are truly rich. And this is most especially true in the expanded volumes on the Gospel of John. In these, Ryle not only keeps to the style he used in the previous 3 Gospels, but augments each section by a collection of pertinent quotes from 20 or more other expositors – most of whom are out of print and unavailable. This is a tremendous resource on discussions of doctrinal and interpretive controversy as well as full of practical application. I run to Ryle first when working through any passage in John’s Gospel because of the depth available, while being so accessibly readable.
Recently, I found that Barnes and Noble has the complete* set available for download to your Nook reader, or the free Nook app for your phone or iPad, for $.99. Yep, less than a dollar for all four. Unbelievable.
Here’s the link:
However, if you prefer a paper copy in your hands, Banner of Truth publishes them all and they can be had through most book sellers for around $10-$12 a copy.
Buy them and read them, you will NOT be sorry.
*NOTE – I have not found any electronic edition which has the full text of the John set which comprises 3 volumes alone when complete. However, if you do not need the additional portion with the quotes from the other commentators, any of the electronic editions are fine, either from Barnes and Noble or the $.99 per volume Kindle editions from Amazon.