This is last in this series of posts. And I trust there has been a stirring in your heart as there has in mine – to recover true Evangelicalism for our day. It is when basics like those we’ve been examining here either get assumed, and thus for all practical purposes ignored, or shoved out of the way by other important, but not equally as essential things – that the foundations erode quickly. We go off course. It is one of the features of the Old Testament prophets that they were like “master-builders” (to use Paul’s term) who were constantly calling God’s people back to the original plan. Back from distraction and compromise. Back to the foundations. Back to lives and practices commensurate with the foundations laid. Hence we need those prophetic voices in every generation. It would be in that context that I would exclaim with Paul – “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged 1 Corinthians 14:31 (ESV). Oh for such a spirit of prophecy to fall on our generation. Calling us back consistently to be about the eternal purposes and plan of God in Christ – and not sidetracked by so many other things.
If I might summarize our writer’s points so far – Dr. Ryle has been advocating for understanding true Evangelicalism as having 5 “leading” features. As he’ll note today, these aren’t the only features, but they are the 5 leading ones in his opinion. An opinion I share.
The Supremacy of the Scriptures
The Depravity of the human heart
The Centrality of Christ
The Necessity of Regeneration
And today: The active Presence of the Holy Spirit
(e) The fifth and last leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the importance which it attaches to the outward and visible work of the Holy Ghost in the life of man.
Its theory is that the true grace of God is a thing that will always make itself manifest in the conduct, behaviour, tastes, ways, choices, and habits of him who has it. It is not a dormant thing, that can be within a man and not show itself without. The heavenly seed is “not corruptible, but incorruptible.” It is a seed which is distinctly said to “remain” in every one that is born of God. (1 Peter 1:23; 1 John 3:9.) Where the Spirit is, He will always make His presence known.
We hold that it is wrong to tell men that they are “children of God, and members of Christ, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven,” unless they really overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. We maintain that to tell a man he is “born of God,” or regenerated, while he is living in carelessness or sin, is a dangerous delusion, and calculated to do infinite mischief to his soul. We affirm confidently that “fruit” is the only certain evidence of a man’s spiritual condition; that if we would know whose he is and whom he serves, we must look first at his life. Where there is the grace of the Spirit there will be always more or less fruit of the Spirit. Grace that cannot be seen is no grace at all, and nothing better than Antinomianism. In short, we believe that where there is nothing seen, there is nothing possessed.
Such are the leading features of Evangelical Religion. Such are the main principles which characterize the teaching of the Evangelical school in the Church of England. To my eyes they seem to stand out in the theological horizon like Tabor and Hermon among the mountains, and to tower upward like cathedral spires in our English plains. It will readily be perceived that I have only sketched them in outline. I have purposely avoided much that might have been said in the way of amplification and demonstration. I have omitted many things which might have been handled as parts and portions of our system, not because they are not important, but because they are comparatively of secondary importance. But enough has probably been said to serve my present purpose. I have pointed out what I conscientiously believe are the five distinctive doctrinal marks by which the members of the Evangelical body may be discerned. Rightly or wrongly, I have laid them down plainly. I venture to think that my statement will hold water and stand the fire.
I do not for a moment deny, be it remembered, that many Churchmen who are outside the Evangelical body, are sound in the main about the five points I have named, if you take them one by one. Propound them separately, as points to be believed, and they would admit them every one. But they do not give them the prominence, position, rank, degree, priority, dignity, and precedence which we do. And this I hold to be a most important difference between us and them. It is the position which we assign to these points, which is one of the grand characteristics of Evangelical theology. We say boldly that they are first, foremost, chief, and principal things in Christianity, and that want of attention to their position mars and spoils the teaching of many well-meaning Churchmen.
J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied: Being Plain Statements on Disputed Points in Religion (London: William Hunt and Company, 1885), 7–8.