5 Easy Ways to Totally Spoil the Gospel

J. C. Ryle wrote well over two hundred evangelical tracts, of which more than two million were circulated, and many were translated into foreign languages. Throughout his ministry he remained one of the strongest defenders of the evangelical reformed faith within the Church of England. His faithful witness to the Gospel of Christ needs to be heard more than ever today.

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You may spoil the Gospel by substitution.

You have only to withdraw from the eyes of the sinner the grand object which the Bible proposes to faith,—Jesus Christ; and to substitute another object in His place,—the Church, the Ministry, the Confessional, Baptism, or the Lord’s Supper, and the mischief is done. Substitute anything for Christ, and the Gospel is totally spoiled! . . .

You may spoil the Gospel by addition.

You have only to add to Christ, the grand object of faith, some other objects as equally worthy of honour, and the mischief is done. Add anything to Christ, and the Gospel ceases to be a pure Gospel! . . .

You may spoil the Gospel by interposition.

You have only to push something between Christ and the eye of the soul, to draw away the sinner’s attention from the Saviour, and the mischief is done. Interpose anything between man and Christ, and man will neglect Christ for the thing interposed! . . .

You may spoil the Gospel by disproportion.

You have only to attach an exaggerated importance to the secondary things of Christianity, and a diminished importance to the first things, and the mischief is done. Once alter the proportion of the parts of truth, and truth soon becomes downright error! . . .

Lastly, but not least,

You may completely spoil the Gospel by confused and contradictory directions.

Complicated and obscure statements about faith, baptism, Church privileges, and the benefits of the Lord’s Supper, all jumbled together, and thrown down without order before hearers, make the Gospel no Gospel at all!

Confused and disorderly statements of Christianity are almost as bad as no statement at all!

J.C. Ryle
taken from “Knots Untied” first published 1877AD
Read the full context of this excerpt here

16 thoughts on “5 Easy Ways to Totally Spoil the Gospel

  1. Eric Hyde

    Interesting list. I’m curious about all 5 of your ways but may as well start with the first one:

    “You have only to withdraw from the eyes of the sinner the grand object which the Bible proposes to faith,—Jesus Christ; and to substitute another object in His place”

    I’m not sure that calling Christ an “object” is in itself a good practice, but that’s a side issue. I’m curious what your idea of “faith” is. If the Bible calls us to faith in Christ, and nothing more, one must properly understand what faith is or nothing is understood whatsoever. Your other points go on to describe baptism, the Eucharist, the Church, etc, as “objects” that have the nefarious effect of drawing one away from Christ when Christ Himself instituted all of them. So,… is “faith” in Christ the dismissal of those gifts which Christ gave to draw His followers into close relationship with Him?

    1. Soli Deo Gloria

      Eric,
      Maybe you could read the article Don provided a link for. This provides answers to questions you raise.
      I really can’t see why you quibble about the use of the noun ‘object’. It is well established in use in the English language. One of my favourite hymns has it as its very first word:

      Object of my first desire,
      Jesus Crucified for me
      All to happiness aspire
      Only to be found in Thee
      Thee to praise, and Thee to know
      Constitute my bliss below
      Thee to see and Thee to love
      Constitute my bliss above.
      Augustus Montague Toplady 1740 – 1778

      1. Eric Hyde

        Thanks for the reply SDG. I like conversing with people not links. I was curious to get Don’s opinion on the matter, personally. And, my “quibble” about refering to Christ as an object was a passing comment, not a hill I wished to capture and hold. but since you’d like an explanation: in short, Christ is a Person, not an object. I don’t refer to my wife as an object, neither do I refer to my God and Creator as an object. It’s the whole “subject/object” debate. God is not a balloon, or a lollie pop. When one gets in the habit of refering to Christ as a “thing” and not a person it can have a terrible psychologically distancing effect on the user. But, to each his own.

        1. Soli Deo Gloria

          Eric,
          The link is there in the reference at the bottom of Don’s post. He has simply extracted one section from a much bigger piece. So I take it you haven’t read it then? Pity, because (as with so much of the old Bishop of Liverpool’s writings, they repay the effort many times over.
          You seem to have a very narrow definition of the noun ‘object’. Fortunately, I have a number of dictionaries that don’t agree with this narrowness. For example my trusty Collins 1986 Ed. has this:
          1. A tangible and visible thing
          2. A person or thing seen as a focus or target for feelings, thought etc.: an object of affection.
          …and there are 6 other definitions.
          So really you need to be quite sure that the word is inappropriate before taking issue with it. To refer to the Lord Jesus Christ as the object of our love is perfectly proper, and always has been (as the Augustus Toplady demonstrates in his hymn – from the 18th century at least. Its not a matter of personal preference, its a matter of proven accuracy in the use of the English language.

  2. Soli Deo Gloria

    Don,
    Some readers may not have heard of Ryle, let alone read him. As a young Christian with no real background in religious things, or any predisposition to read, some wise old saints gave me some books to read. Its laughable really! Some old folk giving a wild youth with his head full of ‘here and now’ and ‘youth have all the best ideas’ etc, a book by a long dead religious author. The fact is, it was the BEST thing they could do, aside from encouraging me to read the Scriptures daily.
    In Ryle, the whole world of the English Reformation was opened to me by a man who (amazingly for an Anglican cleric!) spoke plainly and usefully. I understood why men would be prepared to give up their lives for the Lord Jesus Christ. I learned about the great Evangelical Revival when Whitfield and Wesley among many others preached with the unction of the Holy Spirit. It still amazes me that Whitfield could preach before 10,000 with no PA system (and be heard clearly by all). We can’t do without for a congregation of 50 today!
    His pastoral writings are still as fresh today when I read them as when I first discovered them.
    Still, I do think I should press you further on this Don. As you know, Ryle was speaking primarily to his own fraternity among Anglicans, and in a very different time in England. In what ways do you think his words are particularly useful and important here in Melbourne? You must have has something in mind to cause you to select this piece.

    1. Soli Deo Gloria

      Don,
      Well you have started me off reading Ryle again! His ‘Charges and Addresses’ is well worth while, not least because (in my BoT version at least), you get a useful Introduction to Ryle himself. Its worth just reproducing Ryles words from the back of my volume here:
      “I cannot forget that the early Christians of the first four centuries turned the world upside down with their doctrine, emptied the heathen temples of their worshippers, stopped the bloody gladiatorial combats, confounded the Greek and Roman philosophers, gave a new position to women and children, and raised the moral standard of all Europe. And yet they had none of our many advantages; no printed books; no cathedrals and grand churches; no religious societies, and no subscription lists! But they had that which we seem to lack in 1897, the real presence of the Holy Spirit in their work, their preaching, their characters, and their lives. This was the secret of their power! That is what we want among us at the end of the nineteenth century, more prayer, closer union with Christ, more of the real presence of God the Holy Ghost!”

      Frankly this could have been written today, and we could add to Ryles list of advantages all the progress of the 20th and first decade of the 21st centuries.
      There is nothing new under the sun, but in our ignorance and arrogance, we think everything is new to the Church of Christ. We need to turn our internet off for a while and read some solid stuff, don’t you think?

  3. Eric Hyde

    Soli Deo Gloria, you seem every ready to rumble over a side issue rather than address the main concern of my question. And you are truly defensive, for what I’m not sure. Whatever the cause forgive me for taxing your patience with an otherwise moot point. If you would like to engage me concerning my question, feel free. Otherwise if you would allow the author of the blog to respond that would be just fine with me.

    Cheers.

    1. Soli deo gloria

      Eric,
      Don is perfectly capable of answering, but you challenged him on the writing of a long dead Bishop of the C of E.
      What Ryle rightly points out is that we are all in the same boat – at odds with a Holy God who created us and everything that exists. There is only one escape from this awful predicament, and that is personal faith in the only Saviour He has provided for us, the Lord Jesus Christ.
      What Ryle was addressing was the natural tendency of the sinful nature to either ignore this or forget it, and start placing the emphasis on the things the Lord Christ instituted rather than Himself.
      This is what I understand to be the sum and substance of the Faith once for all delivered to the saints. .

      1. Eric Hyde

        Perhaps its the reductionism that Ryle promoted that struck me wrong. Of course Christ is the focus of our worship, but the fact is Christ instituted these things (baptism, Eucharist, Church, etc.) as a means to have true fellowship with Him. It’s like saying, “running the marathon is the only important thing; don’t let eating right, stretching, and proper sleep get in your way of just simply running the marathon.”

        The confusion, ironically, grows deeper with the final point: “Complicated and obscure statements about faith, baptism, Church privileges, and the benefits of the Lord’s Supper, all jumbled together, and thrown down without order before hearers, make the Gospel no Gospel at all! Confused and disorderly statements of Christianity are almost as bad as no statement at all.”

        Yet, what is confused and disorderly is to cast aside focus on the very things Christ gave us for the purpose of drawing close to him. Its reductionism. “Faith” in Christ is more dynamic than Ryle cared to admit (or understand), based on these 5 steps. I have not read the rest of his writings, I’m only speaking to whats on this blog post.

        Don, I’m still interested to get your take if you find the time.

        Cheers.

  4. Don

    SDG, Eric, thanks for your patience.

    I think the meaning and intent of the small portion I’ve quoted from J.C.Ryle is self-evident. I do not propose to attempt a defence of his comments. The context of his paper is from a different place and time as well as circumstances.

    SDG, how correct you are – his thoughts are so appropriate to the early 21st century church.

    It is my observation, and heartfelt concern that many of my contemporaries, as well-meaning as they may be, have subverted the gospel in the ways R.C.Ryle has stated.

    Stop and consider his five operative words/phrases:
    • substitution
    • addition
    • interposition
    • disproportion
    • confused and contradictory directions

    Is this not an accurate description of the focus of much of so-called evangelical Christianity?

    So this is what motivated me to quote R.C.Ryle. I think his comments are apropos today’s evangelical church. Granted, this is a generalisation and I acknowledge that there are outstanding exceptions. We should heed his warning and consider to what degree, if any, it describes the church we call our spiritual home. [It is our prayer that Hills Bible Church will be one of these exceptions as we mature spiritually.]

    The centrality of Christ is the gospel.


    He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
    21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.


    Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.

    When we added the “About Us” page to this blog-site, we assert anew our commitment to the central truths of historic evangelicalism. I’ve quoted this below to help readers understand our perspective.

    “One could correctly argue that the first century churches were ‘evangelical’ – these roots go back to and the use of the term ‘born again’ used by Jesus. In other words, to be evangelical is to go right back to the foundation of the New Testament gospel!

    In our day the word ‘evangelical’ has become so inclusive as to have lost its meaning. Because of this crisis and because of our love of Christ, his gospel and his church, we assert anew our commitment to the central truths of historic evangelicalism.

    We affirm these truths because we believe they are central to the Bible, indeed the gospel. The contemporary use of the word ‘evangelical’ often refers to a vague mass of people with different convictions, confessions and beliefs about the Gospel. Sometimes this even includes persons who do not believe in the authority of the Bible and, like liberal theology of old, believe in a theology based on consensus, modern psychology or worldly politics.

    A Brief Definition
    To the reformers it (evangelical) was related to gospel recovery, that is, one who adhered to the Reformation’s tenets, which means that historically, Evangelicals confessed a belief in the truth of the five solas:
    • Sola gratia
    • Sola fide
    • Solus Christos
    • Sola Scriptura
    • Soli Deo Gloria
    In short, with them, we confess that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in the Person and work of Christ alone as revealed in the Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone.”

    1. Eric Hyde

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Don.

      You ask an important question concerning today’s Evangelical church:

      “Stop and consider his five operative words/phrases:
      • substitution
      • addition
      • interposition
      • disproportion
      • confused and contradictory directions

      Is this not an accurate description of the focus of much of so-called evangelical Christianity?”

      Substitution: definitely. Much of the evangelical church has deformed into a spiritual stock exchange, where the right “confessions” lead to abundance of possessions rather than a true walk with God.

      Addition and Interposition: Indeed. See above.

      Disproportion: To many ways to speak of.

      Confused and Contradictory Directions: This is unavoidable when you have 10,000 Protestant/Reformed splinter groups all proclaiming their own “sola scriptura” interpretations and practices. Once that ball got rolling the “solus Christos” also became a matter of private interpretation (the other “solas” also become suspect with every new and improved interpretation that strays from Orthodoxy.

      Cheers.

      1. Soli Deo Gloria

        Eric,
        No-one said that following Christ would be easy, least of all the Lord Himself. We are all tempted to live in the apparent peace of the kingdom of Orthodoxy, but I fear it is just an illusion.

        I take it that as you set Protestantism against Orthodoxy, that the latter satisfies you and that you have nailed your colours to that particular mast.

        Wherever there has been a genuine work of the Holy Spirit, there has quickly followed on a time of division, persecution, infiltration by false teachers and wolves. The devil is not idle when he sees Christ’s Kingdom advance. Up till the time of the Protestant Reformation, the world was largely in darkness, with the Scriptures kept out of the reach of the common man by corrupt and unconverted religious men in the ‘orthodox’ so called church of the day. But God always has his people in every age, so there were men like Wycliffe who swam against the tide, and gave hope to the world by opening access to the Bible. Yet in all the darkness of the pre Reformation days, where was ‘Orthodoxy’? Asleep? Dead? It did nothing to bring light to dispel the darkness of the nations as the heirs of the Protestant Reformation did. Carey, Livingstone, Eliot, Hudson Taylor.

        It doesn’t take a genius to work out that there is a lot of false mixed in with the true in evangelical circles (but this is always true when Gods word is preached (this is the Lord Christ’s interpretation of His own parable of the sower). Among the Apostles there were differences, and in the early church there were troubles galore. When Satan’s kingdom is attacked by the glorious Gospel of Christ, we know that he does not give up without a vicious fight.

        We can discuss the finer points of theology as much as we like, but ultimately unless Christ is at work in us by the Holy Spirit filling our minds and hearts and lives with His word, we are just dead as dead can be. Ordinary genuine believers feed upon the word of God, and walk with Him daily. They may occasionally stumble, but He upholds them, dresses their wounds and helps them on toward the goal of their lives, and His purpose for them, eternal life in Heaven with Him.

        It is an easy thing to point out the faults in the Evangelical Church, but for me, there is at least a hope of finding life in every one of them, because to some extent or another the Bible is preached and His people pray, and the Holy Spirit calls his people out of this world and Satans kingdom by His Word and His Holy Spirit.
        SDG

  5. Eric Hyde

    SDG,
    Just to be clear, are you in favor of the orthodox rendering of the faith or not? I can’t tell by what you said.

    Secondly, you said: “Yet in all the darkness of the pre Reformation days, where was ‘Orthodoxy’? Asleep? Dead? It did nothing to bring light to dispel the darkness of the nations as the heirs of the Protestant Reformation did.”

    It seems that you are relegating “Orthodoxy” to Roman Catholicism, as the Eastern Orthodox Church was surely not “asleep” and “dead,” as you put it, during Europe’s dark days. The Eastern Orthodox Church did not suffer high-scholasticism, Reformation, and the rest. Further, the “average” man/woman, who was likely illiterate at the time anyway, was fully engulfed by Scripture through the practice of the liturgy. It has been said that if every last Bible on earth was destroyed the entire thing could be recovered in the pages of the liturgy. The Orthodox Church never cut its people off from Scripture. This is a modern myth, a religious urban legend, that has no basis in fact. Look at today’s church. It’s more Biblically illiterate than ever. Not because they don’t have Bibles but because they have lost all connection with the Spirit in which the pages of that text testify to.

    At any rate. It’s been a pleasure conversing with you.

    Cheers.

    1. Soli Deo Gloria

      Eric,
      I thought clarity was a ‘side issue’ for you!

      There are few differences between Romanism and Eastern Orthodoxy it seems to me. Both insist on controlling the interpretation of Scripture by a centralised structure (with or without Pope).

      Liturgy, tradition, councils, and ‘Fathers’ are not of equal standing for God’s people, as we would be foolish and rebellious to take heed to anything other than His Word (which He has exalted above all His Name). Men can and do err, which is the very reason He has given His all sufficient Word. Why then would God’s people choose to aldulterate it with lesser things? Even with the best of Evangelical teachers, we can only follow them so far as they follow Christ and Hs Word.

      On one thing at least we are in agreement: ‘Look at today’s church. It’s more Biblically illiterate than ever. Not because they don’t have Bibles but because they have lost all connection with the Spirit in which the pages of that text testify to.’

      It isn’t universally true, but it does characterise a great deal of the modern western protestant church. As soon as you forget God, get careless with the principles which previous generations held so tenaciously to, then effectively the anchor is cut lose, and just about anything goes.

      This is something which is clear to some of us, and we see the absolute necessity for a return to the sole scource of authority that we have and can rely on, the Bible. It is by teaching and preaching God’s The history of God’s people (in the old testament particularly) demonstrates that when God’s people listen to His Word and follow Him, that He brings wonderful changes into the lives of individuals, churches and nations.

      That is what some of us pray and work for in our own time.
      SDG

      1. Eric Hyde

        SDG said: “Eric, I thought clarity was a ‘side issue’ for you!”

        How very trite and condesending. Well done, but you still didn’t answer the question.

        Then: “Liturgy, tradition, councils, and ‘Fathers’ are not of equal standing for God’s people, as we would be foolish and rebellious to take heed to anything other than His Word.”

        And…what determined what books were canonized if it wasn’t Church councils? Please explain. You are aware, no doubt, that over 60-70 books and letters were considered for New Testament canonization. Who decided the 27 we have today were God’s word?

        Since you will likely dodge the question, I’ll answer it for you:

        1.) Either by way of the church councils, which is a historical fact.

        2.) Or, with a slight modification, by way of the Holy Spirit working through the church councils.

        Either way, you must conceed that God used the Church councils,…oh no, Church ‘tradition’…to bring us the canon that we have today. To be Sola Scriptura is a contradiction in terms. To believe Scripture is inspired means one believes in a set canon of scripture. That set canon is a work of the Church. If the Church was inspired to decide what is canon then it was part of the process of God’s revelation. But, no matter. Your private interpretation of Scripture is the real ‘Sola Scripture’ you’re worried about, isn’t that true?

        Btw, you have a lot to learn about Church history and the difference between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholicism. the Catholic schism from the East was the Orthodox reformation, just as whatever church you belong to is the product of the Catholic’s reformation. You’re two steps removed sister.

  6. Don

    Eric, your comment is not directly related to the subject of the original post. We have not been discussing the subject of canon.

    Your comments on this subject reflect somewhat of a belittling tone concerning Sola Scriptura and a misunderstanding concerning the reformed evangelical position on this subject.

    You refer to the church “canonizing” Scripture, ie determining what books were “canonized”, a process you attribute to Church Councils. No man, nor any group of men (or women) made this determination. By this I mean, men did not say, “this book is in and this book is out” and by such a proclamation authorise some writings and de-authorise others.

    God determined the whole of Scripture, it is the written Word of God. The books of the Bible form the canon of Scripture and as such is the product of God’s, not man’s determination.

    In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem provides this analogy.

    “…a police investigator can recognise counterfeit and can recognise genuine money as genuine, but he cannot make counterfeit money to be genuine, nor can any declaration by any number of police make counterfeit money to be something it is not. Only the official treasury of a nation can make money this is real money; similarly, only God can make words to be his very words and worthy of inclusion in Scripture.”

    In other words, what you call “canonization” was not a decision that conferred a status on certain writings, but simply a recognition of what was and is self-evident.

    However, this blog is not the place to cover this fascinating topic. For any who are genuinely interested, I pass on a recommendation from a contributor to this blog who suggests F F Bruces’ work, which has been the standard academic treatment for well over half a century.

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