The Popular Calvinism of J.C. Ryle

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) is very popular among Calvinists. The following heretical quotes will show why he is so popular and well liked.

“Are you living in any kind of sin? Are you following the course of this world, and neglecting your soul? Hear, I beseech you, what I say to you this day: 'Behold the cross of Christ.' See there how Jesus loved you! See there what Jesus suffered to prepare for you a way of salvation! Yes! careless men and women, for you that blood was shed! For you those hands and feet were pierced with nails! For you that body hung in agony on the cross! You are those whom Jesus loved, and for whom He died! Surely that love ought to melt you. Surely the thought of the cross should draw you to repentance. Oh! that it might be so this very day. Oh! that you would come at once to that Saviour who died for you and is willing to save. Come and cry to Him with the prayer of faith, and I know that He will listen. Come and lay hold upon the cross, and I know that He will not cast you out. Come and believe on Him who died on the cross, and this very day you will have eternal life. How will you ever escape if you neglect so great salvation? None surely will be so deep in hell as those who despise the cross!”

J. C. Ryle on John 1:29:

“Christ is...a Saviour for all mankind....He did not suffer for a few persons only, but for all mankind...What Christ took away, and bore on the cross, was not the sin of certain people only, but the whole accumulated mass of all the sins of all the children of Adam....I hold as strongly as anyone, that Christ's death is profitable to none but the elect who believe in His Name. But I dare not limit and pare down such expressions as the one before us. I dare not say that no atonement has been made, in any sense, except for the elect. I believe it is possible to be more systematic than the Bible in our statements....I dare not confine the intention of redemption to the saints alone. Christ is for every man...I repudiate the idea of universal salvation as a dangerous heresy and utterly contrary to Scripture. But the lost will not prove to be lost because Christ did nothing for them. He bore their sins, He carried their transgressions, He provided payment; but they would not put in their claim to any interest in it...The atonement was made for all the world, though it is applied and enjoyed by none but believers.” [14]

[14] Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Grand Rapids, 1900), Vol. III, pp. 61f.

Cited by Norman F. Douty, in his book, Did Christ Die Only for the Elect? (Wipf and Stock, 1998), page 77

J. C. Ryle on Luke 19:41-48:

“We err greatly if we suppose that Christ cares for none but His own believing people. He cares for all. His heart is wide enough to take an interest in all mankind. His compassion extends to every man, woman, and child on earth. He has a love of general pity for the man who is going on still in wickedness, as well as love of special affection for the sheep who hear His voice and follow Him...Christ loves and pities all, even those who are His open enemies.” [69]

[69] Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (1856-73; Zondervan reprint of 1900 ed.), Vol. II, pp. 313f., 318.

Cited by Norman F. Douty, in his book, Did Christ Die Only for the Elect? (Wipf and Stock, 1998), page 159 

J. C. Ryle on John 3:16: 

“[For God so loved the world, &c.] Our Lord, in this verse, shows Nicodemus another 'heavenly thing.' - Nicodemus probably thought, like many Jews, that God’s purposes of mercy were entirely confined to His chosen people Israel, and that when Messiah appeared, He would appear only for the special benefit of the Jewish nation. Our Lord here declares to him that God loves all the world without any exception, that the Messiah, the only begotten Son of God, is the Father’s gift to the whole family of Adam, and that every one, whether Jew or Gentile, who believes on Him for salvation, may have eternal life. - A more startling declaration to the ears of a rigid Pharisee it is impossible to conceive! A more wonderful verse is not to be found in the Bible! That God should love such a wicked world as this and not hate it, - that He should love it so as to provide salvation - that in order to provide salvation He should give, not an angel, or any created being, but such a priceless gift as His only begotten Son, - that this great salvation should be freely offered to ever one that believeth, - all, all this is wonderful indeed! This was indeed a ‘heavenly thing.’

The words, 'God loved the world,' have received two very different interpretations. The importance of the subject in the present day makes it desirable to state both views fully.

Some think, as Hutcheson, Lampe, and Gill, that the 'world' here means God’s elect out of every nation, whether Jews or Gentiles, and that the 'love' with which God is said to love them is that eternal love with which the elect were loved before creation began, and by which their calling, justification, preservation and final salvation are completely secured. - This view, though supported by many and great divines, does not appear to me to be our Lord’s meaning. For one thing, it seems to me a violent straining of language to confine the word 'world' to the elect. 'The world' is undoubtedly a name sometimes given to the wicked exclusively. But I cannot see that it is a name ever given to the saints. - For another thing, to interpret the word 'world' of the elect only is to ignore the distinction which, to my eyes, is plainly drawn in the text between the whole of mankind and those out of mankind who 'believe.' If the 'world' means only the believing portion of mankind, it would have been quite enough to say, 'God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that the world should not perish.' But our Lord does not say so. He says, 'that whosoever believeth, i.e., that whosoever out of the world believeth.' - Lastly, to confine God’s love to the elect, is taking a harsh and narrow view of God’s character, and fairly lays Christianity open to the modern charges brought against it as cruel and unjust to the ungodly. If God takes no thought for any but his elect, and cares for none beside, how shall God judge the world? - I believe in the electing love of God the Father as strongly as any one. I regard the special love with which God loves the sheep whom He has given to Christ from all eternity, as a most blessed and comfortable truth, and one most cheering and profitable to believers. I only say, that it is not the truth of this text.

The true view of the words, 'God loved the world,' I believe to be this. The 'world' means the whole race of mankind, both saints and sinners, without any exception. The word, in my opinion, is so used in John i. 10, 29; vi. 33, 51; viii. 12. – Rom. iii. 19. – 2 Cor. v. 19. – 1 John ii. 2; iv. 14. The 'love' spoken of is that love of pity and compassion with which God regards all His creatures, and specially regards mankind. It is the same feeling of 'love' which appears in Psalm cxlv. 9. – Ezek. xxxiii. 11. – John vi. 32. – Titus iii. 4. – 1 John iv. 10. – 2 Pet. iii. 9. – 1 Tim. ii. 4. It is a love unquestionably distinct and separate from the special love with which God regards His saints. It is a love of pity and not of approbation or complaisance. But it is not the less a real love. It is a love which clears God of injustice in judging the world.

I am quite familiar with the objections commonly brought against the theory I have just propounded. I find no weight in them, and am not careful to answer them. Those who confine God’s love exclusively to the elect appear to me to take a narrow and contracted view of God’s character and attributes. They refuse to God that attribute of compassion with which even an earthly father can regard a profligate son, and can offer to him pardon, even though his compassion is despised and his offers refused. I have long come to the conclusion that men may be more systematic in their statements than the Bible, and may be led into grave error by idolatrous veneration of a system. The following quotation from one whom for convenience sake I must call a thorough Calvinist, I mean Bishop Davenant, will show that the view I advocate is not new:

'The general love of God toward mankind is so clearly testified in Holy Scripture, and so demonstrated by the manifold effects of God's goodness and mercy extended to every particular man in this world, that to doubt thereof were infidelity, and to deny it plain blasphemy.' - Davenant's Answer to Hoard, p. 1.

'God hateth nothing which Himself created. And yet it is most true that He hateth sin in any creature, and hateth the creature infected with sin, in such a matter as hatred may be attributed to God. But for all this He so generally loved mankind, fallen in Adam, that He hath given His only begotten Son, that what sinner soever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. And this everlasting life is so provided for man by God, that no decrees of His can bring any man thither without faith and repentance; and no decrees of His can keep any man out who repenteth and believeth. As for the measure of God's love exhibited in the external effect unto man, it must not be denied that God poureth out His grace more abundantly on some men that on others, and worketh more powerfully and effectually in the hearts of some men than of others, and that out of His alone will and pleasure. But yet, when this more special love is not extended, His less special love is not restrained to outward and temporal mercies, but reacheth to internal and spiritual blessings, even such as will bring men to an eternal blessedness, if their voluntary wickedness hinders not.' - Davenant's Answer to Hoard, p. 469.

'No divine of the Reformed Church, of sound judgment, will deny a general intention or appointment concerning the salvation of all men individually by the death of Christ, on the condition if they believe. For the intention or appointment of God is general, and is plainly revealed in Holy Scripture, although the absolute and not to be frustrated intention of God concerning the gift of faith and eternal life to some persons, is special, and limited to the elect alone. So I have maintained and do maintain.' - Davenant's Opinion on the Gallican Controversy.

Calvin observes on this text, 'Christ brought life, because the heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish.' Again he says, 'Christ employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite indiscriminately all to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such also is the import of the term world. Though there is nothing in the world that is worthy of God’s favor, yet He shows Himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ.' The same view of God’s 'love' and the 'world,' in this text, is taken by Brentius, Bucer, Calovinius, Glassius, Chemnitius, Musculus, Bullinger, Bengal, Nifanius, Dyke, Scott, Henry, and Manton" (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Vol. 3, pp. 156-158).

J. C. Ryle on John 6:32, 33, 51:
v. 32:
“It is a very remarkable saying, and one of those which seems to me to prove unanswerably that Christ is God's gift to the whole world - that His redemption was made for all mankind - that He died for all - and is offered to all . . . . Fairly interpreted, the words mean that in some sense or other the Father does actually give the Son to those who are not believers. They warrant preachers and teachers in making a wide, broad, full, free, unlimited offer of Christ to all mankind without exception.” [24]

v. 33:
“The bread of God was for the whole world, and provided eternal life for every member of Adam's family who would eat it, whether Jew or Gentile.... That all the world had not life from Christ, and does not believe in Him, is undoubtedly true. But that life is provided in Christ, and salvation sufficient for all the world appears to be the natural interpretation of the text.” [25]

 v. 51:
 “I can only see one meaning in the word world. It means all mankind . . . . Christ died for all mankind; not for the elect only, but for all mankind . . . . That Christ's death was enough for all mankind, and that when He died He made sufficient atonement for all the world, are truths which, both in this text and others like it, appear to my mind incontrovertible.” [26]

[24] Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (1856-73; reprinted Grand Rapids, 1900), Vol. III, p. 367.
[25] Ryle, op. cit., p. 368.
[26] ibid., p. 395.

Cited by Norman F. Douty, in his book, Did Christ Die Only for the Elect? (Wipf and Stock, 1998), pages 84-85

J. C. Ryle on John 6:32:

“KJV John 6:32 'Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.'

"The expression, 'giveth you,' must not be supposed to imply actual reception on the part of the Jews. It rather means 'giving' in the sense of 'offering' for acceptance a thing which those to whom it is offered may not receive. - It is a very remarkable saying, and one of those which seems to me to prove unanswerably that Christ is God's gift to the whole world, - that His redemption was made for all mankind, - that He died for all, - and is offered to all. It is like the famous texts, 'God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son' (John iii. 16); and, 'God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.' (1 John v. 11.) It is a gift no doubt which is utterly thrown away, like many other gifts of God to man, and is profitable to none but those that believe. But that God nevertheless does in a certain sense actually 'give' His Son, as the true bread from heaven, even to the wicked and unbelieving, appears to me incontrovertibly proved by the words before us. It is a remarkable fact that Erskine, the famous Scotch seceder, based his right to offer Christ to all, on these very words, and defended himself before the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland on the strength of them. He asked the Moderator to tell him what Christ meant when He said, 'My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven,' - and got no answer. The truth is, I venture to think, that the text cannot be answered by the advocates of an extreme view of particular redemption. Fairly interpreted, the words mean that in some sense or another the Father does actually 'give' the Son to those who are not believers. They warrant preachers and teachers in making a wide, broad, full, free, unlimited offer of Christ to all mankind without exception.

Even Hutcheson, the Scotch divine, though a strong advocate of particular redemption, remarks, - 'Even such as are, at present, but carnal and unsound, are not secluded from the offer of Christ; but upon right terms may expect that He will be gifted to them'" (Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Baker 1979, p. 364).

J. C. Ryle on John 6:44:

"Of what does this inability of man consist? In what part of our inward nature does this impotence reside? Here is a point on which many mistakes arise. Forever let us remember that the will of man is the part of him which is in fault. His inability is not physical, but moral. It would not be true to say that a man has a real wish and desire to come to Christ, but has no power to come. It would be far more true to say that a man has no power to come because he has no desire or wish. It is not true that he would come if he could. It is true that he could come if he would. The corrupt will--the secret disinclination--the want of heart--are the real causes of unbelief. It is here the mischief lies. The power that we want is a new will. It is precisely at this point that we need the drawing of the Father." [13]

"When our Lord says, No man can come to Me, we must carefully remember that it is moral inability and not physical inability that He speaks of. We are not to suppose that any man can have a sincere and hearty wish to come to Christ, and yet be prevented by some mysterious impotence. The impotence lies in man's will. He cannot come because he will not come." [14]

[13] Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (1856-73; reprinted Grand Rapids, 1900), Vol. III, pp. 383f.
[14] Ryle, op. cit., p. 389.

Cited by Norman F. Douty, in his book, Did Christ Die Only for the Elect? (Wipf and Stock, 1998), pages 63-64
"Those who confine God's love exclusively to the elect appear to me to take a narrow and contracted view of God's character and attributes....I have long come to the conclusion that men may be 
more systematic in their statements than the Bible, and may be led into grave error by idolatrous veneration of a system" (Expository Thoughts  on the Gospels, London, 1865, John, i. 159.

"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" (Christian Leaders, p. 105). 
J.C Ryle on John 3:16 (found at the gracegems website):

"This wonderful verse has been justly called by Luther, 'The Bible in miniature.' No part of it, perhaps, is so deeply important as the first five words, 'God so loved the world.' The love here spoken of is not that special love with which the Father regards His own elect, but that mighty pity and compassion with which He regards the whole race of mankind. Its object is not merely the little flock which He has given to Christ from all eternity, but the whole 'world' of sinners, without any exception. There is a deep sense in which God loves that world.  All whom He has created He regards with pity and compassion. Their sins He cannot love--but He loves their souls. 'His tender mercies are over all His works' (Psalm. 145:9.). Christ is God's gracious gift to the whole world.

Let us take heed that our views of the love of God are Scriptural and well-defined. The subject is one on which error abounds on either side. On the one hand we must beware of vague and exaggerated opinions. We must maintain firmly that God hates wickedness, and that the end of all who persist in wickedness will be destruction. It is not true that God's love is 'lower than hell.' It is not true that God so loved the world that all mankind will be finally saved, but that He so loved the world that He gave His Son to be the Savior of all who believe. His love is offered to all men freely, fully, honestly, and unreservedly, but it is only through the one channel of Christ's redemption. He that rejects Christ cuts himself off from God's love, and will perish everlastingly.

On the other hand, we must beware of narrow and contracted opinions. We must not hesitate to tell any sinner that God loves him. It is not true that God cares for none but His own elect, or that Christ is not offered to any but those who are ordained to eternal life. There is a 'kindness and love' in God towards all mankind. It was in consequence of that love that Christ came into the world, and died upon the cross. Let us not be wise above that which is written, or more systematic in our statements than Scripture itself. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. God is not willing that any should perish. God would have all men to be saved. God loves the world" (John 6:32; Titus 3:4; 1 John 4:10; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4; Ezek. 33:11.).

J.C. Ryle on assurance:

"II. I pass on to the second thing I spoke of. I said, a believer may never arrive at this assured hope, which Paul expresses, and yet be saved.

I grant this most freely. I do not dispute it for a moment. I would not desire to make one contrite heart sad that God has not made sad, or to discourage one fainting child of God, or to leave the impression that men have no part or lot in Christ, except they feel assurance.

A person may have saving faith in Christ, and yet never enjoy an assured hope, like the Apostle Paul. To believe and have a glimmering hope of acceptance is one thing; to have joy and peace in our believing, and abound in hope, is quite another. All God’s children have faith; not all have assurance. I think this ought never to be forgotten.

I know some great and good men have held a different opinion. I believe that many excellent ministers of the Gospel, at whose feet I would gladly sit, do not allow the distinction I have stated. But I desire to call no man master. I dread as much as any one the idea of healing the wounds of conscience slightly; but I should think any other view than that I have given a most uncomfortable Gospel to preach, and one very likely to keep souls back a long time from the gate of life.6

I do not shrink from saying, that by grace a man may have sufficient faith to flee to Christ; sufficient faith really to lay hold on Him, really to trust in Him,-really to be a child of God, really to be saved; and yet to his last day be never free from much anxiety, doubt, and fear.

'A letter,' says an old writer, 'may be written, which is not sealed; so grace may be written in the heart, yet the Spirit may not set the seal of assurance to it.'

A child may be born heir to a great fortune, and yet never be aware of his riches; live childish,-die childish, and never know the greatness of his possessions.

And so also a man may be a babe in Christ’s family; think as a babe, speak as a babe; and though saved, never enjoy a lively hope, or know the real privileges of his inheritance.

Reader, do not mistake my meaning, while you hear me dwell strongly on assurance. Do not do me the injustice to say, I told you none were saved except such as could say with Paul, 'I know and am persuaded,-there is a crown laid up for me.' I do not say so. I tell you nothing of the kind.

Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ a man must have, beyond all question, if he is to be saved. I know no other way of access to the Father. I see no intimation of mercy, excepting through Christ. A man must feel his sins and lost estate,-must come to Jesus for pardon and salvation,-must rest his hope on Him, and on Him alone. But if he only has faith to do this, however weak and feeble that faith may be, I will engage, from Scripture warrants, he shall not miss heaven.

Never, never let us curtail the freeness of the glorious Gospel, or clip its fair proportions. Never let us make the gate more strait and the way more narrow than pride and love of sin have made it already. The Lord Jesus is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. He does not regard the quantity of faith, but the quality. He does not measure its degree, but its truth. He will not break any bruised reed, nor quench any smoking flax. He will never let it be said that any perished at the foot of the cross. 'Him that cometh unto Me,' He says, 'I will in no wise cast out.' (John vi. 37.)7

Yes, reader: though a man’s faith be no bigger than a grain of mustard seed, if it only brings him to Christ, and enables him to touch the hem of His garment, he shall be saved,-saved as surely as the oldest saint in paradise; saved as completely and eternally as Peter, or John, or Paul. There are degrees in our sanctification. In our justification there are none. What is written, is written, and shall never fail: 'Whosoever believeth on Him,'-not whosoever has a strong and mighty faith,- 'Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.' (Rom. x. 11.)

But all this time, I would have you take notice, the poor soul may have no full assurance of his pardon and acceptance with God. He may be troubled with fear upon fear, and doubt upon doubt. He may have many a question, and many an anxiety,-many a struggle, and many a misgiving,-clouds and darkness,-storm and tempest to the very end.

I will engage, I repeat, that bare simple faith in Christ shall save a man, though he may never attain to assurance; but I will not engage it shall bring him to heaven with strong and abounding consolations. I will engage it shall land him safe in harbour; but I will not engage he shall enter that harbour in full sail, confident and rejoicing. I shall not be surprised if he reaches his desired haven weather-beaten and tempest-tossed, scarcely realizing his own safety, till he opens his eyes in glory.

Reader, I believe it is of great importance to keep in view this distinction between faith and assurance. It explains things which an inquirer in religion sometimes finds it hard to understand.
Faith, let us remember, is the root, and assurance is the flower. Doubtless you can never have the flower without the root; but it is no less certain you may have the root and not the flower.
Faith is that poor trembling woman who came behind Jesus in the press and touched the hem of His garment. (Mark v. 27.) Assurance is Stephen standing calmly in the midst of his murderers, and saying, 'I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.' (Acts vii. 56.)

Faith is the penitent thief, crying, 'Lord, remember me.' (Luke xxiii. 42.) Assurance is Job, sitting in the dust, covered with sores, and saying, 'I know that my Redeemer liveth.' (Job xix. 25.) 'Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.' (Job xiii. 15.)

Faith is Peter’s drowning cry, as he began to sink 'Lord, save me.' (Matt. xiv. 30.) Assurance is that same Peter declaring before the Council in after-times, 'This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.' (Acts iv. 11, 12.)

Faith is the anxious, trembling voice, 'Lord, I believe: help Thou mine unbelief.' (Mark ix. 24.) Assurance is the confident challenge, 'Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Who is he that condemneth?' (Rom. viii. 33, 34.) Faith is Saul praying in the house of Judas at Damascus, sorrowful, blind, and alone. (Acts ix. 11.) Assurance is Paul, the aged prisoner, looking calmly into the grave, and saying, 'I know whom I have believed. There is a crown laid up for me.' (2 Tim. i. 12; iv. 8.)

Faith is life. How great the blessing! Who can tell the gulf between life and death? And yet life may be weak, sickly, unhealthy, painful, trying, anxious, worn, burdensome, joyless, smileless to the very end. Assurance is more than life. It is health, strength, power, vigour, activity, energy, manliness, beauty.

Reader, it is not a question of saved or not saved that lies before us, but of privilege or no privilege.-It is not a question of peace or no peace, but of great peace or little peace.-It is not a question between the wanderers of this world and the school of Christ: it is one that belongs only to the school;-it is between the first form and the last.
He that has faith does well. Happy should I be, if I thought all readers of this tract had it. Blessed, thrice blessed are they that believe. They are safe. They are washed. They are justified. They are beyond the power of hell. Satan, with all his malice, shall never pluck them out of Christ’s hand.

But be that has assurance does far better,-sees more, feels more, knows more, enjoys more, has more days like those spoken of in Deuteronomy: even 'the days of heaven upon the earth.' (Deut. xi. 21.) 8

6 Extracts from English divines, showing that there is a difference between faith and assurance,-that a believer may be justified and accepted with God, and yet not enjoy a comfortable knowledge and persuasion of his own safety,-and that the weakest faith in Christ, if it be true, will save a man as surely as the strongest.

7 'He that believeth on Jesus shall never be confounded. Never was any; neither shall you, if you believe. It was a great word of faith spoken by a dying man, who had been converted in a singular way, betwixt his condemnation and execution: his last words were these, spoken with a mighty shout,-‘Never man perished with his face towards Christ Jesus.’-Traill.

8 'The greatest thing that we can desire, next to the glory of God, is our own salvation; and, the sweetest thing we can desire is the assurance of our salvation. In this life we cannot get higher than to be assured of that which in the next life is to be enjoyed. All saints shall enjoy a heaven when they leave this earth; some saints enjoy a heaven while they are here on earth.'-Joseph Caryl."