That Man of Granite with the Heart of a Child, A New Biography of J. C. Ryle by Eric Russell

There has been a recent resurgence in interest in the life of John Charles Ryle. This is due largely to the reprinting and promotion of some of his many writings, especially the excellent book Holiness.

Ryle was a nineteenth century English Reformed evangelical pastor, author and, for his last twenty years, Bishop of Liverpool. His ministry overlapped other well-known evangelicals, most notably Charles Spurgeon. What set Ryle apart ecclesiastically was his loyalty to the Church of England. Due to the increasing influence of the Oxford Movement, with its return to Catholicism, and the encroachment of liberalism, stemming from German Higher Criticism, the Church of England was a spiritual and theological mixed bag at best. Many of the finest ministers abandoned Anglicanism and joined the nonconformist movement. Ryle stood his ground.

This is the story of Ryle’s uncompromising faith and his tireless efforts to lead and reform the Church of England. Because of his stand, Ryle was criticized by all parties: liberals because of his evangelical theology, Anglo-Catholics because of his Reformed views and conservatives because he would not break cleanly with the liberals and Anglo-Catholics. He staked out a precarious position and defended it to the end. Whether this was wise is altogether doubtful. Biblically his position was indefensible, in my opinion, and practically it did little good. Of course, we have the advantage of hindsight and objectivity.

Whatever mistakes Ryle made, he nevertheless was a godly man who lived his life with solid theological conviction. This short biography gives us insight into these things, as well as his personal highs and lows. Russell puts a human face on Bishop Ryle as he details the loss of the family wealth, the death of three wives and one child, and the uncertainty that any of Ryle’s children followed in his evangelical footsteps. Yet, the bishop remained faithful to his Lord until the end of a long life.

This is not the most exciting biography I have ever read but for those interested in his life, it serves as a fine introduction to J. C. Ryle.