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Eighteenth Century Christian Leaders

By J. C. Ryle
April 2019 | Review by David Shedden
  • Publisher: EP Books
  • ISBN: 978-1-78397-221-0
  • Pages: 392
  • Price: £7.99
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Book Review

This book is a collection of biographical sketches of evangelical preachers. The first two chapters explain the social and religious setting in which they lived and worked. We then read about J. C. Ryle’s Church of England heroes in the 18th century as if in descending order of greatness.

George Whitefield and John Wesley are the titanic figures at the top of the list. Grimshaw, Romaine, Rowland and Berridge follow. Henry Venn and Samuel Walker head up the lower half of the list. James Hervey, Augustus Toplady and John Fletcher complete the evangelical collective presented by Ryle.

Ryle himself belongs to the same line in the history of evangelicalism. This is what makes the book so valuable: 19th century Ryle comments about similar men from the 18th century. Modern readers get to digest two slices of church history at the one sitting.

What did these men (including Ryle) have in common? They were all ordained Anglican clergymen. They all worked uneasily in the Church of England. They all put the importance of preaching over and above the normal administrative life of their church. But they remained within the established church order.

Wesley is the obvious exception to this final common trait, although Whitefield ended up on the outside too. Writing about Whitefield, Ryle says that: ‘He loved the Church in which he had been ordained… But the Church did not love him, and so lost his services’.

Like other J. C. Ryle titles reprinted by EP Books, there are some formatting quirks and typographical errors. The editing at the end of chapter 1 is just bizarre. An editorial comment begins in parenthesis in the middle of one of Ryle’s own concluding paragraphs. These things do not take away from the overall impact of reading Ryle.

David Shedden

Penicuik

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