Nordic Preacher

Northern Reflections on Preaching, Theology and the Christian Life.

Category: Hermeneutics


J. C. Ryle and the Essentials of Dispensationalism


ryle_comingeventsIn in the last few decades, there has been a resurgence of interest in the writings of Bishop J.C. Ryle. Particularly his book, Holiness is widely known and beloved by many Christians, and rightly so. Much of this renewed interest has been greatly advanced by Banner of Truth, the main publishing house that has made Ryle’s writings available to a new generation of believers. In fact, almost all the major works by Ryle have indeed been republished by Banner of Truth[1], except for one book, Coming Events and Present Duties: Being Plain Papers on Prophecy which is the only one dealing specifically with his views regarding eschatology. Ryle himself described this book as a compact manual on his views regarding future prophecy.[2] Thankfully this book has been republished by other smaller publishers, but since Banner of Truth is much more widely known, and regarded as the authority on all things Ryle, the book has remained largely in the shadows to the present generation. One cannot state for certain, but it seems very likely that the reason for Banner of Truth not republishing this book by Ryle, is due to the non-premillennial (amillennial and postmillennial) views represented by the publishing house, and since Ryle’s book presents a clear case for premillennialism, it is understandable that the publisher would not be too eager in promoting this. Whatever the reason is for Banner of Truth, it needs to be recognized that this decision of not publishing this eschatological work by Ryle, while yet publishing all his other works, has contributed to the ignorance that exists among Christians, especially in theologically Reformed circles, regarding the somewhat controversial eschatological views of J. C. Ryle. It is also ironic, that already during his own lifetime, Ryle himself noted when republishing this book in 1879 after its initial printing 12 years prior (1867), that some of the chapters which he held to have real worth, had yet received little notice.[3] More importantly, Ryle stated that in his view one of the greatest shortcomings of the modern church was that pastors did not preach enough about the second coming of Christ and his future kingdom.[4] He strongly challenged the readers of his day, that modern Christians have become most unlike the early Christians, in the regard that they tend to completely ignore the doctrine of Christ’s second coming, making it a peripheral issue, whereas the early church placed it as an issue of first importance.[5] Therefore, it is very unfortunate that the book, which Ryle wrote specifically in regard to this woefully neglected doctrine, continues to be largely unknown and neglected even to this present day. When speaking about Ryle, even in the biographies about him, very rarely is there any mention regarding the importance he placed on rightly understanding the second coming of Christ and the nature of his kingdom.

The purpose of this article is to identify the essentials of Ryle’s eschatology, and then compare those to the essentials of modern dispensationalism, in order to see if Ryle could indeed be described as dispensational in his views relating to prophetic truth.

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My Thoughts on Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism

Covenant Theology? Agree or disagree?


Here’s a comparison chart I made contrasting the essentials of covenant theology and dispensationalism, based on content from my Theology 4 class with Dr. Michael Vlach. You can download the PDF here.

My short answer would be, no, I do not hold to covenant theology, since I don’t think it is justifiable by Scripture. That being said, I do recognize that there are many godly men who do hold to that view, men whom I have benefited greatly from, especially as it comes to other aspects of theology (such as soteriology). Even though the essence of covenant theology is often presented to be the theological covenants that seek to tie together the broader storyline of Scripture, I actually don’t think this is the most helpful way to look at the most foundational distinctives of covenant theology. Granted, I do not believe that the theological covenants (Covenant of Redemption, Covenant of Works, Covenant of Grace) are found presented as such in Scripture. But at the same time I do not think it has the most drastic effects on your theology, even if one were to accept the theological covenants as legitimate descriptions of biblical truths. A good example of this was S. Lewis Johnson, who was a dispensationalist and yet recognized the theological covenants of covenant theology as legitimate descriptions of the truths taught in Scripture. My personal opinion is that the theological covenants are not necessarily fully wrong, but mainly just confusing and not very helpful in theology and biblical interpretation.

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The Importance and Simplicity of Correct Bible Interpretation

How can we know what God is like and what He expects of us? The truth is, if we were left to our own wisdom and reasoning capabilities, we would never arrive at true knowledge about God and how we are to worship Him. It is true that when we look at the creation around us, we know and understand (and so does the non-believer, even though he suppresses that truth) that God exists and that He is powerful (Romans 1), but we would still remain in darkness about the specific character, requirements and promises of God. Praise be to God that He has not left us in darkness, but has instead revealed Himself to us by giving us His Word, the Bible.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15

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