1837 was the year of J.C. Ryle’s conversion. The day of Ryle’s conversion began with him being late for church. He admitted through his life he was not good at keeping time and when he arrived, the sermon had already started at the church in Oxford and the pastor was reading Ephesians 2:8, which became Ryle’s life verse. Ryle said, “That verse was like an arrow strung to the bow of the Divine Archer and its flight was winged in mercy to the heart of the chosen mortal.” He immediately gave his life to the Lord.
He shares his testimony this way, “Nothing I can remember to this day appeared to me so clear and distinct as my own sinfulness, Christ’s preciousness, the value of the Bible, the absolute necessity of coming out of the world, the need of being born again and the enormous folly of the whole doctrine of baptismal regeneration. All these things … seemed to flash upon me like a sunbeam in the winter of 1837 and have stuck in my mind from that time down to this. People may account for such a change as they like; my own belief is that … it was what the Bible calls ‘conversion’ or ‘regeneration’. Before that time I was dead in sins and on the high road to hell, and from that time I have become alive and had a hope of heaven. And nothing to my mind can account for it, but the free sovereign grace of God.”
He also shared about another person whose writing influenced him to conversion: the reading of William Wilberforce’s Practical View of Christianity, who died 4 years before Ryle’s conversion about the time he was headed off to Oxford.
Ryle was uncertain about what career path to follow after his conversion. His first thoughts were to pursue law school or enter Parliament as his father encouraged him to go often. His father’s influence was important to him during this period of his young life and he seriously considered a role in politics. But then 1841 came.
1841 was arguably the most roller-coaster year of Ryle’s life. In June 1841, his father lost everything due to a failure to insure all of his assets. He lost all his business and his home to bankruptcy. Ryle admitted that if he not known the Lord, it would have devastated his own life as well and might have even considered suicide.
Later he wrote, “God alone knows how the iron entered into my soul. … I am quite certain it inflicted a wound on my body and mind of which I feel the effects most heavily at this day and shall feel it if I live to be hundred. To suppose that people do not feel things because they do not scream and yell and fill the air with their cries, is simple nonsense. … I do not think there has been a single day in my life for 32 years, that I have not remembered the … humiliation.”
He called it the blackest period of his life.
But with the low of this family tragedy, it also contained a tremendous high. For this was the year Ryle officially entered full-time ministry. A rector (means “a school or church administrator”) by the name of Reverend Gibson noticed the leadership gifts and asked him to become the curate (means “a priest or assistant priest of a local parish”) of a town called Exbury.
And he did this out of great compulsion by God: “I never had any particular desire to become a clergyman, and those who fancied that my self will and natural tastes were gratified by it were totally and entirely mistaken. I became a clergyman because I felt shut up to do it, and saw no other course of life open me.”
He was officially ordained as Bishop of Winchester in December of that year at the age of 26. This parish has some 3,000 members and he was paid a stipend of 100 pounds ($158 back then but like $3300 today) annually plus given a parsonage to live in.
He would soon conclude from this tumultuous time in his life, “Banks may break and money make itself wings and flee away. But the man who has come to Christ by faith will still possess something which can never be taken away from him.”
More about his early ministry in nedxt week’s post.