There was a great man of God who lived in England from 1816 to 1900. He was the Bishop of Liverpool and leader of the Evangelical Party of the Anglican Church of England. On his gravestone are chiseled the words: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. By grace are ye saved through faith.” His name was John Charles Ryle, known mostly as J. C. Ryle. He fought long and hard against strange doctrines that were creeping into the church in his day. His writings have been “rediscovered” and many evangelicals today have taken a renewed and increasing interest in the writings of Bishop Ryle. He was a wonderful and gifted expounder of the Word of God, very Biblically sound. He was one of the greatest Victorian evangelicals of the 19th Century.
Bishop Ryle wanted to leave behind an Autobiography (written in 1873) for his children, he wrote, “in order that my children may possess some accurate account of my history of life, after I am dead.” So speaking of his conversion, he said: “It may interest my children to know what were the points in religion by which my opinions at this period of my life became strongly marked, developed and decided, and what were the principles which came out into strong, clear and distinct relief when this great change came over me…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 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 my 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.”
But my aim here is not to write a story of this great saint, rather, to share with you one of his writings I came across years ago. It is called “Bishop Ryle’s Millennial Creed” that was written by him over a hundred years ago. Sounds much the same today, doesn’t it?
BISHOP RYLE’S MILLENNIAL CREED
First, I believe that the world will never be completely converted to Christianity, by any existing agency, before the end of this dispensation. In spite of all that can be done by ministers, members and churches, the wheat and the tares will grow together until the harvest; and when the end comes, it will find the earth in much the same state that it was when the flood came in the days of Noah. (Matthew 13:24-30; Luke 17:20-36; Matthew 24:37-47)
Second, I believe that the wide-spread unbelief, indifference, formalism and wickedness which are to be seen throughout Christendom, are only what we are taught to expect in God’s Word. Troublous times, departures from the faith, evil men waxing worse and worse, love waxing cold, are the things distinctly predicted. So far from making me doubt the truth of Christianity, they help to confirm my faith. Melancholy and sorrowful as the sight is, if I did not see it I should think the Bible was not true. (Matthew 24:12; 2 Timothy 3:1-6, 13)
Third, I believe that the grand purpose of the present dispensation is to gather out of the world an elect people, and not to convert all mankind. It does not surprise me at all to hear that the heathen are not all converted when missionaries preach, and that believers are but a little flock in any congregation in my own land. It is precisely the state of things I expect to find. The Gospel is to be preached ‘for a witness,’ and then shall the end come. This is the dispensation of election, and not of universal conversion. (Acts 15:14-19; Matthew 24:14; Romans 8:20-24, 28, 29)
Fourth, I believe that the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is the great event which will wind up the present dispensation, and for which we ought daily to long and pray. ‘Thy Kingdom come,’ ‘Come, Lord Jesus,’ should be our daily prayer. We look backward, if we have faith, to Christ dying on the cross, and we ought to look forward, no less, if we have hope, to Christ’s coming again. (John 14:3; 2 Timothy 4:8; 2 Peter 3:12; Titus 2:13; 1 Corinthians 11:26)