J. C. Ryle and the
Future of Israel

 

 

J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) was a famous English preacher.  Spurgeon considered him the best man in the Church of England.  He is highly esteemed among Reformed men, and rightly so.  He wrote more than one hundred tracts and pamphlets on doctrinal and practical subjects.  He published a number of books of sermons and devotional literature, much of which is still widely read today.   

For a compilation of quotations from Ryle on prophecy and in particular his position on the future of the nation Israel, see the excellent book, Future Israel--Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged, by Barry E. Horner, Appendix B, "J. C. Ryle and the Future of Israel" (pages 339-348).

What did Ryle teach regarding the future of Israel?  Consider the following statement of faith which he wrote (sounding like something a dispensationalist might write):

I believe that the Jews shall ultimately be gathered again as a separate nation, restored to their own land, and converted to the faith of Christ, after going through great tribulation (Jer. 30:10-11; 31:10; Rom. 11:25-26; Dan. 12:1; Zech. 13:8-9). [J. C. Ryle, Are You Ready For The End Of Time? (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2001) p. 9;  reprint of Coming Events and Present Duties.]

In the following quotations Ryle makes his position on the future of Israel very clear:

Christ will come again to this world with power and great glory....He will take to Himself His great power and reign, and establish an universal kingdom. He will gather the scattered tribes of Israel, and place them once more in their own land....As He literally rode upon an ass, was literally sold for thirty pieces of silver, had His hands and feet literally pierced, was numbered literally with the transgressors and had lots literally cast upon His raiment, and all that Scripture might be fulfilled so also will He come, literally set up a kingdom and literally reign over the earth, because the very same Scripture has said it shall be so (Acts 1:11; 3:19-21; Ps. 102:16; Zech. 14:5; Isa. 24:23; Jer. 30:3,18; Dan. 7:13-14).  [J. C. Ryle, Are You Ready For The End Of Time? (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2001) pages 22-24;  reprint of Coming Events and Present Duties.]

I beseech you to take up anew the prophetical Scriptures, and to pray that you may not err in interpreting their meaning.  Read them in the light of those two great polestars, the first and second advents of Jesus Christ.  Bind up with the first advent the rejection of the Jews, the calling of the Gentiles, the preaching of the gospel as a witness to the world and gathering out of the election of grace.  Bind up with the second advent the restoration of the Jews, the pouring out of judgment on unbelieving Christians, the conversion of the world and the establishment of Christ's kingdom upon earth. [J. C. Ryle, Are You Ready For The End Of Time? (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2001) pages 47-48;  reprint of Coming Events and Present Duties.]

Reader, however great the difficulties surrounding many parts of unfulfilled prophecy, two points appear to my own mind to stand out as plainly as if written by a sunbeam. One of these points is the second personal advent of our Lord Jesus Christ before the Millennium.  The other of these events is the future literal gathering of the Jewish nation, and their restoration to their own land.  I tell no man that these two truths are essential to salvation, and that he cannot be saved except he sees them with my eyes.  But I tell any man that these truths appear to me distinctly set down in holy Scripture and that the denial of them is as astonishing and incomprehensible to my own mind as the denial of the divinity of Christ.   [J. C. Ryle, Are You Ready For The End Of Time? (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2001) pages 112-115;  reprint of Coming Events and Present Duties.]

Here are some of J. C. Ryle's comments on the importance of interpreting prophecy literally, according to the normal and natural sense of language:

I believe that the literal sense of the Old Testament prophecies has been far too much neglected by the Churches, and is far too much neglected at the present day, and that under the mistaken system of spiritualizing and accommodating Bible language, Christians have too often completely missed its meaning. [J. C. Ryle, Are You Ready For The End Of Time? (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2001) p. 9;  reprint of Coming Events and Present Duties.]

I believe we have cherished an arbitrary, reckless habit of interpreting first advent texts literally, and second advent texts spiritually.  I believe we have not rightly understood "all that the prophets have spoken" about the second personal advent of Christ, any more than the Jews did about the first.  [J. C. Ryle, Are You Ready For The End Of Time? (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2001) p. 46;  reprint of Coming Events and Present Duties.]

Ryle then envisions a situation where a Christian is witnessing to a Jew.  The Christian tells his Jewish friend how the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah (such as Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, Micah 5:2, etc.) were literally fulfilled by Christ.  He then continues:

But suppose the Jew asks you if you take all the prophecies of the Old Testament in their simple literal meaning. Suppose he asks you if you believe in a literal personal advent of Messiah to reign over the earth in glory, a literal restoration of Judah and Israel to Palestine, a literal rebuilding and restoration of Zion and Jerusalem.  Suppose the unconverted Jew puts these questions to you, what answer are you prepared to make?  Will you dare to tell him that Old Testament prophecies of this kind are not to be taken in their plain literal sense?  Will you dare to tell him that the words Zion, Jerusalem, Jacob, Judah, Ephraim, Israel, do not mean what they seem to mean, but mean the Church of Christ?  Will you dare to tell him that the glorious kingdom and future blessedness of Zion, so often dwelt upon in prophecy, mean nothing more than the gradual Christianizing of the world by missionaries and gospel preaching?  Will you dare to tell him that you think it "carnal" to expect a literal rebuilding of Jerusalem, "carnal" to expect a literal coming of Messiah to reign?  Oh, reader, if you are a man of this mind, take care what you are doing!  I say again, take care.  [J. C. Ryle, Are You Ready For The End Of Time? (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2001) p. 47;  reprint of Coming Events and Present Duties.]

Ryle continues to plead for a literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies:

It is high time for Christians to interpret unfulfilled prophecy by the light of prophecies already fulfilled.  The curses of the Jews were brought to pass literally; so also will be the blessings.  The scattering was literal; so also will be the gathering.  The pulling down of Zion was literal; so also will be the building up.  The rejection of Israel was literal; so also will be the restoration.  [J. C. Ryle, Are You Ready For The End Of Time? (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2001) p. 49;  reprint of Coming Events and Present Duties.]

What I protest against is, the habit of allegorizing plain sayings of the Word of God concerning the future history of the nation of Israel, and explaining away the fullness of the contents in order to accommodate them to the Gentile Church. I believe the habit to be unwarranted by anything in Scripture, and to draw after it a long train of evil consequences.  [J. C. Ryle, Are You Ready For The End Of Time? (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2001) p. 107-108;  reprint of Coming Events and Present Duties.]

J. C. Ryle had some concluding words about the importance of literal interpretation:

Cultivate the habit of reading prophecy with a single eye to the literal meaning of its proper names.  Cast aside the old traditional idea that Jacob, and Israel, and Judah, and Jerusalem, and Zion must always mean the Gentile Church, and that predictions about the second Advent are to be taken spiritually, and first Advent predictions literally. Be just, and honest, and fair.  If you expect the Jews to take the 53rd of Isaiah literally, be sure you take the 54th and 60th and 62nd literally also.  The Protestant Reformers were not perfect.  On no point, I venture to say, were they so much in the wrong as in the interpretation of Old Testament prophecy.  [J. C. Ryle, Are You Ready For The End Of Time? (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2001) p. 157-159;  reprint of Coming Events and Present Duties.]

It was by taking the Scriptures in their literal, normal sense which forced J. C. Ryle to the conclusion that the nation of Israel would have a favorable future in the plan of God:

Time would fail me, if I attempted to quote all the passages of Scripture in which the future history of Israel is revealed.  Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Zephaniah, Zechariah all declare the same thing.  All predict, with more or less particularity, that in the end of this dispensation the Jews are to be restored to their own land and to the favor of God.  I lay no claim to infallibility in the interpretation of Scripture in this matter.  I am well aware that many excellent Christians cannot see the subject as I do.  I can only say, that to my eyes, the future salvation of Israel as a people, their return to Palestine and their national conversion to God, appear as clearly and plainly revealed as any prophecy in God's Word.  [J. C. Ryle, Are You Ready For The End Of Time? (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2001) pages 152-154;  reprint of Coming Events and Present Duties.]

 

For Related Studies: 

Do You Interpret the Bible Literally?  Six Tests to See if You Do [PDF Format]

Consistent Literal Interpretation--A Study Showing the Inconsistencies of Non-Dispensationalists
- Ten Examples of Incredible Inconsistencies on the Part of Those who are not Dispensational

J. C. Ryle and the Literal Interpretation of Prophecies

J.C. Ryle and Preterism

 

"About the time of the end, a body of men will be raised up who will turn their attention to the prophecies, and insist upon their literal interpretation, in the midst of much clamor and opposition" -- Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727)

 


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