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A Review of That Man of Granite With the Heart of A Child: A New Biography of J.C. Ryle

Russell clearly points out that J. C. Ryle was just a man, but he was a man whose heart beat for God.

  • Byron Snapp,
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Today more people probably know the writings of J.C. Ryle much better than they know the author of those many books. This book provides an end to this problem.

Ryle was born in 1816 into a non-Christian home that did have a Christian heritage. His businessman father had little time for his family. During his college years, J. C. became interested in Christianity and was converted in a unique way. He was regenerated when he heard Ephesians 2:8 read. Thus it is no surprise that he would spend his life teaching others the importance of the primacy of God's Word and the priority of adhering to it.

His parents were very displeased to hear of Ryle's commitment to Christianity. Providentially Ryle's possession of the wealth of eternal life occurred shortly before his wealthy family lost almost everything when his father declared bankruptcy.

This trial was the first of many Ryle face throughout his life. Other trials included the death of three wives and the resulting strain that came with trying to be a mother and father to his children. Perhaps a more severe trial was seeing his children, as adults, becoming apathetic to Christianity.

In the midst of the changes he faced in his life he all the more firmly held to the Word of God. He was ordained in 1841 in the Church of England. He served in a number of rural pastorates until he was appointed Bishop in Liverpool in 1880. He continued in his ministry there until his failing health forced him to retire shortly before his death.

In this highly visible ecclesiastical position he continued to promote taking the Gospel to the lost and to prayerfully working toward the ordination of more men to minister in his area, as well as the construction of additional churches so that parishioners would have less distance to travel to worship. He favored this utilization of money rather than spending it on the construction of a cathedral in the newly formed diocese.

Throughout his Christian life, Ryle loved faithfulness far more than fame. He loved Christ far more than compromise. He loved to see conversions more than a cathedral. Thus he devoted his life to presenting basic Biblical teaching in a simple manner. His heart was soft toward obedience to God. This softness made his mind and will staunch in a desire to serve the Lord.

Russell has written a very fine work on Ryle's life. I came away with a greater respect for Ryle. I saw his continued faithfulness in the midst of family and ecclesiastical trials. I realized that much of Ryle's writing came as a result of church issues he faced in the Anglican Church or in the midst of caring for an invalid wife. Russell clearly points out that Ryle was just a man, but he was a man whose heart beat for God.

The author includes a number of relevant quotes from Ryle's writings throughout the text. Notes are found at the book's conclusion as are a subject and person index. This biography is one that should be enjoyed by anyone who has read any of Ryle's many writings.

  • Byron Snapp

Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia.  He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina.  He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren. 

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