J. C. Ryle on The 39 Articles of Religion (Part 2)

Continuing to read in Knots Untied, Ryle has this to say about the Articles’ “studied moderation about things nonessential to salvation, and things about which good Christian men may differ.”

(2) Let us mark, in the next place, as we read the Articles, their studied moderation about things nonessential to salvation, and things about which good Christian men may differ.

About sin after baptism,-about predestination and election,-about the definition of the Church,-about the ministry,—about the ceremonies and rights of every particular or national Church,-about all these points it is most striking to observe the calm, gentle, tender, conciliatory tone which runs throughout the Articles; a tone the more remarkable when contrasted with the firm and decided language on essential points, to which I have just been referring

It is clear as daylight to my mind, that the authors of the Articles intended to admit the possibility of difference on the points which I have just been enumerating. They saw the possibility of men differing about predestination and election, as Fletcher and Toplady did. How cautious are their statements, and how carefully guarded and fenced !— They believed that there might be Churches differently organized to our own, that there might be many good Christian ministers who were not Episcopalians, and many useful rites and ceremonies of worship unlike those of the Church of England. They take care to say nothing which could possibly give offence.—They scrupulously avoid condemning and denouncing other Churches and other Christians. In short, their maxim seems to have been “in necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertus, in omnibus caritas.”

I greatly admire this moderation in non-essentials. I heartily wish that the spirit of it had been more acted upon in days gone by, by the rulers of the Church of England. To the blind intolerance and fanaticism of days gone by, to the insane and senseless wish to cram Episcopacy and Liturgy down the throats of every man by force, and excommunicate him if he would not swallow them,-to this we owe an immense proportion of our English Dissent. And the root of all this has been departure from the spirit of the Thirty-nine Articles.

I frankly own that I belong to a school in the Church of England, which is incorrectly and unfairly called “low.” And why are we called so ? Simply because we will not condemn every Church which is not governed by Bishops, simply because we will not denounce every one as greatly in error who worships without a surplice and a Prayerbook! But I venture to tell our accusers that their charges fall very lightly on us. When they can prove that our standard is not the standard of the Thirty-nine Articles,—when they can show that we take lower ground than our own Church takes in her authorized Confession of faith, then we will allow there is something in what they say against us. But till they can do that, and they have not done it yet, I tell them that we shall remain unmoved. We may be called “low” Churchmen, but we are “true.”

I think Ryle is right when he refers to the Articles of Religion as being “moderate” in spirit and in tone. And next, we will see what he has to say about how the Articles address the sacraments.

This post originally appeared at the Prydain website. It is republished here with Will Prydain’s permission.


Will Prydain lives in Birmingham, Alabama, and attends an Anglican church nearby. By conviction and training he tends to look at things from an evangelical, Reformed Anglican perspective.


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