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The nineteenth century was an age that witnessed great progress in many areas of exploration and learning. However, according to J. C. Ryle, it was an age of great ignorance too. “With all the stir made about education,” he wryly observed, “the ignorance of our own country’s history is something lamentable and appalling and depressing.” What particularly distressed Ryle was the scant knowledge of the English Reformation evident amongst his contemporaries. In this lay a grave danger: one of the reasons so many congregations drift from their evangelical foundations is their sheer ignorance of Christian history, and their lack of understanding of the major doctrinal controversies and why they matter. Therefore he taught that one of the best ways to stop Christians wavering “with every changing wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14) is to instill in them a deep love for Reformation and Puritan teaching, and a willingness to suffer for those gospel truths. The Bible often calls us to remember the past, Ryle explained, but the devil tries to make us forget. If the church is to be strengthened, then Christians must be persuaded to read the saints of the past and to learn the lessons of church history.
Ryle’s abiding hope for Light From Old Times is that our souls will be stirred to prayer and action by the great testimonies of Reformers and Puritans found within its pages, and then that we will dig deeper into the writings of these spiritual giants.
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