J.C. Ryle says “Don’t Be a Jelly-Fish!”

JC RyleTrue belief must have a strong theological foundation in order to withstand the temptation to compromise what you cannot compromise…what you must not compromise.  What are things we can’t compromise?  The Trinitarian God, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the authority of Scripture, that we are justified by grace, through faith, because of the complete work of Christ alone are just a few.  There are many biblical examples of not compromising.  Some are about not compromising in the face of physical danger, but many deal with facing theological danger, as with the Galatians. In Galatians Paul was waging a theological battle and refusing to compromise with the Judaizers, who were seeking to change the gospel into something it was not; a works-based system that required people to follow the Mosaic Law again to become Christians.

“But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.”  Galatians 2:4

The Judaizers were seeking to add some laws to the process.  Some might say, “What’s the big deal?”  If some people wanted to add some rules to becoming a Christian, isn’t that their right?  They still say they are Christians, so who am I to judge?  Here is what Paul says in Chapter 1:

“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another [Gospel]….But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, let him be accursed!”  Galatians 1:6-8

I think that might be fairly clear don’t you?  If you preach a different gospel, you don’t have a gospel at all, let alone the gospel.  So what do we do?  What do we do when false gospels are presented?

But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the Gospel would remain with you.”  Galatians 2:4-5

We don’t compromise the essentials, and the Gospel is definitely an essential.  The world asks us to compromise at almost every turn.  Some will be blatant, obvious, and even aggressive forms of compromise, like asking you to smash evolution and Christianity together, or to become an atheist (or at least an agnostic).  Some are obvious but not “as bad” according to most: that lying doesn’t hurt anyone (or most lies don’t anyway); that the content of movies, TV, internet, music is not that big of a deal, and if a person is an adult they can handle it; that our language doesn’t need to be that different from the world’s.  Language like OM__, swearing, off-color jokes are small compared to the really bad things other people do.

Possibly the most dangerous temptation, or at least the most difficult to deal with in our day-to-day lives, are the forms of theological compromise put forward by people who say they are Christians.  Here are just a few examples:

    • “It can’t be all grace, there must be some works involved in getting to heaven.  I need to be a good person.  I need to clean myself up before God accepts me.”
    • “Jesus was just a good moral teacher, and it isn’t that important if He was really God or not.  I just follow His moral teachings.”
    • “Hell isn’t reasonable, and a loving God would only send REALLY bad people there like Hitler, Stalin or Osama bin Laden.”
    • “The Bible is a good book, but it was written by men.  You can’t really trust that everything in there is true.  I pick the verses that I like.”

This list could go on forever, but you see the difficulty here.  When a person says they are a Christian, and then they speak these words, the temptation is to not correct them.  This temptation is heightened even more when the person is really, really, nice.  But what if he claims to be a Christian, and yet he doesn’t believe that Jesus is really God?  What if he claims to be a Christian, but he believes anyone could get to heaven as long as they are a good person?  If this man was a jerk, it is eaier to tell him he is wrong, but he’s not – he’s an incredibly nice guy, and that makes it even more difficult.

I promise you that in your life you will have many instances like this, if you haven’t already.  You know that a person is wrong, but they are so nice, you might begin to question yourself and doubt your convictions.  You might even begin to think that in this instance, because they are so nice, it might be okay if they don’t hold to the truth.  Resist that temptation to compromise.  Lovingly, with a good heart, and a good deal of patience, tell them the truth.  You must let them know they are wrong, because the consequences are eternal.  This is the loving thing to do.

Consider the story about the rich young ruler in Matthew 19, and you get a good picture of what needs to happen.  To our modern way of thinking Jesus was the worst evangelist ever in this interaction, but in reality he was doing the most loving thing for that man.  Jesus was getting at the root of the matter and telling the man what it really means to trust in the Lord.  He was telling the man the hard truth of what he had to give up in order to follow Him.  For your own sake, you can’t compromise, because that is what the Lord demands of us all.  There may be consequences for this, but that is to be expected, and that is what the Bible tells us will happen.  The very nice professing Christian to whom you speak the truth might turn on you and show his true heart.  He might lash out because darkness doesn’t like the light.  He might just walk away as the rich young ruler did.  He could laugh in your face.  We need to remember however, that the Lord could be working on his heart and turning him to Him and we may never know it.  Our job is to not compromise when presented with a tempting situation, and we must leave the convicting and converting to the Lord.

So, if faced with a compromising situation and a person does indeed succumb to temptation, what would that look like?  In the mind of J.C. Ryle, a 19th century Bishop in England, compromise looked a lot like a beached jellyfish:

The consequences of this wide-spread dislike to dogma are very serious in the present day.  Whether we like to allow it or not, it is an epidemic which is just now doing great harm, and specially among young people.  It produces what I must venture to call, if I may coin the phrase, a jelly-fish Christianity in the land: that is, a Christianity without bone, or muscle, or power.  A jelly-fish is a pretty and graceful object when it floats in the sea, contracting and expanding like a little, delicate, transparent umbrella. Yet the same jelly-fish, when cast on the shore, is a mere helpless lump, without capacity for movement, self-defense, or self-preservation.  Alas! It is a vivid type of much of the religion of this day, of which the leading principle is, “No dogma, no distinct tenets, no positive doctrine.” 

jellyfishWe have hundreds of jelly-fish clergymen, who seem not to have a single bone in their body of divinity.  They have not definite opinions; they belong to no school or party; they are so afraid of “extreme views” that they have no views at all.

We have thousands of jelly-fish sermons preached every year, sermons without an edge, or a point, or a corner, smooth as billiard balls, awakening no sinner, and edifying no saint.

We have Legions of jelly-fish young men annually turned out from our Universities, armed with a few scraps of second-hand philosophy, who think it a mark of cleverness and intellect to have no decided opinions about anything in religion, and to be utterly unable to make up their minds as to what is Christian truth.  They live apparently in a state of suspense, like Mohamet’s fabled coffin, hanging between heaven and earth.  Their only creed is to be sure and positive about nothing.

And last, and worst of all, we have myriads of jelly-fish worshippers—respectable church-going people, who have no distinct and definite views about any point in theology.  They cannot discern things that differ, any more than color-blind people can distinguish colors.  They think everybody is right and nobody wrong, everything is true and nothing is false, all sermons are good and none are bad, every clergyman is sound and no clergyman is unsound.  They are “tossed to and fro, like children, by every wind of doctrine”; often carried away by any new excitement and sensational movement; ever ready for new things, because they have no firm grasp on the old; and utterly unable to “render a reason of the hope that is in them.”  

Never was it so important for laymen to hold systematic views of truth, and for ordained ministers to “enunciate dogma” very clearly and distinctly in their teaching.”

Follow the teaching of Scripture and the example of Paul by never compromising the essentials.  Accept the criticism of J.C. Ryle and don’t be a Jelly-Fish Christian.

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1 Response to J.C. Ryle says “Don’t Be a Jelly-Fish!”

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