I know not what your opinions may be about the fulfilment of the prophetical parts of Scripture.... But I ask you in all affection to examine your own views about prophecy. I entreat you to consider calmly whether your opinions about Christ’s second advent and kingdom are as sound and Scriptural as those of His first disciples.... I beseech you not to dismiss the subject which I now press upon your attention, as a matter of curious speculation, and one of no practical importance. Believe me, it affects the whole question between yourself and the unconverted Jew. I warn you that, unless you interpret the prophetical portion of the Old Testament in the simple literal meaning of its words, you will find it no easy matter to carry on an argument with an unconverted Jew.
You would probably tell the Jew that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament Scriptures. To those Scriptures you would refer him for proof.... You would tell him that in Jesus of Nazareth those Scriptures were literally fulfilled.... 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 re-building and restoration of Zion and Jerusalem. Suppose the unconverted Jew puts these questions to you, what answers 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” [temporal] to take such Scriptures literally, – “carnal” to expect a literal rebuilding of Jerusalem, – “carnal” to expect a literal coming of Messiah to reign, – “carnal” to look for a literal gathering and restoration of Israel? Oh, reader, if you are a man of this mind, take care what you are doing! I say again, take care.
Do you not see that you are putting a weapon in the hand of the unconverted Jew, which he will probably use with irresistible power? – Do you not see that you are cutting the ground from under your own feet, and supplying the Jew with a strong argument for not believing your own interpretation of Scripture? – Do you not see that the Jew will reply, that it is “carnal,” to tell him that Messiah has come literally to suffer, if you tell him that it is “carnal” to expect Messiah will come literally to reign? – Do you not see that the Jew will tell you, that it is far more “carnal” in you to believe that Messiah could come into the world as a despised, crucified Man of sorrows, than it is in him to believe that He will come into the world as a glorious King? Beyond doubt he will do so, and you will find no answer to give.
Reader, I commend these things to your serious attention. I entreat you to throw aside prejudice, and to view the subject I am dwelling upon with calm and dispassionate thought. 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 pole-stars, 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.... Bind up with the second advent the restoration of the Jews...and the establishment of Christ’s kingdom upon earth. Do this, and you will see a meaning and fullness in prophecy which perhaps you have never discovered.
J. C. Ryle, Coming Events and Present Duties (London: William Hunt & Co., 1881), pp. x-xi, pp. 46-48.
John Charles Ryle (1816 - 1900) was born at Macclesfield and was educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford. The son of a wealthy banker, he was destined for a career in politics before answering a call to ordained ministry.
In 1880, at age 64, he became the first bishop of Liverpool, at the recommendation of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. He retired in 1900 at age 83 and died later the same year.
Ryle was a strong supporter of the evangelical school and a critic of Ritualism. Among his longer works are Christian Leaders of the Eighteenth Century (1869), Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (7 vols, 1856-69), and Principles for Churchmen (1884).