J. C. Ryle, Temperance, and Abortion

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

J. C. Ryle’s strategy to reverse the destructive effects of drunkenness point to possibilities in our battle against abortion.

Ryle was the first Bishop of Liverpool, England, starting in 1880 and ending with his death in 1900. He found that one of the great destroyers of family and society was drunkenness. There were 2,402 drinking houses in the city in 1884. One for every 229 inhabitants.

His strategy to change this was “an amalgam of preaching and social aid.” He urged the preachers of his town to “boldly denounce the great sin of the day.” And he lent his voice and energy to numerous reforms (like alternative evening amusements, women’s shelters, non-alcoholic coffee bars, and licensing reform).

One strategy was to establish a Temperance Sunday Sermon once a year in January. By the end of his episcopate 191 of the 205 churches in the diocese devoted a message on Temperance Sunday to God’s perspective on drunkenness.

Ryle’s summary of how Liverpool made significant progress against the social disease of drunkenness was that “the grand work of temperance reform was achieved 'little by little and bit by bit.' It was a matter of each person trying to do their own little bit to leave the world more sober than when they were born.” (Ian D. Farley, J. C. Ryle, First Bishop of Liverpool, 2000, 150).

The lessons for our battle with abortion would be at least these:

  • In all the pulpits of the land let there be bold preaching on God’s perspective on abortion.
  • Let every pastor give one sermon a year specifically to this cause.
  • Let every pastor encourage his people not to be all-or-nothing advocates for life, but to keep chipping away at the multiple vulnerabilities of abortion.
  • Let all Christians “do their own little bit” to leave behind a Christ-exalting commitment to care for the unborn.