J.C. Ryle was an Anglican bishop out in Liverpool, England back in the 1800’s. He was known for being a powerful preacher and for writing many books and tracts that the average Joe or Jane out on the streets could understand. Here I want to just quickly jot some notes from a book of his, Knots Untied which was published back in 1974. You can access the book here.
Ryle said that there were a number of ways that one could spoil the Gospel. While he did not number them, I have been going through Knots Untied, finding his statements and cataloging the ways.
1. You could spoil it by way of addition.
“You may spoil the gospel by addition. You have only to add to Christ, the grand object of faith, some other objects as equally worthy of honour, and the mischief is done.” ~ pg. 15, Knots Untied
~ One contemporary example of this is the New Perspective on Paul teaching. Legalism also comes to mind.
2. You could spoil it by way of subtraction.
“The plain truth is that false doctrine has been the chosen engine which Satan has employed in every age to stop the progress of the gospel of Christ. … If he could not destroy it, he has too often neutralized its usefulness by addition, subtraction, or substitution. In a word he has “corrupted men’s minds.” ~ pg. 275, Knots Untied
~ Here one can think of Arianism (in my terms, the “Jesus was just a dude heresy”). The Jehovah Witnesses believe as much (or rather as little).
3. You could spoil it by way of substitution.
“You may spoil the gospel by substitution. You have only to withdraw from the eyes of the sinner the grand object which the Bible proposes to faith — Jesus Christ, and substitute another object in His place — the Church, the Ministry, the Confessional, Baptism, or the Lord’s Supper — and the mischief is done. Substitute anything for Christ, and the gospel is totally spoiled! ” ~ pg. 15, Knots Untied
~ I think is very easy to fall for this one. Life can very easily become Churchianity and not Christianity, and all the while we think we are doing just fine.
4. You could spoil the gospel by interposition.
“You have only to push something between Christ and the eye of the soul, to draw away the sinner’s attention from the Saviour, and the mischief is done.” ~ pg. 15, Knots Untied
~ A example of this is Mary worship. Mary comes between you and Christ. You do not go straight to Jesus.
5. You could spoil the gospel by disproportion.
“You have only to attach an exaggerated importance to the secondary things of Christianity, and a diminished importance to the first things, and the mischief is done.” ~ pg. 15, Knots Untied
~ Here I think of those people (and I was one of these once) who spent hours upon hours brooding over eschatological issues.
6. Lastly, you could spoil the Gospel by confusing and contradictory directions.
“Complicated and obscure statements about faith, baptism, Church privileges, and the benefits of the Lord’s Supper, all jumbled together, and thrown down without order before hearers, make the gospel no gospel at all!” ~ pg. 15, Knots Untied
~ I think that this last one might just be a matter of poor communication.