Ryland, John


b Warwick 1753, d Bristol 1825.A gifted child who was first taught by his father and at the age of 5 could read Ps 23 in Heb; before he was 9 he read and translated the Gk NT—‘in 8 months and 12 days’ as he recorded. He taught himself the classics and was converted at 14 and baptized soon afterwards, in 1767. From the age of 15 he helped his father, the Baptist pastor, in the school he ran. He began to preach in village churches. In 1771 his call to ministry was confirmed by the church; in 1781 he became his father’s co-pastor, then sole pastor when John Ryland senr moved to Enfield, Middx, 4 years later. He favoured ‘open communion’ (for all Christians) and was active in the group of Northants Baptist pastors, a new-style association for fellowship and evangelism which he served as moderator in 1785 and 1792. A bitter-sweet moment in Spring 1778 found him rushing in upon Jn Newton who was chatting with his great friend ‘Parson’ Josiah Bull of Newport Pagnell, to exclaim that Toplady was resting in the nearby inn: ‘He is on his way to London and will not live long!’ For the last time, the 4 men had a brief but not entirely happy meeting. But it was in 1784 that Ryland read Jonathan Edwards’ Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer. With John Sutcliff and Andrew Fuller he took the lead in issuing a prayer call to from the Northants pastors which ‘expounded a new missionary Calvinism’ and led to the founding of the Particular Baptist Missionary Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen (later BMS) in Oct 1792. In 1793 William Carey, whom Ryland had baptized in the river Nene at Northampton 10 years before, sailed for India, with strong support from the home team including Ryland. In 1794 Ryland moved to Bristol to be pastor of the Broadmead ch (as well as a nearby paedobaptist congregation) and president of the Bristol Baptist Coll. At that time Brown Univ (USA) awarded him an hon doctorate. The college expanded and moved into new premises in 1812; on Fuller’s death in 1815, Ryland was asked to take on the BMS secretaryship. But the triple workload proved impossible; in 1818 John Dyer became full-time co-secretary, and Ryland retained his now nominal post until his death. Over all, he did much to liberate an inward-looking hyper-Calvinism towards a new global vision, with a firm grasp of gospel principles applied to a changing world. He maintained good relations with Anglicans such as Newton, Toplady and Scott; he wrote over 30 books (originally in his miniscule writing) including works on ministry, evangelicalism, and gospel unity. While remaining an admirer of Jonathan Edwards, in his later years Ryland declared himself on the model of Doddridge (qv) to be ‘less bound by systems’. He found walking physically difficult, but was said in an anonymous biographical sketch to be gifted with ‘microscopic vision’ (for his small Bible and tiny sermon notes) and ‘a singular power of continuous public speaking’.

Ryland’s 100 or so hymns, some very personal, appeared in Hymns and Verses on Sacred Subjects; one of his best-known is included here, but Let us sing the King Messiah also appears in 3 current books. Stanza 4 of the ‘missionary’ hymn Rejoice, the Saviour reigns has, ‘All power is in his hand,/ his people to defend;/ to his most high command/ shall millions more attend:/ all heaven with smiles approve his cause/ and distant isles receive his laws.’ One text ‘in imitation of the Icelandic’ includes many alliterative lines, and he anticipated John Ferguson (qv) by 2 centuries with Am I my brother’s keeper. Some could slip easily into Newton and Cowper’s Olney collection; some show near-Wesleyan touches; some are beautifully simple; all are rich in biblical allusion. Some were written while travelling and many are exactly dated; in the 19th c they were sometimes bound together with the rather gruesome work of the Moravian-leaning Clare Taylor (d 1778) and of the classic S Crossman, qv; one of them was written after hearing Rowland Hill (qv) preach on Gen 49, while others are themselves sermons: ‘Young converts, take warning by me…’. It is hard to resist a stz like ‘Have I oft conversed with others,/ Newton, Scott and Robert Hall,/ called Fuller, Pearce and Sutcliffe, brothers,/ shared their joys, survived them all!’. John Julian’s verdict was distinctly cool; John Stevens’ Selection featured 5 of Ryland’s texts; see also under B Beddome. Both CH and GH have 4 of them No.262.

Hymns and songs by Ryland, John

Number Hymn Name
262 Sovereign ruler of the skies