An Abstract from J C Ryle’s “Warnings to the Churches” with editions
Original sermon preached to a gathering of ministers in August 1858

“For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God,
in the sight of God speak we in Christ.” (2 Cor. 2:17)

The Greek expression which we have translated as “corrupt” either means a tradesman who
does his business dishonestly, or a wine maker, who adulterates the wine which he offers for
sale. Tyndale renders it as, “We are not of those who chop and change the Word of God.” In
the margin of the Authorised Version we read, “We are not as many, who deal deceitfully with
the Word of God.”

In the construction of the sentence, the Holy Spirit has inspired Paul to use both the negative
and positive way of stating the truth. This mode of construction adds clearness and
unmistakableness to the meaning of the words, and intensity and strength to the assertion,
which they contain. It will be found, therefore, that there are contained in the text both
negative and positive lessons for the instruction of the ministers of Christ. Some things we
ought to avoid. Others we ought to follow.

The Negative Lessons

The first of the negative lessons is, a plain warning against corrupting or dealing deceitfully
with the Word of God. The Apostle says, unlike the “many” who do it, pointing out to us that
even in his time there were those who did not deal faithfully and honestly with God’s truth.
Here is a complete answer to those who assert that the early Church was one of unmixed
purity. The mystery of iniquity had already begun to work. The lesson which we are taught
is—to beware of all dishonest statements of that Word of God, which we are commissioned to
preach. We are to add nothing to it. We are to take nothing away.

When can it be said of us, that we corrupt the Word of God in the present day? What are the
rocks and reefs which we ought to avoid, if we would not be of the “many” who deal
deceitfully with God’s truth? A few suggestions on this would be useful.

Firstly, we corrupt the Word of God most dangerously, when we throw any doubt on the
absolute inspiration of any part of Holy Scripture. This is not merely corrupting the cup—but
the whole fountain! This is not merely corrupting the bucket of living water, which we profess
to present to our people, but poisoning the whole well. Once wrong on this point, the whole
substance of our religion is in danger. It is a flaw in the foundation. It is a worm at the root of
our theology. Once we allow this worm to gnaw the root, then we will not be surprised if the
branches, the leaves, and the fruit, decay little by little. Every chapter, and every verse, and
every word in the Bible has been “given by the inspiration of God.” We should never desert a
great principle in theology, any more than in science, because of apparent difficulties which we
are not able at present to remove.

Secondly, we corrupt the Word of God when we make defective statements of doctrine. We do
so when we add to the Bible —the opinions of the Church, or of the Church Fathers, as if they
were of equal authority. We do so when we take away from the Bible, for the sake of pleasing
men. We do so when from a feeling of false liberality, keep back any statement which seems
narrow, and harsh, or hard. We do so when we try to soften down anything that is taught
about eternal punishment, or the reality of hell. We do so when we exhibit an excessive
concern to fence, and guard, and qualify such doctrines as justification by faith without
the deeds of the law, for fear of the charge of antinomianism; or when we flinch from
strong statements about holiness, for fear of being labelled as legalistic. We also do this
when we shrink back from the use of Bible language in giving an account of doctrines.
We are apt to keep back such expressions as “born again”, “election”, “adoption”,
“conversion”, “assurance”, and to use roundabout phraseology and terminology, as if we
were ashamed of plain Bible words. I leave these thoughts for your further consideration.

Thirdly, we corrupt the Word of God when we make a defective practical application of
it. We do so when we do not discriminate between classes in our congregations. We do
so when we address everyone as being possessed of grace simply because they have been
baptised of water and have entered the church membership, and do not emphasise the
need to be born again of the Spirit. Are we not apt to keep back clear, direct appeals to
the unconverted? Furthermore, are we not in danger of defective handling of the Word in
our practical exhortations, by not bringing home the statements of the Bible to the
various classes in our congregations? We speak plainly to the poor; but do we also speak
plainly to the rich? Do we speak plainly in our dealings with the upper classes? This is a
point on which, I fear, we need to search our consciences.

The Positive Instructions

Now we turn to the positive instructions, for the text says, “but as of sincerity, but as of
God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.

Firstly, we should aim to speak “with sincerity”. Sincerity of aim, heart, and motive; to
speak as those who are thoroughly convinced of the truth of what they speak; as those
who have a deep feeling and tender love for those whom we address.

Secondly, we should aim to speak like men “as of God”. We ought to strive to feel like
men commissioned to speak for God, and on His behalf. In our dread of running into
Romanism, we too often forget the language of the Apostle, “I magnify mine office.” We
forget how great is the responsibility of the New Testament minister, and how awful the
sin of those who when a real messenger of Christ addresses them, refuse to receive his
message, and harden their hearts against it.

Thirdly, we should aim to speak “in the sight of God”. We should not ask ourselves,
“What did the people think of me?” but, “What was I in the sight of God?” O that this
may be the spirit in which we may always express from our pulpits, not caring whether
men are pleased or displeased, not caring whether men say we were eloquent or feeble;
but going away with the witness of our conscience, “I have spoken as standing before
God’s sight.”

Finally, we should aim to speak as “in Christ”. This corresponds to Philippians 4:13, “I
can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” We should speak in Christ, as
those who have themselves received mercy; as those who desire to exalt, not themselves,
but the Savior; and as those who care nothing what men think of them, so long as Christ
is magnified in their ministry.


In conclusion, we should all ask, do we ever handle the Word of God deceitfully? Do
we realize what it is to speak as of God, as in the sight of God, and in Christ?

Let me put to everyone one searching question—Is there any text in God’s Word which
we shrink from expounding? Is there any statement in the Bible which we avoid
speaking about to our people, not because we do not understand it, but because it
contradicts some pet notion of ours as to what is truth? If this is true, let us ask our
consciences whether this is very much like handling the Word of God deceitfully. Is
there anything in the Bible we keep back for fear of seeming harsh, and of giving
offense to some of our hearers? Is there any statement, either doctrinal or practical,
which we mangle, mutilate or dismember? If so, are we dealing honestly with God’s

Let us pray to be kept from corrupting God’s Word. Let neither fear nor the favour of
man induce us to keep back, or avoid, or change, or mutilate, or qualify any text in the
Bible. Surely we ought to have holy boldness when we speak as ambassadors of God.
We have no reason to be ashamed of any statement we make in our pulpits, so long as it
is Scriptural.

I have often thought that one great secret of the marvellous honour which God has put
on Mr. Charles Spurgeon is the extraordinary boldness and confidence with which he
stands up in the pulpit to speak to people about their sins and their souls. It cannot be
said he does it from fear of any, or to please any. He seems to give every class of
hearers its portion – to the rich and the poor, the high and the low, the king and the
peasant, the learned and the illiterate. He gives to every one the plain message,
according to God’s Word. I believe that very boldness has much to do with the success
which God is pleased to give to his ministry. Let us not be ashamed to learn a lesson
from him in this respect. Let us go and do likewise.