The Life of Leonard Ravenhill: In Light of Eternity by Mack Tomlinson

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The Life of Leonard Ravenhill: In Light of Eternity by Mack Tomlinson, on one of my bookshelves.

The Life of Leonard Ravenhill: In Light of Eternity by Mack Tomlinson, on one of my bookshelves.

I finally ordered the biography on Leonard Ravenhill and it arrived in the mail today. I’ve read all of Ravenhills books and listened to all the sermons I could find so I was excited about this book. I was a bit concerned that the author was a graduate from a Baptist Theological Seminary and wondered if that bias would come across.

I was flipping through it and came across a chapter on Ravenhills theology. I was very disappointed. He really butchered it. Often times the author would simply teach his own view on a matter, not quote Ravenhill at all, and then just say that Ravenhill would say a “amen” to this teaching. Othertimes he flat out contradicted what I know to be true.

First he said Leonard was not a Pentecostal. But Leonard certainly was. He helped start a Holiness Pentecostal denomination in England in his early days. He believed in a definite baptism of the Holy Spirit, after conversion, though he did not believe that tongues was “the” evidence.

Second, he said that Ravenhill came down on the Calvinist side of things sometimes. That was the most shocking to hear. Ravenhill was no Calvinist. The author even said elsewhere that Ravenhill was an eighteenth century Methodist born in the twentieth century. I believe that to be the truth.

Third, he said that Ravenhill did not teach Christian Perfection. I am surprised anyone familiar with his preaching on holiness could say such a thing. He claimed that Ravenhill was “unclear” about whether he believed indwelling sin could be eradicated in this life. Though my own views on original sin differ from Ravenhill’s Wesleyan view, Ravenhill did say, “You won’t go to hell of being born with original sin. You will go to hell for not getting rid of it.” Clearly, Ravenhill did not believe the doctrine of “sin in believers” that the author was trying to portray.

Fourth, he said Ravenhill believed in Penal Substitution. Ravenhill actually believed in the Governmental Substitution view, which was commonly held by the eightieth century Arminian Methodists. Ravenhill recommend Albert Barne’s book on The Atonement on his recommended reading list, which expounds the governmental view. Leonard’s daughter in law told me that when she would go and visit Leonard, on break from her Bible College, Leonard would preach to her against what she was learning in Bible College, specifically the idea that “Jesus paid it all, all the debt I owe.” Leonard said “That’s a lie.”

So that chapter was HORRIBLY inaccurate and biased. Leonard was not a Calvinist, he was pentecostal, he did believe in Christian perfection, he rejected Penal Substitution, he held to the governmental atonement view, he taught freedom from original sin, etc.

I hope, and am pretty sure, that the rest of the book is better than that chapter on theology. At the very least, the pictures are good even if the content thus far stinks. I did notice that the biographer at least got his birthplace correct and at least all the Ravenhill quotes will be excellent.

– Jesse Morrell


My life was profoundly impacted and influenced by the preaching of Leonard Ravenhill. To hear more about that, see this video:

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7 Responses to The Life of Leonard Ravenhill: In Light of Eternity by Mack Tomlinson

  1. This is from a biography of Maynard James (the leader that Ravenhill followed as an evangelist in his early ministry as an open air preacher and evangelist):

    “Leonard Ravenill was just as fiery as Maynard James and even more impetuous! He was a Yorkshire-man, being brought up in Leeds. He had a most attractive personality, and many a lady’s heart missed a beat when he was around! He was on fire for the Lord… He rarely kept still when preaching, and used to stride from side to side along the whole width of the platform as he got more and more involved in his subject. He was full of pithy sayings and memorable sentences, such as: “This generation of preachers is responsible for this generation of sinners” and “a man wrapped up in himself makes a small parcel when death cuts the strings”.

    He had an elementary school eduction, and when he left school he worked as an apprentice cutter at Montague Burton’s tailoring works. He was converted somewhere around the 1920’s and began attending the Holiness Church at Leeds. When Maynard James visited the assembly in 1929, Leonard received the ‘second blessing’, and after an experience of a trek led by Jack Ford, he too went to Cliff College. In 1931 he became an assistant pastor at the new Church at Bolton, and a couple of years later he joined Maynard James at Oldham, taking full charge when Maynard left to form the evangelistic revival team.

    His ministry at Oldham is remembered (this was written in 1993) to this day, for as well as being a fiery evangelist, he was also a caring pastor. Later he eventually left Britain for the United States, where his dynamic preaching and vigorous writing have had a profound influence. In the early days of the Calvary Holiness Church (see below) he provided a real dynamism to the leadership, although it soon became very clear that he was not very interested in the organisational side of the new Movement”

    I noticed that in the Ravenhill biography, the 1929 “Second Blessing” was not mentioned at all or even alluded to. I am sure that is because of the theology of the biographer. The biographer did mention that Maynard James and Leonard Ravenhill traveled and evangelized together, starting churches, but never mentioned that Maynard preached at Ravenhill’s church in 1929 and Ravenhill received a “Second Blessing” then.

    I found some Maynard James sermons online that apparently were only uploaded a week ago. Martha Ravenhill, Leonard’s wife, said that Maynard was her favorite preacher in England. I only listened to one message and he was a strong proponent of Entire Sanctification – which Ravenhill’s biographer tried to say he didn’t believe in.

  2. The biographer also included an Appendix of Ravenhill’s bio on Calvinist preacher George Whitefield… But failed to include his bio on John Wesley, in which Ravenhill endorsed the message of a Second Blessing in which believers receive an instantaneous deliverance from all sin.

  3. Ravenhill said, “I know there is a lot of opposition against the second blessing. I challenge you to find a man that has made history in God’s kingdom who somewhere didn’t have a second crisis after he was born again in the Spirit of God.”

    Yet the biographer, in his chapter on Ravenhills theology, made it sound as if Ravenhill only believed in a gradual sanctification and did not believe in Christian Perfection.

  4. I am enjoying this book but the authors theological bias is annoying. He constantly mentions when Ravenhill preached at a “Baptist church” but then only mentions “other churches” as well, which were no doubt Nazarene, Holiness, etc. When talking about Keith Green the author said Keith was reading “a book” about true repentance and breaking up the fallowed ground. The author and I both know that book was written by Charles Finney but no mention of Finney is there – only “a book.” The only mention of Finney was the authors assumed disagreement Ravenhill would have had on the “nature of revival” though he provides no quote from Ravenhill to support his claim that Ravenhill would have had any disagreement at all.

  5. Mr. Morrell,

    I have been listening to Ravenhill for the past 10 years. I do differ theologically from brother Len on certain issues (particularly soteriology), but he is probably my favorite preacher. However, I must say I have heard him specifically, from his own mouth, deny Christian Perfection in sermons of his I have listened to avidly. He followed up that denial of Christian Perfection with his quote, “…its not that it’s impossible to sin, but that it’s possible not to sin.” Again, he openly denied Christian Perfection and stated the above quote. For the sake of integrity’s sake, truth and honesty, you would need to edit your above article. Again, brother Len is probably my favorite preacher. We are all in need of some measure of correction.

    • Hi Nicholas,

      Leonard is my favorite preacher too, ever since I first started listening to him back in 2002. What Leonard denied was Sinless Perfection, which is different from Christian Perfection. Christian Perfection teaches that sin is avoidable and thus a state of perfection is possible in this life. The quote you provided of Leonard, which originally came from Duncan Campbell, is actually teaching Christian Perfection – that it is possible to not sin. Sinless Perfection, on the other hand, teaches that it is IMPOSSIBLE for a Christian to sin. Leonard rightfully denied that. You will also notice in many of Leonard’s sermons that he ascribed to what is called “Second Blessing Holiness,” which is “Christian Perfection.”

      • Thankful for the correction, and as soon as I saw that you wrote “Sinless Perfection”, I realized that I had confused the two – I happen to subscribe to something different then either of the two. Praise God for both Len and Duncan’s lives, though they were flawed men whose theology had errors, they preached a Perfect Messiah.

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