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Vol. 6, No. 4
Apr., 1997

Wrestling with God

by Glenn Conjurske

Though spiritual men of all ages and persuasions have unhesitatingly applied Jacob's wrestling with God to prayer, there are some who are offended at the application. Some suppose it improper that a man should wrestle with God. “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth.” (Is. 45:9). Others suppose it unnecessary to wrestle with God. God is love, and has proved by a multitude of great and precious promises that he is willing to bless, and why then must we wrestle with him for the blessing? Suffice it to say, such objections do not move me. I believe it both proper and necessary to wrestle with God in prayer. The fact is, Jacob did so, and was blessed for it, and named “Prince with God.” We know that Jacob had the promise of the blessing before he wrestled, and indeed, before he was born, yet the fact remains that he obtained the blessing by wrestling with God for it.

The account of Jacob's wrestling with God is full of deep and holy mysteries, no doubt, but it is exceeding precious nevertheless----and precious not only in spite of those deep mysteries, but because of them. And mysteries notwithstanding, the passage is simple enough to simple faith, which does not stumble over the deep things of God, but lays hold of them.

Ponder, then, the precious account: “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel, for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day, because he touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh in the sinew that shrank.” (Gen. 32:24-32.)

Jacob was in great trouble of mind. Twenty years earlier he had stolen his brother's blessing, and fled before his brother's threats to kill him. He must face that offended brother on the morrow----coming to meet him with four hundred men. He had done everything which his natural shrewdness could do, and was now “left alone,” full of evil forebodings. Conscience was undoubtedly against him. He had stolen his brother's blessing by deceit and contemptible trickery. The wrath of his brother was justly against him. But was God for him? The promise of God which had been given to him at the foot of the ladder, in the midst of the angels of God ascending and descending, while he pillowed his lonely head on the stones----the blessing of God which had been vouchsafed to him for twenty years in the house of Laban----the visions of God by which the Almighty had strengthened his heart in the midst of his sufferings----the angels of God which had met him by the way when he parted from Laban----was all of this now to be brought to nothing in a moment, while the sin of his youth was visited upon him by the wrath of his brother and four hundred men?

With such hopes and fears filling his breast----his flickering faith tossed as a ball between such chidings of conscience and such tokens of the mercy of God----was Jacob “left alone.” At the end of his resources and the end of his wits, and “left alone.” A blessed place, as we shall shortly see, for the eye of God marked the place, and soon set foot on it----though not in such a manner as Jacob would have chosen.

Behold, this “man” seeks him out to pick a quarrel with him. We may be sure that one of the last things Jacob would have chosen on such a night was a wrestling match with an intruder. Jacob did not seek this wrestling match, nor initiate it. God did. And to what end? Ah! blessed God, who seekest out the solitude of thy fainting servant in his extremity, to initiate a wrestling match with him, to the very end that thou mightest be overcome! The potsherds of earth strive with their fellows that they might win. The God of heaven strives with the potsherd of earth that he might lose. The almighty Creator picks a quarrel with his frail creature, that he might give him the victory.

But Jacob knew nothing of this. He knew only that an intruder had sought out his place of solitude to pick a quarrel with him, when he could least have desired any such thing. But----“prince with God” that he was----he rose to the occasion, and wrestled, and prevailed, precisely as the God who initiated this quarrel designed that he should do.

But how can a man wrestle with God and prevail? How can the trembling, fainting soul overcome the Almighty God? By faith, by importunity, and by perseverance. Faith is irresistible with God, but this has nothing to do with glib and lukewarm faith. It is the faith which wrestles which overcomes. It is importunate and persevering faith which is irresistible with the Almighty, and such faith is virtually almighty itself. “All things are possible to him that believeth.” (Mark 9:23).

But “possible” and “easy” are two different things, and that glib and lukewarm faith which thinks to gain its purposes easily, without wrestling with God for them, will never gain them at all. Yet how little is this understood. I preached one evening years ago in a little church in Michigan. I spent half the time describing the possibilities of faith, based on the great and precious promises of God, and the second half describing the difficulty with which those possibilities are to be attained, based upon the actual experience of Bible saints. An old lady came to me afterwards and said, “The first half of what you preached tonight I have heard all my life. The second half I never heard before.” This is too bad, for that faith which expects to get the blessing of God easily is sure to be defeated. The faith which wrestles overcomes, and procures its desires.

Let it be plainly understood that the very fact that we are obliged to wrestle with God for the blessing implies difficulty in receiving it. It implies some unwillingness on the part of God to give it. In spite of his great and precious promises, in spite of his loving and merciful nature, there is some sense in which he is determined to withhold the blessing. Indeed, it is plain enough from numerous scriptures that he gives his blessing only upon certain conditions, and those who fail of those conditions never receive the blessing at all. “Ye have not because ye ask not.” “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” Those who faint receive no blessing. Mark, it is not merely that Jacob wrestled with God. God wrestled with Jacob. Each sought to overcome the other. Each sought to defeat the other, and it was God who began the match. Though God may be Saviour, Benefactor, Provider, yea, and Friend, yet when he wrestles with us he is none other than our opponent, to be defeated, and such we must regard him, if we are to wrestle at all. It is God who initiates this struggle, as he did with Jacob. He places himself in the position of an antagonist. He deprives us (or those we love) of good, afflicts us with evil, removes our supports, takes from us our resources, backs us as it were into a corner, where we must wrestle.

Now let us understand the nature of wrestling. When we wrestle with a man, our sole aim is to overpower him----to overcome him. We aim to pin him down, and hold him fast. But understand also, the wrestling of Jacob with God was no sporting event. He was not wrestling to show his strength. He was wrestling in earnest for the blessing. He did not aim to pin down his opponent for a few seconds, for the mere glory of the victory, and then let him go. Not so, but “I will not let thee go except thou bless me.” This was no sport or play. He meant to pin his opponent down and hold him fast until he gave him the blessing. He aimed at nothing short of this, and would stop at nothing short of this. “Let me go, for the day breaketh,” was nothing to Jacob. He has but one reply on his tongue, but one purpose in his heart: “I will not let thee go except thou bless me.”

But how is a man to wrestle with God? We cannot take hold of his body and limbs, as Jacob did. What, then? We wrestle by argument and persuasion. We bring forth our strong reasons and arguments why he should----why he must----bless us. We plead his own words and promises, and by these pin him down, so that he must give us the blessing. This is our plea, that though God had no obligation to promise, now that he has done so, he is obliged to perform. What? will the God of truth not keep his word?

But God wrestles in return. He lays yet heavier burdens upon us, while he turns a deaf ear to our pleading. He shows us what sinners we are----pins us down with the plain fact that if we would press our claim with him, we can claim nothing but damnation.

Nothing daunted, we rejoin that in spite of all our unworthiness, we have yet the promises of God. What if I am a sinner? Was Jacob no sinner? Was David? The Bible is full of promises, and all of those promises were made to sinners. Penitent sinners, no doubt. Sinners who have cleansed their hands and purified their hearts, to be sure. Yet still to sinners. Did God make all of those great and precious promises, to raise our hopes to the height of heaven, only that he might dash those hopes down to the ground----and then venture to tell us that “God is love”? I may be unworthy of the blessing, but this is unworthy of God.

And to our arguments we add our tears. We aim not only to persuade the Lord, but to move his heart. Thus does the man of faith wrestle with God, and the plain fact is, God is overcome by such pleading. Whatever resistance there may be in the heart of God, and for whatever reason, it is all broken down by such wrestling, and his blessing is secured.

But I turn to an example. The best example I have ever seen of a man wrestling with God is found in the artless account of the life of William Huntington, which he entitled The Kingdom of Heaven Taken by Prayer. After a lengthy period of the most severe conviction of sin, fighting all the while against the most diabolical temptations, and just sinking into despair, he writes,

“When I came into my little tool-house, to the best of my remembrance, I did as I usually had done; that is, I pulled off my blue apron, and covered my head and face with it; for I was like the poor publican, I could not even look up to God; I was afraid he would damn me if I offered to do it.

“I kneeled down, and began to pray extempore, in the language of one desperate, precisely thus; `Oh Lord, I am a sinner, and thou knowest it.

I have tried to make myself better, but cannot. If there is any way left in which thou canst save me, do thou save me: if not, I must be damned, for I cannot try any more, nor won't.'

“The very moment the last sentence had dropped from my lips, `the spirit of grace and of supplications was poured into my soul,' Zec. xii.10; and `I forthwith spake as the Spirit gave me utterance,' Acts ii.4. I immediately prayed with such energy, eloquence, fluency, boldness, and familiarity, as quite astonished me; as much as though I should now suddenly speak Arabic, a language that I never learned a syllable of. And the blessed Spirit of God poured the sweet promises into my heart, from all parts of the scriptures, in a powerful manner; and helped my infirmities greatly, by furnishing my faultering tongue with words to plead prevalently with God. Yea, that blessed Spirit enabled me to compass the Almighty about with his own promises; which were so suitable to my case, that his blessed Majesty could not get out of his own bonds.”*

Most interestingly, Huntington in the very next sentence refers to this as “wrestling”----which is certainly what it was. Huntington's example also affords me an opportunity to answer what is probably the most plausible objection against the idea of wrestling with God. It is thought to be irreverent that a sinner should wrestle with God. He forgets his place as a sinner, and thinks to stand on an equal plane with God. But such a manner of wrestling with God we cannot too strongly reprobate. No man of faith forgets his sinfulness. It is doubtless our sinfulness which makes it necessary to wrestle for the blessing at all. We hardly suppose the angels need wrestle with God for their blessings. There was no profane irreverence toward God----no forgetfulness of his sinfulness----in William Huntington, who would not so much as dare to lift up his face to God. Yet he wrestled with him, and prevailed also. He overcame the Almighty with his own promises.

But observe, it is no light thing to overcome the Almighty. This is no glib sport. This is not reading a prayer list, nor any dull, formal, routine, dry-eyed mouthing of prayers. This is the work “of one desperate,” as Huntington aptly says. This is a matter which springs from the deepest depths of a burdened soul, and engages all of its powers in a hand to hand struggle with the Almighty.

And observe further, if it is no light thing to overcome the Almighty, neither is it any light thing to wrestle with him at all. This is an exhausting struggle, and likely of long continuance too. “There wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.” Jacob must spend the long and weary hours of the night in this struggle. For us the conflict may be much longer. We must wrestle until we receive the blessing, and this may not be a matter of hours, but of months or years. Yet those who are determined never to let go their hold until they receive the blessing will prevail at last.

But here we enter the realm of some of the deepest mysteries of faith. Jacob prevailed with God, but he was never the same afterwards. He was both blessed and injured in the same wrestling match, and I frankly suppose that the way of the Lord with Jacob is the way of the Lord with all his saints. There is a price to pay to be a prince with God, and the price is not a light one. Though God will be a conquered foe in the night's conflict, he will yet be God in the morning, and man will yet be man. He will abide still in his place of supreme majesty and power, and man in his place of weakness and dependence. He therefore puts forth his hand to touch the hollow of Jacob's thigh, and leaves him lame for life.

But what holy mysteries we find in this touch! The God who had been wrestling the whole night with Jacob, grappling with him hand to hand, arm to arm, chest to chest, and thigh to thigh the whole night through, and yet “prevailed not against him,” now in one moment touched him, and injured him for life. What vast stores of almighty power does he hold in reserve, while he allows a frail and sinful worm to overcome him! And then, the nature of that touch! We are abashed both by what it was, and what it was not. He could have “touched” his head, and sent him away a drivelling idiot. He could have “touched” his heart, and left him a lifeless corpse. But no, he touched “the hollow of his thigh.” Oh, it was a hard touch, from the effects of which Jacob never recovered, but went limping to his grave----yet such a gentle touch, considering what it might have been. He touched what Jacob was sure to feel, and yet what he could easily spare.

But it seems there are yet deeper mysteries in this touch. If we ask why the Lord thus touched his opponent, the account seems clear enough on the surface. “When he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh, and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint as he wrestled with him.” He “saw that he prevailed not,” and he took measures to turn the odds. He gained an advantage by this touch. “The hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint as he wrestled with him”----surely no condition in which to overcome his opponent. And yet for all that, Jacob prevailed. It was the Lord's design that he should, yet God made it no easy matter. But if God meant that Jacob should prevail, why should he injure him at all? We are not much inclined to tell why God does what he does, but surely in that touch he caused Jacob to feel his weakness, and feel it in such a way as he could never forget. Every step he took for the remainder of his days was a reminder of it. As Jacob was filled with awe afterwards, saying, “for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved,” so he must have been filled with awe also that he had overcome the God who could lame him for life with a touch. The victory on these terms was not likely to foster any pride in the victor, but only a profound sense of his own littleness, and the majestic greatness of his conquered foe.

It was doubtless also that touch which taught Jacob who it was with whom he wrestled. Before that touch, he wrestled as with a man, merely to overcome the intruder. After that touch he wrestled with God, and said, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me.”

But it seems the deepest mystery in this touch may yet remain. By this touch the Lord established a tender, personal, and permanent bond between Jacob's soul and his own. The injuries which the Lord inflicts upon his own do not turn their hearts from him, but just the reverse. They draw their hearts the closer to him. They establish the most tender ties. They forge the most precious links. And that injury which was inflicted on that night in which Jacob wrestled with God and overcame him, we may suppose was from that hour one of Jacob's most precious possessions. He bore in the hollow of his thigh the impress of the touch of the Almighty, and could he despise it? It was the emblem of the grace of his conquered foe, and no doubt the occasion of a thousand rich contemplations for the remainder of his days. The limp in his gait was the price of the blessing in his hands, and the one may have grown as dear to him as the other. But here I am but a child in experience and understanding, and I forbear to say more.

I return to where I began, and affirm that it is not only legitimate to apply Jacob's wrestling with God to our doctrine of prayer, but necessary. Those who will not do so have a shallow and defective doctrine of prayer, which is very likely a reflection of shallow and defective theology in general. It is theology which too little knows either God or man, and too little understands, therefore, the relationship between them. To me it is plain enough that those who have never wrestled with God know little of prayer.

But it is of the greatest interest to inquire why men do not wrestle with God----for it seems plain enough to me that men will wrestle with God, in spite of their doctrines or notions which exclude it, when they have reached that state of soul which demands it. What stands in the way of that state of soul? I may note in passing that I believe that such things as modern technology, modern medicine, and modern affluence do their share to contribute to the problem, for these things all conspire together to draw men away from that place of conscious dependence upon God, in which importunate prayer is a necessity. A little cash will now procure many of those things for which men were once required to wrestle with God. It remains true, no doubt, that no amount of cash will procure spiritual blessings, and that there is no easy path to the deep things of God, but how many Americans know this? The old proverb “No pain, no gain” has been all but forgotten. A people who are so accustomed to acquiring everything with ease are very likely to lose sight of the fact that the things of God cannot be acquired in that manner. I read in an old book the other day of a couple of women who walked thirty miles to attend a gospel meeting----and such accounts are common enough in old books. But is there one woman alive in America who would do so today? Or one man? I shall be told, of course, that there is no need. Perhaps not, but how many would do so if there were a need? But these things only by the way. However largely modern technology and modern affluence may contribute to it, the real root lies deeper:

The real reason that men do not wrestle with God is to be found in modern lukewarmness. I suppose the church has never been so self-satisfied as it is today. That spirit which says, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing”----or almost nothing----has never been so rife as it is today. Hunger and thirst are almost non-existent. There is need enough, but little felt need. Cheap and shallow substitutes are everywhere taken in the place of the deep things of God, and the church is content with them. Shields of gold are as scarce as ever they were, but in the midst of the modern profusion of “brasen shields,” no need is felt for gold. The whole extent of the hunger in most of the modern church lies in a languid wish that the brass might be polished a little brighter. Gold is never thought of. Men are too ignorant of the Bible and the history of the church to know what gold is. One of the most patent features of Laodicean lukewarmness is its actual ignorance of its own poverty----its actual belief that it is rich and increased with goods, while in fact it is wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. Now where such a spirit prevails, in the church or in the soul, men do not wrestle with God. They feel no need to do so. This is the real and only reason that men do not wrestle with God. They cannot do so while they feel no pressing and desperate need to do so. None but those who hunger and thirst for the blessing of God will ever wrestle with him for it. Those who are content with their present attainments, their present ministry, the present state of their church----these will never wrestle with God. Neither will those who are but slightly discontented with their present condition. Neither indeed will those who are very discontented, but languid and lazy. When men become desperate and determined for the blessing of God, they wrestle with him, and prevail also.


Modern Curses Once Again

by Glenn Conjurske

I have recently read with very great interest an article in The Presbyterian Magazine for 1851, in which some of those things which I have characterized as “the curses of modern Society” are rather glorified as great blessings to the race----though many of the things which I have so characterized did not exist in 1851. This article is of course written from the postmillennial point of view, according to which the progress of civilization is often very nearly identified with the progress of the kingdom of God, whereas premillennialism must rather identify it with the progress of the mystery of iniquity, belonging not to the kingdom of God, but to the great image which the Stone from heaven is yet to grind to powder. Speaking of what we now call “automation,” the article says, “The first illustration may be taken from the extent to which the labour of production has been transferred from man to machinery, with a corresponding augmentation of the means of subsistence. Nothing is more evident than that man was not originally designed to be a toiling drudge, but to have dominion over the other, inferior, works of God. And yet how many millions of our race have in all ages been doomed to toil at mere manual occupations, which animals or machines might accomplish as well or better.”1 We suppose the author correct in asserting that man was not originally designed to be “a toiling drudge,” but he has overlooked several of the most important factors in the matter. In the first place, man does not now exist in his “original” estate. He is now fallen, and prone to sin. And it was God who said, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,” and said it at the very time when man fell from his “original” estate, and as a direct result of that fall. That man should eat by the sweat of his brow is part of the curse which God has inflicted, but that curse bears a blessing on its back. It is for sinful man's good to be obliged to toil. It is good for him both physically and spiritually. “Fulness of bread and abundance of idleness” (Ezekiel 16:49) belong to “the iniquity of Sodom.” Such a state of things may have suited man in his “original” condition, but it does not suit sinners, and on the day in which man fell from his sinless estate, God “doomed” him to toil.

But the author overstates the case in contending that man was not designed to be a mere “toiling drudge.” Nobody thinks he was. This is emotional language which only serves to obscure the issue. Man may work hard, and eat bread by the sweat of his brow, and yet have time enough and powers enough to love life, and to serve his God and his neighbor also.

The article continues, “But such has been the degeneracy of our race that this state of things [`to toil at mere manual occupations'] seemed necessary to its proper restraint. As, however, in the progress of society, it became safer to relieve these masses from this drudgery, Providence has been gradually unfolding laws of nature by which a large portion of mere mechanical toil may be transferred from human limbs to the natural forces with which we are surrounded. ...

“By the application of science to the useful arts, man is compelling nature to do much of the drudgery of producing, to which he was formerly subject, and with far greater results.

“And while he is relieved from a great amount of mechanical toil, the necessities and comforts of life have become cheaper, and he may enjoy an increasing amount of leisure for higher employments, and mental and moral improvements.”2

But there is nothing more in this than the usual pipe-dreams of post-millennialism. Where, how, when did it become “safer” to remove this “proper restraint” which God Almighty placed upon man, so soon as ever he became a sinner? Has “the progress of society” cured the heart of man of its natural depravity? Is “the degeneracy of our race” a thing of the past? Are there now no “wars and rumors of wars,” no bombs and terrorism, no crime-ridden cities, no battle of Armageddon looming on the horizon? Wherein is it now “safer” to relieve man of his manual toil? Is the world now “safer” than it was when man was obliged to labor? Is it better? It is more comfortable, more affluent, that we know. But is it better----or have “perilous times” come upon us?

Well, but, relieved of his toil, man has more “leisure for higher employments, and for mental and moral improvements.” Yes, yes, of course, but you forget that man is a sinner. He has not used his leisure for higher employments, but for lower employments. He is given up to materialism and worldliness, to sports and recreations, to gambling and lascivious entertainments----in short, to everything godless. “The necessities and comforts of life have become cheaper, and he may enjoy an increasing amount of leisure,” the article says. Translate this into the language of Scripture, and we shall have nothing other than the atmosphere of “the iniquity of Sodom”----“fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness.”

After saying much with which we can agree concerning the promotion of health by draining marshes, ventilating houses, providing pure water, good diet, vaccination, etc., none of which belongs to the sphere of the modern curses of which I have spoken, he continues, “Another illustration may be drawn from the more general diffusion of knowledge, and the attention that has been given to the education of the masses. The state of things we have already considered has itself greatly increased the demand for popular education. Such relief from physical toil, and such an increase of the comforts of life, will almost necessarily create a desire for mental improvement. And perhaps no subject has engaged a greater share of public attention of late years than that of encouraging and satisfying this demand. Once study was the privilege of the few; but now common schools are established almost throughout Christendom. ... The key of knowledge is thus proffered to every individual. And the proof that it has been grasped and employed to unlock the stores of literature and science, is afforded by the wonderful demand for popular reading which characterises the present day.” In a footnote on this glowing account he names the publishers of a number of cheap and popular papers, but is obliged to add, “It is to be regretted that the influence of these gentlemen is so much on the side of indifferentism, or something worse, in religion.”3

In plain English, the profusion of popular literature, made possible by modern inventions and rapid travel, has proved a curse. It is on the wrong “side.” “To be regretted,” of course, but did he expect sinners to be saints? Did he expect a “popular demand” for godly literature? We know what the popular demand is, and we know what the popular literature is, and it could scarcely be any exaggeration to affirm that it is “only evil continually.” Not that it is all profane or lascivious, but it is all worldly, and contrary to godliness. The existence, then, of the modern means for the profusion of “popular literature” can only be a curse, and a very great one. The same is true of “popular education.”

And after all the author has to say of “human progress,” he is yet obliged to add, “But this, unless accompanied with `a new heart and a right spirit,' may prove a curse instead of a blessing.”4 But how are we to give a new heart and a right spirit to the world? The Lord's “little flock” has that right spirit. The world has it not----does not desire it----cannot receive it. Those modern inventions and discoveries, then, not “may,” but must prove a curse to the world. The author of the article from which we have quoted lived at the beginning of the era of modern technology. He could therefore speak of what “may” be its effect. There is no longer any need to speak so. A century and a half of experience have settled the matter.

But a valued correspondent tells me that the things which I call curses are a blessing to him. Very likely----and to me also. Yet the fact remains that they are curses to modern Society. That is, they are curses to the world, and this was my original thesis. But consider further: though many of the same things which are a great curse to the world may prove blessings to the godly, I believe none of them are unmixed blessings. Hard work promotes good health. Those things which eliminate our toil also undermine our health. Those things which ease our burdens also largely remove us from the place of conscious dependence upon God, and so weaken our faith. Those things which provide for us a profusion of cheap goods contribute to undermine our contentment, for they undermine our ability to appreciate and enjoy the things which we have. I grew up in poverty, yet nothing compared to the poverty in which my parents were raised. When I was a boy I asked my mother if she had gotten presents for Christmas when she was a girl. She told me she had. I asked her what kind of presents, and she said, “Oh, maybe an orange.” Well, is there more contentment, more happiness in the world----to say nothing of godliness----since children have learned to expect a house full of electronic wonders?


Forget Not

Abstract of a Sermon Preached on January 19, 1997

by Glenn Conjurske

Psalm 103 begins, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”

“Forget not,” he says, for the fact is, we have a great proneness to forget “all his benefits.” An old proverb says, “He that gets forgets, but he that wants thinks on.” When you are deprived of something which you feel you need, or for which you have a strong desire, it is hard not to think about it. But we take for granted the things which we have, and never give them a thought. Another old proverb says, “We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” And another, “Health is not valued till sickness comes.” While we have plenty of water, we never give it a thought. We need water. It is one of the things most necessary to our existence, but while we have plenty of it, we forget that we need it, and most of us probably never think to thank God for it. And so it is with a thousand other benefits. We do most of our thinking about the things we are deprived of, and forget the things which the Lord freely gives to us.

Now the devil is well aware of this propensity of our natures, and he uses it to his best advantage in tempting us. He used it when he tempted Eve, and with great success, though she was not a sinner as we are. Understand, the “benefits” with which God had blessed Eve were almost without limit. “Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat.” But the devil never mentioned any of that. Every word he said was about the one thing which God had deprived her of, the forbidden fruit. He held that before her eyes, and praised and glorified it so that it filled her whole horizon, and eclipsed all the benefits which the Lord had lavished upon her. The devil never spoke a word to her about peaches and pears and plums and oranges and cherries and bananas and pineapples. Never a word about the fragrance of the lilac or the rose. Never a word about the exquisite beauty of the wing of the butterfly, or a thousand kinds of flowers. Never a word about the song of the robin or the meadow lark. Never a word about the warmth of the sun. His purpose was that she would forget all that----that her whole mind would be filled with the one thing which God had withheld from her.

Ah, if only Eve had had her mind full of this word of Scripture, “forget not all his benefits.” Then her faith would not have failed. Then she could not have been guilty of so base a deed as she committed. She would then have had an abundant answer for the fiend. She would have said, “Get thee behind me, Satan. Thou art an offence unto me.” But this precious scripture did not exist, and by the cunning craftiness of the devil “all his benefits” were eclipsed by the one thing which she was deprived of. “All his benefits” were forgotten, and all her thoughts and desires taken up with the forbidden fruit. If she had but remembered at that time “all his benefits,” her faith in the goodness of God would not have failed, and she would not have fallen.

And the devil still employs today the same method which proved so successful then. Alas, we don't need much help from the devil. It is the propensity of our own natures to forget the good things we have, while we pine for those of which we are deprived.

How many of you think about the water you drink? Your eyesight? Your hearing? Your health? The warm house in which you live? The fire-wood with which you heat it? How often do you thank God for those things? We thank God for our food, because we have a custom to do so. It is a good custom----the Lord did it----but how often would we do it if we had no such custom? How often do we thank him for the rest of his benefits? Do you give God thanks when you drink a glass of water? For a good night's sleep, for strength for the day, for the clothes you wear? Do you ever thank God for those things? Nothing so near to us as the clothes we wear. We feel them about us every minute of every day, and yet I suppose most of us forget them----never think of them----never thank God for them.

“He that gets forgets, but he that wants thinks on.” Those nine lepers that the Lord cleansed----while they lacked their health they no doubt thought about it a great plenty. Probably scarcely an hour of their lives passed that they didn't think about it. But as soon as they had it, they forgot, and forgot the kind hand that gave it to them.

You know, there are two ways the Psalmist could have said what he had to say. “Forget” is the opposite of “remember.” To forget not means the same thing as to remember. But he didn't say “Remember all his benefits,” but “Forget not all his benefits.” He said it in such a way as to call attention to the propensity of our natures. He said it in such a way as to convict us of our carelessness. Well, this is our nature. We naturally feel what we are deprived of, and forget what we have. But it doesn't bespeak a very good state of soul to forget all his benefits.

But what can we do about it? How can we help it? I suppose that when people are spiritual it comes naturally to remember the Lord's benefits, and praise him for them. But what can we do about it if we haven't attained to that? We may need some reminders. The Lord has given us one such reminder. When the Psalmist goes on to enumerate a few of “all his benefits,” he mentions the greatest of them first, “who forgiveth all thine iniquities,” and the Lord himself has given us a help to remember this. “This do in remembrance of me.” This is a help by which to forget not the forgiveness of all our iniquities, and the price which the Lord paid for it. But what about the rest of his benefits? Memory is a very elusive thing. We don't forget purposely or intentionally, but unconsciously, without any awareness that we are doing it. How then can we discipline ourselves to “forget not”? This scripture is of course an effectual reminder, but we can forget this scripture as easily as we forget all his benefits. Maybe we ought to write it on the walls of our house. That might be an effectual help.

But you know God has a help of another sort that he gives to some of us. It is called poverty. The very best way to remember the benefits of the Lord is to be deprived of them. We will think enough about them while we are deprived, and when we are deprived of something long enough, we will be little likely to forget it when we get it. God may by his providence deprive his saints of particular things precisely for that purpose, but the poor are deprived in general, and they thereby gain a capacity to appreciate and enjoy, which rich folks never possess. Men generally suppose that money is the way to happiness, but this is the opposite of the truth. The poor have a capacity for happiness which the rich never can have. They have acquired that capacity by being deprived. I have been poor since the day I was born, and you know, I believe if we were all to sit down and make a list of “all his benefits,” there would be a good many things on my list which would never appear on the lists of other folks. Not that I have more----certainly not----but I think I know how to appreciate more. My list would contain such things as shoes that fit----socks that don't have holes in them----a car that I don't have to push to start----boots that don't leak----a freezer that isn't empty. I have all those things now, but I know what it is to do without them. We know what “hard times” are. When we ran out of something, or when something broke or quit working, we just added it to the end of the “wish list.” But you know, people who have seen hard times know how to appreciate and enjoy and thank God for good times. They know a little of the secret, of how to “forget not all his benefits.” Poverty may go as far in this direction as spirituality.

You know I built my little camper, to have a place and a means to get away by myself, and have some solitude----some time alone with God. But I needed a little cast iron stove to heat it. I asked God for one, and went out hunting, during the city clean-up week. I found one on the curb, that someone had thrown away. I had actually given up looking, and was ready to go home, but I had to get gas for the car first. On the way to the gas station I looked down a side street, and there was my stove. It had two broken legs, but I replaced those with iron pipes. I praised God for that stove when I found it----praised him for taking me down the right street and causing me to turn my head the right way to see it----and I have been thanking him for it ever since. When I sit in my little camper to read and pray, and my eyes fall on that little stove, I thank God for giving it to me. You know it would have been very difficult to find a stove like that for sale, and a hardship to buy it----and a practical impossibility to buy a new one. But God gave it to me, and I suppose because I have always been poor I have a little capacity to appreciate it, and to “forget not” the benefit.

But you know we poor folks are human enough, and we envy the rich sometimes, but it may be that the rich would do better to envy us. I have no doubt that our poverty is one of the benefits for which we ought to thank God. We will thank him for it in eternity, if not here.

Now the fact is, the benefits of the Lord are almost innumerable, though most of us probably habitually forget most of them. If you were to sit down with a piece of paper, and begin to make a list of “all his benefits,” do you know what would happen? You wouldn't get the list on one sheet. You would need another, and another, and another, until you had filled a ream of paper. And on the other side, if you were to sit down with another sheet of paper to list all those things which you need or would like to have, of which the Lord has deprived you, you probably couldn't fill up a single sheet. And yet the strange fact is, those few things of which you are deprived occupy most of your thoughts, while the great multitude of “all his benefits” are for the most part forgotten. You spend a good deal more words asking God for the few things you lack, than you do thanking him for the many things you have. We need this word of Scripture, “Forget not all his benefits.”

The very abundance of our benefits causes us to forget them. “The full soul loatheth a honeycomb,” precisely because he is full. We somehow lose our ability to appreciate things when we have too much of them. Some of you young people, who have grown up in houses full of books by men like John Wesley and R. A. Torrey, you probably don't set much value on them. I grew up without ever hearing the names of those men, and therefore I know how to remember the benefit of my books, and value and appreciate them, and thank God for them. You who have always had your health, your eyesight, your hearing, you are most likely to forget it----never give it a thought, and never thank God for it. If you had been born blind, and languished in darkness for forty years, and then the Lord gave you your sight, you wouldn't be very likely to forget it. And this is most probably the reason the Lord does deprive us of certain things, to teach us to appreciate them. When he has deprived us long enough, and severely enough, then we “forgot not” the benefit when we have received it.

And you know, it is very much to our advantage to forget not all his benefits. To dwell on these things will of course increase our gratitude, and our faith in God, and our love to God. It will of course increase our happiness, to be occupied with the good things we have, instead of the good things we don't have. But beyond all this, it may even put us in a good way to secure more of those benefits. God values our praise. He values our gratitude. I would guess he is more likely to open his hand and pour out his benefits upon a grateful soul than an ungrateful. I am in a position at the present time where I am obliged to pray for a house. The house which I rent is up for sale, and may be sold out from under me at any time. Where can I go? Where can I find another house that I can both fit into and afford? Where will I find a landlord willing to rent to so large a family? I ask God for another house. And I tell him, “If you answer me in this, and give me another place like this one, you know that I will glorify you.” How does God know that? Because for fifteen years I have been thanking him for this place.

I realize that God pours out his benefits on the good and the evil alike, but it is also true that he disciplines his own children, and certainly one manner in which he does so is to withhold his benefits from them----not only to scourge them for some sin, but to work in them the capacity to appreciate his benefits.

But I must draw this to a close. There is one thing above all others which I hope I may accomplish this morning. I have been repeating words of the text over and over. “Forget not all his benefits.” I want the words of the text----“forget not”----to be engraved and embedded in your hearts and minds. “Forget not.” “Forget not all his benefits.”


Here is a strange fact: the rich have so much and enjoy it so little, and the poor have so little and enjoy it so much.----Bud Robinson.



by Glenn Conjurske

In describing those who are forever excluded from the tree of life and the heavenly city, the book of Revelation tells us, “For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” (Rev. 22:15). Liars, murderers, whoremongers, idolaters, sorcerers----these are all literal terms, literally designating literal persons. But at the head of the list stands “dogs,” a term which is certainly figurative, not a designation of four-footed canines, but of some class of human beings.

It is not uncommon for the Bible to represent men under the figure of various animals. The sheep represents the children of God, and the ass the ungodly. There are good reasons for the choice of those figures. The animals (or things) used for such figurative representations are used on the basis of something in their own nature, which makes them an apt picture of the thing represented. The sun is a very apt representation of Christ----so apt indeed that I am compelled to suppose that it was created on purpose to be a picture of the Son of God. But among the lesser types of Scripture, there is perhaps none so apt as the dog, as the picture of ungodly men. The nature of the dog is in many points an apt representation of the nature of the natural man.

To begin with, dogs are filthy. They relish filth. They have an appetite for filth, and that of the most disgusting sort. It was a common proverb two thousand years ago, “The dog is returned to his own vomit again,” and the Bible calls this a “true proverb.” (II Pet. 2:22). He vomits out the disgusting stuff when he is sick, but so soon as his appetite returns, he is back to eat it again. This is a very apt picture of those men who repent by fits and starts. Under the influence of strong preaching or strong convictions, they cast the disgusting filth away, but their appetite for filth is stronger than their resolves against it, and they return to it again, as the dog to his vomit.

The dog's appetite for filth seems insatiable. He eats filth not because he is hungry, but because he loves to eat filth. When I stayed as a boy on my grandparents' farm, I was often scandalized to see the dog, well fed though he was, standing on the manure pile eating manure. And I have seen one dog sick with diarrhea, and another dog behind it, licking up the disgusting substance as fast as the other discharged it. My readers must pardon me here. It is no more pleasant to write such things than it is to read them, but I write the truth. It is true also that when God looks at this disgusting, filthy creature, he sees----men. For men are as filthy as dogs. The men of modern society have an appetite for filth which is as insatiable as it is disgusting. There are women also who have the same kind of appetite----though it seems that women are by nature quite incapable of descending so low as men commonly do. Indeed, I have often thought, in working with men in factories and elsewhere, and hearing their filthy talk, that if their wives but knew how filthy they were, they would have nothing more to do with them.

And not only are dogs filthy in their appetites. They are morally filthy, in their general habits. But here I restrain my pen. Those who have observed the habits of dogs will understand the things to which I refer, but my pen refuses to record them. In their morals also dogs are an apt picture of ungodly men.

But more. Dogs are not only filthy, but vicious. They love to fight, love to attack, and will do so upon the slightest provocation, or no provocation at all. I grew up in the days before the modern laws restraining dogs from running loose were enacted in most places, and most of my trips to and from school, or anywhere else, were a severe test of my wits and my physical powers, to arrive at my destination without being attacked by dogs. Though I knew not then the proverb, I surely knew the principle, to “Let sleeping dogs lie.” But dogs do not always sleep, and when they were awake, my resource was speed, or, when that failed me, kicking as hard as I could. When I was older, I used to carry a long club, and found ample use for it. It seems to me that there is scarcely anything in which the powers that be are so beneficial a “minister of God to thee for good,” as in their laws requiring dogs to be tied or kept in. Dogs are vicious in their natures, and though they may be well disciplined and well trained, they are hardly to be trusted to deal kindly with strangers, in the absence of their masters. Not that the presence of their masters is much of a safeguard. I have very often been attacked by dogs in their masters' presence, the masters meanwhile, instead of calling off the dog, using all their powers of persuasion to convince me that their dog wouldn't hurt me. And I once worked with a man who told me he had recently visited a friend's house; the friend came out on the porch, where they talked for a few minutes, the dog meanwhile standing by behaving himself. The friend then invited him in. He started through the door, and the moment he set foot on the threshold, the dog sank its teeth into his ankle.

I am well aware that dog lovers have said a great deal in the defense of the dog's propensity to attack. He is only “guarding his turf.” Not that the defense amounts to anything. We do not think too highly of a man who must pick a quarrel with everyone who sets foot near his property line. But dogs are vicious when they have no turf to guard. When I was a boy our family went one day to visit my grandparents. When we returned home at the end of the day, we found a large stray dog in our driveway. He was vicious, and not disposed to allow us to enter the premises. We all stayed in the car, while my father got out and beat off and drove away the intruder. More recently, I was out for an early morning ride on my bicycle. I rode by a government building, with a large parking lot. This was very early in the morning, and on a weekend, so that no one was present at the place. As I approached the parking lot, I saw what looked like a crumpled overcoat lying near the edge of the lot. But as I came near it, the old coat got up and charged me for an attack, growling and showing his teeth.

Now in all of the viciousness of these creatures, in all of this propensity to attack, we see a very apt picture of a good many human beings.

But more. Not only are dogs vicious, but cowardly as well. I have spent countless hours knocking on doors to preach the gospel, and I have had a good many confrontations with loose dogs. I learned long ago never to turn my back to a threatening dog. That is the opportunity he is looking for, and he will immediately attack. Dogs are cowardly, and unless trained to do otherwise, will always attack from behind. I learned long ago that an attacking dog may be kept at bay simply by looking him in the eye. Some of the old Methodist itinerants had learned the same thing, no doubt by hard experience. I find in the life of Bishop Hedding, “Through all this region each family had one or more savage dogs, which were companions of the men when out on their hunting excursions, and general sentinels at home in the night. They were usually chained in the daytime, but set loose at night. One evening, as the bishop had been walking in the fields for meditation, and was returning to the house, he encountered one of these ferocious dogs that did not recognise his right to be there. He was without any means of defence, and none were accessible. He, however, held the dog at bay with his eye for a whole hour; when a member of the family discovered the predicament he was in, and came to his relief.”[

But what a picture these vicious, cowardly quadrupeds present to us of vicious and cowardly men----and women.

“Beware of dogs,” Paul says, but, however dangerous these quadrupeds may be to itinerant preachers, Paul makes no reference to the four-footed variety. He speaks of the two-footed and two-faced sort, who wag their tails to your face, and attack behind your back. Look them in the eye, and they will speak nary a word against you, but behind your back all is changed. Where is the man who will be just the same to your face as he is behind your back? He is a faithful man, of the sort which shall enter by the gates into the city of God. But “without are dogs.”

But understand, thus far we have given only half the picture of the nature of a dog. There is a great deal to be said on the other side also. The dog is called “man's best friend,” and not without reason. Dogs have a capacity for friendship and fellowship with man, which no other beasts possess. Dogs are faithful and devoted to their masters, in a manner and to a degree which no other animal can approach. How many dogs will trot along under the hot sun hour after hour behind the tractor, while their master plows the field, merely to be near him----for they neither expect nor receive any other reward for this. They obey and serve their masters, without stint and without question. They will protect their masters from danger, without a thought of the cost to themselves.

Indeed, there is another matter, yet deeper, in which we seem to see something truly noble in a dog. A dog is capable of showing shame for his deeds, and in what other animal can such a trait be found? Catch a dog on the sofa, where he knows he does not belong, and he will appear to be so genuinely ashamed of himself that it is hard to punish him for it. You will never see such shame in the cat or the cow.

Now in all of this we may read the native nobility of man, who in spite of all his filthiness and viciousness and perfidy, is yet made in the likeness of God, and yet capable of very much that is very noble and endearing. I know, there are many whose theology compels them to the belief that there is nothing good in fallen man----that the image of God in him is quite effaced----but they must close their eyes to the facts. That there is nothing good enough we grant, but the remnants of his divine origin are not totally obliterated. There is not one noble thing in the nature of a dog which does not appear also in the nature of fallen man. But what does it avail, while he is vicious and filthy? God will not look at half of a man's character, but all of it, and he will judge every man according to his works.

I once dealt, over a period of time, with a woman who had obviously come from a refined circle of Society, but who was rapidly sinking into the lower depths. She knew she was a sinner, and had some deep desires for salvation----only not strong enough to move her to submit to God. I had advised her to sit down with a piece of paper and write out a list of everything in her life which she knew to be sinful, and then look over that list and consider that this is what God required her to repent of. To my surprise, she did it, and informed me that one sheet of paper was not big enough for the list. But a while later she told me that she had decided to make a list of her virtues also, to see if she could balance the account. She sat down with her pencil and paper, to list everything good which she could find in herself, and afterwards told me seriously that she could find nothing good in herself except this, that she loved her children. Yet that she did have, and is it not good? To be “without natural affection” is one of the marks of the perilous times of the last days (II Tim. 3:3). It is evil, and it can hardly be anything but good to possess that affection. Not good enough, surely, while the woman who possessed it spent her time drinking at the bars, or in company with men who were the very scum of the earth.

Now such is the very nature of a dog, composed of so much that is so noble, and yet so much that is vicious, filthy, and disgusting. In all of this the dog is a true picture of man, and the fact is, none of the noble traits of man will avail anything at all before God, while the vicious and the filthy remain. “Without are dogs.”


Bible Language

Part 1 ---- Bible Greek

by Glenn Conjurske

We have been told a thousand times by the advocates of the new Bible versions that we ought to put the Bible into the language of the common man, and some go so far as to insist that we ought therefore to have a new revision in every generation. In support of this claim we are told that the New Testament was in fact written in the koine Greek, that is, the common Greek of the common people. That this assertion contains a partial truth we would not pretend to deny. It is not the whole truth, however, but rather the voice of ignorance----and worse, of prejudice.

To come directly to the point, what I contend is that the New Testament was not written in the common language of the common man. There is such a thing as Bible language, and this is assuredly not the language of the common man. It is a reverential language, a language of piety, a religious language, a theological language, of which the natural man knows little or nothing. We have endeavored to demonstrate in a previous article that the Bible was written for the people of God. It was written for a people who possessed a spiritual heritage, and a prominent part of that spiritual heritage consists of a spiritual and theological language. It was in this language that the New Testament was written. It is into this language, therefore, that it ought to be translated.

This statement, of course, assumes that such language exists, in both Greek and English. First, the Greek. F. H. A. Scrivener writes,

“1. It will not be expected of us to enter in this place upon the wide subject of the origin, genius, and peculiarities, whether in respect to grammar or orthography, of that dialect of the Greek in which the N.T. was written, except so far as it bears directly upon the criticism of the sacred volume. Questions, however, are perpetually arising, when we come to examine the oldest manuscripts of Scripture, which cannot be resolved unless we bear in mind the leading particulars wherein the diction of the Evangelists and Apostles DIFFERS not only from that of pure classical models, but also of their own contemporaries who composed in the Greek language, or used it as their ordinary tongue.”1

Scrivener, then, plainly held the language of the New Testament to differ from the Greek language which was in ordinary use at the time. Wherein did it differ? Scrivener continues:

“2. The Greek style of the N.T., then, is the result of blending two independent elements, the debased vernacular speech of the age, and that strange modification of the Alexandrian dialect which first appeared in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, and which, from their habitual use of that version, had become familiar to the Jews in all nations.”2

The New Testament, then, according to Scrivener, was not written in the “vernacular speech of the age” in which it was composed, but in a blend of that speech with the language of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. This was in fact a simple necessity. The language of heathen Greek was inadequate for the doctrine of Christ and the apostles. Their doctrine required a theological language, which heathen Greek could not supply. A theological book requires a theological language. That language was, in general, provided by the Septuagint.

H. B. Swete bears the same testimony:

“The Septuagint is not less indispensable to the study of the New Testament than to that of the Old. But its importance in the former field is more often overlooked, since its connexion with the N.T. is less direct and obvious, except in the case of express quotations from the Alexandrian version. These, as we have seen, are so numerous that in the Synoptic Gospels and in some of the Pauline Epistles they form a considerable part of the text. But the New Testament has been yet more widely and more deeply influenced by the version through the subtler forces which shew themselves in countless allusions, lying oftentimes below the surface of the words, and in the use of a vocabulary derived from it, and in many cases prepared by it for the higher service of the Gospel.”3

The New Testament, then, employs a vocabulary derived from and prepared by the Septuagint----a vocabulary which did not belong to the common Greek of the time, any more than it did to that of classical Greek. Swete writes further,

“...it must not be forgotten that the Greek vocabulary of Palestinian Greek-speaking Jews in the first century A.D. was probably derived in great part from their use of the Greek Old Testament. Even in the case of writers such as St Luke, St Paul, and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the LXX. has no doubt largely regulated the choice of words. ...

“The Influence of the LXX. is still more clearly seen in the N.T. employment of religious words and phrases which occur in the LXX. at an earlier stage in the history of their use.”4

The Septuagint, in other words provided a language in which the New Testament could be written----a Bible language. Swete gives a listing of such “religious words and phrases,” occupying nearly a page of small print, and including such terms as [ (“heathen,” or “gentiles”), v (“Christ”), and v (“devil”), the latter of which is the common translation of “Satan” in the Septuagint, in Job and other places. Yet Swete's list is very incomplete, taking no notice of even so common a word as [ (“angel”), the classical meaning of which is simply “messenger.” To this Liddell and Scott add “an angel, LXX, N.T.”

The vocabulary of the New Testament, then, is certainly not the vocabulary of the koine, or common, Greek. It employs a vocabulary created by the Septuagint----familiar, indeed, to Jews, but not to the Greek world as a whole.

A German Evangelical of the nineteenth century, Hermann Cremer, broke new ground in the production of a lexicon of what we may call Bible Greek. The work is entitled Biblico-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek, and exists for the purpose of establishing the Biblical and theological significance of the words of the New Testament----a significance which those words certainly did not possess either in classical Greek, or in the common Greek of the New Testament era. In the preface to that work he says,

“In fact, 'we may,' as Rothe says, (Dogmatik, p. 238, Gotha 1863), 'appropriately speak of a language of the Holy Ghost. For in the Bible it is evident that the Holy Spirit has been at work, moulding for itself a distinctively religious mode of expression out of the language of the country which it has chosen as its sphere, and transforming the linguistic elements which it found ready to hand, and even conceptions already existing, into a shape and form appropriate to itself and all its own.' We have a very clear and striking proof of this in New Testament Greek. ...

“The Seventy [i.e. the translators of the Septuagint] prepared the way in Greek for the N.T. proclamation of saving truth.”5

The idea of “a language of the Holy Ghost” has been much scoffed at by modern intellectuals, who lack the spirituality to understand the matter. It remains a fact that the writers of the New Testament made no attempt to write in the common language of the times. Indeed, in the nature of the case they could not do so. It does not lie within the realm of possibility to bring down the high and lofty subjects which occupy the pen of inspiration to the level of “the common language of the common man.” The language must rather be brought up to the level of the theme. The writers of the New Testament found this largely done to their hand in the Septuagint. Where that failed them, they must adapt the language of the Septuagint, or of the common Greek of the day, to bring it up to the level of their subject----first in their preaching, and afterwards in their writing. What they gave to us is a book written, not in the common language of the day, but in Bible language. So, at least, thought men like Scrivener and Cremer and Swete.

With the advent, however, of that air of intellectual superiority which gained ascendency in the latter part of the nineteenth century----and which continues to the present day----there arose also a spirit of liberalism, a love of change and an impatience of old standards and beliefs, which was sure to challenge the opinions of its fathers. This liberal intellectualism was of the most shallow sort----much increased in knowledge, perhaps, but as much decreased in wisdom, and best characterized by a comparison to the man who could not see the forest for the trees. These “scholars” discovered some trees of which their fathers were ignorant, and the more trees they discovered, the more they denied the existence of the forest.

The result of all of this we see in the dictum of A. T. Robertson, who says, “There is no distinct biblical Greek.”6 This dictum is based, of course, upon the extensive research of certain scholars, but the animus of those scholars cannot be overlooked. One of the foremost of them was the German Adolph Deissmann, whose Light from the Ancient East appeared in 1908. The dust jacket of the (1965) Baker reprint of this tells us, “Another purpose dominated the author's thinking as he wrote, however, and that was to destroy once and for all the myth of `Biblical Greek.”' A man so animated would not necessarily be an objective judge of the evidence, and do men not know that scholars who are determined to prove a matter can “prove” most anything to their devoted followers? But will Mr. Robertson contend that the phrase V ' V { , “the Holy Ghost,” is common Greek----or if it is, that it means the same thing in common Greek that it does in the New Testament? Will he contend that J v means “the devil” in common Greek, the same as it does in the New Testament? Will he contend that v , to baptize, means nothing more in the New Testament than it means in secular koine Greek----that it has no theological sense in the New Testament, which it neither does nor can have in secular Greek? Will he tell us that V j v means “the gospel” in koine Greek? The “sacral” use of this word which Deissmann affects to find in secular Greek is mere trifling.

Let it be plainly understood, we do not contend for any distinct Bible Greek in grammatical forms, usage of verb tenses, meanings of prepositions and particles, or any such matters. Though something of this sort may exist in some small measure, it does not concern us. In all such matters we may grant that Bible Greek is essentially the Greek of the times. Nevertheless, its vocabulary is its own----not completely so, but nevertheless very strikingly so. Not that the words of the New Testament are new-coined (though some of them evidently are), or that they are divested entirely of their common meanings. No, but they are adapted to the subject matter in hand. They are lifted from the common level to that of the divine and holy, and in the process they acquire religious and theological meanings which they neither did have nor could have had in common Greek. This is Bible language. It is not the language of the common man, and it cannot be understood by the common man, unless he is first instructed in those divine realities of which it is the vehicle.

But most of these scholars know little or nothing of those divine realities. Most of them have been occupied solely with the letter of Scripture, while they knew nothing of its spirit. They have been so occupied with the externals of Scripture that they have learned nothing of its spiritual substance, and many of them seem to have a particular penchant for misunderstanding what the issues are. If some have contended that New Testament Greek is a distinct language in accidence or syntax, or that its vocabulary consists largely of new-coined words, found only in Biblical Greek, these scholars have done well to overturn such notions, but if they have gone on to declare that therefore Biblical Greek does not exist, they have thrown out the baby with the bath water.

Deissmann writes, “The characteristic features of the living Greek language that was in international use are most clearly seen in the phonology and accidence. The assumption of a special New Testament or Biblical Greek is hopelessly refuted by the observations made in this field.”7 Be it so. It is nothing to me. I never had any reason to think anything otherwise. When he comes, however, to the vocabulary of the New Testament, he cannot speak so confidently. He writes, “With regard to the words themselves the proof of our thesis cannot in all cases be made out with the same completeness.”8 He labors at great length to show that many words formerly held to belong only to Biblical Greek were in fact in use in the common Greek of the time, guessing that only 50 of 5000, or one in a hundred, will prove in the end to be purely Biblical words----a very high proportion, after all, such as no orthodox teacher today could employ if he would, though a teacher of new or heretical notions might. But neither does this touch the root of the issue. It is rather what we would expect. It is no easy matter to coin new words. We may do it, by turning verbs into nouns, nouns into adjectives, etc., but in a rich and well-developed language, but little of this remains to be done. What we mean by Bible Greek has little to do with the existence of words in the Bible which are not found elsewhere. We refer to the meanings of those words. Deissmann labors much in this field also, and overturns some of the mistaken assertions of earlier writers like Cremer. But most of the points which he makes are of the most picayune sort, which do not touch the foundation of the matter at all. And in spite of all his labor, he is yet obliged to write, “In the religiously creative period which came first of all”----by which liberal jargon he refers to the period in which the New Testament was written----“the power of Christianity to form new words was not nearly so large as its effect in transforming the meaning of the old words.”9

Now in so saying, Mr. Deissmann grants me all that I could desire. This has long been my own thesis----formed when I was in complete ignorance of the controversy which has raged over the theme. My contention is that much of the vocabulary of the New Testament has a religious or theological content, quite foreign to anything which the same words ever did mean or could mean in secular Greek. It is Bible language, and as such it is language which the common man of the period in which it was penned had no capacity to understand. “The man on the street,” the heathen man, “the common Greek,” untaught in the truths of divine revelation, could no more understand the New Testament at first reading, than the author of this article can understand a car repair manual. Some of it I can understand, surely, but there are numerous terms which are beyond my knowledge.

I believe the only real “myth” involved in the business is the constant assertion that the New Testament was written in the common Greek of the times. And this myth has now been made the basis of numerous modern versions of the Bible, which vie with each other in their endeavors to reduce the language of the Bible to the debased and rapidly declining language of modern America. This is a great evil, for there is a “Bible language” in English as surely as there is in Greek, but the treatment of that I must reserve for another time.


Î Old Time Revival Scenes Î


In July 1777, there was a very remarkable revival of religion, in the town of Petersburgh in Virginia, and in many of the counties round about. Prayer-meetings were frequently held both in the town and in the neighbourhood for many miles round. From five to ten persons were commonly converted at a meeting, even when there were no Preachers present. The meetings often continued for six or seven hours together. At one quarterly-meeting held at a place called Maybery's chapel, the power of God was among the people of a truth, many hundreds being deeply awakened, and about one hundred and fifty converted, in two days. The congregation consisted of about four thousand persons.

The next quarterly-meeting was held at a place called Jones's chapel in Mecklenburg county. This meeting was divinely favoured beyond description. The sight of the mourners was sufficient to penetrate the most careless heart: and the believers presented a faint view of heaven, and of the love of God to man. The divine power came down upon the people, before one Preacher arrived. Sometimes the sight of each other, before they spoke, caused their eyes to melt in tears, and their cups ran over; so that they broke out into loud praises to God. Some, when they met, would hang on each other, and weep aloud, and praise the Lord. Others, when the believers began to speak of what God was doing, were melted down, and the flame ran through the whole company.

The Preachers came up together; and by the time they got within half a mile of the chapel, they heard the people praising God. When they came up, they found numbers weeping, both in the chapel and in the open air. Some were on the ground crying for mercy, others in extasies. They rushed in among them, and tried to silence them, but all in vain.

The utmost the Preachers could do, was to go among the distressed, and encourage them. The old members of the Society also did the same. Some were lying as in the pangs of death; many were as cold as clay, and as still as if dead: so that among six or seven thousand people, there were few comparatively that had the proper use of their bodily powers, so as to take care of the rest. Hundreds of the believers were so overcome with the power of God, that they fell down as in a swoon, and lay for twenty or thirty minutes, and some for an hour. During this time, they were happy beyond description: and when they came to themselves, it was with loud praises to God, and with tears and speeches, enough to melt the hardest heart. If one looked round, the righteous appeared to be in heaven, and the wicked in hell. The Preachers then went off into the woods, and preached to a large congregation.

The next day the Society met at nine in the morning to receive the Lord's supper, while some of the Preachers went into the woods, to preach to those that did not communicate. While one of them was enlarging on that passage of holy writ, “The Spirit and the bride say come, &c.” the power of God fell down on the people; and such bitter lamentations were heard, that he was obliged to desist. Many scores of black as well as white people fell to the earth, and lay in agonies till the evening.

In the evening as many of the mourners were collected as possible, and placed under an arbour. The sight of them was a dreadful resemblance of hell, numbers of poor creatures being in every posture that distressed persons could get into, and doleful lamentations heard, comparable to those which we may conceive to be the lamentations of the damned. These commonly obtained peace in one moment, rose up out of their distress when their burden fell off, clapped their hands, and praised God aloud. Many of these people came out from their houses persecuting, and railing against this stir (as they called it,) and were struck down in a very extraordinary manner.

A few days after this, a crowded congregation was assembled at Jones-Hole church. The people devoured the word as fast as it was delivered. About half of them were converted persons, whose hearts were glowing with love to God. They were entreated to be still, for the sake of the rest who wanted to hear the sermon: for many of them were ready to break out in praises to God. Some were so full of love and gratitude, that those who were near held them down on their seats, knowing that if they looked up, and saw others in the same heavenly frames, they must inevitably cry aloud, so that the congregation would not be able to hear the Preacher. But in the application of the sermon, one of them irresistibly broke out into praises. In a minute this ran through the congregation, and about five hundred at once broke out in loud praises, while the unawakened seemed to be struck with a divine power. Many of them cried for mercy, some on their knees, others stretched on the ground. In the height of this commotion, eleven rafters of the house broke down at once with a dreadful noise without hurting any one; and, what was amazing, not one of the congregation, except the Preacher in the pulpit, seemed to hear it: so mighty was the power of God among the people!

It was surprising to behold so great a revival, and yet so little persecution. The reason was, the wicked were struck with such a supernatural power, that they were constrained to say, “The work is of God.” The young converts stood fast beyond expectation. In Sussex county, in the course of the summer, there were about sixteen hundred converted; in Brunswick county, about eighteen hundred; and in Amelia county about eight hundred.

It may be necessary to observe, that we do not judge of conversions, only by those high-raised affections, which God gives from time to time according to the counsel of his own will, perhaps, among other reasons, to alarm a drowsy world; and instances of which we find in the Holy Scriptures, as well as in the accounts transmitted down to us in all ages, and in all the nations of christendom, since the establishment of christianity: but by the consequent fruits, by a holy life and conversation, by every heavenly temper breathing forth through all the relative duties of life, and in all the words and actions of the man.

----The Life of John Wesley, by Dr. [Thomas] Coke and Mr. [Henry] Moore. London: G. Paramore, 1792, pp. 462-466.

Editorial Policies

OP&AL is a testimony, not a forum. Old articles are printed without alteration (except for correction of misprints) unless stated otherwise, and are inserted if the editor judges them profitable for instruction or historical information, without endorsing everything in them. The editor's own views are to be taken from his own writings.