by Glenn Conjurske
We read in the first ten verses of Jeremiah 35,
The word which came unto Jeremiah from the Lord in the days of Jehoiakim
the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying, Go unto the house of the Rechabites,
and speak unto them, and bring them into the house of the Lord, into one
of the chambers, and give them wine to drink. Then I took Jaazaniah the
son of Jeremiah, the son of Habaziniah, and his brethren, and all his
sons, and the whole house of the Rechabites, and I brought them into the
house of the Lord, into the chamber of the sons of Hanan, the son of Igdaliah,
a man of God, which was by the chamber of the princes, which was above
the chamber of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, the keeper of the door: And
I set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites pots full of wine,
and cups, and I said unto them, Drink ye wine. But they said, We will
drink no wine: for Jonadab the son of Rechab our father commanded us,
saying, Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons for ever: neither
shall ye build house, nor sow seed, nor plant vineyard, nor have any,
but all your days ye shall dwell in tents, that ye may live many days
in the land where ye be strangers. Thus have we obeyed the voice of Jonadab
the son of Rechab our father in all that he hath charged us, to drink
no wine all our days, we, our wives, our sons, nor our daughters; nor
to build houses for us to dwell in. Neither have we vineyard, nor field,
nor seed, but we have dwelt in tents, and have obeyed, and done according
to all that Jonadab our father commanded us.
This passage is singularly rich and full and important. It establishes
some matters of very great importance concerning the nature of authority.
Yet I fear that the modern church is generally unable to understand its
content, for it reads the passage with a veil over its eyes, or rather
two veils. The first veil is the prevailing belief that it is sinful to
drink wine. The modern church is generally able to find nothing more here
than that the Rechabites did well to refuse to drink wine. But this is
certainly not the point of the passage, even if it were the truth. More
on that anon.
The second veil which blinds men to the content of this passage consists
of the prevailing principles of independence and democracy, which have
almost entirely blotted out the scriptural doctrine of authority from
the modern church. I was of course raised and educated in those same principles
of democracy myself, but many years ago I plainly saw that there was no
trace of democracy in the Bible, except only in the clay in the feet of
Nebuchadnezzar's image. This clay is democracy, and these feet are the
final form of the devil's kingdom on the earth, which will be destroyed
without mercy by Christ at his coming. Thou sawest till that a stone
was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were
of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay,
the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became
like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them
away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image
became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2:34-35).
God has no more to do with the feet of clay than with the head of gold,
except to destroy them both.
Let us therefore establish this point at the outset, that the theme of
this chapter is submission to authority. The Rechabites say in verse 6,
Jonadab the son of Rechab commanded us, and in verse 8, Thus
have we obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab our father in all
that he charged us.
The application which the prophet makes of all this is, Thus saith
the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Go and tell the men of Judah and
the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Will ye not receive instruction to hearken
to my words? saith the Lord. The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, that
he commanded his sons not to drink wine, are performed; for unto this
day they drink none, but obey their father's commandment: notwithstanding,
I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking; but ye hearkened not
unto me. I have sent also unto you all my servants the prophets, rising
up early and sending them, saying, Return ye now every man from his evil
way, and amend your doings, and go not after other gods to serve them,
and ye shall dwell in the land which I have given to you and to your fathers:
but ye have not inclined your ear, nor hearkened unto me. Because the
sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have performed the commandment of their
father, which he commanded them; but this people hath not hearkened unto
me, therefore thus saith the Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold,
I will bring upon Judah and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all
the evil that I have pronounced against them: because I have spoken unto
them, but they have not heard; and I have called unto them, but they have
not answered. (Verses 13-17). The commandment of Jonadab was obeyed.
The commandment of God was not. All this relates to authority.
Moreover, the obedience of the Rechabites to the commandment of their
father meets with the evident approval of God, for Jeremiah speaks further,
Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Because ye have
obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts,
and done according unto all that he hath commanded you, therefore thus
saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Jonadab the son of Rechab
shall not want a man to stand before me for ever. (Verses 18-19).
This is a very strong commendation, and it is a commendation of obedience
Observe, Jonadab did not advise them to do such and such things, but commanded
them, as the chapter affirms again and again. Neither is it said that
he persuaded or convinced them to do these things. He commanded them.
This is an act of authority. Their performance of them was an act of obedience,
as the chapter also affirms again and again.
But this necessarily raises the question, Has a father the right to command
his children for many generations to come? In this instance it has the
evident sanction of God. So it has in another instance also. God says
of Abraham, For I know him, that he will command his children and
his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do
justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which
he hath spoken of him. (Gen. 18:19). Again, this is authority. He
will command them. He will command his children after him, evidently for
generations to come.
Has every father, then, the right to command his sons when they are grown,
and his sons' sons to all generations? The real question here may not
be whether a man has the right to command his children after him, but
whether he has the ability to do so. The effectual use of authority depends
largely, if not entirely, upon the moral weight and worth of the man who
holds it. An unworthy man in a place of authority
unrighteous, or self-serving man ----weakens not only his own authority,
but contributes to weaken men's regard for authority as such. On the other
hand, a worthy man wins respect not only for himself, but for his office.
Every man in any place of authority ought to be able to command the respect
of those who are under him, but we suppose it must be a man of a peculiar
greatness who can command the obedience of future generations. He must
be revered and trusted, and that to such an extent that that reverence
and confidence will be passed down from generation to generation. He must
be a Martin Luther or a John Wesley. Whatever right they might be supposed
to possess, lesser men have no ability to command future generations,
and we suppose that most of them would never be so presumptuous as to
make the attempt.
Jonadab, then, was evidently a great man. He was a man who could command
his children for generations to come, and secure their obedience. He was
not only revered, but trusted. His children, and grandchildren, and great
grandchildren for many generations, deferred to his judgement. They trusted
him to command what was good and right, and obeyed because he had commanded.
And this is a fact the more remarkable when we consider the nature of
his commandments. In the first place we may remark that these commandments
were not easy. They required a life of self-denial, as pilgrims
and strangers on the earth. In all this the Rechabites are a picture
of the church of God.
But there is something much deeper here, as it concerns the nature of
authority. The sons of Rechab were forbidden a variety of things, none
of which were wrong. They were forbidden to drink wine. They were forbidden
to build houses, to sow seed, to plant vineyards, nor were they allowed
to have any of those things. None of those things were wrong. Those who
suppose the point of the passage consists in the fact that it is wrong
to drink wine have missed its message entirely. Even if we were to grant
that it is wrong to drink wine, and so make a sinner of our Saviour, who
will contend that it is wrong to dwell in houses, or to sow seed, or to
have a field or vineyard? These were as much forbidden by Jonadab as the
wine was. The wine is prominent in the passage in Jeremiah simply because
the necessity of the case required it. Jeremiah could not gather the Rechabites
together and require them to build houses or to sow seed, when they had
no lands on which to do so, and perhaps no money with which to do so.
The wine was the only thing among those forbidden them which would afford
an easy test of their obedience, but if Jeremiah had required them to
sow seed, to buy fields, or to build houses, they would have refused that
also. The Rechabites did none of these things, not because any of them
were wrong, but because they were forbidden by their father. They did
not determine that such things were wrong
----doubtless they understood
very well that they were not wrong ----but they submitted to the
authority of their father. They obeyed his commandment.
This is a consideration of very great importance, for it plainly establishes
the right of God-given authorities to forbid things which are not wrong.
Things which are not wrong may be inexpedient. What is expedient at one
time may be inexpedient at another. God-ordained authorities are presumed
to have the ability to determine such things, and also the right to command
concerning them. We do not believe it is wrong to drink wine, but we suppose
it generally inexpedient in America today, and we surely believe the elders
in the church have the right to forbid it. Modern man, however, intoxicated
as he is with the notions of liberty and independence, has very little
understanding of what authority is, or of why it exists, or of what its
prerogatives are. He has little idea of submitting to authority as such,
but will usually submit only so far as his reason can see. He must be
taught and persuaded, but refuses to be commanded. Teaching and persuasion
are surely in order also, yet they are not effectual in every case, and
it is therefore the prerogative of authority to command. Those parents
who attempt to persuade their children to obey make themselves contemptible,
especially in the eyes of their children. A child may not be able to understand
his parents' reasons. He is therefore obliged to obey, reason or no reason.
A child of God may not be able to understand the reasons of the elders
in the church. He does not stand on an equal plane with them, in understanding
or spirituality. He is therefore obliged, as Paul says, to obey
them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves. This is
authority, and authority does not merely advise or persuade. It commands,
and those who are under that authority are obliged to obey. And we certainly
believe that parents, elders, masters, and governors have the right to
forbid things which are not wrong.
When that is done, it is not the business of subordinates to divine the
reason of the authorities, but rather to submit to them, and obey their
commandments. It was no concern of the Rechabites to know certainly why
their father Jonadab had forbidden them houses and fields and seed and
wine. They may or may not have understood the reasons. They could obey
whether they understood or not. Jonadab assigned a reason, namely, that
ye may live many days in the land where ye be strangers, but what
the connection was between the commandments given and the end to be secured
may not have been clear. For that they must trust the superior wisdom
of their father. This may be done easily enough, when the man in the place
of authority is fit to be there. His moral worth commands the respect
and confidence of those over whom he has the rule, and therefore secures
their ungrudging obedience. It is questionable whether an angel from heaven
could generally command that confidence in this day of liberty and democracy
and independence and pride and self-will, but such at any rate is the
proper pattern of the working of God-ordained authority.
And as said above, the submission of the Rechabites, generation after
generation, to the authority of their father Jonadab
to his commandments, by which he forbade their use of things which were
not wrong ----met with the signal approbation of God. Thus
saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Because ye have obeyed the
commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts, and done
according unto all that he hath commanded you, therefore thus saith the
Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not
want a man to stand before me for ever. This is a very strong commendation,
but what does it mean? It must have reference to earth, not merely to
heaven. The salvation of but one Rechabite would fulfill the prophecy,
if all that were meant is that Jonadab would never want a man to stand
before the Lord in heaven. It seems that such an interpretation must empty
the promise of its meaning. I believe it refers to the family of the Rechabites
on the earth.
But has it been fulfilled? We must certainly believe that it has, even
though we may be unable to trace its fulfillment. God knows where the
sons of Jonadab are today, though we may not. But for whatever it may
be worth, I will at any rate lay before my readers a very striking testimony
to the continuance of the Rechabites down to modern times. Recall that
Jeremiah wrote about 600 years before Christ. The testimony which I am
about to give was written about 1800 years after Christ, or 2400 years
after the promise given to the Rechabites in the book of Jeremiah.
Joseph Wolff, a missionary in Jerusalem, thus records part of an interview
between himself and Rabbi Mose Secot, a Talmudist Jew and a Pharisee,
I. I have heard of Jews (in Niebuhr's Travels) who are wandering
about like Arabs, near Mecca, do you know of them?
Rabbi Mose Secot, They are called the Beni Khaibr.
rejoiced to perceive that they are known by the Jews at Jerusalem, under
the very name which Niebuhr gave to them! and I asked Rabbi Mose Secot,
Did some of those Beni Khaibr ever come to Jerusalem?
Rabbi Mose Secot. Yes, in the time of Jeremiah the prophet!
I. How do you know this?
Rabbi Mose Secot. Let us read the prophet Jeremiah. He then read
----11. You see by it that Rabbi Mose Secot is quite
certain, that the Beni Khaibr are descendants of the Rechabites. They
drink still at this present moment no wine, and have neither vineyard,
nor field, nor seed, but dwell, like Arabs, in tents, and are wandering
Nomades: they believe and observe the law of Moses by tradition, for they
are not in the possession of the written law, and Mose Secot observed,
that their name Khaibr is to be found in Judges iv,11. 'Now Khaibr (the
same as Heber) the Kenite, which was of the children of Hobab, the father-in-law
of Moses, had severed himself from the Kenites, and pitched his tent in
the plain of Zanaaim, which is by Kedesh.' And it was among the Beni Khaibr
where Sisera found his death! Judges iv,19, and of whom Deborah sang,
'Blessed above women shall Jael, the wife of Heber (Khaibr) the Kenite
be; blessed shall she be above women in the tent;' and those Beni Khaibr
are descendants of Jethro, the father-in-law to Moses, and Mose Secot
proved it by Numbers x,29: 'And Moses said unto Hobab, the son of Raguel,
the Midianite, Moses' father-in-law, we are journeying unto the place
of which the Lord said, I will give it you: come thou with us, and we
will do thee good. For the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel: and
he said unto him, I will not go,' &c. &c. Moses Secot has promised
to me, to bring the next day the Talmud with him to make it more evident.
On the following day Mr. Wolff writes, Rabbi Mose Secot called again
to-day; ... He showed to me likewise the passage in the Talmud, which
speaks of the Beni Khaibr, or rather of the Rechabites, as children of
Jethro. The passage is in the treatise of Sota.
It may be proper to explain how Heber may be equated with
Khaibr. There are two H's in the Hebrew, the He, which is
soft, and written ä, and the Heth, which is hard, and written ç.
The latter is nearer in sound to our hard ch, as in Christ.
Heber in the fourth chapter of Judges is øáç,
and in the LXX, caber, that is Chaber, which is easily seen to be the
equivalent of Khaibr. The Beni Khaibr are the children of
I Chronicles 2:55 establishes the identity of the house of Rechab
with the Kenites. It is interesting to observe also that Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite, was dwelling in a tent in the time of the
judges, when the Israelites no doubt dwelt in houses. The Kenites were
strangers in the land, and the things which Jonadab commanded them were
all designed to maintain their position as strangers. Their obedience
to those commandments is held up by the Lord as an example to wayward
Judah, and it is doubtless an example to the people of God in all ages.
by Glenn Conjurske
I do not regard this as one of the most important of themes. Neither
do I believe it unimportant, and since my article on plain English may
raise some further questions, and since a reader will from time to time
take me to task for my own style, I take the opportunity to explain some
As to using plain English, I never meant to imply that we ought never
to use an uncommon word. To refuse the use of all but common words would
greatly impoverish our style, and if all men did this, it would in a short
time greatly impoverish the English language. Uncommon words are uncommon
precisely because they are not commonly used. If they were never used,
they would not be uncommon, but nonexistent. I believe it perfectly proper
to use a sprinkling of uncommon words, as occasion calls for them. What
I object to is using more than a sprinkling of them
them than occasion may legitimately call for ----or of using them
to the extent that our language becomes largely unintelligible to common
folks. A common man may look up an occasional uncommon word in the dictionary,
but he will soon be discouraged if he has one in every paragraph, to say
nothing of two or three in every sentence. He cannot comfortably read
anything at such a rate.
I distinguish also between uncommon words which are standard English,
and the new-coined Latinized and Greekified jargon of modern intellectualism.
There is no good reason to use the latter at all. There is no reason whatsoever
to call the plan of salvation the paradigm of the salvific operations
of the Deity, and any man who cannot distinguish between this and the
occasional use of uncommon words is really beyond hope. The one is merely
good English. The other is reeking pride and modernism. And neither is
it merely the vocabulary to which I object in this intellectual jargon.
It is the phraseology, the manner of speech, which is fastidious and meticulously
technical, and always the reverse of simple, common, and natural.
As to vocabulary, I believe it perfectly proper to use uncommon words
as occasion calls for them. To use them merely as a display of our learning
is contemptible, but there are many occasions which call for their use,
and on those occasions it is perfectly natural to use them, and gives
no appearance of ostentation. What those occasions are will be obvious
enough to those who are thoroughly at home in the English language. Refined
English, for example, for reasons which we may not be able to divine,
generally abhors the frequent repetition of the same word, and a refined
author will therefore vary his expression by the use of synonyms, though
this will often oblige him to use longer and less common words. There
are subtle shades of meaning even in synonyms, and there are occasions
where the less common word is just what we want, while the common word
is out of place
----where prevaricating, for example,
just suits the matter in hand, while lying is altogether too
But observe, we do not endorse hunting up new words
unfamiliar to ourselves as they are to our readers ----in order
to embellish or vary our style. The man who does this will probably get
into water over his head, and make a fool of himself, for he cannot know
anything of the connotation of a word when till now he knew nothing of
the word. Any tyro can find long words in the dictionary, but the man
who either needs or desires to do so has no business to be writing. He
had best spend his time reading and meditating, till his mind is well
stored and humble. As Spurgeon says of preaching, so we may say of writing
You cannot build a man-of-war out of a currant bush, nor can great
soul-moving preachers be formed out of superficial students. If you would
be fluent, that is to say flowing, be filled with all knowledge, and especially
with the knowledge of Christ Jesus your Lord. But we remarked that a fund
of expressions would be also of much help to the extempore speaker; and,
truly, second only to a store of ideas is a rich vocabulary. ...[I omit
a sentence here from which I dissent, on imitating beauties of language,
and elegancies of speech.
----editor.] ... You are not to carry
that gold pencil-case with you, and jot down every polysyllabic word which
you meet with in your reading, so as to put it in your next sermon, but
you are to know what words mean, to be able to estimate the power of a
synonym, to judge the rhythm of a sentence, and to weigh the force of
an expletive. You must be masters of words, they must be your genii, your
angels, your thunderbolts, or your drops of honey. Mere word-gatherers
are hoarders of oyster shells, bean husks, and apple-parings; but to a
man who has wide information and deep thought, words are baskets of silver
in which to serve up his apples of gold. See to it that you have a good
team of words to draw the wagon of your thoughts.
What we want, in other words, is not word-hunters, but masters of the
English language. These know how to use their words to good effect.
John Wesley quotes with approval the great Lord Boyle, who
says, It is pedantry to use an hard word where an easier will serve.
Pedantry, no doubt, if this is done merely for show, but if we were literally
to observe such a rule, our writing would be greatly impoverished. I do
not believe Wesley observed it himself. Am I never to say vitiate,
because weaken will serve, never to say epithet,
because name will do, never to say incidentally,
because by the way will do? We might perhaps say most everything
in words of two or three syllables, but this would involve a great deal
of circumlocution, and the result would be as bland as food without salt.
In some connections, for example, thing is so perfectly bland
that I am simply forced to say phenomenon, though I have never
relished the latter word. A good sprinkling of the uncommon and the unusual,
and a light sprinkling even of the quaint, will add a little of spice
and color to our speech, and surely no one who must read it will object
to that. God did not create all the flowers black and white, nor all the
birds to say chirp, chirp, chirp, and he is no foe to color,
or spice, or variety, or beauty.
I object to Lord Boyle's rule on several accounts. I object to it in the
first place because it is a rule. Those who write well do so by instinct
and feeling, and not by any rules whatsoever. Their writing is free and
easy and natural. Those who write by rules and grammar books only manifest
that they ought not to be writing at all. They must labor for an hour
over a paragraph, and when they are done, it will be tasteless and artificial
after all. They ought to be reading, not writing. They probably have nothing
to say which needs to be said, for fire in the bones puts life in the
pen, and life and fire do not operate by rules. Out of the abundance
of the heart the mouth speaketh (Matt. 12:34)
----and so the
pen also. What a man writes is a mirror of what he is. A man with a full
heart, an earnest spirit, and a refined soul, may write as freely as the
bird sings, and his writing will be sober, refined, chaste, pure, and
dignified. He needs no rules to make it so. He writes by nature, not art,
and he will instinctively shun both the trashy slang and the stilted intellectual
jargon of the present generation, and shun them not only because his judgement
tells him to do so, but because in his soul he abhors them.
But I further object to the rule of the great Lord Boyle because
I think it wrong. I do not write merely to communicate ideas, but to move
the heart and soul, to stir the spirit, to refresh and regale the mind.
A mere skeleton of the barest words which will serve can never
accomplish any of this. There is charm in quaintness of expression, in
beauty of expression, in variety of expression. Yet we want only that
charm and beauty of expression which naturally suits the occasion and
the matter in hand. When the style is over-done, the substance is ruined.
I recall an incident which took place when I was at Bible school more
than thirty years ago. A quartette of students sang in a chapel service.
One of the teachers, a very accomplished pianist, accompanied them on
the piano. He was thoroughly at home on the keyboard, and obviously enjoying
himself, and played with such abandonment that his exuberant finger-work
drew all the attention to himself. The song was no sooner finished than
the whole student body, quartette and all, began to laugh. His playing
was no doubt beautiful, but it was not suited to the occasion, and was
therefore out of place. In exactly the same manner an over-wrought style
draws the attention of the reader to itself, and thrusts the substance
of the writing into the background. This is a great evil. The style ought
to exist only as a vehicle by which to communicate and commend the message.
When a man makes the message the vehicle by which to set off his grand
style, he only proclaims that he ought not to be writing at all.
Yet we have no objection whatsoever to charm and beauty of style, so far
as it is the natural and unaffected vehicle of the matter in hand. We
know that there is a power in good poetry which prose can rarely equal.
Whence comes that power, if not from the charm and beauty of the expression?
And I frankly suppose that the more there is of the charm of poetry in
our prose, the better it will accomplish its ends. God has no quarrel
with beauty or charm, or he had never created a woman.
But understand also, the charm of a woman lies deep within, in her soul,
and the most of even her outward beauty arises from the same source. The
woman who seeks to create outward beauty by painting and plaiting and
piercing and pinning will more likely mar her beauty than enhance it.
The woman who is full of charm within will be beautiful without, with
little trying, and so it is with the outward form of a man's writing.
The man with an enlarged and refined soul and a weighty and earnest spirit,
with a message burning within, with grace in his heart and tears in his
eyes, will write in a pleasing and telling style with but little attention
to it. He will blow as the north wind or the south wind, the salty gale
or the spicy breezes, just as the occasion calls for it, and all this
precisely because he is occupied with the message. The man who is too
much concerned with his style is on the wrong road to secure it, and is
probably a man who ought not to be writing at all.
If he aims at too much dignity, he is likely to hit only too much starch.
If he aims at refinement, he is likely to hit only fastidiousness. Such
a writer is most likely to remind us of a man splitting wood under the
clothes line, where he cannot swing clear. His well-aimed blows have no
force. He adopts artificial standards for himself. He will likely object
to my phrase swing clear, because he cannot find it in Milton
or Shakespeare, or in a certain set of authors, or a certain kind of authors,
or before a certain time period. The folks who subject themselves to such
standards must find it perfect misery to write at all. Not being omniscient,
nor having a perfect memory, they must either confine themselves within
a very narrow range, or be always hanging in doubt as to whether they
have inadvertently violated their self-imposed standards
no one else would know or care if they did. The only rule which sensible
men will acknowledge is usage. The only proper standard of English style
is usage. But in this we refer to chaste and refined usage, not to usage
which is vulgar or stilted. Yet the man who has a good command of the
English tongue, and also of the truth, has no obligation to submit in
every scintilla to the standards of usage. Usage is always subject to
change, and it is far better that such a man should set the standard of
sober and refined writing, than to follow the vitiated standards which
lesser men have set for him.
John Wesley was a man of taste and refinement, who had a message from
God, and he is a model of a style which is terse and telling, sober and
dignified. Yet he says, As for me, I never think of my style at
all; but just set down the words that come first. Only when I transcribe
anything for the press, then I think it my duty to see every phrase be
clear, pure, and proper. Conciseness (which is now, as it were, natural
to me) brings quantum sufficit of strength. If, after all, I observe any
stiff expression, I throw it out, neck and shoulders.
I cannot say that I write without thinking of my style at all. I think
of it constantly, not only when I revise for the press, but when I first
commit my thoughts to paper, for I aim that my style shall be as easy
and telling as my substance is solid, and my arguments cogent. My readers
will no doubt have their own opinions as to how far I succeed in any of
the three. I only tell them what I aim at.
But understand, I aim at nothing ornate or flowery. I append no useless
embellishments. I utterly contemn the style of such a man as T. DeWitt
Talmage, who substituted words for substance, and florid expressions for
depth of thought. We are never able to believe that he is half as serious
about the truth as he is with setting off his own abilities to the best
advantage. Though I confess I grudge to spend the space on it, I nevertheless
wish my readers to understand what it is to which I object, and I therefore
give as an example a part of Talmage's description of Belshazzar's feast:
Rushing up to the gates are chariots, upholstered with precious
cloths from Dedan and drawn by fire-eyed horses from Togarmah, that
rear and neigh in the grasp of the charioteers, while a thousand
lords dismount, and women, dressed in all the splendors of Syrian
emerald, and the color-blending of agate and the chasteness of coral,
and the somber glory of Tyrian purple and princely embroideries,
brought from afar by camels across the desert, and by ships of Tarshish
across the sea. ...
Ah! my friends, it was not any common banquet to which these great
people came. All parts of the earth had sent their richest viands
to that table. Brackets and chandeliers flashed their light upon
tankards of burnished gold. Fruits ripe and luscious, in baskets
of silver, entwined with leaves plucked from royal conservatories.
Vases inlaid with emerald and ridged with exquisite traceries, filled
with nuts that were threshed from forests of distant lands. Wine
brought from the royal vats, foaming in the decanters and bubbling
in the chalices. Tufts of cassia and frankincense wafting their
sweetness from wall and table. Gorgeous banners unfolding in the
breeze that came through the open window, betwitched with the perfume
of hanging gardens. Fountains rising up from inclosures of ivory
in jets of crystal, to fall in clattering rain of diamonds and pearls.
Statues of mighty men looking down, from niches in the wall, upon
crowns and shields brought from subdued empires. Idols of wonderful
work, standing on pedestals of precious stones. Embroideries stooping
about the windows, and wrapping pillars of cedar, and drifting on
floor inlaid with ivory and agate. Music, mingling with the thrum
of harps, and the clash of cymbals, and the blast of trumpets in one
wave of transport that went rippling along the wall, and breathing among
the garlands, and pouring down the corridors, and thrilling the souls
of a thousand banqueters.
All of this is at the farthest remove from real eloquence. It is the merest
emptiness, cold and flat and vapid, as devoid of depth and substance as
it is of life and fire. It is an effort to be grand, by a man who has
nothing to say, and it is a grand failure. The man who has something to
say, and a soul on fire with the substance of it, will attain to the grand
without ever aiming at it, as Moses and Isaiah and Wesley and Burgon have
done. Talmage knows nothing of grandeur of substance, but aims only at
grandeur of words, and cannot sustain even that, but often drops us to
the most flat and commonplace. Worse yet, while he aims at the grand,
he strikes only the grotesque, and speaks a good deal of positive nonsense
also, such as clattering rain, embroideries stooping
about the windows, nuts threshed from forests, and a
wave of transport rippling along the wall. But No doubt,
as James H. Brookes aptly says of another of Talmage's performances, his
hearers went away delighted with the play of the shimmering soap bubbles.
We think the man would have done much better to study to have something
to say, than to study how to say it. But the latter was all his concern.
He wrote his sermons out at length, memorized them, and rehearsed them
before a mirror. And we can never escape the conviction that his discourses
came more from the dictionary and the encyclopedia than from the Bible.
We can never read him without encountering numerous words and historical
references which we have never seen before. Here is another sample from
the same book: There are very few good people who seem to imagine
it is humbly pious to drive a spavined, galled, glandered, spring-halted,
blind-staggered jade. There is not so much virtue in a Rosinante as in
a Bucephalus. Page after page of this bombastic tomfoolery leave
us convinced that Mr. Talmage actually labored not to be understood. Having
nothing to say, he made it a point to say it in terms and references of
which his readers were sure to be ignorant. He did not labor to communicate
a message, but to impress his readers with his superior learning. I give
one more example: ...the pomologist has changed the acrid and gnarled
fruit of the ancients into the very poetry of pear, and peach, and plum,
and grape, and apple. We do not know what a pomologist is, but we
do know that the poetry of pear and peach is just nonsense
halting attempt at eloquence by a man who lacks the first qualification
Talmage is no doubt an extreme example of a forced and artificial oratory,
and it may serve my purpose better to give a milder sample. The following
paragraph is from a newspaper report of the Chicago fire:
But all the engines in the country were powerless to have prevented
the disaster which already seemed inevitable. The wind was blowing a perfect
gale from the south-southwest. With terrible effect the flames leaped
around in mad delight, and seized upon everything combustible. Shed after
shed went down, and dwelling-houses followed in rapid succession. With
a fierceness perfectly indescribable the fiery fiend reached out its red-hot
tongue and licked up the dry material. Block after block gave way, and
family after family were driven from their homes. The fire department
were powerless to prevent the spreading of the calamity. The red demon
of destruction was let loose, and in all his fierceness increased by a
long restraint, it seized upon every destructible object and blotted it
from the face of the earth.
This paragraph is a mixture of simplicity and affected grandeur, and the
only parts of it which are forceful or telling are those which consist
of simple narrative. The wind was blowing a perfect gale ... Shed
after shed went down, and dwelling-houses followed in rapid succession.
... Block after block gave way, and family after family were driven from
----this is all simple and forceful, but the sentences
about the mad delight of the flames and the red-hot tongue of the fiery
fiend add nothing, and are in fact a distraction. So also the last sentence,
on the demon of destruction and its fierceness increased
by a long restraint. This is just nothing.
F. W. Farrar, a liberal whom we can hardly suspect of being serious enough
about the truth, wrote history in the same manner, and various reviews
have called attention to his over-wrought style. A review of his Life
of Christ in the Guardian, while too commendatory of the substance of
the book, yet justly criticizes the style. It says, We pass from
the matter to the manner; from the subject to the style. And here we have
to complain of an intensity bordering on sensationalism. Dr. Farrar writes
as an orator, not as a sober narrator; piling up epithets
merely ornamental ----pouring forth imagery, and dazzling his readers
with coruscations of rhetoric out of harmony with the majestic simplicity
of the Gospel story. Dr. Farrar has a great command of words, and his
words are often very beautiful. But he is far too profuse in his use of
them, and the surfeited reader is fatigued by perpetual glitter. It is
difficult to see what can be supposed to be gained ----it is very
evident what is lost ----by the paraphrase which expands 'Jesus
wept' into 'He followed them, His eyes streaming with silent tears,' and
'That thou doest do quickly,' into 'Thy fell purpose is matured: carry
it out with no more of these futile hypocrisies and meaningless delays.'
And Farrar's imagery was often as forced and unnatural as that of Talmage.
The Guardian continues, The epithets of which he is so fond are
frequently farfetched and incongruous. This is perhaps inevitable
with those who inflate their style beyond the natural requirements of
the matter in hand. The natural gives place to the unnatural and the grotesque.
Such language may impress the shallow, but it is only so much chaff in
the way of the serious. It adds nothing to either the understanding or
the emotions. Yet Farrar, and even Talmage, were much admired in their
day, and Talmage is so even today, and even by Fundamentalists.
I, on the contrary, quite agree with Spurgeon, who said, I hate
oratory. I come down as low as I can. High-flying and fine language seems
to me wicked when souls are perishing. Such language is wicked whether
souls are perishing or not. It is wicked because it is the fruit of pride
and ostentation. It is the language of men who aim to impress their readers
or their hearers with themselves rather than with the truth.
But there are two sides to the question. If it is carnal to aim at ornate
and flowery language, it is no doubt hyperspiritual to neglect clarity,
simplicity, and smoothness. I do not suppose it any mark of spirituality
to write in a slovenly or careless style, but quite the reverse. Darby
claimed to have no time to write briefly, and affirmed that he only thought
on paper, and the result of this carelessness was a style which is so
rough and obscure that it is often a chore to read it. I think he might
have done better, and with very little effort. He wrote some fine poetry.
William Blair Neatby says, ...it is hard to read Darby's better
works without fancying that a noble eloquence was really at his command,
if only he had chosen to cultivate it. But there was a marked tendency
to hyperspirituality in the early Brethren, and I suppose Darby's carelessness
of his style was one manifestation of it. Neatby says, He carried
his neglect of appearances into his written and spoken composition; and
that to such an extent that the style of his writings to the reader of
to-day seems half ludicrous, half disgusting. This peculiarity is almost
necessarily fatal to abiding influence; but there may well be something
singularly impressive in it at the time. All misgiving as to the teacher's
----even as to his absorbing earnestness of aim ----disappears
Neatby was an inveterate detractor of Darby, and his half ludicrous,
half disgusting is much too strong. He was wrong too about Darby's
style being fatal to his abiding influence. On the other side, we quite
agree that his negligence of style is quite enough to convince us of his
sincerity and earnestness, while the affected and artificial style of
Talmage serves directly to convince us of his lack of sincerity and earnestness.
But I believe with Neatby that Darby's neglect is to be censured, not
praised. I am constantly conscious of my own style, and I pay the strictest
attention to everything from word order to rhythm and cadence. I aim to
say nothing ambiguous, nothing halting, nothing weak, nothing which is
not clear and smooth and forceful. I often alter my word order, or reject
a word in favor of a synonym, purely for the sake of the cadence. This
in general requires little time or effort, any more than working my fingers
on the typewriter as I write, or the foot pedal in playing the piano.
This is instinctive and habitual. For a writer purposely to neglect this
seems to me to be a great wrong to the truth, as well as to his readers.
One of the prominent differences between the Revised and the Authorized
Versions of the Bible lies in the matter of style. To pass,
as Christopher Wordsworth says, from the latter to the former is,
as it were, to alight from a well-built and well-hung carriage which glides
easily over a macadamised road, and to get into one which has bad springs
or none at all, and in which you are jolted in ruts with aching bones
over the stones of a newly mended and rarely traversed road, like some
of the roads in our North Lincolnshire villages. This is very apt.
The style alone of the Revised Version would have disqualified it from
general use, even if it had been generally superior to the Authorized
Version in other matters.
It is likely also that a rough and uncouth style will deter men from reading
the authors who write so. I do not see how a servant of God can escape
the obligation to write with clarity, simplicity, and smoothness. Smoothness
will involve rhythm and cadence. The neglect of any of these may be a
venial fault, but a fault it is. The man who is master of his message
may have power, but the man who is master of his style also will have
greater power. It can surely be no virtue to neglect this. We know that
God has chosen the weak and the base and the despised, but he gives us
no commission to labor to be such. If we are so, and cannot help it, the
power of God may so rest upon us as to over-ride our deficiencies, but
to labor to be deficient is not spiritual, but hyperspiritual. We despise
affected oratory. Much more ought we to contemn affected uncouthness.
Some Further Reflections on
by Glenn Conjurske
I address this subject again for several reasons. In the first place,
I regard it as one of the more important themes which I shall have occasion
to treat in these pages, for what I am here contending for is conservatism.
What I am contending against is the liberalism which has completely carried
away Neo-evangelicalism, and very largely permeated Fundamentalism also.
I was not able to say as much as the subject calls for in one short article.
I believe also in repetition, for it is seldom that anyone will much understand
a principle upon his first reading of it.
The Bible says, Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour's landmark,
which they of old time have set in thine inheritance, which thou shalt
inherit in the land that the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it.
(Deut. 19:14). The landmarks were set by men of old time, before we were
born, and before we entered the land of our inheritance. Restless liberalism
is never content with anything which they of old time have
done, always supposing itself competent to do better. Sometimes that supposition
may be true, for what they of old time have done is never
perfect. But as a plain matter of fact, experience, and history, the changes
which liberals make are most often for the worse, for they are commonly
too rash, too shallow, and too bent upon change to make judicious changes.
They know how to prove all things, but not to hold fast that which is
good. The changes which solid conservatives make are more likely to be
for the better, for they are not impatient of the work of their fathers,
and move slowly and deliberately in any alterations which they make.
And when we are dealing with anything which has acquired the status of
an old landmark, we really have no business to change it at all, though
I will grant there may be exceptions to this, as there are to most everything.
If an old landmark is so intolerably misplaced as to cause more confusion
and trouble where it is, than would be caused by its removal, we may be
justified in removing it. Such cases are doubtless very rare, but I shall
mention one a little further down.
First, however, I wish to enlarge a little upon the nature of those things
which may be properly regarded as old landmarks. In my former article
I spoke primarily of the old terminology, but the principle may apply
to many other things as well. I believe it applies to everything in every
sphere which they of old time have set, and which by long
and universal usage has become the standard and customary practice.
Take for example music notation, as it is written and printed. The symbols
are all arbitrary, certainly having no divine origin or sanction. It is
perhaps possible that some precocious brain could improve all of this,
but the improvement would introduce such confusion in the realm of music
as to be simply intolerable. The names of the notes, their shape and position
on the score, the signs of the bass, tenor, and treble clefs, the symbols
for rests and flats and sharps, and indeed the score itself
these are old landmarks. Their retention gives stability and ease to all
who know music. To alter them, for any reason whatsoever, would introduce
intolerable confusion, and for the sake of a gain which would be infinitesimal
The typewriter keyboard is another old landmark, which they of old
time have set. To alter it now would introduce so much confusion
into so many spheres that it is simply impracticable. We would not pretend
that the typewriter keyboard is perfect, or that it has any divine sanction.
Quite the reverse. It was designed purposely to prevent speed. To type
too fast on the old typewriters resulted in tangling up the keys. There
was room for only one key at a time in the striking position, and there
must be time for the last key to be out of the way before the next key
arrived. The keyboard was thus designed to prevent speed. We must reach
for the e and the i, while the little-used j
and k occupy the positions of honor on the home
keys, under our best fingers on our right hand. This is not to facilitate
speed, but precisely to prevent it. Now, with electronic typing, the need
to prevent too much speed has entirely passed away, but the old keyboard
remains, a relic, as the liberal would say, of the stone age. I understand
that some attempts have been made to replace it, but these have met with
little success. Those who would amend the typewriter keyboard must re-educate
all of our heads also. They will find it easier to straighten the leaning
tower of Pisa.
The spelling of words, and the shapes of the letters of the alphabet are
further examples of old landmarks. Though spoken language is doubtless
of divine origin, we cannot pretend to any divine origin for written language,
and certainly not for the letters of the alphabet or the spellings of
the words. Each language has its own alphabet, and its own manner of spelling.
These are old landmarks, which they of old time have set,
and to attempt any alteration of them now could only produce endless confusion.
Various liberals from time to time have set on foot various attempts to
reform the spelling of English, but those attempts have failed.
Liberals in the public schools in our own day have even advocated creative
spelling. Such a plan is extremely foolish, the product of shallow
heads which obviously understand nothing of the issues involved, and were
it ever to succeed, the result would be confusion confounded. When the
alphabet and the spelling are reformed, stability and ease
must give place to confusion and difficulty, and all of our ties with
the past must be greatly weakened. This is true whenever ancient landmarks
are removed, in any sphere whatever.
To read a book from front to back, and from left
to right, is another example of an old landmark. It has no divine sanction.
Hebrew and Syriac read from right to left, and the front and
back of the books are just the reverse of Latin, Greek, and
English. Yet to alter these, in any language at all, would produce no
end of difficulty and confusion. Besides being obliged to re-educate our
heads, all typewriters would require to be remade also.
The old landmarks were not set by God, but by the men of old time. We
ought to retain them, not because they are of God, nor because they are
incapable of improvement, but because they are old, and therefore familiar
and customary and standard. If we remove many of the old landmarks, we
must remake our minds and souls also, for our souls are not blanks, but
are the repositories of a thousand thousand impressions and habits. The
world itself seems generally conscious of this, and generally acts upon
it. But here again, The children of this world are wiser in their
own kind than the children of light. The world in general retains
its old landmarks, while the Christians of the present liberal generation
are determined to remove those of the church. We fear that the real reason
for this is that the souls of the liberals and intellectuals of our time
are indeed blanks in all the deep things of God. It is little inconvenience
to them, therefore, to remove any or all of the old landmarks. But why
do not more of the solid saints of God rise up in indignant protest?
But I will speak of one ancient landmark which has been removed, and that
evidently to the satisfaction of all. I speak of the calendar. The calendar
as it exists is surely an old landmark. Its year is essentially a solar
year, though the calendar itself has no divine sanction, but is arbitrary
in its beginning, in the length of its months, in their names, etc.
in all this far removed from the calendar of the Bible. Yet arbitrary
as much of it is, to change it at all would necessarily introduce almost
incalculable confusion. Yet the calendar which we have today is not the
same calendar which was in use a few hundred years ago. It has been altered,
and we can hardly regret the alteration, for the calendar which formerly
existed was itself the source of so much confusion and error that its
reform became a simple necessity. The need for its reformation was universally
felt. It was reformed therefore, and though this created a good deal of
confusion over a long period of time, yet the gain in the reform was great
enough to justify the difficulty. The calendar, then, I regard as one
of the rare exceptions, in which it was advantageous and proper to remove
and replace an old landmark. It would be altogether improper, however,
to attempt a further reform of the calendar today, for the flaws which
remain in it are small and inconsequential, so that it is better on all
accounts to live with them than to attempt to mend them. This is generally
true of all old landmarks, and that even when their faults are much more
significant than those which remain in the calendar.
The value of ancient landmarks may be best illustrated by a reference
to the chapter and verse divisions of the Bible. These constitute one
of the most obvious examples of what may be properly regarded as old landmarks.
Aside from the Psalms and some other portions, as the Lamentations, these
divisions have no divine origin or sanction. They are purely human. They
are not the land, but only the landmarks. They exist independently of
the substance of Scripture, and for the most part in no way affect that
substance. They are merely reference points, to aid us in finding our
way and keeping our bearings. Many of them could be improved upon. Yet
who would dream of altering them now? To change them now would cause endless
confusion of the most serious sort. Every Bible and concordance would
require to be recast. Every doctrinal, devotional, and exegetical work
written before this date would be a maze of confusion. Surely none but
the most restless and thoughtless of liberals could be rash or foolish
enough to desire any change whatever here, though none but the most shallow
and bigoted traditionalists would attach any divine sanction to the divisions
which now exist.
The names and order of the books of the Bible constitute another example.
The names of most of the books of the Bible are not of divine origin.
They are human appendages, and in some cases could be improved upon. The
same is true in many cases of the order of the books. The order of the
English Old Testament differs greatly from that of the Hebrew. The order
of the English New Testament differs from that of the Greek manuscripts.
Various attempts have been made to re-arrange the books of the New Testament,
but the re-arrangers cannot agree among themselves as to how it ought
to be done. F. W. Grant, in his Numerical Bible, and Christopher Wordsworth,
in his Greek New Testament, have each re-arranged the epistles of Paul,
with the following result:
|F. W. Grant
These men obviously proceeded upon different principles entirely, principles,
no doubt, which were of some importance to themselves, but it is evident
that any gain which may accrue from either man's arrangement is entirely
cancelled by the other man's. Whatever that gain may be supposed to be,
it will not be apparent to ordinary readers, while they will all feel
a great loss, in the confusion and inconvenience which the new arrangements
force upon them. And if the customary arrangement is really so defective
as to call for revision, why cannot the new arrangers agree as to the
new arrangement? Once grant that the old arrangement must needs be altered,
and I suppose we shall have as many arrangements as we have arrangers.
Westcott and Hort put the Catholic Epistles before those of Paul, and
Hebrews between Second Thessalonians and First Timothy, with the same
obvious loss, and no gain which is apparent to anybody. All this is upsetting
old landmarks, and, to say the least of it, is very unwise. The old arrangement
is adequate. There is no apparent gain in any of the new arrangements,
and great loss in all of them, in casting away the ease and convenience
of familiar ground. This is an evil which always attends the removal of
old landmarks. Their removal ought therefore never to be so much as contemplated,
unless there are reasons for it so compelling as to over-rule all the
advantages of the convenience and stability which belong to old and familiar
A very interesting example of the unintentional removing of an old landmark
came under my notice some years ago. I have a copy machine which was made
in Japan. Not being very well able to afford a hundred dollars for a service
call, I paid a hefty price for a service manual. In looking over some
of the electrical schematics in this book, I frequently met with the word
earth. This meant nothing, and only puzzled me, until I realized
that this is what in English we commonly call ground. The book was doubtless
first written in Japanese, and translated into English by a native of
Japan, who was not familiar with English connotations, and was perhaps
a little too self-confident besides. Earth and ground
may bear essentially the same sense, but ground means something
to those familiar with the terminology of electronics, while earth
means nothing. We cannot remove the old, settled, and familiar terminology
without introducing confusion. This is true in every sphere.
Every field has its own standard terms, terms which by long usage have
become familiar to all, and associated with themselves a well-defined
meaning. The simple mention of the term calls forth all the mental associations
which belong to that term. It may call to mind historical events, or doctrines,
or principles. More importantly, it will arouse suitable emotions. To
replace that terminology with any other, on the pleas of accuracy or intelligibility,
or any other plea whatsoever, is simply foolish.
American patriots may like to speak of the statue of liberty or the liberty
bell. These are old landmarks
----not the things merely, but the
terms by which they are named. If some young liberal, under some notions
of his own of accuracy or intelligibility or propriety, began to speak
of the freedom bell or the image of liberty, this would introduce confusion.
The terms would certainly be unintelligible to most, and even if they
were understood, yet it is certain that they would leave the emotions
untouched. They would altogether fail to strike any chord in the hearts
of those that heard them. The terms liberty bell and statue
of liberty touch the emotions. They strike a patriotic chord in
the hearts of patriotic Americans. Substitute anything else in the place
of those familiar terms, and it will fail to strike that chord, regardless
of how much more accurate or intelligible it may be supposed to be.
And so it is with a thousand expressions in the language of the Bible
and the church. But The children of this world are wiser in their
own kind than the children of light. No American patriot would dream
of renaming the liberty bell, or Paul Revere's midnight ride,
but Christians rename half the old landmarks in their heritage, and think
they are doing God service. The result of this is the production of Bibles
which fail to speak the language of the heart. This may suit the emotionless
Christianity of modern intellectualism, which knows nothing of either
fire or tears, but it leaves the hearts of those who feel
leaves the souls which are not blank ----empty and unsatisfied.
But this is not all. The new terms fail even to call up any associations
of the mind.
To take one example, the mantle of Elijah is an old landmark.
The expression, and the event associated with it, are common coin in the
theological, devotional, and historical literature of the church. If we
say that the mantle of D. L. Moody fell upon R. A. Torrey, this brings
hallowed scenes to the mind, and everyone understands it perfectly. What
would they think or understand if we said that the coat or cloak of Moody
fell upon Torrey? They would probably think we referred to some occasion
on which Moody dropped his coat from the balcony. The mantle of Moody
is the well known expression for his place and ministry. The coat of Moody
means only the coat on his back, and fails to arouse any mental associations
beyond that. It may well be that coat is more intelligible, in the strictly
temporal sphere, and to the spiritually illiterate, but God never made
a Bible for the spiritually illiterate, and he certainly has not commissioned
his people to do so.
Now there are scores
----hundreds, I suppose ----of these
ancient landmarks scattered throughout our spiritual heritage.
The mantle of Elijah
----Samson's riddle ----Noah's ark ----wood,
hay, and stubble ----making bricks without straw ----the living
water ----the manna from heaven ----the still, small voice ----the
ark of the covenant ----the ark of bulrushes ----the vials
of wrath ----the burning bush ----the cities of refuge ----lukewarmness ----wrestling
with God ----the fear of the Lord ----godliness ----Calvary ----these
and scores of others are all ancient landmarks. They cannot be removed
without casting away a myriad of the most sacred associations of both
the mind and the heart.
Justification by faith is an old landmark
doctrine, but the term ----and we shall never learn to call it acquittal
by faith, though it ought by all means to be so explained in preaching.
Landmarks such as this cannot be removed without the most serious loss.
Those who would at this date turn the Philistines into the Palestinians,
or the flesh into the carnal nature, are simply removing ancient landmarks.
Their work is most obviously done for the spiritually illiterate, who
never had any familiarity with or attachment to the heritage of the saints
of God. We cannot turn the liberty bell into the freedom bell for an American,
though a Hottentot may not regret the change, or even notice it. We cannot
exchange the old landmarks for new ones for an old saint of God, though
the spiritually illiterate may like the new terms well enough. The new
terms may be as good in themselves as the old ones ----nay, better ----but
that is quite irrelevant. No new terms can replace the ancient landmarks,
for those who knew and loved them. I am aware that some may be offended
at my saying so, but I honestly believe that the primary reason that the
new Bibles have been so successful in the church of God today is that
they have been obtruded upon a generation of Christians which but little
knew the Bible, and was but little attached to it. The old Revised Version
met with no such success. Though much more conservative in retaining the
old landmarks than the new versions are, it was promptly and peremptorily
rejected by the English people. The very world in that day was more familiar
with the old Bible, and more attached to it, than the church is in our
day. Hence the old landmarks may be removed with impunity today, but those
who remove them are doing no service to either God or man.
If We Could Read But A Dozen Authors
by Glenn Conjurske
I have often contemplated the question, If the present age could read
but one author, which one would I recommend? Which author, in other words,
do I regard as the most valuable? The question is not an easy one. We
must consider not only the weight and worth of the author, but also the
needs of the age. If I were compelled to choose but one, I suppose I would
be obliged to settle upon John Wesley, but the choice would be a hard
one. I have therefore turned my thoughts to an easier question, namely,
if the present age could read but ten authors, which ones would I recommend?
The question, I know, is an artificial one, but not without value on that
account. It is certainly worth the while to consider which authors are
most valuable in themselves, and which are most likely to speak effectually
to the needs of the church in the present day.
I sat down this morning, therefore, to compile such a list. I found that
the first few names were easy, requiring little or no deliberation. The
next few were much harder, and the difficulty increased as I neared the
end of the list. To add the last name was the most difficult of all, as
in choosing that one I would of course exclude all others. The difficulty
here proved so great that I determined to extend the list to a dozen,
and it is quite possible that if I were to compile the list again after
further reading, or further reflection, it would differ somewhat from
My criteria have been few enough. First and foremost, the weight and worth
of the author himself. Next, how well he speaks to the state of the church
today. Next, the variety of themes which he treats, and finally, the volume
which he wrote. Variety and volume would determine nothing in themselves.
I need hardly say that I would recommend no man merely because he wrote
much, while some of those who have written the most would have contributed
a greater boon to the church if they had written nothing at all. But if
we were limited to a few authors, we should want those who wrote much
as well as well, or we should have but little to read. Variety would be
of great importance also. Some who have written well on one theme must
be passed by if we could read but few authors.
It will be proper to add that sectarian considerations have had no place
whatever in compiling this list. If some men were to compile such a list
as this, it would read Darby, Kelly, Bellett, Wigram, Grant, Baines, Mackintosh,
Stoney, Dennett, and Coates
----while they vigorously disclaimed
all sectarianism. Another man's list would read John Calvin, John Owen,
Thomas Manton, Augustus Toplady, Jonathan Edwards, &c. This is judging
by one issue, judging the man by a Shibboleth, instead of by his overall
moral and spiritual worth, and the tendency of such judgement is always
to associate together the weighty and the empty. Such lists would have
some value, but they would stand precisely in the way of their real purpose.
But my readers are getting impatient to see my list. I therefore hold
them in suspense no longer.
1. John Wesley, 1703-1791, father of Methodism.
2. J. C. Ryle, 1816-1900, evangelical bishop in the Church of England.
3. J. W. Burgon, 1813-1888, high-church dean, Church of England.
4. Samuel H. Hadley, 1842-1906, Methodist, rescue mission worker.
5. Joseph Hall, 1574-1656, bishop in the Church of England.
6. C. H. Spurgeon, 1834-1891, Baptist pastor.
7. Charles Wesley, 1708-1788, brother of John & poet of Methodism.
8. Richard Baxter, 1615-1691, ejected non-conformist Episcopalian.
9. Menno Simons, father of the Mennonites.
10. James B. Finley, 1781-1856, American Methodist preacher.
11. Martin Luther, 1483-1546, first and foremost of the Reformers.
12. John Nelson Darby, 1800-1882, founder of the Plymouth Brethren.
I next proceed to comment upon some of the reasons for my choices, in
order that I may make this list as profitable as I can.
John Wesley needs no introduction, nor any defense. He was one of the
greatest men of all time, an apostle of earnest Christianity and a pre-eminent
example of apostolic zeal. He had his weaknesses, as his adherence to
the Church of England and his doctrine of perfection, but all things considered
he stands head and shoulders above most men. And his style is terse and
forceful, a delight to read.
J. C. Ryle has neither the fervor of Wesley nor the fire of Burgon, but
he is always weighty, always practical and spiritual, and, like Wesley
and Baxter, stands always as a bulwark against antinomianism. Such a bulwark
is one of the great needs of the church today.
John W. Burgon is generally known today only as the champion of the Traditional
Text and the Authorized Version. That he was, but above that, and before
it, he was the champion of conservatism, and the inveterate opponent of
liberalism, rationalism, ritualism, intellectualism, and pedantry. Though
he is usually known primarily as a textual critic, in fact he was much
more than that. He wrote biographies, a commentary on the Gospels, and
published some excellent sermons on the Inspiration and Interpretation
of the Bible. He sometimes treats his opponents with contempt, a fault
not uncommon to great and wise men who must deal with self-confident ignorance
and presumption. But in spite of faults, he is pre-eminently wise, always
earnest, often fiery
----intemperate, it is usually
called ----and a pleasure to read, at least to solid conservatives.
Liberals, moderates, and intellectuals will likely have another opinion.
Sam Hadley was a matchless man of God, the apostle and embodiment
of the love of Christ for the lost and degraded. He wrote but one book,
so that I cannot include him for volume or variety, but that one book
is as matchless as its author. Methinks the man who can read this book
without wetting a few handkerchiefs with tears must have no soul
to speak the literal truth, only a soul which is dwarfed and dried and
withered. This book may serve to water such souls. It has what the modern
church needs, and I include it here as some wise farmers include a few
Jerseys in their herd of Holsteins ----not for volume, but for cream.
----a bishop who knew what the inside of a prison cell
looked like ----was a master of meditation and contemplation, and
his thoughts are deep and spiritual, as well as pre-eminently practical.
C. H. Spurgeon was a great man, in all that is purely natural
a deep thinker, nor a careful theologian, but wise, devoted, fervent,
zealous, spiritual, spirited, conservative, large-hearted, and large-minded ----and
if he does not give us gold, he at any rate gives us silver. And he wrote
or spoke a great volume, on a great variety of subjects.
Charles Wesley was a man of such childlike simplicity and exuberance of
----coupled with such zeal and fervency ----that I recommend
him for his spirit alone. His journal and letters are stirring and exhilarating.
He wrote mostly poetry, and too much of it, so that much of it is inferior,
but the best of it is most excellent, and full of the same exuberance
of spirit which pervades his journal and letters.
Richard Baxter wrote too much, and too much of that is technical and abstruse.
He is always in earnest, however, and usually has something of value to
say. His practical writings are often as eloquent as they are earnest,
and always a bulwark against antinomianism. He wrote on almost everything,
and usually with wisdom.
Menno Simons was a suffering saint, whose life has been called a living
martyrdom. His principles are generally sound. He understands the
truth of the gospel, and the true nature of the church, and of the world.
He is wise, fatherly, and withal a very forceful writer. His style sometimes
borders on the bombastic, but this is not affected, but the natural flow
of real fervency.
J. B. Finley I include because his writings enshrine and preserve the
spirit of early American Methodism. He was not the man that Peter Cartwright
was, and Cartwright's autobiography is certainly superior to Finley's,
but Finley wrote more, and on a greater variety of themes.
Martin Luther was a great man naturally, as Spurgeon was. He was also
a man of great faith and power, and great wisdom also, though he still
wore some Babylonish garments, and vigorously defended them too. But he
wrote well and wisely of many things. He is always forceful, never dull.
John Nelson Darby is the exponent of simple Scriptural truth
he is sometimes astray from it, and from its spirit also, as in his adherence
to infant baptism, and his repudiation of Scriptural authority in the
church. We must take forth the precious from the vile in reading Darby,
as in reading Wesley or Baxter or Burgon. His great weakness lay in the
self-sufficiency which supposed that all was out of course till he came
to mend it. Old paths and ancient landmarks scarcely exist in his mind,
and he rarely mentions his predecessors except to depreciate them. But
his repudiation of creeds and systems enabled him actually to take the
Bible alone for his guide in principle, however he may have failed in
the practice of it, and the result was at any rate a sound understanding
in general. Other weaknesses are the hyperspirituality which rejects the
gifts of God, and thinks to replace them with God himself, after the manner
of the Quakers, and a one-sided emphasis on grace, which slights human
obligation. I am thus careful to point out the weaknesses of Darby because
he is regarded by some as practically infallible, and this leads others
to despise him. It is certain, however, that Fundamentalism today stands
in need of the truth which Darby taught, and so, by the way, does Brethrenism.
He wrote on almost everything which could be of any concern to the church
Let the reader understand, I have paid due regard to both the emotions
and the intellect in compiling this list. I have not sacrificed the heart
for the sake of the mind, nor the mind for the sake of the heart. I have
not sacrificed zeal and fire for the sake of principle, nor principle
for the sake of zeal and fire. But understand also, the list must be taken
as a whole. If I could recommend but one, it would certainly be neither
Luther nor Darby, neither Charles Wesley nor Menno Simons, yet in a list
of a dozen they naturally take their place.
Finally, since none of us are obliged to read only a dozen authors, I
will mention a few more names which have come to mind for consideration
in compiling this list, for these are of profit also. Abel Stevens and
Luke Tyerman, historians of Methodism
----Merle D'Aubigne, warm-hearted
historian of the Reformation ----Gipsy Smith, a simple and childlike
man, who makes the heart burn ----William Tyndale, foremost of the
English Reformers, who would certainly be on the list if his doctrine
was equal to his spirit ----R. A. Torrey, the greatest of the Fundamentalists,
but one who never recovered from the baneful effects of his education,
and is therefore too intellectual, and too mechanical in his dealing with
truth ----and finally, C. H. Mackintosh, a warm and earnest expounder
of simple, practical truth, who deals well with heart, mind, and conscience.
Richard Cecil on Technical & Simple Interpretation
[Intellectualism is the bane alike of the theology, the preaching, and
the translating of the present day. One of the fruits of that intellectualism
is a technical interpretation of Scripture, which destroys its simplicity
and over-refines and perverts its message. To my own testimony against
this, I add that of Richard Cecil (1748-1810), an evangelical clergyman
in the Church of England. The following item is taken from Remains of
Richard Cecil, London: L. B. Seely and Son, 1825, pp. 298-299.
There are two different ways of treating the Truths of the Gospel
SCIENTIFIC and the SIMPLE. It was seriously given me in charge, when I
first entered into the Ministry, by a female who attended my Church, that
I should study Baxter's Catholic Theology. I did so: but the best
idea that I acquired from this labour was, that the most sagacious and
subtle man can make out little beyond the plain, obvious, and broad statement
of Truth in the Scriptures. I should think it a very proper and suitable
punishment for a conceited and pragmatical dogmatist, to oblige him to
digest that book. Another great truth, indeed, we may gather from it;
and that is, that the intemperate men, on either side, are very little
aware of the consequences, which may be legitimately drawn from their
principles. Even Dr. Owen has erred. I would not compare him, in this
respect, with Baxter; for he has handled his points with far greater wisdom
and simplicity: yet he errs ex abundanti. He attempts to make out things
with more accuracy, and clearness, and system, than the Bible will warrant.
The Bible scorns to be treated scientifically. After all your accurate
statements, it will leave you aground. The Bible does not come round and
ask our opinion of its contents. It proposes to us a Constitution of Grace,
which we are to receive, though we do not wholly comprehend it. Numberless
questions may be started on the various parts of this Constitution. Much
of it I cannot understand, even of what respects myself; but I am called
to act on it. And this is agreeable to analogy. My child will ask me questions
on the fitness or unfitness of what I enjoin; but I silence him: You
are not yet able to comprehend this: your business is, to believe me,
and obey me. But the Schoolmen will not be satisfied with this view
of things: yet they can make nothing out satisfactorily. They have their
de re, and their de nomine; but nothing is gained by these attempts at
clearness and nice distinctions. These very accurate men, who think they
adjust every thing with precision, cannot agree among one another, and
do little else than puzzle plainer minds.
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 position is to be learned from his own writings.