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Vol. 8, No. 4
Apr., 1999


by Glenn Conjurske

The character of Leah has been much glorified by certain teachers, whether as an obedient daughter, a holy type of the church, or even as an innocent sufferer, a martyr to Jacob's “inordinate love” for Rachel. We think all this to be a great mistake. We suppose that the brief description which we have in the Bible of the doings of this woman might be most aptly entitled, “The Ways and Fruits of Unbelief.”

But the understanding of this scripture has been much obscured by a wretched species of hyperspirituality, which fails to understand or refuses to acknowledge the workings of nature in the whole affair, and the commentators in general darken counsel by words without knowledge. Matthew Henry writes, “The learned bishop Patrick very well suggests here that the true reason of this contest between Jacob's wives for his company, and their giving him their maids to be his wives, was the earnest desire they had to fulfil the promise made to Abraham (and now lately renewed to Jacob), that his seed should be as the stars of heaven for multitude, and that in one seed of his, the Messiah, all the nations of the earth should be blessed. And he thinks it would have been below the dignity of this sacred history to take such particular notice of these things if there had not been some such great consideration in them.” John Gill repeats the same. I can only say, Let him believe it who can. I have no doubt that such hyperspiritual notions stand directly in the way of any proper understanding of the passage.

It is perfectly plain on the face of the text that Leah strove for her husband's love, and thought to gain it by bearing him children. Rachel no doubt wanted children because she was a woman, and so possessed of the same desire which resides in the heart of every other woman; but this desire was no doubt heightened by the fact that she supposed her superior position in the affections of her husband to be threatened by Leah's fruitfulness. A man might have told her that she had nothing to fear from that quarter, as Leah had nothing to gain by her childbearing, for a man's love can neither be gained nor lost by such a means. Yet these women evidently did not understand this, for women are apparently as prone to impute their own desires and feelings to men, as men are to impute theirs to women. These women, therefore, in wrestling with each other for their husband's love, do so by a means which could only prove entirely ineffectual. Leah bore one son, and said, “Now therefore my husband will love me,” yet no such event followed. When she bore the second she must still say, “Because the Lord hath heard that I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son also.” And when the third son was born, she says, “Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have borne him three sons.” Thus she kept up a vain hope, and though Leah gained nothing of Jacob's love by the bearing of these sons, yet Rachel evidently felt her own position threatened by it, and she must therefore strive in return.

We suppose that if Leah had been the sole wife of Jacob, and unloved as she was, she would soon have resigned the case as hopeless, and become indifferent to his attentions, as a myriad of other women have done, but the presence of a rival made this impossible. This kept her hope alive, while it excited all her feminine jealousies, and compelled her to competition. The one thing which was uppermost in her mind year after year after year was the fact that she was unloved and unwanted by her husband. This plainly appears in her naming of her sons, as it does also years afterwards in her saucy reply to Rachel's request for her son's mandrakes: “Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldest thou take my son's mandrakes also?” We hardly need speak of the patent injustice of the taunt. Leah may be pardoned for that. She was the thief herself, but it was too late to help it now, and the fact is, she had a need, deep-seated in her feminine nature, and no hope of its fulfilment, unless she could wring a little something from the grasp of her sister. “All's fair in love and war,” the proverb says, and this was both. “All's fair” because “Necessity knows no law,” as another proverb tells us. Leah had no right to complain of her sister stealing her husband, but we cannot deal hardly with her for it, for her need was the same as Rachel's, and she was driven to this by desperation. What exquisite pictures we have here of feminine nature and of feminine need, and yet to the hyperspiritual all this is beneath the dignity of the holy narrative, unless we can find in it some hidden spiritual sense! We shall never understand Scripture at this rate.

Speaking in the same hyperspiritual vein, of Leah's hiring of Jacob for a night with her son's mandrakes, Matthew Poole writes, “God hearkened unto Leah, notwithstanding her many infirmities,” which is true enough, but he adds, “Hence it appears that she was moved herein not by any inordinate lust, but by a desire of children.” Nothing of the sort “appears” at all to me. I believe no such thing. The doctrine of marital cohabitation “for children only” descends to us from some of the earliest of the “church fathers,” but it is as directly against the Bible as it is against human nature. It is no “inordinate lust” for a woman to desire her husband's love and attention, for its own sake, for God has planted that desire in her soul by creation, and neither could she be a help meet for man without it. When God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone,” this was not because he wanted children----nor a cook, nor a laundry maid either----but a lover, and it was a lover which God created for him. And being what she was by God's creation, it was a lover which she wanted herself, and not merely children. This was no “inordinate lust,” but a perfectly legitimate and scarcely avoidable desire. The hyperspirituality which treats human nature after Poole's fashion simply disqualifies itself from the understanding of Scripture, and from the gleaning of many of its moral lessons which are undoubtedly intended by the Spirit of God.

Now as the very foundation of those lessons, we must understand at the outset that what Leah did, in supplanting her sister for the possession of Jacob, was wrong. It was the sinful fruit of unbelief. And though Laban's hand was undoubtedly with her in the wrong which she did, yet it was her own act. She was either the author of it, or a willing accomplice----as Jacob was in carrying out his mother's scheme to supplant his brother. Leah allowed herself to be given to Jacob in her sister's stead. She concealed her identity from him until the morning light, that is, until she supposed it too late for him to reject her. This I regard as conclusive proof that she did not act against her will in the matter. She might easily enough have made known her identity. Indeed, it must have been with great difficulty that she concealed it. If she had had any desire or determination at all to reveal herself, she might have done so with the greatest of ease, and as it were accidentally, so as to excite no suspicions of her intent. If she was acting under orders from her father, she might have feared some punishment for revealing herself, but we hardly think he would have killed her or cast her out. And supposing he would have, still it were better to suffer than to sin. What Leah did was certainly sinful, and she certainly knew that it was, and though sin might be partially excused by the fear of consequences, it can never be wholly so. “A poor excuse,” an old proverb says, “is better than none,” and we do not believe that God will deal with those who sin under duress or fear, as with those who sin of their own free choice. Nevertheless, no sin is wholly excusable.

But supposing her father required this of her, was she not bound to obey him? Certainly not. No one is ever bound to sin. “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29). We are all under authority of some sort or other, but no authority ever has the right to require us to do wrong, and if they do so, we are bound to disobey, though it be at the cost of limb or life.

And surely none could be so destitute of moral sense as to suppose that what Laban required of her (if he required it) was right. What Laban did was wrong on two counts. First, it was against nature. Next, it was against righteousness.

As to the first of these, an old proverb very truly says, “Nature is the true law.” Now as nature had it, Jacob was in love with Rachel, not Leah. No parental manipulating could alter that. Jacob himself could not have transferred his affections from Rachel to Leah. Much less could Laban or Leah. To put Leah in Rachel's place was a sin against nature, and as such it was foolish. And it was as great a wrong to Leah as it was to Jacob or to Rachel. It gave to her a husband who was in love with her sister, and it is an absolute impossibility for any woman on earth to be happy in such a marriage. This step, then, being directly against nature, could only seal the unhappiness of Leah.

But in the next place, it was a plain sin against righteousness. Laban had contracted with Jacob for Rachel, not Leah. Seven long years Jacob had labored for Rachel, and to now put Leah in her place was the greatest wrong which could have been done to him, short of physical violence.

We know that Laban excused himself for it, saying, “It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn,” but this is the lamest excuse that ever was. In the first place, we do not believe that it was true. Jacob had labored seven long years for Rachel, and surely this was known in all the region. “Love and a cough cannot be hid,” and all men doubtless knew that it was Rachel whom Jacob loved, and for whom he labored. If there was any such custom as Laban pretends, surely Jacob would have known of it after seven years. Surely he would have discovered it. Surely some man would have informed him of it. Laban would not have dared to call together all the men of the place to celebrate the marriage of Rachel, directly in the teeth of such a custom. Neither would he have dared to call them all together to celebrate the marriage of Leah, when they all knew very well it was Rachel to whom Jacob was engaged. We do not believe there was any such custom.

But supposing there had been, it was now seven years too late for Laban to speak of it. Customs do not arise in the space of seven years. If there had been any such custom, in the nature of the case it must have been of long standing, and Laban was certainly aware of it when he contracted with Jacob for Rachel. Why did he not mention it then?

We do not believe that custom had anything to do with Laban's act. It is more likely that Leah was his favorite, and that he was determined to let her have her way, and so agreed with her to supplant her sister, as Jacob, being his mother's favorite, had formerly agreed with her to supplant his brother. If so, the whole affair was a most fitting scourge for Jacob for his own sin. But be that as it may, one thing is apparent, that Laban saw in this scheme a golden opportunity to secure the services of Jacob for another seven years. This was entirely in keeping with his character, and this may have been his whole motivation. But however the matter is to be explained, it is certain that Laban was wrong, that he sinned directly in the teeth of his own solemn covenant with Jacob.

And Leah was just as wrong. She certainly knew that Jacob had labored for Rachel. The proof that she knew it, if any proof were needed, lies in the fact that she concealed her identity till the morning light. There had been absolutely no occasion for this, except that she knew very well she was usurping the place of another. This was as sinful on her part as it was of Laban to require it of her. She certainly knew that while she lay in the arms of Jacob, her sister was ------------somewhere, weeping rivers of tears. She committed a disgraceful and dastardly offence against both Jacob and Rachel, and she certainly knew that she did. This was wrong, no matter who required it of her.

But we are not so sure that anyone required it of her. This may have been her own plot entirely, though Laban lent her his hand in the performance of it. We really do not know who was the author of the scheme, and who the accomplice. We do know that both were guilty.

But why would Leah have either devised this scheme, or lent herself to its working? Doubtless, she wanted a husband. To see her younger sister provided for, while she remained destitute, no doubt multiplied her desires----no doubt filled her with a sense of her inferiority, and a driving passion to prove herself. I have known just such cases as this. One of a set of twin girls was married, while the other remained without a prospect. It became the passion of the single girl to prove herself, and she took the first man who paid any attention to her, though it was generally believed that they were a mismatch.

Now if such is the case when one twin marries, how much more when it is a sister who is both younger and more beautiful? When Jacob came to their home, his heart was immediately taken by Rachel. Seven years he labored for her, and in all that seven years, no man had appeared to desire the hand of Leah. The need which she felt to prove herself----to prove that she could also be loved and wanted----no doubt grew stronger and stronger, till she resolved on this desperate plan----or willingly acquiesced in it.

We know it is generally assumed that Laban was behind all this, but the Scripture says nothing of that. We think it at any rate just as likely that Leah was the author of the scheme. She likely went to Laban pleading that she ought to have the husband, as she was the elder----and besides, it would be no great loss for Rachel to be deprived of him, as she was beautiful, and could easily enough get another.

These were no doubt the considerations which moved Leah, either to meditate this plan, or to agree to carry it out. She was wrong in either case. Matthew Henry tells us that some say she was nothing better than an adulteress. We think so too, but whether she was or no, it is certain that she was a deceiver, a supplanter, and a thief, and as such she was the fittest thing on earth to scourge Jacob for his own deceiving. He had once concealed his own identity, to deceive his father and supplant his brother, and now, many years later, all this is returned to his own bosom. We have remarked above that it could only have been with the greatest of difficulty that Leah concealed herself, and it is really almost astonishing that she could accomplish it at all. Darkness does not conceal everything. Was there nothing in her ways, her form, her size, her hair, to give her away? Surely her voice would have done it, and her very silence must have wrought pain in Jacob, if not suspicion. And if he somehow extracted a sigh or a sound from her, if he any way managed to draw but a whispered word from her, how must his heart have started with consternation at the unthinkable thought, “The voice is Leah's”!----while the candle of the Lord within him cast its unflickering beams upon the memory of the puzzled utterance of his old blind father, “The voice is Jacob's.” In complicity with his mother he had practiced his deceptions on his old father, to supplant his own brother, concealed by the dimness of his father's eyes, and now for his recompense, in complicity with her father, Leah practices her deceptions upon himself, to supplant her own sister, concealed by the dimness of the night. “It is easy to observe here,” says Matthew Henry, “how Jacob was paid in his own coin. He had cheated his own father when he pretended to be Esau, and now his father-in-law cheated him. Herein, how unrighteous soever Laban was”----and I add, how unrighteous soever Leah was----”the Lord was righteous.” And Bishop Hall in his beautiful Contemplations remarks on the same event, “God comes oftentimes home to us in our own kind; and even by the sin of others pays us our own, when we look not for it.” Though she intended nothing less, Leah's sin was a righteous scourge to Jacob, as it was indeed a righteous scourge to herself for many years to come.

But to proceed. That Leah's course was sinful is too plain to be denied, and if we look to the root of this sin we shall find, as we always find, that it was nothing other than unbelief, which can never wait upon God for the blessing, but must take it for itself, and always with a hand defiled by sin. Faith has no compulsion, no occasion to do wrong. Faith can wait upon God, and look to him for the desired blessing. It can wait patiently, though long denied. Unbelief is unable to do this, but always contrives and schemes and makes haste to secure the blessing for itself, and invariably does wrong in the process. Faith can safely take the low place. It can take the back seat. It can rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him, though it is denied and deprived and disappointed, and though all its rivals prosper. By faith Leah could have remained in the back seat, while her younger sister secured the husband which she so much craved herself. By faith she could have fretted not to see her sister----and her younger sister----exalted, while she remained destitute. If the whole scheme was her father's, yet faith would have refused anything to do with it, as faith in Jacob would have refused his mother's scheme to obtain the blessing. Faith in Leah would have found food in the very prosperity of her rival, for the God who brought a husband from a far country for her sister could provide for her own need also.

But Leah had nothing of this faith. She must therefore scheme and supplant and sin. These are the ways of unbelief. But unbelief has consequences also, and these are always bitter. Leah no doubt promised herself something passing sweet when she schemed to steal her sister's husband, but all she secured was that in all her life she should never taste the pure delights of marriage. All her scheming was only to get out of the frying pan into the fire. What enjoyment did she have, what happiness did she find, in her stolen marriage? All her pains were taken to secure a man who was in love with her sister, and it is outside the realm of possibility for a woman to be happy in such a marriage.

What enjoyment did she find as the fruit of her unbelief and sin? Surely none on her wedding night, when every moment she was smitten by an outraged conscience, tormented every moment with fears that she would be discovered and shamed and rejected after all, while she must kiss and embrace her stolen husband with never a sound or a sigh, scarcely daring to breathe, and certainly not daring to give him a hint as to the reason of her stubborn and unnatural shyness----knowing, too, that all his tokens of love were intended for her sister. Surely there was no happiness here.

Neither could she have found any in the one week of her life in which she was permitted to have Jacob to herself, when she knew that at the close of that week her fair and loved rival was coming to dispute her possession of her husband. And surely she found nothing of the bliss of marriage then, when her whole life must be blighted with the constant consciousness that Rachel was loved, and “Leah was hated.” What marital bliss was this, when she must buy a little of her husband's attention from her sister, with her son's mandrakes?

Rachel died young, but even then Leah was not left in possession of the field, for her wrestlings with her sister had thrust two concubines into her husband's bosom, and she must now share him with these, though her first rival was out of the way.

'Tis a great pity, and indeed a great wonder, that Leah did not foresee all this misery, and refuse that fatal act which produced it, but the fact is, unbelief has never yet been reasonable. It is moved by passion, not reason. The present need is all its thought, and future consequences are left to shift for themselves. Future happiness is bartered for present gratification. A birthright is bartered for a mess of pottage. The pleasures for evermore at God's right hand are bartered for the pleasures of sin for a season. This is the way of unbelief, and it was certainly the way of Leah on the night in which she stole her sister's husband.

The lessons of the life of Leah are plain. The record cries aloud that sin does not pay. The fruits of unbelief are bitter. It is better to trust in the Lord and do good, than to scheme for ourselves and do evil. The scheming and grasping of unbelief will never secure the good which God has to give. How much better off would Leah have been to remain destitute, and patiently waiting upon the Lord for a husband who loved her, than to make haste to be married to one who did not. The former she might have had by faith. The latter was all that her unbelieving schemes could secure. The graspings of unbelief may obtain many things, but they will all be encumbered with sorrows.

Leah has been much condemned by some for giving her maid to her husband, and the more because she said, “God hath given me my hire, because I have given my maiden to my husband.” But this statement indicates that this was neither a light matter nor a deliberate wrong on her part. It was surely something she felt in the depth of her soul, and something which was foremost therefore in her mind. It was another tactic in her war of desperation, and no doubt resorted to after a long and severe struggle. No woman glibly gives her maid to her husband. She was as it were fighting fire with fire. Her case was desperate, and she must therefore sacrifice the most tender and sacred feelings of her feminine nature, in order to endeavor to buy a little satisfaction for those feelings. She no doubt wept a river of tears in the process, and who could be so hard of heart as not to weep with her? She obviously viewed her giving of her maid to her husband as a noble self-sacrifice, and expected the blessing of God for it. We are not prepared to say how much there may have been of faith in this, and how much of unbelief. One thing is certain, that her act is a display of the depth of her need, and the desperation of her plight, and that plight was the bitter and long-lingering fruit of her sin.

Yet in the midst of all this scourging, and all this suffering of the bitter consequences of her sin and unbelief, still God is merciful to Leah. “And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb.” “Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction,” she said, and no doubt with perfect truth. And once more, “The Lord hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived.” The Lord did not upbraid her for her strivings with her sister. He did not admonish her (as some hyperspiritual preachers would do) that her striving for her husband's love was too petty a thing to occupy the energies of an immortal spirit, and that she ought to set her affections on things above, and leave carnal things to the carnal. No such thing. However petty her strife with her sister might appear to the cold and unfeeling and hyperspiritual, it was not petty to her, and neither was it petty to the God who loved her. It was the natural outgrowth of a deprived feminine nature, and the God who created that nature was touched with the achings and the burnings of her disappointed heart. The Lord did not require her to feel and act as an angel, when she was but a woman. What woman could feel any otherwise than Leah did, if placed in the same circumstances? Though she had put herself in that trying place, by her own unbelief and her own wrong, and must therefore drink a long draft of suffering, yet God is merciful, and if he cannot give her the husband's love which she craves, he will at any rate give her some compensation for the lack of it, in the children which she sought. “God hearkened unto Leah,” in the midst of all her weakness, for he is not relentless, and he will not only give her to drink freely of all of his goodness to all eternity, but allow her to taste of it even in this life, though here she must be scourged for her unbelief also.

A Non-Threatening Message

by Glenn Conjurske

Not long ago an acquaintance informed me that the evangelical church which he attends invites strangers in to hear “a non-threatening message.” Not long after this I heard from his wife that they were trying to get to know the people at the church, but that this was a little hard, as they were “just coming in off the street from everywhere.” This “non-threatening message,” then, is evidently one of the keys to success. This should come as no surprise to those who know the truth, for in spiritual matters compromise is always a key to success. “Men love darkness rather than light.” Light, in its very nature, threatens darkness, and those who love darkness will scarcely tolerate this. Much less will they come to the light, “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” (John 3:20).

But to be short, anyone who preaches a “non-threatening message” must assume that sin is of little consequence. Either man does not love it, or God does not hate it. It is, in fact, no issue. The gospel does not present a “sin question,” but a “Son question.” Men may be saved without dealing with their sins. They may be saved from hell without being saved from their sins. Salvation by faith evidently has nothing to do with believing the Bible, for as a plain matter of fact, the Bible is full of threatenings. The apostles of Christ evidently knew nothing of any non-threatening message.

Paul says, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.” (I Cor. 16:22). This would seem to threaten those who love him not.

Paul writes again, “And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” (II Thes. 1:7-9). We suppose that those who obey not the gospel might feel “threatened” by such language.

Peter informs us, “But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” (II Pet. 3:7). We see not how ungodly men could fail to be much threatened by such a message.

“Woe unto them!” says Jude, with little ceremony, “for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.” (Jude 11-13). We suppose this might be considered a threat.

There is no need to enlarge. Who that has ever read the Bible could dream of finding a non-threatening message in it? Those who preach such things must first throw the Bible overboard----half of it, at any rate, and if we may throw half of it overboard at pleasure, what reason is their in retaining the other half? We think rather with the great George Whitefield, “If you would have Christ as good as his word of promise, remember he will be as good as his word of threatening.” This is no more than reason.

How anyone who believes in death and hell as the wages of sin can preach a non-threatening message must remain one of the grand mysteries of the universe. And how a church which preaches such a message can call itself evangelical is another. We may be thought uncharitable, but for all that we frankly avow that though we put on all the charity and courtesy which we possess, and though we adopt the most non-threatening attitude of which we are capable, still we are obliged to affirm that “evangelical” in these degenerate times is too often but a soft term for “liberal.”

We might suggest an alternative to this non-threatening message. Such churches might dismiss such preachers, and look for a prophet of God. The former they might do in five minutes. Finding a prophet is another matter, for prophets are scarce, but we supppose that if folks are earnest about it, they might find or make one, given time enough. And having done that, they might print up some such invitations as the following:

Come and Hear the Preaching
of the

Which will threaten & thrash & torment you,

Ah, you say, but this would defeat the purpose. This would keep the people from coming. We are not so sure of that. It would at any rate elicit the respect of serious souls, while the namby-pamby twaddle which is commonly preached by Evangelicals, coupled with the cheap subterfuges which they use to trick people into hearing it, excites only contempt. We think the world itself may be sick of an anemic and half serious religion which requires nothing of them. Wise men are accustomed to value things in relation to their cost, and these at any rate are likely to perceive that a religion which costs nothing is worth nothing. It is a historic fact that liberalism has emptied the churches, while the preaching of the prophets of God has drawn the people. John the Baptist preached no “non-threatening message” when he ushered in “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” (Mark 1:1) with such things as, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Luke 3:7)----and yet all Judaea went out into the wilderness to hear him.

From this it may appear that there are other keys to success besides softness and compromise. Faithfulness and plain speaking may succeed also. When Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead by the holy hand of God, the rest of the liars in the region, and all the ungodly in general, felt so “threatened” by this that “of the rest durst no man join himself to them”----and yet for all that “believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” (Acts 5:13-14).

Billy Sunday preached no “non-threatening message.” At the very outset of his career a reporter wrote of him, “He makes no compromise with the world, the flesh or the devil, and sends plenty of hot shot into the ranks of sinners.” And so he continued for many years. “He calls things by their right names, even if to do so he has to use words that almost burn and blister. It is doubtful if any living preacher can pour out such a stream of red-hot and sizzling adjectives to show the scorn and withering contempt he feels for all that bears the name of sin as Billy Sunday.” “Portraying most vividly, by word and action, the character of the sin he denounces, he shoots into the audience volley after volley of gospel hot shot, until many before him pale and tremble with conviction.”

This hardly looks “non-threatening.” And what was the result? The building never existed which was large enough to hold the crowds which came to hear him. Special trains ran from the outlying areas to the places of his meetings, for the sole purpose of bringing loads of passengers to hear him preach. Other activities were set aside while he was in town. “For more than seven weeks hundreds of business men had neglected their private affairs; for an equal period social engagements were disregarded or side-tracked,” while the whole populace flocked to hear Billy Sunday, who “flayed with scalding invective every sort of wickedness.”

And the people knew very well they would be flayed by his preaching. Many sinners therefore vowed never to attend. Others bolstered their vows with wagers, some betting a hundred dollars that they would never set foot in Sunday's tabernacle. Yet for all that they went, losing their bet, and their hide too, for the prophet of God flayed them with the sword of the Spirit.

But perhaps I cloud the issue. Success is not the issue. We are bound to be faithful, success or no success. We are bound to threaten with everlasting perdition every sinner who will not repent of his sins. We are bound to preach that “if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.” (Rom. 8:13). We are bound to proclaim that “the wages of sin is death,” and bound also to define “sin” just as Almighty God defines it. We are bound to proclaim with Paul that “the works of the flesh are manifest, which are THESE: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and SUCH LIKE: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which DO SUCH THINGS shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:19-21). No doubt many will feel threatened by such a message. This will “threaten” even many “believers,” and “born-again” Catholics and Charismatics and Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, who confess the Lord in word, but in works deny him. These will certainly go away to greener pastures, where they may be rocked to sleep in the devil's cradle, and taught that they may have their sins and heaven too. Ah, what a pleasant, dreamy sleep is this!----but the awakening will be of another sort. We prefer to awaken men while yet they have space to repent. This may perchance curtail our success, but whatever success it brings us will at any rate be solid and enduring. Any other success is not worth having.


Stray Notes on the English Bible

by the Editor



The word “corn” in our day has a narrower meaning than it had in the past----at least in America. Where it now means a certain kind of grain or vegetable, formerly known as maize, “corn” used to stand for grain in general, or for “a grain” of anything, such as “a corn of sand,” or “a peppercorn.” This being the case, the modern versions in general have altered “corn” to “grain.” More than thirty years ago, when I was a student at Bible school, I was assigned to teach Sunday School at an American Baptist church. The pastor was an Evangelical of a sort----a graduate of Moody Bible Institute----but so thoroughly enamored with the American Baptist Convention that he could scarcely pass an hour without praising it. He employed the modernistic Sunday School literature of the Convention, and I was obliged to spend much of my class time----teaching high school students----refuting the printed material. The pastor also endeavored to thrust in the modernistic Revised Standard Version, but some of the people objected to this. I recall hearing one of the men vent his disapproval quite forcefully after one of the meetings, saying, “Corn is corn----and forsooth not grain.

But he was as mistaken on this as he was ignorant in general. The fact is, corn is grain. It does not necessarily follow, however, that we ought to so render it in the Bible----at least not in all cases. We suppose that spiritual minds would be extremely reluctant to relinquish such familiar expressions as “the old corn of the land” or “the ox that treadeth out the corn”----much less “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone.” It may be that in less familiar passages we might profitably alter the word to “grain,” but meanwhile we think it proper to teach the people concerning the actual meaning of the word “corn.” A few examples of its historical usage may suffice for this.

The familiar “grain of mustard seed” in our Bibles is “a corne of syneuey” in the Wycliffe Bible----variously spelled, of course----and in the Anglo-Saxon “an senepes corn.”

The “bare grain” of I Cor. 15:37 is “bare corn” in all the early English Bibles (”nakid corne” in Wycliffe), till the Roman Catholic Rheims version altered it to “bare graine.” And this text well illustrates the old sense of the term. The Bishops' Bible, for example, reads here, “And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shalbe, but bare corne, as of wheate, or of some other.” Corn, then, is wheat, or some other grain.

“The harvest of the earth” in Revelation 14:15 is “the corne of the erth” in Tyndale.

George Joye renders the latter part of Isaiah 28:25 thus: “and aftyr warde sowe it orderly now with whete and then with barley and so forth withe other corne acordinge to the strength of ye soyle.”

Bishop Hall, who was contemporary with the production of the King James Version, writes in his Occasional Meditations, under the title “Vpon the fanning of Corne,” “See how in the fanning of this Wheat, the fullest and greatest graines lye ever the lowest,” etc. Corn, then, is grain.

The same usage prevailed till a much later date. In the Guardian for 1870, under the regular heading of “CORN EXCHANGE,” we read, “Last week's foreign arrivals were heavy in oats, good in wheat and barley, and moderate in other grains.” The same usage appeared until the turn of the century, and I would guess much later, though I have no papers at hand to check it. I do, however, have a dictionary, the Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, dated 1967 (the latest which I possess), which defines “corn” (in part) as “a small hard particle: GRAIN; a small hard seed; the seeds of a cereal grass and esp. of the important cereal crop of a particular region (as in Britain wheat, in Scotland and Ireland oats, and in the New World and Australia Indian corn).”

Returning to our English Bible, the “corn of wheat” which must fall into the ground and die has been long familiar to the saints, and the expression must be much endeared to those who have any depth of spiritual experience. On that account, then, it ought by all means to be retained. Neither is there any sufficient reason to alter it, as all the modern versions have done, for whatever the ignorant may think when they read of “corn in Egypt”----however forcibly they may proclaim that “corn is corn----there is not the slightest danger here of anyone taking corn to mean maize. A corn of wheat must of necessity be a grain of wheat. This verse, then, actually provides a key to the understanding of the word----provides it at any rate for any who will pay attention and think. And frankly, we do not suppose that the Bible, no matter how simplified, can possibly be of much use to anyone else. The book in its nature requires us to be attentive, observant, and thoughtful, and to attempt to so simplify it as to suit those who are not so is really labor lost. We may rewrite Milton in the language of first-graders, but they will not understand him for all that. Much less will the careless and thoughtless understand the word of God, simplify it as we may. Why should we labor to procure so much loss for the spiritual, for the sake of the unspiritual, when the latter are not even likely to profit from our pains?

The Making of Many Hymn Books

by Glenn Conjurske

The longer I live the more deeply I feel the great evil of “the making of many books.” It seems to me a great crime to flood the world with books (and booklets and pamphlets and magazines and “newsletters”) which are shallow, mediocre, and unsound, thus obliging every seeker of wisdom and edification to sort through ten bushels of chaff in order to find one corn of wheat. Even if we had a thousand years to live, or a thousand lives, it would be a pity to have to spend them thus.

But as it is with the making of every other kind of book, so also with the making of hymn books. A few days ago I started to look through a hymn book called The Silver Trumpet, edited by H. L. Gilmour and R. Kelso Carter, and published in 1889 by John J. Hood of Philadelphia. I began to read the Introduction, and met with these words:

“If Solomon could say in his day, 'of making many books there is no end,' what would he say if he could come back and stay with us long enough to look over the list of the publications of the present age?

“That we are making many books is especially true in the department of christian song. But the Songsters of Zion are noted for their bigness of heart, and they are ever ready to welcome one more into the number that with melodious songs invite sinners to Jesus, and press believers to penetrate the Beulah land of religious experience.”

Well, yes. We deeply feel the real poverty of the church in this department, and are indeed always more than ready to welcome new hymns, if they are good ones----but really, we have little heart to welcome another bushel of chaff. The fact is, there is a great moral fault in publishing what is mediocre or worthless. This is doubtless usually the fruit of pride, and it is certainly a failure to comply with the commandment of God. The Bible says, “For I say, through the grace that is given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” (Rom. 12:3). “Not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think”----that is, not to suppose that he has abilities which he has not, not to suppose his performances to be worth publishing, when in fact they are common and mediocre. This scripture not only makes us responsible to thus think soberly concerning our own gifts and abilities, but assumes also that we may be capable of doing so.

Not that I suppose every man actually has this capability. Far from it. If every man both could and would judge objectively concerning his own abilities and performances, the making of many books would abruptly cease, and there would be no occasion for the writing of this article. The church would not then be flooded with unprofitable literature and mediocre hymns. But how do men acquire this ability, to think no more highly of themselves than they ought to think? That question is easier asked than answered. Doubtless by humility. Doubtless by maturity, by depth, by wisdom, and by understanding----all of which take time to acquire. Meanwhile there is no end to the making of many books, and of many hymns.

From my own very small collection of hymn books, amounting to less than 300 titles, I could compile a hymnal containing 20,000 hymns----but at least 19,000 of them would be shallow and mediocre at best, in words, or music, or both, and another five or six hundred, though containing poetic worth or musical merit, would also contain doctrinal confusion. And many which are sound are nevertheless cold and dry and empty.

But one of the great evils here is that men and women who were actually gifted of God, and who actually wrote some of the most excellent poetry or music which we now possess, did not have sense enough to repress the mediocre, while they published the excellent. Evidently they had not the grace to think no more highly of themselves than they ought to have thought. They supposed that whatever flowed from their pens or their pianos was worthy of publication. They must publish all, and so flood the church with thousands of hymns which ought never to have seen the light of day. I refer to the writers of some of our best hymns, such as Charles H. Gabriel, Mrs. C. H. Morris, William J. Kirkpatrick, J. Lincoln Hall, and others of their caliber. Persons looking through an ordinary selection of hymns can have no idea how many hymns these writers put to the press. In any ordinary hymn book they will find only a few of the best. But to make that selection of the best, someone had to wade through thousands of another sort. Fanny Crosby alone wrote over eight thousand hymns (words only), a large number of which went to the press. A discerning critic says of her, “It is more to Mrs. Van Alstyne's credit as a writer that she has occasionally found a pearl than that she has brought to the surface so many oyster shells.”

Observe, “occasionally.” It is scarcely possible for any writer of sacred poetry to do much better than this. Even the great Charles Wesley, who is hardly to be equalled for spiritual fervor and poetic genius, produced a great deal of chaff. Why cannot poets, composers, and authors have sense enough to publish what is worthy, and suppress the rest? Have they no waste baskets? Do not the plain commands of Scripture require this of us? Is it doing all things to edification, to publish the dull and mediocre? Is this not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think? Had I inclination, and time for it, I could doubtless write as many hymns as Fanny Crosby and Charles Wesley wrote----and music too, which they never attempted----but it would be a positive sin for me to do so. I have written a few hymns which I have put in print, and given to the church, but I have written others (both words and music) which I have consigned to oblivion without ever committing them to paper. It would have been wrong to do otherwise. They had no merit. Those pieces which I have written which I judge to possess any worth are generally those which I have written with floods of tears. I have one piece in my hands which I wrote twenty years ago, but I have not even included it in my own hymn book. My children sing it, and some others have asked for copies of it. The poetry is good, and the substance solid. The music is suitable, and not unpleasing, though hardly first-rate. Yet I feel that there is something missing in it. It lacks the warmth, the spirit, the unction which a hymn ought to have. Perhaps others might not feel this, but I feel it, and can only explain it by the fact that I wrote it without tears. Whatever the reason, I question whether it is worthy of a place in the hymns of the church, and therefore I have kept it out. In this I believe I am doing no more than God positively requires of me. I have no right (and no desire, by the way) to contribute to the mountain of chaff under which the church groans already.

Now I believe that if Gabriel and Hoffman and Kirkpatrick and Sweney and Fanny Crosby and Mrs. Morris had held the same standards for themselves that I feel bound to hold for myself, most of their productions would never have seen the light of day, and we had at any rate been spared the making of so many hymn books. As the matter stands, for all their writing and printing and publishing and selling, the stock of good hymns in the church has only been increased by a few.

J. C. Ryle wrote, in 1868, “But really good hymns are exceedingly rare. There are only a few men in any age who can write them. You may name hundreds of first-rate preachers for one first-rate writer of hymns. Hundreds of so-called hymns fill up our collections of congregational psalmody, which are really not hymns at all. They are very sound, very scriptural, very proper, very correct, very tolerably rhymed; but they are not real, live, genuine hymns. There is no life about them. At best they are tame, pointless, weak, milk-and-watery. In many cases, if written out straight, without respect of lines, they would make excellent prose. But poetry they are not. It may be a startling assertion to some ears to say that there are not more than two hundred first-rate hymns in the English language; but startling as it may sound, I believe it is true.”

And if there are only a few men in any age who can write first-rate hymns, it is a plain fact that they cannot write one every day, or every week. Those intangible, undefinable qualities which make good poetry ----the life, and power, and freshness, and unction----these can no more be produced by any mechanical means than they can be judged by a mechanical standard. Such hymns are produced in the crucible, or it may be on the mountaintop. They are wrung from the soul by deep anguish, or flow spontaneously from the soul in times of deep spiritual experience. David's psalms are mostly of this character, and after all, he wrote but few of them in comparison with many modern writers of hymns. Cleland Boyd McAfee is remembered for only one of the many things which he penned, the hymn “Near to the Heart of God.” His brother's two little daughters had died of diptheria in one day. Grief was too deep to say anything, yet how could he not? He wrote the words and music of that hymn, taught it to his choir, and took them to sing it by night under the window of his brother's darkened and quarantined house. It would be impossible to conceive anything more perfectly adapted to the situation. And the music, subdued in tone, is so perfectly adapted to the words that we stand in awe. But observe, McAfee wrote that hymn when a young man, and never wrote another like it----though he wrote many which were inferior. Such hymns are born in the crucible, and cannot be produced any otherwise.

H. G. Spafford, so far as I know, wrote but one hymn, that excellent piece which is known by everybody----as indeed it ought to be----entitled “It is Well with My Soul.” He wrote that hymn upon receiving a telegram informing him that all his children had been lost at sea, his wife alone being saved. This is a real hymn, but this is not the same thing as turning out songs and poems glibly and daily or weekly. Accomplished poets and composers may easily do the latter, but there is more of detriment than of blessing in it for the church of God.

And observe, Ryle's excellent remarks refer only to the words of the hymns. The hymnals which he published contained no music at all, but words only. It was common in old times to sing the words to whatever tunes would fit, using one tune for numerous hymns, and often the same words to a number of different tunes. The church has (wisely and fortunately, I believe) altered her practice in that, and we must have one tune permanently wedded to each piece of poetry. We must therefore have both good words and good (and suitable) music, wedded together in one piece. This is hard to find, and hard to produce. It is true (fortunately or unfortunately) that good music may lend its own dignity and beauty to the most common of words, but still we must insist that there be more in our hymns than mere fluff, nor can we tolerate doctrinal confusion, no matter how pleasing the sound. On the other hand, it may be that words which are deep and moving may lend a little of their own excellence to mediocre music, but this will not go very far, and as a general rule no hymn can live without good music.

But where are we to get good music? In going through old hymn books, I find it much easier to find acceptable words than acceptable music. This is no doubt just reversed in modern hymn books, but many of the older books are literally filled with dull and mediocre music (to use no stronger terms)----and most of it written by our well-known composers of sacred song. We do not fault them for not writing better. To write pleasing music is a much more difficult thing than it is to write good poetry. To produce the body of a song is mechanical and easy. To produce a song with a soul is another matter. Anyone can string notes together, but writing music is another thing, and this is an ability which cannot be acquired by any process known to man, nor exercised at will if we have it. Neither study, nor practice, nor experience will help us much here----though prayer might. The ability is inscrutable, undefinable, and inexplicable----to me at least.

But what of that? We can all recognize good music when we hear it, and though there is something of individual taste in this, it yet remains a fact that some songs are pleasing to almost everybody, while others are pleasing to almost nobody. Anyone with a little experience and sense can tell the difference. I have gone through the music in scores of hymn books, my wife playing the piano while I listened, and I can positively affirm that a piece of truly good music stands out like a mountain peak among the rest. As unaccountable as this may be----and it is unaccountable to me----I have often been able to recognize a truly excellent piece of music after hearing only the first three or four notes. I have held my breath as my wife played on, more than half expecting the initial effect to be spoiled by the rest of the piece, but have been most pleasantly disappointed in that, finding the excellence to be sustained throughout. It is not difficult to recognize good music.

Why then have our best composers published so much music which is dull and mediocre? We do not fault them for not writing better, but we do fault them for publishing the worse. Methinks this is a positive wrong to the church of God. They must make hymn books, and if they cannot write good music for such poetry as they have in hand, they will publish bad. We might readily excuse this----IF the words were so excellent as really to call for publication. We might then excuse them for printing such music as they could, for the sake of excellent and powerful poetry, but why should they publish dull and mediocre music as the vehicle for dull and trite and shallow words? There is really no excuse for this. I have certain poetry in hand for which I have sat down at the piano and composed music perhaps a hundred times, much of it doubtless as good as plenty which I have seen in hymn books, and yet I never once committed it to paper, for I knew well that it was not good enough. Surely our great composers----who have written some of our most excellent music----might have known the same concerning much of the music which they put to paper. But they evidently exercised no carefulness about the matter. Charles H. Gabriel made his scanty living writing hymns, and wrote one song a day! Thus we are left with bushels of chaff, which we must sort through in search of the wheat.

But if it is bad to have our best composers writing too much music, it is worse still to have those who are no composers at all filling sheets of paper with musical notes. We suppose that modern pride, modern affluence, modern technology, and modern education have largely augmented this evil. I may remark here that in music as in most every other sphere, what are called “self-made” men are usually vastly superior to the “educated” variety. Ira D. Sankey was universally acknowledged as the greatest of the gospel singers. Moody's son-in-law says of him, “Of all the gospel singers I have heard Ira D. Sankey was the greatest, and I have heard them all except P. P. Bliss, who was killed in a railroad accident in 1876. Others have had more polished voices, more musical technique, but even at the age of about 50 Mr. Sankey could capture an audience more quickly with his resonant voice and hold them spell-bound or Spirit-bound more fully than any singer I ever heard.” Yet of the same man we also read, “Mr. Sankey has never studied music under the guidance of any instructor. His hymns have always been sung as naturally as a bird warbles.”

Charles H. Gabriel, whom his fellow-composer E. O. Sellers calls “Composer Pre-eminent,” “had never taken a music lesson in his life.”

There is good reason why such things are so. I pass over the fact that these “self-made men” might generally better be styled “God-made men,” while those of the educated sort are rather “man-made men,” for there is a very proper sense in which “self-made men” are actually “self-made.” They are men whose soul is engaged in the matter, and who therefore press forward with energy and determination through every difficulty to learn what they must in order to do as they would. Such men commonly tower above the educated sort as a grand mountain peak towers above so many hillocks. The educated men are given the mechanics with which to perform the work, while they more often than not have nothing of the soul of the matter throbbing in their veins.

Yet the possession of the bare mechanics of the thing causes them to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think. They aspire to be mountains, when they are but hills. It is a plain fact of life and of history that God makes but few shepherds, and many sheep. But give a mechanical education to those many sheep, and they will all set up to be shepherds. God may make only one leader for thousands of followers----and in the field of music the proportion of leaders is certainly much smaller than in some other fields. A little mechanical knowledge, however, turns many of the followers into would-be leaders, and the leading which they do is of course poor enough. Hymns and hymn books are multiplied, which are commonplace and mediocre at the best, and which in fact ought never to have existed at all. The plain fact is, at all times, in all places, and under all conditions, to think no more highly of ourselves than we ought to think will for the most of God's saints mean to be content to be followers, and let God's leaders lead.

We know how unpopular such doctrine will be in this land where all men are so steeped in democratic principles, and democratic pride besides. Yet “Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?” (I Cor. 9:8). That very passage of Scripture which is pressed into service to make every man in the church a preacher----I mean I Corinthians 14----stands directly against such a notion. It says, “Let the prophets speak, two or three.” There is no “open meeting” here, nor any “open ministry,” but those only speaking who are gifted of God for it, and not many even of them. Yet as Ryle says, “You may name hundreds of first-rate preachers for one first-rate writer of hymns.” What then? Just this: the making of many hymns and many hymn books is a great evil.

And yet the making of many hymn books goes on as glibly as ever, there being “no end” in sight. Nay, modern wealth and modern technology and modern pride have greatly augmented the evil. The facilities for making and printing hymns are greatly increased, while the capacity to judge of their worth is greatly decreased. Therefore no doubt the flood of worthless and positively detrimental music and poetry will continue, till it all goes up in smoke when it is tried by fire before the judgement seat of Christ. Methinks, however, that a great many writers of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” would fare a good deal better in that day if they would send their productions up in smoke long before that day arrives. Well, I must answer for myself, and thou, reader, for thyself. May God give us grace to think no more highly of ourselves, our gifts, and our performances, than we ought to think.

The Wisdom of Lorenzo Dow

by Glenn Conjurske

Lorenzo Dow began his preaching career among the Methodists, but being of an independent spirit, he was impatient of their authority, and early left them, to travel the country at large as an evangelist. “At his death in the Thirties,” according to his biographer, “he was probably the most widely travelled man in America, and certainly the most widely known.” His eccentricities no doubt contributed more than anything else to his notoriety. In some of his eccentric acts, however, we may see examples of the best sort of wisdom. He was reputed to have supernatural powers, but the fact was, he simply knew human nature. He knew the heart and the conscience of the human race, and knew what men would do in certain circumstances. This was the strength of many of the old Methodist preachers. Most of them had little enough of book learning, but they had a better wisdom. I give a few examples from the life of Lorenzo:

When a young man, David Marks crossed paths with Lorenzo----both of them itinerating to preach the gospel. Young Marks attended several of Lorenzo's meetings, sat with him on the platform, had some conversation with him, and preached to the crowds which gathered to hear the well known man.

Thereupon Marks relates, “The next morning, hearing a wagon pass at break of day, I arose and looking out at a window, saw Lorenzo, who had lodged at another house, hastening on his way to Tully corner, seven miles distant, where he had an appointment at eight o'clock, A. M. I made ready, went to the place, and called at a public house. The landlord met me at the door, and said; 'Are you the Levite?' As I queried concerning his meaning, he said; 'Mr. Dow called for breakfast for himself, his wife, and a little Levite, that he said would soon come.' He then led me to the room where Lorenzo and his wife were seated at the table. Lorenzo said, 'There comes the Levite.' A seat, plate, &c. had already been prepared for me, though I had not intimated to any one the slightest intention of coming to the place at this hour.”

This is a very plain example of the wisdom of which I speak. The simple fact is, Lorenzo knew his man. He knew what to expect from him, and he was not mistaken. And this he knew though he had but slight acquaintance with David Marks, for he knew human nature. Such knowledge is not gained from books, but from observation, experience, and meditation.

Another example is given by the publisher of Lorenzo's Works, as follows:

The Cock and the Dinner Pot

One night after Mr. Dow had retired to bed, after a hard day's travel, in the western part of Virginia, a number of persons collected in the bar-room to enjoy their usual revelries, as was the custom in that part of the country. At a late hour in the night, the alarm was given that one of the company had lost his pocket book, and a search proposed. Whereupon the landlord remarked, that Lorenzo Dow was in the house, and that if the money was there, he knew that Lorenzo could find it. The suggestion was instantly received with approbation, and accordingly Mr. Dow was aroused from his slumber, and brought forth to find the money. As he entered the room, his eyes ran through the company with searching enquiry, but nothing appeared that could fix guilt upon any one. The loser appeared with a countenance expressive of great concern, and besought Mr. Dow, for heaven's sake, to find him his money. “Have any left the company since you lost your money,” said Mr. Dow. “None,” said the loser, “none!” “Then,” said Lorenzo, turning to the landlady, “go and bring me your large dinner pot.” This created no little surprise. But as supernatural powers were universally conceded, his directions were unhesitatingly obeyed. Accordingly the pot was brought forward, and set in the middle of the room. “Now,” said Lorenzo, “go and bring the old chicken-cock from the roost.” This was also done, and at Lorenzo's directions, the cock placed in the pot, and covered over with a board, or lid. “Let the doors now be fastened, and the lights extinguished,” said Mr. Dow, which was also done. “Now,” said he, “every person in the room must rub his hands hard against the pot, and when the guilty hand touches, the cock will crow.” Accordingly, all came forward, and rubbed, or pretended to rub against the pot. But no cock crew. “Let the candles now be lighted,” said Lorenzo, “there is no guilty person here. If the man ever had any money, he must have lost it some place else. But stop,” said Lorenzo, when all things were prepared, “let us now examine the hands.” This was the important part of his arrangement. For on examination, it was found that one man had not rubbed against the pot. The others' hands being black with the soot of the pot, was a proof of their innocence. “There,” said Lorenzo, pointing to the man with clean hands, “there is the man who picked your pocket.” The culprit, seeing his detection, at once acknowledged his guilt, and gave up the money.

This looks very much like the wisdom of Solomon. Solomon did not know the two women who were brought before him, but he knew human nature. He knew a mother's heart, and knew that that heart is the same in every mother, though she be a harlot. Lorenzo knew the workings of the human conscience, and knew therefore that the guilty party would be afraid to touch the dinner pot. He knew also that the rooster would not crow in the dark, so that the innocent were safe from suspicion.

A similar example follows:

Finding the Stolen Axe

While Mr. Dow was traveling through Maryland, a poor man came and informed him that some one had stolen his axe, and wished Mr. Dow to be good enough to tell him where it was. Lorenzo informed him that he possessed no power of knowing such things. But the man had heard that Lorenzo Dow knew everything, and could not be persuaded to believe anything else. At length, when it was evident that the man could not be otherwise disposed of, Mr. Dow said he would find the axe if he could. “But do you suspect any person of stealing it,” said Mr. Dow. “Yes,” said the man very promptly, “I think I know the very man, but cannot be certain.” “Will he be at the meeting?” “Yes, sir; he is sure to be there.” Mr. Dow said no more, but picking up a stone about as large as his two fists, carried it to church with him and laid it on the desk beside him, so that all the congregation might see it. How many inquiries ran through their minds about the stone during the sermon no one knows. But, after he had finished preaching, he took the stone in his hand, and, addressing the audience, said, “some one has stolen an axe, belonging to Mr. A., a poor man----the thief is here, he is before me now, and I intend after turning round three times to hit him on the head with this stone.” Accordingly, he turned round twice rather slowly, but the third time came around with great fury as if going to throw the stone into the midst of the men before him, when to the no little amusement of the company, and the satisfaction of the man who lost the axe, the very man who was suspected of the theft, dodged his head behind the pew. “Now,” said Dow, “I will not expose you any further, but if you do n't leave that axe tonight where you got it, I will publish you to-morrow.” The axe was accordingly returned. A merchant of veracity in Cincinnati, vouches for the truth of this story.

Here again Lorenzo simply made use of his knowledge of the workings of conscience. No doubt the success of these antics was dependent upon the popular belief in the miraculous powers of Lorenzo Dow, but it must also be understood that he must have gained that reputation by just such wisdom as this.

He used that wisdom for the eternal as well as the temporal benefit of souls. “It is related that a wagoner, urging his long team up a hill, was adding to the creak and grinding of his wheels, the stamping of hoofs and crack of his whip, a most blasphemous outpouring of profanity, after the manner of teamsters in all generations. In the midst of a cataract of venomous and diabolical imprecations, there suddenly appeared from behind his wagon the lank and bearded, black-cloaked figure, mounted on a lean horse which, considering its condition, was travelling at an unnatural speed. Without a trace of any emotion upon his face, the stranger as he came alongside reached out and offered the wagoner a dollar if he would continue to curse and swear in the same manner for the rest of his life. This was easy money for the wagoner, and he took the silver at once. In a few minutes the man on the lean horse had vanished over the hill. Then upon the blasphemer came a terrible apprehension: Who was this black hairy man? What mortal would come as from nowhere, pay money for such a purpose, and vanish again like a shadow? Thus in one soul, otherwise forever foreign to religion, was installed that heart-shivering dread which led into conversion.”

The Mutual Faith of Both You and Me

by Glenn Conjurske

“For I long to see you,” writes Paul, “that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established; that is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.” (Rom. 1:11-12). Writing on the twelfth verse, Bloomfield says, “The scope of this verse is, I apprehend, to explain what has been said, and to soften what might seem to savour of harshness and arrogance. ... He therefore intimates that he does not mean to insinuate that the advantage will be all on their side; but that he himself hopes to derive spiritual benefit.” The verse, then, is an expression of Paul's humility. But I have seen this text employed where I am unable to regard it as anything other than an expression of pride.

Years ago I met a young man who, though he had some zeal, was very ignorant, knowing little but the common shallow Christianity of the day. He was teachable, however, and I began to work with him, to instruct him, to put good books into his hands, etc. This went on for perhaps five years, from time to time, as opportunity afforded. But he, belonging to the Plymouth Brethren, soon began to preach among them. He really had no business to do so, nor they any business to allow it, much less encourage it, as he had no character for it. He was lazy and irresponsible, failing to keep his commitments, late for everything, generally looking to get something for nothing, and too ready to sacrifice principle for the sake of influence, besides other things I could mention. At any rate, I observed a great change to come over him. He was no longer teachable, but became rather belligerent, and more determined to instruct me than to learn from me. In short, he was puffed up with pride.

From this time it seemed that Romans 1:12 became his favorite text, and he never failed to refer to it in all his dealings with myself. Now I felt that this was not right, though I could not exactly put my finger on what was wrong with it. Most everything he knew he had learned from me----not that he had learned it very well----yet he was determined to teach me, and quite ready to accuse me of pride because I did not embrace the enlightenment which he thought he had to offer, though I would gladly have received light from him if he had had any to give. I felt, therefore, that his use of Romans 1:12 was rather presumptuous. Still it was Scripture, and I could not argue with Scripture. I therefore said nothing.

Since then I have seen others use the same verse in the same way, and further meditation on the subject has given me a clearer understanding of exactly what is wrong with it. When Paul wrote these words, he was addressing his inferiors. He was addressing those who had much to gain from him, though he, humble as he was, hoped to gain something from them also. But frankly, it was not at all likely that he would gain much from them. When Paul went up to Jerusalem, to confer with the apostles and pillars of the church, who were in Christ before him, he yet must say, “But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me.” (Gal. 2:6). What likelihood was there, then, that he would receive much from the Romans?

Yet observe, when Paul says that the apostles and elders at Jerusalem added nothing to him, he is speaking of doctrine and of understanding. When he speaks of receiving something from the ordinary saints at Rome, he is not speaking of doctrine or understanding, but of comfort, or encouragement, as we might translate the term. The idea that Paul expected to be taught by the Roman saints is against all reason, and really has nothing to do with what the text actually says. The verse says, “that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.” He says nothing of being taught by them. He went to them, as he tells them, “to the end that ye might be established,” not that he might be.

To be short, those who love to quote this verse are generally wrong on two counts. First, they invariably apply it to doctrine or to teaching, with which it really has nothing to do. Next, they parade it before their superiors, which is directly contrary to its proper spirit. For Paul to speak thus to the Romans was a mark of a becoming humility. For them to have spoken so to him could only have been the mark of a presumptuous pride.

That pride is perhaps the chief characteristic of modern Christianity, and those who are puffed up with it seem instinctively to fall upon Romans 1:12, and turn Paul's expression of his humility into a prop for their own pride. If this is not wresting Scripture, what is?


Ancient Proverbs Explained & Illustrated

by the Editor


Much coin, much care.

This, understand, is a secular proverb, a proverb which was at one time in common circulation among the general population of the world. The world itself, formerly if no more, has recognized that “much coin” brings “much care.” And yet did the world ever cease to bend its energies to pursue “much coin”? That were too much to expect. “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” impel men to pursue “much coin,” even though they may know that they are also pursuing “much care.” But passion can hardly be expected to be ruled by reason.

But how is it that much coin brings much care? Many ways, indeed. With most men much coin is not an end in itself. Men pursue much coin that they may acquire much goods. And the more goods they acquire the more care they incur. Every appliance, every convenience, every machine, every automobile, every piece of furniture adds a little more to our weight of care. Everything is soiled, and must be cleaned. The rich woman who has her dream mansion has ten times the care merely to keep it clean as the poor woman in her cottage. Everything breaks, and must be replaced. Everything wears, and must be repaired. What care we have to maintain one automobile!

But many in our affluent times have more coin than they can begin to spend for goods. They must therefore lay it up in the bank, lay it out in stocks and bonds, or invest it in properties, and every coin adds to their care. He who has much must fear the loss of it. He must fear the breaking of the bank, the failure of the stock market, the devaluation of the dollar, the depression of the economy. He who has little coin has little to fear. No need for him to listen to the stock market reports. No need for him to watch the price of gold, or the foreign markets. He is “as free as a bird,” who has nothing to do but flit and fly and eat and sing. And sing he does, for he knows nothing of care. Men suppose their much coin will relieve their cares, and give them security against the cares of the future. Yet in loading themselves with coin they load themselves with care, while the bird who has nothing is “happy as a lark.”

Paul says, “Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content.” Enough with content is the greatest riches, and surely brings the least care. More than enough adds nothing to our content, and much to our care.

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