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Vol. 8, No. 7
July, 1999


by Glenn Conjurske

Abigail is one of the most eminent and beautiful female examples in the Bible of faith, of meekness, of humility, and of spirituality. All these things shine in her every word, and in her whole carriage and deportment. What an anomaly, then, to find such a woman as this married to a churlish, headstrong, drunken fool. Evidently she had been fool enough herself, once upon a time, or she would never have married such a man as this. But Abigail's folly was of an entirely different sort from that of her husband. Abigail's was the folly of ignorance, while Nabal's was the folly of wickedness. Nabal's folly was his crime. The folly of Abigail was her misfortune. While Nabal's folly inflicted suffering upon all around him, the folly of Abigail injured only herself. Nabal's folly was incurable. Abigail was no doubt cured of hers very shortly after her wedding day.

Alas, the cure came too late, for marriage is “till death do us part.” What solemn words are these! “Till death do us part”! How they ought to expel every grain of carelessness from the spirit of every girl especially, for marriage is a much greater step for a woman than it is for a man. The woman must submit. The woman must follow. And what a life of sorrow and tears will be hers if she must submit to a fool. What a life of grief a bright and intelligent woman will have if she must submit to a dull blockhead. What a life of tears and trials will be the lot of a spiritual woman, if she must follow an unspiritual man. What a life of conflict will a heavenly-minded woman have, if she must submit to a worldly-minded husband. What a life of insecurity will a woman have if she must follow a rash, impatient, and unstable husband.

And yet such marriages as these are common everywhere. The church of God is full of them. A spiritually minded woman once told me, “If I had known what spirituality was, I never would have married my husband” ----and yet this husband was a preacher, engaged in the work of the Lord. And there are doubtless a myriad of women who are forced to think such things, who would never say them. Let every young lady who contemplates marriage meditate long and hard on the folly of Abigail, and on the years of hopeless anguish of soul which her marriage gave to her. All the dreams of bliss with which she entered into her marriage evaporated when once she tasted the bitter reality, and now those dreams could only return to torment her.

We may be sure that Abigail never intended such a marriage as this. No woman does. They all look for unmixed happiness in their marriage, but a myriad of them find little else but grief. How is this? How is it that so many find the direct opposite of what they seek in a husband?

There are many things which make bad marriages. The failure to find love doubtless accounts for many, but the lack of character accounts for many more. Abigail's plight was due to the evil character of her husband. What could love avail, when her husband was “such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him”? How could love survive in the house of such a man?

And how is it that Abigail came to marry such a man? Doubtless she paid too little heed to the man's character. Love was all her thought, and if she could but secure love, happiness would follow of course. This is the common thought of those girls who have never tasted of the bitter cup of which Abigail must drink. A pleasing young man begins to pay attention to such a girl, and her heart is swept away. Reason and caution are but little regarded, while such pleasing emotion reigns. He regales her heart with romantic thrills. He makes her feel beautiful----desired----loved. No harm in any of that, provided it comes from a man who is fit to be her husband. But the unfit know “the way of a man with a maid” as well as the fit. This belongs to nature. The ungodly can love a woman as well as the godly. The unspiritual can love a woman as well as the spiritual. Even blockheads know how to tell a woman she is beautiful. And the heart of a woman is naturally taken by all of this----perhaps irresistibly taken. Still, her heart may be taken, and her hand withheld, as it surely ought to be if the man is for any reason unfit to be her head.

But it may be that Nabal's character did not appear till after he was married. He may not have been a drunken churl when Abigail married him, but may have become so afterwards. Such cases are common. A woman ought therefore to exercise the most extreme caution to marry a man whose character is not only known and acceptable, but tried and confirmed and stable. A rash and unstable man is perhaps a heavier cross to the heart of a woman than a wicked one.

But it is the young lady's folly to pay too little attention to the man's character, and she may have little capacity to judge of the matter. If her romantic emotions are warmed towards him, she may have no ability at all. An old proverb truly says, “If Jack's in love, he's no judge of Jill's beauty.” Little harm in that, for if she is beautiful to him, what matters more? But if Jill is in love, she is no judge of Jack's character, and this is a very serious matter. Her husband's character is of extreme importance to every wife. He is her head. He leads, and she must follow. He determines, and she must submit. This being so, it is as heart-breaking as it is common to see young women sacrifice themselves to men who are unworthy of their confidence. Thus did Abigail, for whatever she may have been at the time of her marriage, it is certain that such a son of Belial as Nabal was unworthy of the confidence of any woman. Abigail made the mistake of her life in marrying such a man, and the same mistake is made every day, and often by girls as godly and spiritual as Abigail.

But is there no remedy? If there is a God, there must be a remedy, for who could believe that God designed marriage to be nothing but woe? Let the young ladies, here if anywhere, lean not unto their own understanding. They are inexperienced. They know but little of what a man's character ought to be, and have little ability to judge of what it is. But “In the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” (Prov. 11:14). Let them inquire diligently of pastors and elders and parents----of sisters and brothers and friends----and especially of married women, many of whom can doubtless tell them what to look for in the character of a man, and how to judge of his fitness. A man is not likely to give such pertinent counsel here as a woman. I have heard of a man who is proud, belligerent, and insolent telling a young lady, “You need a man like me”! His wife could probably have told her otherwise, if she had been willing to speak on the subject. Many women are not, however, and therefore the young ladies will do well to consult “a multitude of counsellors.”

The proud, the rash, the unstable, the belligerent, the harsh and exacting----these are unfit to be a head to a woman at all, and yet to such men as these the tender and delicate members of the weaker sex sacrifice themselves every day of the year, for lack of the extreme carefulness with which they ought to marry. Such was the misfortune of Abigail, and a very great misfortune it was for such a woman to be married to such a man.

But we do not suppose that Abigail was always the deep and spiritual woman that she was when she went to meet David. Certainly she was not born so. She was made so, by the hand and the rod of God, and it may very well be that her marriage contributed more than anything else to make her what she was. It is in the school of afflictions that we gain depth and spirituality, and what greater affliction can a woman endure than to be married to such a man as Nabal? Nabal himself, then----no thanks to him----may have contributed more than anything else to fashion the beautiful spirituality which we see in his wife. Abigail's marriage, hard as it was to tender feminine nature, was undoubtedly a great benefit to her spirit----but oh! this was a bitter school.

When the Lord, however, has thus used him for the hard but wholesome discipline of the beautiful soul of Abigail, the merciful God takes him away with a stroke, and sets her free from that galling yoke.

Meanwhile she suffers on. She must be a help to a man she cannot respect. She must submit to a man she cannot trust. What daily conflicts this must thrust into her disquieted soul. She has none of the calm, none of the rest, none of the peace, none of the security which every woman hopes to find in her marriage----only conflict and disagreement and strife. What she loves, her husband hates. What she hates, her husband loves. What she is committed to, her husband despises. The things of God are all to her, and nothing to him.

And as with the things of God, so with the man of God. David is despised by Nabal, while he is loved and trusted by Abigail. The name of David cannot be mentioned in the house of Nabal without provoking strife. Whom Abigail honors, Nabal treats with contempt. Her reverence for David no doubt provokes the disdain of Nabal, and she doubtless hears many reproaches for it.

My readers may suppose that I assume too much here, but I think not. The speech of Abigail to David teaches us that she was thoroughly familiar with all his concerns, and Nabal could hardly have been otherwise. Did David slay the giant with a sling and stone, and deliver the armies of Israel, and Nabal know nothing of it? Was David sung by the maidens of Israel for slaying his ten thousands, while Saul slew but his thousands, and Nabal know nothing of that? Did David espouse the king's daughter for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, and Nabal never hear of it? Nabal doubtless knew very well who and what David was.

Abigail's speech indicates not only the most thorough knowledge of all the affairs of David, but very strong feelings on the subject also. Nabal doubtless had the same sort of knowledge, and surely had some feelings also, but they were always the direct opposite of his wife's. A man can hardly be indifferent upon a theme concerning which his wife feels so deeply on the opposite side. It is hard for an unworthy man to see a worthy man admired by his wife----for in the depth of his soul he must feel that the worthy man deserves his wife's admiration----and Abigail's reverence for David would naturally be taken as a personal affront by Nabal. The more she reverenced David, the more her husband despised him, and we suppose the name of David was always the signal for an argument in the house of Nabal.

When David therefore sends his messengers to Nabal, in the day of Nabal's plenty, with a request for a share in the bounty, Nabal answers with the utmost contempt. He was greeted in the name of David----a name which all Israel knew----and he responds with “Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? There be many servants now a days that break away every man from his master. Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men, whom I know not whence they be?” He speaks as though he knows nothing of who or what David is, but this is not the language of sincere ignorance, but of contempt. Abigail knew all the affairs of David, and Nabal must certainly have known them also, and it may have been his wife's well known admiration for David which moved Nabal thus to treat him with contempt, as soon as the opportunity offered.

David was fighting the battles of the Lord, and doubtless supposed himself entitled to the support of the Israelites. Not only so, but he had been a wall of defence to Nabal also, and might therefore present a double claim to him. Nabal views the matter otherwise. This is “my bread,” and “my water,” and “my flesh,” and what right has David to any of it?

David falls prey to a fault not uncommon to the servants of the Lord. To begin with, he supposes that the battles of the Lord and the battles of David are one and the same. This may in fact be true, or very near the truth. When the people of Israel reject Samuel, the Lord says, “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” When Aaron and Miriam slight Moses, they slight the God who sent him, and Miriam is made to feel the displeasure of the Lord for this, while Aaron is made to see and understand it. Those who slight the man of God have a quarrel with the God who sent him. Nevertheless, it is not becoming for a man of God to fight his own battles. “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord: I will repay.” The man of God may defend himself, he may vindicate himself, as David did when he held the skirt of Saul's robe in his hand, but to avenge himself is another matter. If David had avenged himself upon Saul, the whole argument by which he vindicated himself would have been lost. But he who yesterday had cut off the skirt of Saul's robe and spared his life, and whose heart smote him even for that, today, for a far lesser offence, says, “Gird ye on every man his sword,” and “So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain unto him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.” This speech of David may indicate something of the reason why God reserves vengeance to himself. However righteous the vengeance may be, man----even the man after God's own heart----is unfit for such a work. “Most are blind in their own cause,” an old proverb tells us, and this is too true. He that is judge in his own cause is likely to be partial. Moreover, passion is likely to predominate over reason. Who can see all things clearly, who can exercise due restraint, when his indignation is inflamed? Nabal hath sinned, and therefore David will cut off from Nabal's house every one that pisseth against the wall. What righteousness was there in this? This assumes that Nabal's whole household was in sympathy with himself, but this was the opposite of the truth. Both his wife and his servants reprehend him as a man of Belial.

It soon comes to the ears of Abigail that “Evil is determined against our master, and against all his household.” “Then Abigail made haste, and took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched corn, and an hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on asses. And she said unto her servants, Go on before me; behold, I come after you. But she told not her husband Nabal.” All this she did not only without the knowledge of Nabal, but directly contrary to his known wishes. Nabal's goods must go to David. Nabal's asses must bear them. Nabal's servants must conduct them. Nabal's wife must accompany them. Nabal himself shall know nothing of the matter. So decrees Nabal's wife, and so her decree is carried out with haste. Yet in all this we see no sin in Abigail. There are occasions when to serve God we must set ourselves against the wills of those who oppose him, though they be in authority over us, and in the case before her, to serve God she must serve the man of God. So Abigail perceives, and so she does.

She rides with haste, for there is little time to lose. Her meeting with David, and her deportment and speech on that occasion, are all so beautiful----so full of faith and meekness and humility----so full of spiritual wisdom and depth----that I can do no less than quote the whole of it:

“And when Abigail saw David, she hasted, and lighted off the ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and fell at his feet, and said, Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be: and let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak in thine audience, and hear the words of thine handmaid. Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him: but I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send. Now therefore, my lord, as the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, seeing the LORD hath withholden thee from coming to shed blood, and from avenging thyself with thine own hand, now let thine enemies, and they that seek evil to my lord, be as Nabal. And now this blessing which thine handmaid hath brought unto my lord, let it even be given unto the young men that follow my lord. I pray thee, forgive the trespass of thine handmaid: for the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house; because my lord fighteth the battles of the LORD, and evil hath not been found in thee all thy days. Yet a man is risen to pursue thee, and to seek thy soul: but the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the LORD thy God; and the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as out of the middle of a sling. And it shall come to pass, when the LORD shall have done to my lord according to all the good that he hath spoken concerning thee, and shall have appointed thee ruler over Israel, that this shall be no grief unto thee, nor offence of heart unto my lord, either that thou hast shed blood causeless, or that my lord hath avenged himself: but when the LORD shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember thine handmaid.”

The deportment of Abigail is as beautiful as her countenance. Though we see her on her face at the feet of David, yet morally she is far above him. His heart is full of personal indignation. Hers is full of faith. His mouth is full of fleshly imprecations. Hers is full of spiritual wisdom. His feet are swift to shed blood. Hers are swift to save life. He makes haste to sin. She makes haste to prevent sin.

We observe also the strong and unwavering faith of this woman. None of her sufferings and personal disappointments have robbed her of her faith. Though the hand of God has dealt a bitter portion to herself, yet her confidence in him is both bright and steadfast. 'Tis true, she has no faith at all for Nabal. She has resigned his case as hopeless. For herself, however, she has faith. She yet expects the blessing of God, for she says to David, “When the Lord shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember thine handmaid.” Whatever Abigail may have meant by this in particular, it is certain that in general she looked for some good thing to come.

But whatever her faith may have been for herself, it is her faith for David which shines as gold. “The LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house.” And again, “The soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the LORD thy God; and the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as out of the middle of a sling.” It is really a wonder that with such words as these in his ears, coming from the mouth of such a woman as this, that David could ever say, “I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul.” But it is sometimes easier to have faith for others than for ourselves. Abigail has more faith for David than she has for herself, and more faith for David than David has for himself. That faith she speaks fully in the ears of David. Here is a great ministry of encouragement. If I have faith for another, I ought to employ that faith to the full, both in the ears of my friend, and in the ears of the Almighty. What encouragement the long tried and flickering faith of David must have found in the strong and unwavering faith of Abigail.

Not only is Abigail full of faith in God, but of faith in David also. She never doubts for a moment the success of her plea. Ere she is done speaking, and before David answers her a word, she says, “seeing the Lord hath withholden thee from coming to shed blood, and from avenging thyself.” This is the more remarkable, coming from a woman whose husband was “such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him.” She ventures not one word to Nabal, for she had no faith in him, and was certain her words would not be regarded, but she was just as sure that her pleas would succeed with David. Some women, when they have endured the afflictions of living with an unreasonable husband, lose faith in manhood as such, and will not trust a good man, because they cannot trust an evil one. They find a certain satisfaction, and perhaps use this as a kind of personal vengeance upon their husbands, to despise and distrust the whole race of men. Not so Abigail. She has the utmost confidence in David, though she has none at all in Nabal.

We must next observe the wisdom and power of Abigail's speech. “Wiser speech,” says Alfred Edersheim, “in the highest as well as in a worldly sense, than that of Abigail can scarcely be imagined.” We quite agree, but it is not so much the wisdom of this speech which we admire, as the power. Wisdom may come cold and dry from some tongues, but not from the tongue of such a woman as Abigail. If as the proverb affirms, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” the tongue is mightier still. There is no power on earth like the human tongue, when it is moved by a pure and earnest spirit. When John Wesley was in the hands of a lawless mob, determined to murder him, he turned every one to whom he spoke into a friend. He spoke at length to the leader of the mob, who responded with, “Sir, I will spend my life for you.” Paper and ink are cold and dry, in comparison to the voice of the preacher, and no printed sermon can ever equal the living voice. Well, but David was a man of war, and so accustomed to settling matters by the might of arms that it never enters his mind to settle anything by words. He can think of nothing but “Gird ye on every man his sword.” Abigail had no sword but her tongue, and that she knew how to use. Her tongue was mightier than a sword, but it was far from speaking “like the piercings of a sword.” The tongue which cuts and pierces does not soften, but harden. Accusations provoke opposition, where gentleness and confidence soften the heart. The tongue of Abigail is as full of confidence in David as it is of meekness and humility towards herself. Not one word of reproach or of accusation does she level against David, though she found him in a passion of indignation, making haste to shed blood. Hers was the tongue of the wise, for “she was a woman of good understanding,” and “the tongue of the wise is health.” Hers was the “soft tongue,” which “breaketh the bone.” (Prov. 25:15).

How great is the power of this tongue of the wise! If ever human speech was irresistible, this speech of Abigail's was so. What power of reason and of faith shines in all that she says. What confidence she displays in the man she comes to reprove. This was irresistible. She has the utmost confidence also in her own God-given powers, and knows full well that she will succeed. She meets David with the same bold confidence with which David met Goliath. And with what meekness does David submit to her speech. Though he was a roaring lion hasting to the prey when she began, he is as tame as a kitten when she is finished.

We observe next the power of a woman to soften the heart of a man. We suppose Abigail's success was as much dependent upon what she was, as upon what she said. “She was a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance.” Though some may refuse to admit this, and though others may not like it, it is a simple fact of life that a pleasing woman has power with a man that another man can scarcely have. The heart of a man is more easily touched by such a woman than by any man whatsoever. It is doubtful any man could have softened David so quickly and thoroughly as Abigail did. Neither indeed could a woman do it, who adopted a masculine tone, or acted in a masculine manner. An authoritative, pushing, domineering, scolding, commanding woman can only repel the heart of a man. But Abigail is far from this. She is all meekness, all humility, all femininity, and this gives her power and influence with a man.

This power which a woman holds in her hands is no doubt a dangerous thing, and ought to be used with great caution----so much so that some have laid down the rule that in the things of God none ought to deal with any but their own sex. This may be wise in general, but we think the example and the success of Abigail condemn such a rule, and we think too that her use of the powers of her feminine soul was as pure as it was potent, though there can be no doubt that she won David's heart to herself, as well as to truth and righteousness. She no sooner leaves off speaking than David says, “Blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou.” “See, I have hearkened to thy voice, and have accepted thy person.” Yet all this may stand in the realm of purity. Paul admonishes Timothy to intreat “the younger (women) as sisters, with all purity.” “As sisters” implies a familiar bond of love and fellowship, while “with all purity” suggests the caution which the natural attraction between the sexes demands.

At any rate we see that Abigail acted herself to move and win the heart of David. She sent her servants with her bounty, but she would not trust them with her mission. It may be possible that another could have done what she did, but we hardly think another could have done it so well.

But there is yet more in the speech of Abigail. We observe that though she acted for Nabal's benefit, yet she acted directly against his wishes. There was no help for this, for his own wishes were directly against his own interests. We observe too that she has not one word of defence to offer in Nabal's behalf, nor one word of respect either. He is a “man of Belial”----that is, he is “of the devil,” as the apostle John speaks. “Nabal is his name, and folly is with him.” Nay, more. With an oath in her mouth, she says, “as the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, seeing the LORD hath withholden thee from coming to shed blood, and from avenging thyself with thine own hand, now let thine enemies, and they that seek evil to my lord, be as Nabal.” Let them be hopeless reprobates, as Nabal is. Let the judgement of God overtake them, as it will surely overtake Nabal.

Such talk may seem hard, coming from a wife, yet the fault was not Abigail's, but Nabal's. Her speech is so full of meekness and faith and spirituality that we would not dare to condemn it. She spoke the simple truth of Nabal, and said nothing which he did not well deserve. Some would condemn Abigail for speaking such things, and condemn her also for thinking them in her heart. We are of another mind. There are cases innumerable in which if a woman is to walk by faith and do right, she must do so not only without her husband, but in opposition to him. We do not believe Abigail could help thinking as she did, so long as Nabal was what he was. Neither do we suppose there was any sin in speaking as she thought on this occasion, though she had no call to do so on every occasion. We have seen some wives so determined to believe their husbands right, when in fact they are wrong, that they have compromised themselves, and sacrificed their own faith and spirituality. This can never be right, and thankfully, for a woman of Abigail's spirit it is not so much as possible. So long as right is right, and wrong is wrong, no woman can owe such submission or such reverence to her husband, and I greatly suspect that there is a great deal more of pride in such submission than there is of humility. Women sustain their husbands in their wrong, in order that they may appear right themselves, while they keep the peace with their wayward husbands. Not so Abigail. She was as meek and humble as a woman could be, but this did not move her to countenance the ways of Nabal. She labors only to disclaim any complicity with those ways, and to make certain that they are not taken as any reflection upon herself. “But I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send.”

We observe also that the whole thrust of Abigail's speech was not to save Nabal or his household (though this doubtless moved her), but to save David from committing sin. She believed in David. She knew that his day was coming, and she wanted no blot on his record. “And it shall come to pass, when the LORD shall have done to my lord according to all the good that he hath spoken concerning thee, and shall have appointed thee ruler over Israel, that this shall be no grief unto thee, nor offence of heart unto my lord, either that thou hast shed blood causeless, or that my lord hath avenged himself.” She knows well enough that Nabal deserves the vengeance, but she is determined that David shall leave that to God, and not avenge himself with his own hand. Her labor is not to spare Nabal the vengeance, but to spare David the sin.

Having secured all things with David, she will now speak to Nabal. “In the morning, when the wine was gone out of him,” she “told him these things.” We may suppose that she spoke to Nabal with the same solemn earnestness with which she had spoken to David, and her speech was doubtless with power. Alas, she was speaking to another ear than David's. In David's ear her voice wrought godly sorrow which worketh repentance. In Nabal's ear it wrought only fear and death. “His heart died within him, and he became as a stone. And it came to pass about ten days after, that the Lord smote Nabal, that he died.” Thus with one stroke does the Lord avenge David, and deliver Abigail from the vexing yoke which she had taken upon herself in a day of youthful ignorance.

We marvel at the suddenness of this stroke. It is a very rare thing for God to execute vengeance in so sudden and peremptory a manner. Most of his saints must wait long years for this. The souls under the altar were slain by their enemies, and yet God will not avenge their blood, but tells them still to wait, while they go on crying “How long?” David was only reproached with an impotent insult, and God executes a capital vengeance without delay. This is so far from the ordinary manner of God that we are constrained to say, Surely this stroke was much more for Abigail's sake than it was for David's. She had suffered much and long at the hands of Nabal, where David had scarcely suffered at all.

Yet the stroke was no doubt for both of them, and not only to settle the wrongs of the past, but to confer a rich benefit for the future. David no sooner hears of the death of Nabal than he determines to make that beautiful face, that gentle soul, that earnest spirit, that heavenly wisdom, his own. “And David sent and communed with Abigail, to take her to him to wife.”

This was beyond the fondest hopes of Abigail. To be the wife of Nabal yesterday, and of David tomorrow----this was too much to hope, too good to be true. So the same sweet humility shines in all that she does and says when David sues for her hand, as when she had sued for his mercy. “And she arose, and bowed herself on her face to the earth, and said, Behold, let thine handmaid be a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” Abigail seems entirely oblivious to her own worth. David's worth she well knew, but she was content to admire him from a distance. But if Abigail knew nothing of her own worth, David knew it well. He admired her as much as she admired him, and with as good reason also. These were two kindred spirits, and surely it was God who made them one.

Yet we cannot pretend that Abigail lived happily ever after. No, for “David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they were also both of them his wives.” Such a marriage was never yet the fulfillment of any woman's dreams. Yet we suppose that two things would serve to much mitigate the evils of polygamy in Abigail's case. The first was that she was now the wife of David. The other was that she had formerly been the wife of Nabal.

As to the first of these, David was a great man, whom Abigail greatly admired. She would have been content to be a servant to wash the feet of his servants. Nevertheless, she herself was one of those rare women who are too far above the ordinary men ever to be able to be happy in the company of any of them. Such women are made for the great men of the earth, and their happiness is to be found only in union with such a man. Every woman needs a man whom she may not only admire, but also look up to. The greater the woman, the greater the man she must have. She needs a man who is above her, and to a woman of Abigail's stature, there are but few such men on the earth. We may suppose, therefore, that to have had a share in David was as much to Abigail as it could have been to have had the whole of a lesser man.

And if ever her unsatisfactory lot, as but one of the several wives of David, should at any time cast a cold shadow over her soul, she had only to recall the years when she was the wife of Nabal. Surely this was far better than that. We suppose, then, that if ever a woman could find happiness in a polygamous marriage, that woman was Abigail, as the wife of David.

Acts 16:31

by Glenn Conjurske

Acts 16:31 is one of the most abused texts in the Bible. It is constantly quoted to prove that faith is the only condition of salvation, directly against the testimony of Holy Scripture. And the worst of it is, the “faith” which is thus made the only condition of salvation is usually not the faith of the gospel at all. It is not the faith which purifies the heart----not the faith which worketh by love----not the faith which overcomes the world----but only a dead belief of a few facts, such a faith as the devils themselves possess. It is a faith which leaves most of its professors yet “in the gall of bitterness, and the bond of iniquity,” which leaves them yet enslaved to sin, and in fact yet without God in the world.

The text, with its preceding context says,

“Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (Acts 16:29-31).

This text is heavily relied upon by all antinomians, and it is often triumphantly quoted to prove that belief is the only requirement for salvation. If there had been any other condition, Paul must certainly have mentioned it, unless he meant to mislead the poor jailor. No matter what the rest of the New Testament says. No matter what Christ or Peter or John say. No matter what Paul himself says elsewhere. Nay, no matter even what he said in the next breath. All of this is ignored, while Acts 16:31 is confidently appealed to as the standard of orthodoxy. And this text, as we are repeatedly reminded, was spoken in answer to the explicit inquiry, What must I do to be saved? “Believe,” we are told, is all that Paul replied.

A popular hymn says,

“What must I do?” the trembling jailor cried,
When dazed by fear and wonder,
“Believe on Christ!” was all that Paul replied.

But as a simple matter of fact, this is false. This is not all that Paul replied. We might point out that Paul's words actually call for a belief in Christ as Lord, for what he said was, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” but even that is not all that Paul replied. The thirty-first verse has been so universally quoted, and the thirty-second verse so universally ignored, that people have mistakenly assumed that “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” was all that Paul said to the jailor. They are ignorant of the existence of the thirty-second verse. Can you, reader, without looking at your Bible, tell the next words which follow verse thirty-one? If you cannot, perhaps you had best step back a little and reconsider your doctrine.

Verse 32 says, “And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.” Now “the word of the Lord” is a broad and general term, and doubtless included many things. What all of those things were we need not inquire. Of one thing, however, we are absolutely certain, namely, that so far as the state of the jailor (or of his household) required it, Paul preached repentance, and works meet for repentance. Our authority for this statement is Paul himself. He says, “I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision, but shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” (Acts 26:19-20). Paul is being led as a prisoner to Rome, where he is to suffer imprisonment and eventual martyrdom. And here he tells us in a few words what was the great theme of his preaching everywhere he went, from the beginning to the end of his career. As a new convert in the city of Damascus he preached “that they should repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” His years in the back side of the desert in Arabia, his years of “taking root downward” in Tarsus, changed nothing. He went out to “Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea,” and preached to the Jews “that they should repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” All of the “abundance of revelations” which he subsequently received----concerning salvation by grace, or justification by faith, or redemption through the blood of Christ----altered this message not one iota. He went abroad “to the Gentiles” still preaching none other thing than “that they should repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” And all this in obedience to the heavenly vision.

Now I do verily believe that Paul fully understood the nature of grace, of faith, and of the gospel----understood it better than any of our modern teachers do, who deny or explain away or ignore the necessity of repentance. Yet there he is on Mars Hill, preaching that “God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” There he is, in all of his travels, in every city and country, from his first message in Damascus to the end of his Christian life, preaching “that men should repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” And can any honest, unprejudiced man suppose that when Paul “spake the word of the Lord” to the jailor and his household, he failed to preach repentance, but preached “only believe”? Such interpretation is dishonest and foolish.

This, however, is not the whole story, for I do certainly believe that there is moral fitness----yea, eternal truth----in the answers of Scripture to individuals. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” is just the message which convicted, penitent souls need to hear. The Philippian jailor was obviously a penitent man, as both his words and his actions indicate. He who had only a few hours before handled these men of God with careless brutality, is now on his knees at their feet. He says to them, “What must I do to be saved?”----not in a sudden fit of fear, as sermons on the text usually imply. He did not ask “What must I do to be saved?” when he was “dazed by fear and wonder,” as the hymn says, but after he had brought them out of the prison, after (as we may surely suppose) he had taken the time to secure the other prisoners, after the occasion of fear for his life was past, and he had had a little time for calm reflection.

Observe, he had first brought them out of the prison (vs. 30), whom he had been charged to keep safely, evidently on pain of his own life (vs. 27). Thus did he “do works meet for repentance,” with his own hands and at his own peril, reversing the unrighteous sentence of his superiors against the harmless men of God. Then, when that was done, he asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Such a question, asked under such circumstances, plainly indicates a repentant man----a man who is resolved to do whatever may be required of him to be saved. To such an obviously convicted and penitent man, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” was just what was needed. Yet Paul and Silas did not stop there. They were preaching to more than merely the jailor, and “they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house,” and in so doing it is absolutely certain that they preached repentance.

It is also absolutely certain, by the way, that the repentance which Christ and his apostles preached consisted of the forsaking of sin.

But to return, if “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” is the proper message for a penitent man, it does not follow that this is the proper message for every careless and impenitent sinner. Peter gave no such answer to Simon, when he perceived him to be “in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.” Simon was certainly unconverted, yet it were quite wide of the mark to preach faith to him, for he had already believed. “Then Simon himself believed also.” (Acts 8:13). According to the antinomian plan, which hinges salvation upon a mere belief of facts, Simon Magus was as saved as Peter himself, yet Peter says to him, “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter, for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.” (vs. 21). And the message which Peter preaches to him is, “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee” (vs. 22). But Peter's words are as universally ignored as Paul's are universally quoted. Our modern theologians know very well that “the present truth” (II Peter 1:12) is to be learned only from Paul, and they know better than to quote poor bungling Peter, who never did quite understand the gospel. They are wiser than he. Of course, when it suits their purpose, they are wiser than Paul also, and they ignore Acts 17:30 and 26:20 as well as they do Acts 16:32. In all this I speak the simple truth.

And while they ignore those scriptures, they misapply Acts 16:31. Its message is preached indiscriminately to all, even though they show no signs of conviction or repentance such as the jailor showed. The result is just what we would expect----a multitude of shallow, false conversions, filling the churches with worldly and unholy “believers,” who are no more saved than Simon Magus, or his master the devil. Many of the greatest of preachers and evangelists have recognized this erroneous use of Acts 16:31, and have spoken explicitly against it.

D. L. Moody recognized the limited application of this verse. Writing of the Pharisee and the publican, he says, “But we will pass on now to the other class with which we have to deal. It is composed of those who are convinced of sin and from whom the cry comes as from the Philippian jailer, 'What must I do to be saved?' To those who utter this penitential cry there is no necessity to administer the law. It is well to bring them straight to the Scripture: 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.' (Acts xvi. 31).”

C. H. Spurgeon very clearly enunciates the same principle, though not speaking particularly of this text: “THOSE WHO HAVE EVANGELICAL REPENTANCE ARE PERMITTED TO BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST. Paul says that he testified of 'repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ'; and, therefore, where there is repentance, faith is allowable. O penitent sinner, you may believe in the Saviour!” To this we only need add that by repentance Spurgeon certainly means the forsaking of sin, as is clear from many of his own statements.

Charles Wesley writes in the same vein, “I preached at Marybone on, 'What must I do to be saved?' The opposers had threatened me hard; but all they now could do was to curse and swear. I only invited them to Christ. But I am more and more persuaded, that the law has its use, and Moses must bring us to Christ. The promises to the unawakened are pearls before swine. First the hammer must break the rocks; then we may preach Christ crucified.”

Gipsy Smith was long troubled over the common shallow abuse of this text, and he studied it for fifteen years before he dared to preach from it. When he did preach from it, he strongly and explicitly objected to its indiscriminate use. He says, “We have dragged this text, 'What must I do to be saved?' and the other, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,' out of their setting, and we have made them like a great classic, like that other great text in the third chapter of John: 'God so loved the world.' We have treated that and several texts in the same way, and we have blazoned them everywhere. We have hurled them at everybody, and we have said, 'Believe! Believe! Believe!' until believing does not mean very much. I say we have dragged these words out of their context and we have not dealt with them justly.”

But here lies a grand difficulty. Most of our modern preachers are unable to understand or appreciate the application of this text to convicted and penitent souls for the simple reason that they have seldom or never seen such souls. Their preaching produces no such conviction, and they have no conception of the great difficulty involved in bringing a thoroughly convicted, trembling, perhaps despairing soul to faith in Christ. But it is to such souls that this text, and all of the great and precious promises of the gospel, have their proper application. Applied so, the promises of the gospel are all fitting and beautiful. Then there is no danger of pearls before swine. Then let all the precious promises of the gospel be preached in all their fulness and freeness and sweetness, for they are just what a convicted, penitent soul stands in need of, and he will not abuse the precious promises, nor wrest them to his own damnation.

William Taylor, who preached the gospel with great success on every continent of the earth, lays hold of this exactly, and writes concerning Acts 16:31, “What was St Paul's advice to the Philippian jailer? Did he say, 'You have been a very bad man, sir, and now you must reform and lead a new life. Here is a copy of the holy Scriptures for you to read and study. You must also pray in secret, and set up your family altar, and pray for your neglected children, attend the public means of grace, and let your private life and your conduct toward the prisoners be such as to show to the world the genuineness of your repentance?' That is just the kind of advice many modern teachers would give to such a case. Did St. Paul give such advice? Not a word of it. He understood his business. He clearly perceived that the poor jailer was pierced with the sword of the Spirit, and was willing then to submit to any terms of mercy. Submission to the will of God is the end or object of repentance. If the sinner, by the power of the awakening Spirit, can reach that point by five minutes' repentance, he is ready just then to receive mercy, as much so as if he had repented five years. The apostle, seeing that the trembling sinner had reached that important point, would not trouble his head with questions and doctrines which would delay the onward action of his penitent heart, or divert his mind from the essential point already reached. Why turn his feet right away from the gate of mercy, 'to go about' in the dreary paths of formality 'to establish his own righteousness,' instead of at once submitting himself to the righteousness of God----to God's righteous method of saving the sinner by faith, without works?”

Most of our modern preachers will doubtless highly approve of most of this, precisely because Taylor is here objecting to the opposite kind of preaching from that which prevails today. He is objecting to legal rather than antinomian preaching. But this only serves to make his testimony the stronger. He contends that Paul's message to the jailor is to be preached to men who have already been brought to repentance, who are willing to submit to any terms and to do the will of God; and this he calls “the essential point.” He writes further, “St. Paul knew that the poor jailer's heart was corrupt, and that 'a corrupt tree would necessarily bring forth corrupt fruit.' He knew that no works of righteousness which he could ever perform would better his condition a single iota. But he saw his willingness at once to submit to the will of God----to give up every thing opposed to his will----all sin----sins of the life and of the heart, and acquiesce heartily in all God's decisions concerning him, and hence directed him at once to the great Physician who alone could cure him.”6

Now I believe this to be exactly the proper use of Acts 16:31. Christ and his apostles preached, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Their first business was always to bring sinners to repentance. When that was done, they could administer the promises of the gospel to bring the penitent soul to faith in Christ. It was to a penitent soul that Paul preached “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Paul never had any such notion as that men could be saved by the mere belief of a few facts, or even the mere trusting of Christ for salvation, without any moral commitment to holiness. His constant preaching throughout his whole life stands in direct contradiction of any such notion.

But where are Paul's disciples today? Where is the modern evangelist who spends his whole life preaching “that they should repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance”? Yet if they do not preach this, they do not preach the gospel of Christ, and all their constant indiscriminate preaching of Believe! Believe! Believe! is nothing more than a gross perversion of the gospel.

Worse still, the faith which they usually preach is not the faith of the Bible at all, but only the belief of a few facts, or a presumptuous acceptance of Christ as Saviour, while rejecting him as Lord. And those who thus dilute faith do the same with repentance also. It is a mere change of mind. So the difference between the godly and the ungodly is not a moral one at all, but only an intellectual one. The message which entails such a conclusion----and produces such fruit----is not the gospel of Christ at all. It stands directly against the whole Bible, New Testament as well as Old.

A Short Method of Evaluating the Modern Bible Versions

by Glenn Conjurske

The short method is, consider the source. There is one fact which many of the advocates of one or another of the modern Bible versions seem always to overlook. That fact is this: the modern Bible versions, all of them, are the productions of modern Evangelicalism----or of something worse than Evangelicalism. Another fact is that the church of God has probably never before seen a generation so shallow, worldly, lukewarm, intellectual, and unspiritual as the present one. A third fact is, the stream does not rise above its source.

Now in the light of these things it has always been an enigma to me to see conservative Fundamentalists and Mennonites and Plymouth Brethren devoted to one or another of these modern Bible versions. We expect this of Neo-Evangelicals. We expect it of that large class who call themselves Fundamentalists, but who are in reality Neo-Evangelicals in heart and spirit and ways. But when we see conservative Mennonites and Plymouth Brethren following in the same path, we think something is out of place.

The fact is, these conservatives will have little or nothing to do with the ways of those who have produced the modern Bible versions. They will not watch the television which these new Bible translators watch. They will have nothing to do with the major league ball teams which the new translators idolize. They will not adopt the sort of music which they use in their churches, and listen to on their radios. They will not approve---- probably will not even read----the books which these translators write. Yet they will take their Bible from their hands. This is strange. Do they really suppose that the stream rises above its source?

Liberalism and intellectualism pervade the new Bible versions. This can hardly be otherwise, while the modern church which produced them is what it is. These worldly intellectuals scarcely understand the reason for the existence of the Bible. They seem to suppose that the God who hides his truth from the wise and learned, and reveals it to babes, has written a book for the purpose of maintaining nice distinctions for the sake of college and seminary professors, or professional theologians. And as they think, so they translate. We must therefore learn to distinguish between thieves and robbers. Devils must give place to demons, pounds to minas, and the penny to the denarius. We all know what a penny is, but who ever heard of a denarius? Thus the common people are set aside----or turned into proud intellectuals.

But I mean to be short----to speak in general, and not in particular. It is a mystery to me that the conservative and the spiritual can find these new translations acceptable, while I know very well that they do not find the ways or the doctrines of the new translators acceptable.

Liberalism and irreverence appear in the very names of many of the new Bible versions. This, of course, cannot be said of the New American Standard Version, nor of the New King James Version. Their names are conservative enough, except for the tell-tale word “New.” Yet whatever the title may be, there is liberalism enough----and intellectualism to spare----between the covers. I have written before of the liberalism of the most conservative of the new versions, the New King James Version. That version was produced under the general editorship of Arthur Farstad, who was for years a teacher at Dallas Theological Seminary. If anyone entertains any doubts concerning the prevailing liberalism of Dallas Theological Seminary, let him read the books which come from its president and its faculty. Indeed, let him but visit the place. I spent a few hours there in 1981, and was shocked at what I saw. I did not find old-fashioned Christianity, but women (office workers) painted like Jezebels, and men (students) with long hair hanging down their backs.

But let it be understood that I use the term “liberalism” in its proper sense. I do not refer to modernism, which is the advanced fruit of liberalism, but to a departure from conservative ways and standards, a restless dissatisfaction with old paths and ancient landmarks, and a shallow love of change. This liberalism is written on the very face of every modern Bible which I have seen. It is in fact the reason for their existence. A conservative revision, cautious and sparing of change, I have never seen.

Now it so happens that liberals are often as dissatisfied with their own work as they are with the work of their fathers. When once the love of change takes possession of a man, there is little stopping him. He always wants further change, and it is worth noticing that this is the case with some of the producers of the modern Bibles. The New American Standard Version has been revised so many times that it is futile to keep count. The general editor of the New King James Version (Arthur Farstad) subsequently went to work to produce another new version, called Logos 21. Let conservatives consider this well. What business has a man who will name a Bible Logos 21 to be translating the Bible at all?

Another new Bible is called KJ21, or The 21st Century King James Version of the Holy Bible. I have not seen it. The advertising was enough to deter me from any desire to see it. The book comes recommended by a bevy of Charismatics and Neo-Evangelicals and worse, including Theodore Letis, who repudiates Fundamentalists, admires liberals, and sets aside the verbal inspiration of the Bible. Yet conservatives admire this version, and recommend it. They are in bad company. The material which was sent to me by the publishers of this version contains also an advertisement for a 78-minute tape recording of extracts from the new version, “recorded by professional performing artists” (!), and selling for $11.95. This can only disgust the spiritual. We really do not see how a spiritual version of the Bible could come from such a source.

This KJ21 is more conservative in actual alteration of the text than many modern versions, but in other respects it is more liberal. The text is printed in four different styles of type, the words of Christ being in italics, “Old Testament passages which are less familiar, less frequently quoted or memorized, and less appropriate for inclusion in lectionaries” being in sans serif type, while “familiar passages,” “key passages,” “many passages which relate to God's joy over His people and His people's rejoicing over their God,” and “many passages which relate to human suffering and God's comfort” are printed in bold type. All this is as arbitrary as it is uncalled for, and it is certainly an expression of liberalism. Christians ought to resent the taking of such liberties with the word of God.

I am quite well aware that many of the conservatives who admire these modern Bibles lack the learning to be able to judge them on their merits. They know no Greek or Hebrew. Many of them also lack the spiritual discernment to understand what the issues are. They know little of solid doctrine or spiritual principle. They are conservative only because their fathers were. This is honorable, so far as it goes, and I do not write to condemn them for this, nor to slight them either. Far from that. I write to help them. I write to give them a short method to accomplish what they may lack the abilities to attain by a more laborious route. I only tell them, the stream is not likely to rise above its source. They will not take their theology, their standards, their ways, or their spirit from these modern Evangelicals. Why then do they accept their Bibles? Their confidence is misplaced.

I do not expect my short method to have any weight with Neo-Evangelicals, or with any of the unspiritual intellectuals who are enamored with modern scholarship. The new versions will no doubt just suit them, and they will regard me as hopelessly outdated, or something worse. But frankly, I would expect conservatives to adopt this method instinctively. Let a word to the wise be sufficient.

Another Answer to the Editor's Challenge

Doug Kutilek (not a King James Only advocate, by the way) has called my attention to the following statement in Henry Alford's New Testament for English Readers, on Hebrews 10:23:

“We have here an extraordinary example of the persistence of a blunder through centuries. The word 'faith,' given here by the A. V., instead of hope----breaking up the beautiful triad of vv. 22, 23, 24,----faith, hope, love,----was a mere mistake, hope being the original, without any variety of reading, and hope being accordingly the rendering of all the English versions previously to 1611. And yet this is the version which some would have us regard as infallible, and receive as the written word of God!”

But observe, as in the statement which I previously gave from Spencer Cone, all that we have here is a second hand reference to the supposed sentiments of some unnamed and unknown persons----perhaps accurately represented, perhaps exaggerated or misunderstood. If there actually were persons a century or a century and a half ago who believed the King James Version perfect, why can we find no explicit original statements to that effect? I have read more widely in Christian literature than most men have, and I have certainly never found any. Those who have most strenuously opposed the revision of the King James Version (including John W. Burgon) did so not on the ground of its perfection, but of its excellency and its adequacy. They contended only for letting well enough alone, but well enough and perfect are two things----though the warm advocates of revision (and this includes both Cone and Alford) may have mistaken or misrepresented their sentiments, and supposed them to have thought the old version perfect. Let us have an original statement to that effect, and I shall be glad to print it, for I am not afraid of the facts of history.

By the way, we certainly do receive the King James Version as the written word of God, by which our soul has been saved, and our spiritual life nourished for a third of a century, but it is the word of God only so far as it faithfully represents the originals----which it most certainly and most admirably does in general.

Full of Deadly Poison

Abstract of a Sermon Preached on December 27, 1998

by Glenn Conjurske

I suppose that if any of us were to be solemnly informed that we have a mouth full of deadly poison, we would be struck with the utmost consternation. We would spit, and gag, and wash our mouths with soap, and run to the doctor. We would take immediate and drastic steps to eject the poison, by any and every means.

But the fact is, there are many of us who do have our mouths full of deadly poison. The tongue fills the mouth, and every one who has a bitter, sarcastic, reproachful tongue has in fact a mouth full of deadly poison. The Bible says, “But the tongue can no man tame: it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8). And yet with this mouth full of deadly poison, people are as complacent as a cat on a cushion behind the stove. They feel no evil and fear no evil. How is this?

No doubt because they are in no danger of swallowing their tongues. The poison which fills their mouths proceeds only outward, never inward. They only spit it out, and never swallow it. In short, it only hurts others, and not themselves. They would be greatly offended and incensed if they must hear such things of themselves, as they are quite ready to say of others. Indeed, they are greatly incensed if another but points out to them the poison of their tongue. If we would know just how deadly that poison is, we need only reprove the dealer in it. Such a reproof, though as true as truth itself, and as righteous as heaven, is likely to be met with a shower of venom, first to our face, and afterwards behind our back.

The serpent's mouth is full of deadly poison also, but he does not fear it. The poison which he carries is a deadly weapon, which he freely uses against others, but he never feels it himself. So also the poison of the tongue. If those who deal out this deadly poison were to feel it themselves, they would be crushed and overwhelmed, yet they deal it out to others as though it were but candy. This is not surprising, for those who are the most sensitive to their own injuries are commonly the least sensitive to the injuries of others. So long as the deadly poison is reserved for others, but does not hurt themselves, why should they trouble themselves about it?

You will say I paint a dark picture. 'Tis true enough, but it is not my picture, but God's. It is God who says, “it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison,” and can any man suppose that people carry deadly poison in their mouths in order to swallow it, and deal death to themselves? No, they carry it for others.

Yet we are willing to soften the picture, for all who have this deadly poison in their mouths are not equally guilty. Some may intend more evil than others, though they all do plenty of evil. All who deal out the poison of curses and maledictions and invectives and execrations----all who deal in bitter sarcasms and caustic reproaches----must certainly know that this is poison, though some may be actually unaware of how deadly the poison may be, and if they are brought to behold its deadly effects, they may be quite devastated themselves. They only meant to hurt, not to kill. But as with fists and knives and clubs, many a man has committed murder when he only meant to hurt, so it is with the tongue also. It is perfectly legitimate for judge or jury to distinguish between first-degree intentional homicide, and unintentional murder of a lesser degree, but still the man is dead, and it was his assailant's blows which killed him. It may be he knew not the power of his blows, or the deadliness of his weapon, or it may be that in the passion in which he delivered his blows, he did not pause to consider it, but his blows were deadly for all that.

And so it is with the tongue. We fear that many who deal out their poisons are really unaware of how deadly they are. Wives curse their husbands, and husbands their wives, and parents their children, with little conception of the deadliness of their poisons. At any rate we hope that this careless cursing and reproaching proceeds from such ignorance. We are quite willing to believe that it does, but deadly blows are deadly for all that, and it will be well for all the dealers in poisoned speech to learn that this is deadly poison, before its awful effects come home to them.

Earlier in the chapter James calls the tongue a fire. “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. So is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature, and it is set on fire of hell.” Hell does not mean to hurt, but to kill, yet those whose tongues are set on fire of hell may be actually unaware of the awful nature of the fire. I frankly suppose that many of those who are so free with their tongues are really unaware of the danger, as many others seem to be in their use of fire.

When a house burns down, we often hear it blamed on an over-heated wood stove, or a defective wood stove. Wood stoves, therefore, have a bad name, especially with insurance companies. But the trouble is not in the stove, nor in the fire either, but in the people who use it. They are careless with fire, precisely because they have no proper sense of the danger of it. They no more intend to set the house afire than others intend to set on fire the course of nature with their fiery tongues, but they do it nevertheless, because they have too little sense of its danger. They fill the stove up and leave it to itself, and the next they know the flames are pouring out the windows and through the roof. They start some small bonfire, with little sense of its danger, and before long the fire spreads where they never intended, and they are running frantically to stamp out the flames here, to water them down there, or to turn them back yonder. But the fire can run faster than they can, and it can run to ten places at once, while they can run only to one. They never feared such a thing----never thought of it----when they started the fire, and they took no proper precautions, precisely because they had no proper sense of the danger. And so it is with the tongue. When men speak their bitter words, they never expect that these will run with the swiftness of flames driven by the wind, till the town is in an uproar, or the church divided. We may charitably suppose that in many cases people would be more careful with their tongues if they could but foresee the danger, the same as they would with their stoves and bonfires, if they saw the danger of those. But they see no danger. They mean only to scorch some soul which has irritated them, not to set the course of nature on fire. They mean only to bolster their own pride, or to make themselves look good by making another look bad, and not to divide the church or the family.

I have seen some church splits, and heard of others, and I think it is safe to say there never was a church split but the tongue did it. In most cases there is probably one tongue at the bottom of it, but one warm tongue sets another on fire, and those two blaze so much the more together, till they have ignited the tongues of half the church. Passion reigns, reason hibernates, and evil triumphs, and one small tongue is at the bottom of it all. Truly “the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things.”

Those who set the woods on fire never meant to do so, but they had little sense of the danger of what they did intend to do. In like manner do they seem to be ignorant of the deadly nature of the poison in their tongues. I must confess that I myself was long slow to understand the strong language of James. “Deadly poison.” “A world of iniquity.” This is strong language, and yet we can easily enough see its truth in the case of the wicked. “Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” This all belongs to Paul's description of the wicked, and is the undoubted and literal truth. But James strikes nearer home. “Therewith bless we God, even the Father, and therewith curse we men, who are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing.” Is this some piece of “oriental hyperbole”----as the modernists explain everything they don't happen to like----or is this the literal truth? And if this is the literal truth, who blesses God and curses men out of the same mouth?

The answer is not far to seek. Christian fathers. Christian mothers. Christian wives. Christian husbands. Parents are especially guilty of this. What curses and maledictions proceed out of the mouths of some fathers and mothers! How they reproach and grind and crush their helpless offspring, whenever their passions happen to heat their tongues. Then their children must hear how stupid they are, and how worthless they are. Then they must hear, “Why can't you be like your brother? He never was a lazy bum like you are.” Then they must be told, “I never wanted you in the first place, and you have been nothing but trouble since the day you were born.” And if this is not deadly poison, what is? Some children have been driven to suicide by their mothers' tongues. Many more have been driven to rebellion, against their parents and against God. This is poison, to be sure, and deadly also.

No doubt most of this poisoned speech is as unmeant as it is untrue. The old proverb says, “In wine is truth,” for when the brain is heated by wine, the tongue speaks the truth, which it would never dare to speak otherwise. But it is just the reverse when the spirit is heated by anger. Then the tongue speaks falsehood, which it would never dare to speak otherwise. But how is a child to know this? He only knows that his mother, to whom he looks for love and comfort and every good, passionately affirms that he is worthless, and that she never wanted him.

But sometimes, we grant, the poison is less than deadly. Though deadly enough in its tendencies, it may be administered in such doses as fail to kill. It only hurts. It is only intended to hurt, not to kill. But I tell you, you have no more right to hurt than you have to kill. And those reproachful, sarcastic, resentful words certainly are intended to hurt. When I was a boy we had bickering enough in the house, and when someone spoke hard words to me, my mother taught me to say, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” But this is not true. There is deadly poison in the tongue, and words may in fact be more deadly than sticks and stones. A husband may speak some bitter thing in ten seconds that a tender wife will never recover from in ten lifetimes. It will do little good to apologize later. You tell her you are sorry you said it, but she knows you said it because you thought it, and this is where the hurt lies. Let a man tell his wife once that he never loved her, or that he wishes he had never married her, and she will never recover from this for a thousand apologies. Those words will haunt her till her dying day. It is usually altogether vain to attempt to recall reproachful words. The wound is deep, and the scar will remain. A deadly poison, once administered, spreads through all the veins, and there is no recalling it. A little prevention here is worth a great deal of cure. “Least said is soonest mended,” and when the speech is such as will require mending, nothing said is best of all.

But if the deadly poison of the tongue appears in our speaking to others, it appears much more in our speaking about them. People will say a hundred things behind a man's back that they would never say to his face. And if the hard words spoken to a man's face injure one, the words spoken behind his back defile many. He that speaks evil of another, and expects his reproaches to be buried in the ear of the listener, might just as well start a fire in the woods, and walk away and leave it, and expect it to die out of its own accord. If you have the liberty to reproach a man behind his back, why should not the listener have the same liberty? He repeats the matter to another, and he to another, till the whole course of nature is set on fire. And how great a matter a little fire kindleth. You did not intend all this. You meant only to make the man look bad in the eyes of one or two. You never intended to split the church. But the fire once kindled cannot be stopped. It runs to every point of the compass, till the fire departments of ten counties are powerless to stop it. And the tongue which struck the original match is as powerless to stop the fire as anyone else. You may stand up before the whole multitude and solemnly declare that every word you spoke was a lie, and yet the fire will run on. The passions are excited. The original lie has stirred up the pride and resentment and ill-will of the people, and though it were proved ten times over to be a lie, the passions which it has aroused will find a hundred other matters against the man, all true, of course, and all very grave. I have seen many intelligent people perfectly immune to reason under the operation of such passions. Thus are churches divided, families alienated, friends parted, and the whole course of nature set on fire, and at the bottom of it all is a reproachful tongue.

James speaks strong things concerning the tongue, but they are no exaggeration. “It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. So is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature: and it is set on fire of hell.” What more need we say? “My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”


Ancient Proverbs Explained & Illustrated

by the Editor


Err on the safe side.

This, if not a proverb as such, is at any rate a proverbial expression, and there is no proverb so calculated to teach us our own ignorance as this one. In the first place, the very fact that we must contemplate the necessity of erring at all teaches us how little wisdom we have. And yet the fact that this expression is so widely used----and certainly not by fools, but by wise men----indicates how little of wisdom the wisest of us actually have. The expression is applied to those many situations in which we are called to act, but cannot tell exactly what we ought to do. We do not see our way clearly. We are not omniscient. We cannot see all the factors. We cannot tell what all the consequences will be. We feel the fact that if we act at all we are likely to err, yet act we must.

Here stands a man upon trial for some crime. We must judge whether he is innocent or guilty, but we are not omniscient. It is quite possible we may err in our verdict. If so, let us err on the safe side. And here it is plain which is the safe side. It is better to let a hundred guilty men go free than to punish one who is innocent. We are well aware that to leave the guilty unpunished in general will encourage crime, but the failure of justice in a few cases here and there will have little effect in that direction. Many of the guilty go free anyway, simply because they are never caught. If we fail to convict a guilty man, men may be encouraged to continue in crime, but he will likely be caught and convicted another time. He is probably already guilty of many crimes for which he has never been caught. To let him off once more, for lack of evidence, will not seriously alter his state. On the other hand, to punish the innocent is such a moral outrage that it is to be avoided at all cost. If we therefore stand in doubt, the safe side is to let the man go free. We do little damage by letting one more offender off for one more crime, whereas to punish one innocent man does great damage, not only to the man himself, and to his family and friends, but to the whole judicial system. The law (in this land, at any rate) therefore holds a man innocent until he is proven guilty. This is to err on the safe side. This is sometimes unavoidable, and when we must err, it is our wisdom to err on the safe side. In all our dealings, it is better to err on the side of love and mercy. I have often done so, and though my more mature judgement convicts me that I have erred, yet my conscience acquits me of any ill intent, for it was the safe side on which I erred. It is more honorable to be harmless as doves, than to be wise as serpents.

But sometimes we lack the wisdom even to tell which side is the safe one. Two men approach the same difficulty, both determined to err on the safe side, and yet they choose courses directly the reverse of each other. Is the safe side to go a little too far, or not quite far enough? Is the safe side to be too strict with our children, or not strict enough? Is it safer to spank the child too much, or too little? Is it safer to praise him too much, and risk puffing him up, or too little, and perhaps discourage him? There may be a middle path of truth, but we are not always competent to find it.

We may lack the skill always to cut between the fat and the meat. We determine therefore to err on the safe side. But which is the safe side? Shall we throw away a little meat, rather than eat a little fat, or eat a little fat rather than throw away a little meat?

Where conscience calls on one side, and only advantage on the other, it is easy to say which side is the safe one. But sometimes conscience calls on both sides. Many a poor preacher has been obliged to choose between continuing in the ministry, or working to support his family. Conscience calls on both sides, and how is he to say which side is the safe one? Very necessity, we suppose, must determine the matter. True, he may do both, but one or both must necessarily be curtailed, and it is hard to say how far he may safely curtail either one.

What poor, weak, failing creatures all of us are. How little do the best of us know. And yet the church is full of men who count themselves passing wise because they know a little theology----and that more often than not mistaken. Let them learn how to live and act and do good and succeed and prosper, and we shall count them wise. Meanwhile, let them deeply contemplate the proverb before us, and learn how little they know.

Editorial Policies

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