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Vol. 5, No. 9
Sept., 1996

Traditionalism, Conservativism, and Liberalism

by Glenn Conjurske

Many of the battles which have raged in the church over the centuries have had to do with change----one side contending for change, and the other side resisting it. In this article I aim to set forth the principles which are embodied in those conflicts. How much change is allowable? What kind of change? For what reasons? Such questions have been at the center of many of the conflicts which have rent the church for centuries. Those conflicts have been over music, over dress, over textual criticism, over Bible versions, over education, and over numerous other weighty matters. I leave strictly theological battles for the most part out of the question, for the same principles will not always apply to them which apply in other matters. I speak rather of customs and usages, of ways and means, of habits practices, and standards. I do not intend to speak of the details of particular controversies, except only insofar as I may use them to illustrate the principles of which I wish to speak.

The question of change immediately divides the church into several opposing camps. Some are traditionalists. Others are liberals. Others are conservatives. Traditionalism and liberalism are opposite extremes. Conservativism does not lie midway between them, but leans decidedly toward the traditional side. There may be a fourth position, between conservativism and liberalism, and leaning toward the liberal side. Those who wish to pursue such a distinction in their own thinking may define the resulting four positions as traditionalism, conservativism, liberalism, and radicalism. They may also wish to define a neutral position, midway between the two extremes, but for the present I desire to keep the matter more simple, defining only three positions, while granting that liberalism may exist in varying degrees. There may be varying degrees in the other positions also, and the same man may in fact be a traditionalist in one matter, and a liberal in another.

But I must define my terms:

Liberalism is determined upon change.

Traditionalism is immune to change.

Conservatism is cautious of change. It is resistant to change, though not immune to it. It wants no change but what is clearly necessary, and clearly beneficial. In theory the liberal also may want only such change as is clearly necessary, but, as we shall see, he has entirely different ideas about what constitutes necessity.

Now of these three positions I have no hesitation in saying that conservatism is the one which, generally speaking, embodies both truth and wisdom. Traditionalism is doctrinally false, misapprehending entirely the ways of the Lord. Liberalism is generally as destitute of truth and wisdom as it is full of pride and self-sufficiency. It takes little account of either the works of God or the nature of man.

There are, of course, reasons in back of these diverse positions, and those reasons are the actual matter of importance. Traditionalism is against change because it embodies the doctrine that God wrought in perfection in the past, while he no longer works at all today. It does not, of course, suppose that God no longer works in any respect, but that he has nothing more to do in those spheres in which he has already perfected his work. He is supposed to have led our fathers perfectly, so that he might lead their children not at all. He taught our fathers the whole truth, with the result that he may teach their children nothing at all.

It may be that the traditionalist does not occupy such a position consciously or purposely, but it is nevertheless his actual position. These suppositions belong to the foundation of traditionalism. This is the ruling principle of traditionalism, and the more closely we examine it, the more plainly it appears that the whole of it is based upon very shallow thinking. It not only limits the working of God to the past, but generally to a very narrow period of the past, and to that narrow period it ascribes perfection----or something so near perfection as to leave no room for change. It is really amazing, and sometimes amusing, to see the grave divines of the Presbyterian persuasion for three centuries ascribing perfection to the Westminster Confession. In their view that Confession embodied the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It was their infallible standard, to which the Bible itself was subjected. The Westminster Confession was viewed not as the work of fallible men, such as we are, but as the work of God. But mark, such a view of the matter supposes that in the matter of establishing the truth, the God who wrought but imperfectly from the beginning of the dispensation, took it upon himself to work in perfection in 1646, that he might not work at all till the end of time. It seems never to have entered their minds that the God who taught the framers of that Confession might teach us something which he did not teach them. The truth was forever settled, and there was nothing for us to do but maintain the standard. There is no reason in this.

The same shallow thinking lies at the bottom of the modern King-James-Only position, which embodies the same sort of traditionalism. This doctrine supposes that the God who for hundreds of years, in spite of all of his promises, contented himself with imperfect English versions, took it upon himself to secure perfection in 1611, that he (and we) might have nothing more to do in that sphere till the end of time.

Yet a little thought might teach us that the same processes are always at work both before and after that narrow period to which the traditionalist ascribes perfection, but those processes which he holds to have secured perfection at a certain narrow period of time he holds to have been imperfect before that period, and invalid after it. The same reasoning processes, the same study of Scripture, the same prayer and meditation and consultation which produced the Westminster Confession were at work both before and after its production, yet those same processes which produced perfection in 1646 are held to be imperfect or invalid at all other times. Likewise, the same means of linguistic and theological studies which produced the King James Version were at work both before and after its production, yet those studies which produced perfection in 1611 (or perfected perfection in 1789) produced only imperfection before that date, and have been invalid ever since. I repeat, there is no reason in this.

Ah, but here the traditionalist will balk. He does not believe that those same processes have ever been at work, except in that narrow period of time in which his infallible standard was produced. He will make all that he can of the pre-eminent godliness, spirituality, wisdom, and learning of the men who produced his infallible standard, but (inconsistently enough) deny that it was that which secured the perfection. Above all of those natural and spiritual qualifications of the men who wrought in the business, he finds some special working of God----some special providence or outpouring of the Spirit----which he must attribute solely to the production of his own standards, and deny it to all others before or since.

And here we arrive at the tap root of all traditionalism, which is nothing other than pride. Traditionalism is the short road to establishing the divinity of our own standards. It gives divine sanction to our own ways, our own customs, our own denomination, our own creed. Whether it is Quaker dress, Mennonite culture, Brethren principles, the Keswick platform, charismatic revelations, the Westminster Confession, the Textus Receptus, the Scottish Psalter, or the King James Version, traditionalism puts the stamp of divinity upon our own standards, and condemns all others as debased or deficient. This is pride, and this is bigotry.

But more. Traditionalism is not only proud, but usually lazy also. It is a very comfortable position. There is great security in it. It saves us from the necessity of thinking. It secures us from the difficult and unpleasant task of wrestling with knotty problems. It exempts us from the travail which our fathers endured in order to produce the standards to which we hold. We rest easy in the divinity of our own position, saying in effect, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing,” and it will be a wonder if the Lord does not respond that we are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked----for traditionalists very commonly hold to an empty shell, after all the life and power are gone out of it.

But empty or not, traditionalism always involves a transfer of authority from the infallible Scriptures to some work of fallible man, on the supposition that the work of man is the work of God, and the only true representation of the Scriptures. The Scriptures themselves are of course appealed to, and so long as there is no discrepancy between the perfect standard which God has given, and the imperfect substitute which men have set up, there is no difficulty, but wherever the two conflict, the divine standard is subjected to the human. Traditionalists, of course, proceed upon the assumption that there can be no conflict between their standards and the Scriptures, as both are of God, but in this they are as naive as they are mistaken, and to maintain the mistake they must often close their eyes to the facts. This shutting of the eyes is indeed one of the most prominent characteristics of the modern King-James-Only movement, which constantly denies facts, invents, contorts, and misrepresents them, rewrites history, and even condemns the recognition of facts as unbelief and rationalism. All this is the natural fruit of traditionalism.

The cults in general are founded upon traditionalism, for it is common with them to exalt the work of their human founder to the place of absolute authority. Romanism goes further, claiming a continuing infallibility for its popes and counsels, and it ought to be a lesson to all traditionalists to observe to what lengths Romanism must go in falsifying or suppressing the facts of history in order to maintain its position. Mormonism is in the same predicament, and alas, so are our own brethren of the King-James-Only persuasion, and while we love them as our brethren in Christ, and love the King James Version as the very life of most of the spiritual Christianity which has existed among English peoples for nearly four centuries, we cannot give the least countenance to a system which must falsify the facts in order to maintain its existence. Some among these people have now begun to decry the misrepresentation of facts by others of their number, but how can they escape the same charge themselves? Their system requires it of them. It belongs to the essence of traditionalism to be obliged to circumvent either the plain statements of Scripture or the plain facts of history, and so to sacrifice honesty in order to maintain what is held to be faith. This ought to open the eyes of traditionalists to the falsehood of their position, for it is certain that the truth of God makes no such demands upon the conscience.

But mark, we do not accuse all traditionalists of conscious dishonesty. Many of them may be honestly ignorant of the facts, but it is a sorry system which can only be maintained by ignorance or dishonesty.

It is not that traditionalists are necessarily wrong in all that they hold. Far from it. They may hold very much that is very good. Their wrong consists in ascribing divine perfection or absolute authority to the productions of fallible men, and in refusing to recognize the working of God in other mortals. The foundations of traditionalism consist of theological falsehoods. Traditionalists have not the least particle of Scriptural evidence to support their notion that God should work in perfection at any particular time in history, and not at other times. Traditionalists have sought, to be sure, to support their claims from Scripture. The King-James-Only traditionalists have ransacked both Testaments----and wrested and contorted them too----in order to produce some promise or prophecy which will secure the perfection of their standard. But supposing they can find a hundred such promises, it will not help their position in the least, for it is absolutely unreasonable----unconscionable----to limit the application of those scriptures to the year 1611. If there is any such promise in the Bible, what right have we to apply it to the King James Version of 1611, and not to the Geneva Bible of 1560, or to Myles Coverdale's Bible of 1535, or indeed to every Bible of every period of history? The assumption that we may apply the supposed promises to one Bible, and not to another, is absolutely groundless. No promise of Scripture is dated, and if any promise of Scripture secures the infallible working of the Holy Ghost for the production of a perfect translation, that promise must be as applicable to one version as to another. This being the case, it behooves traditionalists to come down from their high ground of pride and presumption, and acknowledge that though God has wrought----not surely in equal measure, but more or less----in the production of all English versions, he has never so wrought as to eliminate human frailty and secure the perfection of any of them, nor can anything in Scripture be construed as a promise that he would. If ever he made such a promise, it is certain on the testimony of its advocates themselves that he failed to keep it until the year 1611. But more: the same working of the Spirit of God by which he wrought then is yet available to the saints of God today----and the more so if he has promised it. This is the truth which every form of traditionalism sets aside.

But I turn to the other extreme. While traditionalism assumes the perfection or absolute authority of the past works of God, liberalism assumes their deficiency. Liberalism in fact sees but little of the working of God at all in the past, and ascribes most everything to the feeble working of man, generally assuming also that the men of the past were feeble indeed, in comparison with the giants of the present. Liberalism has but little capacity to appreciate or value even the most precious and sacred legacies of the past, which are all presumed to be defective.

We thus come at once to the real root of liberalism, which is pride. It may seem ironic that two things so diverse as traditionalism and liberalism should both be rooted in pride, but such I believe to be the actual fact.

Liberalism always proceeds upon the assumption that we know better than our fathers did, and those who have the least of actual wisdom are the quickest to make this assumption, and the stoutest in maintaining it. It may be that in some things we do know better than our fathers----and we must be a sorry lot if we don't, since we may begin to build where they left off----yet the truly wise are not quick to assume it. They see plainly enough that wisdom was not born with us, and that the working of God did not begin with the advent of the present generation.

But liberalism knows but little of such things. The wisdom of the centuries, the travail of the hearts and minds of good and great men, the working of God himself in all past history----all of this is lightly esteemed by liberals, while with smug confidence they build upon their two foundational assumptions, that all the work of our fathers was defective, and that we are competent to make up the deficiency.

The first of these assumptions no doubt has a little of truth in it, for there is no perfection under the sun. But were the first assumption the whole truth and nothing but the truth, that would contribute nothing to the truth of the second. This brings to mind a number of old proverbs:

He may find fault that cannot mend.

One mend-fault is worth twenty spy-faults.

Blaming is easy, improving is hard. And,

Every fool can find faults that a great many wise men can't remedy.

This is wisdom----wisdom which the experience of the centuries has imparted to the human race in general----yet wisdom of which liberalism remains destitute. It proceeds always upon the ground of its own self-sufficiency, and assumes that he that is able to find a fault is able to correct it. It is assumed that none of our fathers could see the faults which we can see, or they would not have left them uncorrected. This naturally fosters the notion that all of our fathers labored in the dark, or the dim twilight at the best, and it hardly needs saying that whatever those days of twilight produced must be defective “by modern standards,” and so fault is found everywhere where no fault is. Precisely as traditionalism presumes that to be wrong which is new, liberalism presumes that to be wrong which is old. And we, who belong to this enlightened age, in which the depths of wisdom have been fathomed and the heights of “scholarship” scaled----we are competent to mend all the bungled work of our forefathers. This is the spirit of liberalism. It was this spirit which flooded the church with modernistic theology a century ago. It was this spirit which produced that “violent recoil from the Traditional Greek Text,” of which Burgon speaks, and carried textual criticism to the extremes of Westcott and Hort. It is this spirit which has filled the church with discontent with the old English Bible, and produced the flood of modern Bible versions. The spirit of liberalism consists of a restless discontent with what is, coupled invariably with the self-confidence which fancies itself capable of doing better.

Yet there is no doubt that some of the defects and deficiencies which liberalism seeks to correct are real ones. That there are faults enough on the earth every child may know, if his eyes are open. But while liberalism is very sharp-sighted in the discovery of defects, it is dim-sighted and dim-witted in perceiving the principles which ought to govern our response to those defects. Some of those principles are:

1.The fact that a man can spot a defect is no indication that he can correct it.

2.The fact that a defect exists is no proof that it can be corrected at all.

3.There are defects which indeed might be corrected, which yet ought not to be.

These principles embody a kind of wisdom which young upstarts and shallow thinkers do not possess. They are principles which the proud and self-sufficient cannot discover. They are the principles of conservatism. Let us examine them:

First, the fact that a man can spot a defect is no indication that he can correct it. Every fool can find faults that a great many wise men can't remedy, and yet every fool thinks himself able to remedy every fault which he can find. Every little defect----or imagined defect----which he finds in the old Bible he fancies himself competent to correct. It never enters his mind that the makers of the old version may have been as well aware of those defects as he is, but knew not how to make them better, for they had more of real wisdom and less of self-sufficiency. The upstart assumes that the old translators could not see the defects which he has discovered.

But what are the facts? There are thousands of defects scattered everywhere on the face of the whole earth which every fool----yea, every child----can plainly see, which yet none of them can correct. Why do these upstarts not straighten the leaning tower of Pisa?----or the leaning oak on the boulevard? The merest fool can see the mole on his wife's face, but he must be fool indeed to think to mend it. The merest child at a circus can see that the elephant has broken his leg, yet there may not be one man in all the crowd who can set the bone.

Now the recognition of the fact that we may not be able to remedy a fault merely because we can see it belongs to that wisdom which makes men conservatives. The traditionalist denies the existence of the defect----perversely places the stamp of divine sanction upon it, and obstinately defends it. The conservative grants that it is a defect, but is diffident of his ability to provide the remedy. And thus we see that while both traditionalism and liberalism are rooted in pride, conservatism is the only principle which naturally belongs to humility. The conservative studies the whole situation, to understand whether the fault can be corrected, and whether it is worth correcting, while the traditionalist defends the defect, and the liberal blusters in and blunders on to correct it, removing freckles and leaving scars in their places, but never doubting his own competence. This latter is the character of a great number of the “improvements” which we find in the modern Bible versions. Those versions are popular not because they are superior, but because they are new and different. The same liberalism which produced them prevails among the people who use them. “New” and “improved” are practical synonyms to that liberalism, which always assumes that if it is old it is inferior.

But mark well, I do not speak here of theological liberalism, or modernism. I am told that the makers of the three popular modern Bible versions are orthodox, and for anything I know to the contrary, this is probably the truth. I do not accuse them of theological liberalism. I do accuse them of liberalism in the broad and proper sense of the term----of impatience of that which is old, of the love of change, and of unwarranted self-sufficiency in effecting it. I do accuse them of precisely the same spirit which Burgon very properly attributed to the makers of the old Revised Version, of “a skittish impatience of the admirable work before them [the Authorized Version], and a strange inability to appreciate its manifold excellencies:----a singular imagination on the part of the promiscuous Company which met in the Jerusalem Chamber that they were competent to improve the Authorized Version in every part.” This is liberalism. It belongs to the shallow thinking of shallow men, who fancy their ignorance to be superior wisdom.

But I proceed to the next principle of conservatism, which is that there are numerous real defects which cannot be corrected. When a wise man beheld “all the works that are done under the sun,” he understood that “That which is crooked cannot be made straight, and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.” (Eccl. 1:15). There are numerous reasons for this. Some crooked things cannot be made straight because of the perverseness of the human race, others because of its weakness, still others because of its ignorance. But whatever the reasons for it, wisdom perceives plainly enough that there is very much which is indeed crooked, which cannot be made straight. It is not merely that we cannot straighten it, but that no one can. And this applies to that which is indeed “crooked,” and which we may plainly see to be crooked. We may see numbers of real deficiencies in the English Bible, which we must yet confess cannot be remedied, so long as the English language is what it is----for we do not always have exact equivalents in English for the expressions in the original. How are such deficiencies to be remedied? Liberals----always equipped with more of ingenuity than of wisdom----can probably find a way, but it will be at the expense of inflicting more damage than they effect good. Conservatives live with the deficiencies. We have all heard that there was a crooked man, who walked a crooked mile, and found a crooked sixpence, beside a crooked stile; who bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse, and they all lived together in a little crooked house. This is really a profound picture of contentment, and there is more wisdom in this nursery rhyme than in the heads of all the liberals in the land. It is the way of wisdom to live with the crooked, for there is really no help for it.

Ah, but sometimes there is help for it. Some things which are crooked can be made straight----yes, and ought to be. But this leads me to speak of the third, and perhaps the most important, principle of conservatism, which is that there are many defects which could be corrected, which yet ought not to be. There are some obvious reasons for this. To correct some defects we must expend more trouble than it is worth. To correct others we must do more harm than good. Liberalism seems to perceive nothing of this, but always spends a dime to gain a nickel, always throws out the baby with the bath water, always burns the house to kill the mice, and always prides itself upon its superior wisdom. Nothing daunted by the loss of the house, the liberal rebuilds, only to find that the mice enter the house the day after the men----or the day before. It will be well if at this point he begins to learn wisdom, and becomes a conservative.

Now I have no doubt that there are hundreds of defects in the English Bible which ought not to be remedied, but I have little hope of convincing this liberal generation of it. I therefore choose an extreme example, which I hope will speak conviction even to the most liberal.

I refer to the chapter and verse divisions in our Bibles. For twelve centuries there were no such divisions as we now have, “but about A.D. 1248,” as Scrivener informs us, “Cardinal Hugo de Santo Caro, while preparing a Concordance, or index of declinable words, for the whole Bible, divided it into its present chapters, subdividing them in turn into several parts by placing the letters A, B, C, D &c. in the margin, at equal distances from each other, as we still see in many old printed books, e.g. Stephen's N. T. of 1550”----and in most of the early printed Bibles in English. Of these divisions Scrivener says, “The chapters are inconveniently and capriciously unequal in length; occasionally too they are distributed with much lack of judgment.” He lists a dozen places where they are improperly divided, but speaks with the wisdom of the true conservative which he was when he says, “They certainly possess no strong claim on our preference, although they cannot now be superseded.”

Of the verse divisions he writes, “In commendation of the modern verses still less can be said. ... Certain it is that, although every such division must be in some measure arbitrary, a very little care would have spared us many of the disadvantages attending that which Robert Stephen first published at Geneva in the margins of his Greek Testament of 1551, from which it was introduced into the text (broken up to receive it) of the Genevan English Testament of 1557, into Beza's Greek Testament of 1565, and thence into all subsequent editions. It is now too late to correct the errors of the verse-divisions.” Thus speaks the true conservative. While the traditionalist might contend for the divine origin of these divisions, and the liberal proceed to correct them, the conservative grants they are sometimes mistaken, and yet determines that we must live with the mistakes.

But pause and examine the matter. Why is it now too late to correct these errors? Why cannot these faulty divisions now be superseded? Very simply, because in this case to remove the old landmarks, to redesign the familiar landscape, would do very much more harm than good. The good which would accrue by having more accurate chapter and verse divisions would be very small, while the harm which would be done would be incalculable. Every concordance, every commentary, every doctrinal or devotional treatise, every copy of the Bible which has been printed during the last four centuries would suddenly be thrown into confusion. The church of God would be at sea, with many of its old landmarks out of their places. Nay, the church would be hopelessly divided, for it could scarcely be hoped that the whole church would tamely submit to this operation. And all of this for what? For a gain so small that it would scarcely be worth the effort to secure it, even if no evil would result from the attempt. Here, then, is a plain case of something which is admittedly of no divine authority, which is confessedly defective in itself, and yet which all but the most extreme radicals will acknowledge ought not to be altered.

That this is an extreme case I grant, but there are hundreds of lesser examples to which the same principles ought to be applied. There are defects enough which might indeed be corrected, but the gain effected will not compensate for the loss incurred. Is it not wisdom to let them alone? The old Bible, with all its acknowledged defects----“with all its faults,” as John Wesley says----has yet very abundantly proved itself adequate for all of the spiritual life and ministry of the church. It does so prove itself with every passing day. Wisdom therefore says, “LET WELL ENOUGH ALONE.” These are some of the wisest words ever uttered by human lips, and they are the bed-rock of conservatism.

There is something in human nature which loves familiar ground. It is comfortable there, and at home. There is some kind of ease for the spirit in that which we are used to. It frees us to labor without distraction, and without irritation. We walk without stumbling on familiar ground. Everything which we do is done more efficiently and more effectively in the midst of familiar surroundings. Your superior sagacity may suppose itself capable of securing much greater efficiency by rearranging your wife's kitchen, or your husband's library, but you will receive no thanks for the operation when it is done. But liberalism----always shallow, and never penetrating beneath the surface of anything----seems to be entirely oblivious to this trait of human nature. It pays no regard to the sacred associations of the heart or the familiar associations of the mind, but will wrench them all in a moment, for any supposed gain, no matter how petty. Conservatism regards the benefit----and sometimes the sacredness----of familiar ground, and recognizes therefore that there is something to be lost in all change. It therefore avoids needless and useless changes, in which there is nothing to be gained, or in which the gain is so small that it cannot compensate for the loss incurred in the breaking up of the old associations. What little regard liberalism has for those associations may be seen on every page of the modern Bible versions.

Well, but supposing we have carefully examined the whole matter, and can plainly see the good to be effected by a change, and can see but little loss which will result from it. Is it then legitimate to make changes? It may be so indeed, and it should be plainly understood that while conservatism is cautious of change, it is not immune to it. But let it be understood also that the fact that we cannot foresee any evil in the proposed alterations is no proof that there will be none. There is always risk in change----and the more so if we suspect none. When the NASV altered “accepted with him” to “welcome to him” in Acts 10:35----when the NIV altered “Owe no man anything, but to love one another” to “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another” in Romans 13:8----they obviously perceived nothing of the risk involved in such change. They had too much confidence in themselves to think of that. They were only bent upon correcting the defect----though the only defect involved in either of these cases was the theology of the apostles. Well, but that apostolic theology was a defect to them, and therefore correct it they must, never suspecting that they would make bad theology worse in the process----never intending to give apostolic permission to leave the debt of love outstanding. But it must plainly appear that if to leave no debt outstanding means to pay our debts, then to except the debt of love gives us explicit permission to leave that debt unpaid. But liberals are not accustomed to foresee difficulties. They have sharp sight for the difficulties behind, but are blind to those before. They see the skunk behind them, and run fast enough to escape it, but perceive nothing of the pit into which their running is about to plunge them.

But there is something more here. While liberals may have too much confidence in themselves to expect any difficulties from their own works, none of us are always capable of foreseeing the consequences of our acts. We can see the defects which we think to correct, for we may have had a century or two in which to find them, but we may perceive nothing of those which we shall create in the process. It is the place therefore of both wisdom and humility to recognize the likelihood that in correcting one fault we shall create another, and they are therefore content to “let well enough alone.” This is conservatism.

A little thinking beneath the surface of things----such thinking as liberalism is seldom guilty of----might readily convince us that it is a far easier thing to see the defects and difficulties in that which has already existed for years, than to see them in that which has not yet been. There is always risk, therefore, in replacing that which is old with that which is new. That which has stood the test of the centuries, and a thousand times proved itself adequate, may well enough be let alone. We know what and where the difficulties are in the old and tried paths, but when we tread upon new and untried ground, we may perceive nothing of the risks involved. It is the place of both wisdom and humility, therefore, to be cautious of change, and this is conservatism. Liberalism, on the other hand, is rash, and it is its inveterate self-confidence which makes it so. Pride and rashness are twin sisters.

But some minds of a liberal cast may complain that the conservatism which I extol looks very much like traditionalism after all. That I will grant. I affirmed at the outset that conservatism leans decidedly toward the traditional side. But it must be understood that this leaning is primarily in practice, not in principle. Though the conservative and the traditionalist may agree in refusing to change on many particular points, the conservative absolutely denies the divine sanction and absolute authority which the traditionalist attributes to those things. He grants the existence of the defects, and stands open to change, though any change which he allows will be slow and deliberate, not hasty, rash, or glib.

The fact that the conservative will allow for any change at all is of course a great offense to traditionalists. If a man will allow the change of a word in the King James Version, this is the proof that he is not a “Bible believer.” He is an apostate, a modernist, a Romanist. But this is neither more nor less than bigotry. It is the bigotry which will condemn men better than ourselves, on the basis of one issue, and that a mistaken issue, though their whole lives and ministries testify against our judgement. Meanwhile, let traditionalists understand that conservatives do not deny the providence or the direct working of God in the production (for example) of the King James Version. They recognize it----contend for it----rejoice in it. But the working of God which they recognize in the production of the King James Version is of exactly the same sort as that which wrought in John Wycliffe and Myles Coverdale, and which may yet work in any man of God today. This the traditionalist denies, but he has nothing with which to sustain such a denial. As pointed out earlier in this article, there is nothing in either Scripture or reason which warrants us to limit the working of God to any particular period.

I must conclude, but ere I do so I must clarify a couple of points. Many will no doubt be offended that I have attributed humility to conservatism, and pride to both liberalism and traditionalism. Let it be understood, therefore, that I would certainly allow for many exceptions. The fact is, there are bigots both for and against everything, and men of every shade of character who hold second-hand opinions of every description. A humble man may be a liberal, and a proud man a conservative, merely because they have been so taught. Nevertheless, it remains true that pride and liberalism naturally belong together. Liberalism naturally flows from pride, while humility naturally produces conservatism.

Finally, I wish to make it clear once more that the principles which I advocate in this article can only be applied in a limited way to doctrine. We have no right to hold to false doctrine, merely because it is old and established. We have a solemn and peremptory obligation to abandon our doctrine the moment we understand it to be false. Yet conservatism may stand us in good stead even in doctrinal matters, insofar as it delivers us from pride, rashness, and impatience of old standards. Liberalism is dangerous in doctrinal matters. It was liberalism which filled the church with modernism a century ago, so that the two terms came to be used as virtual synonyms. It is liberalism which is causing Evangelicalism to drift from the truth today. Indeed, I have no manner of doubt that much of the traditionalism in the church today is a direct response to the liberalism which pervades modern Evangelicalism, but it is an erring response. It is a reaction, and, like almost all reactions, it is an over-reaction. The proper response to liberalism is conservatism, not traditionalism.

To summarize: traditionalism holds to old standards because it supposes them to be divine and faultless. Liberalism casts them away, believing them to be human and faulty, and being confident of its own ability to better them. Conservatism grants them to be faulty, but is yet reluctant to let them go, being diffident of its own ability to improve them, and recognizing the adequacy of that which has stood the test of the centuries, and the risk involved in change. To put the matter in a homely way, traditionalism will hold to its dime, though it might have a dollar in exchange. Liberalism will readily spend its dime to gain a nickel, or exchange its dime for another----always supposing the other dime to be worth a quarter, and its own dime only a nickel. Conservatism will spend a dime to gain a quarter, but it is very careful to make sure that the cost is only a dime, and the gain really a quarter.

Now I hope my readers know that I am a rock-solid, dyed-in-the-wool conservative----though when I was much younger, knew much less, and thought I knew much more, I was liberal enough. In the Bible version controversy, which seems to be making more noise than any other in the church today, I stand directly between the two opposing camps, directing my batteries on the one side against the shallow liberalism which abandons the old Bible for its inferior modern substitutes, and on the other side against the traditionalism which imputes divine perfection and absolute authority to a human translation. In practice I lean indeed to the traditionalists' side, loving, using, and in general defending the old version, but I decry the principles of traditionalism, as much as I loath the spirit and the practices of liberalism. But I have frankly come near despairing of convincing either side of anything on the basis of facts and details, and have felt more and more that if this controversy is ever to be resolved, it must be on the basis of root principles. I have endeavored to deal with some of those principles in this article. May I be so presumptuous as to ask a dispassionate study of them by both sides?


Judging By One Issue

by Glenn Conjurske

No man is to be judged by one issue. No movement is to be judged by one issue. Yet there is scarcely anything so common in the church of God as to judge of men and movements on the basis of a single issue----and scarcely anything so far from truth and righteousness. This judging by one issue is not confined to the church, but is common in political and other realms also. And by this means some of the best of men are condemned by some of the worst. In the church of God, the most spiritual are condemned by the least spiritual, on the basis of a single issue.

Now it must be plain to all that any time that any man condemns a man better than himself----or despises a man better than himself----in reality he only condemns himself. His judgement but proves the ill state of his own heart. And whenever we judge any man on the basis of one issue, and form an opinion of him other than that which would be dictated by his entire life and ministry, our judgement reveals nothing except our own bigotry.

The Bible says, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” “Fruits” is plural, and the only meaning which this can have is that we are to know a man's character by his fruits in general, and not by a single piece. A single bad apple on a tree does not prove the tree bad, nor does a single good one prove the tree good. The tree is known by its fruit in general. A single flaw in a man's character does not prove him a bad man----much less does a single flaw in his doctrine.

Yet bigots of every description are accustomed to judge everything and everybody by one issue, and I may as well be bold to say at the outset that it is only bigots who judge so. And it matters nothing what that single issue is. Some of the single issues by which men judge their fellows are the very truth of God. Others of them----and this quite commonly----are only falsehood and superstition. But it matters nothing what the particular issue is. Unless we are speaking such fundamental errors as idolatry, atheism, or the rejection of Christ, to judge another man on the basis of any single issue, be it true or be it false, is the mark of pride, ignorance, and bigotry.

It is a grand certainty that God does not judge so. He does not reject a man even for a moral defect. When God speaks of the character of David, he calls him “my servant David, who kept my commandments, and who followed me with all his heart, to do that only which was right in my eyes.” (I Kings 14:8). David, we all know, was guilty of “David's great sin.” He had committed adultery and murder. If David were a Fundamental preacher, his brethren would regard it as a virtual certainty that he never was converted, and would certainly debar him from any further public ministry. Yet God did not remove David from being king, and when he came to speak of him afterwards, he gave it as his judgement of David's character that he had “followed me with all his heart, to do that only which was right in my eyes.”

Not that God was unaware of David's sin, or that it mattered nothing to him. He was well aware of it, and it was a great matter to him, but still it nothing altered his favorable judgement of David's character. In another place he says that “David did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” (I Kings 15:5). Here the Lord mentions David's great sin, but was nothing altered in his judgement because of it. He judged David's character by all that he did “all the days of his life,” and not by his one failure.

But more. David's great sin was certainly not his only failure. We know from explicit statements of Scripture that he failed to discipline his sons, but that failure the Lord does not so much as mention when giving his judgement of David's character. We know also that David was a polygamist. He had a great many concubines besides his numerous wives. This was against God's explicit commandment to kings, not to multiply to themselves wives (Deut. 17:17), yet God overlooks that also in judging of David's character. Perhaps David was ignorant of the commandment, though there could be little excuse for it if he was, for he was also commanded to write him a copy of the law and read it (Deut. 17:18). Perhaps he rationalized the commandment away, contending that he did not multiply to himself wives, for most of them were concubines. Whatever the case, it was an evil, and yet God passes it by when he pronounces his judgement upon David, saying that he “turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” He judged him by his whole-hearted (though certainly not perfect) obedience “all the days of his life,” and neither his few moral failures, nor his one great sin, could alter that judgement.

The Lord's judgement of Abraham was of exactly the same character. Abraham, we know, was guilty of lying----that is, of purposely deceiving men by telling a half-truth. This he did not once or twice in isolated cases, but made it his principle to do so. He made a covenant with Sarah before they left the land of their nativity, that they would speak this lie wherever they went. Scripture records two instances in which he actually did so, and yet in one of them (recorded in Genesis 20) God honored Abraham as a prophet, giving it to him to pray for the life of the man who, on the ground of Abraham's lie, had innocently taken his wife. God called Abraham his friend, and said, “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord.” (Gen. 18:19).

Now it is clear that the faults of David and Abraham were moral faults, and not mere doctrinal deficiencies, yet they nothing altered God's favorable judgement of his servants.

But bigots can never rise to this. They cannot judge favorably of a man unless he can pass the test of the one issue by which they judge. They may profit indeed from the ministry of a man so long as they never perceive that he will not pass the test of their particular issue. They admire his zeal and devotedness. They learn from him. They are built up by his ministry. They are led into green pastures. Their conscience is exercised, and they are led forward in the paths of righteousness. But then somehow----and this is inevitable, for men are very sharp-sighted in everything which relates to their own pet doctrine or tradition----they discover that he will not pass the test. He cannot pronounce “Shibboleth.” He does not take the right stand on the five points of Calvinism, or Scofield dispensationalism, or head coverings, or baptism, or plurality of elders, or the Textus Receptus, or the King James Bible. Suddenly he is looked upon with grave suspicions. He is evidently not so spiritual as we thought. His eye is evidently not single, or he would see the plain truth. He apparently does not really wish to know the truth. Such suspicions are a necessary part of bigotry, for zealots for any pet theme----whether Calvinism, the head covering, the second blessing, or ultra-dispensationalism----have a way of weaving that point into the whole fabric of Scripture, so that it becomes all-pervasive in their thinking and their theology. To such thinking the man who is wrong here is wrong everywhere, some way deficient in everything, some way tainted in everything. But the bigot goes to work to teach his teacher the truth, only to find that he cannot do so. The teacher cannot see it, or will not receive it. Now all of his worst suspicions are confirmed, and he knows this man to be tainted, self-willed, unspiritual. He turns away from him, and in some cases may even give up the truth he has learned and the ground he has gained under his ministry. This is bigotry.

I myself have often enough been judged so, and on the basis of as many different issues as there are judges. Years ago I met a couple of men shopping for books at Kregel's in Grand Rapids. They were devoted and godly----not preachers, but paper mill workers. We began a correspondence, and they were much devoted to my ministry. They were King-James-Only men, and probably assumed that I was----for how could a man not be whose ministry was so profitable? I very carefully avoided the issue, suspecting they would abandon me as soon as they learned where I stood, and determined to do them all the good I could in the mean time. They bought many copies of my book on Good Preaching, and gave them to their friends. When I published Ministerial Education, they bought copies for themselves, and a large supply to give to their friends. Such was their confidence in my ministry that they knew without reading the book that they wanted their friends to have it. One of these men later told me that when he read the book himself, he was shouting “Amen” all the way through it----until he came to page 89, and then--------------POISON!! I quoted from the American Standard Version! Now he was in a dilemma indeed. He had bought these books for his friends, and indeed wanted his friends to have them, but how could he give them poison? He soon determined what to do. He blotted out the words from the ASV with a heavy black marker, and gave the books to his friends thus mutilated. The next step, of course, was to convince me of my error, and he set about that (of course) with zeal and vigor. But he soon found he could not change me, and that was the last I heard from him.

This is bigotry. All the worse, no doubt, because he was the one in error on the issue over which he rejected me, but it is just as much bigotry to reject a good man over an issue which is the truth. No man is perfect, and if we must judge every man deficient or unspiritual who does not perfectly understand the truth----or perfectly understand that what we suppose to be the truth is the truth----we shall have few left whom we can esteem.

I once made favorable mention of John Wesley to a younger brother, who seemed surprised that I would esteem him, and responded with, “He wasn't even a dispensationalist.” “No,” I said, “but he knew how to suffer for Christ.” A friend made favorable mention of Wesley to another, who responded, “But he had long hair.” And thousands, of course, despise him because he was an Arminian. On another occasion I mentioned D. L. Moody to a Baptist pastor, who responded rather smugly, “He was never even Scripturally baptized.” Well, frankly, I can find greater matters than these against both Wesley and Moody, but they were men of God for all that. Those who despise them over such issues as these only condemn themselves. And here I must remark that it is just as wrong to judge a man on the basis of several issues as it is to judge him on the basis of one. I can see several rather serious deficiencies in Wesley's doctrine. He belonged to, and defended, the Church of England. He preached perfection. To this the Calvinists may add that he was an Arminian. But for all that he was one of the greatest men of God this earth has ever seen, and every way above his detractors. Whether it be on the basis of one issue or several, whenever I form a judgement of any man different from that which his entire life and ministry would dictate, my judgement is false, and manifests only my own bigotry.

But more. When we judge good men on the basis of one issue, we not only condemn ourselves, but also deprive ourselves. By this means we deprive ourselves of some of the best of God's gifts. And this, I have no doubt, is a manifestation of the righteous judgement of God. Those who reject the ministry of a servant of the Lord, because of some real or imagined deficiency in his doctrine----yea, because of some fault in his character----thereby deprive themselves of their own profit. This is the price which they pay for their pride and bigotry, and it may be a high price indeed. When God sends his people a prophet for their good, and they esteem him lightly for some supposed deficiency which they find in him, God has no obligation to send them another. If he sends leanness to their soul, this will be righteous enough, for it is no light thing to despise the gifts of God.

And the fact is, those who either esteem or despise men on the basis of a single issue are in peculiar danger here. This judging by one issue works in both directions, and the bigots who judge so will as readily esteem a bad man who can pass their test, as they will despise a good one who cannot. They judge by one issue. If that issue is Calvinism, they will esteem and follow an unspiritual man if he is a Calvinist, and despise and reject a spiritual man who is an Arminian. They, of course, will not believe that an Arminian teacher can be spiritual, but this is both ignorance and bigotry, and there is a price to pay even for ignorance, and much more for bigotry. Their judgement would be just reversed if they would judge of men by their whole life and ministry. “By their fruits ye shall know them,” and this is the only safe way, as well as the only righteous way.


C. H. Spurgeon & William Taylor

by the editor

C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) was a Baptist. William Taylor (1821-1902) was a Methodist. Spurgeon must lament that Taylor was “ultra-Arminian.” Taylor must lament that Spurgeon was “a high-toned Calvinist.” Yet for all that their fraternal regard for each other is so beautiful, their esteem for each other for their work's sake so deep and hearty, and what they have to say about each other so edifying, that I am compelled to pass it on to my readers. I trust their statements may prove to be a blow at the root of bigotry.

I wish that I could give a fuller statement from Taylor, but I give what I can. Spurgeon's is doubtless fuller than some will desire. As Taylor was the first to speak, I quote him first. In a series of letters on preaching he says, “If you will take the Savior's model for preaching, my brother, and carefully review the history of the Church, you will find that the success of God's ministers has always been proportionate to the degree of their conformity to it. . . .

“That is the secret of Spurgeon's success. `O, but is he not a high-toned Calvinist? And does he not run into a great many extravagant eccentricities of style?' I admit all that, and reply, If with these defects his approximate conformity to the Savior's model gives him so much pulpit power, what would he not accomplish were his conformity so perfect as to remove all these defects?”1

In 1867 Spurgeon reviewed Taylor's little book on Reconciliation, and said, “It was our privilege the other day, to hear from Mr. Taylor, one of the most telling, earnest, spiritual, and yet humourous addresses which we ever remember to have listened to. It was a most distinct and marked season of blessing to those who were present; we felt deeply in the speaker's debt, and feel so still. We are told that Mr. Taylor's theology is ultra-Arminian. If so, we are sorry for it; but there is such a savour of the living power of God about his spirit and his communications, that the evil of his mistakes is greatly qualified, and the holy power of the truth works its way. We do not endorse all the statements of the work before us, but we wish every unconverted person could read it. The preacher is not pathetic or pleading to any great degree, but he is forcible, hits hard, cuts deep, and above all, points constantly to the cross. He is a man so full of zeal, so consecrated, so full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, that we are half-ashamed that we who are less than the least of all saints, should write a word of criticism upon him; we wish him God-speed heartily, and pray that he may know the truth more fully, and develop into a sound Calvinist; meanwhile, we wish all our Calvinistic friends were even a tenth part as useful as Father Taylor of California, the apostle of South Africa.”2


Even a Child

by Glenn Conjurske

Abstract of a Sermon, Preached on June 23, 1996

“Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.” (Prov. 20:11).

A child is known by his doings, exactly as a tree is known by its fruit, whether it be pure, and whether it be right. And of course he is also known by his doings, if his work is not pure, and not right. What is known by his doings is his character. What a man does is the manifestation of what he is. It is the gauge of his character. And the same is true of “even a child.”

This plainly teaches us that children have character----either good character, or bad character. A good many parents seem to have missed this. They seem to think that this verse, “Even a child is known by his doings,” means nothing more than that we may tell that a child is a child by his doings. When their child does something foolish, or reckless, or evil, they say, “Oh, he's just a child. He'll grow out of it.” And I tell you, he won't grow out of it. He may grow out of certain manifestations of his evil character, but he won't grow out of the character which produced them. When he is three years old, he may lie on the floor of the grocery store and kick and scream till he gets a candy bar, and his mother says, “He'll grow out of it.” Yes, of course he'll grow out of screaming for a candy bar in the grocery store, but he won't grow out of the character that prompted such acts. He'll find more sophisticated means to get his way, but he'll have the same character still. His character is what he is, and what he is is known by what he does. Children have character, either good or evil, and that character is known by their doings.

But parents somehow seem to miss this----or to deny it. If they see a man of twenty years driving his car as fast as he can, for the mere pleasure of the speed, or for pride and worthless bravado, they will make a quick connection between his doings and his character. But if they see their boy of ten years doing exactly the same thing with his bicycle, they make no such connection. Yet such doings in the boy of ten proceed from the same kind of character that produce them in the man of twenty. “Even a child is known by his doings.” It is the same foolish recklessness, and the same pride and bravado, in the boy of ten as it is in the man of twenty----and he is not going to grow out of it.

Now it is the business of parents to do something about that character. But how? You can't regulate character, but you can regulate conduct, and by regulating conduct you can indirectly regulate character. A saying I have often heard in evangelical preaching is, “Sow an act, and reap a habit. Sow a habit, and reap a character. Sow a character, and reap a destiny.” This is true. To sow an act means to indulge in it. To sow a habit means to indulge in that. When you commit an act once, it becomes much easier to repeat it. I remember very distinctly the first time in my life that I swore. It was when I was in the fifth grade, on the concrete pavement out behind the old Curran School. This was forty years ago, but I remember everything about it----who was there, where we were standing, and every word I said. I remember my thoughts and my motives. But I have no recollection whatsoever of the second time I swore, nor the third, or fourth, or ten thousandth. It was easy the second time, and the third, and in a short time it was a habit. It was my character. By the time I was in the seventh grade I had as dirty and as profane a mouth as a man could have.

Again, I remember the first cigarette I ever smoked. I remember every circumstance, but I have no recollection whatsoever of the second, or the third, or the fourth----no, nor even of the last, though I remember every detail of the morning I threw my last pack of them in the river. That which was in the first instance a very big step very soon became very ordinary, and we do not remember the ordinary. The evil act soon became an evil habit, and the habit became my character. But there is something else here, for that first act that I sowed of swearing or of smoking was a manifestation of the character which I already had. Our character is known by our doings. Yet by sowing those acts, and by indulging those habits, we greatly strengthen that evil character.

But it works in the opposite direction also. By denying ourselves the indulgence of evil acts, we weaken those evil habits, and so weaken that evil character. Self-indulgence strengthens the lusts of the flesh. Self-denial weakens them. This is common human experience, and every man knows it, unless he has a false theology which prevents him from knowing it. Discipline makes character, whether that discipline is self-imposed, or imposed by others, and this is the business of you parents. It is your business to regulate your child's conduct, and by regulating his conduct you can indirectly change his character. It is your business to watch the boy on the bike, and restrain him. Require him to slow down, until he learns self-restraint, which is character. I know, some parents expect to do this an easier way. Just get this child converted, and all will be well. Yes, yes, all will be well, no doubt, but how are you going to get him converted? By indulging him in his evil ways? You know very well that I do not believe in salvation by character, but neither do I believe in salvation without character. The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” This is character, and this is godliness, and yet we all know that mere training, without conversion, is not enough. “Ye must be born again,” regardless of your training or your character. Yet if evil training----or no training----is as conducive to conversion as good training, then parents may disregard this scripture and this sermon, and disregard their children's conduct and character also.

There is such a thing----so the Savior says----as being “not far from the kingdom of God.” And there is such a thing as being very far from it. Of course some folks will think it makes no difference. They have a theology which knows more of Calvin and Augustine than it does of God or man, and I suppose their theology must dictate that when the Lord told a man he was “not far from the kingdom of God,” he was only revealing the secret purpose of God. It couldn't have any reference to anything good in the man. It must mean that God intended to convert him not many days hence. Not so, say I. The Lord said this in response to the man's speaking. He saw that the man was good soil. He saw that he had “an honest and good heart,” as the Lord himself defines the good soil in the parable of the sower. There was something in the man that made him “not far from the kingdom of God,” and it does make a difference.

It makes a great deal of difference, and I tell you that by requiring your children to deny themselves and cease sowing those evil acts, you may bring them near to the kingdom of God. But parents usually take just the opposite course. Instead of regulating their children's conduct, they excuse it. “He's just a child” is one of the most foolish and most hurtful of those excuses, for even a child is known by his doings. Another excuse, which I thank God I haven't heard here for a long time, is “He's tired.” He's tired, and therefore he's fussing. I used to hear this excuse every time we had a meeting. I was beginning to think some of these little folks were born tired, and would never get over it. But I guess I have preached so much about this that everyone here would be ashamed to say it any more, even if you think it. But what is this saying, anyway? He's tired, and therefore he has the right to manifest his evil character. He's tired, and therefore he has the right to indulge his evil ways. Imagine Ahab, when he took Naboth's vineyard, telling Elijah, “I was tired.” Or David, when he took Uriah's wife, telling Nathan, “I was tired.”

I was painting in the home of a well-to-do Jewish family nearly twenty-five years ago. The little five-year-old came home from kindergarten, and wanted some candy. His mother told him he couldn't have any. He went to the cupboard to get it, and she stood in front of the cupboard door. He stood there in front of her and commanded her, “Move out of my way.” She argued with him, reasoned with him, and reproached him, but his one answer was, “Move out of my way.” She begged and pleaded, and told him what a reproach he was bringing upon the whole family in front of this painter----as if he cared a whit about that. Well, I must give the poor woman credit. Whatever she did wrong, she didn't excuse him. She didn't turn to me and say, “He's hungry.” But if she had, it wouldn't have been much more foolish than all this talk I used to hear about being tired. But you know, I have a secret suspicion that these excuses which parents make are more to excuse themselves for not dealing with their children's evil----or for not being able to deal with it----than they are to excuse the children.

But listen, I am not unreasonable. I know very well that that which is not wholly excusable may be partially so. I know that God himself will not judge us with the same severity if we sin under provocation, as if we sin without any. “He knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” He does not judge harshly, but no doubt excuses us as far as he can, while yet holding us responsible for our failures. It is no doubt true that little Johnny behaves worse when he is tired. Johnny's father may behave worse when he has a headache. But that is no reason to allow his evil. If you want to excuse the little fellow because he's tired, that may be all right, if you only excuse him so far as to mix a little more mercy with his discipline. But if you excuse him so as to allow his evil ways, it is not all right, but all wrong. Eve would never have sinned if the devil hadn't tempted her, and Israel would never have murmured if God had given them a smorgasbord every day, instead of suffering them to hunger, and feeding them with manna. Yet God held Eve and Israel responsible for their sin.

Now I want you to understand something about character. Adverse circumstances are the test of character, but foolish parents begin at the wrong end, and regulate the child's circumstances instead of changing his character. Mother runs herself ragged to make sure the little tyrant is never tired and never hungry----to make sure the door is always open when he wants it open----to make sure that he always get his own way, and never has to face any trying or adverse circumstances. And you know, so long as everything is smooth and easy and pleasant, the little tyrant may act just like an angel. You may act like an angel too, when the pancakes aren't burnt, and the coffee isn't cold, and the plate isn't dirty, and the fork isn't missing, and the neighbor's dog isn't barking----or when no one is challenging your doctrines or traditions. But you may act some other way when the circumstances aren't so pleasant. And you once let that little tyrant's will be crossed, and you'll find out in a hurry what sort of character he has.

But parents begin at the wrong end, and proceed in the wrong direction too. Adverse circumstances are the test of character, and God does not go out of his way to remove our adverse circumstances. Just the reverse. He leads us through poverty and hardship and trouble and pain and disappointment, and requires us to behave ourselves there. He says to Israel in Deuteronomy, “And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, and to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger,” etc. God did not lead them into a paradise, but into a desert. He did not give them easy circumstances, but hard ones, and this he did to know what was in their heart, for adverse circumstances are always the test of character.

But foolish parents make it their business to remove as far as possible every adverse circumstance----every unpleasant commandment or duty----and when the little tyrant acts like an angel, they deceive themselves to think he's an angel indeed. No, he's no angel. He just hasn't been tested. And when you make it your business to make everything easy and pleasant for him, you actually confirm him in his evil character, instead of rooting it out of him. When little Johnny stands at the door and fusses, and Mother opens the door for him, she teaches him to be selfish and demanding. She teaches him that it pays to be so. What ought she to do? When he fusses because he can't open the door, the first thing she ought to do is spank him. Next, she ought to tell him he can't go outside this time, because he fussed about the door. Make it plain to him that next time he wants to go outside he should come to Mother----not stand at the door and yell for her----and ask her nicely if she would open the door for him. And mothers, don't be afraid to say “No,” either----or tell him he'll have to wait. He may need that test of his character also. Now when you take this course, you require him to deny himself. You require him to cease sowing those evil acts. You require him to sow some decency, and in a little while it will be his habit, and his character. You regulate his conduct, and you form his character. You neglect to regulate his conduct, and you let him form his own character, and it isn't likely to be a good one. You regulate his circumstances instead of his conduct, and you may keep him smiling now, but you are brewing a bitter cup of tears, which you will drink another day.


B. B. Warfield on J. W. Burgon

With Remarks by the Editor

J . W. Burgon (1813-1888) was the most forceful opponent of the liberal school of textual criticism, represented by Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Alford, Westcott and Hort, Nestle, and almost everyone else since Hort's day. And though it would behoove any sensible man to regard Burgon as a very able antagonist, the modern critical school has generally treated him with disdain. There is safety in numbers, and while the adherents of the liberal school have held possession of the field, it has been safe enough for them to ignore Burgon, or to treat him with contempt. His arguments have been answered with, “We expect such things from Burgon,” and that has been considered answer enough.

In the midst of such a state of things, it has been refreshing to read what B. B. Warfield has to say of Burgon. Warfield was Professor of Didactic and Polemic Theology at Princeton Seminary from 1887 to 1921, and is well known as a man esteemed for his scholarship as well as his orthodoxy. He was certainly an adherent of Hort's school of textual criticism. This will be placed beyond doubt by a brief quotation from the preface of his own book on textual criticism. “This little treatise,” he says, “purports to be a primer, and a primer to the art of textual criticism rather than to the science. Its purpose will be served if the reader is prepared by it to exercise the art in the usual processes, and to enter upon the study of the science in such books as Dr. Hort's `Introduction,' and Dr. Gregory's `Prolegomena' to Tischendorf's eighth edition.” His adherence to Hort's school, of course, gives double weight to anything he may say in Burgon's favor. I invite the attention, therefore, of all who, under the influence of modern scholarship, have a mean opinion of Burgon, to the generous praise and candid acknowledgements which B. B. Warfield grants to him.

In the tenth volume of Warfield's works, entitled Critical Reviews, he says on page 27, “Certainly the purity of Dean Burgon's motives, the enthusiasm of his research, the breadth and accuracy of his scholarship, and the vigor of the style in which he was accustomed to present his views, would make us loath to miss anything he might have had it in mind to say on so fundamental a problem. And it is certainly not those alone who hold with him in this controversy that are the losers by the incompleteness of the great project on which he was employed when death cut him off.”

I remark here that “the vigor of the style in which he was accustomed to present his views” is generally regarded as an unmitigated fault by the “scholars” of the cold, intellectual school, who seem to suppose that it is a sin to feel anything----and who would have us defend the truth in the same manner in which we read a farm market report. The vigorous and emotional style of Burgon has generally been made one of the primary objections against him. Warfield, at any rate, thought otherwise.

Then again, it has been the way of modern scholarship to make capital of Burgon's mistakes in order to impugn his scholarship----though with as much reason they might impugn any other man's. Warfield bears a contrary testimony.

Warfield wrote in review of Burgon's posthumous books, The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels Vindicated and Established, and The Causes of the Corruption of the Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels, and says further, “Dean Burgon was incapable of writing a dull page, and there is much that is valuable as well as interesting in these two volumes. Especially would we not willingly miss the charming discussions of individual readings at length, such as those of the `honeycomb' of Luke xxiv.42, the `vinegar' of Matt. xxvii.34, the `rich young man,' and `the Son of God' of Mark i.1, which are gathered into an Appendix to Vol. I, and the numerous briefer discussions scattered through Vol. II, culminating in the long Appendix on the pericope concerning the adulteress. It is not merely that these discussions give us a completer and more sifted view of the witnesses for the readings discussed, and bring together a mass of interesting information as to the use and understanding of these texts in the early Church; nor is it merely that they reopen the question as to the right reading in a number of very important passages of Scripture, and sometimes present considerations which cast doubt upon or reverse previous decisions----as we think is the case in a number of instances, as for example in Acts xx.24; Mark vi.22; Matt. xxvii.17; Titus ii.5 (see Vol. II. pp. 28, 32, 54, 65).” But as an indication how little inclination modern critical scholarship has to pay any heed to Burgon (or to reason), the modern Bible Societies' text, edited by Aland, Black, Metzger, and Wikgren, contains all four of the readings enumerated, which Warfield thought Burgon's discussions should force the critics to reconsider or reverse. One of those readings (“Jesus Barabbas” in Matt. 27:17) was rejected by both Tischendorf and Hort. The modern editors, 'tis true, put “Jesus” in brackets, to mark it as “dubious,” yet they grant it the “relative degree of certainty” of C, which is higher than they give to numerous readings which are not bracketed.

But to continue with what Warfield considers Burgon's most valuable contribution: “Such detailed discussions as these perform the far more salutary office of keeping us aware that every reading in the New Testament requires to be discussed separately and to be determined on the merits of its own evidence. It may be true that, as Dr. Salmon complains (p.33), a certain `servility' has been exhibited in the acceptance of Dr. Hort's results, and it may well be that his theory as to the history of the text and of the consequent general value of the several MSS. and other witnesses has not only been embraced sometimes with `servility,' but applied often with a dull mechanicalness which is wholly alien to its very nature. But nothing can be more certain than that Dr. Hort's determinations of the relative value of witnesses are determinations of average values only, and that nothing could more sadly confound the whole system of criticism which he has given the world than to treat them as absolute and invariable. It may possibly be true that he himself used his materials a little too mechanically in the actual framing of his text, and that there may be some color to the reproach that he looked upon B as an infallible voice proceeding from the Vatican and upon the combination of Ba as a manifest deliverance from heaven itself: it may possibly be true, also, that others, following him, have dismissed with too cavalier a contempt all the readings of the mass of the MSS. and have shown a disposition to prefer nonsense to sense when it was BaACD which babbled it. But such extremes of treatment of the authorities are not only not inherent in Dr. Hort's system, but are distinctly contradictory to his system.” (pp 28-29).

In this we see the advocate of Hort's system, and his assertion that the extremes which he mentions are not inherent in it is open to question. If it “may possibly be true” (and in fact is true) that Hort himself was guilty of those extremes----if it “may possibly be true” (and in fact is true) that others were guilty of the same when they “followed him”----what is this but the practical admission that those extremes belong to Hort's system? Hort's system was “Codex B,” and he must be very naive who can believe that his elaborate textual theories were anything other than the means by which to establish the authority of Codex B and its allies. “Cod. B and its characteristic peculiarities are never out of the author's mind, and those lines of thought are closely followed which most readily lead up to the theory of that manuscript's practical impeccability.” (Scrivener, Introd., 3rd. ed., p. 541). As infatuation with Codex a was Tischendorf's peculiarity, infatuation with Codex B was Hort's. The real animus of his system was the determination to overthrow the common text----“all distinctively Syrian readings must be at once rejected,” says Hort (Introd., pg. 119)----and the modern adherents of that school have carried it to yet further extremes. They do not require a or B, but will take almost anything against the common text. In one of the readings mentioned above, “Jesus Barabbas” in Matt. 27:17, they take alone of the old uncials, against aABDKLW 064, against most of the ancient versions also, and, of course, against the whole mass of cursives, and against the Received Text. I have pointed out in these pages before that they take A alone (against even a) in Revelation 5:9. Examples of this sort serve to illustrate how little there is of objective criticism among modern critics. They will take almost anything as evidence, so long as it overturns the common text.

But to return to Warfield, a little further along he says, “In a word, there is not only left place here for exceptions, but exceptions are to be expected. Discussions of individual passages like those which Principal Brown and Dean Burgon gave us, therefore, must be expected to bear good fruit and to aid substantially in the better settlement of the text. The discovery of the exceptions to the validity of the general rules for applying the testimony may, indeed, be even said to be now the chief task of the actual work of the textual criticism of the New Testament. It is with no reserves, therefore, that we can welcome the rich discussions of separate readings such as Dean Burgon's writings bring us.” (pg. 30).

These are very large admissions. They come from a man too infatuated with Hort's system to give it up, even though he must acknowledge the force of Burgon's arguments, and yield the victory to him in numerous particular instances. But those particular instances must be regarded as exceptions to the established rules!! It is much to be regretted that Burgon did not live longer. If he had, and had written more along the same lines, the list of admitted exceptions may likely have grown so long that reasonable men would have been forced to admit that the “exceptions” were in fact the exemplification of the true rule. This unfortunately did not happen. As for modern critics, so far from allowing the “rich discussions” of a man like Burgon to recall them from the extremes into which they have followed Hort, they have proceeded to an even further extreme, and have paid no more attention to the sane acknowledgements of a Warfield than they have to the sane arguments of a Burgon.

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