Traditionalism, Conservativism, and
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
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
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
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
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
2.The fact that a defect exists is no proof that it can be corrected at
3.There are defects which indeed might be corrected, which yet ought not
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
----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
----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
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?
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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
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
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
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
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
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
----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
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
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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
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
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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
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
----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,
Then again, it has been the way of modern scholarship to make capital
of Burgon's mistakes in order to impugn his scholarship
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
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.
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.
OP&AL is a testimony, not a forum. Old articles are printed without
alteration (except for correction of misprints) unless stated otherwise,
and are inserted if the editor judges them profitable for instruction
or historical information, without endorsing everything in them. The editor's
own views are to be taken from his own writings.