"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 2, Number 1, January, 1999
"Let us, dear brethren, try to GET SATURATED WITH THE GOSPEL. I always find that I can preach best when I can manage to lie a-soak in my text. I like to get a text, and find out its meaning and bearings, and so on; and then, after I have bathed in it, I delight to lie down in it, and let it soak into me." Charles Spurgeon [AN ALL-ROUND MINISTRY, (Pasadena, Tex.; Pilgrim Publications reprint), p. 124 .]
"And suppose that we should be abused, misrepresented, and slandered for Christ's sake, then glory to God that we had a reputation to lose for His sake, and blessed be our Lord who counted us worthy to lose it!" [Ibid., p. 127]
"Be on fire within yourselves with perfect consecration to God, and then you will blaze in the pulpit." [Ibid.]
The only way I know to continue to grow mentally and intellectually is to constantly read books. For years, I have set it as my goal to complete 50 books each year. This is not an unrealistic goal. Indeed, Wilbur Smith, the late, great Christian bibliophile said that every preacher should read 100 books each year (see Wilbur M. Smith, A TREASURY OF BOOKS FOR BIBLE STUDY [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1960], p. 8). I have never come close to Smith's standard, and do not usually meet or exceed my own goal. I am a slow, plodding reader.
I have heard claims of some men who read a book per day. Such prodigious reading is beyond my mental capacity or my constraints of time (and I must say that the two particular men I am thinking of with this book-a-day achievement are also guilty of gross factual blundering in some of the things they have written or spoken. They may read much but not well).
My annual average reading is something around 40-45 books completed, totaling somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 pages (of course, I read a great deal in reference books, commentaries, and other books which I don't read through or include in my total. Nor do I include Bible reading in this total. That's in a class by itself). In 1998, the exact numbers were 40 books completed, totaling 10,369 pages. The books may be broken down by categories as secular biography-7; Christian biography-6 (including 2 missionary biographies); Bible text, translation, and publishing-5; history-5; Bible and science, politics, and contemporary Christianity, 2 each; missions, the Hebrew language, prayer, miracles, Spurgeon, psychology, church history, economics, personal evangelism, essays, and novels, 1 each.
I began keeping a running accounting of my reading in the Summer of 1984, and retroactively compiled a list of all books I'd read since the 8th grade. They turned out to be far fewer in number than I imagined. That served as a goad to spur me on to more intensive application to reading. I have put the list on computer, so that I can sort it by author, date and title. This serves to remind me of what I have and haven't read by an author, and merely seeing the name of a book stirs up memories of subjects and information that has gotten filed away deep in my mind.
How do I choose what I read? Obviously, specific reading for sermon and Bible instruction comes first. And I could add required reading for grad school courses (but I'm done with that for now; much such books were incredibly boring). Then, I read on topics which interest me and about which I may be writing. Then I choose books that fill in "gaps" in my knowledge (my reading of a book on World War I recently was exactly for that purpose). I also sometimes select books that merit reviewing for the readers of AISI. And I sometimes read a book so that I can intelligently discuss a subject with my son the Citadel cadet. Because of his interest in Nathan Bedford Forrest and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain--both American Civil War generals (the former Confederate, the latter, Union)--I have read biographies of both (two years ago one was only a name to me, and the other was wholly unknown). I also read books that I think I need to read--books on the devotional life, prayer, self- examination, and related topics. I will even occasionally read a book that is on the best-seller list, just to see what it is that is influencing the general reading public. I very rarely read novels (though there are a dozen or two "classics" on my shelves that I would like to have the leisure to read).
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) gave some very good advice about what to read. James Boswell, Johnson's biographer, reported: "He said, that for general improvement, a man should read whatever his immediate inclination prompts him to; though to be sure if a man has a science to learn, he must regularly and resolutely advance. He added, 'what we read with inclination makes a much stronger impression. If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read.' " (James Boswell, THE LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON L.L.D. [New York: The Modern Library], p. 637). Everyone who reads much at all knows that Johnson spoke the truth.
I keep a shelf--actually an entire bookcase--of "must read soon" books, which this year has been supplemented by a double stacked "must read soon" pile because the bookcase was full to overflowing. Sad to say, some of the books in that bookcase have been there for half a dozen years and more, and nearly all have been there two or three years. I'm so far behind in my reading that I didn't even read 1984 until 1987.
At the beginning of each year, I draw up an informal list of books that I really should read this year. For 1999, this includes the two-volume JOURNAL of Charles Wesley; at least one volume of John Wesley's Works in 14 volumes, FIFTY YEARS IN THE CHURCH OF ROME by Chiniquy; volume one of Schaff's CHURCH HISTORY and his biography written by his son; a biography of Spurgeon, and a re-reading of his AN ALL-ROUND MINISTRY; Calvin's commentary on the Synoptic Gospels; a biography of John Quincy Adams which I bought a couple of months ago; John MacArthur's book EXPOSITORY PREACHING; two or three missionary biographies (say of Taylor, Moffatt, Martyn or Paton), Will Durant's CAESAR AND CHRIST or his THE REFORMATION; a play or two of Shakespeare; Thomson's THE LAND AND THE BOOK; another book by historian S. E. Morison; Ambrose's account of Lewis and Clark, or their Journals; and, finally (though I could easily double the list) introductory grammars of Spanish and of Latin (both of which I am trying to improve my knowledge of). If I actually get several of these read--not to say all of them--, I will have made great progress. And as the year unfolds, twenty or thirty other volumes will distract my attention, and they will be added to the "must read soon" pile, and some of them may actually get read.
The subtitle: "Sex, Scandal, and Corruption in American Politics from 1702 to the Present" pretty much indicates the nature of the contents of this book: a chronicling of various scandals--financial, moral, personal--of political figures in American history from the beginning of the 1700s through 1988. The book is by no means exhaustive of known scandals in that period. I decided to read this volume to gain some historic perspective for evaluating the scandal- ridden Clinton administration.
First, other Presidential administrations have been notoriously corrupt, with the administrations of U. S. Grant (1869-1877) and Warren Gamaliel Harding (1921-1923) probably leading the way. Both of their administrations were characterized by financial corruption among cabinet members and other executive branch appointees, though neither of these Presidents seems to have himself profited financially from the crooked deals (both were "hands off" administrators; the Harding scandals came to light only after his death).
And there have been other Presidents with grave moral defects (both before and in office). Among these were Grover Cleveland. A decade before he was elected President, as sheriff of Buffalo, New York, and while a bachelor, he had possibly fathered a child out of wedlock (I say "possibly" because the child's mother was very "loose" and even she was not certain of the child's paternity). Cleveland had accepted responsibility and had supported the child financially. When this scandal surfaced during the 1884 election campaign, Cleveland was asked by his distraught campaign staff what they should do. He told them simply, "Tell the truth." What a refreshing concept! He did "come clean" and was elected (he had a much-deserved record as a public official of absolute honesty and integrity).
Warren Harding had several mistresses, both before and during his administration, including the teen-age daughter of a close friend, by whom he fathered a child while President. Thankfully, he was removed from office by death before these evils came to light.
Franklin Roosevelt's adulteries as President are well known as is the lesbianism of his wife Eleanor. Does this explain Hillary Clinton's admiration for Eleanor?
John Kennedy was by far the most prolific Presidential fornicator. The press and electronic media knew well the fact of a continuous stream of women to the Presidential bedroom, yet they said nothing, because they had bought into the cheap facade of "Camelot." (Kennedy's administration was also marred by other scandals--the deceit regarding JFK's health, his use of stimulants and of illegal drugs while President). None of these scandals became public during the "1,000 days." If they had, surely a forced resignation would have followed. And Clinton chose this President as his role model!
Lyndon Johnson was also a very immoral man. One 30- year adulterous affair ended late in Johnson's administration, because the woman considered LBJ's Vietnam policies "immoral." It is notable that no evidence of Presidential adulteries exist for anyone who occupied the Oval office between Johnson and Clinton (Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush), though Congress more than "took up the slack," with the sex scandals of Wilbur Mills, Wayne Hays, Jon Jenrette, and others. John Conyers, who led the Democrats in the recent House Judiciary committee impeachment hearings, was notorious in the 1960s and 1970s as being a prolific womanizer with a preference for white woman. Does this explain his "dig-in-your-heels" defense of Clinton? Likewise, the ever-present and self- important "Reverend" Jesse Jackson, has a record as a profuse adulterer (like his role model, Martin Luther King, Jr.).
As the fine print in an estate auction would say, "there are other scandals which are too numerous to mention." Some are major, some very minor.
It is, in contrast, refreshing to note that the author found no notable scandals, either personal or political in the lives and administrations of numerous presidents, including (among the more famous) Madison, McKinley, T. Roosevelt, Taft, Coolidge, and Hoover, and many of those noted in other cases were of a very insignificant sort.
It is likely that part of the greater apparent corruption in administrations in the last half of the twentieth century is due to, first, a closer media scrutiny of those who govern than previously in our history, and second, to the media's self- appointed adversarial role vis-à-vis government, especially with regard to conservative politicians, rather than viewing itself as chiefly informational. In other words, the media's-- and public's--lust for "dirt" has expanded greatly and the media are glad to give the people what they want.
Ross gives a fairly balanced treatment, and is neither excessively gullible in accepting information from sources, nor hyper-critical in rejecting it. However, in dealing with the Reagan administration (which was nearing its conclusion at the time of writing), she shows strong partisanship, almost gloating over the allegations against Reagan administration members (many of whom were completely exonerated in court at a later date). The "worst" of Reagan's scandals was Iran-Contra, the attempt to circumvent the probably unconstitutional Boland amendment, and prevent communist tyrants in Nicaragua and El Salvador from conquering all of Central America--a very noble goal and decidedly not an attempt to make personal financial gain or gratify one's animal lusts.
There are enough factual errors in the book to warn the reader that not everything is to be taken at face value. Jefferson is said to have impeached a judge in 1806 (p. 33). Only Congress had the power to impeach. There are errors of date on pp. 35, 51, of distance (pp. 54, 55), and Willie Lincoln's age at death (p. 96). Lincoln's youthful romance with Ann Rutledge is dismissed as fiction (p. 98), though it is all but universally accepted by scholars as fact. There is an error concerning T. Roosevelt's terms (p. 151), and an error regarding Ted Kennedy's actions at Chappaquiddick (p. 193), where the waters--in mid-Summer!--are described as "icy" (p. 203). There are also several grammatical errors, all of which cumulatively suggest that the author is not to be implicitly trusted in all details.
Because human nature has not changed, it is to be expected that present and future political leaders will from time to time engage in corrupt or immoral activity. But, that does NOT mean that we have to tolerate it. If they are corrupt, shame on them. If we tolerate their corruption, shame on us.
As I have reflected on the subjects of life and of death of late, the imagery evoked by Shakespeare in "As You Like It" in the soliloquy of Jaques (Act 2, scene 7, lines 139-166) has gained a deeper significance for me. Indeed, it is true: the life of each of us is, as it were, a drama in which we each play the lead. The play may last but a few years, or it may extended to a century and more. All the other people we contact in the course of life are the supporting cast (and we are part of the supporting cast in dozens, even hundreds of other people's personal "dramas"). Some enter the stage in our play briefly, and are soon gone and forgotten. Others enter early and remain late upon the stage. Some disappear unexpectedly from the stage, never to appear again. Others fade from a scene imperceptibly, and mysteriously never again enter, though their return is both desired and expected.
I think of some of the "supporting cast" in my drama: my best friend in 1st and 2nd grade, who without notice moved to Oklahoma during the summer after 2nd grade, not to be seen by me again. And my grandfather, by contrast,-- present for all 46 years of my play, never a major player, but making regular entrances and exits, and now he is gone, no more to appear. I think of a good friend from high school. I went to college after graduation and he went into the army-- with plans to "get together" down the road. That's been almost 29 years ago, and I've seen him exactly twice since 1971. The other "players" drop by the way one by one, to be replaced by still others. The continual replacement of departing cast members never leaves the stage bare, but the faces and relationships constantly change.
Since the drama is written a day at a time, no one knows in advance what turns the play will take, how long any of the characters will grace the stage, or what the ultimate destiny of any of the actors will be, except that the play always end in the death of the lead. Some day the curtain will come down, but where or how or when waits to be written. And in great measure, each man writes his own play by the actions he takes, and the choices he makes.
An excerpt from a sermon by Charles H. Spurgeon on 1 Timothy 2:3,4, "God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." [Taken from THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE PULPIT, vol. 26, 1880, pp. 49-50]
"May God the Holy Ghost guide our meditations to the best practical result this evening, that sinners may be saved and saints stirred up to diligence.
I do not intend to treat my text controversially. It is like the stone which makes the corner of a building, and it looks toward a different side of the gospel from that which is mostly before us. Two sides of the building of truth meet here. In many a village there is a corner where the idle and the quarrelsome gather together; and theology has such corners. It would be very easy indeed to set ourselves in battle array, and during the next half-hour to carry on a fierce attack against those who differ from us in opinion upon points which could be raised from this text. I do not see that any good would come of it, and, as we have very little time to spare, and life is short, we had better spend it upon something that may better tend to our edification. May the good Spirit preserve us from a contentious spirit, and help us really profit by his word.
It is quite certain that when we read that God will have all men to be saved it does not mean that he will its with the force of a decree or a divine purpose, for, if he did, then all men would be saved. He willed to make the world, and the world was made: he does not so will the salvation of all men, for we know that all men will not be saved. Terrible as the truth is, yet is it certain from holy writ that there are men who, in consequence of their sin and their rejection of the Saviour, will go away into everlasting punishment, where there shall be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. There will at the last be goats upon the left hand as well as sheep on the right, tares to be burned as well as wheat to be garnered, chaff to be blown away as well as corn to be preserved. There will be a dreadful hell as well as a glorious heaven, and there is no decree to the contrary.
What then? Shall we try to put another meaning into the text than that which it fairly bears? I trow not. You must, most of you, be acquainted with the general method in which our older Calvinistic friends deal with this text. "All men," say they--"that is, SOME MEN": as if the Holy Ghost could not have said "some men" if he had meant that. "All men, " say they, "that is, some of all sorts of men": as if the Lord could not have said "all sorts of men" if he had meant that. The Holy Ghost by the apostle has written "all men," and unquestionably he means all men.
I know how to get rid of the force of the "alls" according to that critical method which some time ago was very current, but I do not see how it can be applied here with due regard to the truth. I was reading just now the exposition of a very able doctor [and he surely means his predecessor John Gill- -ed.] who explains the text so as to explain it away; he applies grammatical gunpowder to it, and explodes it by way of expounding it. I thought when I read his exposition that it would have been a very capital comment upon the text if it had read, "Who WILL NOT have all men to be saved, nor come to the knowledge of the truth." Had such been the inspired language every remark of the learned doctor would have been exactly in keeping, but as it happens to say, "Who WILL have all men to be saved," his observations are more than a little out of place.
My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture. I have a great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater. I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God. I never thought it to be any very great crime to seem to be inconsistent with myself, for who am I that I should everlastingly be consistent? But I do think it a great crime to be so inconsistent with the word of God that I should want to lop away a bough or even a twig from so much as a single tree of the forest of Scriptures. God forbid that I should cut or shape, even in the least degree, any divine expression. So runs the text, and so we must read it, "God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth."
Does not the text mean that it is the wish of God that men should be saved? The word "wish" gives as much force to the original as it really requires, and the passage should run thus--"whose wish it is that all men should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth." As it is MY wish that it should be so, as it is YOUR wish that it might be so, so it is God's wish that all men should be saved; for, assuredly, he is not less benevolent than we are."
[Of necessity, I have substituted capital letters for italics in the original. I have also broken up the long paragraphs of the original into shorter paragraphs. Otherwise, the excerpt is reproduced exactly as found in the MTP volume noted, unless I have inadvertently made a typographical error--ed.]
When I taught in Bible college, I once had a discussion with a teaching colleague about the force and significance of the aorist tense in Greek. I remarked that the aorist was the simple past tense (in the indicative mood) and that it was used to state that an action had occurred, but without specifying it duration, continuance, results or other specifics (those things are reserved for other tenses in Greek). He vigorously--no, vehemently--objected that to the contrary, he was sure that the aorist tense was instantaneous, once-for- all, never-to-be-repeated action. I then made the "mistake" of showing him from standard Greek grammars on his own shelves in his own library that my understanding of the aorist was in harmony with the informed opinions of respected Greek grammars, while his view was expressly rejected by them as a common but faulty understanding of the matter. Rather than reconsidering his position in light of these authorities, he lashed out at me and accused me of rank heresy, and from that moment to this, he has had unalloyed hatred for me. He once almost refused to serve on an ordination council when he learned that I was also on it. And all this because of a question about the force of a Greek tense!
I bring up this incident to illustrate a point: we are sometimes careless in our use of words when denouncing others who disagree with our own "infallible" opinions. First, it is important to distinguish between false doctrine and heresy. I would characterize false doctrine as a false belief that does not involve the facts of salvation. E.g., I have had Grace Brethren friends who practice trine immersion, face forward for baptism. This is, I am persuaded, a false doctrine (false because I can find no Biblical basis for it), but does not corrupt the doctrines involving salvation. Campbellites ("Church of Christ"), in contrast, say that baptism is the means of salvation. This is heresy. Likewise, some charismatics believe in "speaking in tongues" (ecstatic utterances), but they do not say that it is essential as proof of salvation or that all believers must do this. This view is false doctrine, but not soul-damning heresy. On the other hand, there are others in the charismatic camp who insist that all must speak in tongues and if you do not or have not, then you are not saved; it is an essential evidence of salvation, and if you have done it, regardless of what else you believe, then you are saved. This is heresy, because it touches on--and corrupts--the facts of salvation.
I can have personal fellowship with someone who correctly believes the doctrines relating to salvation, but who on some lesser point adheres to what I believe is a false doctrine. I cannot, by contrast, have spiritual fellowship with someone who believes heresy.
Had I been in error regarding the aorist tense in the dispute with my teaching colleague, the worst I could have been accused of was misunderstanding. Even calling it "false doctrine" would be a stretch. To characterize it as "rank heresy" betrays a completely unbalanced judgment and a spirit of total intolerance toward any opinion contrary to one's own, regardless of how minuscule.
None of us is infallible in our interpretation of the Bible. Our knowledge is always at best partial and at worst fragmentary or even imaginary. Our judgment is often unbalanced in one direction or another, and our "lights" are often dim and flickering--more shadow that illumination in many instances. In my own case, over the years, I have altered my interpretation of numerous Bible words, phrases and verses as my knowledge increased and my perspective changed. As an example, regarding "the sons of God" in Genesis 6, I have held to three different opinions, have changed my opinion three different times, and have returned to the interpretation I held originally twenty-eight years ago. And each change was motivated by an increase in my knowledge of the issues and arguments involved. And I cannot guarantee that additional light and a revised perspective will not result in another change at some future date (though I doubt it).
It has been well said: "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity." The issue then is delineating what are the "essentials."