Home > Bible, Comment, Quotes > The ‘Word of God’ and quotes from Reformers via social media Pt 3

The ‘Word of God’ and quotes from Reformers via social media Pt 3

In my first post I discussed a strange phenomenon or development which occurred while I was driving over the road last year, namely: that many on social media which call themselves Christians, have developed an antipathy for the Words of God. You can read my first post here. In my second post I went on to discuss the quoting of ‘Reformers, creeds, confessions, and men who are for the more part theologically sound in the things of God.‘ You can read that post here.

In my last post I had two primary questions concerning the quoting of ‘Reformers, creeds, confessions, and men who are for the more part theologically sound in the things of God.‘ I covered the first question in my last post, which was:

First. Why have Christians, especially Reformed Christians stopped reading quotes from men who have come before us or creeds and confessions?

My goal today is to discuss the second question which is:

Secondly. Why does the only attention they (my quotes) draw is a negative comment, instead of reading them in context?

In answering this question I will state that I believe many think of themselves as grown up or beyond the scope of learning anything new from men who have come before us. In other words, they took their baby steps with Calvin, Luther, Knox, Spurgeon, and so forth, and now they need something deeper. I have talked to many Pastors/theologians on social media. Some of these were prideful and wouldn’t give me much of their time because I didn’t have that degree abbreviation associated with my name. Many of these are no longer on my friends list because they fell into some heinous sin, which brought shame on the name of Christ. The heinous sin which brought shame on the name of Christ wasn’t their downfall. Their downfall was the primary, underlying, main sin which they clung too and that was the sin of pride.

The main and primary reason of which I believe that my quotes draw a negative comment is because of laziness. That is right. I said that it is because of laziness. In other words, because we live in a society that is fast paced, we do not take the time to search a quote out and read it in context, to see if it is reading differently than what we perceive it to read. When I post a comment to social media it is not some obscure comment of which I searched the net and found. I list all the credentials under it in order that anyone who reads it may be able to go back and read it in context. Again, I list the author of the comment, the publisher of the book, the name of the book, and the exact page number where it may be found in the book from which the quote was taken. Just as we do not interpret a single scripture by itself, but instead interpret it in the light of context and the whole council of God, even so we should not interpret a single quote in isolation.

Another reason my quotes draw a negative comment is because it is not from that persons theological camp. A Baptist doesn’t think the quote is good because it isn’t from a Baptist theologian and a Paedobaptist doesn’t think the quote is good because it isn’t from a Paedobaptist. I once had a Covenanter state that we should only quote from our own theological camp. I even had one person tell me that I shouldn’t be quoting from Sir Isaac Newton’s: ‘Observations of the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John.‘ I asked them, ‘Why not?’ They said, ‘Don’t you realize that he was a Unitarian?’ It is funny that John Gill didn’t seem to mind quoting from him in his ‘The Sure Performance of Prophecy.

There may be other reasons why my quotes draw a negative comment, but I will conclude with this reason:

My quotes draw a negative comment because words have changed meaning or have bad connotations attached to them. For instance, many Baptists will not use the word ‘sacraments,’ when speaking of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper because of the use of the term ‘sacraments’ among Roman Catholics. These Baptists prefer to use the term ‘ordinances.’ Many of them do not realize that the seventeenth century Baptists used the term ‘sacraments’ when they wrote concerning Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

For instance: A few weeks ago I placed a quote up be Martin Luther and a brother of whom I highly respect and love, had a problem with one of Luther’s words. Now to be fair and honest, I probably should not have quoted from Luther’s Table Talk. This book, which was not written by Luther, but by his students, possibly should be read primarily for entertainment, due to the fact that the material contained therein is second hand testimony. Roman Catholics like to attack the writings of Luther. It usually falls on deaf ears when you point out that Luther didn’t write the Table Talk. However, a honest, recent Roman Catholic scholar pointed out that the Table Talk does not qualify unconditionally as a primary source. He stated, “the real distortion of the Luther image occurred with the Table Talk.”[1] This is because the Table Talk was written by Luther’s students. Luther had students who stayed in his house and as they gathered around meals or took walks in the garden, Luther would expound on questions or topics, of which were brought up by his students or his friend. Therefore, being notes on what Luther said, they cannot and should not be read as actual quotes from Luther.

However, I did quote from the Table Talk and here is the quote:

“A good preacher should have these properties and virtues: first, to teach systematically; secondly, he should have a ready wit; thirdly, he should be eloquent; fourthly, he should have a good voice; fifthly, a good memory; sixthly, he should know when to make an end; seventhly, he should be sure of his doctrine; eighthly, he should venture and engage body and blood, wealth and honor, in the word; ninthly, he should suffer himself to be mocked and jeered of every one.”

My theological friend responded with 1 Timothy 3:1-7. This list in 1 Timothy are the qualifications for the office of Bishop or Overseer. There is a vast difference between listing the qualifications of an office and listing good qualities which could reside in those holding the office. However, I do recognize that Paul also includes qualities that should reside in those who are seeking this office. So even if Luther did actually make this comment to his students, nevertheless, the qualities or properties for a good preacher which are listed, are not bad in and of themselves. Also the very next paragraph is a qualifier or explains why Luther may have made this comment and that is why my theological friend should have searched the matter out and seen why Luther may have made the comment found above. Here is the next paragraph from the Table Talk:

“The defects in a preacher are soon spied; let a preacher be endued with ten virtues, and but one fault, yet this one fault will eclipse and darken all his virtues and gifts, so evil is the world in these times. Dr. Justus Jonas has all the good virtues and qualities a man may have; yet merely because he hums and spits, the people cannot bear that good and honest man.”

Notice that the Table Talk, if it be Luther’s actual words or not, states that the defects in a preacher are soon spied out, even though the minister may have ten good virtues. And the Table Talk lists an example of a minister who had all good qualities, except for the fact that he hummed and spit while he preached and the congregation could not bare that. (Examples from other theologians will be found below stating some of the same things the Table Talk does concerning the use of the voice in preaching.)

My theologian friend admitted that some of the qualities listed in the above quote for a good preacher are good qualities, but God never expects a man to be eloquent nor to have a good voice. This word ‘eloquent‘ I believe is what really had him up in arms over the quote. This is due to what I stated above, namely that when evil or bad connotations get attached to a word, then people will not use or accept that word.

Some believe that when Paul stated: ‘And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. 1 Cor. 2:1, that he was stating that he did not come to them with eloquent preaching. Now if we define eloquence as the Corinthians did, then certainly Paul did not come to the Corinthians with rhetorical speech of the art of sophistry. The art of oratory was huge among the Corinthians. If someone had a problem in court with one of the members of their community, then they would hire them an orator to speak for them. The content was not as important as the rhetoric. If the speech was beautiful and eloquent, then it would captive the audience and move them towards the point of view of the one who had hired them. Certainly Paul did not come to Corinth with this form of rhetoric, However, if eloquence is taken in its basic definition of ‘fluent or persuasive speaking or writing,’ who could argue that Paul wasn’t eloquent? For certainly no more eloquence could be found in words than the words he wrote the Corinthians:

1Co 2:1-7 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:

So when the Table Talk uses the expression ‘eloquence‘ it is not stating that a good preacher must be gifted in rhetorical speech, but must be eloquent in the subject of which he is speaking.

I will close this article with a few quotes:

Tell me what you think in the comment section below.

Notice that Ames speaks about a ministers speech, gestures, and voice while preaching:

Concerning delivery, Ames advises that speech and gestures should be: “completely spiritual, flowing from the from the very heart; showing a man very conversant in exercises of piety, who also has persuaded himself beforehand, and thoroughly settled in his own conscience, those things to which he endeavours to persuade others; and into which, finally, there is Zeal, Charity, Mildness, Freedom, and Humility, with grave authority. The pronouncing of the speech must be both natural, familiar, clear, and distinct, so that it may be fitly understood; and also agreeable to the matter, so that it may move the affections. Gal 4.20, I would now be present with you, and change my voice, because I am in doubt of you. Among others, here are two voices that are most to be criticized: the one which is heavy, slow, singing, and drowsy, in which not only the words are separated with a pause, the same as a comma, but even the syllables in the same word are separated, to the great hindrance of the understanding of things. The other voice which most offends here is that which is hasty and swift, which overturns the ears with too much celerity, so that there is no distinct perceiving of things. That type of speech, pronunciation, and action which would be ridiculous in the senate, in places of judgment, or in the Court, is even more to be avoided in a Sermon.”

William Ames- The Marrow of Sacred Divinity, Chapter 35- Of ordinary Ministers, and their Office in Preaching.

Notice Spurgeon speaks first negatively concerning the use of the voice and then positively concerning the same:

“You are not singers but preachers: your voice is but a secondary matter; do not be fops with it, or puling invalids over it, as so many are…….On the other hand, do not think too little of your voice, for its excellence may greatly conduce to the result which you hope to produce…..I once heard a most esteemed minister, who mumbled sadly, compared to “a humble bee in a pitcher,” a vulgar metaphor no doubt, but so exactly descriptive, that it brings to my mind the droning sound at this instant most distinctly, and reminds me of the parody upon Gray’s Elegy: —What a pity that a man who from his heart delivered doctrines of undoubted value, in language the most appropriate, should commit ministerial suicide by harping on one string, when the Lord had given him an instrument of many strings to play upon! Alas! alas! for that dreary voice, it hummed and hummed like a mill-wheel to the same unmusical turn, whether its owner spake of heaven or hell, eternal life or everlasting wrath. It might be, by accident, a little louder or softer, according to the length of the sentence, but its tone was still the same, a dreary waste of sound, a howling wilderness of speech in which there was no possible relief, no variety, no music, nothing but horrible sameness.”

Charles Spurgeon- Lectures to My Students Vol 1, Lecture 8, On the Voice

He does warn not to play act while in the Pulpit:

“This is a most important matter. Of all things that we have to avoid, one of the most essential is that of giving our people the idea, ‘when we are preaching, that we are acting a part. Everything theatrical in the pulpit, either in tone, manner, or anything else. I loathe from my very soul. Just go into the pulpit, and talk to the people as you would in the kitchen, or the drawing-room, and say what you have to tell them in your ordinary tone of voice.”

Charles Spurgeon- Lectures to My Students, Lecture 3, Anecdotes and Illustrations

Notice Edwards, possibly the greatest mind ever produced on American soil, uses the term ‘eloquence‘ in a positive and not a negative sense:

“We know that when men are greatly affected in any matter, and their hearts are very full, it fills them with matter for speech, and makes them eloquent upon, that subject and much more have spiritual affections this tendency, for many reasons that might be given.”

Jonathan Edwards- The Present Revival of Religion, Part 4, Section 2- Another cause of errors in conduct attending a religious revival, is the adoption of wrong principles

Here is an example of eloquence used in the negative sense and then used in the positive sense:

I inquired of Dr. West, Whether Mr. Edwards was an eloquent preacher. He replied, “If you mean, by eloquence, what is usually intended by it in our cities; he had no pretensions to it. He had no studied varieties of the voice, and no strong emphasis. He scarcely gestured, or even moved; and he made no attempt, by the elegance of his style, or the beauty of his pictures, to gratify the taste, and fascinate the imagination. But, if you mean by eloquence, the power of presenting an important truth before an audience, with overwhelming weight of argument, and with such intenseness of feeling, that the whole soul of the speaker is thrown into every part of the conception and delivery; so that the solemn attention of the whole audience is riveted, from the beginning to the close, and impressions are left that cannot be effaced. Mr. Edwards was the most eloquent man I ever heard speak.”

Memoirs of Jonathan Edwards, Chapter 25- Concluding Remarks

Apollos is called an eloquent man in scripture: (chiefly because he was fluent in the scriptures)

Act 18:24 And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus.

Commentators on Acts 18:24

John Gill– an eloquent man; in speech, as well as learned, wise, and “prudent”, as the Ethiopic version renders it:

John Calvin– Furthermore, lest any man should think that Apollos’ eloquence was profane or vain, Luke saith that it was joined with great power, namely, that he was mighty in the Scriptures. Which I expound thus, that he was not only well and soundly exercised in the Scriptures, but that he had the force and efficacy thereof, that, being armed with them, he did in all conflicts get the upper hand. And this (in my judgment) is rather the praise of the Scripture than of man, that it hath sufficient force both to defend the truth, and also to refute the subtilty of Satan.

J. P. Lange, Philip Schaff– He was an eloquent man (λόγιος means both learned and eloquent; as the main fact, however, viz., that he was learned in the Scriptures, is specially mentioned, the word is to be here taken in the latter sense). As his knowledge of the Scriptures is represented as having been very great (δυνατὸς ἐν τ. γρ., i.e., it constituted his strength), it is quite probable that, as an Alexandrian, he was indebted both for his skill in the interpretation of the Old Testament, and for his eloquence, to the school of Philo.

Footnote:

[1] Franz Posset- ‘The Real Luther,’ p. 30.

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