"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 3, Number 5, May 2000
["As I See It" is a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek. Its purpose is to address important issues of the day and to draw attention to worthwhile Christian and other literature in order to aid believers in Jesus Christ, especially pastors, missionaries and Bible college and seminary students to more effectively study and teach the Word of God. The editor's perspective is that of an independent Baptist of fundamentalist theological persuasion.
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THE BIBLE AS THE STANDARD OF ALL THEOLOGICAL TRUTH
"Therefore, search all questions, try all by the Word of God. I am not afraid to have what I preach tried by this book. Only give me a fair field and no favour, and this book; if I say anything contrary to it, I will withdraw it the next Sabbath-day. By this I stand, by this I fall."
Charles H. Spurgeon
THE NEW PARK STREET PULPIT
1855, vol. 1, p. 113
QUOTES FROM BAPTIST THEOLOGIAN A. H. STRONG
"Martin Luther said that the Papists burned the Bible because it was not on their side."
Augustus Hopkins Strong
Judson Press, 1907, p. 308
"The humblest Christian who sees Christ's hand in the physical universe and in human history knows more of the secret of the universe than all the mere scientists put together."
Ibid., p. 311
"Christ made and left upon his contemporaries the impression that he claimed to be God. The New Testament has left, upon the great mass of those who have read it, the impression that Jesus Christ claims to be God. If he is not God, he is a deceiver or is self-deceived, and, in either case, Christus, si no Deus, non bonus [Latin for, 'Christ, if he is not God, is not good']."
Ibid., p. 313
SIR WILLIAM M. RAMSAY
ON THE OPINIONS OF THE RADICAL CRITICS AND COMMENTATORS
"No one can comprehend Luke [chapters 1 & 2] or Matthew [1 & 2], so long as his mind is clogged with the old ideas about the puerility and untrustworthiness of those episodes. Yet I am wrong in calling those ideas old; here is what was said only a few years ago by one of the most distinguished and famous of Scottish theologians in his commentary on Luke's narrative, 2:1ff.:--
'One could almost wish that v. 2 had been omitted, or that there were reason to believe, as has been suggested by several writers, that it is a gloss that has found its way into the text, and that Luke is not responsible for it--so much trouble has it given to commentators.'
These words were written by Dr. A. B. Bruce in the maturity of his career, after a life devoted to the exposition of the Gospels. They crystallize in a gem of criticism the inadequate method and the falseness of view, which could result in the thought that the convenience of the commentator should be put as a test of truth. . . .
In the prefaces to several books, I have referred to the charge brought against me of having slighted the opinions of the Germans. I have learned much from the greater German scholars in my own subject; but their teaching was to judge for myself and to accept no man's dictum on the credit of his name and fame. . . . I do not follow the prevailing tendency of German criticism of the New Testament. It is wrong because it is narrow, and because it judges from erroneous premises and unjustifiable prejudices; and one would welcome any signs of a return to a saner and better informed judgment."
Sir William Mitchell Ramsay
The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915, preface, pp. vii, viii, ix)
What Ramsay wrote of German rationalistic scholarship 85 years ago still applies, and applies equally to today's prevailing English and American liberal scholarship as well.
CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH WITHOUT BEING CONTENTIOUS
"I have read many controversial works, and I have admired the force of the arguments in many of them; but when I have read them, I have not gathered from the perusal that the writers on either side were very eminently followers of Christ. They may have been; it was no business of mine to judge as to that matter. They may have been showing other precious qualities while they were contending for the faith once for all delivered to the saints, but the grace of Christian charity has not always been very manifest.
For instance, if you read the controversy between Mr. Wesley and Mr. Toplady,--well, I do not know which was the worse of the two; they could both say a thing very sharply when they tried, and the devil helped them to make it ever sharper; yet they were both of them good men, and it was not according to the nature of either of them to say anything bad of the other. It is quite a relief to notice how Mr. Whitefield conducted his controversy with Mr. Wesley; as I have read it, I have said to myself, This man is a Christian, and no mistake.'
It is reported that Mr. Whitefield was one day asked by a partisan, Do you think that we, when we get to heaven, shall see John Wesley there?' 'No,' said George Whitefield, 'I do not think we shall.' The questioner was very delighted with that answer, but Mr. Whitefield added, 'I believe that Mr. John Wesley will have a place so near the throne of God, and that such poor creatures as you and I will be so far off as to be hardly able to see him.' As I read such remarks made by Mr. Whitefield, I have said to myself, 'By this I know, as a Christian, that he must be a Christian,' for I saw that he loved his brother Wesley even while he so earnestly differed from him on certain points of doctrine.
Yes, dear brethren, if we cannot differ and yet love one another, if we cannot allow each brother to go his own way in the service of God, and to have the liberty of working after his own fashion,--if we cannot do that, we shall fail to convince our fellow-Christians that we ourselves are Christians."
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE PULPIT
VOL. 51, 1905, pp. 248-9.
WHERE CAN I GET ADVICE ON BIBLE COMMENTARIES?
Anyone who has sought help in understanding the Bible by purchasing and consulting commentaries has soon realized that he needs advice on just what commentary to get. The Christian publishing world has issued a flood of commentaries of every description. There are reprints of old and even older works as well as the very latest volume, massive and expensive sets, technical commentaries that challenge even the scholar, devotional works, homiletical works, brief and cheap paperback works, commentaries by fundamentalists, evangelicals, charismatics, neo-orthodox, liberals, modernists, Catholics and cultists. Anyone, especially the neophyte, who is confronted at a Christian bookstore with a wall of available commentaries to choose from, is simply overwhelmed. "HELP!" he cries, either orally or silently. If he chooses poorly, he will not get the help he seeks, and will waste precious dollars besides. (I personally lament the hundreds--maybe thousands--of dollars I have misspent over the years on second- or third-rate commentaries that seemed worthy of purchase at the time, or came "highly recommended"). For real assistance in this regard, who should one turn to?
In such a case, the seeker should heed the advice given in the Babylonian Talmud: "if you wish to strangle, be hanged on a good tree," which is explained to mean, "if you have to depend on someone, make sure he is reliable." In a bookstore, no doubt the clerk will offer advice, but usually the clerk knows very little about commentaries beyond what they have in stock or what they "can get for you." Which commentary will meet your needs is likely beyond his (or her) knowledge. Some booksellers, such as the discount mail order firm CBD, give recommendations in their sale catalog. But even if their recommendations were always good (which is certainly not the case), what they recommend may not be suited to your level of knowledge, interest or purposes. If you have technical questions about the grammar of a passage, you would not be well-served by a devotional commentary. If you need help with a sermonic application of a passage, a work analyzing the minutiae of the text will miss the mark. Where then should you turn?
It may seem obvious, but I'll say it anyway: the best recommenders of commentaries are those who have extensive knowledge of their contents by constant use as teachers, pastors, preachers and especially writers of commentaries. In my studies, I have come across half a dozen readily accessible annotated listings on commentaries, and as I have found these recommendations helpful, I pass them on to you, in chronological order.
The first of these is by Adam Clarke (1762-1832), the most learned man among the early Methodists (and perhaps ever), and whose own six volume commentary set is of genuine merit. In the "General Preface" in volume I, he surveys major Bible commentaries Jewish, patristic, Catholic and Protestant, pp. 3-14. Of course, the date of Clarke's work means that nothing later than the first quarter of the 19th century is discussed, but many he lists are still available in reprint.
Next is Thomas Hartwell Horne's (1780-1862) An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, the 8th edition of which, originally published in 1839 as four volumes in five parts, was reprinted in the 1970s by Baker. Volume II, part II is one vast annotated bibliography (Horne was for many decades senior assistant librarian in the department of printed books in the British museum) on all aspects of Biblical studies, with commentaries covered on pp. 234-364. He covers commentaries, not only in English but also in Latin and other languages. This bibliography is one vast testimony to Horne's diligence and erudition, and is a gold mine of information on older commentaries.
Third is Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892). With a personal library of some 12,000 volumes to draw on, plus nearly forty years of exceptionally active ministry, including the authoring of more than 160 books, Spurgeon surely qualifies as a man knowledgeable in regard to Bible commentaries. In 1876, he published Commenting and Commentaries, a catalogue of Bible commentaries in which he gives his opinion of over 3,000 different works. To this he has added two lectures, one on expository preaching, the other being a survey of major Bible commentators and commentaries. Both are definitely worth reading. In his annotations, Spurgeon shows a strong inclination toward Puritan and devotional commentaries, and is a little rough on strictly technical commentaries such as Keil and Delitzsch, and the works of Hengstenberg. He is merciless (some think excessively so) toward the writings of Darbyites, especially William Kelly. Spurgeon is candid in both his praise and his deprecation--if a work is trash, he says so. Because of its publication date, the book lacks any notice of books written in the past 125 years, but many of the works he refers to are still in print or have in recent decades been reprinted and so are not hard to find used. Banner of Truth reprinted this volume in 1969, but I recommend you obtain it in the Pilgrim Publications edition, where it is bound with Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students.
Milton S. Terry (b. 1840), in his monumental Biblical Hermeneutics (first published 1883, and reprinted by Zondervan) has an extensive "history of biblical interpretation" (pp. 604-738) in which there is a survey of Bible interpreters and commentators, from the ancient Jews to the late 19th century. A great deal is to be learned here about leading writers, their theological views and their published works on Biblical subjects.
James Orr contributed a valuable article on commentaries to The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE, for short), of which he was editor. This survey is found in volume 2, pp. 680-685, of the 1937 edition. Orr was a noted apologist and defender of the Scriptures against the assault of naturalism and modernism. His opinions are worthy of attention.
The most recent comprehensive book on biblical commentaries is The Minister's Library by Cyril Barber. First issued in 1974 (Baker), with a series of supplements and then a revised edition, this very instructive book covers not only commentaries but the spectrum of books relevant to the Gospel ministry, and even offers advice on building and using a library. The section on commentaries encompasses chapters 5 & 6, pp. 63-186, and has helpful notes regarding the nature of the work in question (technical, devotional, etc.) and the theological orientation of the author (liberal, conservative, Catholic, Jewish, etc.). Especially worthwhile books are asterisked to guide the reader's choices. I regularly consult this volume; there is nothing to match it for comprehensiveness and being (relatively) up-to-date.
There are several more recent brief lists of commentaries. Warren Wiersbe compiled A Basic Library for Bible Students which appeared in 1980 as part of his worthwhile volume Listening to the Giants (Baker); it was issued as a separate booklet the next year. D. A. Carson's New Testament Commentary Survey was published by Baker in 1988. It has the advantage of being very recent and being the work of a pre-eminent scholar with a vast knowledge of Biblical literature. There is a companion volume surveying Old Testament commentaries, compiled by Tremper Longman III, but I have not had opportunity to examine this book.
None of these recommended sources, nor even all of them taken together, gives an exhaustive list of Bible commentaries. Nevertheless, they provide a comprehensive survey of the more important Bible commentaries, and it is not likely that any major work of real merit will have escaped their attention.
Finally, a word on the use of commentaries: I make it my deliberate practice to consult commentaries on any Bible text I am studying only after I have carefully analyzed the passage for myself and have given it much careful thought. The Holy Spirit who instructed the commentators can and will also instruct me, if I am willing to listen to His voice (I John 2:20, 27). First hand convictions derived directly from the Bible text itself are always better and deeper than those derived from commentaries.
I trust that none of my readers will fall into the bog of following commentaries, or rather (as is usually the case) one commentator, as though that author was a nearly infallible guide to Bible interpretation. I do know some who venerate John Gill as virtually an inspired oracle, others who accept Peter Ruckman's every utterance as the "final word," and still others who read John MacArthur's expositions as the signpost to ultimate truth. Such willing enslavement to a man, rather than to the Scriptures themselves, is unthinking folly.
The very best of commentators is very much fallible. We consult commentators because we expect to find in them insights derived from the authors' greater expertise than ourselves in Biblical content and languages, customs, geography, theology, and other matters, or their broader and deeper Christian experience. We do not expect them to be invariably right in all things. Indeed, we expect them to be very much wrong from time to time, though we are glad to consult their thoughts on Divine subjects. We are very much in agreement with Spurgeon's remark: "He who will not use the thoughts of others men's brains proves that he has no brains of his own." (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1963, p. 668)
FOREIGN LANGUAGE BIBLE TRANSLATIONS:
ANOTHER SOURCE OF INFORMATION
In the October, 1998 issue (1:10) of AISI, we gave a list of four sources of information on Bible translations in languages other than English (and I never cease to be amazed at the virtually complete ignorance most missionaries have of the history of the translation of the Bible into the language of the people to whom they are ministering). On my latest excursion into Romania, I located a fifth source: "Versions, Medieval and Modern (Non-English)," by Bruce M. Metzger, in THE INTERPRETER'S DICTIONARY OF THE BIBLE (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), vol. 4, pp. 771b-782b. The article is apparently for the most part an up-dating and expansion of a similar article found in vol. V of Hastings' DICTIONARY OF THE BIBLE, which preceded it by more than half a century. Metzger is a thorough and competent researcher and writer (though we must sometimes differ from him theologically).
OUT OF THE DEPTHS: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF JOHN NEWTON, with an introduction by Herbert Lockyer. New Canaan, Conn.: Keats Publishing. 135 pp., paperback.
Though there is nothing extraordinary about this, just one of many different editions of the autobiography of this trophy of God's amazing grace, our recent re-reading of this work motivates use to urge upon our readers that they read this brief volume. By all means, this is one Christian autobiography that must not be missed. It was written by Newton when he was almost 40, in a series of eight letters to a friend who had inquired about the details of Newton's conversion. Repeated urging from friends led to their publication.
John Newton (1725-1807) was raised by a devout Christian mother who took great pains in his spiritual training, teaching him the Scriptures almost from infancy, and teaching him to read at age 3. At 6, she began teaching him Latin, and she regularly poured out her heart to God in intense and sincere prayer for this her only son. She was taken away by death when John was just short of 7 years old. Within a year, John's father remarried and John was shipped off to a boarding school. In his teens, John was introduced to life at sea by his sea captain father, a vocation which John would follow for the better part of two decades.
John's teen years were marked by conflicting influences, on one hand the notorious wickedness of many of his shipmates, and on the other the lasting influence of the religious training received from his mother, the latter of which led him to various attempts at "works righteousness," self-reform, and ascetic self-denial, all of which ended in failure. By his twenties, Newton had become morally debased in almost every way that sailors can be debased. It was only a passionate infatuation with a girl in England which kept him from becoming wholly degraded, and even kept him from suicide. Newton turned a deaf ear to repeated convictions of the Holy Spirit and the pricks of conscience, and seemed to have sinned away the day of grace.
Involved in the slave trade along the West coast of Africa, in 1747 Newton and the ship he was on encountered a storm in the mid North Atlantic which nearly swamped the ship and only by the grace of God were they able to limp back to land. It was in the height of this storm that John was awakened to the claims of the Gospel, though he dated his actual conversion to several years later.
By fits and starts, Newton studied the Scripture, having for many years no one to turn to for help. He began teaching as opportunity presented itself, and in the leisure of sea life, studied Latin. He later added to this a good working knowledge of Greek, Hebrew and Syriac. In his mid thirties, he became pastor of a Church of England congregation in Olney, England, which he pastored for 16 years, then moving to London, he pastored there for more than 25 years. He influenced hymn writer William Cowper, and William Wilberforce, a young British politician who was the chief instrument in banning slavery from the British Empire.
Newton was a prolific writer (his complete works are in print, published by Banner of Truth). His most famous work is of course the words to the hymn "Amazing Grace." Every time I hear the music to this hymn played (best played on bagpipes, in my opinion), I cannot help but think, with tears welling up in my eyes, of the extraordinary grace shown by God in saving so vicious a sinner as John Newton, and then I reflect on how that same grace saved a very profane teenager in Wichita, Kansas in 1970.
This is a precious volume indeed.
The complete words to "Amazing Grace," the latter three verses of which are not commonly known (the traditional fourth verse, beginning, "When we've been there ten thousand years" was not written by Newton):
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound!)
That saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the vail,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow;
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
His autobiographical epitaph:
JOHN NEWTON, Clerk
Once an infidel and libertine,
A servant of slaves in Africa,
Was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour,
Preserved, restored, pardoned,
And appointed to preach the faith
He had long laboured to destroy,
Near sixteen years at Olney, in Bucks,
And twenty eight years in this church.
On February 1, 1750, he married
daughter of the late George Catlett,
of Chatham, Kent,
He resigned her to the Lord who gave her,
On the 15th day of December, 1790.
"A Christian should never plead spirituality for being a sloven; if he be but a shoe cleaner, he should be the best in the parish." (p. 129)
"I remember, in going to undertake the care of a congregation, I was reading, as I walked in a green lane, 'Fear not, Paul, I have much people in this city.' But I soon afterwards was disappointed in finding that Paul was not John and that Corinth was not Warwick." (p. 131)
"One said that the great saints in the calendar were, many of them, poor sinners. Mrs. Newton replied, they were poor saints indeed if they did not feel that they were great sinners." (p. 132)
"The Lord has reasons far beyond our ken for opening a wide door, while He stops the mouth of a useful preacher. John Bunyan would not have done half the good he did, if he had remained preaching in Bedford, instead of being shut up in Bedford prison." (p. 133)
[Here I cannot help but append the quip of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), Newton's contemporary, on the life of a sailor:
"No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into a jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned. . . .A man in jail has more room, better food, and commonly better company." Quoted from James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (New York: The Modern Library, n.d.), p. 211]
JOHN GILL AND THE CAUSE OF GOD AND TRUTH by George M. Ella. Go Publications, The Cairn, Hill Top, Eggleston Co., Durham, England, 1995. 365 pp., paperback. $11.99.
The author, apparently not a Baptist as Gill was, is nevertheless very sympathetic to the great Gill, no doubt because of a shared view of "the doctrines of grace." Ella's labors in unearthing, assembling and presenting the facts regarding Gill and his writings must surely have been immense, because he presents a great deal of information not met with anywhere else. By a very wide margin, this is the most extensive biography of Gill ever published, to my knowledge. Ella employs church records from Gill's church, material neglected in all other accounts of Gill's life that I have seen. Among the interesting tidbits included is the fact that Thomas Crosby, the Baptist historian, was excommunicated from Gill's church (Crosby never so much as mentions in his history his connection with Gill's church; many urged Crosby not to publish his Baptist history).
That being said, Ella's book is in the far greater part a detailed defense of Gill's supralapsarian theology against contemporary and later charges of antinomianism, hyper-Calvinism and church-chilling fatalism. While Ella feels free to condemn Gill's views of believer's immersion as the only valid baptism, he will not endure the least criticism of Gill's "high" Calvinism, and any who dares utter the least criticism of Gill in this regard is subjected to the full fury of Ella's assault. He will not for a moment allow the term "hyper-Calvinist" to be applied to Gill, though, by definition ("one who goes beyond Calvin"), this charge is certainly true.
Ella, while defending Gill's views against every real or imagined misrepresentation, nevertheless is not above misrepresenting the views of so-called "Arminian" Baptists regarding infant salvation (p. 76) or Spurgeon's view of Gill (p. 104), or misrepresenting all Baptists as being "landmarkish" in view (p. 114), to mention only some of the distortions. Ella has utter contempt for those who were lesser Calvinists than Gill (Andrew Fuller, Spurgeon, Robert Hall, and many others). He refuses to list the Wesleys among the great men of the Anglican Church in the 18th century (p. 129), and can scarcely bring himself to refer to John Wesley by name, choosing instead to allude to him frequently as simply "the Arminian." He also badly caricatures "Arminian" theology repeatedly. Such suggest that Ella has a blinding and judgment-distorting vehement hatred for "Arminianism."
At one point, Ella seems to think that Schaff-Herzog is an author, instead of the short title for a multi-volume theological encyclopedia (p. 37). And his appendix, defending Gill's claim that the vowel points in the Hebrew Masoretic Text of the Old Testament are an original part of the Hebrew Bible, is clear proof that Ella is wholly ignorant of Hebrew and the matter he there addresses. It is provable and proven beyond the least shadow of a doubt that the vowel points in the Masoretic text were inserted into the text in the earlier Middle ages, and were a supplement to the text as originally written, much as the chapter and verse divisions we find in our English Bibles were a human addition long after the original writing. That Ella defends Gill as possibly right shows how unreliable and uninformed his judgment can be.
In many of the details of Gill's life, Ella fails to provide adequate documentation from sources, which is surprising since the book otherwise contains many hundreds of footnotes, and has an extended bibliography. Among other things, he fails to mention the disposition of Gill's estate at death and gives no notice of Gill's last will and testament, or whether such even existed. The fate of his extensive personal library is also passed by without notice. And no detailed listing of the publication history of Gill's works over the past 250 years is included either.
Chiefly as sidelights, we are given some insight into the beliefs and practices, the controversies and accomplishments of 18th century English Baptists. This is an era in which not many extensive published sources are available, and in this regard, the book can be gleaned for helpful information. The bibliography can be profitably consulted for primary and secondary sources.
The sum of the matter: a highly partisan book that is sometimes distorted in its zeal for Gill's opinions, but with much of interest.
WOULDN'T IT BE NICE: MY OWN STORY by Brian Wilson, with Todd Gold. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. 398 pp., hardback. $20.00
Brian Wilson was/is the musical genius behind the 60s California musical group The Beach Boys, whose up-beat, sunny music popularized the California lifestyle of surfing, fun in the sun, and hot cars. In this "tell-all" biography, Wilson reveals the very dark reality behind the facade of endless fun and happiness the group's music presented.
Wilson and his two younger brothers Dennis and Carl who were the core of the group (joined by cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine), were raised by an exceedingly abusive father, who terrorized his sons with both physical and psychological brutality (Brian is deaf in one ear because of one attack). Music became an escape from this awful reality. The intense pressure from his father, music executives and members of the band to succeed (that is, continually write and produce hit songs) drove Wilson to depression, dementia and drug and alcohol abuse, the latter of which almost took his life. By the end of the 60s, his life was in a tail spin--grossly overweight, strung out on cocaine (basically the whole of his life for a five year stretch), isolated, and battling mental "demons." Only by the intervention of a "tough-love" psychologist was he dragged kicking and screaming back into reality, first, temporarily in the mid-1970s and finally and apparently permanently in the early 1980s. If the book is to be believed, Wilson is and has long been "clean and sober," though he was (at the time of writing) alienated from all the other surviving members of the Beach Boys.
The book is a testimony to the debased lifestyle, debauchery and moral corruption that is typical of most of those in the entertainment industry. Fame and money commonly have an exceedingly corrosive effect. Secretary of Interior James Watts' famous 1981 remarks denigrating the Beach Boys was precisely on target. Publicists and "image" consultants are paid well to conceal the hideous reality that usually exists.
As a "child of the 60s" myself who grew up listening to the Beach Boys, and as an interested student of contemporary American culture, I was motivated to read the book by a made-for-TV movie about the Beach Boys which recently aired. I didn't watch the whole of the program, but what I did see was consistent with the contents of the book. Let the reader beware--lots of very crude language.