Wednesday, March 22, 2017

An Educated Ministry (Part 2)

This, the previous, and the next post are from an essay written by R.L. Dabney for the periodical The Southern Presbyterian Review, for the April 1883 edition. It was written in response to an October 1882 & January 1883 article, entitled "An Inquiry into the Aggressiveness of Presbyterianism."

We have, then, the battle to fight over again for the utility of thorough education, and a knowledge of the “dead languages,” to the pastor. Let us again define the ground we assume. It is not that the Christian ignorant of the classics may not get the rudiments of redemption out of English books, or may not so teach them to another as to save his soul. It is not that this plain man's ministry is invalid, because he is no classic. It is not that such a man, if greatly gifted by nature and grace, may not do more good than many weaker good men with their classical training. But we 'assert that this training will be, to any man, gifted above his fellows or not, an important means of still greater efficiency, correctness, authority, and wisdom, in saving souls, and that the lack of it will entail on any pastor a considerable (comparative) liability to partial error, mistakes, and injury of the church and of souls. Now it is each minister's duty to love God, not with a part, but with all of his heart; and to serve him, not only as well as some weaker brother is doing, but with the fullest effectiveness possible for him, he being such a man and in such circumstance as he is. It should be with each minister as with the faithful and devoted bondsman. He may be gifted by nature with a giant frame, so that with a dull and inferior axe he cuts more wood for the master in the day than another with his natural feebleness who has the keenest axe. By “putting to more strength,” he may even cut the average day's task. But if, by grinding his axe thoroughly, he is enabled to cut even two days' task in one, if he loves the master he will grind it. And even if his day is advanced towards the middle of the forenoon, if he finds that an hour devoted even then to a thorough grinding, will result in a larger heap of wood well cut by nightfall, he will stop at that late hour to grind.

Now, as to the high utility of classic culture to the educated man, the arguments which have convinced the majority of well-informed men for three centuries, have by no means been refuted by the multiplication of books in English. Latin and Greek are large sources of our mother tongue. No man has full mastery of it until he knows the sources. Translation from language to language is the prime means for training men to discrimination in using words, and thus, in thought. There is no discipline in practical logic so suitable for a pupil as those reasonings from principles of syntax, by processes of logical exclusion and synthesis, to the correct way of construing sentences. As a mental discipline, this construing of a language, other than our vernacular, has no rival and no substitute in any other study. And if the language to be construed is idiomatically different from the vernacular, with its own genius, collocating thoughts and words in its own peculiar order, as is the case with the “dead languages,” this fits them best of all to be implements of this discipline. It is the best way for teaching the young mind to think. We do not dwell on the culture of true taste, and the value of the fine models presented in the classics. It may be retorted that there is fine writing in English too; why may not this cultivate the taste? We reply; these English models are moulded after the classic, if they are really fine. Is it not better to take our inspiration from the prime source than the secondary? Moreover, they are usually so imbued with classic allusion and imagery that only a classic scholar can understand them. True, Milton wrote in English; but the reader needs to be as much a Latin and Greek scholar fully to comprehend him as to read Virgil and Sophocles.

But the prime fact which determines the question is, that the Bible was given by God in Greek and Hebrew. The Greek New Testament and Hebrew Old Testament alone are God's word. No translation or commentary is infallible. No man who must needs “pin his faith” as to the interpretation of a given phrase upon the “say so” of an expositor that “this is just what the Greek means,” can be always certain that he is not deceived. Does one say, this is all the laity have? Just so; and therefore no such layman is entitled to become the authorised teacher of others. “The analogy of the faith” may give the intelligent English reader practically a certainty that his translators and expositors do give him the more fundamental and obvious truths of redemption without any substantial error, and that he may be sure of his own salvation. But it ought to be the aim of the religious teacher, who undertakes to lead others, to attain accuracy also on the lesser points. No atom of revealed truth is useless to souls. The lesser error may perchance be the means of leading some soul to the greater, even to the destructive, mistake. The duty of the pastor to go himself to the fountain head of the exposition may be illustrated thus:—an author offers to him his English commentary on Scripture designed for the English reader. The pastor receives it and says, “That is well. But, Mr Expositor, you yourself tested your own expositions by the light of the original Greek?” “No,” he answers, “writing only for English readers, I myself stopped at the English version!” That pastor would throw the commentary from him with indignation. But the pastor is the commentary, of his charge; they have the same right to require of him that he shall not stop short of testing his expositions to them until he gets to the infallible standard.

Again, it is often the pastor's duty to defend the correct exposition of the truth against impugners. How can he do this successfully unless he is able to argue for the translation he assumes, when he is always liable to be assailed with the assertion:—“I deny that the original means what you say.” Shall he meet assertion only with bald assertion, while confessing that he himself is not qualified to judge whereof he affirms? This would be a sorry polemic indeed. For instance, the pastor ignorant of Greek has declared that the word rendered in the Scripture “justify,” does not signify an inward and spiritual change, but only a forensic and declarative act of God in favour of the believing sinner. The Roman priest rises and says:—“Holy Mother Church teaches the opposite; how do you know what the word signifies?” “I read what I asserted in Dr Hodge's English Commentary on Romans. He says so.” “But Holy Mother Church is inspired. Is your Dr Hodge inspired?” “No.” “Do you know Greek, so as to assure us, yourself, that he may not be mistaken?” “No.” “But” the priest adds, “the church is not only infallible, but knows Greek perfectly; and she asserts, of her knowledge, that you and your Dr Hodge are mistaken.” In what a pitiful attitude is this “defender of the faith” left, although he is, in fact, on the right side, with nothing but an assertion and a confession of ignorance to offset a more confident assertion.

It is worth remarking also, that an incomplete knowledge of the original languages is not to be despised in the pastor. A tolerable knowledge of the rudiments, which would not suffice him to originate independent criticism, may enable him to judge intelligently of another's criticism of the original. Or it may furnish him with the weapons to overthrow completely the arrogant assailant who knows no more than he does and yet boasts much. A young pastor in Virginia was once debating, during a series of days, the “Thomasite” creed with its founder a man of boundless dogmatism and pretension. He, like the Anabaptists of Luther's age, denied the conscious existence of the soul apart from the body after death. He boldly asserted that he knew Hebrew; that the Hebrew Scripture gave no countenance to the idea of separate spirit in man; for that the word currently translated soul in the English version meant only a smelling bottle! The young pastor related that when Dr Thomas began to parade his Hebrew he began to tremble, for he had the guilty consciousness that the dust had been gathering on his own Hebrew books ever since he left the Seminary. But the intervening might gave him an opportunity to examine them, and his Lexicon at once cleared up the source of the impudent assertion by giving him under Heb. הַנֶּ֖פֶשׁ , (“breath,” “soul”) the phrase from Isaiah 3:20:—Heb. בָתֵּ֥י הַנֶּ֖פֶשׁ ; “smelling bottle” (bottles of odours). All, therefore, that was necessary was to take this Lexicon to the church next morning, read the extract, challenge all competent persons—of whom there happened to be none present—to inspect his citation, and show the absurdity of reading “smelling bottle” wherever Heb. הַנֶּ֖פֶשׁ , occurred. Thus, as he humorously stated, he hewed Dr Thomas to pieces with his own smelling bottle. Here a small tincture of Hebrew answered a valuable purpose:—without it, our advocate would have had nothing bat assertion to oppose to assertion. It should also be admitted that a critical knowledge of the Hebrew tongue is less essential to the pastor than of the Greek, and its lack less blameable. For the New Testament résumés and restates all the doctrines of redemption contained in the Old Testament. Hence, he who can be sure that he construes all the declarations of the New Testament aright, cannot go amiss as to any of the doctrinal statements of the Old Testament, though he has only the English version. But even this admission cannot be extended to the historical statements of the Old Testament; and as they have an interesting, though subordinate, value for illustrating the plan of redemption, the minister who knows Greek but not Hebrew cannot be fully on the level of him who knows both. For, in general, there is a sense in which the best translation cannot fully represent its original. Pope's Homer shows us Pope rather than Homer; Dryden's Virgil, Dryden fully as much as Virgil. There are shades of thought, connections of words and ideas, idiomatic beauties and aptitudes of expression, which a mere translation does not reproduce. These points, lost in any modern version, are not essential to the getting of the fundamentals of redemption; but they clothe the teachings of revelation in a light and consistency which he that undertakes to teach others ought not to slight.

There is a practical testimony to this argument. It is found in the example of some of the best of those excellent and useful men who have found themselves in the Baptist or Methodist ministry without classical knowledge. They, seeing its vital necessity to the guide of souls, have given themselves no rest until they have acquired, often by unassisted study, a competent knowledge of the New Testament Greek at least; many also of the Hebrew. Their consciences would not suffer them to remain without it.

This position is also sustained by this very simple and natural view. 1 Timothy 3:2, requires of the presbyter-bishop “aptness to teach.” This cannot mean less than didactic ability to explain the gospel correctly; and we may grant that this would be sufficiently conferred by fair general intelligence, perspicuous good sense, the gift of utterance, familiarity with the Scriptures of the New Testament, and a personal experience of gospel grace. The intelligent tradesman or mechanic in Ephesus might possess these. But ought not the modern pastor to possess this minimum, qualification? Should he not be abreast, at least, of the Ephesian mechanic? Let it be remembered that this Greek, now the classic “dead” language, was then the vernacular. The educated Englishman must be no mean Greek scholar to have that practical mastery of the idiom which this mechanic had, granting that the mechanic had not the knowledge of the elegancies of Greek which the modern student may have sought out. But more than this:—the events, the history, the geography, the usages, the modes of thought, the opinions, which constituted the human environment of the New Testament writers, the accurate understanding of which is so necessary to grasp the real scope of what they wrote, all these were the familiar, popular, contemporaneous knowledge of that intelligent mechanic in Ephesus. He had imbibed it in his daily observation, reading, and talk, as easily and naturally as the mechanic in Charleston has imbibed the daily facts about current politics, cotton shipments, familiar modern machinery, or domestic usages. But to us now all this expository knowledge is archæologic! It is gained accurately only by learned researches into antiquity. This imaginary picture may help to put us in the point of view for understanding our argument. We may suppose that the chasm of eighteen centuries is crossed, so that an Ephesian scholar—not mere mechanic—appears in Charleston now, audit is made his duty to instruct his Greek fellow-colonists in the municipal and state laws. But they are printed in English, a tongue strange to him, antipodal to Greek in idiom. Well, this difficulty may be surmounted by learning English, or, as our opponents think, simply by purchasing a translation of South Carolina laws into Greek; though how this translation is to enable him to guarantee his clients against error in their legal steps passes our wit to see. But this obstruction out of the way, he begins to read. He finds enactments about property in “cotton!” What is cotton? The wool which old Herodotus reported grew on trees in Nubia? And property in steam engines! And in steamships! And in steam cotton-compress engines; and in stocks of railroads, and in banks, and in government securities! And of buying and selling cotton futures! And of valuable phosphate works, etc., etc. What a crowd of surprises, of mysteries, of astonishments! How much to be learned, after the knotty, sibilant, guttural English is learned, before the book has any light to his mind!

We thus see that the plain Ephesian mechanic elder had immense advantages over us, inuring directly from his epoch, contemporary with the events of redemption, from his vernacular, from his providential position for understanding the sacred books. But we again urge the question. Are we “apt to teach,” unless we make up our deficiencies to a level somewhere near his? The modern who has become a learned Greek scholar and archaeologist has not done more than reach the level of this Ephesian elder. It were well for us if we had reached it.

Only one other point in this wide field of argument can be touched. The great apostasy of prelacy and popery was wrought precisely on that plan of a partially educated ministry which is now urged on us. As time rolled on, antiquating the language and the facts and opinions of the apostolic age, the church forgot the argument illustrated above, and vainly fancied that she would find the requisite “aptness to teach,” as Timothy found it, in pious men taken from the mass of society. Men read church history now under an illusion. When they hear of the pastors and fathers of the early church, as writing and preaching in Latin or Greek, because these are the learned languages now, these must have been learned men! But it was not so; these languages were their vernaculars. True learning was not the requisite for the ministerial office in the patristic ages. A few, like Jerome, had biblical learning; the most were chosen without it, precisely on the plan now recommended to us. The Latin pastor knew no Greek nor Hebrew, but read his Bible from a translation, precisely as our author wishes his new evangelist to do now. The Greek pastor knew no Latin nor Hebrew. The result of that experiment is indelibly written in church history the result was the gradual development of popery; the “dark ages;” the reintroduction of idolatry; the mass, bloody persecutions, and the corruption of Christianity. This lesson is enough for us; we do not desire to witness the repetition of the experiment. It was by just such expositions, founded on a translation, for instance, that the great Augustine, ignorant of Hebrew, and nearly ignorant of Greek, but energetic, eloquent and confident, introduced into the theology of the Latin church those definitions which it took all the throes and labours of the Reformation to expunge; which made μετανοια mean penance (pœnitentia); δικαιωσιν mean conversion, and faith (fides) a derivative of the verb fit, “it is done,” thus representing faith as work. Shall we be told that Protestants have now learned that lesson so well that there will be no danger of their being again misled on those points, even by uneducated guides? Perhaps not on those points. But who can foresee on what other unexpected points? The ingenuity of error is abounding.

Reference is made to a literary revolution which is to extrude the study of the classics from their place, and substitute other (modern) languages for them, or modern sciences; and it is claimed that this revolution has gone so far, and is so irrevocable, that in making the classics a requisite for preaching we narrow our field of choice to one-fifth of the fully educate young men of the country. We see no evidences of such revolution as permanent. We see, indeed, a plenty of rash innovation; but there is no sign that the educated mind of Christendom will submit to such a change in the methods of liberal culture. The business school is relied on, indeed, to make architects, engineers, and clerks; but real education, in it:—higher sense, still resorts to the classics as the foundation Germany, for instance, “the school-mistress of the nations,” has her “real-schulen” for the training of the men who are expected to devote themselves to the “bread and butter sciences;” but her gymnasia, where her youth are prepared for the professions. hold fast to the most thorough teaching of the dead languages. The plea that we limit ourselves away from four-fifths of our young men by requiring classical training, is refuted by this simple view. The educated, in any mode or form, are a small fraction of any population. Suppose, now, we retort, that by requiring that sound English education in divinity, which is described to us as so desirable and sufficient, we preclude ourselves from the whole field of choice except that small fraction; wherefore we should require no education, classical nor English, but ordain the common mass-ignorance. The reply to this our sophism would be patent:—that while the church will not ordain ignorance, she does not preclude even the most ignorant, because she proposes to educate (in English) and then ordain all worthy applicants. But if classical training is essential to the minister's best usefulness, as we have shown, the very same reply avails for us. The church does not exclude the four-fifths of the cultivated English scholars, by requiring of all classical knowledge; because her call is to come forward and accept a classical education, and then be ordained. The man who is fit for a minister will not refuse the additional labour for Christ, when he learns that it is requisite for his more efficient service of Christ. But it is said, the man whose heart God hath touched, may have no Latin, and may be middle-aged, and may have, moreover, a family on his hands. The classical process is too long for him to attempt. To this the answers are two. Very few men at middle age ought to be encouraged to take up the clerical profession. They must be men of peculiarly good endowments of nature and grace, or both they and the church will have to repent the unseasonable change of profession. And second, for those peculiar cases our system already makes full provision. To any fit man's plea, that the preparation required of him by the church is hopelessly long, she has this answer:—no such man, however behindhand in his training, ever fails to receive, among us, the aid and encouragement to carry him through the desirable training, Her answer is, to point to that noble and honoured class of her ministers represented by the explanter, James Turner of Bedford; the ex-carpenter, Dr J. D. Matthews; the ex-ship captain, Dr Harding; and to say to all like-minded men, if Christ gives you the will, we pledge ourselves to give the way.

It is urged that, by our requirements, we actually limit God's sovereignty. He may have elected the devout man without Latin, while we practically refuse to have him. That this is a “begging of the question,” appears from one remark:—suppose it should be that God's election and call are to a thorough education, and then to preaching. But whether this is God's purpose is the very question in debate. To assume the negative is to beg that question. Should the affirmative be true, then our requirements are not across, but in the very line of God's purpose.

We are pointed to the inconsistent execution of our system to the perfunctory examinations of Presbyteries, the shameful ignorance of some candidates, the practical setting at naught of our own constitution; and we are told that we have just enough of the old system, in name, to drive off from us the good men who make no pretence of classical knowledge, and yet not enough to keep out other men as ignorant, and less honest. Now, on this we remark, first, that this charge is not brought by us, but by others; and it is not our mission at this time to affirm it. But, secondly, if it be true, the inference drawn from it, that our slow growth and small success mainly are caused by a lack of this class of less educated ministers, will find its complete refutation in the facts charged. For surely no other solution of our scanty success need be sought, if those discreditable facts are true. If courts of Christ's church thus trample or their own profession and their own rules; if they thus dishonestly certificate ignorance as scholarship, assisting such impositions on society; if the young men who become our pastors have no more conscience than to contemn and waste the precious opportunities for learning provided them by the church, so as to come forth from them pretentious dunces; if such grovelling laziness in the season of preparation is the measure of these young men's energy and devotion in their ministry, there is a mass of sin at once abundantly sufficient to insult our God, grieve his Spirit, and effectually alienate his help. Our quest is ended. There is no need for our looking one step farther to find out what is the matter. Such a ministry cannot be blessed of a truthful God, and cannot succeed. The one work which remains for us is, not to change our constitution, but, with deep repentance and loathing delinquencies so shameful, to return to it, and live up to it. Let us try that first. If these charges are true—which it is no task of ours to affirm—let us execute our righteous rules in examining and licensing in such a way that God's truth shall be honoured, real merit recognised, and dishonest indolence shamed and banished from among us. Then perhaps, we shall find that our ministry will be efficient, without innovating on the wisdom of our laws, approved by the experience of centuries.

It is argued that since society includes various grades of taste, culture, and possessions, our church is suffering for the lack of different grades of ministers. But we thought that the parity of the ministry was one of the corner-stones of our constitution. Methodists, or prelatists, can consistently have different grades: for they retain some features of hierarchy. Our church, in its very essence, is not a hierarchy, but a republic, Now, there is one sense in which, with an equally thorough education, we shall have, not grades, but sorts of ministers endlessly various, and adapted to all the various parts of our work. No two minds are exactly alike; no two temperaments. God, who bestows the different shades of nature, provides for this variety; that is enough. All we need is to do as our author so well inculcates in his January number—allot the right man to the right work by our Presbyterial supervision. This is entirely compatible with parity. “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” But when we begin to make a substantive difference in the educational privileges of ministers, to train them for different grades, these will soon be virtually marked as higher and lower grades. “Ultimately, the forms will be moulded to the virtual facts, and we shall have, like the Methodists, the beginnings of a hierarchy.” And whereas it is supposed that the more cheaply trained preachers will be specially adapted to the plainer and poorer congregations, our knowledge of Presbyterian human nature makes us surmise that these will be the very charges to insist most upon having the fully trained minister, and to resent the allotment of the less learned to them as a stigma and a disparagement. It is much to be feared that the new grade will be obstinately rejected by the very grade of hearers for whom they will have been devised.

The desideratum claimed is, that there shall be a way, like the Methodist mode, for giving many ministers their adequate training without the expense and delay of segregating them for years in scholastic institutions, along with a useful occupation in parochial labours. Now, we are struck with the thought that our constitution provides expressly for just this way. It nowhere makes a college or a seminary an essential. All that it stipulates for, in the way of means, is a two years' training under “some approved divine.” This, of course, throws the door wide open to the incoming of the very ideal painted. The young man may join any experienced, pastor, assist him within or without his field of labour, pursue his studies under his guidance, in connection with these evangelistic labours, present himself before Presbytery, and, if his “parts of trial” are adequate, demand his licensure with the full sanction of the present' constitution. Now, if such a mode of training is so desirable, is so strongly a “felt want,” how comes it that none enter into this open door? Why has there been such a rarity of such cases in our church since 1825? Why are not many learned and wise pastors—of whom we have so many—thus bringing on many godly candidates? The obvious reply is, that the good sense of the church tacitly perceives this training unsuited to the times. Pastors practically feel this, churches feel it, and the young men feel it. It is the same feeling which is to-day operating in the Methodist Church to make them substitute this method of training, long so peculiarly their own, by one more nearly like ours. In a word, the door is already open. If the Christian community felt its need of this way, it would use it. It does not use it; and the inference is that really it does not want it.

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