"AS I SEE IT" 

Volume 9, Number 10, October 2006

 

“I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.

For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me;

Inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.

I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.

I will show partiality to no one.  Nor will I flatter any man.”

Job 32:17-21

 

“That which ordinary men are fit for I am qualified in, and the best of me is diligence.”

Earl of Kent

Shakespeare’s King Lear

Act I, scene iv, ll. 32-34

 

[“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.

 

AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at: DKUTILEK@juno.com.  You can be removed from the mailing list at the same address.  Back issues sent on request.  All back issues may be accessed at http://www.KJVOnly.org]

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School Violence in America: It Should Come as No Surprise

 

A recent rash of in-school murders in America--sometimes perpetrated by students, other times by intruders--has led to public expressions of shock and dismay at their occurrence.  And in truth, such violence should create real shock and dismay, though I suspect that in our society now generally numbed by widespread exposure to violence both factual and fictional, not a little of the professed shock is just so much mouthing of words for public consumption.  Certainly, the response has not risen to the level of motivating those in authority to actually do something effective to reduce the violence.

 

One response to the frequent school murders that should not be expected or expressed, however, is surprise.  We as a society have seemingly done everything within our power to set the stage for just such violence.  Surely I jest, you say?  Not in the least.  First, we have abandoned the instilling of respect for and submission to authority.  The restraining effect of the Ten Commandments, even on unbelievers, has been cast out--by judicial fiat--from American government-controlled classrooms.  It has been deemed essential by the judicial oligarchy that students not be exposed to “Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not bear false witness” which were considered as somehow having a potentially dangerous corrupting influence on the minds and actions of impressionable young people. 

 

And the virtually complete absence of authority on the part of school administrators and faculty to restrain and punish bad behavior by students is widely known--a situation created by the collaboration of indulgent parents (“Don’t you dare lay a hand on my delinquent child!”), lawsuit-happy attorneys and secular psychologists (“Any restraint will harm the child’s creativity,” and blah, blah, blah).  “Swats” have long since been banished (on a half-dozen occasions in Junior High School I got swats with a paddle--and deserved it every time, and likewise benefited from the experience), and even the most outrageous and violent behavior goes unpunished (except for perhaps bringing a Bible--or a gun--to school).  Unless a student is actually convicted of a felony, most government school systems will not expel the student, but put the offender in a “special” school much more expensive to maintain and operate, to do his “time” until he reaches the minimum age for dropping out.  Simply maintaining respect and order in the classroom is nearly impossible, since the students have learned by experience that there is no penalty for bad behavior.  Competent teachers quit in frustrated droves when they are deprived of any power to maintain classroom order.

 

Moreover, the same ivory tower Supreme Court tyrants who expelled God from school, nevertheless on the basis of the same First Amendment to the Constitution insist that vile and violent lyrics and images of the most debased sort in songs, books, movies, and video games are precious protected rights under the freedom of speech and must not be restricted in any way.  As all restraint has been cast off, the likes of Eminem and various rappers with lyrics of extreme violence aimed especially at women, video games such as “Grand Theft Auto” that program the player to gratuitously slaughter others including and especially authority figures (police) and the most degraded and degrading pornography (which is known to be a major factor in molding the minds of serial murderers toward their criminal lifestyle) have become commonplace even characteristic of our society.  

 

And then, most appalling, we have sanctioned since 1973, once again by fiat from the unelected and unaccountable judicial elite, the slaughter of the most innocent among us, the unborn.  Abortion--the willful pre-meditated destruction by extremely violent means of unoffending human life, an act mostly motivated by nothing higher than mere personal convenience--has official government sanction, resulting in well more than 45 million such murders since 1973, nearly 4 times the number of people murdered by the Nazis as part of “the final solution,” and approaching close to the total deaths, civilian and combatant, in the 6 years of World War that ended in 1945.  The next time we think to condemn the Third Reich as beastly and sub-human (and it was), let us remember that we have done them one better--or, rather, one worse, and done so with brazen insistence that we had the right to.  Let us reflect on President Jefferson’s declaration: "Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; [and] that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

 

And of course, the college campus cultural anarchy of the 1960s--“do your own thing,“ “if it feels good, do it”--which accounted complete and absolute self-indulgence as the greatest good and the restriction on any and every passion, desire or wish as the greatest evil, has borne its fruit four decades--a generation and a half--later in a society that as a whole has cast off nearly all restraint and yields to every urge.  We should have no surprise if in such a circumstance, someone, or numerous “someones,” declares, “I’m mad and feel like killing someone” and then carries out their evil design.  They have been taught to give in to every impulse; don’t gasp in amazement when they actually do what they have so long been prepared and trained to do.

 

For more than forty years, we have as it were been programming our children--many now adults--with an unrestrained, self-centered, violent mentality.  That it is now manifest in truly senseless and frequent slaughter of students, teachers and administrators is the natural consequence of the course of action we chose--or had imposed on us by the courts--decades ago.  There are consequences, often grave consequences, to every human choice.  We sowed the wind and are reaping the hurricane.  We have no basis for expecting things to be different in the future, and should steel ourselves in the present for more of the same to come.

 

This is not to say that there is no solution, though there is none easy, quick or convenient.  A return to sanity can only begin with an open reinstatement of God in public life and an acknowledgement of His authority over all things, followed by a restriction and prohibition--call it censorship, I don’t care--of those things which are self-evidently destructive to society: the profane, the vile, the gratuitously violent.  Such is absolutely necessary. Yet, quite frankly, these are most unlikely to occur.  Those who imposed on us the conditions leading to the present crisis --the Federal judiciary--are still unrestrained, unaccountable and unresponsive.  But what bodes worse is the realization that nations rarely repent and experience restoration when they have gone far into rebellion and disorder.  Regularly, the only ultimate consequence is national collapse under the crushing weight of sin and Divine judgment.  I see small cause for hope.

---Doug Kutilek

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. . . And Just What Counsel and Comfort Can They Give?

 

Standard operating procedure for government schools when some tragedy befalls them--an in-school shooting, a traffic accident that claims the life of faculty, staff or students, or some other disturbing occurrence--is to have “grief counselors” on site to console those upset and distraught about whatever the particular circumstance might be.  And that compels me to ask--just what counsel, advice or word of hope, comfort or encouragement can they possibly give in such a situation?  Some psycho-babble aphorisms?  Vague and unfounded words that ‘everything will be alright’?  I think such a job would be unspeakably frustrating, since the counselor, barred from pointing the student to God and the Bible, must know that what he speaks is phony, fraudulent and utterly unconvincing, even to himself--especially to himself.

 

God, the Gospel and hope in Christ are the only true message of comfort for troubled hearts on this earth.  And yet, in the public arena we must not speak God’s name, or look to Him for answers to the tragedies of life.  Such could actually be criminal, since it would violate the dictates of the courts.  Collectively, we have voluntarily cut ourselves off from the only One who can answer our questions, and then grope for answers in the self-imposed darkness.  Bizarre and self-destructive, indeed insane.

 

The recent heart-wrenching murder of Amish school girls and the reaction in that community stands in marked contrast to the secular response.  There were several cases in the media reporting of the aftermath of clear testimonies to hope in Christ, trust in the wisdom of a living and personal God, and a forgiving rather than vengeful spirit.  Were I to speculate, perhaps God in His infinite wisdom allowed this tragedy in part so that the world could have a real-world example of the complete difference between those who face tragedy with no sure hope and anchor for the soul, and those who in contrast, seek comfort and consolation from God who is a loving and personal Father of those who look to Him in faith.

---Doug Kutilek

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Wisdom from the Sages

 

“Truth does not depend on the power, wisdom, or faithfulness of men; but remains constantly the same, though Peter deny and Judas betray.”

 

Edward Hitchin (1726-1774)

London Baptist Pastor

Quoted in A. W. Light, Bunhill Fields, vol. II, p. 128

---

 

“Why are we Protestant Dissenters [as opposed to members of the established state Church--ed.]?  Our answer is, because we acknowledge Christ only to be Lord in His own house.  We call no man master on earth.  We believe God hath in His Word ordered all things well, so that we not only receive our faith from Scripture, but also our church constitution, worship and discipline.  We submit to the civil magistrate in civil matters, but in the matters of our God, in the Church of Christ we will have no king but Jesus.”

           

Richard Winter (1721-1799)

London Pastor

Quoted, ibid., p. 133.

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Wiersbe on Real Worship

 

“I have learned that preaching is an act of worship and that my message must be a sacrifice placed on the altar to the glory of God.”

Warren Wiersbe, Real Worship

(Nashville: Oliver-Nelson, 1986), p. 18

 

“When you consider all of the words used for worship in both the Old and New Testaments, and when you put the meanings together, you find that worship involves both attitudes (awe, reverence, respect) and actions (bowing, praising, serving).  It is both a subjective experience and an objective activity.  Worship is not an unexpressed feeling, nor is it an empty formality.  True worship is balanced and involves the mind, the emotions, and the will.  It must be intelligent; it must reach deep within and be motivated by love; and it must lead to obedient actions that glorify God.”

Ibid., p. 21

 

“We do not worship God for what we get out of it, but because He is worthy.  ‘Whoever seeks God as a means toward desired ends will not find God,’ wrote A. W. Tozer.  ‘God will not be used.’  If you worship because it pays, it won’t pay.  Of course, this runs contrary to much of the popular preaching and teaching today that promises health, wealth, contentment, and a problem-free life to all who will ‘turn themselves over to God.’  Those who proclaim this pernicious doctrine would be brokenhearted if their own children loved them only for what they could get out of them.”

Ibid., p. 22.

 

“True worship is not cheap entertainment.”

Ibid., p. 23

 

“Worship is the believer’s response of all that he is--mind, emotions, will, and body--to all that God is and says and does.  This response has its mystical side in subjective experience, and its practical side in objective obedience to God’s revealed truth.  It is a loving response that is balanced by the fear of the Lord, and it is a deepening response as the believer comes to know God better.”

Ibid., p. 27

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"And They Love In The Preachers' Meetings To Be Called 'Doctor, Doctor....' "

 

Nothing is more harsh or grating on the ears of most independent Baptist preachers than to be called "Reverend."  I myself have signed "Reverend" to my name only a half dozen times in the nearly thirty years since my ordination, almost always on ordination certificates.  To be addressed as "The Reverend Wangdoodle" is almost fighting words to some of us.  It carries the malodorous smell of ecclesiastical hierarchies, false piety, unbiblical titles, and over exaltation of mere men.

 

Yet, at the very moment of contemptuously dismissing "Reverend," there seems to be an unholy rush to embrace gladly the designation as "Doctor."  To be known far and wide (or, more likely, locally and narrowly) as "Dr. Joe Schmoe, D. D." seems to be the craving of the hour, the perceived road to respect, prestige, and success.  The old epithets of "Pastor Schmoe," "Preacher," or simply "Brother Schmoe" no longer satisfy.  "D. D." it must be. 

 

There are two quick and virtually painless ways to become "Dr."  The first is to be granted an honorary Doctor of Divinity (D. D.) degree by some educational institution, usually in return for a sizeable monetary contribution to that institution, the speed with which the degree is granted being directly proportionate to the size of the gift.  I know of one novel situation in which a pastor started a Bible college and seminary in his church, then awarded its first honorary degree to himself!

 

The second way is to enroll in a correspondence school, pay the tuition (the most important part of the process), read a half dozen poorly-chosen books (if that many), and maybe write a paper or two, all in six months' time, and instantly you become a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph. D.), Doctor of Theology (Th. D.) or the latest trend, Doctor of Ministry (D. Min.).  Certainly not all correspondence schools are such deplorable degree mills, but there are more than enough of these "schools" to go around.

 

It seems strange that many of those in Baptist circles who are opposed to or at least suspicious of preachers with a great deal of formal education (an attitude which has plagued Baptists for centuries) are at the same time among the most eager to be "doctored."  A preacher who wasn't even able to complete the modest three-year Th. G. program at Baptist Bible College once told me, "I don't trust people with a lot of education!"  In my soul I wanted to cry out, "And I don't trust ignoramuses!" but I held my peace.  The gentleman in question is of course a D. D. 

 

I don't profess to be able to explain this simultaneous decrying of learning and learned men while at the same time craving the external trappings and appearance of vast education, except on the general grounds of human perversity and depravity.  John Gill (1697-1771), Baptist scholar and pastor in London, England and voluminous writer, responded to this Baptist plague in his Body of Divinity--

 

Here I cannot but observe the amazing ignorance and stupidity of some persons, who take it into their heads to decry learning and learned men; for what would they have done for a Bible, had it not been for them as instruments?  and if they had it, so as to have been capable of reading it, God must have wrought a miracle for them; and continued that miracle in every nation, in every age, and to every individual; I mean the gift of tongues, in a supernatural way, as he bestowed upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost; which there is no reason in the world ever to have expected.  Bless God, therefore, and be thankful that God has, in his providence, raised up such men to translate the Bible into the mother-tongue of every nation, and particularly ours; and that he still continues to raise up such who are able to defend the translations made, against erroneous persons, and enemies of the truth; and to correct and amend it in lesser matters, in which it may have failed, and clear and illustrate it by their learned notes upon it."

(A Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity:

The Baptist Standard Bearer reprint, 1984 , p. 14)

           

"Degree for a fee" shenanigans are not a new phenomenon.  H. L. Mencken in his monumental work The American Language tells us:

 

There were relatively few D. D.'s in America before 1800, for the degree was seldom given by American universities.  But any clergyman who had published an edifying work could obtain it from one of the Scottish universities on payment of a fee, and in the middle of the Eighteenth Century it was not unusual for an admiring congregation to pass the hat to help its shepherd obtain the degree

(4th ed., p. 281, note 3).

 

One individual who was awarded a D. D. from a Scottish university in the eighteenth century was the aforementioned John Gill.  John Rippon, successor and biographer of Gill, in his "Memoir of Dr. Gill" published in the 6-volume set of Gill's commentary on the Bible, writes of this incident:

 

Towards the close of the publication of [his 3-volume commentary on the New Testament], in 1748, Mr. Gill received a Diploma from the Marischal College and University at Aberdeen, creating him Doctor in Divinity, on account of his knowledge of the Scriptures, of the Oriental languages, and of Jewish antiquities, as expressed in the diploma.  On this he received [a letter] from Professor Osborn, Principal of the University, declaring to him, that 'on account of the honest and learned defence of the true sense of the Holy Scriptures against the profane attacks of Deists and Infidels, and the reputation his other works had procured him in the learned world, as soon as it was moved in the University to confer the degree of Doctor of Divinity on him, it was readily agreed unto;' and that he, as Primarius Professor, made a present to him of what was due himself on such a promotion,--a promotion, which, the Professor observed, had been conferred entirely without the knowledge of Mr. Gill.  Hence, when his deacons, in London, congratulated him on the respect which had been shewn him, he thanked them, pleasantly adding, I neither thought it, nor bought it, nor sought it.

(p.xx)

 

How out of place Gill's attitude seems today!  Advertisements for large Bible conferences are chock-full of "doctors"--they seem to hang in bunches--yet of the ten or twenty or thirty smiling-faced doctors pictured, almost never is there a single one with a bona fide earned doctorate in an academic discipline.  Just whom are we trying to impress anyway?  Each other?  The easily-awed "man in the pew?"  The secular world?  (I understand that in cases where preachers have been called to testify in court regarding church-and-state matters, their attorneys have specifically instructed them not to identify themselves as "Dr." unless their degree is actually an earned degree, lest they become a laughingstock in court and their case be undermined.)

           

Of the small handful of independent Baptist preachers that I know with genuine earned doctorate degrees, to a man they are completely indifferent as to whether they are addressed as doctor, pastor, preacher or simply brother.  They have learned that all man-made titles are largely hollow, and that one of the certain by-products of an extensive and intensive academic course leading to a doctorate is that one discovers the vast proportions of one's ignorance of almost everything.  Sir Isaac Newton, arguably the greatest scientific genius of all time and a devout Christian, remarked shortly before his death,

 

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me

Great Books of the Western World, vol. 34, p. x

 

Such humility in the present stagnant and stifling climate is as refreshing as a warm spring rain shower.

 

Just what is the motive behind this seeking after degrees and titles?  Is it respectability? Authority?  Prestige?  The praise of men?  Are we back at Babel, each crying out, "Let us make us a name"?  Whatever became of "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: who . . . made himself of no reputation, and . . . humbled himself . . . "?  Is it now true that the servant is above his Master?  An armful of degrees (earned or honorary) does not make a man a better preacher or a better man.  In truth, if it puffs him up with pride, it will make him decidedly worse.

           

Yet this is not to say that there is never any place for honorary degrees or recognitions of achievement, but the granting of such honorary degrees has become so commonplace that they have all but ceased to be an honor.  Untried and unproven men in their twenties are created D. D.  I think of one particular case of a Baptist preacher's son and associate who at about age twenty-five was D. D.-ed by his father and by age thirty was out of the ministry because of multiple adulteries.  The same college president also granted a D. D. to a horse (perhaps citing precedent in that a number of "mules" had been similarly honored previously?) and later still, a woman "preacher" who claims direct revelations from God. 

           

Sadly, some of the most ignorant and carnal preachers I have ever met had D. D. degrees.  Spurgeon wrote, "[T]here's none so pleased at being dubbed a doctor as the man who least deserves it.  Many a D. D. is fiddle-dee-dee" (John Plowman's Pictures, p. 28).

           

Discretion in degree granting is in order.  The example in Gill's case is worthy of imitation.  First, he had genuinely accomplished something.  He had mastered all the voluminous rabbinic literature and had written an extensive commentary on the entire New Testament.  Second, he had proven himself faithful in more than three decades of gospel ministry, and was over fifty years old (beyond the average lifespan at the time).  Third, he did not seek the honor for himself.  To honor such men may be appropriate; to pass out D. D.s like balloons at a birthday party is reprehensible.

           

There is in the final analysis only one Person's opinion of us and our ministries that really matters in the end:

 

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes.  He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts.  At that time each will receive his praise from God (1 Corinthians 4:5).

---Doug Kutilek

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BOOK REVIEWS

 

David Brainerd’s Personal Testimony.  Selected from his journal and diary by Walter Searle.  Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979 reprint.  117 pp, paperback.

 

I would hope that all our readers are familiar with the name of David Brainerd (1718-1747), notable missionary to the American Indians in the colonial period.  But inasmuch as a few may not be, and the rest will be profited by a reminder of this man and his worthy example, we briefly note this book. 

 

This small compilation of excerpts from Brainerd’s diaries and journals bears testimony to his diligence as a student of Scripture, a singularly fervent, faithful man of prayer, and an industrious evangelizer of the lost.  Upon considering the life of Brainerd, the words that come to mind are dedication, devotion, focus, intensity.  Though this small volume can be easily read in a couple of hours, it would be a shame to rush through it with such haste.  Rather, careful, reflective, soul-searching examination will be of far greater profit.  Indeed, we are profited nothing by reading such if we do not resolve, and carry through, a determined purpose to imitate his most worthy example.

 

Brainerd’s life has been an inspiration to many, including such notables as William Carey, Henry Martyn, A. J. Gordon and Jim Elliott.  A more complete edition of his journals was prepared by the famous Jonathan Edwards, to whose daughter Brainerd was engaged at the time of his death (The Life of Rev. David Brainerd.  Boston, 1749; Moody reprint, 1949; Baker reprint, 1978), with yet fuller accounts by S. E. Dwight (New Haven, Connecticut; 1822) and J. M. Sherwood (New York, 1884).  Some brief summary of Brainerd’s life may also be profitably consulted in the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, and the M’Clintock-Strong Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, besides Ruth Tucker’s From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya.

---Doug Kutilek

---

 

Some quotes from David Brainerd’s Personal Testimony--

 

“I set apart this day for fasting and prayer to God for His grace; especially to prepare me for the work of the ministry; to give me divine aid and direction, in my preparations for that great work; and in His own time to send me into his Harvest.” (p. 19)

 

“God enabled me to. . . agonize in prayer.” (p. 20; such was as common in Brainerd’s life as it is rare in our own--editor)

 

“My soul longed with a vehement desire to live to God.” (p. 27)

 

“The presence of God is what I want.” (p. 32)

 

“In prayer I was exceedingly enlarged, and my soul was as much drawn out as I ever remember it to have been in my life.  I was in such anguish, and pleaded with so much earnestness and importunity, that when I rose from my knees I felt extremely weak and overcome; I could scarce walk straight; my joints were loosed; sweat ran down my face and body; and nature seemed as if it would dissolve.” (p. 51)

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Americans at War by Stephen E. Ambrose.  New York: Berkley Books, 1998.  252 pp., paperback.  $14.00

 

The late Stephen E. Ambrose was a noted historian of American history (especially military history), particularly World War II and Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, with some notable forays into 19th century events.  We have previously reviewed six of his books in AISI (Band of Brothers, 4:11; Citizen Soldiers, 1:7; Comrades, 4:12; Nothing Like It in the World, 5:8; To America, 6:1; Undaunted Courage, 5:6) surely the most by any one author--all favorably--and have read at least one other we didn’t take the time to review.

 

This present volume is a collection of papers delivered at symposia and essays published in various periodicals and journals.  Normally such collections are characteristically obscure, often very technical and surpassingly dull reading.  Not these.  All are about American military history, and all but two about 20th century events (those two exceptions are the taking of Vicksburg in 1863 by General Grant, and the Civil War experiences of George A. Custer).  We have an account of how America stumbled into World War II, two about aspects of D-Day, an analysis of questions regarding the use of the atomic bomb on Japan (Ambrose believed it sound policy, an opinion he did not have when he began teaching in the 1960s; over time, Ambrose became more and more conservative in his outlook on almost everything).  We have profiles of Eisenhower and Patton, and MacArthur, a study of the part Eisenhower had in founding NATO, a couple on Vietnam, and one on the Cold War.  The final essay is Ambrose’ prognostication regarding the hoped-for abolition of war in the 21st century (pure wishful thinking, with some very bad analysis).  The passage of just a single decade since its composition shows how poorly even a good historian can foretell the course of future events).  The quality of the material is strong throughout the book, and readable, and the only essays that really got my hackles up were the last two as some of the remnants of Ambrose’ early 60s-radical thinking linger and come to the fore (such as the notion that the UN is the panacea for future world peace!).  The attentive reader will find worthwhile instruction here.

---Doug Kutilek

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Quoth the Maven by William Safire.  New York, Random House, 1993.  350 pp., hardback.

 

In our article “The Study of English” (As I See It, 3:2, February 2000), we took note of numerous volumes of merit and usefulness to the student of the English language (and every preacher and Bible teacher in the English-speaking world is, of necessity, and whether he likes it or not, a student of English.  I, for my part, have an unending love for and insatiable fascination with the English language).  We took particular note of several books--compilations, really--by political pundit, New York Times columnist (now retired) and English enthusiast William Safire.  For years, he wrote a regular column “On Language” which addressed idioms, word development and history, and more, with the “fodder” for such columns regularly extracted from the contemporary media--print, broadcast, electronic--including everything from political speeches, the world of technology, advertising and more.  Those columns, with reader responses, corrections, and dissent, were regularly compiled into book form.  We specifically mentioned those we had obtained and read as of that writing, to wit, What's The Good Word (Times Books, 1982), Take My Word For It (Times Books, 1986), Coming To Terms (Doubleday, 1991), and In Love With Norma Loquendi (Random House, 1994), all tongue-in-cheek titles, and each sporting some really terrific puns within their covers (I have since also acquired but not yet read through I Stand Corrected [Times Books, 1984]).  Of Safire’s books on English, we wrote:

 

On the use and development of individual words and idioms, for contemporary usage especially, nothing is better than the series of books by William Safire, which reproduce his New York Times column, "On Language." 

 

Recently, we came across the present tome under review, naturally bought it immediately, and soon found ourselves reading it through.  The columns all date from the period 1988-1989, and are a bit of a refresher course on the politics of that period (Dukakis, Bush 41--not so labeled back then!--Gorbachev, and more).  Safire traces the development of such idioms as “pushing the envelope,” “sound bite,” the computerese “bit” and “byte,” “like ugly on an ape,” “bonfire of the vanities,” “spick and span” (this last being more than 350 years old!), the common European greeting “ciao” and much more.  We were pleased to discover that in his reference to the famous phrase: “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things love,” often and wrongly ascribed to Augustine (pp. 165-167), neither he nor his readers were able to trace the quote back to its actual origin, but we did, in “Another Quote Traced to Its Source,” (As I See It, 7:1, January 2004).

 

The lover of English will revel in Safire’s columns, and he who has no great love for English should read them to perhaps spark such interest, before he wastes the whole of his life.

---Doug Kutilek