"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 9, Number 12, December 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.”
“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]
The Essence of Sin
“The problem of sin is infinitely deeper than we realize. To get a glimpse at the question of sin, remember that first of all we have a tendency to identify crime with sin. Crime is only a minor subpoint under sin. Crime can only be against men. Sin is essentially against God. . . .Sin is the deification of ourselves.”
James L. Kelso
An Archaeologist Looks at the Gospels, p. 96
Waco, Texas: Word, 1966
Philosophies of Ministry: the False and the True
“The itch for bigness is a dangerous thing. It has made a castaway of many a man whom God once richly blessed. A man should desire to be neither larger nor smaller than pleases God. Better than that, he should not bother at all about how large or how small but rather how faithful he shall be.”
Late evangelist Vance Havner
The Vance Havner Quotebook, p. 18
Compiled by Dennis J. Hester
Baker Book House, 1986
“The preacher who is concerned with gaining a reputation, rising in his profession, is always in bondage. Every great opportunity finds him tense and nervous for fear he will not ‘put it over.’ He measures success by audience response, the compliments of his hearers, his rating among his contemporaries.”
Ibid., p. 19
“America is amusement and entertainment mad, and we have the highest per capita rate of boredom of any people on the face of the earth. There’s a delusion going around today, even in evangelical and fundamental circles sometimes [it has now become commonplace--editor], that we must be entertained at church. Christianity has come all the way from an experience to a performance.”
Ibid., p. 33
Taken from A Sedgwick County Almanac, by Doug Kutilek
Copyrighted by author, 2006.
Reproduction by written permission only
December is the THE month for planting and transplanting cedars in Kansas (though any of the months from November through March can be made to serve). The frost and the chill wind have combined to shift the gears of the cedars and the rest of the trees into a months‑long neutral, the perfect time to move them from where you don't want them to where you do. December here is often cold and blustery, but those very elements make the exertion of digging and carrying an invigorating and body‑warming delight. I always prefer December for cedar planting.
Before continuing further, "truth in labeling" laws compel us to clarify a couple of words. First, the word "evergreen" is a catch‑all term used by the uninitiated for any tree that remains green during the winter, nearly always restricted to trees classified scientifically as conifers (literally, "cone‑bearers," a term descriptive of the seed container of such trees, and including pines, firs, hemlocks, spruces, cedars and many more). Of course, "evergreen" is an inadequate “synonym” for conifer since not all conifers are green in winter (several species drop all their foliage in the fall), and some trees that retain their leaves in winter (such as hollies and magnolias) are not conifers.
And as if that weren't problem enough, the word "cedar" itself is almost as vague, and inclined to mislead. Practically every kind of cone‑bearing tree that has fragrant, aromatic wood is popularly called "cedar." No doubt this is because of the famous Biblical cedars of Lebanon, which are true cedars (no species of which--there are four in all, world-wide--occurs naturally in the Western Hemisphere). Common people, by which I mean non‑botanists, who were acquainted with the names of Bible plants often gave those names to New World plants which were supposed to be identical to or very similar to their counterparts in the Scriptures. As a result, more than half a dozen different genera of trees in North America, no true cedar among them, have been popularly known as cedars. Including Kansas' only native conifer. Our cedar is sometimes called by the somewhat more specific term "Eastern redcedar," but to eliminate all confusion and doubt, plant taxonomists identify this tree as "Juniperus virginiana," the name given to the species more than two centuries ago by famous Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus (1707-1779). So, for all that, our cedar is really a juniper. And in spite of which I henceforth will simply refer to it as cedar.
As noted, cedars are the only native evergreen in Kansas, and in this Kansas is the most poorly endowed of the 50 States (with the possible exception of Hawaii; Hawaiian plant life is much beyond my realm of knowledge). We do come close, temptingly close, to the natural ranges of several species. Not fifty miles from the extreme southeastern corner of the state, the natural range for the Shortleaf Pine begins in southern Missouri, and in the extreme northeast corner of New Mexico, less than a hundred miles from Elkhart, Kansas, are found at least three native evergreen species, the Douglas‑Fir (a tree which prejudice compels me to count among my favorites), White fir and Ponderosa pine. Of course the Rocky Mountains, almost visible from far western Kansas, have many kinds of evergreens, and even the largely barren Sand Hills of central Nebraska are home to Ponderosa pine. But here, we have only one native evergreen. We have the cedar. And even that is no great distinction, since the cedar is one of the most widespread naturally occurring trees in the eastern and central U. S. Its natural range extends from North Dakota south through all the plains states to Texas, and from there east it is native to every single state all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. It is a not picky in its demands and growing requirements--it can grow in dry rocky soils, thrive in rich loam, or even tolerate near-swamp conditions, and is indifferent to extremes of heat and cold in the plains or eastern mountains. It will grow in either acidic or alkaline soil, though actually preferring the latter. And it has modest water requirements, enduring drought better than nearly all American trees. It is a very tolerant tree.
Cedar was a widely available and widely-used wood as the eastern forests were cut-over and cleared for farming. The highly rot-resistant cedar heartwood, at the same time relatively light in weight, was ideal for external construction, including houses, barns, roofing shingles, and for buckets and other implements and tools. Were it not for a certain brittleness when frozen, it would have proven ideal for fence posts as well (cedars posts in frozen ground are easily snapped off at ground level by livestock). For a long while, cedar was the wood of choice for making pencils, and was heavily exploited for this use (with supplies of cedar no longer adequate, incense-cedar, Calocedrus decurrens, a West Coast tree, is now the primary pencil wood).
But cedar also had its drawbacks, the chief being that it served as an alternate host for cedar-apple rust, a fungal disease that severely damages apple crops. One sure remedy for controlling this disease: remove all cedar trees within a mile of the apple orchard. And as apples are edible and cedars are not, this practice was wide-spread. Effective, but devastating to the growth and production of cedar trees, which are now much more rare in the east than they once were, and rarely attain to the size and quality that once was common. For a time during my two year sojourn in middle Tennessee, I was the proud owner of a first rate cedar--some 35 feet tall, nearly 18 inches in diameter, and needing just an afternoon’s corrective pruning after years of complete neglect by previous owners.
Someone is surely thinking, “Just why would anyone want to plant such a common, apparently quite ordinary tree, in Kansas or anywhere else?” I confess that I took no delight in cedars as a child. One of my earliest paying jobs was to pick bagworms off the neighbor's backyard cedars. The pay was certainly generous for a nine‑ or ten‑year‑old, and I took a great deal of pleasure in the popping and sizzling of bagworms in a can of burning gasoline (my execution method of choice), but somehow it all seemed so tedious. Why pick the worms? Why not just get a different kind of tree? So for a time, I harbored a grudge against cedars. What good were they, really? They bore nothing to eat like an apple tree or a mulberry, they gave no summer shade. Why, they didn't even drop leaves to play in in the fall! And sometimes in the spring they got those hard brown growths on their branches that developed gooey orange tentacles which I was sure were from Outer Space (they were actually cedar galls, the form cedar-apple rust takes on cedars)
But as I grew older, I grew somewhat wiser and began to appreciate the cedar's redeeming virtues which had been earlier hidden from my eyes. Chief of these virtues is that it DOES grow here, and does so quite efficiently. Why is it alone of conifers native to Kansas? The answer is probably in a combination of factors. First, there is the harshness of the climate. Not many tree species, evergreen or otherwise, tolerate well the extremes of heat, cold, drought and wind that, for ill or good, make Kansas Kansas. Less hardy trees give up the ghost soon or late. Add to this the characteristic preference of most conifers for soil on the acid side of the pH scale. Because of underlying limestone and rainfall in most parts of the state below thirty inches annually (much below this in the far western part), Kansas soils are mostly alkaline. Cedar, unusual among conifers, likes alkaline soil with plenty of lime. A third factor explaining cedar as a native Kansas tree is its really remarkable ability to sprout and grow in the middle of the densest native grass sod. Seeds are sown by birds perched in trees, on power lines, walking on the ground or even on the wing who have eaten the juniper berries. The berries are deposited with an ample and ready supply of nitrogen-rich fertilizer and even in the heaviest grass stands, juniper seedlings will sprout in profusion. Slowly at first, but more rapidly with increasing years, these cedars will rise up, first scarcely a few inches high, then as tall as the grasses, finally towering over and almost completely stifling the growth of the grasses, a characteristic which certainly does NOT endear them to farmers with pastures. To grow under such conditions is no easy feat. Few other trees will even attempt it. But cedars do it with apparent ease, year after year, with no disruption in the process, not even in the driest years. I am impressed by such persistence.
There is much more of value to our cedar than simply its capacity to prosper in our climate's adversity. No tree is better at frustrating the Kansas winds. As I have grown to love cedars, I have grown to hate the wind. Too many times, I have had hot and intense summer winds bake a garden in an afternoon, or shrivel a crop within a few weeks of harvest, to say nothing of the general misery it afflicts on man and beast. I won't even discuss the knife‑sharp cold of strong winter winds in the plains. What to do? I could move to a more benevolent climate, or I can bite my tongue and endure in silence. Or, I can plant cedars. No tree is more dense in its foliage, summer or winter, than cedar. A solid line of cedars running east and west won't just slow the wind; it all but stops it, at least within a moderate distance from the tree line. Pines can't come close to such a performance. In fact, even a triple row of pines is not so effective as a single row of cedars. The single greatest enemy to livestock, field crops, and gardens in Kansas is the wind. Cedars, properly planted and maintained, can tame even our winds. My previous suburban backyard was encircled by me with cedars, and my current “country estate” has recently-created rows of cedars planted against both north and south winds. On my brother’s farm, we planted over the years about two linear miles of cedars to subdue the winds, and now a decade and more later, the cedars calm the tempest to a mere whisper.
Cedar is a boon to wildlife, especially birds. Its dense foliage makes a perfect nesting site for a number of species in the spring and summer, and the same foliage provides life‑saving shelter in our occasional blizzards, while the berries are used as food by dozens of bird species. A few springs past, I for the first time in my life saw a cedar waxwing, or rather, a flock of almost thirty of them. Coming as no surprise (judging from their name), they were flitting in and out of a double‑rowed shelterbelt of cedars on my brother's farm. I drew particular satisfaction knowing that I had planted those very cedars five years earlier. And for at least four consecutive years at my previous residence, cardinals nested in the cedars across the backline of my lot, not to mention the robins and bluejays who also nested there. And of the three squirrel nests in my trees, though two were high in cottonwoods, yet one was in the upper reaches of a fifteen-foot tall cedar; all these trees were planted by me in preceding years.
I come to the cedar wood. When I was a boy, our house had one closet that was lined with fragrant red cedar as protection against moths in the clothing (somehow, I prefer the smell of cedar to the smell of moth balls; I imagine that I am not alone). I enjoyed crawling in under the coats and sweaters, lying on the floor and breathing deep. I still love the smell of it. I would rather cut and split cedar into firewood than any other species, not for its worth for generating heat, but because nothing can match the clean, fresh fragrance of newly‑split cedar.
Even though cedar is not dense like oak or ash, it still makes an acceptable wood for warming hearth and home. It does not burn with the intensity of some other woods, but in my experience no wood burns longer in an open fireplace, with such persistent coals. And I like the fragrance generated as it burns. With its usually very knotty nature, splitting the wood is no easy task, but in our sedentary times, a little sweat and strain are just the ticket for our overfed and underworked muscles. And it beats jogging all to pieces.
I have long wanted to try to deliberately raise a crop of cedar sawlogs. I’ve imagined perhaps an acre of land devoted to this purpose on which I could plant cedars at ten‑ or twelve‑foot spacings, and then year by year, prune the branches of the trees up from the bottom a foot or so each year. In twenty years, I envisioned more than 400 trees with clear, knot‑free trunks of more than 16 feet in length, and more than a foot in diameter. In thirty years, some of the trees would be marketable, and, being straight and free of defects, could bring a premium price. Thus the dream. I did acquire some small-sized cedars when we purchased our present parcel of ground, and I have begun a small cedar grove, which I am expanding year by year (one of this month’s tasks), ultimately hoping to plant an eighth to a quarter of an acre to cedars. Whether I will live long enough to see with my eyes what I have long imagined in my brain, I cannot foretell, but I shall immensely enjoy the process all the same.
I sometimes see local farmers work to exterminate--at least temporarily--cedars in their pastures. Cedars in a pasture are usually not welcome. They rob moisture from the grasses, suppressing their growth, and cannot even be “browsed” by livestock. Cedars are as easily killed as they are prolific at sprouting--they can be cut off at ground level, or more easily, burned off. Once cut to ground level or burned, they will not re-sprout from the stump (unlike invasive elm, locust, and other deciduous trees). Cedar foliage is readily flammable, even green, and when dry, well, the trees practically explode with flame (a bone-dry cedar is the best “starter” for a brush pile which is to be burned). Tall, dry pasture grass, strong southern winds, and a few matches combine to destroy in a few minutes several years' growth of the seedling cedars. Prairie fires in pre-settlement days did keep the prairies free of trees and enhanced the growth of prairie grasses. Of course, before destroying the volunteer cedars, the wise farmer or country home owner makes sure he has made good use of them as wind barriers and wildlife plantings. A hundred yards’ worth of seedlings, spaced eight feet apart, can easily be transplanted in a morning. I know because I’ve done it several times. A two-foot tree dug with a one-foot diameter ball of dirt (just four swipes with a spade) is just about ideal, especially if it is dug out of a pasture--the grass roots will hold the dirt ball together perfectly, until the tree is relocated. Soon planted, watered in and mulched, and the tree is well on its way to a long lifetime of usefulness. Happy is the man wise enough to plant cedars.
Would I love cedars if either I or they weren't in Kansas? I don't know, but they are here, and so am I.
Ussher Once Again
We have already twice noted in this publication (see As I See It, 8:2 “Issues in Biblical Chronology”; and 9:11, “Ussher’s Chronology: Its Defective Nature”) the fact that James Ussher’s centuries-old chronological calculations regarding the dates of Biblical events are not worthy of the unquestioning confidence, especially in the earliest portions of the Bible, given it by some today in the Biblical creationist movement. We had no intention of bringing the subject up again so quickly, but we ran across another extended treatment of the issue while looking for something else, and felt inclined to pass the reference on our readers.
Bible Presbyterian scholar J. O. Buswell, Jr. (1895-1975), in his major work, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (Zondervan, 1962; 2 vols.), has an extended treatment of the Ussher’s chronology in his section on “The antiquity of man.” (vol. I, pp. 325-343). He quotes extensively from the writings of William Henry Green and B. B. Warfield, both highly respected Princeton Seminary conservative scholars of a century and more ago. Unlike what John Whitcomb wrote in the appendix to The Genesis Flood (noted in the previous issue) which we can wholly endorse, there are indeed some claims and arguments in Buswell’s discussion that we cannot accept as valid. Chief among these is an allowance for unreasonable and excessive stretching of the apparent “gaps” in the genealogies of Genesis 11 beyond legitimate limits. Nevertheless, Buswell et al. demonstrate beyond question that gaps or skips in Biblical genealogies is a commonly recurring phenomenon and to assume that Genesis 11 is gapless in the face of this extensive evidence is not justifiable. Yet more evidence, then, exists--as if more were needed--to warn against naïve and rigid submission to Ussher’s fallible claims.
Religious Pluralism and Tolerance in the Roman Empire?
Edward Gibbon, (1737-1794), famous for his monumental work, On The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published between 1776-1788, famously stated, concerning the diversity of religions in the vast Roman Empire and how they were viewed by different classes of people--
"The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all
considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally
false; and by the magistrate as equally useful."
He then adds, "And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord." (Chapter 2, paragraph 2).
The first part of the quotation is remarkably perceptive of human nature--not just in Roman times but in our day as well--and its approach to religion: for the common man, the unstated hope is that every religion of what ever sort, including whatever “mine” may be, is equally valid and “good enough” to square things with God. Such a religious egalitarianism saves a lot of trouble that would result if in fact only some religions--or even just one--were correct and true, and others false and deceptive. The “sincerity” of the worshipper (and a not too rigid “sincerity” at that!) alone is the hoped for criterion for the validity of one’s religion. That is why the only intolerable religious tenet in the eyes of the common man is the claim of unique possession of religious truth--to claim that Biblical Christianity alone is true is to necessarily claim that Romanism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and the rest are essentially false, invalid and untrue. Such a claim is an “affront” to the notions of the average man.
Further, returning to Gibbon’s remark, we note that the philosophers (today we might say, “the intelligentsia”) in turn in general look down their proud noses at all religion without distinction with smug disdain, considering all such belief as evidence of the contemptible stupidity of the masses. The recent book by British scientist/atheist Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, is a typical example. Perhaps rather than exposing the stupidity of the masses, Dawkins has more successfully exposed his own remarkable arrogance. And be it noted, that to denounce that which is false and invalid in religions (and there is much that is false and invalid) is not the same as demonstrating that everything about every religion is false, or that because many religions are more or less equally false, therefore all are equally false.
And finally, Gibbons focused on politicians pandering to the masses in the matter of religion--“and by the magistrate as equally useful.” Nothing is more contemptible, more disgusting, more nauseating that a profane, wholly secularized politician seeking to curry favor with the religious masses by adopting religious terminology, making patently bogus claims of deep personal faith, and “talking the talk”--or at least trying to--not out of a sincere and devout heart, but merely for gaining political power. We have seen it on the left: Al Gore in 2000, Hillary Clinton at present; and on the right: John McCain and others. Of course, in the world of religion, there is nothing worse than a pretender--“hypocrite” is a very ugly word. Beyond pandering politicians in democracies, political rulers, especially in tyrannical regimes, have frequently made common cause with religious hierarchies to manipulate, subvert and control the masses. Under Soviet communism, for example, the state churches of Russia and the rest of the eastern bloc countries were used to suppress and domineer the masses, and compel them to submit to the totalitarian state. National church hierarchies were useful as a means to an end--power.
Thus far, Gibbon was remarkably perceptive. However, the final portion of his statement, affirming that “toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord,” somewhat misses the mark. While the various polytheistic, pagan religions of the empire did enjoy a certain “mutual indulgence” and “religious concord,” this is only because they were merely variations on the same pagan themes--many gods, worshipped via idols, who were remote, arbitrary, and indulgent towards human sin (indeed, often practitioners of the same) who could be counted on in the end to be non-judgmental, and really not very demanding of their adherents. But let a religion claim exclusive possession of religious truth or make claims as the sole means to a proper relationship with Deity, and the smiling tolerance becomes a raging intolerance. Judaism claimed to believe in and worship the only true and living God, and the Hebrew Scriptures claimed to be uniquely a revelation of God to man. The more strictly the Jews adhered to these valid claims, the more hated they were in Roman society. And when Christianity began making exclusive claims as the fulfillment and completion of the revelation begun in the Old Testament, the Christians endured the anger, hatred, repression and persecution of both religious Jew and pagan Gentile. I think particularly of the town riot in Ephesus (Acts 19). It was Paul’s assertion that ‘gods made with hands are no gods at all’ (v. 26), and the exclusive truth claims of Christianity that made the Christians the most hated religious sect in the empire, resulting in persecutions, imprisonments, exiles, torture, and executions.
Mutual religious indulgence in ancient Rome or in modern America can only work if no one claims to possess absolute truth in regard to God--it is "exclusivism" that the pluralists object to, and for obvious reason: they know deep in their soul that they don't have the truth, and it must surely frighten them in their most introspective moments; they cannot bear the thought that someone else might indeed have THE TRUTH. So, they console themselves by presuming that since they possess no absolute truth, no one has such truth, and indeed there is no such objective truth to have. Further no one must be allowed to claim they do have that truth. Such people are much more comfortable with "Agnostos Theos" (“an unknown god”) than with “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me,” even if they suspect the latter is true.
Monogenes: “Unique, One-of-a-kind” Once Again
In the July 2003 issue of As I See It (6:7), we published “An Inductive Study of the Use of Monogenes in the New Testament,” a detailed study of the etymology and meaning of monogenes, a Greek word translated sometimes “only” and sometimes “only begotten” in Reformation-era versions of the New Testament in several languages of Europe. Our settled conclusion was that the word monogenes, in fact, had nothing whatsoever to do, either in etymology or usage, with “begetting” (fathering, procreating, etc.), that the mistranslation “only begotten” was based on the here-pernicious influence of Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, and that the word in both etymology and usage means “unique, one-of-a-kind.” In the body of that study, we noted several authorities who had arrived at the same conclusion, including grammarians, commentators and theologians.
Recently, we discovered yet another scholar who had arrived at the same conclusion. In his Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Inter-Varsity Press, 1994. 2000), Dr. Wayne Grudem discusses this significant NT theological term in appendix 6, pp. 1233-4, cites a small portion of the same evidence we did (though in much less detail), and concludes as we did with regard to the word’s meaning in the NT.
Lamplighter and Son by Craig Skinner. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1984. 269 pp., hardback.
Those who are familiar with the life and labors of the great 19th century British Baptist pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) know that he and his wife Susannah were blessed by God with the birth in the fall of 1856 of twin sons, Charles and Thomas. They subsequently had no other children. But even those who have read several of the good biographies of Charles Spurgeon, pere, are not likely to know much at all about the lives and labors of these two sons, beyond the fact that they always had their picture taken together on their birthday each year until they were 21 or thereabouts. In fact, both attended the Pastor’s College begun by their father, became preachers (to their parents’ delight), and acquitted themselves honorably, though naturally enough neither attained to the spiritual stature and influence of their peerless father; one of the boys, Thomas, succeeded his father as pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, but I am getting ahead of myself.
Skinner’s biography focuses on the life of Thomas Spurgeon, whom I believe was the younger of the twins by some few minutes. Because he was always delicate in health, a situation only aggravated by London’s climate and environment, it was decided in 1877--he being just 21 years old--that he should travel to Australia for the sake of his weak lungs. So he sailed away, with no idea of his providentially appointed destiny. Wherever he went in Australia, and later New Zealand, he was warmly received and welcomed, due to his father’s great fame and influence. And naturally enough, he was often asked to speak or preach, though he had not gone out as a preacher, and had intentions rather of engaging in commercial art, an area in which he was particularly gifted. But as more and more opportunities to minister opened up, he sensed God’s direction; invariably, large crowds came whenever he was announced to preach, everyone wanting to hear in person a real live Spurgeon. Ultimately, he became pastor at age 24 of a church in Auckland, New Zealand which he led for some eight years and built into the largest non-conformist congregation in New Zealand and Australia. In Australia shortly after he first arrived, Thomas met a family whose daughter he would marry some 11 years later.
While the voyage and southern climate were restorative for Thomas’ health, the abundant labors as pastor were detrimental to the point that after a few years he was forced to take a six-month leave-of-absence during which he returned to England for the first time since his departure, and saw his father for the last time. Back in New Zealand, he labored on until compelled by broken health to resign in 1889; Thomas spent the next three years, with marked success, as an itinerant evangelist in New Zealand and Australia.
When his father died and the London Tabernacle was left pastorless, Thomas did not promote himself as his father’s successor, nor enter the fray with some very ambitious aspirants for that pastorate. Thomas bided his time, entrusting his destiny to his father’s God. After a year of missteps, the church wisely called Thomas to the work, fulfilling the wish of Charles Spurgeon privately expressed in a letter to Thomas five years earlier, and kept secret until after the call was extended.
Thomas remained pastor of the Tabernacle from 1893 until 1908 when at just 51, he was completely physically worn out by the heavy burden of the work. He thereafter continued to be involved to a lesser degree in the various Tabernacle ministries--orphanages, college, and such, until felled by a stroke in 1917. He had lived just 4 years more than his father who died at 57.
(The other brother, Charles Spurgeon, fils, much more robust in health, remained close to home, pastoring a number of churches in the greater London area. He outlived Thomas by several years. Apparently no biography of his life has been published to date).
Inter alia, Skinner’s account reveals the treacherous, self-seeking ambition of James, the younger brother of Charles Spurgeon, pere, as he sought to manipulate and control the Metropolitan Tabernacle after his brother’s death in 1892, seeking first his own installation as pastor, and when that proved unattainable, trying to get his choice for pastor--Presbyterian A. T. Pierson--selected as pastor. Such scheming failed utterly. The whole train of events very greatly lessened, if not entirely destroying, my respect for James Spurgeon (the discovery that he did not side with his brother in the Down-grade Controversy had much lowered my estimate of him before hand).
Further, Skinner posits that the famous Fundamentals books published ca. 1914 had their ultimate roots in a conference held at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1865 which affirmed the Biblical fundamentals of the Christian faith; the 20th century books were a re-affirmation of the historic fundamentals. It is notable that A. C. Dixon, one of the editors of that set, was a personal acquaintance of Spurgeon, pere, was invited by him in 1888 to join the Tabernacle staff (he declined), and was ultimately successor to Thomas Spurgeon as pastor of the Tabernacle. I conclude that Skinner’s thesis is likely valid.
The book is the best we have of the life of Thomas Spurgeon (another was written shortly after his death by W. Y. Fullerton) and is decidedly worth reading. It is well-illustrated and adequately documented. The book is not, however, without its defects, the chief being that Skinner reconstructs--fabricates--numerous conversations and the thoughts of individuals in the accounts, on the basis of what they probably talked about or thought. This at times becomes little more than historical fiction rather than biography. A further defect is a certain repeated inaccuracy on dates, and other matters--the fault of either the author, editor, typesetter or proof-reader, or a combination of these, but at any rate they are numerous--the date 1843 on p. 40 must be wrong by at least a dozen years (post 1855 is required by the context); p. 41--as of 1903, some 2,300 of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons were in print, not the 3,000 stated; p. 59, Charles Spurgeon had been pastor in London for 27 years as of 1881, not 20 as stated; p. 66--the dates 1844 and 1855 (twice) must be wrong, and should read “1884” and “1885” respectively; p. 94--“1877” must surely be “1887”; p. 205--“1950s” is more correctly “1940s”; p. 214--erroneously claims the use of the term “fundamentals” dates from 1865, while in fact, I have found it used by Lutheran writers as early as 1626; p. 239, n. 36--a wrong reference is given for a Spurgeon sermon (we don’t know the correct reference); p. 242, n. 96--read 1887, not 1877; p. 250, n. 8--read 1889, not 1899; p. 257--Archibald Brown’s book was published in 1909, not 1009. There was reportedly a reprint of Skinner’s book circa 1999; we hope that the numerous errors of date, etc. were corrected in the reprint (we haven’t seen it, so cannot say).
The author taught at Golden Gate Baptist Seminary in the heyday of its “moderate-ism” (read: theological apostasy) and seems to be himself just such a “moderate”; he says of Spurgeon, pere, “There is no discussion of the historical/ scientific accuracy/inerrancy question in all of Spurgeon’s convictions regarding inspiration.” (p. 255). Every careful reader of Spurgeon knows absolutely that that is false--Spurgeon held unashamedly to verbal, plenary inspiration and factual inerrancy of the Bible in matters of both science and history, as well as theology. Skinner characterizes the events leading to the elder Spurgeon’s withdrawal from the Baptist Union over the “down-grade” controversy as “a comedy of errors” (p. 92)--no one who takes the inspiration and authority of Scripture seriously would call any of these events a comedy of anything. Skinner tries to rewrite the history of the split between fundamentalists and (neo)evangelicals, making the former out to be the “bad guys”. Appendix B, “An Excursus on Faith-Assurance Inspiration” (pp. 231-236) is just so much neo-orthodox blather denying the Biblical and historical doctrine of verbal, plenary inspiration. Had Skinner left this appendix out, he would have better served himself and his own reputation.