"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 9, Number 7, July 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 Imperative of Evangelizing the Lost”
“Not only must something be done to evangelize the millions, but everything must be done, and, perhaps amid variety of effort the best thing would be discovered. ‘If by any means I may save some’ must be our motto, and this must urge us onward to go forth into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in. Brethren, I speak as unto wise men, consider what I say.”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Lectures to My Students, series 2
Baker reprint, 1977. p. 75
Put It In Writing!
A thought from Vance Havner
“If I could only get preachers to realize that what they write, if it’s good, will last longer than they will. . . . You never know when the Spirit may breathe on some troubled soul or discouraged servant and begin a blaze that may sweep beyond their wildest imagination. It’s a shame those who can write, won’t.”
The Vance Havner Quotebook, p. xv
Compiled by Dennis J. Hester
Baker Book House, 1986
[And Havner might have added, it is a shame of a different sort for those who can’t write but nevertheless do, and thereby encumber the world with their works of small or no merit--editor]
Russell H. Conwell (1843-1925)
Once Famous, Now Forgotten
Russell H. Conwell was a man of great notoriety and fame in the last two decades of the 19th century and the first two decades of 20th century in America. Today, except for the preservation of his name in Gordon-Conwell Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, he is virtually unknown. Who was he? What did he accomplish in life? Does he merit the obscurity into which he has fallen?
Born in western Massachusetts in 1843 into a devout and abjectly poor Methodist/ abolitionist home (John Brown was a frequent visitor and close family friend), Conwell ultimately attended Yale College for a year preceding the Civil War (and there became a proud agnostic/ “free thinker”) before serving in the Union army, first as a captain of infantry, but ultimately promoted to lieutenant-colonel. His personal servant during the war, an undersized friend named John Ring, who volunteered to accompany him in the service, was a regular Bible-reading, fully committed Christian, a thing which greatly aggravated Conwell. Ring, at the risk and price of his own life, rescued in the heat of battle a decorative sword given to Conwell by his community at the time of his departure for the war. Ring’s death deeply affected Conwell, who was himself converted, and apparently genuinely so, after being severely wounded some six months later in Northern Georgia.
After the war, Conwell was by turns a lawyer, professional lecturer, newspaper editor and correspondent, and professional writer, both in Minnesota and around Boston (he wrote campaign biographies of many Republican presidential candidates including James A. Garfield and James G. Blaine), and had traveled extensively world-wide before entering the ministry in his late 30s in 1879. He had sensed a call to the ministry some years earlier (even from childhood), but had tried to ignore it and seek other occupations. While still a practicing attorney, he became a member of Tremont Temple Baptist Church (though there is no mention in any of the four biographies I consulted of his submitting to believer’s baptism, though surely he must have), and began a Bible class that grew to 800 members and 3,000 attendees. He enrolled for a year at nearby Newton Seminary, and was ordained by a council led by the seminary president, noted Baptist theologian Alvah Hovey. He practically “fell” into leading a very small congregation in Massachusetts where he remained, with remarkable growth in the congregation, for eighteen months. He was then invited to lead a struggling church in Philadelphia where the great bulk of his ministry occurred.
The Philadelphia church grew quickly, and in a matter of a few years became and remained the largest Protestant congregation in America, with regular attendance over 3,000, and some 10,000 baptisms during his ministry. Almost by spontaneous generation, a college--named Temple College (later University)--was begun to provide formal education for the working-class masses that attended the church and lived in its general vicinity. Ultimately, the school covered everything from ninth grade to graduate school, and in Conwell’s lifetime had had more than 100,000 students pass through its doors. The school began accepting state funds in the 1910s, and is a large and famous (now entirely secularized) university still. From sources consulted, it seems that the focus of the school was almost entirely on the academic side, as a means to “success” (a lifelong theme of Conwell’s lecturing and preaching), but the spiritual side was given short shrift. (In bold contrast to this, Spurgeon, to whom Conwell has been favorably compared by some, began a college that was entirely spiritually focused, with academics an adjunct to that end). The seminary portion of Temple University, the Conwell School of Theology, was merged with Gordon Divinity School in South Hamilton, Massachusetts in 1969, creating the present neo-evangelical Gordon-Conwell Seminary.
Also to meet the humanitarian needs of the masses in the area surrounding the Temple, Conwell and church began one hospital and took over management of another (at that time, hospitals for the ill or injured were rare, with most of the afflicted suffering--and often dying--at home), which grew dramatically and physically aided many thousands.
Conwell’s ministry corresponded with the period in which the so-called “social gospel” was in its heyday. That “gospel” focused on meeting the temporal, earthly perceived needs of the masses of mankind, to the neglect, even ignoring, of the eternal spiritual needs of man (indeed, many at the forefront of the social gospel movement rejected the fundamental teachings of the Biblical Gospel, and sought to substitute something more “practical” and “useful” to mankind). Much of Conwell’s ministry in Philadelphia seemed to major on the social gospel, at times to the apparent exclusion of the Biblical Gospel. Of course, the matter at issue is not over whether we believers in Jesus have an obligation to meet the genuine physical needs of our fellow man, but in letting that temporal focus become the tail that wags the dog, to the neglect of the most socially-transforming message there is--the message of the conversion of sinners to Christ through repentance and faith.
The lecture (one of dozens he was noted for) through which Conwell became nationally famous, viz. “Acres of Diamonds,” was reportedly delivered over 5,000 times (some say over 6,000), and was heard collectively by hundreds of thousands. Counting all his lectures (he traveled the summer lecture circuit regularly before and while pastoring) and sermons, it is claimed that he addressed in all more than 8,000,000 hearers. He was paid for his lectures, though he devoted all the proceeds of “Acres” and his other lectures to the education of young men, by paying part of their college expenses (he reportedly helped thousands this way).
“Acres of Diamonds,” is Conwell’s version of “the Gospel of self-achievement” which is based on the premise “God helps those who help themselves” (almost these exact words are said of Temple University on p. 141 of Acres of Diamonds; see bibliography). Frankly, the lecture as published is totally devoid of the Biblical Gospel of Christ. No mention of sin, repentance, the cross, faith in Christ, obedience to God, worship, prayer. Of course, man’s chief need is not to “succeed” or reach his earthly potential or seize and make the most of the opportunities that life puts in his way, but to be reconciled to God through repentance of his sins and personal faith and commitment to Jesus Christ as his only hope of salvation. That Conwell could speak to multiplied thousands and urge a life of achievement but leave out this most important matter is nothing short of dereliction of duty (contrast Spurgeon, whose “lectures” always came out more or less as Gospel sermons, as he himself freely admitted). J. R. Wimmer, in the article on Conwell in Dictionary of Baptists in American, edited by Bill J. Leonard (Downer’s Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, p. 93) states, and with apparent full justification, that Conwell’s approach and emphasis on success and wealth prepared the way for such 20th century preachers of self-actualization and success as Bruce Barton, Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller. No more discrediting comment can be imagined. Conwell’s famous lecture will not repay the reader who takes the time to examine it.
Conwell’s sermons, which he never wrote out, were taken down by a secretary and published weekly, after Conwell’s editing of them, in the church’s newspaper. I have read one volume of these, Unused Powers (Revell, 1922). I had additional access to some of his sermonic (or “theological”) material in a series of brief outlines of some of his sermons in Burr’s biography of Conwell along with a written baby-dedication service (pp. 391-402). Judged on the basis of these sermons and outlines, there was very little of the Bible or Gospel truth in Conwell’s preaching. In the entire 160-page book of sermons (ten in all), the Biblical Gospel is not once plainly present, and at best hinted at at most a time or two. Indeed there is more “gospel” in the average Catholic Mass than in all the hundreds of pages of Conwell’s sermonic, lecture and devotional literature I have read. He seems to have taught a salvation by imitating the character of Christ, and ignores, in a sermon on Acts 16:31 (“What must I do to be saved?”), the whole issue of self-abandonment and personal commitment to Christ, and does similarly in one on John 6:68 (“To whom shall we go?”). In preaching on John 10:18 (“I have power to take it again”), he scarcely touches at all on Christ’s physical resurrection, using the text instead to encourage picking oneself up and dusting oneself off when faced with life’s failures, thereby completely missing the substance of the text. Most of the outlines can only be described as absolutely horrid and non-Biblical. The baby dedication is a virtual “dry christening” differing from the typical “infant baptism” only in the absence of a few drops of water on the forehead. Such preaching as this would never build a God-honoring, true Gospel ministry, and whatever outward (numerical) “success” attended Conwell’s Philadelphia ministry, it must have had other causes than his preaching or the power of God.
Conwell’s “expositional” technique was usually to take a single phrase or line from a Biblical text, lift it out of its context, ignore what it plainly declared, read into it what it did not say, and use this isolated text as a pretext for some commonplace “uplifting” observations. No first year Bible college student in homiletics or practice preaching would gain a passing grade for such a performance, and yet this Conwell did week by week, month by month, year by year.
The cause of the theological threadbare-ness of Conwell’s sermons became evident upon reading Albert Hatcher Smith’s 1899 biography of Conwell. Smith in this admiring biography wrote: “When in Philadelphia he is busy every minute of his time at church, college, or hospital, but seldom in his study.” (p. 238). He further remarked, “A vivid and inspiring [word] picture has been the salvation of many of Conwell’s hastily prepared sermons” (p. 245; emphasis added). In fact, Smith, in a most candid passage says, “Mr. Conwell is a sermonic lecturer rather than a preacher, as that term is ordinarily used. He is not a theologian. He is not an expository preacher. He is not homiletical in his sermonizing. Nevertheless, he holds and blesses people by his pulpit utterances as do few men of to-day. His sermons are often of such a fragmentary and story-telling fashion as scarcely to deserve the name of sermon. They are plain, practical talks upon some one idea, and three-fourths of the time is consumed in illustrating that idea by every-day incidents and historical references. It is a wonder how he can hold such a vast concourse of people year after year and feed them on such a scanty diet.” (pp. 155-6). And this from a friendly and admiring biographer!
While pastoring, at least until around 1900, Conwell was on the road lecturing 200 nights per year, and usually on secular subjects. His sermons could only have materially improved had he followed the advice of Spurgeon, whose biography he churned out in a scant two weeks and whom he claimed to greatly admire, in making his pulpit preparations ‘the chiefest focus of his ministerial labors’ (a Spurgeon quote the exact location of which I cannot put my finger on just now). Spurgeon also declared “Your people need discourses which have been prayed over and laboriously prepared” (Lectures to My Students, series I, p. 142, Baker reprint edition). This Conwell seems decidedly not to have done, but rather relied on his famous “eloquence” and wide experience to see him through.
Repeatedly, it is affirmed by his biographers that Conwell believed in the great foundational truths of Christianity. It is reported of his first pastorate in Lexington, Massachusetts that “He kept close to the fundamentals of Scripture, affirming that the Savior’s death upon the cross was the vicarious sacrifice for human sin, without an interest in which no man can enter the kingdom of God” (Smith, p. 153). Of his Philadelphia ministry, we read: “Conwell is ‘orthodox’ in his theology. In his church where the results have been so wonderful, and where great emphasis is laid upon works, justification by faith is recognized as the fundamental article of Christian life” (Smith, 168). Toward the close of Conwell’s life, a pre-Northern Baptist convention conference in Buffalo, New York in June, 1920 (at the height of the fundamentalist/modernist controversy), issued a call to restate and reaffirm the great fundamental doctrines of the faith. This call carried over 100 signatures, including those of such well-known vocal Fundamentalist Baptists as Curtis Lee Laws, John Roach Straton, J. C. Massee and W. B. Riley. Conwell’s name is also among those there affirming belief in the great fundamental doctrines (see Baptist Fundamentals. Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1920). The book Acres of Diamonds does affirm Conwell’s belief that the Bible is all true (p. 24). However, in spite of these various affirmations, such foundational doctrines remarkably have virtually no emphasis or mention elsewhere in Conwell’s published sermons and lectures known to me. They are most notable by their conspicuous absence.
In 1924, the year before his death, Conwell published Six Nights in the Garden of Gethsemane (Revell; 76 pp.). It is consists of stories reportedly told to him by an aged Greek Orthodox monk in 1869 and 1870, during a six month-stay in the Holy Land. Conwell apparently kept notes of what this monk told him (in German, the one common language between them), and used them to compose this brief volume. Conwell says that the difference between his beliefs and the monk’s were chiefly matters of custom and formalities. The monk, possessed of a vivid imagination, regularly and deliberately worked himself up into a frenzied state, and then had visions, “revelations” or whatever they might be, supposedly of events and people of Bible times. His accounts are mainly contrived, hokey, absurd, and not infrequently contrary to Scripture or are factually inaccurate. Yet Conwell thought them worthy of publication, though they be entirely devoid of Gospel and sound doctrine. Apparently this fiction was deemed better than genuine Holy Land meditations about real, Biblical persons and events. The remarkable but consistent biblical nothingness renders Conwell’s published sermons and lectures totally worthless today.
A comparison and contrast between Spurgeon (whose biography Conwell wrote--reviewed AISI 9:5) and Conwell may be instructive. Spurgeon built and pastored the largest Protestant/ Baptist church in England (seating over 5,000) and did so by decidedly Biblical preaching and for eternal ends. Conwell built and pastored the largest Protestant/ Baptist church in America (seating over 3,100) and did so with what--a Gospel of success? Certainly it was not with a clear and clarion preaching of Biblical theology. Spurgeon began a college to train men to proclaim the everlasting Gospel. Conwell began a college (later a university) to facilitate the education of the common man so that he might achieve greater things in this life. Spurgeon founded orphanages to meet not just the temporal needs of children, but to train them for eternity. Conwell began or assumed control over hospitals to treat the temporal physical needs of the neglected masses. Spurgeon’s writings prepared men for time and eternity. Conwell focused on preparing men for time. Spurgeon is very much remembered, praised, studied, admired and emulated. Conwell is almost entirely forgotten.
It is claimed that Conwell learned Greek and Hebrew as well as five modern foreign languages, chiefly while commuting on trains. Judging from his treatment of Greek and Hebrew as evidenced in his lecture “Let there be light,” I must conclude that his knowledge of these languages was very highly defective and deficient. Of his supposed knowledge of modern languages, I can give no opinion.
Conwell was twice married--his first wife died in 1872 after 7 years of marriage, leaving two small children; he remarried in 1874, and outlived the second wife as well as the one child of this second marriage, a daughter, who died at age 26.
That Conwell was truly converted, I have little doubt. But equally, I have little doubt that he failed to strongly and forcefully proclaim that Gospel message of repentance and faith that saved his soul. It certainly was not the focus or emphasis of his lectures and preaching. To that degree, he must be deemed a failure, and a man whose life need not detain the reader’s attention, except as a negative example.
Notes on sources--
Acres of Diamonds. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1915. 181 pp.) is one of several published versions of Conwell’s famous lecture of the same name about self-achievement. In actuality, the lecture occupies only pp. 2-59 of this book. There follows His [viz., Russell H. Conwell’s] Life and Achievements by Robert Shackleton, pp. 61-170, a vague puff-piece very much short on specifics, and barren of any spiritual matter--it even lacks an account of Conwell’s conversion; and Fifty Years on the Lecture Platform by Russell H. Conwell, pp. 171-181, the briefest attempt at autobiography.
Six Nights in the Garden of Gethsemane. (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1924. 76 pp.). The accounts, 50+ years after the fact, of self-induced visions (delusions?) of a Greek Orthodox monk in Jerusalem, told to Conwell during his Holy Land visit in his mid-20s. Often fictional and contrived, and completely barren of any sound Bible teaching.
Russell H. Conwell by Albert Hatcher Smith. (Boston: Silver, Burdett & Co, 1899. 335 pp.). Written in a very florid and thereby often tedious style. Not the first book-length Conwell biography (Smith mentions several earlier works, including one by someone named Burdette), written by a member of his Philadelphia church when Conwell was in his early 60s. Also contains a condensed form of the “Acres” speech, and a lecture, “Let There Be Light,” a text badly misapplied by Conwell.
Russell H. Conwell and His Work by Agnes Rush Burr. (Philadelphia: John C. Winston Co, 1926. 438 pp.). With a version of Conwell’s Acres of Diamonds appended. An “authorized” biography with Conwell’s assistance. Nearly completed before his death in 1925, with supplemental material added. A well done “popular” biography, with numerous photos. Good on details and specifics in Conwell’s life, and with much more of the spiritual side than Shackelton’s account.
“Conwell, Russell Herman, “The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, edited by Samuel M. Jackson. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1963 reprint. Vol. III, pp. 263-4. Erroneously gives his year of birth as 1842, and implies that Conwell pastored two different churches in Philadelphia (the truth--one church known by two different names).
“Conwell, Russell Herman,” by Raymond W. Albright, in Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, edited by Lefferts A. Loetscher. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1955. Vol. I, p. 298.
“Conwell, Russell Herman, “ The New 20th Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, edited by J. D. Douglas. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991. 2nd ed. p. 236. Gives some bibliography of Conwell’s published writings. Like the SHERK article, erroneously gives his year of birth as 1842, and implies that Conwell pastored two different churches in Philadelphia.
“Conwell, Russell Herman, “ in The Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the Church, by Elgin Moyer, revised and enlarged by Earle E. Cairns. Chicago: Moody Press, 1982. Pp. 100-1.
“Conwell, Russell Herman,” by J. R. Wimmer, in Dictionary of Baptists in American, edited by Bill J. Leonard. Downer’s Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, p. 93. In its bibliography a 1979 book on Conwell is reported, viz., D. W. Bjork’s Victorian Flight: Russell Conwell and the Crisis of American Individualism, which I have not seen.
An American Bible: A History of the Good Book in the United States, 1777-1880 by Paul C. Gutjahr. Stanford. California: Stanford University Press, 1999. 256 pp., paperback. $19.95
The dates 1777 and 1880 may seem strange parameters for the study of the place and impact of the Bible in American history, but there is good reason for the choices. Before 1777, no English language NT or Bible was printed in America, due to English copyright laws. The first English NT printed in America appeared in Philadelphia in 1777. At the other end of the study, 1880 was the year preceding the publication of the English Revised Version NT, the first ecclesiastically-sanctioned, committee-made revision of the KJV, which set the tone and pattern for the subsequent century.
The Bible was foundational to the development of American culture in the colonial period. The 19th century, especially, saw a loosening of the grip, so to speak, of the Bible’s influence and impact on all aspects of American life. The author seeks in this book to provide some explanations for that change. He notes about five different things that he believes contributed to this trend (summarized pp. 175-178). While no doubt some of those mentioned, especially the proliferation of printed matter of all kinds competing for readers’ attention, were strongly influential, I would find the greatest influences in this trend to be the influence of the so-called Enlightenment and its accompanying rationalism (of which Unitarianism is a fruit), the large Catholic immigration into the States in the 1820s and 1830s (since, frankly, the Bible is markedly less important in the religious life of Catholics in comparison with conservative Protestants), but especially Darwinism, which logically makes God unnecessary and de facto discredits the Bible as just so much antiquated fiction.
Changes in the technology of printing in this period greatly facilitated the manufacture of Bibles in greater quantities and at lower prices. Mechanization of printing presses, development of “stereo-typing” (a process of reproducing the plates from which a book was printed, without having to reset all the type by hand), improved efficiencies in paper manufacture and even changes in bookbinding resulted in higher production and availability at lower prices. The Bible truly was placed within the reach of everyone.
The first century of Bible publishing on America soil saw two streams of development--first, private printers, no longer constrained by English law, issued a variety of Bible editions, with a strong trend toward greater size, opulence, ornamentation, illustration and annotation--seeking the “high-end” buyer in the Bible market (since they could not compete on price with the often subsidized or at-cost Bible society editions). The number of private Bible printers as well as the number of differing editions peaked in the decades before the American Civil War. On the other hand, the rise of the Bible societies in the early part of the 1800s resulted in a growing deluge of low-priced, unannotated, unillustrated “text-only” NTs and Bibles, with the express aim of providing a Bible for every household in America at an affordable price. From 1818 through 1880, the American Bible Society distributed some 32 million Testaments and Bibles. At its lowest price, a Bible could be purchased for 20 cents, and a NT for just a nickel!
The period in question also witnessed a growing number of new or revised versions (there have always been such projects throughout the history of the English Bible)--some of modest enduring fame, including that of Noah Webster. But also some now long-forgotten. There were several Unitarian NT translations made (anticipating the Jehovah’s Witness version by rendering John 1:1, “the word was a God” and rejecting “eternal” as the meaning of eon, opting for “age”; in short, they were altering the translation to fit their aberrant theology). Alexander Campbell also made his own NT version (1826)--wherein he rendered baptize by “immerse,” preceding a Baptist “immerse” version by a several decades. With the rapid spike in Catholic immigration to America from Ireland, Germany and elsewhere before the Civil War, there was a great increase in the number of Catholic Bible translation editions published (duly annotated to enforce Catholic dogma), and a parallel controversy over the reading of the Bible in government schools, with Catholics objecting to being made to read a Protestant version.
The rise and popularization of religious fiction led to the neglect of Bible reading as people opted instead for reading indirectly about the Bible. Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace was the most popular book in this genre, but Gutjahr also includes here (as a work of fiction), The Book of Mormon (though he uncritically ascribes the book to Joseph Smith, when there is strong evidence that one Rev. Spalding actually wrote it).
The volume, the author’s doctoral dissertation in a revised form, is well supplied with photographs. He sometimes capitalizes “Bible” and sometimes puts it in lower case, drawing a distinction in a note preceding the “preface,” a note which is largely incomprehensible to me. Having read multiplied thousands of pages on the history of the English Bible previously, it is not often that I read a book with a great deal that is fresh or new. But there was a considerable amount of new information, or information in a new light here (including an account of how Charles Thomson, secretary of the First Continental Congress, came to make the first English translation of the Septuagint; and the fact that the Harper Brothers of publishing fame were devout Methodists), and a very extensive bibliography for further investigation. The author does make some errors--he repeatedly refers to various printed Greek texts as “manuscripts,” he gives incorrectly a Bible reference twice (pp. 96, 99, substituting I John 5:8 for the correct I John 5:7); he fails to note that Murdock’s 1851 NT translation is an English translation of the Syriac Peshitta Version; and some other blemishes.
On its topic, this is a very informative volume.
Kiffin, Knollys and Keach--Rediscovering our English Baptist Heritage by Michael A. G. Haykin. Leeds, England: Reformation Today Trust, 1996. 125 pp., paperback.
17th century Baptist history in England was marked by small beginnings, often bitter persecution, and yet periods of rapid advance. Those English Baptists were divided among two groups--the General (“unlimited atonement”) Baptists, the earlier group, and the Particular (“Calvinistic”) Baptists. The author, himself a “Reformed” Baptist of Calvinistic views, limits his focus here to the latter group.
The author rejects as unhistorical any view of Baptist successionism that traces a lineal descent of English Particular Baptists to Reformation-era Anabaptists or any earlier groups. Rather he claims that they arose out of the Puritan-separatist tradition in the Anglican Church as Bible study led them to embrace believer’s baptism, and that only by immersion, as proper Biblical baptism. Proof of this strong Puritan-separatist connection is found in the publication by English Particular Baptists of London in 1644 a “Calvinistic” confession of faith, but especially the adoption in 1677 of a second confession of faith that closely followed the famous Reformed “Westminster Confession of Faith” with such changes, chiefly, as were dictated by Baptist views of the church and its ordinances.
Haykin focuses on the life and influence of three famous “K”s of 17th century English Baptists--William Kiffin (1616-1701), Hanserd Knollys (1598-1691), and Benjamin Keach (1640-1704) [frankly, I have a natural attraction to Baptists whose last names begin with “K”!]. These men by their speaking and writing and leadership helped mold and shape and spread the Particular Baptist movement in their day.
While these men are from one particular camp of English Baptists (and the general Baptists were not without influence and interest, they themselves issuing an important confession of faith in the 17th century), these men are worthy of note. The treatment of each is well-documented and the works cited up to date (though no separate bibliographical list is provided)
In one matter, Haykin is strongly at odds with the great majority of Baptists historically, whether Calvinistic or not, and that is in regard to the Lord’s supper. Haykin adopts and defends the view of Calvin--namely that Christ is “spiritually present” in the elements of the Lord’s supper and that the supper is in fact a means of grace. Most Baptists have held to a Zwinglian view--that the supper is only a memorial and reminder, the elements mere symbols of Christ, and that no blessing inheres in partaking of the Lord’s supper. In this regard, Haykin is more “Reformed” than “Baptist.”
A Pastor in New York: the Life and Times of Spencer Cone by John Thornbury. Webster, New York: Evangelical Press, 2004. 224 pp, hardback. Ca. $25.00.
In the first half of the 19th century, no Baptist pastor was more prominent or influential in all aspects of Baptist life than Spencer Cone (1785-1855). Famous for his eloquent preaching, Cone was also the leader in the Bible society movement in America, and well as the chiefest pastoral advocate and promoter of foreign missions from the infancy of American Baptist foreign missions. Yet for all his contemporary fame and prominence, he is today a virtual unknown. Indeed, unless one has read the rare 19th century biography of Cone by his sons (The Life of Spencer H. Cone, by Edward W. Cone and Spencer W. Cone, reviewed in As I See It 2:8) or read with close attention chapter XVII of Thomas Armitage’s famous A History of the Baptists, especially pp. 904 ff, Cone’s name itself generally draws a blank. A major cause of this decline into obscurity is the failure by Cone to put into print any sermons, tracts, histories, articles and other things more lasting than the life of a man (as I have said more than once, with apologies to Shakespeare, “The Writing that men do lives after them; the rest is all interred with their bones.” Bunyan, Matthew Henry, John Gill, Spurgeon and multitudes more would be all but or even entirely forgotten today, were it not for the corpus of writings they left behind).
Cone entered Princeton at 13, but due to his father’s debilitating dementia, had to assume bread-winner status for his large family at 15. He taught school, acted, wrote and edited, before coming to Christ in his 20s. As a militiaman, he was present at the burning of Washington, D. C. by the British in August 1813 and was in the vicinity of Ft. McHenry soon thereafter when the night-long bombardment inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Cone was chaplain for the U. S. Congress for a year, and pastored a mixed-race congregation in Alexandria, Virginia, followed by two lengthy pastorates in New York City. He was the leader in the Bible society movement that provided Bibles in English translation domestically at low cost, and in the newly-made mission field versions, and led in the 19th century Baptist movement to revise and correct the KJV. He was the primary promoter and helper of Isaac McCoy, the leading Baptist missionary of the day among the American Indians. His life is worthy of our attention for these contributions.
Thornbury, drawing in great measure on the twice-longer biography of Cone by his sons, gives much greater prominence to Cone’s Calvinistic views that does the 19th century work. Indeed, the author, a Reformed Baptist, seems at times to have an axe to grind on this subject (as also does Tom Nettles in the foreword). Cone, however, is reported as making a universal offer of the Gospel (p. 54).
This is the only readily accessible source of information about Cone, and can be read with profit.