by Gilbert Bebee
"When Greek meets Greek, then comes the tug of war."
The writer of a circular upon the subject of Ministerial Education, published in the Michigan Christian Herald, by the committee of the State Convention, makes use of the above quotation, in showing up what he conceives to be the necessity of making the Baptist Ministry familiar with the Greek language, in order that they may compete successfully with their learned opponents of other denominations. How various and discordant are the reasons assigned by the advocates of a man-made ministry, for their preference of human above divine qualifications for the ministry. At one time we are told that our version of the scriptures is so imperfect, that a thorough knowledge of the original text is indispensably necessary in order to produce unanimity of sentiment; and to know the original text we must of course understand the languages in which they were at first written, to wit: the Hebrew and the Greek: and not infrequently in the same treatise we are told that they have to contend with learned critics, and therefore we must meet them Greek to Greek, and Hebrew to Hebrew, or we cannot do them battle. Now both of these arguments cannot be good for the purposes intended, even if either or both of them could be established in point of truth: but we propose to show that neither of these positions are tenable. A collegiate or classical education never has led to unanimity of sentiment, or we should not find, as now we do, giants of literature distributed among almost every religious sect in existence. So far to the reverse of this, there are very few religious sects, heresies, or speculations, which may not be traced back to some profoundly learned man. We might here name a catalogue of them, such as Luther, Calvin Cromwell, Wesley, Priestly Gill, Fuller, &c. Why so much discord among these worldly wise men if much learning tends to unanimity? If a thorough knowledge of the original language in. which the scriptures were written, will enable men more readily to understand these scriptures, why were not the Jews, who understood their own language, the first to understand what the prophets had written? And why was the gospel, as preached by Paul and his brethren in the primitive church, foolishness to the Greeks? The truth is, the gospel of Jesus Christ is, at this day, as great a stumbling block, and as great foolishness to our Hebrew and Greek scholars, generally speaking, as it was in the apostolic day to the Jews and Greeks; because it has seemed good, in the sight of God, to hide these things from the wise and prudent, and to reveal them unto babes. No man can therefore admit that the scriptures are truth, without denying that human wisdom or education can assist its possessors to understand, from the scriptures, the things of the Spirit; things which can be known only as they are spiritually understood, by a spiritual people, or a people born of the Spirit of God.
Neither is human erudition the armor in which the battles of the Lord are to be fought; for then would God have chosen the mighty, the learned, the wise, the noble, and the great; but this the apostle expressly declares was not the case. Paul was himself a learned man, but his learning did not make him acquainted with the spirituality of the scriptures, for he was not taught it but by revelation. When it pleased God, who separated him from his mother's womb, to reveal his Son in him, straightway he conferred not with flesh and blood; and his speech and his preaching was not in the language which man's wisdom teacheth; that the faith -of his brethren should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Examine the history of the church of God in all ages of the world, and tell us, if it be true, that the cause of truth has been defended by the learned and wise of this world. In what college did Moses, and Aaron, and Joshua, and Sampson, and Gideon, and Daniel graduate? What were the classics of David and of all the prophets of our God? In what seminary did John the Baptist study Latin and Greek; and what human training caused him to leap at the salutation of the Virgin Mary? What was the education of the apostles of the Lamb of God? In what chapter of holy writ are we informed, that, when the foes of Zion perceived that the apostles were learned men, they took knowledge of them that they bad been with Jesus? So far as divine revelation extends, the testimony of Paul is sustained, that God has chosen the foolish and weak things of this world, to confound the wise. This was not from necessity, but choice: for God was as able, if it had been his pleasure, to call learned men as fools to the work; but that would not show that the excellency of the cause was of God A bad cause may often be made to appear very plausible when defended by the eloquence and the talent of the learned and the mighty; but when the learned and the mighty are driven from the field by the unlearned, the artless and the simple, the excellency of the cause is made more prominently to appear.
Now let us review the retrospect we have taken of the history of the children of God, and inquire who have uniformly been the enemies of the truth of God? On this branch of sacred history, let the modern disciples of Gamaliel feast their vanity. All the magicians who opposed the word of the Lord by Moses were learned men! All the astrologers: and soothsayers of Babylon were men of education! All the prophets who were fed at Jezebel's table were learned at the expense of the crown. The scribes, the Pharisees, and Sadducees, who constantly opposed and persecuted the Son of God, were all learned men. Pilate, who condemned to be cruelly scourged, insulted, and crucified, one in whom he could find no guile, was able to write a superscription to, place above the head of Zion's King, in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek, where human literature, when religiously employed is generally placed. An orator of distinguished talent was, hired to impeach an apostle of the Lord Jesus, before Felix, the Roman governor, and learned men have flourished among the principal Pagan, Papal, and Protestant persecutors of the people of God, from that time to the present. In what part of divine revelation is the church of God taught to trust the defence of the cause to the learning and the talent of men? Is it where God has said, 11 Cursed is man that trusteth in man, or maketh flesh his arm? The people of God shall dwell as towns without walls; for God himself shall be a wall of fire round about them, and the, glory in their midst. And is not our God a sufficient Refuge for his people? He is our Shield, our Defense, oar Strong Tower, and our Avenger. Are we not safe without the armor of Saul? "Walk about Zion, tell her towers, consider her palaces, and mark well her bulwarks, that ye may tell it to the generations to come." He is indeed our Hiding Place, our Covert from the storm, and he is unto us as rivers of water in a dry place, and as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. The place of Zion's defense is the invincible munition of rocks; the Eternal God is her Refuge, and underneath are, the everlasting arms. He rideth upon the heavens in her help, and in his excellency- on the sky. Who is like unto thee, 0 Israel, a people saved by the Lord?
But it is said, “ When Greek meets Greek, then comes the tug of war.” The perversion of this motto, from its original application to Grecian chivalry, to make it apply to the lilyfingered and effeminate production of modern academies and colleges is no greater than the perversions which such writers usually make of the scriptures when they take occasion to refer to them. It would be curious enough to witness the tug of war when the aristocracy of religious learning compare their notes. How often they have been called into the field like horses trained for the turf, or like game cocks, to contend for some premium offered for a tract. There have we seen Greek to Greek, and there the tug of war. Greek has met Greek at the Congress Hall, at the commencement of almost every session to contend for the chaplaincy, and there have we witnessed the tug of war. Where rich congregations, splendid meeting houses, and heavy salaries have been in the market, there has been a tug of war; there Greek and Greek have dressed themselves (not in thunder, but) in smoke, and fought with zeal worthy of a nobler cause. High offices of honor, trust, and emolument, in voluntary religious associations, fat missionary fields, and lucrative agencies have often brought Greek to Greek and there has been the tug of war.
But when have men, distinguished for their literary attainments, been assembled for the defense of the doctrine of divine sovereignty, against the attacks of Arminian work-mongers? When and where have they ever been known to advocate unpopular truth against popular error? Reader, have you ever seen the powers of darkness rally against the little flock of Jesus? Have you seen them in deadly strife? Then have you marked on the part of Apollyon a collection of wealth, talent and learning; and on the part of Zion, the poor, the obscure, the unlearned, and the unpopular. On the one side you have seen the Davids, and the Goliaths on the other. Those on the one side boasting in human power, and ability, and learning, and those of the other, discarding all confidence in the flesh, and in the name of their God, setting up their banner. The help which the church of God derives from State Conventions, Education Societies, and other humanly devised worldly religious institutions, is very similar to the aid which the cause of truth has been favored with by popish inquisitions, racks, tortures, gibbets, flames and fagots, for the extermination of heretics and heresy. From all such helps every devoted soul shall pray, " Lord, deliver us." In reference to the pretended object of the Michigan Baptist State Convention, in calling for money to make Greeks of those agonizing young men whom, they say, are panting to do good, and whose souls burn within them to preach the gospel, and who are so inflammable and likely to be burnt Lip, as to extort from the convention the pathetic cry, " Brethren shall we let the internal fires consume them?" In reference, we say, to the object of the convention it is the most flimsy and hypocritical that we have ever heard of, viz: to defend the Baptist denomination from the learned trickery of the Pedo Baptists, and thus to keep up our denominational distinction, &c. Is there a rational being in our country who does not know that the greatest pretenders to learning among the Baptists, are invariably among the very first to join affinity with the leading spirits of antagonistical denominations? Are not the leading actors in all the worldly institutions of our times, such as National Bible, Missionary, Tract, Sabbath School, Abolition and Total Abstinence Societies, in which the various ring-streaked and speckled professed denominations are united with the world, educated men? Do not those Baptist preachers who have learned the science at college, interchange with preachers of the Methodists, Presbyterians, and other opposite denominations, following around, and hailing them as brethren, and paying more respect to one of them than to a dozen of the poor brethren of the Baptist order? It cannot be denied; and yet they have the affrontery to ask us to educate their beneficiaries, in order to defend the distinguishing points on which we differ from our neighbors. Who by learning the Latin or Greek language can better understand that Christ's kingdom is not of this world, and that the subjects of his government are required to become a separate and distinct people? Who that has been taught of God, and can read the English version of the New Testament, needs a Greek Lexicon to define the language that enjoins on all who love our Lord, to follow him in baptism? Our version of the scriptures has been scrutanized by the best linguists of all the conflicting denominations, and the result of all their criticisms is before us, in plain English. Where then is the necessity of spending our time and the people's money, to acquire a knowledge of the dead languages? If these sprigs of scholastic divinity, who study the science of sermonizing at colleges and theological schools, were qualified to do all their preaching in the Greek language, their hearers generally would not be profited by it. It is all a mistake to suppose that the defense of gospel truth, gospel rites or ordinances, requires any other ability than that which God giveth. We have men enough among us who have never seen the interior of a college, who, with the scriptures in their hand, and the grace of God in their hearts, could set the world on fire, while one of our college-bred dandies would be lighting his match. It is a gross impeachment of the wisdom of God, to say that those whom he has called, to the work, need to be trained by the wisdom of men, for the work whereunto he has called them. It is his exclusive province to call and to qualify whom he pleases and as he pleases; and all whom he has thus designated are required to preach as with the ability he giveth. How presumptuous, heaven daring, and insulting to the divine majesty for man, in the pride of his vain heart, to attempt to improve what God has done. May not the works of God, in creation and providence, be as easily improved as his works of grace? Why not, then, try the powers of human sufficiency upon the natural heavens, polish the sun, hang out a greater number of stars, forbid the waning of the moon, and increase her lustre until her radiance shall surpass the brightness of the sun, as far as it is supposed the wisdom of men excels the wisdom of our God? Why not improve the fixed laws of nature, annihilate the covenant which God has made with day and night,
"Make frightened rivers change their course,
And backward hasten to their source?"
Alas for the vanity of the human heart, thus to contend with God! If human wisdom and power can neither improve nor change the principles of nature, why should it be thought that the spiritual things of God are more susceptible of human improvements? High as the heavens transcend the earth on which we tread, do all the thoughts and ways of God transcend the vain, illusive and arrogant thoughts and pretensions of the human heart.
This article was written in February of 1844 by Primitive Baptist Theologian, Gilbert Bebee.