Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Wine is Still There...but Who Would Want to Drink It?

William Law, the eighteenth century English mystic tells a charming story of a kind woman's gift of a biblical commentary to an old shepherd named John and his wife Betty. The shepherd describes what happened:

"Madam, the Squire's wife, of our Town, hearing how Betty and I loved the Scriptures, brought us one day a huge expounding book upon the New Testament; and told us that we should understand the Scriptures a deal better by reading it in that book than in the New Testament alone.... The next Lord's Day, when two or three Neighbors according to custom came to sit with us in the evening, "Betty," said I, "bring out Madam's great book and read the fifth chapter of Matthew." When she had done that, I bid her read the fifteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. The next morning I said to Betty, "Carry this great expounding book again to my mistress and tell her that the words of Christ and His apostles, are best by themselves, and just as they left them." And as I was that morning going to my sheep, thought I to myself, This great expounding book seems to have done just as much good to the little book of the New Testament by being added to it, and mixed with it, as a Gallon of water would do to a little cup of true wine by adding to it or mixed with it. The wine indeed would be all there, but it's fine taste & cordial spirit which it had when drunk by itself would be all lost and drowned in the coldness and deadness of the water."

pompeii_diluting I got this little story from John Knox's volume on "The Integrity of Preaching". He uses it to make that point that just because something is called expository preaching, does not mean that it is helpful, or even biblical! The quote is not just a warning about/to biblical commentators, but in the word of Knox: "Let us remember that the preacher is also an expositor and that a sermon can hide or distort a biblical text as certainly and as thoroughly as any commentary. It is not the scholars' "huge expounding books" alone about which it can sometimes be said that they succeed only in dulling "the fine taste" of the original and diluting its "cordial spirit"; the preachers' long expounding discourses often have the same effect. In other words, making use--even large use--of the Bible is not enough to guarantee effective, or even authentic biblical preaching. Everything depends on how we make use of it."

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