By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer
By E. E. Shelhamer
Ever since the fall, man has been more or less lopsided and unbalanced. They tell us that one side of the brain is larger than the other, one shoulder a little higher than the other, and that it is impossible to walk very far in a perfectly straight line without guiding ourselves by some object. Perhaps this is one reason why man travels in a circle when he becomes confused, or lost in the woods or on a vast prairie.
When it comes to theology we see things from different angles and this accounts for various precepts and practices. And when we feel sure we have a correct view of a certain truth, it is easy and natural to stress it out of proportion with some equally vital truth. Sometimes this is done to our own hurt and we defeat our own object, for if the pendulum swing too far in one direction it is likely to go too far in the opposite, before it finds its proper equilibrium. Much time and energy may be wasted before this valuable center is attained.
Perhaps there have lived but few men, if any, who have been so well saved and so properly balanced as to accomplish all that God designed and saw possible had they always kept in the Spirit and believed Him as fully as was their privilege. But as George Mueller said, "Perhaps there never lived a man who fully proved all the possibilities of faith and prayer." He might have gone farther and seen more accomplished.
Most great and good men have had some queer notions or peculiarities and yet succeeded. They did not succeed because of their eccentricities, but in spite of them, for doubtless they would have been greater successes had they been free from some of their mannerisms. For this purpose this chapter is written, that if possible we may profit by our own and others' failures. Though the writer is painfully conscious that he himself is not a pattern of symmetry, yet he hopes that he, as well as the reader, may improve by considering the following characters:
1. THE NEGATIVE PREACHER
This brother takes negative texts. He stresses good works and self-denial. His main theme is, "Stop this and stop that; you must and you mustn't," until the thing becomes musty indeed. He knows more about crucifixion suffering than resurrection glory. His preaching contains plenty of plain truth, but not enough corresponding unction. He can undeceive souls and get them to give up their false hopes better than he can lead them into a rich experience. He can get souls to the altar better than he can stimulate faith that brings them through. His converts are as straight as the Pharisees and often as void of holy joy. They have given up much, but have not received much in return, except a legal, strained-up religion.
2. THE CONSTRUCTIVE PREACHER
This brother leans in the other direction. He magnifies the promises and plays upon the emotions. He believes in building up and not tearing down, for he thinks a beautiful building more important than deep digging, preparatory to a rugged foundation. He does not enjoy listening to Jeremiah's commission (Jer. 1:10) wherein he was told to do six things, four of which were destructive and two constructive. A faithful ambassador was pouring red-hot truth into compromise and crookedness when one of these constructionalists jumped to his feet and said, "Don't talk so much about meeting conditions; that unsettles people; get the glory down and everything will be all right." But such glory is not abiding when built upon unconfessed, unforsaken sin. This brother has the ability to talk, sing and shout nearly everybody through that comes to the altar. His converts are great on shouting and being "free)" but some of them are too free in dodging bills and mingling with those of the opposite sex. Now this dear brother and his predecessor need to get together, live together and pull together that each may be more successful.
3. THE STIFF, PRECISE PREACHER
This dear brother has mistaken stiffness for saintliness, and preciseness for pungency. He takes pleasure in being called "Doctor" and in being looked up to as a "polished gentleman." He is cut out for a city charge and could reach a refined class of people if he were not so stiff and formal, if he were not so reserved and shut up in himself. But his self-consciousness and studied effort to be nice keep common people from feeling free and easy in his presence. It seems he has never learned the great secret that Paul did, namely: To be all things to all men that he might win some. Oh, that he could forget himself and get out of his little treadmill long enough to know how restful he would feel and how much more he would be appreciated.
4. THE RUDE, UNTIDY PREACHER
Though this brother severely criticizes his predecessor, it would be well if he had some of the good manners and surplus dignity that his brother could spare. It is simply another demonstration of the fact that humanity is lopsided. This rude preacher has gotten the idea that there is a special virtue in being blunt and outspoken -- in crying out against sin in a denunciatory tone. He is so loud and boisterous that people of poise and refinement have little use for him. He thinks nothing of intruding upon the rights of others and "making himself at home." He interrupts others in their conversation, for of course everybody is anxious to hear him (?). He seldom apologizes and if he does it is soon forgotten. He is boorish and inconsiderate in his ways, especially toward his inferiors and those of his own household. He ought to study such texts as, "Be courteous," and, "Be not wise in your own conceits."
This same brother adds to his unlovely ways by being untidy in appearance, for it is generally the case that coarseness and untidiness go hand in hand. We fear that this conception of plainness of dress borders onto slouchiness. With a little care he could brush his teeth and shoes, clean his collar, keep his neck and ears perfectly clean, and sponge and press his clothes. He could bathe frequently so as not to be offensive, and in other ways be more presentable. If anyone dares to say anything to him about these things he quotes Elijah, or John the Baptist to justify his course, but this will not do, unless he preach to the same people and with as much power as did they. If the devil cannot keep a man from being devoted, he will be pleased to see him hinder his effectiveness by being unlovable and untidy.
5. THE SENSATIONALIST
This preacher imagines that to say startling and funny things will insure crowds and success. If he be an evangelist he will soon advertise himself and get his name and picture in the papers by attacking corruption and ripping up the municipal authorities. He is in his glory when somebody "gets mad." He is defiant and will not let others suggest how things should go. He may have some ability but sadly lacks in humility. These seldom go together.
If he be a pastor, he will adopt all kinds of novel methods to "draw the crowds" and make things "go lively." He believes in doing things on a big scale, even if he has to run in debt and make some one else pay the bills. As a rule he has a strong and winning personality which attracts to himself, but after he is gone, things go fiat. This proves that the converts of such men are the product of human effort and fleshly zeal, rather than the result of awful conviction, deep repentance and glorious conversion.
This same preacher who itches for notoriety is given to irreverence, especially in prayer. Sometimes he makes hideous sounds and goes through all kinds of contortions in order to "break through," "rout the devil" and draw attention to SELF. He uses such expressions as, "Glory be to your holy name," "You know all about it, Lord," and, "We praise you for what you are doing in these latter tunes." To justify such familiarity he quotes, "Come boldly (better say brassy) to a throne of grace." Such a spirit of irreverence destroys all real worship. True, sometimes a holy soul, in mighty, desperate earnestness, leaps over the bounds of formality of cut and dried expressions, yet carries an air of holy reverence. The old Jews held the names "God" and "Jehovah" in such awe and reverence that before writing them, they wiped their pens clean and dry. Oh, that we might have more of such reverence today.
6. THE "STAND-PATTER"
This preacher is positively opposed to sensational methods and will not permit them on his circuit. He is strictly "orthodox" and cannot accept anything until a bishop or high official first pronounces it "safe" and "sane." Everything must run in the dear old beaten path that "our church" and "her standards" have marked out. He is a diplomat and has mistaken this for devotion. He can see far ahead and knows what position to take that will enable him in the end to stand in with the winning side. He knows exactly how everything should be done, for either he was there when it started or he has taken pains to carefully inform himself. He has a right to sit back, look wise and criticize juvenile methods, for he has learned how to manipulate things with a nod of the head, or a sway of the hand. He can give instructions better than he can prevail in prayer, and pull fire out of the skies. He likes to sit on the platform or walk about conspicuously and order the battle, for, says he, "We must not have any fanaticism, or wildfire here." Oh, that a bolt of heavenly lightning might strike him and set him on fire! He would make a big blaze, for he is very dry.
7. THE EXTRAVAGANT PREACHER
This brother unfortunately never learned how to economize. Others can make one dollar go farther than several with him. To see him o? his family in public one would think they had a large income. For instance: they have the latest cut of clothes; pleated shirts, ruffles and lace which require sending to the laundry in order to look nice; bright and delicate colors for children, which tend to feed pride and do not stand the wear; nothing second-hand or worn when "out of date."
Note the wastefulness in the kitchen; enough left on plates or given to a dog to feed a hungry child; plenty of canned goods from the grocery, which are neither best for health nor children, who ought to be taught to cook. Then there are the doctor bills. For every little ailment that could be corrected by proper diet, bathing or home remedies, the doctor has to be called, or patent medicine gulped down.
This same brother does not seem to have a conscience about running in debt and failing to keep his promise. He can borrow money and forget all about it. He has been known to move away and leave rent, grocery and laundry bills behind, without saying a word until he was "dunned." He will get Bibles, books and papers and never pay for them. He is not given to improving parsonage or church property, but when he does, he is built upon such a large scale that he needlessly goes in debt and makes it hard for his successor to pay the bills. When at conference, or a "big meeting," he is hard to please in entertaining, often calling for delicacies, eating late suppers and breakfasts, and sometimes he goes to a fine hotel after having been sent to a private home. This is not all: he leaves hotel bills for others to pay when it was supposed that he had settled all accounts. Money that ought to have gone toward some old debt goes for new shoes or clothes, when the old ones could have been mended and made to wear longer. These and many other things tend to cripple a preacher's influence and should be corrected. It is too bad that this brother who is so "big hearted," and has so many otherwise good qualities, should hurt his standing by such careless and inexcusable things.
"He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand, but the hand of the diligent maketh rich" (Prov. 10:4).
8. THE STINGY PREACHER
Here we have another illustration of lopsidedness. Brother Stingy is anything but extravagant. His features seem to bespeak shrewdness and littleness of soul. He carries the air of narrowness and niggardliness. Sometimes his family lacks nourishing food and warm clothing, but he can stand this more easily than he can break a bill. He is close and exacting to a penny when anything is coming his way. He can find a flimsy excuse to be absent when a special collection is to be taken for some worthy cause. Should he be present, he is reluctant about giving, and does so only for policy's sake. Sometimes he gets out of giving by helping to take up the collection. He is good at stirring up others to give. It is seldom one sees his name in a list of charity givers and never at the top. If he gives at all and the sums run over the amount called for, his stingy soul pines within him for having given so much. If he be an evangelist, he cannot rest easy until he knows that a certain amount is in sight. Or, if he be a pastor he becomes equally nervous lest the people be "overdrained."
This sad condition of soul may have started in early life when poverty compelled him to economize. But by diligence and frugality he got ahead and now it has become "second nature" to look ahead and figure how to make all he can and save all he can. Whatever is saved, begged, or sponged is just that much gained. He can put up a poor mouth and take money from a washerwoman when he knows that he has more hid away in his pockets or somewhere else than she possesses. As a rule, this "hidebound" preacher does not talk enthusiastically about tithing and is never first to propose helping some brother. He may plead his own poverty as the reason he cannot do more, but this simply reveals his true character, for we read, "There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth: and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty."
"The liberal soul shall be made fat; and he that watereth shall be watered also himself" (Prov. 11:24, 25).
9. THE DECEITFUL PREACHER
It would seem that a genuine case of holiness ought to save a man from being easily biased and prejudiced against his brother. If so, we shall have to conclude that the preacher in question does not have it. It is unexplainable how he can weep, pray and preach powerful sermons, then step down from the pulpit and, in a mean, underhanded way, work against the brother with whom he smiled and chatted a few moments before. This big man (?) with a little soul has the gift and ability to fish around, stir up strife and "separate chief friends." He is an expert at the very thing God says He hates -- "Sowing discord among brethren." He is as dangerous as an adder and is likened to "a snake in the grass.
This so-called ambassador of Christ is not so considerate as an old whiskey-soaked, Free Mason judge, on the criminal bench, for the latter is supposed to be on the prisoner's side until he is conclusively proven guilty. Even then, the judge sometimes withholds sentence for days in order to carefully weigh the matter. Not so with this narrow-minded preacher. When he hears something on "good (?) authority," he does not know how to take a neutral position and reserve judgment until he hears the other side, for there are ALWAYS TWO SIDES. No! But he immediately passes sentence and says, "Just as I expected; I always felt suspicious." Sometimes he will spoil an entire sermon and bewilder or mortify a whole congregation slamming at and scolding one or two persons concerning whom he has heard something. Had he not been such a miserable coward he would have gone to the parties alone, according to direction (Matt. 18:15-17), and thus have won their confidence and respect, if not their souls. But he utterly fails and wonders why his rantings rebound and produce opposition. He tries to find comfort in the thought that he is persecuted for righteousness' sake, when it is for his own lack of love, wisdom and brotherly frankness.
"Take ye heed every one of his neighbor and trust ye not in any brother; for every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbor will walk with slanders."
"And they will deceive every one his neighbor, and will not speak the truth: they have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity" (Jer. 9:4, 5).
10. THE MAGNANIMOUS PREACHER
This list of preachers would hardly be complete without at least one exemplary character. The writer does not feel capable of describing such a one, but will try to give a rough outline.
Webster defines magnanimity as, "Greatness of mind; that elevation or dignity of soul which encounters danger and trouble with tranquillity and firmness; which raises the possessor above revenge and makes him delight in acts of benevolence; which makes him disdain injustice and meanness and prompts him to sacrifice personal ease, interest and safety for the accomplishment of useful and noble objects."
The magnanimous preacher is not only a godly man, but a manly man. Though he may not be so gifted as some, he makes up for it by his holiness and greatness of soul. He bears acquaintance and it is a pleasure to associate with him, especially after having been with his opposite -- Brother Palaver (Deceit). This good man is one out of a multitude who does not allow himself to be biased in the least by what he hears. He insists on waiting and hearing the other side. Here is one man out of ten thousand in whom you are safe in confiding and unbosoming your heart, for what you tell him will never be repeated without your knowledge or consent. He is not a "trucebreaker" (betrayer of secrets), hence cannot divulge a trust committed to his care.
This princely man has too much nobility to argue and contend over little matters. It is certainly sad to see grownup men and women contradict each other and use a multitude of words over some trivial, insignificant thing pertaining to the placing of furniture, the pitching of a tent, the correction of children, or a technicality relating to church matters. All this bespeaks shallowness of mind, narrowness of vision and littleness of soul.
This man of saintly dignity is not easily agitated or distracted. He does not give way to a heated imagination and make rash or cutting remarks. He is not quick to blame this one or that one for some petty loss or needless interruption, for he sees God back of everything. Instead of being affected by discouraging circumstances, he either surmounts them or turns them to his account, so that the devil is defeated and ashamed for having had anything to do with him.
Another characteristic of this great soul is that he has the ability to look ahead and see the outcome of a debate. If he foresees that it will produce friction or inward disunion on either side, he does not allow himself to be drawn into an argument. And if perchance he does, he quickly desists and lets the other party run off with the laurels (?) rather than contend and win out at the expense of grieving the Spirit. Few are big enough to do this.
Best of all, he is never offended at anything or anybody. He is too broad and busy to notice a slight or insult. He is running for a crown and cannot stop to answer the hiss of a slanderous tongue, or the growl of a backbiter. He has found the deep, uninterrupted "peace that passeth understanding" yea, misunderstanding. "Great peace have they that love Thy law and nothing shall offend them." Nothing! If he is noticed or unnoticed, praised or blamed, pushed forward or backward, nothing offends. Nothing makes him "feel hurt." Nothing gets him out of sorts, sore or sensitive. He never "sulks." Nothing can catch him off his guard or aggravate him. He is never fretted or irritated. He quickly rises above disappointment, for he has learned how to spell it with an "H," and make it read His-Appointment. If cares multiply, he adds an extra "s" and makes them caress him. Like John Wesley, he can say, "I make no account of any profit or pleasure that does not bring me closer to God. And I shrink from no hardship or misunderstanding if thereby I will be more completely weaned from the things of time and sense and united to God." Again he says, "I have not lost a night's sleep in seventy years. Ten thousand cares are no more weight to my mind than ten thousand hairs to my head. I would as soon curse and swear as to fret or worry." Reader, is your vision enlarged by this picture? If not there is no hope for you. But if on the other hand your soul is stirred, then believe God to burn out of you all that ought to be eliminated and burn into you all He sees you need.
"Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).