The Right Temper for a Theologian, Part 2

In our first post on this topic, we saw Dr. William Swan Plumer detail three qualities that should describe the right character of one who studies God’s truth: a lack of prejudice, unaffected modesty, and profound reverence. The great 19th c. Southern Presbyterian pastor, preacher and theologian has more to teach us.

A fourth aspect of a proper “temper” is a sincere, constant, and ardent love of truth. If we do not love the truth, we cannot learn the truth; indeed, we cannot be saved (II Thess. 2:10). Even if we have received a love of the truth unto salvation, that same love must mark us throughout our studies. Dr. Plumer writes, “He, who loves his own opinions because they are his, or is greatly attached to views which are of high esteem in his sect or party because they are a Shibboleth, is a candidate for shame and error.” Our passion must be to do what Solomon enjoins: “Buy truth, and do not sell it, Get wisdom and instruction and understanding” (Pro 23:23).

Fifth, Dr. Plumer exhorts us to patience, which produces caution and deliberation. This state of heart is the opposite of a hasty, impetuous coming to conclusions. For “observation shows that conclusions hastily adopted are often as hastily abandoned. Even if we reach the truth, but in a rash manner, it can hardly be as a pillar of beautiful proportions in our thoughts, nor can we behalf so sure that it is truth to be relied on in all exigencies, as if we had reached it by more careful steps. Let reasonable doubts produce uncertainty, and let us suspend our judgments, until time has been given for further prayer and investigation.” Even if this habit leave us unsettled about a particular point of doctrine for a time, we are no losers for the waiting.

A sixth attribute that describes the theologian after God’s own heart is a spirit of diligence. Day and night, according to Joshua 1:8, we must mediate upon God’s word. Like Bereans, we must search the Scriptures daily. “The great law of acquisition in knowledge is, a little at a time and often repeated,” writes Dr. Plumer. To forestall any objections to this call to diligence, he points out the rigorous discipline of a military academy as compared to a theological seminary. How much more significant for eternity are the preparations of soldier’s in the Lord’s army, and yet how much less is required of seminary students in their time of preparation? So Plumer contends, “Let him, who would have religious truth dwell in him richly, spare no pains, but maintain severe habits of thought and inquiry, denying himself all luxuriousness and effeminacy, and subjecting all his powers to a wholesome discipline.” These words sound hard in a soft culture such as ours. Yet they sound no different than the words of Paul in I Timothy 4:15-16, “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”

One more installment to come. May the Lord continue to work love, patience, and diligence into all our hearts.


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