Saturday, April 5, 2014

Do Fake Quotations Matter?

We've all seen them, those quotes used to clinch an argument. Like the one seen here. Seems damning, doesn't it? Except Lenin never said it, and in fact it dates from the late 1940s, long after Lenin's death, and was fabricated to support a campaign to defeat President Harry S. Truman's plans for National Health Insurance. A little thought about the issue of course suggests that it has to be a fake - Lenin was a  revolutionary, not an advocate of slow and concealed change.

A fake quotation like this one is obviously important; it links one's opponent with a historic "baddie", creating a guilt by association argument where there is in fact no association. But what about those "positive" quotations such as that attributed to Thomas Jefferson, ‘A government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take it away'. In these cases the point being made is not that the other fellow sounds like Lenin (and therefore is, by implication, trying to bring in Communism by stealth), but that your position is that of some great figure from your nation's history. And after all, if a sentiment is true, isn't it true no matter who said it?

Well, yes it is, but that's not why these fake quotations are used, and it's certainly not why they were manufactured in the first place; they were manufactured, for the most part, to add a spurious authority to an argument, rather than letting it succeed on its own merits. It is in fact a form of the argument from false authority; in this case it is not that (as is usually the case) the alleged authority is not an authority at all, but that the authority appealed to never said what they are alleged to have said. An argument being made by Joe Bloggs may well be ignored, an argument alleged to have been made by Winston S. Churchill is more likely to be listened to.

While there are spurious quotations being manufactured all the time, many of those circulating on the internet are, like the fake Lenin quote, over fifty years old. Those using them may be guilty of bad research, but usually they are guilty merely of believing a source that is otherwise trustworthy but made the mistake of not going back to a primary source for a quote; but how many of us actually do go back to the primary source every time we want to use a quote? I recall when at seminary asking a visiting preacher at the Church I attended for the original source of a Thomas Goodwin quote, and he sheepishly admitting that he got it secondhand - ah, the perils of visiting preachers in churches with theological students in the congregation!

So why does it matter? Well, it matters because quoting a past figure is ultimately an appeal to history, and an appeal to a false quotation is therefore an appeal to a false history, often a legendary history, history become myth, as it were. Now the word "myth" is often used as if it were synonymous with "fiction", but that is quite unfair to the language; myth is not just made-up story, often it is an elaboration of real events, or at least has a basis in reality, however tenuous, but central to myth is the concept of meaning. A myth is a meaningful story, and the meaning matters more than the story. The myths of King Arthur help to establish a national identity, the myths of Robin Hood tell us that there is always hope, the prospect a hero rising up to help those who are oppressed. And the false quotations are part of myth; they give us our champions on the one side, the great figures of history who stood where we stand, and who still stand somehow behind us, and the great villains who were overcome in the past but whose descendants must still be fought. One of the clearest cases of this turning of history into myth is the quotation frequently attributed to Martin Luther, “If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.” This is in fact not Luther at all, but a Victorian author, Elizabeth Rundle Charles, in a historical novel about the German Reformation, where the words are spoken by a fictional character. Fiction and history blur into myth, and Mrs. Charles' writing is mistaken for Martin Luther - a tribute to her writing skills if nothing else. And Christians encourage each other to be bold by quoting words they think were penned by Luther in the midst of conflict but were in fact written by a Victorian lady in her comfortable study writing a serial story for a magazine.

But the greatest danger of all this is when myth and reality are confused, and myth is treated as history rather than myth. It becomes all the more dangerous when the myth is confused with history and the confusion leads to a call to return to a mythological golden age that never actually existed. The Christian is never to call to a return to a previous era in history, but to press forward; the myth of the golden age is pagan, it is not something the Bible ever engages in; the Bible ends not with Eden restored, but with something much greater and more wonderful than that; God not just visiting humanity in a garden, but God dwelling with humanity in a garden city. That does not mean we should not resist those trying to move the ancient landmarks, but that we do so not in the name of a golden age past, but in the name of God who is alive, and the same for ever more.

So make sure that quotation is real. Accept only primary sources!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Book Review: 'Living by Revealed Truth'

Tom Nettles: Living by Revealed Truth, the Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Tain, Christian Focus,  2013, Pp. 683 large hardcover. £29.99

There are some men (and fewer women) who are veritable magnets for biographers, John Wesley, John Knox, Martin Luther and John Calvin come at once to mind. Many biographies of these men have been issues, but the flow of them does not seem to lessen. Charles Haddon Spurgeon is one of these figures who attract biographers, for despite the pile of existing biographies of the man, new ones continue to be written. How, the reader may ask, can there be anything new to say? If the old volumes of the Autobiography are not sufficient, surely Arnold Dallimore's volume and the two studies by Iain Murray have brought the issue up to date. Lewis Drummond promised us a definitive biography twenty years ago and gave us a work that, while it did incorporate new material, could have done with being at least 100 pages shorter, how can Tom Nettles have produces a work of over 600 double-column pages that is actually worth the sacrifice of trees?

Let me assure the reader that it is worth the trees. Having been disappointed by the Drummond biography a little under five years ago, only the fact that I know Nettles to be a clear and very readable author could have induced me to open the pages of a new and large work on Spurgeon. Tom Nettles has made a name for himself with clear, well-written works of Baptist history and biography including his three volume set on The Baptists, also from Christian Focus, and his By His Grace and For his Glory, combining readability with scholarship. All his works have a definite plan and purpose to them; he does not write as one who beats the air, but as one who knows what he is writing. Where Drummond suffered from a lack of plain purpose and produced a work that was neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring, Nettles has carefully laid a plan and carried it out.

As the subtitle suggests, this is not a straightforward biography of Spurgeon, such books already exist, and it would be a work of supererogation to produce another one. The reader who wants a straightforward narrative of Spurgeon's life is already spoiled for choice, and no good purpose would be served by writing another one. Instead Nettles deals with Spurgeon's thought and theology as revealed in his writings; this book is about the why more than the what of Spurgeon's life, his mind more than his acts. By taking this approach, Nettles justifies a book of such dimensions on such a subject. Spurgeon is allowed to speak for himself as much as possible, a fact that further increases readability, since Spurgeon was so engaging. Chapters are long, but broken up with sub-headings, a vital necessity in a chapter of over 50 pages when those pages are large and written in double columns.

There are, inevitably in a work of such length, a smattering of typographical errors, most glaringly in the contents page where Chapter 14 is entitled “Destroyed or be Destroyed” when the actual heading is of course “Destroy or be Destroyed”. The Surrey Tabernacle and Surrey Chapel are occasionally confused in what must be errors of typing, for James Wells is described as pastor of (incorrectly) the Surrey Chapel and (correctly) the Surrey Tabernacle. Newman Hall suffers the same error, though of course he was pastor at Surrey Chapel. Hall is also victim of what must be the book's one great historical howler: On P. 527 Nettles writes that, “Newman Hall came in for equal if not greater laudations from Spurgeon [than J.C. Ryle] as a useful Anglican”; this rather surprised me, for Newman Hall was never an Anglican, he was a Congregationalist. I can only suppose that Nettles read that Hall was minister of Christ Church, Westminster Bridge Road, and that he wore a gown and used a prayer-book in his church, put two and two together, and forgot to check that what he was putting together was in fact two and two. The entire paragraph oh Hall is therefore lovingly marked in pencil in my copy of the book. The mistake is understandable, but Nettles ought to have checked before putting Newman Hall in a section of the book on Spurgeon and Anglicans. Still, it is only one paragraph.

This is a very good book indeed. What errors of fact it has are small and explained by the fact that its subject is Spurgeon's though, not his life and times. For a book of its dimensions, it is eminently readable, and it answers admirably the end to which it was written. For this, Dr. Nettles, we are thankful. If possible, buy the book from your local Christian bookshop - they need you!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Historiography: Rights and Wrongs

I am a pastor, not a professional historian. I am however an amateur historian, and have written history for publication, so I know a bit about how you do history. Sadly the discipline of Church history is either ignored or misunderstood by many evangelicals today. Historical ignorance is corrected by the injunction to "go and read a book", but there are those who know something about history, but do not understand how history is done

That was one of the worst things about the White-Pinto debate last week, that Chris Pinto demonstrated a thoroughly false historiography that is too common in certain circles. The word historiography in this context refers to the study of how we "do" history, and Pinto displays the view that certain historians of the 19th century form a "canon" (small 'c', note), a rule by which all other historians are to be judged. This isn't an uncommon view in certain circles, as witness the fact that there are still people who hold to the "trail of blood" view of Baptist history. Now of course when young Christians set out reading history, they will tend to go with the older writers, those of a viewpoint they themselves hold, and there is nothing wrong with that; a biography by a sympathetic author is always a far better read than a biography by an unsympathetic one, after all, and a history written by an atheistic Marxist intent on imposing his ideas of how things ought to have happened upon the record is going to be a pretty irritating read unless you are an atheistic Marxist (and even then...). But we must beware taking those favourite authors and saying, "If anyone disagrees with them, then so much the worse for the one disagreeing." As Christians who believe in the reality and objectivity of truth, our first commitment must be to that same truth, to what really happened, as opposed to what we would like to have happened. I don't just refer to the interpretation of history, what certain events mean, what motives lay behind a person's action, for example, but the actual historical record itself, who did what and when.

When we go any distance into the past beyond about a hundred years, our knowledge of history is based upon records, sources. As the knowledge of sources changes, so too our knowledge of the past does; to give one example, open a 19th century biography of John Knox such as Thomas M'Crie's famous work and it will tell you that Knox was born in 1505. More recent works, including the biography by Henry Cowan published in 1905, give the date as between 1513 and 1515, up to a whole decade later. Why is this? Because between M'Crie's writing in 1811 and Cowan in 1905 further research had been done on Knox, following M'Crie's lead. No historian is to be regarded ipso facto as having given the last word on a subject. Cowan notes that the traditional date of Knox's birth rested almost entirely upon a historian writing about 50 years later, in other words on a secondary source, while the later date is based upon Theodore Beza, who knew Knox personally, and other contemporary sources. Now M'Crie's work is a classic, and yet it is wrong on the date of Knox's birth because later historians were able to uncover data unknown to M'Crie. That is how history works, being based upon sources, the judgement of historians is liable to alteration if new sources come to light. There are also people who create fraudulent sources, which creates all sorts of havoc for historians. In E.C. Pike The Story of the Anabaptists (London, 1904) he refers to Goadby's Byepaths of  Baptist History and its reference to the graveyard at Hill Cliffe Baptist chapel, near Warrington, mentioning a gravestone dated 1357. It is quite certain that the stone in question had been fraudulently altered, firstly because its style was not 14th century, and secondly because old records exist that show what the original date on the stone was. In the effort to claim the name of "oldest" people have stretched points and flat out made things up. The temptation to exaggerate can be strong.

This being so, to claim that any historians, however orthodox their theology, are the canon by which all others are to be judged is just a demonstration of appalling ignorance of how history works. The great 19th century Church historians are not honoured by being treated as the be all and end all of history, as the men who gave us the infallible facts and interpretation, but by our following in their footsteps, taking up the trails that they blazed, developing the country they explored, exploring still further. Just because a particular interpretation of history is seen as favouring a particular theological position does not mean that, should the evidence force us to that conclusion, it may not have to be abandoned, as for example the claim that the Cathars and Paulicians were in any meaningful sense "reformers before the Reformation". Nor should we read back the excesses of the late Middle Ages into the age of Anselm, far less the age of Augustine. The historian must go where the evidence leads, not cling to Hill Cliffe as pre-Reformation when all the evidence shows it is of 17th century origin.

And the reader must recall that history is not an exact science; the reconstruction of what happened in the past is often straightforward, but sometimes it is not. In days past people were not so exact at keeping records as we are today, the exact date of an event was not seen as important in the way we see it - the event itself was what mattered. Historians of the past were men like us, capable of error, of being misled or of drawing false conclusions; that J.A. Wylie's estimate of the Cathars was in error does not mean that we should cast out everything he ever wrote, far less that we should all become Roman Catholics or something like that. But we should remember this: those writers were not infallible, and their writings are not inspired. And for us to treat them as such would be to do them a great disservice, for it would be to treat Protestant historians as though they were, in the field of history, infallible popes.

Friday, December 13, 2013

There is no Canon of Historians

Last night I caught up with the debate between James R. White and Chris Pinto on Fighting for the Faith. The subject was the date and provenance of Codex Sinaiticus, whether it is a genuine 3rd century manuscript, or was produced in the 1840s by Constantin Simonides. As one cannot prove a point by a series of speculations, I remain unconvinced by Pinto's arguments, which amount to "Well, it might have been." But the debate speaks for itself.

More worrying for me, as a student of 19th century church history, was the fact that is rather swiftly became apparent that Pinto elevated certain Victorian speculations about Jesuits, and certain Victorian historians, to a status of practical infallibility.

A friend directed me to Mr. Pinto's post-debate analysis/declaration of victory, in which I was disturbed, but not overly surprised, to read this phrase:
" The historic oracles of the 19th century were rejected in favor of White’s revisionist ideas of Church history."
Now that worries me for this reason: who decided that Wylie et al were "oracles"? Who made them a sort of "canon". I do not use the term to indicate inspiration, but in its strict sense of a rule by which all else is to be tested, because make no mistake, that is what Pinto has made them. And that is the undoing of all of his theories. No historian, however orthodox his theology, however good his research, is to be set up as an "oracle". No church historian speaks that way. All history is to be subject to revision if more data emerges on the issues at stake. The reality is that while J.A. Wylie was a very able man, he died in 1890, and many documents that were unavailable to him and his contemporaries are now freely available.

Now, I do not know which historian(s) Pinto relies upon for his statement concerning the Oxford Movement, "...the Oxford Movement which was the aggressive effort of Rome to reclaim England for the Pope" I suspect that he is relying on works such as Walter Walsh's The Secret History of the Oxford Movement, first published in 1898. It was suggested in some of these works that whilst Newman openly converted to Rome in 1845, in fact he had secretly become a Roman Catholic over ten years earlier on a visit to Rome in 1833, and that from 1833 until 1845 he had been a secret Jesuit agent working in the University of Oxford. It is important to remember that in the 1830s Roman Catholicism in the United Kingdom was still subject to certain restrictions, and many people regarded it as a foreign aggressor that wanted to take control of the state and bring back the execution of Protestants.

It is also however vital to point out that since Newman's death in 1890 no evidence has been discovered that would indicate a secret allegiance to the Papacy dating back to 1833, much less secret membership of the Jesuit order. Newman, after crossing the Tiber, joined the Oratorians, an entirely different religious order, and for much of his career in the Roman church was sidelined. There is in fact no reason to doubt that Newman's own account of his religious opinions and their changes given in the Apologia Pro Vita Sua is generally accurate, and any errors in it are lapses of the writer's memory rather than deliberate deception.

Brought up an evangelical Anglican, at Oxford Newman first came into contact, not with men pointing back to Rome, but with liberals who denied that the Bible was intended to teach the fundamentals of Christianity. Accepting this position, he sought authority elsewhere and found it in the Church. At first he adopted a position that can be called historic High Anglicanism, but found that logically untenable, and eventually ended up at Rome, the logical end of his position. Despite speculation by certain Protestant writers in the Victorian era, there has never come to light any evidence to suggest that the Oxford Movement was anything other than what it appeared to be, a group of Anglicans, influenced on the one hand by Romanticism and its visions of Medieval England and on the other hand by a liberalism that was questioning the authority of the Bible and thus led men like John Henry Newman to seek an infallible authority elsewhere.

And there is the great irony of all this; Pinto has erected Wylie and other Protestant writers into just such an infallible authority in the matter of history, not only its telling but also its interpretation. He does not mean to do this, does not even apparently see that he has done it, but he has.

[Illustration: The interior of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, where John Henry Newman was ordained]

Addendum: I missed the point where Pinto links the Revised Version of 1881 with the Jesuits, a truly remarkable feat given that the Roman Catholics invited to participate in the work (including, interestingly, John Henry Newman) refused to do so. And this is where I must accuse Pinto of being a conspiracy theorist. One mark of the conspiracy theorist is the tendency to connect everything to the conspiracy, which tends to assume the most enormous dimensions. The conspiracy theorist can become unable to understand that there are forces at work apart from his conspiracy, and sadly that seems to have happened with Pinto.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Kennedy-Lincoln Parallels

I have just finished listening to Chris Rosebrough's conversation with Joseph Atwill, not an easy thing to do given Atwill's stream of logical fallacies. His final argument is one that I took particular notice of, not because it was any good, but because it is such a wonderful example of a logical fallacy. The argument was basically, "look at the parallels between Josephus' account of his three crucified friends and the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Christ." 

It happens that tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and that reminds me that there are startling similarities between the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy. John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946, Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846, Lincoln was elected President in 1860, Kennedy was elected President in 1960. Both men were shot on a Friday, both men were shot in the head. Both Lincoln and Kennedy were succeeded by Southerners called Johnson. Andrew Johnson was born in 1808, Lyndon B. Johnson was born in 1908. These are far more compelling parallels than those between the Josephus account and the Gospel crucifixion accounts, which basically come down to "both feature three blokes getting crucified, and one of them lives afterwards while the other two die." Now I have checked, and all of these are facts.

Other parallels between Lincoln and Kennedy have been made, often becoming more and more strained as one or other President's history is shoehorned into the other's to make the parallelism more complete, e.g. "Booth shot the President in a theatre and fled to a warehouse, Oswald shot the President in a warehouse and fled to a theatre", this fails because equivocation is required on a number of words, yes Oswald was in a warehouse when he shot Kennedy, but he did the shooting with a rifle at long range, while Booth shot Lincoln at close range with a pistol while both men were in the theatre. Lincoln was shot in a theatre of the type where they put on plays, Oswald fled to a movie theatre. But even the genuine parallels are completely without meaning, merely interesting coincidences. Some are less surprising than they appear, for example a man first elected to Congress a century after another is, if he is later elected President, very likely to be elected President about a century after the other fellow. there are only seven days in the week, so the probability of a President being assassinated on a Friday is one in seven, and perhaps given that Sunday was a day of rest the true probability is closer to one in six. Johnson is a very common name. Then a sitting man is more likely to be shot in the head than anywhere else by a man trying to kill him - it's the most obvious lethal target.

Of course the list above is a list of similarities, carefully chosen for that reason, and therefore it would be erroneous to base any argument whatsoever on the list. It would be especially foolish to base an argument on any sort of probability of such a chain of coincidences having happened, irrespective of eyewitness testimony. But that's what Atwill does with the New Testament and Josephus. Any list of parallels may be factually interesting, but is probably factually meaningless. To attempt to subject the whole to a sort of statistical analysis and present the resulting analysis as something meaningful is quite simply an abuse of mathematics, for maths was never intended to be a tool through which we analyse history, discarding what we find mathematically incredible.

The very real, often surprising, similarities between the lives of these two Presidents are merely accidents of history, and the very slight similarities between two accounts of crucifixions are the same thing.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

'Covert Messiah' and conspiracy thinking.

I have deliberately given no free publicity to the 'Covert Messiah' non-event that happened in London's Secularist cathedral, Conway Hall (our picture is the back door, and does not do justice to the building, but is the only one I have on file), on Saturday, quite simply because the "evidence" presented was nothing more than an alleged code "discovered" in a correspondence between the writings of Josephus and the Gospels, a code that, like Lowell's "canals on Mars", exists solely in the eyes of the beholder. But what interested me, particularly as I had been reading The United States of Paranoia recently, was the use of the language of the Conspiracy Theory.

Again and again in the 'Covert Messiah' promotional material, we hear comments about "government control" and state conspiracies. This is no accident, it is the deliberate us of such language to appeal to the zeitgeist (no pun intended). Distrust of governments and police is high on both the left and the right, and the appeal of conspiracy theories in the west is undeniable. It is of course simply a fact that governments have in recent times conspired in a variety of ways to exercise control over what they deemed "undesirable" groups; there is no denying this. During World War II, for example, the British Intelligent agency MI5 secretly took control of the entire German intelligence network in the UK and used it to systematically feed false information to German military intelligence. In a less obviously benign example, the FBI used moles within organisations deemed to be "un-American" to disrupt the groups. Thus the idea of the Roman Emperors creating a fake religion to control the Jewish people is appealing to those with little knowledge of history and minds receptive to conspiratorial thinking, something that describes a large proportion of the Western population.

Conspiracy sells. The X-Files sold for that reason, The da Vinci Code sold at the bookstores (but not so much at the cinema), and an alarmingly large number of people believe that Barack Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim plotting to make himself dictator of the United States (though admittedly any number of people believing that is alarming). Even holocaust denial sells. And in Christian circles, The Two Babylons sells, despite being not only arrant nonsense, but antiquated arrant nonsense at that. Which brings us to another point; conspiracies sell on left and right, though of course rarely the same conspiracies. Despite the best efforts of certain left-wingers to depict right-wingers as conspiracy nuts and themselves as the rational types, in fact belief in conspiracy theories is at least as common on the political left as the political right. For every right-wing conspiracy theory about Barack Obama, I can give you a leftist one about George W. Bush, and in many cases the same theory about Bush.

Of course conspiracies happen, and to suppose that governments are always above-board and honest with their people is naive. But at the same time we should always try the claims, not accept them because they happen to agree with out own particular political ideology, religious belief or our worldview. In particular we ought to be suspicious of claims of grand conspiracies, for such claims are usually disguised attacks against a disliked party that the claim's originator wishes to destroy. The claim that Barack Obama is seeking to enslave the US populace is far too similar to the claim eight years ago that George W. Bush was claiming to enslave the US populace for me NOT to think that the motivation is not so much evidence of Obama's evil plan as a simple dislike of the man's politics, and the claim that the Flavians created Christianity to control the Jews is far too similar to Jack Chick's claims that the Vatican created Islam to control the Arabs for me NOT to think that the motivation is in reality a mere dislike of Christianity. In all these cases the common element is a fear of the party at the centre of the conspiracy is going to destroy "our America", and since the normal methods have failed, extraordinary methods must be adopted against the foe. The danger of this train of thought should be instantly apparent.

The accusation of the vast conspiracy takes the place of actually engaging with the other side; it seeks to imitate the act of Alexander the Great with the Gordian Knot, rather than untying, it tries to cut. By painting Christianity (or Islam in the case of Jack Chick) as the deliberate fabrication of a cynical conspiracy, it says in effect, "I do not need to address the claims of the other, for the other is merely deceived by an ancient plot of which they are ignorant, but I know the truth". Convenient, but a dodge at best. The Conspiracy is a pseudo-history that takes the place of the actual history, and justifies unthinking hostility in the place of serious intellectual engagement. At worst it places the other in the position of a delusional mental patient who needs to be restrained for his own good, justifying in the mind of the one holding it the most oppressive measures.

What therefore we need to do is to challenge the conspiratorial mindset. Not the idea that there are such things as conspiracies (there are such things, and governments do engage in them), but rather the mindset that regards government conspiracy as the first port of call when there is a school shooting or a terrorist attack, as the default explanation, so to speak, for all troubling events (for example, when the Boston Marathon was bombed there were websites that declared it to be a "false flag attack" even before a "flag" was announced). And more than that, we must challenge the conspiracy narrative that looks to a grand conspiracy as the cause of these events, whether that grand conspiracy is the Roman Catholic Church, the Freemasons, the Illuminati, or the Knights Templar (and the Knights Templar are always involved somewhere in these things). Instead we must teach history, study history, respect history, and treat the grand conspiracy as pseudo-history. Why? Most notably because the Grand Conspiracy is historically unprovable, there is no evidence for it. And its advocates reply that if it existed we should expect to find no evidence. At which point my scientific side comes in and points out that a hypothesis that is unfalsifiable is to be regarded as false. Or in more historical terms, if all evidence against a theory is to be regarded as evidence for a theory, then the theory has become a presupposition, an axiom, and as such has passed from the realm of history to the realm of metaphysics. The conspiracy has become, to all intents and purposes, an article of faith. And that's not a good idea. For it makes those who claim to be sceptics entirely unsceptical of their own conspiracy theory.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Beloved, Let us Love

"Beloved", says the Apostle John, "let us love one another, for love is of God." The Christian is called to love even, one might say especially, his or her enemies (Matthew 5:44). Now that means we pray for them, however unpleasant or persecuting they may be. And note that Jesus says, "Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you." He does not encourage our sinful hearts by saying "Pray against those who spitefully use you..." We need no encouragement to add the imprecatory Psalms to our daily devotions or to pray that our foes may come to a bad end, but we emphatically need encouragement to pray that our foes may cease to be our foes and become our friends.

Now, if we wish to understand what love is, where better to turn than 1 Corinthians 13:

"Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

Note that love involves the opposite of suspicion. Rather than putting the worst possible construction on a person's words where there is an ambiguity, love puts the best possible construction. Love does not lightly make accusations, but shies away from such accusations unless it is forced to think otherwise. Love does not take any but the best arguments as evidence of a person's guilt. Malice should be one of those attitudes that the Christian "puts off", as Paul argues in Colossians 3.

Now, love does not mean being willfully blind to a real fault, for the sinner is to be reclaimed, and to overlook actual sin is not loving, for as long as sin is not confessed there can be no repentance, and to encourage a sinner to remain impenitent is to encourage sin. But no doubtful accusation, no mere argument of words, should be accepted by a Christian against a brother in Christ - or against a complete pagan and a persecutor, for that matter.

Let us be slow to speak in condemnation of another, and swift to examine the accusation carefully. Much harm has been done by those who, however well-meaning, have been too swift to share accusations that are either untrue or undetermined. Brethren, these things ought not to be so.

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God."