Archives for 11.8.06

on the place of wit

I mentioned earlier that I recently finished reading the book The King James Bible Translators by Olga S. Opfell. The book is an excellent source for brief sketches of most of the translators.

One of them, Sir Henry Savile, was a member of the Second Oxford Company, responsible for the translation of Matthew-Acts and Revelation. He held two positions when the translation work was done, warden of Merton College and provost of Eton. He was a strong disciplinarian and from Opfell’s description sounds like an agressive, ambitious leader. In Opfell’s account of him, this little gem falls from his mouth as an evidence of his philosophy:

Like the students at Merton, the Etonians were subject to Savile’s strict discipline. Once when somebody recommended a young scholar as a good wit, Savile retorted, “Out upon him … give me the plodding student. If I would look for wits, I would go to the prison [Newgate]; there be the wits.” p. 79

There is a good deal of wisdom in that statement. We live in the age of the cheap laugh. Low comedy fills the television hours, coarse and profane humour is proffered by the great wit of the job site, laughter and scorn is on the lips of the indolent youths hanging out at our local coffee house. The sober-minded and serious are hard to find.

Now I would not advocate that the Christian leader be humourless. Good humour can relax tense situations, if deftly used. Good humour makes the parson seem somewhat human. But humour and wit is in plentiful supply these days. Better that we be known for love of God and thoughtful spiritual leadership than for our wit.

I recall talking to some of our then teens about their favorite camp speaker over the years. They liked the ones who were funny best. The preachers who seriously exposed the word made little impression, but the clowns were liked. And the lives of these teens reflected what their hearts delighted in.

Let us be known rather for our witness than for our wit.

Proverbs 10:23 It is as sport to a fool to do mischief: but a man of understanding hath wisdom.

Proverbs 26:18 As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death, 19 So is the man that deceiveth his neighbour, and saith, Am not I in sport?

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3