Praying with our Ancestors: A Prayer for Truth

ACU Library hosts a weekly chapel for our students, student workers, faculty and staff. I was asked to pray in last week’s assembly. I chose to draw from the well of our history rather than bring a word of spontaneous prayer. I reflected on what we are trying to do in the library, not just the tasks we perform, but a core reason for our existence at the heart of the university’s life and mission. I reflected on what we are trying to accomplish in a weekly gathering of students and faculty. I reflected on why we collect and steward information resources in our spaces, why and how our community uses these resources, and to what ends. I then spent some time with J. H. Garrison.

As is the case with most of my friends, Garrison has been dead a good long while. But while he was among the living he contributed mightily to the devotional spirit of the Stone-Campbell movement. Arguably his Alone With God is the classic work on the inner devotional life.  He wasn’t the only one who tried to develop this sense among us, and you’ll have to gauge for yourself whether he even did it well, but every time I read him I’m better for it.

My reflections about the nature of our work in our space converged with Garrison’s prayer for truth.

Living as we do in a world charmed by lies, half-truths, near-truths, and spin, I think it wise to pause for a moment and pray for truth.  Living as we do in a context rife with passive-aggression, innuendo, rhetorical slight of hand, I think it wise to pause and pray and seek truth.  Living and working in a community of scholars, nearly every last thing we do is a search for truth: we research, we investigate, we experiment, we hypothesize, we inquire, we discover, we assess, we interpret.  It is good for us along this way to gather and pray for truth.

James Harvey Garrison’s ‘Prayer for Truth’* in Alone With God** (St. Louis: Christian Publishing Company, 1891), 151:

O God, the God of truth, mercifully grant that the Holy Spirit of Truth may rule our hearts, grafting therein love of truth, and making us in all our thoughts and words and works, to study, speak, and follow truth, that we may be sincere before all people, and blameless before Thee.  May no unworthy prejudice or sectarian pride prevent us from accepting whatever bears the divine impress of Thy truth.  May we love the truth, know the truth, and be made free by the truth; for His sake who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and in whom is no guile, even Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen!

*I adapted Garrison’s pronouns.  I changed them from singular to plural and where he prayed to be ‘blameless before men’, I prayed ‘blameless before all people.’

**Read the first edition here or purchase a new edition here.

This post is co-published at Charis, an online space for conversations of and about Churches of Christ.

Lean on virtue’s side: An early-morning reflection on Alexander Campbell

Good morning, an early morning reflection…

The quote above is from pages 440-441 of Silena Huntington Campbell’s book Home Life and Reminiscences of Alexander Campbell. She is reflecting on her husband’s (Alexander Campbell) personality and disposition and she has some rather wonderful things to say.  Look at him…consistent, calm, just.  She paints a flattering portrait.

At the same time, (irony or ironies) Alexander no doubt was correct and just in his estimation of her….that she could not see his faults.  I doubt he was always just and he wasn’t always consistent…he wasn’t, you aren’t and I’m not.  But her statement is significant nonetheless.

Hagiographical as it may be…no doubt he failed in life to live up to her memories of him…her description of him is a fine starting place for anyone interested in civil, respectful and charitable discourse.  If his own wife is to be trusted, Alexander Campbell is a worthy model of a Christian who valued consistency and the integration in his own daily life the truth of what he said he believed with what he actually did.

I hope your day is characterized by fairness and justice, consistency and integrity, and if it isn’t I hope your conduct will mirror the best of what Alexander Campbell tried to do and be and that in so doing you will bring these values to the injustice, irrationality, inconsistency and bankruptcy of your situation.

The Sayings of the Fathers on reading Scripture

The nature of water is soft, that of a rock is hard. But if a narrow-necked bottle is hung above a stone, drop by drop the water wears away the rock. So it is with the word of God: it is soft and our heart is hard. But when a person hears the word of God, often then his heart is opened to the fear of God.

The Apophthegmata Patrum (the Sayings of the Fathers) is a collection of proverbs and quotes from 4th-5th c. monks.   This quote is from Everett Ferguson, Inheriting Wisdom, Readings for Today from Ancient Christian Writers. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004, page 229.

Gregory the Great on reading Scripture

Holy Scripture is presented to the mind’s eye as a kind of mirror so that our inner appearance can be seen in it. In this mirror we recognize both the ugliness and the beauty of our soul. We can tell what progress we are making, or see our utter lack of progress…The virtues of people in the Bible may support our hope, and their faults may clothe us with the protection of humility. The former, through the joy they cause, give our spirits wings; the latter, by causing fear, put a check on our actions. By listening to Scripture the soul learns both the confidence of hope and the humility of fear.

Gregory, a moral theologian, was Bishop of Rome from 590-604. This quote is from Everett Ferguson, Inheriting Wisdom, Readings for Today from Ancient Christian Writers. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004, page 229.

Basil of Caesarea on reading Scripture

The best way to discover our duty is to study the divinely inspired Scriptures, for in them we find both instructions about conduct and the lives of blessed men, delivered in writing. They are laid before us like having images of the godly life for the imitation of their good works. When we devote ourselves to the imitation of what is offered there, we find the appropriate medicine for whatever deficiency or illness we feel we have, as from a pharmacy.

Basil was Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia from 370-379. This quote is from Everett Ferguson, Inheriting Wisdom, Readings for Today from Ancient Christian Writers. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004, pages 228-229.

Origen on reading Scripture

You then, my true son, give primary attention to reading the divine Scriptures. Be attentive: for we must be attentive when reading the things of God, so that we not say or think anything too reckless about them…Being attentive to divine reading, seek correctly and with unwavering faith in God the meaning of the divine Scriptures that is hidden to the many. Never cease knocking and seeking, for prayer is indispensable in understanding divine things.

Origen was a teacher and writer in Alexandria, Egypt ca. 185-250. This quote is from Everett Ferguson, Inheriting Wisdom, Readings for Today from Ancient Christian Writers. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004, page 228.

Theonas on reading Scripture

Let no day pass by without reading–at a suitable time–some portion of the sacred lessons, allowing time for meditation.  And never cast off the practice of reading the sacred Scriptures; for nothing feeds the soul and enriches the mind as much as those sacred lessons do.

Theonas was Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt ca. 281-300.  This quote is from Everett Ferguson, Inheriting Wisdom, Readings for Today from Ancient Christian Writers. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004, page 228.

The trouble is unnecessary

Yesterday I quoted some from E. L. Jorgenson’s comments in the January 1934 Word and Work.  Today I quote, without comment, from his “Publisher’s Page” in the December 1934 issue of that paper:

In the midst of bitter provocation and great temptation we have again sought to keep the paper clean of personalities and fit to hand to a neighbor.  Had we the Super-human power to read always and unerringly the inward hearts and motives of men we might at times debate and cut and slash and call names, condemn and judge; but in our limited, humble, human state we see no good, but only harm, to come from such a course.  It seems to use more needful that we study anew the way of true unity in Ephesians 4:1-3: lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, forbearance and love!  And that, too long content with the husks of mere controversial religion, we set ourselves to seek sincerely after that spiritual personal Christianity which is revealed in the New Testament.

If any may be tempted to point out our own frequent and evident failures on this line, the trouble is unnecessary: we know it and confess it.  And we ask for prayer that we may yet attain, and that editor and publisher may be granted all needed grace and wisdom.–E. L. J.

When others so speak

It is not at all easy to hear unkind words from your critics, or to hear unkind things said of those you know or love.  What should you do in such situations?  I hesitate to offer any easy, pat answer.  I have no such advice, and confess my suspicion of those who advise in such a way.

However, I offer to you the closing words of E. L. Jorgenson’s “Publisher’s Paragraphs” from the January 1934 Word and Work:

…while reserving the right to deal with error, we would not want to fall into the awful (though common) mistake of negative, critical, destructive teaching as our main stock in trade.  This is an error into which those fall, almost unconsciously, who have no real constructive message from their own study–in order that they may still have somewhat to say.  May the Lord deliver us from such a style; and from all unkindness of spirit toward all.

As to any personal reflections and aspersions directed our way, such scribes are to us, in this character, as if they did not exist.  The editor of W. & W. [R. H. Boll, MIce] rarely reads their fulminations.  His message could well be: “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.” (Neh 6:3.)  If some have taken advantage of our policy of silence on these lines, we nourish no bitterness: in a very little while they shall answer to God.  Meanwhile, and for this new year–

“Let us pray that grace may everywhere abound, … And a Christlike spirit everywhere be found.” Amen.  E. L. J.

Were we to follow Bro. Jorgenson’s course, we would first of all search our own hearts: do we have something constructive to say?  Is our spirit unkind?  Do we nourish bitterness?

The temptation to return fire is strong, but is it Christlike?  Even when we may rightfully speak truth, do we do it defensively?  With anger?  Spitefully?

Indeed, friends, we will encounter all manner of uncouth and unkind characters, from every quarter, but as we go about our lives, privilege the soft voice of Christ amid the din of competing self-interested voices.  May we be slow to speak, slow to be angry, and when we speak–even when we are offended–let our speech be seasoned with salt, and grace, and peace.

As bro. Jorgenson indicates, R. H. Boll was too busy with what he considered a vital and constructive work to pay any attention to a noisy detractor.  So, the second question we could ask ourselves is How busy are we with kingdom business? The need remains great; in the face of the deep need about us will we allow ourselves to be distracted by some crass remark?  Will we be so easily deterred from the mission of the kingdom?

If he ever needs me, I’m sure I’ll be too willing to assist, but God has not sought my opinion or judgment.  He has reserved judgment for himself; I cannot allow myself to be consumed by presuming prerogatives which are not mine.  He has given me a mission focused on his kingdom.  E.L.J. pursues mission and leaves judgment to God.

I find bro. Boll and bro. Jorgenson so very helpful.  I never read WW without receiving a blessing.  I hope you have as well.  The quote above is from E. L. J. “Publisher’s Paragraphs”, Word and Work, January 1934, 1-2.

Between “God’s Unspeakable Gift” and “Still the War Goes On”


The December 20, 1917 issue of the Christian-Evangelist, a prominent Disciples national weekly, was the annual Christmas number.  Through numerous articles, editorials, short stories, artwork and poetry centered on Christmas, the journal sent its well-wishes to her readers for the season.  Included are numerous quotes and reminders about the true meaning of Christmas.  Virginia’s famous letter even makes an appearance.

Among the many interesting items in the issue are two articles which merit special attention. Coming from the pens of two widely regarded ministers, J. H. Garrison and Edgar DeWitt Jones, they speak a word to us this Christmas season.  Just as a single page separates them in the journal, the issues to which they speak are equally close in our lives today. 

Jones’ Christmas meditation is from 2 Corinthians 9:15: “Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.”  There Paul roots the grace of giving in the prior grace of God.  We give because God has first given to us and his gift is grace upon grace.  Indeed, God’s gift is so marvelous, so wonderful, so gracious, that words fail to capture it or fully describe it.  God’s gift to us in Jesus, Jones says, is “the unutterably great boon of the heavenly Father to his children.” He concludes, “Hang the wreaths, twine the mistletoe, light the candles, give the gifts; but above all and best of all, remember Bethlehem and God’s Gift in that manger-cradle.”

Turn the page and you will see “The Editor’s Easy Chair”, a weekly column contributed by the journal’s Editor-Emeritus, J. H. Garrison.  Among the short notices in his columns are a few paragraphs, one of which opens with “Still the war goes on.  Armies advance and retreat.  Charge is met by countercharge, and the death list grows rapidly.”  Garrison further states that “the putting away of all hindrances to union so that the church may present a united front to its enemies, and the incarnation in our daily lives of the principles which Jesus Christ teaches as essential to the well-being of mankind is so difficult that nothing but a united church working in close cooperation with God can ever accomplish it.”

Jones and Garrison found themselves in the thin space between God’s unspeakable gift and still the war goes on.  In that thin space they called upon the church to embody the life of Christ in their lives.  In the face of war they called upon the church to make known to the world the Prince of Peace.  In the face of alienation and hostility they yet call upon us to make real the truth of Christmas: that God has come near…that God is with us.

This Christmas season we find ourselves in similar thin spaces.  Pressed between the gospel and the situation of our climate, our cities, our international situation, what are we to do?  Given the good news of God in Christ on the one hand, and the world in which find ourselves on the other, where do we go from here?  Two saints from our past have left us a word we should hear.  We know what we are to do and we know the values and truths we are to embody to our world.


McGarvey Ice

Director of Public Services

Disciples of Christ Historical Society

Nashville, TN


This came out Wednesday from Disciples News Service as the latest installment of our Moments in Disciples History Series.  For a short piece I did on Jacob Kenoly, click here. To sign up for DNS emails, click hereI have also added this essay to my Written Word page.