Not to be a Suffenus
August 4, 2014
Ne Mihi Suffenus essem - Not to be my own Suffenus
"Duller is he than country dullness' self,
Once he takes pen in hand, yet ne'er so happy
As when he scribbles verse; then is he all
Self-admiration and self-centered bliss."
Because of the internet, and thus the ability to "self-publish", there are a plethora of "Suffenuses" causing all sorts of trouble for the church. John Owen used the term "Suffenus" to describe young theologians who think they know it all. Suffenus was a poet, a tad incompetent, but in no way lacking confidence in his own abilities. Those (overly) pleased with their intellectual powers were, says Owen, called "Suffenuses." These types are blind to their own faults but bitterly attack the faults of others.
Owen, speaking in the seventeenth century, when young men were generally a great deal better educated than young men today, notes how some who have read only a few volumes pretend that they deserve the title, "scholar."
"Such arrogance! Better it would be if such Suffenuses did not also go on to despise those who are truly endowed with the wisdom that they so foolishly boast of having attained to."
Thomas Goodwin makes a similar point:
"It may humble young Christians, that think, when they are first converted, that they have all knowledge, and therefore take upon them to censure men that have been long in Christ; and out of their own experience they will frame opinions, comparing but a few notes together. Alas, ye know but a piece of what you shall know! When you have been in Christ ten or twenty years, then speak; then those opinions which you have now will fall off, and experience will show them to be false."
A basic acquaintance with the blogosphere - I have in mind the "comments" sections - or the world of Twitter - the Protestant version of "ex cathedra" statements - only confirms the warnings made by Owen and Goodwin.
As an MA student and an early PhD student, I had a high estimation of my theological knowledge. However, the more I studied the more I began to realize that I actually know very little. The more I read the less I knew. In fact, God was gracious to me. He gave me friends in certain places and at certain times that, without knowing it, put me firmly in my place. I remember having a beer with a colleague in Dordrecht after a conference and we ended up speaking about his D.Phil dissertation. He is an Italian-speaking young man who learned German so he could write his thesis in German; he speaks perfect English; he also knows and speaks Latin, Hebrew, Greek, and classical Greek. I could give dozens of these types of examples.
We should remember that the seminary is a perfect breeding-ground for Suffenuses. I've lived it; I've seen it.
What's the solution? There are many. But Owen's words have been deeply instructive to me in many ways:
"Wherever fear and caution have not infused the student's heart, God is despised. His pleasure is only to dwell in hearts which tremble at His Word. Light or frivolous perusal of the Scriptures is a sickness of soul which leads on to the death of atheism."
Moreover, according to Owen, it is imperative, for the good of the student, "that he carefully weigh up and monitor what progress he is making: (A) In all of the truth which he is busy digging out of the Word, and (B) In acceptable worship of God. Let the latter be the first and main purpose of all his studies and meditations in the Holy Scriptures...Our studies are useless if they do not teach us about our own standing before God and our Lord Jesus."
Lastly, all of our study should be "preceded, accompanied, and closed by continuous and heart-felt prayer. This is the most effectual means ordained of God for discovering that heavenly wisdom for which we are seeking..."
Seems to me to be some helpful remedies against the Suffenus in us all, and from a man who really was a scholar!
Pastor Mark Jones promises to carefully read all of the comments below on this post, just after he finishes reading more than 3.5 pages on the doctrine of Republication.