Sunday, July 8, 2012

Equestrian Hours

How do we spend our waiting time? our travel time? the time between the scheduled times? Do we make good use of each and every precious opportunity to glorify God? John Calvin wrote that "We are not to spend a single minute without considering [God]" (Sermon on Gen. 2.1-6, preached on September 19, 1559, in Sermons on Genesis, p. 127). This is called in God's Word "redeeming the time" (Eph. 5.16).

Writing of Richard Baxter, who famously self-described himself as a "pen in God's hand", I.D.E. Thomas noted how Baxter made such good use of the time he spent traveling on horseback (Puritan Daily Devotional Chronicles):

It is claimed that John Flavel wrote 29 books, John Owen 80 books, and Richard Baxter -- Mr. Puritan himself -- no less than 168 books. Baxter was the most prolific writer of the 17th century. One writer states that his works include over 60 million words! A number of these books were written by Baxter when he was on horseback going to preach in various towns and cities. He used a poor goose quill pen and had installed an inkwell in his saddle.

Methodist Episcopal circuit riders such as Peter Cartwright (1785-1872) and Francis Asbury (1745-1816) and Robert Booth (1820-1917) are all portrayed on equestrian statues reading the Bible. Abraham Lincoln is portrayed on an equestrian statue reading his law books.

Robert Estienne (1503-1509), the most famous French Huguenot printer of the Genevan Reformation, following in the footsteps of Stephen Langton (c. 1150-1228), Hugh of Saint-Cher (c. 1200-1263), and Santes Pagnino (1470-1541), was the first to divide the Greek New Testament into standard numbered verses (7959), which he did while traveling on horseback between Paris and Lyons.

"Diary of [Isaac] Casaubon," The London Quarterly Review (July-Oct. 1853), Vol. 83, p. 249:

[Henri Estienne (1528/1531-1598)]  travelled, as was customary before the days of passable roads, on horseback, but on a high-spirited and mettlesome Arab, and not on the spavined hacks of the post-houses. These seasons -- for his teeming imagination could not be idle -- were claimed by his muse. An epigram, or a prologue, or a soliloquy, was composed and written down, without drawing rein.* Like the author of Marmion [Sir Walter Scott], his poetical excitement required a gallop. He talks as much of his horses as Scully, and has sung the praises of one which he bought at the fair of Francfort [sic]; and bewailed in elegaics the way in which he was jockeyed in a deal at Zurzach [sic]. His equestrian feats intrude themselves into his gravest dissertations, and he will break out in the middle of a preface to Apollonius Rhodius into an anecdote of how he once leaped a toll-gate on the high-road near Francfort.

* His father before him is supposed to have improved these equestrian hours. It was Robert Estienne that divided the New Testament into verses, and his son Henri tells us that was effected during a journey from Lyons to Paris, inter equitandum. The phrase has been commonly supposed to signify that he performed the task upon horseback, but Michaelis thought it might only mean that he did it between the stages while taking his ease at his inn. The first and literal interpretation is doubtless correct. John Wesley read hundreds of volumes as he ambled upon his nag from one preaching station to another, and, however difficult it might have been to pencil figures upon the margin of the Testament when mounted upon the fiery Arab of Henri, it might easily have been accomplished upon the hack of Robert, which was probably as steady as his desk.

With apologies to Dr. Seuss -- whether on a horse, on a boat, in a car, on a train, or on a plane, if we have hours to spend, let us remember man's chief end: to glorify God. Therefore, let us follow the example of others who have spent them well.


  1. Very interesting and challenging. Thanks for this post...Ginny

  2. Ditto to Ginny's comment and truly amazing as well.
    "He used a poor goose quill pen and had installed an inkwell in his saddle." What commitment! I do write at times in the car but not anything of great import, certainly not anything others could decipher!