Monday, September 15, 2014

The Humble Theologian

On April 15, 1675, Herman Witsius (having recently been offered both the positions of a professorship of theology and a local pastorate in Franeker, Holland) was awarded the degree of Doctor in Divinity at the University of Franeker, which is the second oldest university in the Netherlands (after Leiden University). It was on this occasion that he gave an Inaugural Address, which has since been published under the title “On the Character of a True Theologian.” It is considered one of the most eloquent and Biblical descriptions of true theology and true theologians. I encourage all – layman, church officers, and students alike – to “tolle lege, take up and read.” What strikes me particularly, however, is the humility of the speaker, which to me speaks volumes about what it means to be a true man of God.

Thus, my hearers, I have delineated a true theologian. How little I resemble, how very far I differ from such a one, no one knows better than myself. What groans, what tears, should not the consciousness of my ignorance, sloth, and deficiencies of every kind cause to flow forth while I reiterate on what I have declared!...I tremble and throb with emotion as often as I reflect on the nature and extent of those duties which God now requires at my hand and which you have called me to undertake. Yet ought I to lose courage on these accounts? Or should I lower the exact standard of duty that it may the less strongly condemn my deviations? This, God will never allow. I had rather, in truth, my hearers, that you should all detect how little I am what I ought to be, nay, how absolutely unqualified I am – I had rather blush a hundred times a day for my failures than that I should, by proposing an imperfect standard, displease others less and lay an unction to my own soul as foolish as flattering. (“On the Character of a True Theologian” [1994 ed.], pp. 47-48)

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