The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Suffenus

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‘Thomas Goodwin’ draws our attention to this character.  Suffenus was an exceedingly incompetent poet, eloquent on the subject of other men’s faults and blind to his own.  He was thus a self-flatterer, making a fool of himself by his ill-founded conceit.

John Owen described young theologians who think they know it all as “Suffenuses.”  Owen writes:

It has been the presumption of some, and especially of youths who profess to have dedicated themselves to this study but who have hardly gone further in evangelical studies than the reading of three or four volumes, to behave as if they alone were experts, and to consider that they are deserving of a glorious reputation among the great scholars.  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.[1]

Owen spends a good deal of his time in his Theologoumena warning students of theology of the many dangers pufferfishthat arise from the attainment of knowledge.  I believe it was also Owen who commented of his undergraduates (and I am paraphrasing from memory) that they are doctors in their first years, masters in their second, and students only in their third.  His thrust is how long it takes the young to realise how little they know, and so come to the point at which they are ready to be taught and to learn (not necessarily the same thing!).

Goodwin himself has some pointed things to say to the young and arrogant in Three Sermons on Hebrews 1:1-2[2]:

In Christ are treasures that will hold digging to the end of the world; men would be weary if they had the same light still, therefore God goes on to discover, though the same truth, yet with new and diverse lights.  Thus God reveals himself by piecemeals.

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.  They think themselves as Paul, that nothing can be added unto them; but what says Paul, 1 Cor. 13:11?  “When I was a child,” He takes a comparison from a child, as being a man, but raised up to his spiritual estate, and thou also wilt then “put away childish things.”

If God in former ages did reveal himself but by piecemeal, and if that piecemeal knowledge, which they had by inch and inch, did make them holy; for how holy was Enoch and Abraham that had but one promise; then how much more holy should we be, that have had so full a discovery!  If one promise wrought so much on their hearts, how much more should so many promises on ours!

Paul told all believers not to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think, but to think soberly (Rom 12.3).  It is a sin to which young men are particularly prone.  We ought to spend more time picking up the promises and pondering them than parading and pronouncing upon them.  The best platform for instruction is the credible holiness and spiritual maturity that comes from having been a good and humble learner in Christ’s school.


[1] Theologoumena, Book VI, Ch. 1, p. 1. / Biblical Theology, 591.

[2] Works 5:529-30.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 25 November 2008 at 19:13

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