ROTHERHAM'S REMINISCENCES - CHAPTER 11
CHAPTER 11. - ACTIVITIES OF THE CLOSING YEARS 1902-1910. AGE 74-82.
Intercourse and Correspondence with Dr. Campbell Morgan - Visit to Wigan - Preparation of "Studies in the Psalms" - Correspondence with Dr. Thirtle - Unpublished Writings and Last printed work - Last Days.
The intercourse and correspondence with Dr. Campbell Morgan gave added zest and brightness to the concluding years of my father's life. Dr. Morgan found in the Translator of the Emphasised Bible a fellow-student after his own heart, and the Bible School lectures provided my father with a constant source of enjoyment and stimulus in his work. Whatever portion of the Scriptures happened to be under review at the Bible School claimed his attention and led to fresh discoveries.
The following copy of a postcard received by the present writer may be regarded as typical of many other like communications:-
"Ephesians read through last eve, with running questions to my small circle, in one hour. E.N.T. (Emphasised New Testament) remarkably helpful for catching up recurrences -as 'heavenlies,' 'ages,' 'administration,' etc. Marvellous composition! breathless epistle! and written in prison, too! How the wonder grows! And Paul seen not as revealer only, but as administrator of 'sacred secret' of this interposed dispensation. I more and more feel what a help to connected study these Black-Board Lectures are" (Cp. Intro. to E.B., chap. 1, p. 5, for chap. 3. of Ephesians). - J.B.R.
The correspondence with Dr. Morgan generally had to do with the attempted elucidation of some exceptionally difficult passage. Advanced students in the higher grade of Biblical studies will appreciate the mental wrestling which found expression in the following letter. (The communication from Dr. Morgan to which the letter is a reply is not now available).
May 24th, 1905.
Dear Dr. Morgan,-
It is a great encouragement as well as pleasure to perceive that our mutual faith bids fair to yield mutual profit. But
if I do not keep wide awake, you will outstrip me on my own path.
Saving one word, I am in perfect agreement with the sketch you enclose - content and delighted. My only doubt touches line 2. Either the order should be changed into Resurrection and Descent into Hades, or else "descent into" should be altered into "ascent out of." Very possibly I have missed my way just a little at this point.
If I am right, however, that "made alive in spirit" in 1 Peter 3:18 actually means and expresses resurrection, then clearly it was as the risen One that our Lord went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison; and then it might even be doubted whether His spirit - entrusted as we know it was into His Father's hands - was even for a moment "abandoned to Hades." In that case, it would be true to say that Jesus never entered Hades until He entered it in triumph; and so proclaimed to others that He Himself had already obtained. Or, if the grave be conceived to be "Hades' mouth," then He that had the dominion of death got the body of Jesus, only, as far as just inside the portals of the underworld, and then failed; to be confronted in three days, or soon after, by his Conqueror, robed in a Body immortal and to him terrible.
Is this too instant and complete a triumph to think of? Or ought we to allow that the unclothed spirit of the dead Jesus was permitted to enter the underworld, like the spirits of all who predeceased Him? If so, then it would be incongruous because premature to treat such "descent" as any part of the "justification" of 1 Tim. 3:16, line 2. Starting at this point, then, if there was any act of quickening preliminary to that of rising or being re-clothed, your comment on line 2 ought to run, "Quickening in and rising out of Hades." Or, if the triumph consisted rather of the one act of raising from the dead, your rider could stand simply thus, "Ascent out of Hades by Resurrection."
I feel very teachable here, apprehending that our sidelights are few and feeble. Have you a searchlight to turn on this point? In any case, our difference, if any, is infinitesimal. The main utterance itself is clear and grand, both to your eyes and to mine. - Yours ever,
In "Reminiscences" my father says:- "It is very pleasant to me to avow that the impulse to make an attempt on the Psalms was lately received at Westminster Bible School, so ably conducted by Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, as also was the earlier resolve to commence the 'Studies in the Epistle to the Hebrews,' to which reference has already been made. Those who have several times attended this school, and come under the spell of Dr. Morgan's remarkable combination of gifts for popularising Bible study, will not need to be told of the inspiration afforded thereby to all grades of students in the Divine Word. The weekly attendance of nearly two thousand earnest Bible readers, and the perception of the difficult and daring things successfully attempted in communicating lessons commonly restricted to the initiated, are enough to open the eyes of experts themselves to hitherto undreamt of possibilities in the direction of making the Bible a joy to the common people. I could never have anticipated, during the quiet years of bygone labour on the Holy Scriptures, being spared to enjoy the profound satisfaction of hearing lectures so greatly to my mind and so manifestly potent for good as these lectures on the Divine Library by Dr. Morgan."
At the meeting of the Westminster Bible School on Friday, January 14th, 1910, Dr. Morgan said: "I have received a letter from Mr. J. George Rotherham telling me of the passing of his father. My friends will remember that I have made many references during my five years' work in this Bible School to 'The Emphasised Bible' (Mr. Joseph Bryant Rotherham's translation and arrangement); and I shall always count it as one of my most cherished and valued memories that Mr. Rotherham was a member of this Bible School, not that he needed instruction or help, but that he loved the Word, and was sympathetic with my work. For three or four years I hardly ever missed him on Friday night, and the news comes to me to-day that he has entered into rest.
"Those of us who are devoting our lives as far as we are able to the exposition of the Word of God are conscious of a very great loss, humanly speaking, in the passing of our friend. He was a man to whom I always wrote in the presence of any difficulty of interpretation or exegesis, and never without receiving scholarly and spiritual help.
"I only mention it here because I believe that this Bible School would like that I should; in your name, write to his son, and express our feeling of sympathy with the children who are bereft, and yet are conscious of the glorious triumph of the home-going of such a man. I shall not ask for any expression of opinion. I am perfectly sure I know the school well enough to be able to voice the feeling of your heart in sympathy with his children, and in thankfulness upon every remembrance of him."
In view of the publication of "Reminiscences," it seemed good to the present writer to send to Dr. Morgan proof-sheets of the earlier portion of the work. In acknowledging the receipt of these precursors Dr. Morgan has very kindly sent an appreciation, which will be read with interest by all who know anything of his far-reaching activities in the ministry of the Word. He says:-
JOSEPH BRYANT ROTHERHAM.
In all my public ministry I have had the habit of looking into the faces of my audiences. I talk to people rather than before them. This has meant that I see individual faces, and rarely forget them, even though after introduction I constantly forget names. This being so, necessarily some faces attract me specially. When, in the fall of 1904, I began my Friday night Bible School in London, I soon noticed a face which attracted me, and from the first helped me. It was the face of an old man, in which all the enthusiasm of youth seemed shining. Week after week I saw it before me, keen, appreciative, sympathetic. I learned to look for it, and to feel that the man was helping me in my work by his delight in the Word of God. It was evident that this was no novice hearing things for the first time; but rather one familiar with all I could say, because familiar with those Holy Writings which I was seeking to interpret. Then, through a letter received from him, I discovered that my helpful hearer was Joseph Bryant Rotherham, the Translator of the Emphasised Bible, which I already possessed and highly valued. This to me was a great surprise, and a greater joy. He continued to attend, and there sprang up a very close and warm friendship between us. I had very few opportunities of personal conversation with him. Those I did have endeared him to me, for here
I found a man of very profound Biblical scholarship, and yet with the simplicity of a little child in his desire still to learn, and his delight in any new light breaking forth from the beloved literature, through the interpretation of one much younger than himself, and of less knowledge of it. Although the personal friendship was thus limited, it was maintained in correspondence every now and then about the work of interpretation, so dear to the hearts of both of us. His interpretation of the Tetragrammaton had brought great satisfaction to me before I met him; and on this we had further correspondence, which more than ever confirmed my conviction of the accuracy of his interpretation of the Yahweh title as adequately conveyed in the phrase, "The Becoming One." It was in some ways a strangely limited friendship, but it was very real, and to me very precious. I count it as among my most cherished memories that for a time he attended my Bible School, and greatly enriched my own work by his fellowship. As I have said, he was a great scholar; his interpretative understanding of the Hebrew language was very wonderful; and yet he had all the natural and genuine simplicity of a little child, and the high and heroic enthusiasm of youth for high adventure - always qualified and safeguarded by splendid poise and sanity. Until the day dawn, and the shadows flee away, I shall thank God for those few years of friendship, and then - ah! then, I think we will begin to look into these things of the God-breathed writings all over again.
In 1908 my father visited Wigan. The occasion was the Jubilee of the Church meeting in Rodney Street, and the visitor was the guest of Mr. James Marsden. At one of the special gatherings of the week my father delivered a lecture on "The Authority of the Bible." The subject was dealt with under three headings: -(1) The Diversity of the Contents of the Bible; (2) Its Unity in Diversity; and (3.) Its Authority as thus Explained and Commended. The lecturer's treatment of his subject was regarded as very fresh and interesting, and the lecture was printed in pamphlet form and widely circulated.
STUDIES IN THE PSALMS.
Amongst my father's literary productions his "Studies in the Psalms" ranks as next in importance to his "Emphasised
Bible," and from the present writer's "Introduction" to this work a few extracts may be permitted with regard to the author's method of work.
When the author of these Studies was celebrating his eightieth birthday, about half of his work on the Psalms had yet to be written, but the work was being carried forward with vim and enthusiasm, and the present tightly-packed volume of six hundred pages bears witness to the successful completion of the enterprise.
By a happy combination of circumstances the translator of the "Emphasised Bible" had opportunity at the close of a strenuous life to garner the results of long years of study on the Divine Word. With memory undimmed, and mental faculties alert, it was possible to utilise to the full all past experiences, and students of these Psalm Studies who are also familiar with the author's other works will readily perceive those qualities and features that give individuality to his writings and provide for them a special place amongst the books deemed by earnest Bible students most helpful. The work on the "Emphasised Bible" extended over long years, being done, for the most part, at the ends of laborious days devoted of necessity to other pursuits; but when these Studies were in preparation nothing stood in the way of continuous application to the work. The author's love of continuity, and his power of concentration on the work immediately on hand, these were amongst the open secrets of his success as a scholar and writer. When the "Emphasised Bible" was in progress he lived for the time being in the portion of Scripture that was immediately engaging his attention, and when, for example, translating the Book of Job, his brethren knew by his spoken addresses and conversation that he was in that book, and nowhere else, until the centre of interest had again shifted.
A man of regular and methodical habits, he greatly enjoyed during these later years of retirement his daily walks in the pleasant suburb of London in which he had his home. On the outward journey of these daily rambles his custom was to enjoy to the full the beauties of nature; he would inquire the names of roses and other flowers the form and fragrance of which specially pleased him; but on the return journey,
scarcely conscious that he was walking, his habit was to wrestle with knotty points in his Biblical work, and these meditative walks often yielded fresh light in solving difficult problems of translation or exegesis.
He usually carried about with him when visiting friends (in a leather wallet that fitted the pocket) a few sections of his manuscript, and he took pleasure in reading what he had written to any sympathetic listener. In such a work as the Psalms the poetry of the book was, of course, always in evidence, and the finely-trained ear of the musician was constantly required when dealing with matters chiefly rhythmical.
It should be remembered that effective translation work can never be reduced to the merely mechanical process of changing words from one language to another. Accuracy should always have the first place in the intention of the translator, and Dr.
Bonar is right when he begins his hymn on the divine order with the words:
"'Tis first the true and then the beautiful,
Not first the beautiful and then the true."
But it is when there is a balance of evidence; and a choice of words and phrases has to be made, that room is found for taste and judgment, the object being to secure the felicitous rendering that shall be both true and beautiful.
Amongst his recreative reading while the Psalms Studies were in progress my father included "Fanny Crosby's Memories of Eighty Years." The blind poet, in the course of an interesting chapter describing her methods of work, says:-
"In composing hymn-poems there are several ways of working. Often subjects are given to me to which melodies must be adapted. At other times the melody is placed for me, and I think of various subjects appropriate to the music."
A postcard from the author of the Psalm Studies received by the present writer at this time says:-
"Extract from F. Crosby more valuable than at first appears. It comes to this: a tune may give birth to a song; and, on the other hand, a song may give birth to a tune. When translated into Old Testament language - a
harp may give birth to a psalm, and a psalm may suggest a tune for a harp to play. As I never use the noun 'harp' only the verb 'to harp' at a pinch - the revised terms will stand thus: a lyre may give birth to a lyric; or a lyric may suggest and call for a lyre, and, so to speak, inspire the lyre what to do for the lyric. Is this clear and sound? - J.B.R."
The author of these Psalm Studies liked to test his work while it was in progress, and to his innermost circle of fellow-students he would submit alternative renderings, discuss shades of difference in the meaning of words, explain the reasons for his own preferences, read his proposed expositions, and invite questions and criticism thereon. Counsel's opinion being given, he would promise re-consideration; sometimes what he had written remained unaltered, but not infrequently considerable portions were re-written as the result of these informal conferences with those whose opinions he valued.
The present writer, standing in nearer relationship to the author than others, was able to present points of view and urge certain considerations which it pleases him now to think have increased the usefulness of the book. At an early stage of its preparation its author came into possession of Professor Briggs' newly-issued work on the Psalms. Nearly every page of this book is studded with Hebrew words and abstruse signs, and the book, while no doubt very valuable for the advanced scholar, is obviously beyond the capacity of the average Bible student. Fearing lest the influence of this work should lead to the making of his own too critical to be appreciated by ordinary readers, it was .strongly urged upon the author of these Studies that the rights of the unlearned should not be overlooked, and, happily, the exhortations in this direction had the desired effect.
When the book was issued, its author having in the meantime entered into rest, there came to the present writer, amongst many appreciative letters, one from which an extract may be given. A lady correspondent says:-
"I was delighted to receive 'Studies in the Psalms,' for I have been afraid that, as I am old, the book might come out too late for me to use it. It is beautifully got up, the type is very clear, and the whole style thoroughly good.
All this has to do with the setting of the treasure; but what can be said of that which it enshrines? I read the twenty-third Psalm yesterday, and thought there was a special sweetness in the exposition, the last sentence of which touched me deeply; to be 'at home' is what I long for ... I only wish your dear father could have had the joy of seeing his work so established."
The correspondence between the author of these Studies and Dr. Thirtle was voluminous and very interesting, at least to those who can follow pioneers as they make their way along unbeaten tracks, leaving behind them not very well-defined bypaths which may or may not afterwards be converted into thoroughfares in days to come. A long letter to Dr. Thirtle dealing with critical matters begins thus:-
"I have been waiting quite patiently for your promised letter, and now have to thank you for it very heartily. Be assured I shall value it greatly, and return to it again and again as I re-peruse your new book ('Old Testament Problems') and study particular Psalms, so as to appropriate each of your suggestions according to your intention. The book itself (which to me will be Th. P.) was received just a fortnight ago, and was at once read, re-read, and studied for about ten days - morning, noon, and night, sometimes a wakeful night hour being given in."
The letter concludes:-
"My purpose is now at once, after comparing your letter with the pages, etc., named, to resume my actual work on the Psalms; with the advantage of the new sidelights you have been the means of reflecting. I devoutly thank God for raising you up to do this great work, and shall be profoundly interested in the further inquiries you mention."
In these "Studies" the expositions vary as much as the Psalms themselves. At one stage of his work the author was wont to ask his friends, "Which are your favourite Psalms?" but when all favourite Psalms had received recognition, a considerable number remained unaccounted for, except by the supposition that their inherent difficulty baffled the ordinary reader.
His plan, therefore, was to touch lightly the Psalms on which little help was required, and treat at greater length
those containing special difficulties. His method was to isolate each Psalm in succession, and, after writing it out, if it contained some things "hard to be understood," he would practically live with it until light came. Sometimes weeks would be spent over a single Psalm, while at other times the work moved forward with rapidity. He possessed, even in old age, the open mind in very marked degree, and he was always delighting himself by his new discoveries in Divine truth. His conclusions were expressed with just the varying degree of certainty which they assumed in his own mind.
On some subjects dealt with in the Psalms he had simply to re-express in another form the results of years of previous study, and state again, as the new occasion seemed to require, settled convictions which gave him permanent satisfaction.
As an author he always abjured merely fine writing, desiring only to express his thoughts in clear and lucid form. But the Psalms afford scope for a great variety of treatment, and students of this book will soon come across glowing sentences prompted by the author's enthusiasm over the matter in hand and a sort of restrained eloquence which make many passages delightful reading, and indirectly illustrate what can be done with our mother tongue by a practised hand.
With regard to the printing and publishing of the work a few words will suffice. The translator of the "Emphasised Bible" had the satisfaction of knowing that this work, on which so many years of labour were expended, had gone into nearly all parts of the world, and was greatly valued by Bible students. He had not, however, the additional satisfaction of seeing his much-loved "Psalm Studies" in print.
His work on the book as translator and author had indeed been completed for some time before he passed away, and the pile of manuscript, amounting to about eighteen hundred closely-written quarto pages, handed over to the care of the present writer, but the difficulties in the way of immediate publication were not easily overcome, and before light came on the publishing problem the author of the work had entered into rest.
To other problems were thus added some serious misgivings as to the possibility of successfully passing through the press
a work of this magnitude without the personal supervision of its author, and a further period of doubt and hesitation followed.
The present writer was well aware how ardently the author desired that the work should be published, and at length, encouraged by the kindly promise of Dr. Thirtle to examine the Hebrew words to be found here and there in the work, the decision to proceed was made, and an undertaking requiring both faith and works was definitely embarked upon.
Happily, the author's handwriting was exceptionally clear, and, of course, familiar to the proof-reader, and in the course of six months the printing was accomplished, and a work which makes quite unusual demands on typographical resources and skill was brought through the press without a single serious misprint - a result which, of course, printers and proof-readers regard with pardonable satisfaction.
During the last year or so of my father's life he prospected a "Series of Short Tracts," and amongst his unpublished work there remains the completed "copy" for three tracts on "Christian Unity" and several under the general heading of " The Gospel of the Risen Jesus."
For advanced Bible students the most remarkable of the unpublished papers is one entitled "Spirits Safe - Souls Saved" - an exposition of 1 Peter 3:17, 4:6. In the opinion of the present writer - an opinion shared by others who have read the MSS. - this exposition is not simply a somewhat daring excursion into a comparatively unexplored region of biblical investigation. It is more than that, inasmuch as it opens up avenues of thought concerning the great problem of the unevangelised nations, and all who have never had a fair chance to hear the Gospel tidings.
THE LAST PRINTED WORK.
In the "Foreword" to the small booklet entitled "Let us keep the Feast," being plain chapters on the Lord's Supper, the following passage occurs:-
"It may add to the interest of the readers of these chapters to know that the are the last written words of the earnest Bible student whose name they bear. During the last few months of his life the writer of these chapters
much enjoyed a short period of unusual leisure, his work on 'Psalms' being finished, and the pile of MS. duly handed over to the care of another. About this time a friend lent him two large volumes, containing a summary of the teaching regarding the Lord's Supper from the first century to our own times. This he twice read through, and also a suggestive work by Bishop Gore on the same subject. Stimulated by, but by no means satisfied with such reading, it was very natural that the life-long Bible student should turn again with renewed zest to the fountain-head of truth, and that he should form his own conclusions as the result of this further study and meditation on the teaching of Scripture. Then followed a series of discourses delivered on Lord's Day mornings with much fervour and evident enjoyment of the theme, and once again, by desire, the pen was taken in hand to condense into permanent form the substance of the spoken addresses. The sympathetic reader will rightly regard these short chapters as containing the mature conclusions of a man who succeeded in getting ever and anon into close touch with things unseen, and one who was able to give others glimpses of the things he saw from the mountain-top. Direct, searching, practical, it is hoped that these last words of an aged scribe and seer will aid some fellow disciple 'to come into appropriating touch with his heavenly Lord.'"
On the 19th December, 1909, Mr. Rotherham addressed the Church meeting at Laurie Hall, New Cross, London in the morning, and in the evening of the same day he acted as substitute for a brother unable to be present. Both addresses were delivered with quite undiminished mental vigour, and were greatly appreciated. The evening discourse was marked not only with the usual lucidness of expression, but also by the quiet, persuasive force and deep fervour so noticeable in the later life of our brother. On Lord's Day, December 26th, Mr. Rotherham was again present at Laurie Hall, New Cross, both morning and evening. On the 31st ult. he called on his grandchildren, and, in merry mood, promised to come again in the morning to wish them, "A happy new year;" but during the intervening hours he caught cold, and although he made the promised call on New Year's Day, he was obviously unwell.
The doctor in attendance was at first hopeful of the speedy recovery of his patient, but in the course of a few days it was evident that the end was approaching. The actual passing was almost ideal in its quiet peacefulness.
One of my father's students (Mr. John Clothier) contributed to the Bible Advocate the following report of the funeral:-
"At Hither Green Cemetery, on Monday, January 17th, 1910, we laid to rest the earthly remains of our much-esteemed Mr. Joseph Bryant Rotherham.
"The small chapel of the cemetery was filled to over-flowing. The company assembled from far and near, and included representatives of the London Churches and also of the wider circle of friends with whom our departed brother was associated in literary labours on the Divine Word.
"Mr. Robert Wilson Black conducted the short and simple but very impressive service. After the singing of the hymn, 'O God of Bethel,' Mr. Albert Brown engaged in prayer, and moved all hearts by his aptly-chosen words of thanksgiving and supplication. Then came the reading of an appropriate Psalm by Mr. John Bannister, and an address by Mr. Black. The varied aspects of the life of the departed veteran were briefly passed in review and commented upon. The speaker expressed the conviction that it was as the scholarly scribe that Mr. Rotherham would long be remembered, and that although dead he would continue to speak for many years to come through his monumental work, 'The Emphasised Bible,' and in his other books.
"The singing of the hymn, 'Jesus shall reign where'er the sun,' was prefaced with the remark that this was one of the favourite hymns of the departed.
"The concluding prayer was offered by the Rev. Thomas Woodhouse, Baptist minister (formerly of Rochdale), and again in this petition the note of victory was uppermost, the only sorrow being for those who have to continue the journey of life with a loneliness because of the loved one passed away.
"By the time the short service in the chapel was over the bright but brief sunshine of a winter's day had all gone,
and daylight was beginning to fade. Once more, however, and this time at the side of the open grave, hearts and voices united in a song of praise. A few verses of 'O God our help in ages past,' were sung, and Mr. Clothier pronounced the Benediction.
"Later in the evening Dr. Thirtle, author of 'The Titles of the Psalms' and 'Old Testament Problems,' gave an interesting address, recalling his first acquaintance with Mr. Rotherham and subsequent correspondence regarding Psalms and kindred subjects."
In an appendix will be found some "Tributes of Appreciation." Some lines written by my father many years ago, and preserved by the late Mr. John Brown, of Glasgow, may form a fitting conclusion to this work.
THE WHITE STONE.
"Unto him that overcometh ... I will give a white stone, and upon the stone a new name written which no one knoweth, save he that receiveth it." - Rev. 2:17.
The reward of the faithful - pray what will it be?
If I open my Bible, I quickly may see;
At one promise alone at this time I will look -
It is one of the sweetest of all in the book.
"To the saint who o'ercomes I will give a white stone
With a name written on it for that saint alone;
What the new name will be on the stone I bestow,
The receiver alone shall be privileged to know."
A sweet promise is this, I am sure, from its sound,
But I doubt not, examined, more sweet 'twill be found.
I will mark every word which the promise contains;
'Tis a stone - and a white one - the victor obtains.
On the stone is a name - a new name it would seem.
A new name for the victor to bear, I should deem -
Yet the victor alone the new name is to read! -
All these facts to some secret undoubtedly lead.
"The White Stone" is a witness to him who receives,
Of the smile and approval of Jesus who gives;
"The new name" is a personal token to me
That my character known to my Saviour will be.
Though enrolled with a host of companions above,
I shall share for myself in my Saviour's sweet love;
And though voices unnumbered shall join in the song,
I rejoice that I shall not be lost in the throng.
But what means it, that none but myself is to know
The new name on the stone that my Lord will bestow?
Can it be that the name shall so seem to transcend
My desert; that I'll hide it from every friend?
I am lost, I acknowledge, what here to divine! -
Is it possible, though, that some joy will be mine
That I could not reveal, though I might be disposed?
Or - my lips by some instinct be sacredly closed?
Some such rays of its meaning have gleamed on my mind,
Though I hope not, while here, its full glory to find;
But what force in the words 'twill be mine to perceive
When from Jesus' own hand "THE WHITE STONE" I receive!
JOSEPH BRYANT ROTHERHAM INDEX