Thomas Stackhouse (1677–1752) and the Magnificence and Sublimity of the KJV

[Against the backdrop of recent posts addressing the disparagement of the KJV, the following 18th century assessment if presented. The modifiers “magnificence,” “sublimity,” “eloquence,” “grandeur,” “nobleness,” and “majestic” are applied to the KJV. By inference, by referring to “St. Paul’s writings,” “the Apostle’s eloquence,” and “the holy Penmen,” Stackhouse argues that the beauty of the vulgar Translation is because of the original writings from which it was translated. The stark contrast of attitude toward the literary style of the KJV between the mid-18th century to the present day begs the question as to how the Christian social imaginary developed to bring us to his place in history. Perhaps better stated, how the Academic social imaginary influenced a change in the broader Christian social imaginary when dealing with the Bible.]

Translations, [in general] as we said before, are a great detriment to the turn of a period or the majesty of style; and yet we may venture to maintain, that, is St. Paul’s writings (even according to our vulgar Translation [KJV]) there are several passages, that have such magnificence and sublimity of expression, and as true a cadence of period, even according to the nicest rules of rhetoric, as in the most celebrated compositions of the heathens. To mention one for all, which is the place where the Apostle undertakes the vindication of himself: Whereinsoever any is bold, I speak foolishly, I am bold also. Are they Hebrews? So am I, Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they the ministers of Christ? I speak as a fool, I am more; in labors more abundant; in stripes above measure; in prisons more frequent; in death often. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one; thrice was I beaten with rods; once I was stoned; thrice I suffered shipwreck; a night and a day I have been in the deep. In jouneying often; in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by my own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils abomg false brethren, in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often; in hunger and thirst, in fasting often; in cold and nakedness; besides these things which are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Hitherto the division and cadence of every period has been very rhetorical, and consonant to the nicest ear, and the matter throughout noble, but in the next verse, the Apostle’s eloquence is still more surprising: Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory in the things which concern my infirmities. Here the heroicalness of the Apostle’s religion inspires his style with a new degree of sublimity and gives it a turn of grandeur and nobleness of thought, as in inimitable by pagan eloquence. Those infirmities, which a pagan would have palliated by little extenuations for the fear of impairing his reputation and affected fame, our Apostle values himself upon, as the glory of his religion, and the brave conquest of the flesh, by the grace of God under the Christian dispensation, which heathen morality knew nothing of.

From these few examples (for it would be endless to proceed in instances of this kind) it appears, that the Holy Scriptures are far from being defective in point of eloquence; and (what is a peculiar commendation of them) their style is not only full of grateful variety, sometimes majestic, as becomes that high and holy one that inhabiteth eternity; sometimes so low, as to answer the other part of his character, who dwelleth with him who is of a humble spirit; but at all times so proper, and adapted to several subjects they treat of, that when they speak of such things as God would not have men to pry into, they wrap them up in clouds and thick darkness, by that means, to deter inquisitive man (as he did at Sinai) from breaking into the mount; when they speak of things of a middle [complex] nature, (which may be useful to some, but not indispensably necessary to all) they leave them more accessible, yet not so obvious, as to be within every man’s reach. But when the speak such truths that are necessary for everyone to know, they are as plain as possible, and condescensive to the meanest capacity; it being agreeable to the wisdom and goodness of God, that, what he has made the revelation of his will, should contain an exercise of all sorts of readers, to humble the learned and instruct the modest Christian, and, in this respect resemble the fulness of a river, wherein the lamb may quench its thirst, and yet the largest elephant not be able to exhaust it.

Giving a succinct tutorial on inductive Bible study, Stackhouse writes,

And while we are employed in reading it, the first thing we are to do is settle our minds into a fixed attention to the sense of what we read; to consider diligently the principal design of the holy Penmen, and the weight of every argument he makes use of to enforce his doctrine or precepts; to attend carefully to the context and be always mindful what the words refer to, and what coherence they have with the things which went before, or follow in the thread of discourse; to compare one place with another, or with several others, if there be an occasion, that the doubtful and obscure may be ascertained and illustrated by those what are more plain and easy; and lastly, to observe (as we go along) the peculiar force and elegancy of the sacred style, which, in several instances will be found (to the great satisfaction of every impartial reader) to rise above the strains of the most eloquent orators of Greece and Rome.

Thomas Stackhouse, A Complete Body of Speculative and Practical Divinity, 3rd ed. (London: Printed for T. Cox, at the Lamb under the Royal-Exchange, Cornhill, 1743), 61-62, 68.

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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