By Steve Wolfgang
(Editor’s Note: The following remarks could as fittingly be applied to the editor of any of the other journals who speak as the divine oracles speak. With the great admiration which I have for the long deceased Benjamin Franklin, I would feel much more comfortable if you were to read the following article with him only in mind, without any reference to the editor of this paper. If one can have favor with God, it matters not whether he has the praise of men, or their recriminations.-Cecil Willis)
Recently, while researching some back files of Benjamin Franklin’s American Christian Review,1 we came across an article printed nearly a hundred years ago,2 over the pseudonym “Evangelist.”3 Seeing many possible applications to some current situations, we have reproduced the article (in edited and abridged form) below. While some of the circumstances then and now differ (the article was occasioned by Franklin’s death on October 23, 1878), and while we certainly do not foresee for “the current editor” of Truth Magazine an end similar to that of Franklin’s successor, John F. Rowe (years later, Rowe acquiesced to the use in the worship of “a small organ,” but not, “O ye gods,” said he, a large one!),4 yet some of the comments of a young “Evangelist” are as appropriate now as they were then.
“Critics, sharpen your pens; he is a good subject to work on. . . . Measure him by your own various. and variable standards, and you will find him defective all over; measure him by the Divine word, and you will pronounce him a fair specimen. Cull out his unhandsome expressions and harp upon his mistakes, and you will probably have something to do; meditate upon the excellent in what he writes, and you will have but little time for that other ungenerous business. Assume prophetic afflatus and predict the downfall of (Truth Magazine), and you will injure that which you cannot destroy; utter not all your mind, but keep it until afterward, or, better still, increase the circulation of (Truth Magazine) and you will perform a nobler part.
“Editors and scribes of other journals, I invite your special attention. Here is a rare chance for you. (Cecil Willis) is not wiser than Solomon, nor meeker than Moses, nor patienter than Job, and even if he be, I will tell you how to treat him so as to make him appear at a disadvantage. Get up some side issue . . ., advocate some unscriptural or antiscriptural enterprise, or do some other un-apostolic thing, and he will oppose it just as certain as you live. Then regard him as ‘a hindrance to the cause’ and not entitled to fair treatment. Do not PREsent to your readers what he may say, but REPresent it. Or, pass over his premises and present his conclusions by themselves. Comment thereon in your severest style and make him appear as unhandsome as possible. Unless he detect in this the devil’s trap for him, though set by good men, he will say (and all know he can say) some severe things. Then quote against him the severest of the severe, publish them to your readers, refusing to let him be fully heard, while representing him as scurrilous and unscrupulous…. On the other hand, treat him fairly and the merit of his pen will, at least, command the respect of those whose affections it may not win. As for my own part, I fully purpose to increase his number of readers whenever I can, and assist in filling his columns with the clearest, concisest, soundest articles which my youthful pen can produce.”
1. Historian David Edwin Harrell, Jr., has said that during Franklin’s maturity, “the most influential Disciples journal was the American Christian Review, edited by Benjamin Franklin” The Social Sources of Division in the Disciples of Christ, 1865-1900: A Social History of the Disciples of Christ, Volume II (Atlanta: Publishing Systems, Incorporated, 1973), p. 17.
2. The actual date was November 26, 1878 (American Christian Review, 21:48, p. 377).
3. “Evangelist” was one of the pen names used by Daniel Sommer, then 28 years old.
4. See Earl Irvin West, The Search for the Ancient Order: A History of the Restoration Movement, 1849-1906 (Volume 11, 1866-1906; Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1954), p. 315.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:45, p. 7-8
September 19, 1974