Wilbur Smith’s Remarkable Book
On the 11th day of February, 1959, a young preacher student in Mississippi added one more volume to his fledgling library. The title of the book was Therefore Stand. The author was Wilbur M. Smith, a Professor of English Bible at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. The student who purchased (and devoured) the book was the author of this article.
When this volume issued from the press in 1945 it was a smashing success. Dr. F.D. Whitsell, of the Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Chicago, characterized the book as “the ablest defense of evangelical Christianity in many years”; it was a book, he said, that should be “required reading for every theological student” in America. Whitsell urged students everywhere to “sell your bed, if necessary, in order to buy and read this book.” Similar accolades came in from scholarly sources around the country.
By the time I became familiar with the work (fourteen years later), it was in the 10th printing of the 13th edition. The story of how the book had its beginning is a fascinating one.
Wilbur Morehead Smith (1894-1977) was born in Chicago. His parents were of the Presbyterian persuasion, and Smith was formally identified with this denomination all his life, though occasionally he attended other churches. Chicago was the hometown of the famous Moody Church and its affiliate school, Moody Bible Institute — a non-accredited school for the training of young people who professed a loyalty to Jesus Christ.
Smith attended MBI during the years 1913-14, and then afterward, the College of Wooster (1914-17). But as he would acknowledge later (when invited to teach at Fuller Theological Seminary), he “never attended a theological seminary and did not have a theological degree” (Before I Forget – Memoirs, Chicago, Moody Press, 1971, p. 283).
He thus was a marvelous example of what one can achieve by individual initiative, if he has the sufficient desire and self-discipline. Over the years Smith built a fabulous personal library (more than 25,000 volumes), and he was recognized as one of the world’s foremost authorities on books pertaining to the Bible. His little book, Chats From A Minister’s Library (Boston: W.A. Wilde Company, 1951), is well worth obtaining if one can locate a copy.
Professor Smith taught at the Moody Institute from 1938-1947. He subsequently taught at Fuller Theological Seminary from 1947-1963, and then concluded his thirty-three year collegiate teaching career at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School from 1963-1971. Remember — all this academia, with no earned degree! Those were the days when knowledge counted more than a few letters of the alphabet tacked on to a man’s name.
Around the turn of the 20th century, great changes were fomenting among the Protestant churches of America. A spirit of theological liberalism was worming its way into well-known schools that, earlier, had regarded the Scriptures as the infallible word of God. One of these institutions was Princeton Seminary.
In 1929, due to radical changes in the administration and its policies at Princeton, Dr. J. Gresham Machen, a champion of conservatism who had taught at Princeton for more than a score of years, resigned in protest of the leftist direction the school was taking. Other respectable scholars left as well, e.g., Oswald D. Allis, the incomparable Robert Dick Wilson, Cornelius Van Til, and later, John Murray. This split from Princeton resulted in the establishment of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
Wilbur Smith first struck up an acquaintance with Professor Machen in about 1918, during his first ministry in Ocean City, Maryland (at the age of about 24). They developed a friendship that lasted until Machen’s death in 1937. I mention this to prepare the way for a brief consideration of Smith’s remarkable book, Therefore Stand.
My copy of this volume (13th edition) contains 522 pages of text, 77 additional pages of “Notes,” and fourteen pages of indexes. The full title itself provides an insight into the battle-cry mentality that nobly possessed the author. THEREFORE STAND — A Plea for a Vigorous Apologetic in the Present Crisis of Evangelical Christianity.
The book is divided into eleven chapters, which actually flow in three major movements. Chapters 1 through 5 provide the background as to why the book was written. Chapters 6 through 9 are the heart of the enterprise, and the final two chapters constitute a practical epilogue.
Movement One — The Erosion of American Society
Chapter 1 – “The Forces and Agencies Engaged in the Modern Attack upon Evangelical Christianity.” In this chapter of 102 pages, Smith began by showing that the very nature of Christianity was such that it was bound to attract opposition. The religion of Christ was dogmatic in its claims, unrelenting in its demands, and at cross-purposes with self-centered human beings who seek to be their own “God.”
He demonstrated how certain skeptical 18th century philosophers, like Hume, Kant, Hegel, and Comte, assaulted the Christian system and gnawed at the vitals of society. He spoke of the encroachment of the ideas of Marx and Engels, and later, the influence of America’s own John Dewey, who so contaminated our nation’s educational system.
All of these ideologies had Christianity as the focus of their hostility, perhaps most stunningly revealed by the publication of that infamous Humanist Manifesto, which issued in 1933. Unfortunately, the leading universities in the nation had become the “funnels” through which godless theories were poured into the minds of America’s youth.
Chapter 2 – “The Tragic Retreat of Contemporary Evangelical Protestantism.” In this second segment of Professor Smith’s remarkable work, aim was taken at the traitorous activities of certain American churches — those institutions professing some affiliation with “Christendom,” but which were back-stabbers, crucifying the Son of God afresh.
With example after example, the scholar highlighted the anemic doctrinal convictions of the left-leaning churches. He carefully exposed the historical reality that many of the institutions of higher learning, e.g., Yale, Columbia, Princeton, Dartmouth, etc., were founded by deeply religious people, but with the passing of time, were being hijacked by rogues who had ingested the ideology of rationalism. And we must add that such continues to be the case in our own day.
Chapter 3 – “Some Reasons For the Unbelief of Men and Their Antagonism Toward God.” This chapter constitutes a brilliant profile of the psychological weaknesses and material influences that poison the soil of the human mind, thus facilitating the mental environment that becomes a ready receptacle of atheism, skepticism, etc. It is a penetrating diagnosis of the death of the human spirit.
Chapter 4 – “The Pessimism of Our Modern Skeptics.” This chapter is sad indeed, exposing the latter days of a number of prominent unbelievers whose final sounds were shrieks of agony. From Voltaire’s, “I wish I had never been born,” to Marie Curie’s groans at the graveside of her beloved Pierre, “it is the end of everything, everything, everything!” — the epitaph of skepticism is: “Hopeless.”
Movement Two — The Greeks and Paul’s Approach
Chapter 5 – “The Civilization of Ancient Athens: Its Achievements and Its Impotencies.” This chapter provides some background for the biblical record of Paul’s visit to the city of Athens, some two decades following the establishment of Christianity. It deals with Greek ideology in the areas of philosophy, science, ethics, politics, religion, etc.
Chapter 6 – “St. Paul’s Address to the Athenian Philosophers.” Chapter Six in Smith’s masterpiece is initially a review of Luke’s record in Acts 17:16-23. As Paul, God’s great apostle to the Gentiles, enters the intellectual capital of the world, one is poised for the clash that is bound to occur as the courageous Christian preacher encounters the city in which it was easier to find the image of a false “god” than a man. Smith sets the stage for the apostle’s assault against paganism. Skillfully, then, the author dramatically shows, with a host of valuable quotations, that our own world is not unlike the Athens of antiquity. We have our own peculiar brand of heathenism!
Chapter 7 – “The Creation of the World by God; the Apologetic for Our Era of Scientific Emphasis.” The doctrine of creation was the first of Paul’s three great points of emphasis, when he was asked by the inquisitive Athenians to explain his philosophy. Whence the origin of the Universe? Naturalistic, or otherwise? This profound theme was unknown by the ancients, and remains so today (from the naturalistic vantage point). Professor Smith hammered this point mercilessly. Reasoning from our obviously-designed Universe as an effect, back towards the only adequate Cause, a classic prima facie case for the existence of God was developed. No zealous Christian can afford to be uninformed of the kind of evidence this chapter provides.
Chapter 8 – “The Resurrection of Christ From the Dead: The Apologetic for an Age Demanding Historical Certainty.” The next theme in Smith’s production is the cornerstone of Christianity — the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The evidence is surveyed which supports the historical credibility of the biblical claim that Jesus literally was raised from the dead, just as he predicted he would be.
The author delineates the criteria necessary for the establishment of a bona fide case of historicity, by appealing to some of the world’s most prominent historians. He reviews the rationalistic theories that attempt to explain what happened to Jesus’ body following his burial, handily disposing of them with unrelenting logic. This essay of 78 pages is a brilliant defense of the resurrection of God’s Son.
Chapter 9 – “A Righteous Judgment to Come: The Apologetic for this Time of Disappearing Ethical Standards.” Could a topic be more apropos for our own day? Rationalism’s greatest point of vulnerability is its lack of any ethic to guide the human family in the discernment between good and evil. Such was the case in the ancient Greek world as well.
In this chapter Wilbur Smith has shown the absolute necessity of an ultimate day of reckoning, if life is to make any sense at all. He defines the meaning of “judgment,” and shows the elements involved in that concept. He argues the case for a final judgment both from a biblical angle, and from a philosophical viewpoint. Along the way the case is buttressed with tons of evidence.
Movement Three — A Conclusion
Chapter 10 – “The Peace and Joy in Believing.” In stark contrast to Chapter 4, “The Pessimism of Our Contemporary Skeptics,” Smith winds down his argument by showing that there is no real peace in the naturalistic pursuits of this world. Science, literature, human acclaim — as ends themselves — leave a person hollow, with no sense of real dignity or hope beyond this life. There must be more! And that hope is found only in surrendering to Christ as Lord.
Chapter 11 – “Suggestions for an Immediate Vigorous Offensive in the Defense of the Christian Faith.” Perhaps Professor Smith felt that a good book, like a good sermon, ought to provide the reader with something to know, to feel, and to do. And so his volume concludes with a challenge to those who have aligned themselves with Christ as the Lord of their lives.
The Christian must throw off every tendency to compromise, and reclaim the integrity of the system for which God’s Son died. Young ministers must be trained to meet the enemies of truth with sound argumentation, and then urged to defeat them. Smith lamented that seminaries were not so guiding young men who are studying for the ministry. Even today, for the most part, Christian universities are doing a woefully inadequate job of equipping young men to defend the faith.
Unfortunately, the good professor did not grasp the fact that some of his own doctrinal positions were not in harmony with primitive Christianity. No one can be a completely effective advocate for Christ while upholding the denominational fragmentation of modern Christendom (John 17:20-21).
As I mentioned earlier, Wilbur M. Smith taught at Fuller Theological Seminary from 1947 to 1963. In fact, he was very influential in helping to lay the foundation for this institution.
One must note that his commencement at Fuller was only two years after the publication of his celebrated volume, Therefore Stand. It thus is ironical that after 16 years of association with Fuller, Professor Smith felt compelled to resign from the Seminary because of influences within the school that had begun questioning the concept of biblical inerrancy. Several other instructors felt obliged to leave as well.
Though he was very discrete about the controversy in his autobiography (published in 1971), Smith clearly hinted that the theological climate at Fuller had become an increasing disappointment over the years. With the passing of even more time, that conviction remains even now in the minds of many.
Though I am not aware of any publisher that currently distributes a new edition of Therefore Stand, the volume is fairly accessible in a used format from sources on the Internet. We highly recommend this fascinating book to anyone who wishes to be prepared for those enemies of truth who prefer the more euphemistic nomenclature of “theological progressives,” rather than “the faith” proclaimed by Christ and his inspired spokesmen.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.