21 May, 2024

THROWBACK THURSDAY: ‘Isaac Errett as Author’ (1934)

by | 18 April, 2024 | 0 comments

Isaac Errett as Author 

April 14, 1934; p. 5 
By Harry H. Peters, Bloomington, Ill. 

When Isaac Errett [1820–1888] came into leadership in the Restoration movement there was need of a new type of literature. Alexander Campbell had been the outstanding editor and author of the movement. His “Christian System” had impressed the reading public as being on a par with the writings of Calvin and St. Augustine. But for the masses this book was never popular. Most of Mr. Campbell’s works, including his debates, were of a philosophical, theological and historical character. Other writers had appeared, but, with the exception of [Walter] Scott’s “Messiahship,” very few books of an outstanding character except those of Mr. Campbell had appeared prior to the leadership of Isaac Errett. 

Isaac Errett sounded an entirely different note. His writings were more Scriptural and less theological, more practical and less philosophical. This does not mean that Isaac Errett was not a philosopher and theologian, but it does mean that in all his writing he aimed to reach the people. An author is one who writes for the public, and in this respect Isaac Errett was distinctively and fundamentally an author. 



In presenting him in this capacity, I am departing from the logical order, and am presenting his books in the way in which they appeal to me. I refer first of all to his “Evenings with the Bible.” Isaac Errett has a place of supreme distinction in this type of literature, and I would put his writings on a par with Mr. [John Cunningham] Geikie, whose writings have held the center of the stage for a long time. There are three volumes of “Evenings with the Bible”; the first two of these are Old Testament studies, and the third is New Testament studies. Well do I remember how in the early days of my ministry I literally devoured these books.

I believe it will be a good thing, before we go any further, to read what Isaac Errett himself says about the first volume: 

“We propose to publish, now and then, as we may find space in our editorial columns, specimens of Bible reading and meditations such as may encourage a devotional study of the Scriptures. They are not intended to be either critical or controversial—to combat theological errors, or to deal with the doubts created by the materialistic school of scientists; but to encourage the believer to such a study of the Bible as will feed his soul, and bring him into closer fellowship with God. It is not enough that we read the Bible and learn what was said and done, at this time or that, in behalf of this or that person, or family, or nation; it remains to learn what, in all this, is the lesson for us, the truth that we can appropriate for our own spiritual growth. Of course, in brief papers, we can furnish little more than suggestions—such as may start the reader’s mind into proper fields of meditation. This is all that we contemplate.” 

I believe I will give a sample of the way those books impressed me, and the use I made of them as far back as 1900. On the flyleaf of Volume I I have written this expression: “See Smitten Rock, page 193.” Referring to this, I find that it deals with the smitten rock in the wilderness, and this is the outline that Isaac Errett gives: 1. God gave them water from the rock to drink. 2. They sought everywhere else for water and failed. 3. They found what they sought where they least expected it. 4. The water gushed from the smitten rock. 5. It was a permanent refreshment. 6. Not until they had slaked their thirst was the law given. 7. While God provided relief for all, each had to drink for himself. It is useless for me to say that this became at once a sermon outline. If all that Isaac Errett’s “Evenings with the Bible” contributed to my early sermonic material were removed, I suppose there would be a good-sized hole in the thing. I haven’t time for further examples, but, turning through these books, I have discovered several. 

The volume of New Testament studies, being the third volume, is especially refreshing and valuable for fireside devotionals and the preacher’s study.  


In the early part of 1876 there was need of some kind of literature for young people. The churches were growing. Numbers were being added to the fold. Isaac Errett, editor of the Christian Standard [from 1866 to 1888], wrote a series of articles for his paper addressed to young disciples. These articles were brought together and published in book form in 1877, under the title, “Letters to a Young Christian.” The work was done so well that after more than fifty years these letters stand out as significant and very much worthwhile. 

Prior to this the writings of our brethren were addressed to adults, and rather mature adults at that. With the coming into leadership of Isaac Errett, the common man was taken into account more than he had been, and young people were given consideration. This was true of the Christian Standard especially, and a large number of books. 


Was arranged in book form by Z. T. Sweeney, editor, and is one of the best things from the pen of Isaac Errett. It contains about 250 topics, which cover the entire ground of Christian revelation. Isaac Errett regarded this as about the most important portion of his work. Z. T. Sweeney says that when he and Editor Errett were going to Palestine that they had many conversations concerning his lifework through the Christian Standard, and that Mr. Errett pointed out several departments of it, and spoke of their comparative value. The one that seemed of as great value as any other was “The Querists’ Drawer.”  

No study of Isaac Errett would be complete without a perusal of this book, which is made up of questions the brethren sent and Mr. Errett’s answers to same. The man who would master “The Querists’ Drawer” and “Bible Readings” of Isaac Errett would have quite a liberal Biblical education. 


One of the finest pieces of work that Isaac Errett did as editor of the Christian Standard was to prepare Bible readings under the form of questions of his own, with answers from the Book. He did this at a time when there was even more misunderstanding concerning the great issue of redemption than today. The prevailing custom for preachers then was to take an isolated text and preach a sermon from it, without regard to its context or its relationship to other Scriptures. Isaac Errett surely knew how to rightly divide the Word of Truth. 

In 1915, Gen. Z. T. Sweeney gathered these Bible readings together to the number of sixty-seven chapters, and published through The Standard Publishing Company two volumes entitled “Bible Readings by Isaac Errett.” What a great thing it would be if all our preachers of the present generation would study with diligence and care these sixty-seven chapters covering every issue vital to an understanding of the plan of salvation. The mastering of these two books published under the editorial directorship of General Sweeney would be almost equivalent to a course of theology in a seminary. In fact, it would be better than such a course in some seminaries I know about. I wish to urge most emphatically the purchase of these two volumes on “Bible Readings” and the one on “The Querists’ Drawer.” Here is a theological course that can be pursued by anyone. 


Isaac Errett was called to the ministry of a new congregation in Detroit, in January of 1863. The church numbered fifteen members, and was made up of persons who believed that the time had come for a forward movement in that city. They withdrew from the parent church, but did it in a fine fraternal spirit. The congregation met in the City Hall for a time, but finally purchased a church house formerly occupied by the Congregationalists. This was thoroughly renovated and neatly painted within and without. It was ready to receive the new preacher when he came. While the congregation was small, the action of Mr. Errett in accepting the work created a great deal of interest throughout the brotherhood. The Millennial Harbinger published an admirable account of the matter. 

At this time there was need of a simple statement of the position of the Christian Church. This was especially true in Detroit, since the formation of the new church almost marked a cleavage between two groups of Christians only in the city. Isaac Errett went at it immediately to prepare what to him was merely a tract. He called it “Our Position.” He presented, in this, three fundamental positions: 

  1. That in which we agree with the parties known as evangelical. 
  1. That in which we disagree with them all. 
  1. That in which we differ from some, but not from all of them. 

This tract certainly created a furor. There was a storm of protest. The American Christian Review, edited by Benjamin Franklin, and the Quarterly, edited by Moses E. Lard, called the document a creed, and used all the names with which our preachers were familiar in denouncing the creeds of denominations. Isaac Errett stood firm, and “Our Position” stands out as one of the mighty documents of our movement. It is to be included with the “Declaration and Address”; the “Sermon on the Law”; the “Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery.” 

It is in no sense a creed, and was not so considered by the author and his friends and sympathizers. But it was a plain, frank statement of the position of a new body of Christians who had a definite plea to make and a certain position to maintain. 


In a book entitled “Linsey-Woolsey,” Isaac Errett presents fourteen lectures or orations, the equal of anything in our language. He was not only a great preacher, but a great orator as well. A glance at the topics discussed reveals a man of supreme ability and of literary charm: “Linsey-Woolsey”; “Things in Our Own Immediate Neighborhood”; “The Progressive Development of Religion”; “Opportunity and Opposition”; “Benjamin Franklin”; “A Plea for Home Missions”; “A View of the History of Our Race”; “The Lessons of a Century”; “Foreign Missions—the Platform”; “Bible Translation”; “Singleness and Worthy of Purpose”; “A Noble Friend of Humanity”; “Oppositions of Science”; and “Fifty-nine Years of History.” 

The true test of one’s literary ability is to be found in the public addresses he leaves to posterity. Since before the days of Cicero and Demosthenes, even back beyond Moses, oratory has been the charm of nations and in many ways the highest type of literary excellence. The truth is, there are not many great orations extant. Isaac Errett excelled in this type of literary product. 

The three most difficult types of oratory are to be found in the proper interpretation of history, character sketches and personal eulogy. In order to avoid a mere theoretical presentation of this phase of the subject, I have chosen to copy two sections from two different lectures. The first of these is from his “An Interpretation of History.” The second is a eulogy of his lifelong friend, President Garfield. I have chosen that portion of the life of Garfield pertaining to the great President’s obedience to the gospel, because to me it is one of the most touching of all the incidents of his distinguished career. Here are the two selections: 


“This age is the product of all past ages. The people who now live are not merely human beings, born into the world with the common capacities and endowments of our nature, but the legitimate heirs of the immense treasures of intellectual and moral wealth which the past has bequeathed, and of all the holy duties which that past enjoins. Lord Bacon truly says, ‘We are the ancients.’ We are older than any who have preceded us. We cannot, therefore, understand ourselves except as we understand the past; nor our age, except as we comprehend the designs and marches of the ages that have gone. 

“There is a tendency to discard the past; to talk of it as a region of shadows, of spirits and hobgoblins; as a long reign of night, during which humanity has bestridden by some ugly fiend, and groaned in horrid nightmare, out of which, in this glorious age, it has just awakened, and gathered up energy enough  to remove the incubus and emerge from the agony. Now we beg leave to submit that, according to the lowest computations, the human race is well-nigh six thousand years old. And if nearly six thousand years have passed without substantial results, there is certainly little hope for the future.”  


“As an illustration of this, I may state here a fact which is not generally known concerning his early life. When James A. Garfield was yet a mere lad, a series of meetings was held in one of the towns of Cuyahoga County by a minister by no means attractive to youthful auditors, and marked only by entire sincerity, by good reasoning powers, respectable literary attainments, and deep earnestness in seeking to win souls from sin to righteousness. Young Garfield attended these meetings for several nights, and after listening to several sermons he came one day to the minister and said, ‘Sir, I have been listening to your preaching night after night, and I am fully persuaded that, if true, it is the duty and the highest interest of every man, especially of every young man, to accept the religion you teach, and seek to be a Christian. But really I don’t know whether your teaching is true or not. I cannot say I disbelieve it, but I cannot say that I fully and honestly believe It. 

After a long talk the minister decided to preach that night on the text, ‘What is truth’ and proceeded to show that, notwithstanding all the various conflicting theories in ethical science, even in reference to the grounds of moral obligation, and all the various contradictory religions and theologies of the world, there is a sure and eternal reliance for every human soul in Christ Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life; that every soul of man is safe with Jesus Christ; that any young man giving Him his hand and heart and walking in His footsteps cannot go astray; and that whatever may be the final solution of ten thousand at present insolvable mysteries, the man who loves Jesus Christ and follows His teachings, and realizes in spirit and in life the pure morals and the sweet purity that He taught, is safe, if safety there be in the universe of God; safe whatever else is safe, safe whatever else may prove unworthy and perish forever. 

“After due reflection his youthful listener accepted this as unquestionable, came forward and gave his hand to the minister in pledge of the acceptance of Christ as his Saviour and the Guide of his life.”  

_ _ _ 

Unfortunately, none of these books is available for purchase through Christian Standard Media. Some books are available through Amazon. “Our Position” can be downloaded via digitalcommons.acu.edu


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest News

‘Entrusted’—ICOM’s President Shares Vision for 2024 Conference

“The ICOM 2024 theme of ‘Entrusted’ comes from 2 Timothy 2:2,” 2024 president Andrew Jit shares. “Jesus has entrusted to us the best news, the gospel, and we are called to preach and proclaim it to those around us, both in our Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth.” . . .

Ministry Help Wanted

Recent postings: A director of campus ministry is needed at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). Stillwater (Pa.) Christian Church is looking for both a lead pastor and a youth pastor. Lexington (Ohio) Church of Christ is seeking a full-time senior minister. Norwin Christian Church in North Huntingdon, Pa., needs a full-time worship minister. Lycoming Christian Church in Linden, Pa., is seeking a minister of children, youth, and young adults. Michigan City (Ind.) Christian Church needs a senior minister. And more . . .

Big Little Churches

“A church with only 12 members is barely a church, but almost every weekend I preach in small Missouri churches whose attendances range from 12 to 112,” Daniel Schantz writes. “When people hear that I am preaching at such small churches they often shake their heads and say, ‘That’s a shame. Why don’t they just close the doors and go to a bigger church that has more to offer them?’” . . .

Follow Us