To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken.—Jer. 6.10

[Flattering Titles.]


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No. 15.

In a former No. of this Quarterly some remarks were made on this topic. Its practical importance will justify some farther amplification. {474}

It will be universally conceded, we think, that flattery is hurtful to the object of it, and injurious to society; and when embodied in titles of social distinction it becomes peculiarly demoralizing. Official titles are indeed proper, being sanctioned throughout the Scriptures. They are of divine origin and essential to rightly organized society, which consists of "superiors, inferiors, and equals." But flattering titles have a different origin. They emanate from our corrupt nature, and are addressed to our corrupt nature. Their pernicious influence was known and dreaded by Elihu as provoking the desolating judgment of God, Job 32.22. Their tendency is to puff up and foster pride and envy among men. They have been destructive, and were it possible, would have been ruinous to the Church of Christ. Flattering titles have been corrupting in all forms of Prelacy, but pre-eminently so as destructive elements in the Romish apostasy. And this baleful element has unquestionably found its way into almost all parties of Protestants against Rome's assumption of pre-eminence.

We have not a word to say against those titles of distinction conferred by literary institutions upon those who merit them. They are calculated to stimulate the recipients to aim at greater excellence, and are highly proper. They have not the taint of flattery.

Does not the vulgar phrase, "bloated bond-holders," in use among politicians, indicate the envy and hatred rankling in the hearts of "men of corrupt minds"? They know that worldly wealth has a natural tendency to puff up its possessor. Not less is the tendency of worldly honor, and, therefore, our Lord so emphatically inculcated and his disciples enforced "humbleness of mind"—the special virtue exemplified by himself.

The title, Doctor of Divinity, by divine right belongs to some officers of the church. Eph. 4.11. The Greek word rendered "teachers" in the text just quoted has its exact equivalent in the Latin word, transferred without change into English, "doctors," and their synonym in Hebrew is, "rabbis." In times of real reformations this official title had its place in the Christian Church, but it did not indicate superiority or convey any idea inconsistent {475} with that ministerial parity essential to Presbyterianism or Scriptural Episcopacy. But ever since the practice of conferring this in common with other degrees, passed from the church to colleges and universities, it is commonly interpreted as conveying honor and superiority in office, contrary to its divine and original meaning. In its popular and anti-scriptural sense it has done and still continues to do much evil in the church. It was the chief obstacle that hindered the Jews from believing in their own Messiah. John 5.44, "How can ye believe which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?" As a title of honor—a flattering title—"to be called by men, Rabbi, Rabbi," it is expressly forbidden by our "one Master, even Christ."

The Doctorate as now conferred and received, not for real merit, but too often from mercenary considerations or favoritism in almost all denominations, is an exceedingly corrupting and debasing element, and this is the reason assigned for rejecting it by some of the most cultured and independent of modern divines. Sensible of its evil influences in the R. P. Church, immediately after our lamentable breach in 1833, we remember a motion offered in General Synod, "That the title of Doctor be abolished in this church." But the motion was not seconded, doubtless from deference to the feelings of the only Doctor then in Synod, the worthy and eminent James R. Willson. They have since multiplied as before.

In the history of the First and Second Reformation we do not find a Dr. Knox or Dr. Henderson. Nor after the persecution on re-organizing the R. P. Church, do we read of Drs. McMillan, Curtiss [Courtass], Thorburn, etc. But we do find a title of that kind of honor which cometh from God—"The Four Johns." Subsequent history proves that with the introduction of the Doctorate as an honorary title in our church, declension followed, and on both sides of the Atlantic most of our doctors became distinguished chiefly as ringleaders in defection. "Be not ye called Rabbi, lest being lifted up with pride ye fall into the condemnation of the devil."