The follies of the schoolmen should be a warning to all those who would mingle metaphysical speculations or prophetical theories with the simple doctrines of the Bible.
There was among those learned men such a rage for Aristotle, that his ethics were frequently read to the people instead of the gospel, and the teachers themselves were employed either in wresting the words of Scripture to support the most monstrous opinions, or in discussing the most trivial questions.
Think of men gravely debating whether the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary in the shape of a serpent, of a dove, of a man, or of a woman? Did he seem to be young or old? In what dress was he? Was his garment white or of two colours? Was his linen clean or foul? Did he appear in the morning, noon, or evening? What was the colour of the Virgin’s hair? &c.
Think of all this nonsense veiled in learned terms and obscure phrases! While human minds were engaged in weaving such cobwebs as these, no progress was made in real knowledge, and the gloom of the dark ages deepened into tenfold night.
We are much in danger of the same evil from another quarter. The reign of obscure nonsense and dogmatic trifling may yet return. An ultra-spiritual sect has arisen whose theological language is a jargon, whose interpretations are mystical, whose prophetical hypotheses are ridiculous, and whose arrogance is superlative.
To leave the consideration of well-known and soul-saving truths to fight over unimportant subtleties, is to turn our corn fields into poppy gardens. To imagine that the writers of unintelligible mysticism are men of great depth, is to find wisdom in the hootings of owls.
True spirituality shuns the obscure and the dilettanti, and delights in the plain and practical.
But there is much to fascinate in the superfine shams of the hour.
Quintilian justly observes that the obscurity of an author is generally in proportion to his incapacity; and we might add, that the ferocity of a bigot is frequently in proportion to the absurdity of his belief.
Some are zealots for a certain theory of 666, and the two witnesses, and the little horn, who would be far better employed in training up their children in the fear of God, or listening for their instruction to a sober preacher of the word of God.
It is a most fitting thing to be looking for the coming of the Lord, but a most miserable waste of time to be spinning theories about it, and allowing the millions around us to perish in their sins. Ragged-schools, orphanages, street-preaching, tract distributing, almsgiving, these are the present and pressing questions for the Christian church.
—Charles H. Spurgeon
Feathers for Arrows (Passmore and Alabaster, 1870).