Joseph Caryl on Teachableness

One thing that really disturbs me about the blogosphere (and not just there, but also in the church in general) is a complete lack of teachableness. It arises out of pride, of course, pride in one’s own knowledge. We have to be right. It doesn’t actually matter who has the better argument. It only matters who can be seen to have gotten in the “knock-out” punch. Joseph Caryl has some wonderful things to say about this. I would encourage anyone to ponder these words deeply:

A gracious spirit is a teachable spirit. A gracious heart calls for teaching. Teach me, and I will hold my tongue…A teachable spirit is an excellent spirit. A man that is willing to be taught, is in a better condition than many, who are able to teach. It argues a holier temper of the heart, to be willing to be taught, than to be able to teach. And it is far worse to be unwilling to learn, than not to be knowing: Unteachableness is more dangerous than ignorance. It is sad to consider how unteachable many are; they will not be taught, or they think they have learned all, they have devoured all knowledge; they are full and need no more; Some deceived souls (and they most) carry it, as if they had a spirit of infallibility: what? teach them? they are above teaching. It is a sweet frame of spirit, when a man sees he may be out of frame. He is in a fair way to truth, who acknowledges he may be in an error. And he who will not acknowledge that he may be in an error, is certainly out of the way of truth…Nor doth he (Paul in 1 Cor. 8, LK) commend to us that proud modesty, which will not let us acknowledge, we know what we know; but his mind is, to meet with those, who think they know anything so well, that they need not, or cannot know it better, and abound so in their own sense, that they have no room to admit the sense of others…It is best to be fixed in judgment, but it is very ill to be fixed in opinion. It is to be feared that man is much divorced from right reason, who is so married to his own, that he resolves, nothing but death shall part him and his opinion…To say, “I am fixed, I am fixed, I am resolved, resolved,” when yet things are doubtful, and under difficult dispute, is actually to be in error, though possibly the thing we fix on be a truth. The apostle cautions his Ephesians, and us in them, Chap 4:14: “That they, and we, be not henceforth children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine,” and yet they are under a rebuke, who will not be moved by any wind of doctrine; that is, let never so powerful and forcible a wind of truth, breathe and blow upon them, they will not be carried or moved in judgment by it…He that will have all the talk, shall have but little profit. Joseph Caryl on Job, volume 2, pp. 528-529.

Of course, one last caveat is in order. When one reads such a quotation as this, one is apt to rejoice in the good fortune of one’s neighbor in that they need to read this. It might not even occur to us that we should be the ones humbled by this. And, if it does not occur to us to apply this to ourselves, then we are falling under the very strictures which Caryl proposes!


  1. Reed Here said,

    February 7, 2011 at 9:45 am

    mea culpa

  2. paigebritton said,

    February 7, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    Funny you should say that, Reed; I was just thinking of you as an example of one who receives teaching graciously. :)

  3. February 7, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3.1) This verse, alone, should lead us in the direction of humility and teachableness.

  4. Jim Cassidy said,

    February 8, 2011 at 9:21 am

    Amen, Lane. Really, everyone who has, does, or will disagree with me needs to read this! I’m sending this out to all of them as we speak!

  5. olivianus said,

    February 8, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Good post, as a caveat, I must say that most American Christians consider commitment to doctrine to be arrogant. The vast majority of Christians I know do not know what to believe about the Trinity, Christology or Worship yet if you bring these issues up they immediately hoist their flag of humility. Just because more rigid and contentious types need teachability does not exclude the spineless feigners of humility who when you tell them something nod and smile but would rather jump off a cliff than commit to a system of theology that is comprehensive and coherent enough to actually maintain a good deal of uniformity in doctrine. It is in my view that the thousands of divisions among so called American Evangelical Christians finds its occasion in non commital feigned humility.

  6. greenbaggins said,

    February 8, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Olevianus. Would you please state your full name to us? We do not allow anonymous commenting on this blog. If you do not wish your name to be that public, then you can email me your name. My email address is pastorlane AT juno DOT com.

  7. olivianus said,

    February 8, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    Olivianus-My Name is Drake at:

    One of my favorite examples of this is when I had a discussion with the professor of Presbyterian Church History, Christopher Elwood at the Presbyterian Seminary here in Louisville, Ky. I was going around to the PCUSA Churches and handing out literature on the History of real Presbyterianism. He thought he would humble me, he being a graduate of the Divinity School at Harvard University, so he approached me. He wanted to know what my issue was and I pointed out to him that the liturgy of his Church was Anglican and his group had no business calling themselves Presbyterian. I gave him a brief intro to the Puritan principleof worship and its realtionship to Church governemnt, reminded him that Scotland and England went to war over this and expressed to him my frustration that his Church was re-introducing elements of worship that my Scottish brethren bled and died over. I was seriously expecting to get a well thought out response and this is what i got: He had this pale look on his face, he gulped real deep and then he looked at me very piously and said, “I’m going to pray for you.” Oh the devilish device of feigned humility.

  8. Cris Dickason said,

    February 9, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Re #4 – Jim, Good one.

    Do you think Jeff, Camden, & Nick will be able to stop laughing long enough to actually reply to you!

    (elder in Hatboro)
    (Camden can give you a chuckle by relating my lack of softball skills)

  9. Jim Cassidy said,

    February 9, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Hey, Cris, how ya doing? In terms of softball skills, I played on the Hatboro team as part of my internship. After they saw the way I played third base, they wanted their money back. In fact, the Committee of Christian Ed also wanted their money back. Just ask Larry!

  10. Tim Prussic said,

    February 9, 2011 at 10:40 am

    This is very convicting. It’s a difficult to balance teachableness with the requirement to teach. One has to stand somewhere in order to teach. But to stand somewhere, there have to be issues on which one is resolved. Even so, a teachable spirit doesn’t mean that everything is up for grabs. Further, we can certainly still learn more even on those “resolved” issues.

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