Essay / On This Day

J. H. Sammis

Today (July 6) is the birthday of John H. Sammis (1846-1919). Sammis is the author of one of the most famous gospel songs, Trust and Obey:

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

The standard biographical sources for hymn-writers don’t have much to say about Sammis. He wrote a lot of forgettable occasional verse on devotional themes, but no other hymns that caught on or stayed in the public mind. His ministry, though long, was not connected with any one church. He entered the Presbyterian ministry in 1880 and served in Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, and Minnesota. He apparently did not write any books.

But there are hundreds of pages of Sammis’ writing in the pages of The King’s Business, the magazine published by the Bible Institute of Los Angeles beginning in 1910. Sammis, who was one of the most productive workers as the Institute in its early years, was the editor of The King’s Business for several years, and wrote numerous editorials, Bible studies, position papers, rants, poems, and reports of current events. He sometimes signed them “Sammis” and sometimes “JHS,” but often the unsigned editorials and filler material have his tone of voice.

In fact, while Sammis may be one of the forgotten heroes of that generation of evangelicals that bridged from the nineteenth century to the twentieth, he certainly did not leave himself without witness. If anything, he wrote a bit too much. His editorials are on every subject that came to the mind of a Christian worker in those days when the fundamentalist movement was forming. He had a few themes that he came back to again and again: Christian service, hating liberalism, loving Bible study, and of course trusting and obeying. He was an antenna that drew ideas from everything in his Christian atmosphere, and his time at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles was very productive. He excelled at compiling pages full of ideas, quotations, and sayings. A page of Sammis is a page of oddities, but he had a knack for putting the main ideas of fundamentalism into sharp arrows of commentary.

On at least one occasion, he caused problems for the school by speaking too freely: In a 1911 Sunday School lesson, Sammis wrote that Jonah had not been in the belly of the whale for three days, but for “twenty-four hours and a fraction,” which could count as three days and three nights “according to Jewish idiomatic reckoning.” Lyman Stewart considered this appeal to “Jewish idiomatic reckoning” to be a concession to higher criticism and an unwarranted relativization of the Bible’s truth. In a letter to T. C. Horton, Stewart said “It is not right for the officers of the Institute to be put on the defensive by reason of the erroneous teachings of any member of the faculty, and I do not see what there is for us now in this matter excepting to ask Mr. Sammis to either make a public retraction of the teachings of this lesson, or to resign from the faculty of the Bible Institute.” Sammis stayed on staff, but the leaders of the Bible Institute seem to have restricted the scope of Sammis’ editorial freedom around that time.

R. A. Torrey in particular seems to have been interested in making sure that Sammis operated under appropriate oversight from better-trained supervisors, so that nobody mistook the voice of Sammis for the voice of the school itself (that institutional voice, after all, was what R. A. Torrey was hired to provide). After 1913, Torrey took tighter control of BIOLA’s publications, to make sure that the school kept a consistent public image of balance. Though BIOLA was decidedly premillennial, Sammis could lapse into sounding weirdly dispensationalist; and though BIOLA was committed to opposing liberalism in the churches, Sammis sometimes indulged in a sarcastic and bellicose style of critique. Sammis never took a role in the top tier of BIOLA’s early leadership (the Stewart-Horton-Torrey triumvirate was the center of power), but his contribution was great. Lyman Stewart, though he had called Sammis on the carpet in 1911, published a 75-page collection of Sammis’ poetry in 1918 entitled Trust and Obey, writing a warm commendatory preface.

Here, from the August-September 1912 issue of The King’s Business, is a page of vintage Sammis: Three Dozen Doctrinal Dont’s. (Click through to the original page for the Scripture references)

Three Dozen Doctrinal Dont’s
“Rightly dividing the Word of Truth”

Don’t boast that the world is growing better.

Don’t deny that it is more comfortable.

Don’t prate of the divinity of humanity.

Don’t ignore differences; the brotherhood in Adam is not a brotherhood in Christ.

Don’t lay unequal stress on the value, or validity, of one Testament against the other.

Don’t exalt the gospels above the epistles.

Don’t reduce a ‘thus saith the Lord’ to a thus saith the prophet.

Don’t parallel the cross of Christ with the cross of the Christian.

Don’t preach Christianity but Christ.

Don’t seek members of the church but members of the Christ.

Don’t confuse reformation of the manner with regeneration of the man.

Don’t confound civilization with Christianization.

Don’t mistake the elevation of society for the salvation of souls.

Don’t offer fancy soap to filthy sinners.

Don’t trample the blood of Christ underfoot.

Don’t merge ‘this present age’ with ‘the age to come.’ The proclamation precedes the consummation of the Kingdom, and between lies the revelation of the King.

Don’t delocalize King and Kingdom, and make ‘reign on earth’ read ‘reign in heaven.’

Don’t identify ‘my Father’s throne’ with ‘my throne,’ the throne Divine with the throne Davidic.

Don’t make God a liar. He swore to Abraham that Abraham’s seed should have the land forever; He swore to David that David’s throne should be forsaken never.

Don’t, therefore, rob the patriarchal tombs of their covenant jewels.

Don’t spiritualize what God has literalized.

Don’t cudgell the Jew with the curse of the Law, and coddle the Gentile with the grace of the promise. ‘To the Jew first, and also to the Greek’ works under both.

Don’t deem immortality synonymous with resurrection.

Don’t substitute the abstract for the concrete. ‘Rise from death’ is not equivalent to ‘rise from the dead’ (ones).

Don’t juggle with prepositions: we look not for a house ‘in heaven,’ but for a ‘house from heaven.’

Don’t transmute adjectives to adverbs, a ‘house eternal in heaven,’ is not a house eternally in heaven.

Don’t think you preach the glorious gospel unless you preach the gospel of the glory.

Don’t assume that ecclesiastical unity and evangelical unity are one and the same thing.

Don’t yoke believers and unbelievers for team work in the field of the Kingdom, it is forbidden.

Don’t expect the fruits of the Spirit apart from the roots of the doctrine.

Don’t deceive yourself that you can have the Word of God without the words of God.

Don’t malign dogmatism as doggedness. What is true hold with a bulldog grip.

Don’t define indifference as broadmindedness, nor inanity as peaceableness.

Don’t fight for the faith with a fiery tongue, but contend for it with a fervent spirit.

Don’t preach Christ for imitation till you preach Christ the propitiation.

Don’t fail to put first things first: first faith, then works.

Don’t break the saint’s bread to sinners, nor feed the sinner’s portion to saints.

Don’t think to destroy the old man with the new theology; nor to build the new man without the old.

Don’t imagine you can hold a virgin Christ without the virgin birth.


Share this essay [social_share/]