Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Piety and Learning, Gentleness and Conviction

The last several years were difficult for my friend Knox Chamblin.  He seemed to have one health trial after another.  His anemia gave way to an aggressive leukemia.  He suffered well.  He suffered as a Christian.  He asked God for healing.  He came to the elders to be anointed with oil.  Last week, the Lord took him home.  His prayer for healing was answered and we will see the result at the resurrection of the just.

I loved Knox Chamblin as a professor.  I had him for Pauline Epistles and C. S. Lewis.  I did not know him well as a student.  I remember, as a brash Yankee, first hearing his gentle Southern accent.  I remember being moved as he wept at the lectern.  I loved his classes, his unique take on the text of Paul, his Calvinist's love for C. S. Lewis.

What a privilege it has been to be his pastor and his friend for these past five years.  I have yet to come to terms with the fact that he is gone.  The other delight of these past five years is coming to know and to love his dear wife, Ginger.  I have never known two people like them.  Words fail me to describe them and their relationship, and their ministry both individually and together.  They were some of my inner ring --those people to whom a pastor can go on a dark day, and confide in, and know that he was being lifted up by them in prayer.  Scripture tells us (Hebrews 13:17) that some people will be hard to pastor, and tells us not to be those people.  Knox and Ginger are the exact opposite --they have always been more of a blessing to me than I could ever be to them.)  During Knox's long hospitalization, the Lord gave me some wonderful times of prayer and reflection with him.  Many people make small talk.  Knox was not unusual in that regard.  Yet, inevitably, the conversation naturally turned to the preciousness of Christ and his word.  It was not forced, it was not artificial, it was part of the warp and woof of this man's being.

Knox Chamblin was a unique man.  He was a Biblical scholar with a poetic soul.  He was an irenic and peaceable soul of unshakable conviction.  He was a seminary professor who went to prisons to visit.  He was a minister in the PCUSA to the end of his life,  yet devoted his life for the last thirty years to a PCA congregation.  Christ has his warriors and his polemicists, and they are necessary.  But, Christ also has his gentle giants and his peacemakers, and Knox was one.

Knox was not named for the great Scottish reformer.  If memory serves, one parent was a Baptist, the other a Methodist, and, in true twentieth century fashion, they settled in their married life on being Presbyterian.  What a providential happening!  What a blessing that this singular soul was entrusted by God to perhaps the most cantankerous part of his fractious family.  For Knox there was no separation between scholarship and doxology and piety, between heart and head and hand.  So many of us have such a hard time holding those things together.  Whether it was effortless for Knox, he and the Lord know.  It certainly looked seamless to me.

Knox was brilliant beyond reckoning, certainly.  His work Paul and the Self, a masterpiece of Christian psychology (in the theological, not technical sense of that word), is no easy read.  His commentary on Matthew is as devotionally rich as any Ryle ever wrote, and far more scholarly.  God, in his grace, allowed Knox to finish that work, and I am grateful.

Knox's memorial service was the most moving service I have ever been party to in our church.  Throngs of people, "It Is Well" and "How Firm a Foundation," reading Psalms especially dear to him in his affliction, reflecting on his life and how it reflected Christ, Ralph Davis reminding us that Christ is sympathetic to us in our losses, but violently angry at death itself, and alone has the power to overcome death  --a beautiful, wonderful and awful thing all wrapped up into one.

I am thoroughly dissatisfied with what I have written.  My words fail this good man.  My grief today feels different than that of last week, or of his service.  Today it is the dreary dull reality of loss and emotional weariness.  I am grateful to God that he gave us Knox for 76 years.  I am so grateful for these last 5 years.  Yet, how I wish they could have been many more.


  1. Beautifully said, Ken. Thanks for this post.

  2. Every time a giant of the faith like Knox Chamblin dies I experience the same strange emotion . . . fear. Fear that the world is a less safe, less good, less holy place now that this person is no longer in it. Fear about what will happen to the Church when all the truly exceptional believers, teachers, scholars and spiritual warriors pass on and there is no one willing or able to step up to take their place. Could 100 ordinary laymen fill these shoes? Would it take 1000? I know these feelings are irrational and faithless because God seems to be constantly raising up his prophets out of nowhere. But that unsettled feeling in my gut remains. Lord, bring us another Knox Chamblin . . . soon!

    1. Knox was my professor and adviser while I studied at Belhaven University. Later he was a friend upon whom I could call when I had a need. He was humble, patient, gentle and kind. He always showed interest in what was happening in Maureen's and my life.

      Before I really knew Knox, he and my father were friends and classmates at Columbia Theological Seminary. My Dad was a former hard driving businessman from California and Knox liked to imitate Dad by following him through the seminary halls. He had a sharp and fun sense of humor.

      I already miss Knox. His faith in Christ was real. There is now a void in my life which will only be totally made whole at the resurrection. Jayson Kyle, New York City

  3. We have lost a gentle giant in Knox Chamblin. I don't think I have ever known a more humble man. I loved his passion for the Lord and His Word. He always showed so much interest in our family and and our little church here in Louisiana. He and Ginger even came to visit us once down here. What a treat that was! My children are grateful that they got to meet him then. And now our daughter and son-in-law were privileged to know him at Trinity Church.

    He performed our wedding back in 1974 and that was a blessing for us. To think of his seeing His Lord and Savior face to face now is a precious thought. He loved the Lord and His holy Word like few men I have known. Lord, please raise up many more like him!