Harold Macmillan when opening a lecture course in 1941, recalled the philosopher J. A. Smith thus: “Nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life – save only this – that if you work hard and diligently you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole purpose of education.” Talking rot is a British colloquial comment; it means to talk nonsense, rubbish or twaddle or to prattle on with pointless talk. Jesus never talked rot, of that be assured. He spoke eternal and immortal words that changed lives. His words were few but meant something that were and are vital to living.
I once worked for a Cambridge professor who said “Every word a jewel and every sentence a coronet!” In other words superfluity is out. Synthesize down, get rid of abundance, and keep your sentences short – clarity, simplicity and brevity are the constant watchwords underlining all you say and write; difficult to do, for we tend to over emphasise for clarity and finish clouding the issue. Apparently he wrote one of the most difficult-to-assess doctorates in the university – “The structural strength of coral reefs,” so reduced that every sentence meant something.
Listening to countless politicians we get the impression they are talking rot. Many seem divorced of intelligence and unable to cope with present day stress and pressure. Incisive action that builds confidence and resolves issues is missing. No one stands head above another in ability, and sameness pervades; they are creatures of opportunity jumping whichever way the wind blows. Strength and purpose is lacking, and the country goes from crisis to crisis in a welter of prattle or rot. ‘God help us’ is the prayer on our lips and motive in our hearts, for if He doesn’t there does not seem anybody about who can. “The AA had this motto “we know a man who can,” so do we, and His name is Jesus.
Someone said that the mark of intelligence is simplicity, Jesus exhibited that characteristic. Parables were a constant expression of His teaching. “All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them,” [Matt 13:34]. He also said: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” [Mark 13:31]. His words were simple but, at times devastating. The number of great speeches in history is very few, and we as preachers are noted by what our
congregations cannot remember! If we bundled up all the words spoken and written in this decade and then discarded them, who would notice?
Jesus told the Pharisees they were, in effect, talking rot. He didn’t use nice language. “But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to be baptized, he denounced them. ‘You sons of snakes!’ he warned. ‘Who said that you could escape the coming wrath of God? Before being baptized, prove that you have turned from sin by doing worthy deeds” [Matt 3:7, 8]. Their testimony was twaddle. Boasting about being Jews but Jesus said God could turn inanimate stones into bread, or the countless children of Abraham!
The interesting thing about Pentecost was that 3,000 people thought that Peter, the disciple who spoke rot at the fireside, was talking with such life-changing power that a multitude were turned from death to life, and it was written into the annals of the church, never to be forgotten. The key thing about this keynote speech was the accompanying power of the Holy Spirit. He can turn simple ordinary words into barbs that pierce the strongest armour of indifference. The history of the Pentecostal Church is that artisans can be clothed with a supernatural power that changes rot into a raging fire of conviction. The gentiles begged the early disciples to preach to them [Acts 13:42].
Going back into the Old Testament it is said of Moses: “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.” [Acts 7:22], that was before the fire burned by the wayside and a tree changed his life, and the power from on high deposited an anointing that saved two million people. Although slow of speech God presided over his words and undergirded them so that Moses’ hesitant delivery resulted in the miraculous.
We are warned thus: “Let no one deceive you with empty words. . .” [Eph 5:6]. Rotten words from people who are no better; those who postulate philosophies that deride God’s laws and taunt His kingdom. Their underlying intelligence subverts morality, and calls black white. Rot indeed!