Pardee Butler: “You Can Not Teach an Old Dog New Tricks”

Pardee Butler: You Can Not Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Pardee Butler (1816-1888) was an evangelist who spent much of his time preaching in Kansas. He first came to Kansas in 1855 prior to it entering the union. During this time, there was an intense – often violent – debate over whether Kansas would be a free state or a slave state. Butler, with his abolitionist views, suffered physical attacks from pro-slavery settlers. Below is his reaction to a warning about the threat of such violence for refusing to support the sinful practice of slavery that was common in those days.

‘If you talk that way when you get to Kansas you will never come back again; they will hang you.’

The thing was so absurd I only laughed in the old man’s face, and said to him:

‘Well, you can not teach an old dog new tricks. I have spoken my mind so long that I shall continue to do it if they do hang me,’ and so bade him good-bye’” (Personal Recollections of Pardee Butler).

There are three lessons we can learn from the example of Pardee Butler.

First, we must be willing to face persecution for speaking the truth. This is probably the most obvious lesson from the above quote. Christians must be prepared to endure persecution (1 Peter 4:12-16; Hebrews 10:32-34) and be “faithful until death” (Revelation 2:10).

Second, we must develop a habit of standing for the truth. Butler had “spoken [his] mind so long” that it was common practice for him. Developing a habit of doing the will of God – in this case, speaking out in defense of the truth – makes it easier for one to continue to do so, even under the threat of persecution. Peter said that Christians must “always [be] ready to make a defense” (1 Peter 3:15). If, instead of speaking out, we develop habit of remaining silent during opportunities to discuss spiritual matters, it becomes more difficult to start speaking out later because “you can not teach an old dog new tricks.”

Third, we should not be afraid to address politically divisive issues that pertain to spiritual matters. It would be difficult to find a political issue that was as divisive as slavery was in the years leading up to the Civil War. It was a major factor – if not the primary factor – that led to the war. But we do have politically divisive issues today – such as abortion and same-sex marriage – that need to be addressed by Christians. Some political issues may fall under the realm of personal opinion. But those issues that are addressed by God in His word must be proclaimed and defended as matters that pertain to faith. “In season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2), we must proclaim “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, NKJV), even if politicians have taken opposing sides on a particular moral issue.

As we encounter divisive political issues today, let us not be afraid to speak out and proclaim the truth about those issues that pertain to morality and righteousness.

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