The Principle of Parsimony

“O what transcendent subjects doth Providence daily present you with, to take up your discourses! How many experiences of extraordinary mercies and preservations have you to relate to one another, and bless the Lord for!” [1]

Vanitypress. A colleague of mine had used the term to describe a self-absorbed segment of internet population—one to which I would rather not belong. The word made me cringe; it made me pause.

Sometimes I think the blogosphere is really just a series of echoes, with everyone talking and no one actually listening. We have become a collection of souls with decorative ears and wagging tongues, “empty vessels, void of sense, but full of noise.”[2] And sometimes (when I am honest) I wonder if I’m part of it.

When I am honest I wonder if what I am saying is worth the effort of saying anything at all. What is the motive of an open mouth? Am I tickling the ego of my own self-love after all? Or am I rendering the sustaining speech[3] that makes “converts and martyrs too”? [4] Are my words as apples of gold in settings of silver,[5] or do I indulge a series of gilded fruit—shimmering in the daylight but rotten at the core? Do I speak because I actually have a word in due season? Or, Pharisee-like, do I cast bitter fruit at burdened souls striving in the dust? If am to give an account for the words I speak, am I comfortable with the reason I must give for this word? Or that one? “Light words weigh heavy in God’s balance,”[6] and “a word fitly spoken” comes at a cost.

Paul Cezanne - Apples, Pears and Grapes

Paul Cezanne – Apples, Pears and Grapes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, sharing life in the context of the King, savoring a life that sings, “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what He has done for my soul,” [7] is the pattern for us all. Bearing one another’s burdens and frank confession of faults—these are part of intimate life together. We absolutely should share our lives. But it is poor community indeed that lays out stones on which weak men stumble.[8] Certainly it is not love.[9]

With Paul it was not so. The wondrously personal joy of Paul danced across the parchment and into the hearts of those who read his writings today. In perhaps the most personal of all his letters, the apostle wrote to the Philippians with insights of his life and circumstances. But for Paul it was more; it was a chance to share in a sort of literary fellowship. Paul was handcuffed to the glory of God.[10] When he took up the pen chains rattled.

So did principalities.[11]

To be sure, I am not writing Scripture; but I still I wonder, do dark powers quake when I take up my pen? Do they tremble?

Or do they snicker at the prospect of my vanity?

Or –and this would be worst of all—do they yawn because what I am really trying to say is really nothing at all.

I once read that, “In all their communications and commitments, the Puritans sought to observe a maxim that might be called the principle of parsimony, namely that there is no place in life for idle words or aimless actions, but that everything said and done should count for the cause of God and the good of His people.”[12] [13] (Italics mine)

Obviously, I’ve a long way to go.

My message here is not directed toward anyone in particular—no one except myself, more especially as I will soon publish with a team of bloggers. I suppose it’s made me more aware of the motives that push my pen across the page. Blogging, (really, all of life), is a platform—either for the supremacy of self or of Christ, and sometimes it’s difficult to discern which is in the lead. Self is deceptive that way. But it’s true, what they say— “when a wise man speaketh, he openeth the rich treasure and wardrobe of his mind.”[14] The trouble is that wrong motive often wraps itself in humility and paupers’ words come robed in eloquence.

“‘What manner of communication is this that ye have by the way?’ O what a sad account would he have from most of you! It may be he should find one jesting, and another swearing, a third reviling godliness, and the professors of it; so that it would be a little hell for a serious Christian to be confined to your society. This is not, I am confident, the manner of all… but surely thus stands the case with most of you. O what stuff is here from persons professing Christianity, and bordering close upon the confines of eternity as you do? [15]


[1] John Flavel, vol. 5, The Whole Works of the Reverend John Flavel, Volumes 1-6 (London; Edinburgh; Dublin: W. Baynes and Son; Waugh and Innes; M. Keene, 1820), 305-07.

[2] Plutarch, vol. 6, Moralia, ed. W. C. Helmbold (Medford, MA: Harvard University Press, 1939), 399.

[3] Isaiah 50:4

[4] Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 1, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 308-09.

[5] Proverbs 25:11, ESV

[6] John Flavel, vol. 5, The Whole Works of the Reverend John Flavel, Volumes 1-6 (London; Edinburgh; Dublin: W. Baynes and Son; Waugh and Innes; M. Keene, 1820), 305-07.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ps 66:16.

[8] Proverbs 15:4, Proverbs 12:18

[9] I Corinthians 13:1

[10] Ephesians 6:20; Colossians 4:18

[11] Ephesians 6:12

[12] J. I. Packer. A Grief Sanctified: Through Sorrow to Eternal Hope (p. 44). Kindle Edition.

[13] Parsimony means to “spare, save” and can refer to “brevity or sparingness in the use of words.” See Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0.0.3), © Oxford University Press 2009

[14] Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 1, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 308-09.

[15] John Flavel, vol. 5, The Whole Works of the Reverend John Flavel, Volumes 1-6 (London; Edinburgh; Dublin: W. Baynes and Son; Waugh and Innes; M. Keene, 1820), 305-07.

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3 thoughts on “The Principle of Parsimony

  1. Great questions to ask before writing or publishing anything. Yet, how blurred the lines of vanity remain, how blurred the lines between sharing what He has done, to really and truly give Him the praise and honor due Him alone, and our desire to direct everyone’s attention to ourselves (boasting of God, but for selfish reasons). The lines are so blurred and it grieves me because I am flawed like that. :(

    Grace and love!

  2. You, my dear friend, are an example of a woman who “opens her mouth with wisdom.” “The law of kindness” is upon your tongue. Your poetry and writing reveal a heart that has spent much time in the shadow of the Most High and I am consistently blessed by the bounty you bring from that place. I so appreciate the time and effort you give to the encouragement of others. Others like me. May God bless you!

  3. These are all good questions to ask and consider. However, sometimes we can get caught up on the consideration of the questions to the point where it becomes difficult to open the mouth (or pull the cap off the pen…or lay the fingers to the keyboard…or stick to the dirt….you get the picture) because of worry about motives. Ask the question, consider the motive, and act accordingly (refrain or write). Because worrying about motive and not acting accordingly can be just as much a sin as a wrong motive. (Does that become a double whammy? Sorry, couldn’t resist.) But God is powerful enough to use your imperfection to turn someone else’s imperfection to perfection (or even your’s to perfection). Here is where the beauty of grace and mercy lay.
    Press on.

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