Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 23, 1970

The Man Daniel Sommer

Wm. E. Wallace

Daniel Sommer was a man who, like all of the rest of us, will be remembered by many for good things attributed to him, and by many for bad things attributed to him. But few men of our time have had as many bad things attributed to them as the many attributed to Daniel Sommer! The "bad things" do not involve morals. They involve convictions, policies and methods.

Like most other men who live far past their three score and ten, Daniel Sommer changed considerably and mellowed in his old age. But he held to his basic convictions throughout his lifetime.

Early in his life, he viewed the ever increasing momentum of digression, and he witnessed the crystallization of a new denomination in the form of "The Christian Church," before he reached his prime. He fought this movement with great vigor and locked horns with every prominent individual who appeared to be drifting with the movement and who would face him in combat.

Sommer's love for the church, and his allegiance to the New Testament, created in him a disposition to attack anything and everything which bore an image of deviation from divine authority. Yet, on the other hand, he was highly critical of "hobbyism" and was impatient with "extremism." That he was guilty of either or both he would deny.

Those who were the objects of Sommer's polemic activities often thought of him as a "harsh, dogmatic, uncouth gainsayer whose chief business and sole delight are in opposing every good word and work" — at least they caricatured him thusly.

But others were quick to defend Sommer against such characterization. L. F. Bittle wrote as follows:

"Honor To Whom Honor"

Lord's day, Sept. 5th, I had for the first time the pleasure of greeting Daniel Sommer face to face. Though our names have been coupled in editorial work since 1883, yet till the day just mentioned we had never seen each other. Had I formed my conception of him from the caricatures of him published by his enemies, I should have prepared myself to meet a harsh, dogmatic, uncouth gainsayer whose chief business and sole delight are in opposing every good word and work. What else could I expect after reading the many tirades against him which have appeared in the journals of progress, and hearing them repeated, magnified, and intensified as they have passed from mouth to ear in the social circles of worldly conformity?

But I pictured him not after the distorting fancy of his traducers. So I was not surprised to find in him a Christian gentleman of attractive presence and courteous manners — the peer if not the superior of any of the "ministers" who a year or two ago met in this city to make speeches and compare views in behalf of the new order of things in the churches. Some of the brethren here who had invited him to preach for them a few evenings, were not without misgivings that he should prove unmindful of Paul's admonition: "Foolish and unlearned questions avoid." But they were very agreeably disappointed, for there was nothing in the matter or manner of his sermons which should offend the most fastidious seeker after truth. Erect, tall, broad-shouldered, full-chested, free from awkward or eccentric gestures, with a strong bass voice under good control, speaking slowly and articulating distinctly, he is well fitted to interest the common people in the facts and precepts of the New Testament. Since I listened to Bro. Franklin thirty-two years ago, I have not heard simpler, dearer expositions of the gospel and more soul-stirring appeals to seek the old paths and walk in the good way than those of Bro. Sommer. He speaks like a man who actually believes what he says, and feels the grave responsibility resting upon him as a teacher of religion. With the poet Cowper,

"I venerate the man whose heart is warm,

Whose hands are pure, whose doctrine and whose life,

Coincident, exhibit lucid proof

That he is honest in the sacred cause.

To such I render more than mere respect

Whose actions say that they respect themselves."

Since hearing Bro. Sommer, I do not wonder that he is feared and shunned by the people who are not content with the "Bible only," but prefer the Bible with modern additions and improvements; nor am I surprised that his enemies use against him, nor the sword of the Spirit, for this they cannot wield, but the more familiar weapons of falsehood and slander. But our brother can afford to treat his defamers with silence. Since the great apostasy began, there has been no period in which the man who insists on a complete return to apostolic teaching and practice has not been traduced by all who find their pleasure and profit in following the consolation in the Saviour's words: "Blessed are ye when men revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake." Cowper, from whom I have already quoted, exclaims,

"0 Popular Applause! what heart of man Is proof against thy sweet, seducing charms?"

Against this allurement Christ emphatically warned his followers, "Woe unto you," said he, "when all men speak well of you: for so did their fathers to the false prophets."

Let no one say that this is published because I am connected with the Review. I flatter no man; but give the foregoing unsolicited as my candid judgment in view of all the facts in the case. I give it, too, for the sake of the truth to which Jesus himself bore witness. I honor Bro. Sommer, because he has ever battled valiantly for the faith delivered once for all to the saints, and has accepted in its most exclusive sense the motto of Chillingworth — "The Bible, I say, the Bible only, is the religion of Protestants." This is the only defensible position, the only safe ground, the only doctrine which, reduced to daily practice, affords permanent satisfaction to the tender conscience and unwavering hope to the heart that finds its chief delight in the law of the Lord. — (Octographic Review, Sept. 17, 1901)

Sommer's fight against the 19th century digressive movement was summarized in a document of 100 indictments. Sometime after the turn of the century he published another document entitled "An Arraignment of the New Digressives Among Disciples of Christ." This "arraignment" also contained 100 indictments. It attacked the "Religio-Secular College," the preachers, the papers, and various policies and projects of brotherhood interest. It represented Sommer in his prime as a challenger of the status quo and he was regarded, outside his following, as an "hobbyist" of the first degree.

In later years Sommer mellowed, at least in his policies, and as he began to move and associate more with brethren south of the Mason-Dixon line he won the respect of many of the prominent men, including college presidents and editors. They saw in him a mellowing man of great ability and successful labors as a gospel preacher. Some expressed their charitable feelings in print.

But the "Review" continued to wage its battle against "Religio-Secular colleges" and located "ministers." There were some excesses in journalistic activity and polemic involvement on the part of many within Sommer's following, and within the Sommer family. Sommer generally carried the blame for all this. Much of what is included and implied in the prejudicial label "Sommerite" would be disavowed by Sommer were he alive to react. Daniel Sommer at 90 was a much different man than Daniel Sommer at 50. Yet he continued to hold his basic convictions.