Cyrus Ingerson Scofield 1843-1921
Bert Cargill, St. Monans, Scotland [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The name C. I. Scofield will be recognized by many Christians as that of the man who gave us The Scofield Reference Bible. Of American origin, in some ways it is akin to, but quite different from, The Englishman’s Bible which Thomas Newberry had produced several years earlier. Scofield’s is a monumental work with accurate and helpful references and footnotes which distinguish and clarify some of the main themes in the Bible. The references are coherent and follow topics rather than words, traced from the first mention to the last to show the progressive unfolding of truth. Summaries and suggested subdivisions of individual books of the Bible are given throughout and these are helpful aids to personal study. It was first published in 1909 by Oxford University Press, then with a major revision in 1917 and another in 1967 when some archaic words in the King James Version were replaced by more current ones without altering the sense.
The paragraphs that follow describe something of Cyrus Scofield himself, now quite a controversial figure, as internet searches show. Some present-day assessments of the man are very negative, verging on defamation of character, raking up matters from his pre-conversion days. These almost all come from individuals and groups who disagree strongly with the dispensational teaching embedded in his work, and clearly set out in his earlier publication, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth. It appears that their opposition to this teaching has given a distinctly negative bias to their opinion of this servant of the Lord, whose work has helped believers of all age groups for over 100 years. In 2009, marking the centenary of the first Scofield Bible, Todd Mangum and Mark Sweetnam published a well-researched book which contains a thorough and fair account of the man. 1
A turbulent early life
Cyrus Scofield was born on 19 August 1843 in Clinton Township, Michigan, USA, the seventh and last child of Elias and Abigail Scofield who were of English Puritan descent, and nominally Episcopalian in belief. His mother died three months after he was born, but his father remarried and gave him a God-fearing upbringing and a good education. By 1861 he had gone to live with relatives in Lebanon, Tennessee. When the American Civil War broke out, he enlisted in the 7th Tennessee Infantry in the Confederate Army, and fought in several major battles. After a year, however, he deserted and escaped behind Union lines in Kentucky and, eventually, was able to settle in St. Louis, Missouri.
There, in 1866, he met and married eighteen-year-old Leontine Cerrè from a wealthy French Catholic family and they had two daughters and a son who died as a child. He was given work in the legal office of his brother-in-law, and began to study law. From there he moved to the St. Louis assessor’s office before moving further away to Atchison, Kansas in late 1869. In 1871 he was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives, and, eventually, became District Attorney for Kansas at the age of 29, the youngest in the country. However, during these years his personal habits deteriorated into heavy drinking, and his professional life became scandalous due to dishonest financial transactions including forgery, so that he had to resign and was jailed. By this time, he had also abandoned his wife and two daughters, and, in 1877, she obtained a legal separation. In 1883, she divorced him on grounds of desertion. He later married Hettie Hall von Wartz, with whom he had a son, Noel Paul in 1888. She became a faithful and helpful assistant in his future life’s work.
A definite conversion
Before that, in 1879, a huge change occurred, when Scofield was saved by grace at the age of thirty-six. Henry Pickering records the details of his conversion. 2 One day a Christian colleague named Tom McPheeters was about to leave Scofield’s office after transacting some business, when he stopped and said, ‘I want to ask you why you are not a Christian?’ After a pause, Scofield replied, ‘Does not the Bible say something about drunkards having no place in Heaven? And I am a hard drinker . . . I do not recall ever having been shown just how to be a Christian’. Later Scofield described what happened as the two men went down on their knees in that office: ‘Mine was a Bible conversion. From a well-worn Testament, McPheeters read to me the great Gospel passages (John 3:16; 6:47; 10:28; Acts 13:38, 39), and I received Jesus Christ as my Saviour, and the passion for drink was taken away’.
Soon after this, D. L. Moody had one of his gospel campaigns in St. Louis and Scofield assisted in organizing it. He also became secretary of the St. Louis YMCA. At this time, he was helped to maturity and was being taught by James Brookes, pastor of Walnut Street Presbyterian Church in St. Louis. Doubtless he was influenced by Brookes who held firmly to the dispensational teaching of J. N. Darby who had visited the United States several times between 1870 and 1877. Scofield joined the Pilgrim Congregational Church in St. Louis and became pastor of a new congregation at the Hyde Park Congregational Church there. In 1882, he moved to Dallas in Texas to take charge of a new mission church which grew from an attendance of fourteen to over 500, before he resigned in 1895. 3 In 1888, he set out with remarkable clarity his own dispensational beliefs in Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, which closely follow those promoted by Darby.
A varied ministry
While at Dallas he had begun to develop a regular preaching ministry at Bible conferences. He also introduced a Bible correspondence course for willing students, which laid the foundation for the Scofield Reference Bible to come. At the Niagara Bible Conference in 1890 he met Hudson Taylor, and that pioneer’s vision of missions led to Scofield founding the Central American Mission and the American Mission Society of Texas and Louisiana. He also directed the Southwestern School of the Bible in Dallas (now Dallas Theological Seminary, founded by Lewis Chafer) and helped to found Lake Charles College in Louisiana.
In 1895, Scofield left Dallas to re-join Moody, now in Massachusetts. He presided over the Northfield Bible Training School which Moody had founded, and it was here that Scofield decided to embark on his large literary project. He returned to Dallas in 1903, but most of his time was now given over to the work which this project entailed. It included trips to England and also Switzerland between 1904 and 1906 for study and research. However, he developed chronic ill health which began to affect the progress of the work. Back in USA he moved between New York and Michigan with boxes of manuscripts to work on, now assisted by others. His wife Hettie cut and pasted the pages of the whole Bible into loose-leaf notebooks for notes to be added, and Ella Pohle collated and organized the paperwork. At one point a fire destroyed nearby premises, but the manuscripts stored in a tent were preserved intact. Before the work was finished, he had eight consulting editors, among whom were Arno Gaebelein and Arthur Pierson. 4
At an earlier conference at Northfield, Scofield had met Robert Scott from the English publishers, Marshall, Morgan and Scott. Scott had contacts with McHenry Frowde, head of the Oxford Bible Publishing House, and the American branch of Oxford University Press became involved. The outcome was that this prestigious publisher has produced all the editions of the Scofield Bible, from the initial contract which was signed on 5 June 1907. So it was that after seven years’ work, the first edition was published in 1909, with a revision following in 1917. It quickly became popular and influential doctrinally. Scofield’s popularity as a conference speaker increased, but his health was already deteriorating quite seriously and his movements were restricted.
Substantial royalties from the work were used to purchase property, and Scofield, with his family, moved to the New York City area. There he set up and supervised the New York Night School of the Bible where correspondence courses were used to help others, and, in 1914, he founded the Philadelphia School of the Bible (now Cairn University). Additional later achievements included the establishment of the New York School of the Bible and the Douglaston Community Church. At this time, he again changed affiliation, leaving the Congregational Church to join the Southern Presbyterians at Douglaston.
He attended his last service there on 22 May, 1921. One month before his seventy-eighth birthday, after a time of intense pain and during a spell of fierce summer heat, he passed away at 11am on Sunday, 24 July at his home in Douglastown, Long Island. The cause of death was given as cardio-vascular renal disease. His funeral was held three days later at the First Baptist Church in nearby Flushing and he was buried in Flushing Cemetery. His wife Hettie was buried beside him two years later.
1 Todd Mangum and Mark Sweetnam, The Scofield Bible, its History and Impact on the Evangelical Church, Paternoster, 2009.
2 H. Pickering. Twice-Born Men: True Conversion Records of 100 Well-Known Men in All Ranks of Life, Pickering & Inglis.
3 That First Congregational Church of Dallas is now called Scofield Memorial Church.
4 Full list given in the 1907 Edition of the Scofield Bible, and an updated list in the 1967 Edition.
AUTHOR PROFILE: BERT CARGILL was a chemistry lecturer for over thirty years, and has written several books and articles on this and other subjects. Married to Isobel, they have two daughters and a son, and six grandchildren. He has contributed to the work of the St. Monans assembly ever since his conversion as a teenager.