Quotable Quotes for A.A. History Buffs

By Dick B.

     You’ve heard it before. Early A.A. had a seventy-five to ninety-three percent success rate among medically incurable alcoholics who really tried. Where did you hear that? In the Big Book! Third Edition, at pages xx, 11, 307, and DR. BOB and the Good Old-timers, p. 261. The documentation is not difficult. The Akron crew appeared in rosters and pictures. The Cleveland crew appeared in rosters with names and addresses. These names are known. The record is astonishing. And was astonishing to the medical community of the day.

     You have probably also read one or more of the many statements by Bill Wilson that nobody invented A.A. That all its ideas were borrowed As Bill Sees It, p. 57. Now, let’s look at some of the quotes we’ve all seen in the Big Book, the Twelve Steps, and Dr. Bob’s comments. You’ll find the quote, the source or sources, and the documentation with each quote.

The Quotable

     First Things First: Big Book, p. 135. Dr. Bob pointed out many times that this slogan came from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:33 ("But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you"). See DR. BOB and the Good Old-timers, pp. 144, 192. The slogan is also mentioned in the Oxford Group books, Soul Surgery. 6th ed., p. 25; and Seeking and Finding, p. 17.

     One Day at a Time: Again, Dr. Bob pointed to the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:34 ("Take therefore no thought [be not anxious] for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof). See DR. BOB and the Good Old-timers, p. 282; The Good Book and The Big Book, p. 87.

     Creator: See the twelve times God Almighty is referred to as the Creator in our Big Book (you look them up in Poe’s Concordance, or just dig out your Third Edition, and go to work). And see Isaiah 40: 28: "Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?" Also, of course, Genesis 1:1!

     Faith without works is dead: According to Bill Wilson, early AAs so liked the Book of James that many favored calling our society the "James Club." See Pass it On, p. 147. (You look up the references to "faith without works is dead" in the Big Book. And see James 2:14, 17-18, 20, 22, 26).

     Love thy neighbor as thyself : Plenty of references to this one in the Good Book, but see particularly James 2:8: "If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well." And Big Book, p. 153: ""Then you will know what it means to give of yourself that others may survive and rediscover life. You will learn the full meaning of "Love thy neighbor as thyself.""

     Maker: Oh, Oh, there’s God Almighty, our Creator, again. See Psalm 95:6, "O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker." And Big Book, p. 57: "He humbly offered himself to his Maker-then he knew." And page 63: "We were now at Step Three. Many of us said to our Maker, as we understood Him: God, I offer myself to Thee. . ."

     Thy will be done: Bill and Dr. Bob each said many times that the Sermon on the Mount contains the underlying philosophy of A.A. You should have no trouble with this source because you hear it in the Lord’s Prayer at the end of most A.A. meetings. And see Matthew 6:10: "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." See also Big Book, pp. 67, 88.

     God either is, or He isn’t. What was our choice to be? Sound familiar? Well it was familiar to AAs and their mentors too. See Big Book, p. 53: "Either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn’t. What was our choice to be?" In Confident Faith (a book owned and circulated by Dr. Bob), Rev. Sam Shoemaker, wrote at p. 187: "God is, or He isn’t. You leap one way or the other." Sam Shoemaker and many others writers, whose books were read by AAs took that idea from Hebrews 11:6 ("But without faith, it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him")

     I’ve got religion: The ranting of an alcoholic crackpot? That’s what Bill thought when Ebby used the expression (Big Book, p. 9). But Sam Shoemaker’s disciples used it frequently. See Children of the Second Birth, pp. 118, 165. But Bill used that same expression himself in a letter I found at Stepping Stones when I was doing my research there. It apparently was written by Bill to Dr. Leonard Strong. And the expression was often used the Oxford Group, to which Ebby and Bill both belonged.

     Pass It On: Ever heard that one? It’s in our Big Book at page 94 and is the title of A.A.’s biography of Bill Wilson. Frank Buchman, founder of the Oxford Group, wrote: "The best way to keep an experience of Christ is to pass it on." See Buchman’s Remaking the World, p. x.

     The Four Absolutes: Honesty, Purity, Unselfishness, and Love: That’s just Oxford Group stuff that was abandoned in 1937? Nope. The Four Absolutes were on the Masthead of the Cleveland Central Bulletin in the 1940's for a long time; and Dr. Bob mentioned them with praise in his last major address in 1948. See Dr. BOB and the Good Old-timers, pp. 54, 163. Where did they come from? From Dr. Robert E. Speer’s The Principles of Jesus (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1902), pp. 33-36).Think that’s wrong? Here’s what Rev. Sam Shoemaker (whom Bill called a "co-founder" of A.A.) wrote. How to Become a Christian at pp. 56-57: "One of the simplest and best rules for self-examination that I know is to use the Four Standards which Dr. Robert E. Speer said represented the summary of the Sermon on the Mount-Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Unselfishness, and Absolute Love."

     Guarding that erring member the tongue: In his farewell address to AAs, Dr. Bob said: "Let us also remember to guard that erring member the tongue, and if we must use it, let’s use it with kindness and consideration and tolerance." (See DR. BOB and the Good Old-timers, p. 338). Was that just an expression Dr. Bob dreamed up in his farewell address? No! Anne Smith had mentioned taming the tongue in her journal. And it came from a major part of Chapter Three in the Book of James. Here are a few lines from James 3:1-13: "Even so the tongue is a little member and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. . . . Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be."

     God as we understood Him: Did this much misunderstood expression come from the atheist Jim Burwell? Jim said so. But Bill Wilson never confirmed that statement and for good reason. Long before there was an A.A. fellowship, Reverend Sam Shoemaker had written: "So they prayed together, opening their minds to as much of God as he understood." (See Children of the Second Birth, pp. 47 and 25). Sam taught Bill’s sponsor Ebby Thacher and Bill himself. And it is not surprising that, long before Jim Burwell got sober, Ebby told Bill to "Turn my face to God as I understand Him and say to Him. . . that I henceforth place my life at His disposal and direction forever." (See The Good Book and the Big Book, pp. 65-66). Bill followed that direction and said that at Towns Hospital, long before Jim Burwell got sober, "I humbly offered myself to God, as I then understood Him, to do with me as He would. I placed myself unreservedly under His care and direction." (See Big Book, First Edition, p. 22; Third edition, p. 13). This simple idea from Sam Shoemaker was set forth in Anne Smith’s Journal and in Oxford Group writings: surrender as much of yourself as you understand to as much of God as you understand. These people (Shoemaker, Ebby, Bill, and Anne Smith) were all referring to our Creator as they understood Him. Not a light bulb, a radiator, or Gertrude.

     Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another being the exact nature of our wrongs: Initially, it came from James 5:16 "Confess your faults one to another and pray for one another that ye may be healed." See Pass it On, p.128. But the phrase itself was written by Sam Shoemaker and also by Dr. Bob’s wife, Anne Smith, in Anne Smith’s Journal. See Anne Smith’s Journal. One example is at page 32: "I must share to be honest with God, myself & others."

     Father of lights: AAWS, Inc. spelled it wrong at page 14 of our Third Edition in the Big Book ("Father of Light"). But Bill Wilson spelled it right his First Edition of the Big Book, at page 23, though Bill did like to capitalize references to God. Bill wrote: "I must turn in all things to the Father of Lights who presides over us all." The name and title come from James 1:17: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."

     Spirit: Bill wasn’t talking about his psychic experiences or spiritualism adventures. Try John 4:24: "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."

More Quotables

     When I was new in sobriety and learning the Big Book, we used to play a game where someone would quote a phrase; and the other person had to locate it in the Big Book. We would know a lot more about our history and sources and words if we spent less time looking in the dictionary and instead turning to the real sources of our basic ideas. Most come from the Bible. Get acquainted with accuracy in talking about the Big Book, the Twelve Steps, and our Slogans. "Let go and let God" refers to our Creator, not Santa Claus. And if you would like to see many more, look them up in The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible; The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living That Works; and New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A. They can be found on Dick B.’s web site on Alcoholics Anonymous History: www.dickb.com/index.shtml

Dick B. is a retired attorney, living in Hawaii and student of the bible.  He has more than 15 published titles to his name including Courage to Change; The Christian Roots of the Twelve-Step Movement.  Send e-mail to: DickB@DickB.com

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