Great Texts of the Bible
The Use of Scripture
But abide thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a babe thou hast known the sacred writings which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.—2 Timothy 3:14-17.
1. There is scarcely any passage of Scripture over which fiercer, more dusty, and more profitless battle has waged than over this. And yet it is a very simple affirmation; certainly not intended by its writer for polemical purposes, but resting upon indisputable experience, and intended for practical uses. The Apostle is addressing a practical exhortation to Timothy, a young preacher of Christianity. He urges him to give no heed to evil men and seducers, who, deceiving and being deceived, would wax worse and worse. He is to continue steadfast in the Christian things which he has been taught, and of the truth of which he has been convinced, especially remembering of whom he had learned them; referring possibly to himself as having been Timothy’s Apostolic instructor, but more probably to Timothy’s mother, Lois, and his grandmother, Eunice. That the tender memories of his education in childhood are thus invoked seems to be indicated by the words that follow: “From a babe thou hast known the sacred writings which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” The great profit to Timothy of this early instruction in the Scriptures is further affirmed by a statement of the general value of the Scriptures in the nurture of the spiritual life. So the object of the writer is simply to affirm the value or profitableness of Scripture in the religious culture of the life. The Scriptures will instruct him, and discipline him, and perfect his qualification for living a godly life.
2. The words apply primarily to the Old Testament. This appears not only from the fact that at the time when they were written the New Testament was still incomplete, and the writings which existed could hardly have acquired the recognized authority implied in this connexion by the term “scripture” (γραφή), but also from considerations arising out of the context. The Scriptures which Timothy, “the son of a Jewess which believed,” whom Paul “took and circumcised” at Lystra, had known from a babe could only have been those of the Old Covenant.
3. The changes introduced by the Revisers in this passage have provoked some sharp criticism. They have been assailed not merely as pedantic and unnecessary, but as indicative of unsoundness in the faith. But in truth, it may be fairly argued that the Revisers’ rendering goes beyond, rather than falls short of, the Authorized Version, in its assertion of the inspiration of Scripture. “Every Scripture inspired of God” refers plainly to the collection of sacred books of which St. Paul had already said that Timothy was acquainted with them from his earliest childhood. Every one of these sacred writings, he continues, each portion of that Divine library, as being full of the breath of God, has its purpose in teaching, controlling, or guiding, or disciplining the life, that the man of God, the Christian prophet, may be thoroughly equipped unto all good works.
4. There is the assertion, then, that the Scriptures are inspired, and there are two reasons given for their Inspiration—first, that they may make us wise unto salvation, and second, that they may make the man of God complete—in other words, the Scriptures are profitable for Redemption and for Sanctification. So we have—
“Every scripture inspired of God.”
1. By inspiration we are to understand that influence of the Spirit of God upon the writers of the Old Testament, by which they were empowered to teach such spiritual truths, and in such measure as was necessary for the religious welfare of those whom they addressed. Inspiration does not imply that the writers were lifted altogether above the level of their contemporaries in matters of plainly secular import. Marvellous as is their historical accuracy, it does not imply supernatural infusion of knowledge on subjects lying within their own observation. They were the faithful witnesses and recorders of the things which they themselves had seen and heard.
Without pretending to define inspiration, or to determine the mystery of its operation, we may, I suppose, say that what we mean by it is an influence which gave to those who received it a unique and extraordinary spiritual insight, enabling them thereby, without superseding or suppressing the human faculties, but rather using them as its instruments, to declare in different degrees, and in accordance with the needs or circumstances of particular ages or particular occasions, the mind and purpose of God.1 [Note: S. R. Driver, Sermons on the Old Testament, 146.]
2. Every true and noble thought of man is indeed, in a sense, inspired of God; but with the Biblical writers the purifying and illuminating Spirit must have been present in some special and exceptional measure. Nevertheless, in the words of the prophet, or other inspired writer, there is a human element, not less than a Divine element, and neither of these must be ignored.
(1) The Divine element in Scripture is manifest to all. The “heavenliness of the matter”—to use the expressive phrase of the Westminster Confession—speaks in it with a clearness which none can mistake, and strikes a responsive chord in every heart that is open to receive a message from above. In the Old Testament we read how God awakened in His ancient people of Israel the consciousness of Himself; and we hear one writer after another unfolding different aspects of His nature, and disclosing with increasing distinctness His gracious purposes towards man. In the pages of the prophets there shine forth, with ineffaceable lustre, those sublime declarations of truth and righteousness and judgment which have impressed all readers, to whatever age or clime or creed they have belonged. In the Psalms we hear the meditations of the believing soul, contemplating with adoring wonder the manifold operations of Providence, or pouring forth its emotions in converse with God. The historians set before us, from different points of view, the successive stages in the Divine education of the race. They show us how its natural tendencies to polytheism were gradually overcome. They show us how Israel was more and more separated from its neighbours, in order to be the effectual witness and keeper of Divine truth. Sin is indeed so deeply rooted in human nature that its extirpation upon this earth is not to be expected; but the writers of the Old Testament explain to us how the ordinances of Israel were adapted to counteract its influence, and to maintain a right attitude of the heart towards God. And they interpret further their nation’s history: they show us how a providential purpose dominates it; how it is subservient to God’s aims; how the past leads on to better possibilities in the future. And the crown and consummation of Israel’s long and chequered past is set before us in the pages of the New Testament. In order to realize what the Bible is, we have but to imagine what the literature of Israel would have been, had not those to whom we owe it been illumined in some special measure by the light from heaven; even though its external history had been approximately the same, its historians, its statesmen, its essayists, its poets, would assuredly have written in a very different strain.
(2) But though the greatness and the spiritual importance of the Divine element in Scripture has often and rightly engrossed men’s attention, still, in order properly to estimate the character of the book which is termed inspired, or the revelation as we actually possess it, the human element must not be overlooked. Not only is Divine truth always presented through the human organ, and thus, so to say, coloured by the individuality of the inspired agent by whom it is enunciated, but it is impossible to close our eyes to the fact that its enunciations are sometimes relative rather than absolute; they are adapted to the circumstances of particular ages, they may even be limited by the spiritual capacity of the particular writer, or, in the case of his being a historian, by the materials or sources of information which he had at his disposal. The revelation of the Old Testament is avowedly progressive; the teaching in its earlier parts may naturally therefore be expected to be imperfect as compared with that which is given in its later parts, or which is to be found in the New Testament. We cannot take at random a passage from the inspired volume and say, without qualification or comparison with other passages, that it is absolute truth, or the pure word of God, or an infallible guide to conduct or character.
The relativity of inspiration is observable very noticeably in the Book of Ecclesiastes. The melancholy conclusion to which the author’s moralizings lead him is that life under all its aspects is dissatisfying and disappointing; the best that can be done with it is to enjoy, while it lasts, such pleasures as it brings with it. “There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and make his soul enjoy good in his labour.” How strangely these words fall upon our ears! How unlike the soaring aspirations of the Psalmists, or the spirit of generous philanthropy which breathes so often in the discourses of the great prophets or the exhortations of the law! The teaching of Ecclesiastes, if followed consistently, could only result in paralysing human effort, and stifling every impulse of an ennobling or unselfish kind. The author’s theory of life is imperfect; untoward and depressing circumstances, as it seems, embittered his spirit, and concealed from him a fuller and more satisfying view of the sphere of human activity. His conclusions possess only a relative value. It is upon life not absolutely, but as he witnessed and experienced it, that he passes his relentless verdict, “All is vanity.” It was the particular age with which he was himself acquainted that prompted him to judge as he did of the uselessness of human endeavour; and his maxims, at least so far as they possess a negative aspect, cannot be applied to a different age without material qualification and reserve.1 [Note: S. R. Driver, Sermons on the Old Testament, 150.]
Of his early acquaintance with the Bible, Thompson writes: “The Bible as an influence from the literary standpoint has a late but important date in my life. As a child I read it, but for its historical interest. Nevertheless, even then I was greatly, though vaguely, impressed by the mysterious imagery, the cloudy grandeurs, of the Apocalypse. Deeply uncomprehended, it was, of course, the pageantry of an appalling dream; insurgent darkness, with wild lights flashing through it; terrible phantasms insupportably revealed against profound light, and in a moment no more; on the earth hurryings to and fro, like insects of the earth at a sudden candle; unknown voices uttering out of darkness darkened and disastrous speech; and all this is in motion and turmoil, like the sands of a fretted pool. Such is the Apocalypse as it inscribes itself on the verges of my childish memories. In early youth it again drew me to itself, giving to my mind a permanent and shaping direction. In maturer years Ecclesiastes (casually opened during a week of solitude in the Fens) masterfully affected a temperament in key with its basic melancholy. But not till quite later years did the Bible as a whole become an influence. Then, however, it came with decisive power. But not as it had influenced most writers. My style, being already formed, could receive no evident impress from it: its vocabulary had come to me through the great writers of our language. In the first place its influence was mystical; it revealed to me a whole scheme of existence, and lit up life like a lantern.”1 [Note: E. Meynell, The Life of Francis Thompson (1913), 172.]
3. Observe a threefold effect of inspiration—the revelation of truth, intensity of feeling, and abiding power in the words.
(1) First, the inspired man was a “seer”; the veil was turned aside, and he was permitted to look into the sanctuary of truth. Think of the Hebrew prophets to whose writings the text refers. The unity, personality, and spirituality of God were revealed to them. They beheld His glory as others did not, and therefore spoke of it in sublime and incomparable language. He is “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity.” “All nations are before him as nothing.” “The heavens are not clean in his sight.” He is “glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders.” They are conscious also of His loving-kindness and tender mercies, so that while they feared His great and awful name, they put their trust under the shadow of His wings. They recognized His active presence in the world, saw His hand in the rise and fall of nations, and history was to them the unfolding of His purpose. The future was opened to some of them, and they foresaw the coming of Him who is the Saviour of men, to “set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed.” The result of inspiration was the same in the minds of the Apostles. There were things in the teaching of Christ which they could not comprehend, others they misunderstood, and others were in the course of time entirely forgotten. But when the Spirit was given He brought all things to their remembrance; they were able to recall the past, and to enter into the meaning of the wonderful words.
A man standing in a large room in the faint twilight of evening can distinguish the objects nearest to him; those farther removed are indistinct and confused, and the most distant are completely lost to his view; but fill the place with light and all things are made manifest. This illustrates the influence of inspiration upon the minds of prophets and apostles: old truths became more important when seen in the new and brighter light; truths imperfectly understood appeared clear and well defined, and things which the unaided reason could not discover were revealed.1 [Note: T. Jones, The Divine Order, 86.]
(2) Secondly, their mental illumination was accompanied by deep and intense feeling. Their spirits were “moved”—they felt the burden of “the word of the Lord”—the truth was in their heart “as a burning fire.” Therefore speech became a necessity, for by speaking they lightened the burden that oppressed them and gave out the fire that burned in their bosoms. When they had messages of peace and good tidings to deliver, their “doctrine dropped as the rain, their speech distilled as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb.” But when the sins of the nation and the judgments of Heaven were their themes they cried aloud, and their language was as terrible as a midnight alarm. Sometimes there is a wail of sorrow in the words they utter; at others they endeavour in vain to express the workings in their spirit, and their broken sentences resemble the mutterings of a storm that fails to open into loud resounding thunder.
Before a man is justified in using the same language and style of speaking and writing as the prophets, he must possess their insight into the truth and the agonizing feeling which they experienced. To use their terrible language without their inspiration is false. Our words and the manner of using them should correspond with the clearness of our mental vision and the depth of our spiritual emotion. If the word of the Lord weighs heavily upon your heart, if the sacred fire burns within you, if your spirit is in anguish because of the sins of your people, then speak as the Hebrew seer spoke. Blow the trumpet in Israel, sound the lamentation, walk through the length and breadth of the land, and cry aloud, “Woe, woe unto thee, saith the Lord God”; but if not, then you had better speak calmly and reason with men, and suggest the truth, and persuade and attract as a friend—nothing more. No good can come of unreality; mimic thunder causes no alarm, and painted fire gives forth no heat. Loud stormy words which are out of all harmony with the convictions and feelings of the mind from which they proceed are worthless as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. Falling upon the speaker’s own ears, they sound hollow, and in his deepest heart he knows they have no meaning. The hearers also in due time will instinctively discover the truth of the matter, and see plainly enough that what he says is said because speaking is his profession; and then will follow this most natural consequence—the alienation of the people from the institutions of religion. The first thing for us all is to be true and honest. To speak as the prophets spoke we also must be enlightened and “moved” by the Holy Ghost.1 [Note: T. Jones, The Divine Order, 88.]
(3) Thirdly, observe the abiding power in the words. The Scriptures have been regarded as records of inspiration. This is true as far as it goes. The wave-marks on the sand make known how high the tide rose. And we have evidence in the words of inspired men how profoundly they were moved by the Divine afflatus that came upon them; but here the comparison ends. We are not to think of the word of God as a dry sea-beach from which the waters have receded, or a forsaken channel through which a river once flowed. A man who has the power of true genius writes a book, it may be a “Paradise Lost,” a “Pilgrim’s Progress,” a “Purgatory,” or an “Inferno.” He has seen visions, his whole nature has been moved by their power, and he speaks in a kind of inspired language. The truth he beheld is in the book; but this is not all, for much of himself is in it also—his thoughts concerning what he saw, his feelings, his passion, and the real energy of his mind. His anger frowns upon the page, his love trembles in the words, his sorrow sighs and sobs in the sentences, and his power fills the book; and in reading it you not only come into contact with the truth it reaches, but you have also communion with the spirit and mind of the author. It is this abiding human spirit in great books that makes them immortal, and gives them power to command the admiration, the love, the smiles, and the tears of many generations. So also of the utterances of holy men under the inspiration of God. “The Lord God, merciful and gracious.” “How excellent is thy loving-kindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.” “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom.” “Thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name.” “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish.” These words and the like of them contain the highest truths, but that is not all; they are instinct with the love, the pity, the sympathy, and the power of the Divine mind. “They are spirit, and they are life.” The ancient sacred fire that descended from heaven continues to burn on the altar of the Bible.
On 28th February 1899 the Bishop addressed the Durham Junior Clergy Society in the Chapter-house on “The Study of the Bible.” In this address he indicated some characteristics of the study of Scripture which he had found to be of primary importance. He mentioned seven: “The study must be systematic, thorough, wide, historical, patient, reverent, vital.” On these characteristics he enlarged, and afterwards in his concluding words said:—
“I charge you to prize and to use your peculiar spiritual heritage which was most solemnly committed to you at your ordination. Our English Church represents in its origin and in its growth the study of the Bible. In the study of the Bible lies the hope of its future. For the study of the Bible in the sense in which I have indicated is of momentous importance at the present time, and it is rare; there is much discussion about the Bible, but, as I fear, little knowledge of it. We are curious to inquire—and it is a reasonable curiosity—when this book and that was written; but we are contented to be ignorant of what this book or that contains. We remain blind to the magnificent course of the Divine education of the world; and still less do we dwell upon the separate phrases of ‘friends of God and prophets,’ and question them and refuse to let them go till they have given us some message of warning or comfort or instruction. Such failures, such neglect, seal the very springs of life. They deprive us of the remedies for our urgent distresses. Who does not know them? We are troubled on all sides by wars and rumours of wars, by the restlessness and anxiety of nations and classes; we ask impatiently if this wild confusion is the adequate result of eighteen centuries of the Gospel of Peace? We ask impatiently, and the Bible offers us an interpretation of a history and life not unlike our own, and helps us to see how the counsel of God goes forward through all the vicissitudes of human fortunes and human wilfulness. Our hearts again constantly fail us for fear of the things which are coming on the world. The Bible inspires us with an unfailing hope. We are yet further perplexed by conflicts of reasoning, by novelties of doctrines, by strange conclusions of bold controversialists. The Bible provides us with a sure touchstone of truth, while
The intellectual power, through words and things,
Goes sounding on, a dim and perilous way,
and brings us back to a living fellowship with Him who is the Truth.”1 [Note: Life and Letters of Brooke Foss Westcott, ii. 267.]
Gallery of sacred pictures manifold,
A minster rich in holy effigies,
And bearing on entablature and frieze
The hieroglyphic oracles of old.
Along its transept aureoled martyrs sit;
And the low chancel side-lights half acquaint
The eye with shrines of prophet, bard, and saint,
Their golden tablets traced in Holy Writ!
But only when on form and word obscure
Falls from above the white supernal light,
We read the mystic characters aright,
And light informs the silent portraiture,
Until we pause at last awe-held before
The One ineffable Face, love, wonder, and adore.2 [Note: J. G. Whittier.]
“The sacred writings which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus: that the man of God may be complete.”
The whole meaning of the Old Testament may be summed up in two words—redemption and sanctification. On the one hand, it is one vast prophetic testimony to Christ, to His person, to His work, to His kingdom; on the other hand, it is the Divine method of teaching man through the facts of history and the various circumstances of life how to subdue the evil within him, and to become conformed in very truth to that image of God in which he was originally created. Whereas we are sometimes told that to insist upon any correspondence between prediction and fulfilment in the Old Testament is to degrade the ancient prophets to the level of the soothsayer or the gipsy fortune-teller, it would be much truer to say that the whole Old Testament is one vast prediction from its first page to its last. It is occupied with one glorious hope. This is its mark and peculiar characteristic. No Jewish legislator, prophet, or singer ever looks back to the past with fond regret. Each looks forward with ardent longing for the advent of the coming Deliverer. This is the golden thread which runs through that marvellous, diversified web of law and history, of song and fable, of proverb and allegory by which the Old Testament is marked. Christ is the sum and substance of all its law, its poetry, its ritual, its prophecies. The lives and devout aspirations of all holy men of old point to Him. Without Him these ancient writings, as St. Augustine says, have no point or meaning, but are flat, stale, and unprofitable. Behold Him in them all, and they become at once instinct with life and beauty; or, as the same Father profoundly says, the New Testament is latent in the Old, the Old patent in the New.
1. The first of the characters ascribed to the sacred writings is that they are the appointed means of grace. God Himself is the only Saviour: no power but His own is able to do this work. He might, if He had so pleased, have accomplished it simply by the direct and inclusive exertion of His own will and power, without requiring the concurrent action of any other being, or the employment of any concurrent instrumental means. If He chooses to adopt the latter scheme, He has the right to prescribe the means or instruments to be used, and to assign whatever function or effect He may see fit to each appointed ordinance. He may so condition the exercise of His own and only efficacious power on the instrumental means that the use of the instrument will infallibly carry the employment of the power. Or He may appoint the use of the instrument to be simply concurrent with the use of His own power, but as in no way so conditioning His power as to subject it to the will of the human user of the means and remove it from His own absolute control. But whatever function may be assigned to the appointed ordinance, the appointment of such ordinance and the positive requirement of its use for ever settles both the question in regard to the ordinance itself and the question as to who is to use it. Any interference on the part of any one, either to change an ordinance or to qualify the persons who are entitled to employ it, is the presumption and the inconceivable guilt of interfering with the legislative authority of the Almighty God Himself. Now the Scriptures say of themselves that “these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” They say that “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.” “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth.” “Born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.” Believers are exhorted to “take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” These testimonials are clear, positive, and peremptory. Their meaning is so plain that it cannot be made plainer. They teach that inasmuch as salvation is by faith, and faith must be based upon truth, the Word of God, which contains all His testimony, is one of the chiefest of the means of grace. They teach that as faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, it is at the peril of faith, and consequently at the peril of salvation, that we refuse the use of the Scriptures. To neglect them is to assume the responsibility of neglecting a necessary means of life.
The reader will do well to keep in mind what is the one object we set before him in the present inquiry: to enjoy the Bible and to turn it to his benefit. Whatever else he may propose to himself in dealing with the Bible, this remains his one proper object. In another order of interest, the poetry of Homer supplies here a useful illustration for us. Elaborate inquiries have been raised as to the date, authorship, and mode of composition of the Homeric Poems. Some writers have held, too, and have laboriously sought to prove, that there is a hidden, mystical sense running all through them. All this sort of disquisition, or at any rate Borne department of it, is nearly sure to catch at one time or another the attention of the reader of Homer, and to tempt and excite him. But, after all, the proper object for the reader of the Homeric poems remains this: to enjoy Homer, and to turn him to his benefit. In dealing even with Homer, we say, this is found true and very needful to be borne in mind;—with an object where yet the main interest is properly intellectual. How much more does it hold true of the Bible! where the main interest is properly not intellectual, but practical.1 [Note: Matthew Arnold, God and the Bible, 99.]
(1) The Scriptures show us our need of being saved. They describe how our first parents were created in righteousness and true holiness after the image of God Himself, and give us a bright picture of the blessedness of their first estate, but then they show us how Adam and Eve fell, and how the race fell with them. They describe how corruption and wickedness spread and prevailed on the earth, the imagination of men’s hearts being evil and that continually, and how God brought in the flood upon the world of the ungodly. They show us how wickedness prevailed again, its cry going up to heaven, and how such cities as Sodom and Gomorrah brought down the consuming fire of the Divine wrath. They show us how in aftertimes, even among the people chosen to be the people of the Lord, there was ever present, as a reason for lamentation, grievous backsliding and sin. Even of them the Lord says: “It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways.”
(2) But the Scriptures exhibit to us thus the sinfulness and the misery of our state with a view to awaken us, and rouse us to put the question, What shall we do that we may be delivered and saved? And while they rouse and move us thus, they come to us expressly as the message of salvation from the Lord Himself. While they exhibit the whole of the Divine character, testifying to God’s perfect righteousness, they are especially the witness to and the glorious revelation of the exceeding riches of His grace.
(3) The Scriptures guide us to salvation by leading us to Jesus Christ. The Old Testament pointed from the beginning to the coming of Jesus the Saviour. Salvation was promised immediately after the Fall, and the promise was contained in the announcement of the appearing of Him who should bruise the head of the enemy, who should destroy the works of the devil. And the announcement was made with ever-increasing distinctness and definiteness from generation to generation during the ages that followed. The prophets in that long line stretching from Moses to Malachi pointed to the coming great atoning redemption work and to Him, through whom, by whom it should be accomplished. The Scriptures led believers in ancient times to wait for Christ, and they found salvation looking forward to His Coming, and trusting in Him. When He appeared the Scriptures testified concerning Him, pointed Him out, led the inquiring to Him, to find their salvation in Him. Timothy was made wise unto salvation, being led by the Scriptures to Christ Himself.
Here is the paramount meaning of the Old Testament. It is a preparation, long drawn out, manifold and many-sided, for Jesus Christ. This is how the Apostles and the first Evangelists looked upon it, and this is how, we may reverently add, they were taught to look upon it by our Lord Himself. For was it not the Lord Jesus Himself who said to the disciples on their way to Emmaus, “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into his glory”? Was it not the Saviour Himself who said that “all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me”; and who, “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself”? Was it not Christ Himself who said of the Old Testament Scriptures, “These are they which testify of me”? who said in view of His Passion, “How then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be”? The roots, then, of the Christian religion are to be found in the Old Testament. The Redemption postulates the Fall of man. We read the Old Testament, and find that Christ is the Key of it.
I do not mean to say that the Old Testament has no value apart from the historical Jesus; and that a Jew may not be warned and corrected, and instructed in righteousness thereby. Far from it. But this is certain, that men fed and nourished on the law and the prophets, and on them only, will remain children of Israel still; and the work of God in the education of the world for the last nineteen centuries will reach them only in a very enfeebled and ineffective way. It is Christ who gives universal meaning to the contents, and sanctifying power to the truths and hopes, and triumphant energy to the redemptive idea of the Old Testament. He is the Light of the Word as well as of the world; and even the Jew will reach his ideal only through that greatest Jew, Christ Jesus. The Scriptures are able to make men wise unto salvation; but it is through faith which is in Him.1 [Note: John Clifford.]
There is a splendid recklessness in the use which the Apostles make of the Old Testament, penetrating to the very core of its spiritual meaning in the power of a new fact, the fact of the crucified and risen Jesus. That ancient code, which under the authority of those who sat in Moses’ seat had well-nigh become a barren and unprofitable absurdity, lived again in the great conviction that to the believer the end of the law is Christ. The Christian re-read his Bible not in the rabbinic schools of Jerusalem or Galilee, but by the empty sepulchre where the body of Jesus had lain. It is the Gospel of St. John and the Epistle to the Romans which crown and consummate the prophets, not the puerile pedantries of the Talmud. Well has it been said that it is the atoning death of Christ which is the true guarantee that every Scripture is inspired of God.2 [Note: J. G. Simpson, Christian Ideals, 134.]
The “thoroughly evangelical” note of Stanton’s preaching which struck Bishop Wilberforce no one would deny. It was sounded all the time. That love for the Bible which comes of knowing what it contains and is kept alive by close and intimate study of the sacred Scriptures—for with most of us only when we leave off reading the Bible do we cease to care for it, and the same thing is true, of course, of the writings of many profane authors—was a great factor in Stanton’s ministerial life, and mightily affected his preaching. The “music of the Gospel” was ever leading him home, and he must needs bring all who would give ear within sound of the brave song. It was this love for the Bible, with the Evangelicalism that dwelt so constantly on the Personal Saviour, that endeared Stanton’s preaching to many old-fashioned, earnest-minded Protestants, both Nonconformist and Church of England, whom the “higher criticism” and the “new theology,” and the general incursion of rationalist modernism, had driven from their accustomed places of worship.… For him the Bible was indeed the Book of books, containing the priceless words of truth and life, and wealth of treasure that not all the rest of the books ever written could match. A lady once asked Stanton what book he would advise her to read during Lent. “I told her,” said Stanton, “why not read the Bible?”1 [Note: J. Clayton, Father Stanton, 131.]
2. “Through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” St. Paul speaks of this as the condition of our knowing the real power of the Old Testament. We may learn from him, surely, a great lesson in regard to an anxiety felt by many in the present day. There is no better course by which each one of us may strengthen his position in regard to the Old Testament than by using every means to make more real and sure his union with Christ. It is hard for us to do justice to that which St. Paul meant by “faith which is in Christ Jesus,” the word “faith” has been dragged through so many controversies, and thrust so often into false antitheses. But we can see that he meant not less than this—the surrender of one’s life to Christ, to be conformed to His example, guided by the daily disclosure of His will, informed and strengthened by His grace; the conviction that for His sake, and by the power of His perfect sacrifice, we can be set free from the sins that hinder and defile us, and know the miracle of God’s forgiveness; the growing certainty that He Himself, our Blessed Lord, vouchsafes to come and dwell within us, by the operation of the Holy Ghost, giving us His own life, and making us strong to be true, and humble, and patient, and unselfish; strict with ourselves, as knowing how much need we have of strictness; gentle, and making large allowances for others, as never knowing how sorely they are tried; enabling us, in spite of all that is past, to follow the blessed steps of His most holy life.
When he read his Bible, he knew that he was travelling through beautiful country—he kept his eyes open for fair visions and his ears for heavenly songs—it was his book of wonder and surprise, of song and of love. He was of opinion that it should be bound in red because it is the book of Bed Romance. It never became an “old” book to him—for it was always more modern to him than the daily paper. I have many pictures in my mind of his reading the Word, but the one which is most vivid is that of the way in which he read the story of the Crucifixion. When he read it in public the under-refrain of it all was, How could they do it? How could men reject and crucify Love? The mystery of the Cross was to him not only in Love dying for others (he knew something of that), but also in men scourging and hissing and hounding Love out of the world. That was indeed a mystery to this lover. When one went to see him towards Good Friday, one would note that his reading was in the story of the Cross as told by the Evangelists. He read it then and always—to use John Bunyan’s phrase—“with the water standing in his eyes” and also with wonder and glad surprise. If his prayers were like the drawing up of Robinson Crusoe’s ladder, I think his Bible-reading was akin to the hunting of that well-known adventurer. He yearned to find food for the day’s tasks, to fill the storehouse of his life with the plenty of God’s Word. He caught his venison and roasted it. His Bible gave him his daily banquet.1 [Note: Love and Life: The Story of J. Denholm Brash, 64.]
“Every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for instruction which is in righteousness.”
The Apostle singles out four ways in which the Scriptures may become profitable in our sanctification.
1. They are “profitable for doctrine” or for teaching. The Bible is pre-eminently a religious book. The substance of the Decalogue is love to God and man. The sacrifices and ceremonies of the law instituted by Moses were visible emblems of moral and spiritual truths. The great lesson of the Book of Job is the duty of trusting God in the darkest, stormiest day. In the historical books we behold the Divine providence in the affairs of men, and learn the vast importance of true principles in statesmanship, and right conduct in life. The psalms are poetic expressions of human wants—faith, prayer, and worship. The prophets enforce with marvellous eloquence the necessity of obedience to God. Solomon ended his teaching thus: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.” The sayings of our Saviour are “the words of eternal life.” The writings of the Apostles explain the doctrines, duties, hopes, and joys of religion. The Book of Revelation exhibits the triumph of knowledge, faith, right, and holiness over ignorance, infidelity, wrong and sin. The questions to ask with regard to the Scriptures are these: Is the religion they offer adapted to the wants of man? Do they teach a true spiritual philosophy? If men receive their doctrines and obey their precepts, will they become wiser, truer, and more holy than by rejecting them? These questions are answered in the affirmative by the experience of thousands. They know that the Scriptures are what they profess to be, “profitable for doctrine” and “able to make men wise unto salvation,” and therefore none of the difficulties which criticism may raise can shake their faith in the Word of God. There may be spots on the sun, but it is, notwithstanding, the great fountain of light to this and other worlds.
Oh, that we would all read our Bible with more teachable hearts, with more determined will to find out what it has to say to us about our calling here, our destiny hereafter, that we would store up its precepts in our memory, to be our strength in the moment of temptation, its examples in our imagination, to be the pattern and model of our daily lives! Do not think that having a Bible, or reading a Bible, is any good, except so far as we live by the Bible. The Bible is the rule of life as well as of faith, of what we are to do, as well as of what we are to believe.1 [Note: Bishop Fraser’s Lancashire Life, 35.]
2. Akin to this there is another thought that follows. The Scriptures are profitable for correction. Some read to criticize. They cannot admire the great opening poem of the Book of Genesis, in which the inspired muse sings the creative power of the Almighty in notes “harmonious with the morning stars,” because it does not speak with scientific precision. It is quite right to point out whatever inaccuracies may be discovered in the history of the deliverance from Egypt and the sojourn in the wilderness, but one cannot help remarking that that is a peculiar state of mind in which a man can read through the wonderful story without being once struck with its spirit, its grandeur, and its awfulness. Others turn the sacred pages to find support for the systems they have formed. This is the same as if a man constructed a theory of nature, and afterwards went in search of the facts whereby its truth must be proved. Others, again, read for comfort. They have been disappointed by the world in which they placed too much trust; or death has broken in upon their charmed circle and filled their hearts with sorrow; or their health is failing, and there are indications that the end is not distant; or their sin has been a burden from which they seek rest. Well, let them read for comfort, for the Bible is the book of sorrowful people. Its deep impressions of Divine love, sympathy, and tenderness have in them a power to heal the broken heart. But we should also know that the Scriptures are given for our “correction.” He is the wise reader of God’s Word who tries his opinion, beliefs, principles, life, and character by the Divine standard, and is willing to have them corrected.
The Bible is, indeed, simple enough for the simple, but it is also unfathomably deep. No book takes such an entire sweep of all that affects and interests man. No book begins so low or ends so high. The most tainted being, whose face is one plague-spot from brow to chin, gets a new knowledge of himself here, not with the contaminating knowledge of curiosity, but with the healing and hallowing knowledge of repentance. And the most holy saint, the face that seems to its fellows already radiant with the beatific vision, looks in and says, “Hush! for I see something higher, holier still.”1 [Note: R. W. Barbour, Thoughts, 18.]
3. Again, the Bible is profitable for instruction which is in righteousness. In the Bible we have a record of a growing insight into the meaning of righteousness. The earlier teachers had not risen to the level of the great Teacher in the Sermon on the Mount. Like all God’s works, the Bible is characterized by growth. The stage reached by many of the Old Testament teachers ought long ago to have been passed by the Christian Church. Yet is the Bible, in the parts that belong to the immature youth of the Hebrew nation, as well as in the later parts, the world’s lesson-book of righteousness. “If you want to know plastic art,” says a modern Biblical critic, “if you want to know plastic art, you go to the Greeks. If you want to know science, you go to the Aryan genius. And why? Because they have the speciality for these things, for making us feel what they are, and giving us an enthusiasm for them. Well, so has Israel and the Bible a speciality for righteousness; for making us feel what it is, and giving us an enthusiasm for it.” Righteousness is the stuff of which character is formed, its basal element. This is the speciality of the Bible, the burden of its pages, the passion of its writers. At the beginning of it there might be written for motto or text, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
4. This brings us to the high purpose for which the Scriptures were given to us, namely, to impart “instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete”—right in every respect, in thought, feeling, character, and therefore right in state and condition; right in himself, right in his relation to his fellows, and right before God. The aim of the husbandman in the tree he plants and cultivates is to have fruit; but nature is as careful of the blossoms and the foliage as of the fruit, for her purpose is a perfect tree. Men cultivate parts of their nature. Some educate and develop their physical nature, and not much else. Others pay attention to the sensuous soul—they love music, art, eloquence, and light literature. There are persons who are mere thinkers; the cultivation of the intellectual powers is the one important thing in their estimation. Some spend their lives in small activities—things that are good in themselves, but which become harmful when done to the neglect of more important duties. There is good in all of these; but none of them aims high enough. The Divine purpose is not physical perfection, or intellectual strength, or refinement of taste, not even morality and devotion, but the full development of the whole nature, “that the man of God may be complete.”
From the cradle I was brought up in a religious atmosphere. All my relations on my father’s side have for ages been known as eminent for their piety. Some of them were giants in stature, and still more so in spiritual attainments. I have even now very vivid recollections of the prayers offered up at the Saturday evening prayer-meetings by Uncles David and Rees. How they used to pour out their souls before God! How they would wrestle with God! Each of them presented to my imagination a living picture of wrestling Jacob. All these godly men took the deepest interest in me. How much I owe to their prayers and loving counsel is known to God only. Then there was the Sunday School, with all its hallowed influences. In those days the Sunday School in Wales was a grand institution for imbuing the child’s mind with Biblical knowledge and Christian principles. I seem to have been born and brought up in the House of God, and among God’s people. It may be truly said of me, as it was said of Timothy, “And from a babe thou hast known the Holy Scriptures.”1 [Note: Griffith John: The Story of Fifty Years in China, 4.]
De Quincey divided all literature into two kinds, the literature of knowledge—such as hand-books of science, and all books of mere information—and the literature of power—books which sway the spirits of men and build up their character. In the literature of power the Bible takes a first place, for it is instinct with power of the highest kind; spiritual power, power to touch the noblest springs of action, to develop the highest faculties, to form the truest manhood—power to influence men’s lives to the grandest issues. And if we consider how the literature of power in general produces its effects, we shall discover how the Bible is to become for us a source of spiritual profit. A poem of Wordsworth, a chapter of Ruskin, or an essay of Carlyle are lost upon us unless they, in some measure, lift us into the spirit of the writers when they wrote. That is the use of the literature of power—to make us sharers in its power, its visions, its aspirations, its sympathies, its enthusiasms. So the Bible is to exercise power over us by lifting us up into the spiritual life of the writers, out of which its words have come. It is not enough to receive its doctrine into our heads, and to busy ourselves with the knowledge it conveys. What is needed is that we become inspired with the Spirit which inspired the sacred writers, and share their spiritual vision. It is so that the Bible has worked upon men like St. Augustine, Thomas à Kempis, and John Bunyan. They were full of the Holy Ghost. The spirit of the Scriptures breathed in their works, and has made the Confessions, the Imitation of Christ, and the Pilgrim’s Progress a noble part of the literature of spiritual power. The Scriptures have imparted to them something of their own genius.2 [Note: D. M. Ross.]
If you put this Book into the hands of your children directly they have left the cradle and are learning to read; and if you give them a sufficiently good education to enable them to read the Book and to understand it as they understand other books; and if you should tell them that they should try to use this Book very much as a soldier uses his book of regulations, to learn how to behave himself in the army, in the battle, in the face of the foe; if you teach your children that this is the purpose of the Bible, for instruction or education in righteousness, your children will find their way to Jesus Christ, they will find salvation, the righteousness that is in Him. And not only will they find Jesus Christ, but in the process of finding Him they will have become men and women, and not mere babes under tuition. You will find that there has been produced in them a strength of mind and of conscience which will make them different from other people who have been taught in easier but less effectual ways.1 [Note: R. F. Horton, England’s Danger, 106.]
The Use of Scripture
Allon (H.), The Indwelling Christ, 123.
Clifford (J.), Daily Strength for Daily Living, 373.
Driver (S. R.), Sermons on the Old Testament, 143.
Gibson (E. C. S.), The Old Testament in the New, 1.
Gray (W. H.), Old Creeds and New Beliefs, 126.
Grimley (H. N.), The Temple of Humanity, 218.
Gutch (C.), Sermons, 214.
Hamer (D. J.), Salt and Light, 219.
Hoare (E.), Great Principles of Divine Truth, 1.
Horton (R. F.), England’s Danger, 105.
How (W. W.), The Knowledge of God, 15.
Hutton (A. W.), Ecclesia Discens, 70.
Ingram (A. F. W.), The Call of the Father, 155.
Jefferson (C. E.), Things Fundamental, 105.
John (Griffith), A Voice from China, 145.
Jones (T.), The Divine Order, 83.
Leach (C.), Sunday Afternoons with Working Men, 295.
Lock (W.), The Bible and Christian Life, 179.
Momerie (A. W.), Inspiration and other Sermons, 1.
Moody (A.), The Message of Salvation, 83.
Moore (E. W.), The Promised Rest, 203.
Paget (F.), The Spirit of Discipline, 174.
Palmer (E. R.), The Development of Revelation , 15.
Randolph (B. W.), Christ in the Old Testament, 1.
Robarts (F. H.), Sunday Morning Talks, 184.
Ryle (H. E.), On Holy Scripture and Criticism, 1, 170.
Shelford (L. E.), By Way of Remembrance, 133.
Shillito (E.), Looking Inwards, 80, 85.
Simpson (J. G.), Christian Ideals, 127.
Sinclair (W. M.), Christ and Our Times, 49.
Stuart (S. A.), Children of God, 11.
Vaughan (C. R.), Sermons, 45.
Cambridge Review, viii. No. 184; xxi. No. 536 (G. F. Browne).
Christian World Pulpit, xxxviii. 257 (J. J. S. Perowne); xxxix. 298 (J. Clifford); xl. 275 (W. Briscombe); liii. 241 (R. F. Horton); Leviticus 27 (D. M. Ross); lxxi. 88 (R. F. Horton); lxxiii. 309 (S. Chadwick).
Church of England Pulpit, lxii. 2 (W. P. Roberts).
Expository Times, ii. 54 (J. J. S. Perowne).