There is only one Book that never grows old.
For thousands of years men have been writing books. Most books are forgotten soon after they are written; a few of the best and wisest are remembered for a time.
But all at last grow old; new discoveries are made; new ideas arise; the old books are out of date; their usefulness is at an end. Students are the only people who still care to read them.
The nations to which the authors of these first books belonged have passed away, the languages in which they were written are 'dead' -- that is, they have ceased to be used in daily life in any part of the world.
Broken bits and torn fragments of some of the early books may be seen in the glass cases of museums. Learned men pore over the fragments, and try to piece them together, to find out their meaning once again; but no one else cares much whether they mean anything or not. For the books are dead. They cannot touch the heart of any human being; they have nothing to do with the busy world of living men and women any more.
Now, our Bible was first written in these ancient languages: is it, therefore, to be classed among the 'dead' books of the world?
No, indeed. The fact alone that the Word of God can be read to-day in 412 living languages proves clearly that it is no dead book; and when we remember that last year 5,000,000 new copies of the Bible were sent into the busy working world for men and women by one Society alone, we see how truly 'alive' it must be.
Nations may pass, languages die, the whole world may change, yet the Bible will live on. Why is this?
Because in the Bible alone, of all the books seen on this earth, there is found a message for every man, woman, or child who has ever lived or will live while the world lasts:
It is the Message of God's Salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.
The message is for all; for the cleverest white man, the most ignorant savage; for the black man of Africa, the yellow man of China, the tawny little man who lives among the icefields of the Arctic Circle.
It does not matter who the person is, nor where he lives; a living force exists in the Bible that will help every human being who acts upon its words to become one of God's true sons and soldiers. No human wisdom can explain this.
The Bible tells us about Christ. Before Christ came all teaching led up to Him. He is the only safe Guide for our daily life. Through His death alone we have hope for the future. From the first page to the last the Bible speaks of Christ. This is the secret of its wondrous power.
'These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning Me.' (Luke xxiv.44.)
Although we speak of the Bible as one Book, because it tells one world-wide story, yet this one Book is made up of many books -- of a whole library of books in fact.
[Illustration: BROKEN BITS OF CLAY BOOKS IN THE CUNEIFORM LANGUAGE, BELONGING TO THE TIME WHEN MOSES WROTE THE FIRST WORDS OF GENESIS]
Go into a library, look at the well-stocked shelves. Here is a volume of history, here a book of beautiful poetry, here a life of a great and noble warrior. This book was written only last year, this one appeared many years before you were born.
Just so is it with the books of the Bible.
For more than a thousand years God was calling the best and wisest men of the Jewish nation to write for His Book. Some of the authors were rich and learned; many were humble and poor. Kings wrote for it; a shepherd-boy; a captive lad who had been carried away as a slave into a strange land; a great leader; a humble fruit-gatherer; a hated tax-collector; a tent-maker; many poor fishermen. God found work for them all.
There are sixty-six books in the Bible, written by at least forty different authors. Books on history; collections of sacred songs; lives of good men and women; stirring appeals to the sinful. God chose the men best fitted to write each part. He called them to His work; He spoke to their hearts; He put His Spirit into their minds.
In these days those who read God's Word often forget what old, old writings the first books in the Bible are, and how everything has changed since they were written.
Seeing the words so clearly printed on fine white paper, readers do not stop to think that they have come down to us from the days when the greatest nations in the world wrote their best books on lumps of clay, or on rough, brittle paper made from brown reeds.
So these Bible readers grow impatient, and because they cannot understand everything all at once, some are even foolish enough to give up reading the Old Testament altogether.
But the things that are hard to understand are only hard because we are still so ignorant. Whenever any new discovery about the ancient times has been made it has always shown us how exactly true the Bible is.
Some years ago, just at the time when the doubts and carpings were at their worst, when those people who did not trust God even declared that many of the cities and kings mentioned in the Old Testament had never existed at all, a wonderful thing happened. God allowed the old cities themselves to be brought to light once more.
Deep under the earth they were found, with their beautiful palaces, libraries full of books, and long picture-galleries, lined from end to end with stone and marble slabs, on which were cut portraits of the very kings whose existence the people were beginning to doubt! This is how it happened.
'The Bible does not describe things as they really were,' said some people. 'In Old Testament times, for instance, the nations were very rough and ignorant; as for Moses -- who is supposed to have written the first books of the Bible -- it is most doubtful whether he ever learned to read and write at all.'
'But Moses was brought up in Egypt, and the Egyptians were very learned; the Bible says so,' answered others.
'The man who wrote those words in the Bible may have made a mistake. It is true that the ruins of old Egyptian temples and palaces are covered with strange figures and signs; but who can say now whether they mean anything or not?'
Those who trusted in God's Word could not answer these questions; but just at this time God allowed the first great discovery to be made; for the moment had at last come when all thoughtful men and women needed to be able to settle these questions for themselves.
In the year 1799 a French officer who was in Egypt with Napoleon's army discovered the Rosetta Stone.
You may see this stone in the British Museum. It is a great block of black marble. On the smooth side, cut deeply in the stone, are a number of lines of ancient writing. Many stones covered with ancient writing had been found before, but this one is different from all the rest.
The lines at the top of the stone are in the strange old Egyptian picture-writing, which learned men have agreed to call 'Hieroglyphic'; that is, 'writing in pictures.' This was a very special kind of writing in ancient Egypt, and generally kept for important occasions. The lines in the middle give the same words, but in the ordinary handwriting used for correspondence in ancient Egypt; and last of all is found a translation of the Egyptian words written in ancient Greek.
This old kind of Greek is not spoken in daily life by any people to-day, but many learned men can read and write it with ease; so that, you see, by the help of the Greek translation, the Rosetta Stone became a key for discovering the meaning of both kinds of ancient Egyptian letters. Thus, by the help of the Rosetta Stone, and after years of patient labour, the long-dead language could be read once more.
Egypt -- the land into which Joseph was sold, where the Israelites became a nation, and Moses was born and educated! How great a joy to read the words carved on temple walls, or in palace halls; and to find with each word read how exactly the Egypt of ancient days is described in the Bible!
The dress the people wore, the food they ate, the way they spoke to their kings, the description of their funerals, the very name of their famous river, and the words they used to describe the plants, insects, and cattle of Egypt -- all these are found in the Bible and are proofs of the care with which Moses wrote of the land of his birth.
But other nations besides the Egyptians are mentioned in the Bible; and about them also grave doubts arose. Almost all the Old Testament prophets cried out against the wickedness of Assyria and Babylon, and foretold the awful punishment which God would bring upon them for their pride and cruelty, unless they repented.
They did not repent; destruction came upon them; their very names were forgotten, and their cities as utterly lost to the world as though they had never existed.
'Nineveh, Babylon? There were such cities once, perhaps; but as for the kings of whom the Bible speaks -- Sennacherib, who came up against Jerusalem, and was driven back through the prayers of God's servants, Isaiah and King Hezekiah (2 Kings xviii.19); Nebuchadnezzar, who carried Daniel away into Babylon; Ahasuerus, who reigned "from India even unto Ethiopia" (Esther) -- well, if they ever lived at all, they were certainly not the kind of kings spoken of in the Old Testament. But it all happened so long ago that we cannot expect to understand much about it now.'
[Illustration: EGYPTIAN SCRIBES AT WORK. (A) CASES FOR HOLDING WRITING MATERIALS. NOTICE SPARE PEN PLACED BEHIND THE CLERK'S EAR]
So the questioners settled the matter in their own minds; but God had the answer to their questions all ready for them.
He put into the hearts of some brave men the idea of going out to the desolate plains, 'empty and void, and waste' (Nahum ii.10), the plains that had once been the rich empires of Assyria and Babylon, and there to search patiently for some trace of the splendid cities of old.
Very wonderful is the story of how these searchers found them.
Nineveh had been lying buried under huge mounds of rubbish for more than two thousand years. Now, just at the time when her testimony was needed, the ruined halls of her majestic palaces were once more brought to the light of day.
What had been the names of these grim kings of old, whose stern-faced figures were sculptured on the walls? Could any among them be the fierce Assyrian kings mentioned in the Bible?
If only the strange wedge-shaped letters that covered every vacant space on the stone slabs could be read, what a message from the past they would reveal.
Once again clever men set to work and persevered until the strange letters were deciphered, and the palace-walls gave up their secrets. Here was King Sennacherib; here Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings xv.29); here Esarhaddon (2 Kings xix.37). Oh, how wonderful to look at the old-time portraits which had been drawn from the men themselves!
'Well, although the Egyptians and Assyrians prove to have been great nations in the time of Moses, they had no communication with each other except in war time; they spoke different languages, wrote in altogether different styles, and had very different ideas about everything. Nations kept to themselves in those days. What the Bible says of their intercourse must be wrong.'
This all the clever people were quite sure about, but once again God showed them their mistake.
Twenty-five years ago an Egyptian peasant woman was walking among the ruins of an ancient Egyptian city -- a city built before the time of Moses. Bright yellow sand had drifted over the broken columns and painted pavements of what had once been the palace of a great king. But the peasant woman did not care for that. Was there anything hidden in the sand that she could sell? This was all her thought.
Suddenly her foot struck against something hard in the sand. She looked down. Could it be a stone?
No, it was not a stone, but a queer oblong lump, or tablet of clay, hardened into a brick, and covered with strange marks that looked like writing. She wondered at it, for with all her findings in the ruins she had never come upon anything like this before.
She showed the tablet to her friends, and they dug down deep in the sand, and found whole sackfuls of baked clay tablets. But when the dealer in curiosities saw the lumps of baked clay he shook his head, and would give very little money for them.
After a while some of the bricks were taken to Paris and London.
'These tablets could not have been found in Egypt,' decided the learned professors; 'they are either imitations, or they were found somewhere else. These are clay letters, and must have been written in Assyria or Babylonia. No Egyptian could have understood a word of them.'
Yet the tablets had been found in Egypt, and had been read by the king of Egypt's scribes, for the peasant woman, had all unknowingly discovered what remained of the Foreign Office belonging to the old Egyptian nation, and thus we see that the Egyptians of Moses' time could read and write foreign languages as easily as we can to-day read and write French or German!