The Written Word
Jeremiah 36:2
Take you a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel, and against Judah…

Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee "This is the first recorded instance of the formation of a canonical book, and of the special purpose of its formation." No doubt other prophets had committed to writing more or less of their teachings - the quotations of one prophet from another, the later from the earlier, prove this; but here is the first record of any such act, and hence it has especial interest. It is the forerunner of all those several Scriptures which together form now the depository of our religion, and justify the well known saying of Chillingworth, "The Bible and the Bible only is the religion of Protestants." For note -

I. OUR RELIGION DEPENDS ON THE WRITTEN WORD. Great contempt has been poured on the idea of a "book revelation." As if there were something even ridiculous in the idea of God revealing himself by means of a book. A recent missionary traveller (Gilmour) among the Mongols states that they feel the force of this objection very strongly, and that when the missionary holds up his little Bible as the revelation of God, it seems to them very absurd. But these people can claim distinguished companionship amongst our own countrymen. And in addition to the rejection of a book revelation at all, this particular book, the Bible, is objected to exceedingly. All manner of ridicule is poured on it, and there is scarce a single ground on which fault could be found with it which some one has not occupied. But in reply note -

II. THE WRITTEN WORD IS, HOWEVER, NOT THE REVELATION BUT ONLY THE RECORD OF IT. It is not claimed for it to be more than this. God did not give to mankind a book, but he revealed himself to "holy men of old," and especially through the Lord Jesus Christ. And this book is the record of that revelation. Hence the only question that concerns us is - Is it a faithful record?

III. BUT SUCH A RECORD WAS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. For if the existence of God be allowed, and that it is his desire to reclaim men from their sin and to bring them back to himself, it may be asked:

1. How could this be done except by his revealing himself to men? They must be enabled to know him, and to know him in such manner as would be likely to move them in the direction desired.

2. But if it be granted that a revelation was a necessity, how could that revelation be of use to mankind at large unless it were put on record? For all events are related to time and space; they must have happened - God's revelation of himself amongst others - somewhen and somewhere. But how, except by a record, could those who dwelt in other generations and in other parts of the world know of this revelation? But for that it may as well not have been.

3. And so long as the Divine ideas are conveyed to our mind, what does it matter about the means employed? All the magnificence of nature - the Alpine heights, the starry universe, etc. - serve us only as they convey true and worthy ideas, as they wake up in us fit and appropriate thoughts. If they fail in this, they might as well not be so far as we are concerned. But there are many who never have opportunities of beholding the magnificence of nature - their lives are one long round of sordid toil in scenes dark and squalid; and others who have such opportunities are too little educated to learn from them what they assuredly have to tell. The road that leads from nature up to nature's God is a thinly travelled one; few go that way. But now, if by the written Word, which can be carried everywhere, perpetuated, multiplied, and is everywhere and at all times accessible - if by this there can be conveyed to the mind fit, true, and heart moving ideas about God, what an advantage this is! Instead of being a cause of scorn, it should awaken our gratitude.

4. And those features in this record which seem to some unworthy of its great mission, these really are of great service. No doubt there is much of homeliness and of trivial and seemingly insignificant detail in this record. It is a very plain, prosaic book in many parts. But is not this a great boon? Had God's revelation of himself to us been accompanied by a blaze of splendour, with such manifestations of Divine power to the senses or to the intellect as some seem to desire, the revelation would have been lost in the record; no one would look at the picture, their attention being so much occupied with the setting. Hence it is good for us that we live so long after the times of the Bible. It is expedient for us that Christ has gone away. For in proportion to men's nearness to those times "events having God in them took a more forcible hold upon their mind than God in the events." The atmosphere of time is needed in order to our right viewing of the marvellous facts of the Bible.


1. As to the facts themselves - in their main substance and meaning. This question is quite apart from inspiration. Nothing but honesty and intelligence are asked for here. Of course, if any start with the assumption that the supernatural is not, and hence miracles are by their very nature impossible, and the belief of them absurd, such a one will refuse all credence to this record. But first let his assumption be proved ere doubt be thrown on either the honesty or the intelligence of the writers of the Bible.

2. As to the interpretation and meaning of the facts they record. "Just as on gazing at a picture of Raphael's we should rejoice to have at hand a companion who had familiarized himself with the spirit of the great artist and acquired an insight into his genius, to furnish us with such brief notices as might assist us to a comprehension of the profounder ideas expressed by the painting, for want of which it would lose very much of its intellectual meaning; so with the memoirs of Christ before us, as the spiritual revelation of God to our religious sense, we require, in order to adequate instruction and profit, the comments of... those who shall be qualified to point it out to our duller vision. What poets are to the natural exhibition of God in his works, these men will be to the moral exhibition of God in his Son." Now, that the sacred writers answer to this need is shown by the fact that they "commend the truth to every man's conscience in the sight of God." In this commendation to our conscience is the evidence that they have read aright the facts they record. And to this we may fearlessly appeal. We do not assert this of men's theologies and divinity schemes - too many of them outrage the conscience and trouble the moral sense; but we do assert it of the great verities of the faith, as taught in the Scriptures, and of the doctrines which the Bible as a whole plainly teaches.

"Within this ample volume lies
The mystery of mysteries.
Happiest they of human race
To whom their God has given grace

To read, to fear, to hope, to pray,
To lift the latch and force the way;
And better had they ne'er been born
Than read to doubt or read to scorn." Cf. on this whole subject Miall's 'Bases of Belief.' - C.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah, even unto this day.

WEB: Take a scroll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah, even to this day.

Vicarious Ministry in Holy Things
Top of Page
Top of Page