HOW TO ENJOY THE BIBLE
"Man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of Jehovah doth man live."Deuteronomy 8:3
Thus is it asserted that the WORDand the WORDS of Jehovah
constitute the food of the New nature. As in the natural sphere so in the
spiritual, the desire (or appetite) for the food which is the proper support of
each respectively, is the sign of natural and spiritual health. Attention to
diet is becoming more and more recognized as essential to nutrition and growth.
A low condition of bodily health is produced by inattention to the laws of
nature as to suitable diet. As this leads to the "drug habit," or to the
immoderate use of stimulants in the natural sphere, so it is in the spiritual
sphere. A low condition of spiritual health is produced by improper feeding or
the neglect of necessary food, which is the Word of God; and the end is a
resort to all the many modern fashions and novel methods and widely advertised
nostrums in the Religious world in the attempt to remedy the inevitable
results. The Root of all the evils which abound in the spiritual sphere at the
present day lies in the fact that the Word and the words of God are not fed
upon, digested, and assimilated, as they ought to be. If we ask the question,
Why is this the case? Then the answer is, The Bible is not enjoyed because the
Bible is not understood.
The methods and rules by which alone such an understanding may be gained are not known or followed; hence the Bible is a neglected book. The question Philip addressed to the Eunuch (Acts 8:30,31) is still greatly needed: Understandest thou what thou readest? And the Eunuchs answer is only too true to-day: How can I, except some man should guide me? The following pages are written with the object of furnishing this "guide." Certain canons or principles are laid down, and each is illustrated by applying them to certain passages by way of examples. These are intended to be taken only as examples; and the principles involved are intended to be used for the elucidation of other passages in the course of Bible study.
The Word of God is inexhaustible. It is, therefore, neither useful, nor indeed practicable to extend these examples beyond certain limits. By the aid of these twelve simple canons or rules, other passages and subjects may be taken up and pursued both with pleasure and profit - subjects which are even yet matters of controversy and of conflict. We have to remember that the Bible is not a book of pure science on the one hand, nor is it a book of Theology on the other. Yet all its science is not only true, but its statements are the foundation of all true science.
And, it is Theology itself; for it contains all that we can ever know about God. The cloud that now rests over its intelligent study arises from the fact that it is with us to-day as with the Jews of old - "The Word of God has been made of none effect by the traditions of men" (Matt 15:19). Hence it is that on some of the most important questions, especially such as Biblical Psychology, we are, still, in what the great Lord Bacon calls "a desert." He alludes to those "deserts" in history, where discovery or research comes to a stand-still, and we get schoolmen instead of philosophers; and clerics instead of discoverers.
The Reformation came as an oasis after one of these deserts. Men were sent from the stagnant pools of tradition to the fountain-head of truth. But within two or three generations the Church entered the desert again; Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms took the place of the open Bible; the inductive method of Bible study was abandoned, and to-day it is scarcely understood.
One party abides by "Catholic consent" or the "Voice of the Church." Other parties in the same way abide by the dicta of some who had stronger minds. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Darby, and Newton would be surprised today to find that those who question what they believed are treated as guilty of presumption, and of a sin to be visited with excommunication! These good men little thought that the inferences which they drew from the Bible would be raised to a position of almost equality with the Bible itself. The result of all this is too painfully evident. Controversies, bitterness, strifes have been engendered. These have taken the place of simple Bible study. If studied at all it has been too much with the view of finding support for one or other of the two sides of these controversies, instead of with the object of discovering what God has really revealed and written for our learning.
Failing to understand the Scriptures we cease to feed on them; then as a natural consequence, and in inverse proportion, we lean on and submit to "the doctrines of men," and finally reach a theological desert. Bishop Butler has pointed out the way back to the land of plenty and of delight. He has shown that the only way to study the Word of God is the way in which physical science is studied. He says: "As it is owned, the whole scheme of Scripture is not yet understood, so if it ever comes to be understood before the restitution of all things, and without miraculous interpositions, it must be in the same way as natural knowledge is come at, by the continuance and progress of learning and liberty, and by particular persons attending to, comparing, and pursuing intimations scattered up and down it, and which are overlooked and disregarded by the generality of the world."
On this another writer has remarked, "Thus, the way of discovery still lies open to us in Divine things if we have only the moral courage to go to the fountain-head of truth, instead of filling our vessel out of this or that doctors compendium of truth...Were Bishop Butlers method of inductive research into Scripture more common than it is we should not have stood still so long, as if spell-bound by the shadow of a few great names. It is not at all incredible, Bishop Butler adds, that a book which has been so long in the possession of mankind should contain many truths as yet undiscovered. Such a saying is worthy of Butler. It is only a philosopher who can allow for time and prescription. The majority of mankind think that they think; they acquiesce, and suppose that they argue; they flatter themselves that they are holding their own, when they have actually grown up to manhood, with scarcely a conviction that they can call their own. So it always was, and so it will ever be. The Divine things of the Word are no exception, but rather an instance. The more difficult the subject, and the more serious the consequences of error, the more averse the majority are to what is called unsettling mens minds; as if truth could be held on any other tenure than the knights fee of holding its own against all comers. Protestantism has brought us no relief against this torpid state of mind, for, as the error is as deep as the nature of man, we cannot expect any deliverance from it so long as the nature of man continues the same, and his natural love of truth almost as depraved as his natural love of holiness."
But the way of discovery, as Bishop Butler has pointed out, still lies open before us; and it is our object in this work to enter on that way, and study the Bible from within and not merely from without. We believe that only thus we shall be furnishing just that help which Bible students need. It may be the work of others to explore Geography, History, Natural History, Chronology; the antiquities of Assyria, Palestine, Egypt, and Babylon; all these are legitimate subjects of systematic research, which cannot but help us in understanding more of the Word of God. But our object is to "Open the book"; to let it speak; to hear its voice; to study it from within itself; and have regard to other objects and subjects, only from what it teaches about them. The method of the "Higher" criticism is to discredit a Book, or a passage on internal evidence. Our method is to establish and accredit Holy Scripture on internal evidence also, and thus to derive and pro-vide, from its own pharmacopeia, an antidote to that subtle and malignant poison. This method of study will reveal more convincing and "infallible proof" of inspiration than can be adduced from all the reasonings and arguments of men.
Like Ezra of old, our desire is to "Open the Book" and let it speak for itself, with the full conviction that if this can be done it can speak more loudly, and more effectively for itself, than any man can speak on its behalf. May the Lord deign to use these pages, and make them to be that "guide" to a better understanding and a greater enjoyment of His own Word.
E. W. B.
LONDON, September, 1907
A revelation in writing must necessarily be given in "words". The separate words, therefore, in which it is given must have the same importance and authority as the revelation as a whole. If we accept the Bible as a revelation from God, and receive it as inspired by God, we cannot separate the words of which that inspired revelation is made up, or admit the assertion "that the Bible contains the Word of God, but is not the Word of God." The position conveyed by such an expression is both illogical and impossible. As we design this work for those who accept the Scriptures as the Word of God, we do not propose to offer any arguments in proof of its inspiration. The Bible is its own best proof of its inspiration. It claims to be "the Word of God"; and if it be not what it claims to be, then it is not only not a "good book," but is unworthy of our further attention.
We cannot understand the position of those who assert and believe that many of its parts are myths and forgeries, while at the same time they continue to write commentaries upon it, and accept their emoluments and dignities for preaching or lecturing about it. If we were told and believed that a banknote in our possession is a forgery, we certainly should take no further interest in it, beyond mourning the loss which we had sustained. Our action would thus be consistent with our belief. We write, therefore, for those who, receiving the claims of the Scriptures as being the Word of God, desire to study it so as to understand it and enjoy it. When this claim is admitted, and a course of study is undertaken in this spirit, we shall be at once overwhelmed with proofs as to its truth; and on almost every page find abundant confirmation of our faith.
The Bible simply claims to be the Word of God. It does not attempt to establish its claim, or seek to prove it. It merely assumes it and asserts it. It is for us to believe it or to leave it. Hence we do not now attempt to prove or establish that claim; but, believing it, our aim is to seek to understand what God has thus written for our learning. Nor do we attempt to explain the phenomena connected with Inspiration. We have no theories to offer, or suggestions to make, respecting it. We have the Divine explanation in Acts 3:18, where we read: "Those things which God before had showed by the mouth of all his prophets... he hath so fulfilled." The particular "things" referred to here are "that Christ should suffer"; but the assertion is comprehensive and includes all other things "showed" by God. Note, that it was God who, before, had showed them. It was the same God who had fulfilled them. The "mouth" was the mouth of "all His prophets," but they were not the prophets words. They were the words of God.
Hence, concerning other words, it is written: "This Scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of David, spake before concerning Judas" (Acts 1:16). It was Davids "mouth," and Davids pen, Davids vocal organs, and Davids hand; but they were not Davids words. They were the words "which the Holy Ghost spake before concerning Judas." David knew nothing about Judas, David could not possibly have spoken anything about Judas. Davids "mouth" spake concerning Ahithophel; but they were the words "which the Holy Ghost spake concerning Judas." David was "a prophet": and, being a prophet, he "spake as he was moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:21). Hence, in Psalm 16, he spake concerning the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (Acts 2:30,31). In the same way he "spake before concerning Judas." In like manner, in the Book of Exodus Moses wrote about the Tabernacle, but he himself did not and could not know what "the Holy Ghost signified" (Heb 9:8).
Here, then, we have all that God condescends to tell us about the phenomena of inspiration. This is the Divine explanation of it; and this is all that can be known about it. It is not for us to explain this explanation, but to receive it and believe it; and there leave it. It is enough for us that God speaks to us; and that He says "Thus saith Jehovah." We do not question the fact; we believe it; and only seek to understand it.
We desire to be in the position of those Thessalonian saints who, in this, "were ensamples to all that believe," and to whom it was written: "For this cause thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God, which effectually worketh in you that believe" (1 Thess 2:13). The Word of God is thus for those "that believe." The "Word" as a whole; and the "words" of which it is made up. They cannot be separated. It is Jeremiah who says (Jer 15:16): "THY WORDS were found,2 and I did eat them; And THY WORD was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart: For I am called by Thy name, O Jehovah Elohim of hosts." Here again, it is those who are called by Jehovahs name who feed upon His "words," and rejoice in His "Word."
The same distinction is made in the New Testament by the Lord Jesus in John 17: "I have given unto them the WORDS which thou gavest me" (v 8) "I have given them thy WORD" (v 14) Those who are referred to in the word "them" are described seven times over, as having been "given"to Christ by the Father. These had "received" the words; these had "known surely"; these had "believed" (v 8). It is for such as these we now write, who receive, believe, read, and desire to feed upon the "words"of God; that the "word" of God may become "a joy, and the rejoicing" of the heart (Jer 15:16, RV). True, this joy within will be tempered by trouble without. Jeremiah prefaces the statement, quoted above, with the words immediately preceding it in verse 15: "For Thy sake I have suffered rebuke." And the Lord Jesus after saying (John 17:14): "I have given them Thy WORD." immediately adds, "And the world hath hated them."
Those who thus feed upon and rejoice in Gods Word will soon realize their isolated position; but, in spite of the "reproach" and "hatred" of the world, there will always be the "joy and rejoicing" of the heart. It was so on another occasion when the neglected Word of God was brought forth, "And Ezra Opened the Book," the people were assured that "the joy of the LORD was their strength" (Neh 8:5,10,12,17). And we are told: "So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading" (v 8). It must be the same with us if that "Word" and those "words" are to be the cause of our joy and rejoicing.
And this is our object in writing now. We do not write for casual readers, or for those who read a daily portion of the Word merely as the performance of a duty and as a matter of form, but for those who "search the Scriptures," and who seek, in them, for Him of whom the Scriptures testify (John 5:39). Such a one was the eunuch who went up to Jerusalem from Ethiopia in Acts 8,. He sought the Saviour, but he did not find Him in Jerusalem. He found "religion" there, and plenty of it; but he did not find that Blessed One; for He had been rejected, "crucified, and slain." So the eunuch was returning, and was still seeking for the Living Word in the Written Word; "and, sitting in his chariot, read Isaiah the prophet."
Being directed by the Divine Angel-messenger, Philip "ran thither to him and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said Understandest Thou What Thou Readest? And he said: "How can I except some man should guide me? "And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him" (Acts 8:27-31).
Philips question (v 30) implies (in the Greek) a doubt on Philips part as to whether the eunuch did really understand. And the eunuchs reply (v 31) implies a negative answer. It begins with the word "for," which is not translated either in the AV or RV. If we supply the ellipsis of the negative which is so clearly implied we can then translate the word (gar), for; thus; "[No]: for how should I be able unless some one should guide me." Of course, the Holy Spirit Himself is THE guide and teacher of His own Word. But sometimes, as in this case, He sends a messenger, and uses human instruments and agencies. The word to guide is (hodegeo), to lead or guide in the way. It is this guidance which the ordinary reader stands in need of today; and never more than today, when so many would-be guides are "blind leaders of the blind." On all hands are so many attractions to draw readers out of "the way" altogether; and so many "good" books and "helps" to lead them astray.
We cannot pretend to be a Philip, or to have his special commission. But, without assuming to teach others on such an important subject we may at least tell them what lines of study we have ourselves found helpful; and what principles we have found useful in our own searchings of Gods Word. But these will be useless unless we are first prepared to unlearn. If any think they know all, or that they have exhausted the Divine Word; or that what they set out to learn is only to be in addition to what they already know, instead of sometimes in substitution for it, then we shall be of little service to them: and they need not follow us any further. When we come to ask ourselves, and say, "Where did I learn this?" "How did I get this?" "Who taught me this?" it is astonishing to find how much we have imbibed from man, and from tradition; and not directly and for ourselves, from the Word of God.
All that we have learned from our youth up must be tested and proved by the Word of God. Where we find it is true we must learn it over again, from God. And where it will not stand the test of His Word we must be not only content, but thankful to give it up; and receive Divine revelation in the place of mans imagination. With these introductory remarks we shall proceed to divide what we may call our essential and fundamental principles of Bible study into two parts:
First, those connected with THE "WORD" as a whole; and
Second: those connected with THE "WORDS" of which the Word is composed.
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