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5

BIBLE READINGS.


INTRODUCTORY.

CHAPTER I.

In the very beginning of my Christian life, I remember being much struck with the remark that the Bible revealed itself only to the need and the faith of those who came to it. Wondering just what this could mean, I began to read my Bible, and soon found that it was really true; that just as a science never reveals its secrets except to its students, so neither does the Bible. And I discovered that the only really necessary things for the understanding of it, were the felt need of its teachings and a childlike faith to receive them. I feel sure that any Christian who will come to its study with a believing 6 heart, will grow in its knowledge far faster than with any amount of mere critical study. And no matter how little talent we may have, nor how small may be our capacity of critical research, we can all possess these two absolutely necessary requisites of need and faith, and may all expect, therefore, to have in time its deepest secrets revealed to our prayerful search.

The following series of Bible lessons is the result of this sort of experimental study. They do not undertake to be critical nor exhaustive in any sense whatever. What I wanted in my own studies was to get at the inner life of the Bible, and to see what secrets it would reveal to my soul. And these lessons are simply the supplies which I have gathered out of this inexhaustible storehouse, for my own pressing and especial personal needs. Doubtless many others have gathered far richer supplies; but perhaps those which have been so unspeakably precious to my own soul, and so wonderfully suited to my needs, may be found also to meet the needs of some others. I have no desire to insist upon my own views to the exclusion of any others, I may have made many mistakes, and may have left out very important links. I am sure many others know far more about this precious Bible than I do. But I will give to my readers the best I have, and trust to their charity to cover the multitude of faults which, no doubt, will be very patent to any who look for them.

In coming to the study of the Bible, the first and most important point of all to be settled is as to the position 7 we are to assume toward it. Do we come as students, or as critics? If the former, then we may confidently expect, as I have said, that all its wonderful treasures of wisdom and knowledge will be one after another unfolded to our gaze. If the latter, then we shall most certainly find it a sealed book, hiding its secrets in unfathomable mysteries. When God speaks, man has nothing to do but to believe and to submit. The grand question then is, Has God spoken, and is this book really His revelation to us?

For the readers of these pages it is not necessary to go into an argument to answer this question. It has to them, doubtless, been answered long ago. And if not, the answer must be found elsewhere, as I am writing from the stand-point of an absolute conviction that this Book is God's own Book, containing an authoritative and inspired record of His mind and His ways. We must come to it, then, with this one only thought, that He has spoken and that we must believe. Whether we understand it or not, is no matter; whether its revelations look reasonable or consistent, or even possible, is of no account. He has spoken, and we must believe what He says. We must receive it just as it is, and where we cannot understand, must set it down to our limited power of comprehension, and be content to wait until the eyes of our understanding are enlightened by the Divine Spirit, and we are made able to comprehend the “wondrous things out of His law.”

I do not mean, however, to ignore or look down upon 8 the honest doubts of earnest seekers. I know too well experimentally what these are, not to know that they must be met with loving sympathy, rather than with scoldings or contemptuous condemnation. And if it will help any soul in this direction, I am quite willing to confess that the difficulties and questionings of the generation to which I belong have not left me unmolested, and that I know what it is to have been compelled to lift up the shield of faith against many an assault of doubt, that has seemed to come like an army to overwhelm me.

But I have never found argument to help me here. The devil can out-argue any human reasoner or human reasoning, and there is nothing I am sure that pleases him more than to engage an earnest soul in a debate of this kind, in which he is so likely to come off conqueror. Doubts, are to be overcome not by reasoning, but by faith. “I will believe; I choose to believe,” have been the weapons with which I have conquered in many a fierce battle. For the will has far more to do with our believing than most people think. The will is king in our nature, and what the will decides, all else must submit to and follow. And if we will put our will in this matter over on the believing side, and choose to believe, turning resolutely away from every suggestion of doubt, I know from experience that we cannot fail to get the victory in the end. This will sound unreasonable to human philosophy, but nevertheless it is a fact, and to me it is a fact that attests the divinity of the Bible more than anything else. For unless the Bible were a divine book, no effort of will in 9 believing it, after once doubts had entered, would amount to anything at all. When once we have seen cause to doubt a friend, no effort of will to trust again will help us. In all human relations we must have proofs of trustworthiness before we can trust. And if the Bible were a human book, it would require human proofs of its authenticity and authority before it could be believed or rested on. But to believe God, requires no proofs and no reasonings, only a choice of the will. For when the will is thus put on His side, He takes possession of it by His Holy Spirit, and in a divine way which is an omnipotent way, independent of any proofs, He convinces the soul of the truth of that which it has thus chosen to believe.

It may seem like stepping off of a precipice into an apparently bottomless abyss. But it is safe to step, because God is there, and will receive us.

“Nothing before, nothing behind:

The steps of faith

Fall on the seeming void, and find

The rocks beneath.”

Such steps would be fatal indeed, if taken where no rocks were. But because God IS, and is in His truth, there is no risk. He that will do His will, by thus obeying His command to believe His word, SHALL sooner or later know of the doctrine, whether it be of God or not. I am as sure of this as of my own existence.

But perhaps some one may refer to I Cor. xii. 3, “No 10 man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost,” as a proof against this. In answer, I would refer to the case of the man with the withered hand. The Lord Jesus told him to stretch it out. But without divine power, he could not. He did not, however, make this a reason for not doing it, but obeyed the Lord, and, as he obeyed, the power was given. He did not have to wait for the power, the power was waiting for him. And so the blessed Holy Ghost is always waiting for us. He is given as a help, not as a hindrance. He is always ready, and the moment we put forth our will to obey God's command, He is at once there to make it possible for us to obey.

In Romans i. 17, there occurs a sentence concerning God, which may perhaps explain my thought. It is said that “He calleth those things which be not as though they were.” And it means that by this very calling, the things which were not, came into being. As we read elsewhere, “He spake and it was done; He commanded and it stood fast.” Being God, He could thus by His creative word say, “Let there be,” and straightway there was. And since He is God, we can also -- in obedience to His command, call those things which be not as though they were, because His creative power is pledged to bring them into being, and is able to do it. If we therefore will but put ourselves in the line of His command and say, “I will believe, I choose to believe,” He will create the faith of which He has thus said, “Let it be,” and we shall find ourselves actually believing. 11 To me this is practical, because I have tried it and proved it to be so in my own case, in many a stress of doubt. But believing does not always mean understanding, nor does it mean seeing the whole of the thing believed. There are many true believers of the Bible, whose faith is each one equal in strength to the others, and yet whose seeing capacity is so different, that it hardly seems like the same book to one as it does to the other. And from this cause arises, I think, most of the difficulties caused by the great differences of opinion as to Bible truth among honest believers.

A moment's reflection will convince us that in our different understandings of God's Book, we are all like people climbing up a high mountain to see the view, and whose views would of course differ according to the different degrees of height to which we might each have reached. The man at the foot of the mountain, who had just begun to climb, would have a very limited view; true as far as it went, but hedged in on all sides by the surrounding obstructions in the shape of forests, bits of rising ground, clumps of bushes, a high piece of rock, or even a turn in the river or the road. And unless his knowledge were greater than his view, he would call the river a lake without any outlet, and declare that the road ended at that turn, and say there were no fields or hills beyond those boundary lines. But as he climbed higher his view would become more and more extended. Soon he would see the country beyond, and the distant windings of the river or road, and the dividing lines, so strongly 12 marked at the foot of the mountain, would gradually flatten into the surrounding landscape, until they would be almost lost to sight in the wideness and the grandeur of the extended plain spread out before the climber's vision. And so on and on, as the mountain was climbed, stretch after stretch of the landscape would unfold to his wondering gaze, until finally, when he reached the top, he would see as far as human eyesight could reach, over hill, and valley, and forest, and river, one grand sweep of land, and water, and sky, a view limited only by his own powers of vision.

One can see at a glance how different is the view seen from the top of a mountain, to that seen from the mountain's foot, and can easily understand that should two gazers, looking from these two widely separated stand-points, undertake to compare “views,” they would find that although they had been looking in precisely the same direction, and over the very same landscape, their descriptions of what they saw would widely differ.

And it is in this progressive way I believe, that we learn to understand God's truth. So that we can easily see how, even between honest and earnest students, there may be a great difference of “view,” simply arising from the difference of stand-point from which we look. And this may well make us diffident about asserting that our view is the only true or complete one, or from feeling that those who do not see just what we see, are not looking at the landscape at all. Let us rejoice in what we see, but rejoice also in what our brother sees, and be ready 13 to listen to him, lest perchance he may be higher up than we, and may have things to tell us which we greatly need to know.

Let us come then to our study of the Bible in a spirit of childlike and receptive faith, asking to have the eyes of our understanding opened that we may behold wondrous things out of God's law. And then it may be given us to be indeed among the see-ers of truth, who see for other men, and whom men therefore call their “seers.”

I desire to have it thoroughly understood that in all I may say in this book I am only giving my “views;” that which I can see from the stand-point I occupy. If others see differently, I am quite prepared to admit that their stand-point may be higher and their view more extended, and will not contend with them on account of it. I can only give to my readers that which I have, and I trust that the view which has helped me, may help also some others whose needs may be like mine.


There are many different ways of studying the Bible which are very interesting and valuable, but perhaps the one which has interested me the most has been to take it up book by book, as though each book were only a chapter of the one Book. We have been too much accustomed I think to look upon the Bible as merely a collection of books by different authors, thrown together promiscuously under one cover. Whereas it really is one continuous Book, written by one Author, with a regular 14 beginning and middle and ending, and a progressive development of truth all through from beginning to end. That the several chapters of this book were written by different penmen offers no difficulty to this view, for while the men were many, the God who inspired them was One, and He merely used them as His instruments to record, not their mind, but His own. Our Bible is to us as really God's book as though He had written it with His own hand in heaven, and handed it down to us. And as Gaussen so truly says in his book on Inspiration, “Whether the writers recite the mysteries of a past more ancient than the creation, or those of a future more remote than the coming again of the Son of man, or the eternal counsels of the Most High, or the secrets of men's hearts, or the deep things of God; whether they describe their own emotions, or relate what they remember, or repeat contemporary narratives, or copy over genealogies, or make extracts from uninspired documents, -- their writing is inspired, their narratives are directed from above. It is always God who speaks, who relates, who ordains or reveals by their mouth, and who, in order to this, employs their personality in different measures, for the ‘Spirit of God has been upon them,’ it is written, and His word has been upon their tongue.”

We may therefore reasonably conclude that there is no chance in the arrangement of the contents of this Divine book, but that the Divine Author had a regular plan in its arrangement, and has developed the truth to 15 us in its pages in a regularly progressive order, beginning with the birth of all things in Genesis, and ending with the final consummation of all things in Revelation. And although we may not see this plan because of our ignorance and blindness, we must none the less believe that it is there, and that as we grow in knowledge, we shall more and more be able to discover and comprehend it.

The objection may be made to this, that the order and arrangement of the books of the Bible was settled by a council of men. But this does not reach the case at all, for the Divine Author of the book was living when this council met; and we cannot for a moment suppose that He, any more than any other author, would have left His Book to chance, or failed Himself to see that it was all arranged according to His own mind and will.

We may confidently expect, therefore, to see unrolling out before our careful study a wonderful plan of progressive development of truth in our wonderful Book, and to find each succeeding step linked on to the ones behind it and before it, in a way that will give us a far wider grasp of Divine truth, than any piecemeal study of the Bible could ever do, valuable and delightful as that is.

And, first, there seem to be three great epochs developed in the Bible: that of childhood, that of youth, and that of manhood. The childhood of our race is represented by the patriarchal period, when, as it were, the race was in leading-strings. They did not know much 16 about law, but were like children in the nursery, guided by their parents. Then comes the period of youth, represented by the Jewish nation -- aware of law, struggling against it, trying to keep it, and continually failing. And last of all comes the period of manhood, represented by the history of the Church, when the soul rejoices in the law, and finds a power to keep it; when law is obeyed, not because of its penalties, but because it is recognized as being the best and highest good.

This much as to the grand outlines of the Bible. We will next consider it more in detail; and I think we shall find that each separate book takes us forward a definite step from the one before it, and links itself to the one beyond, and that each book has, as it were, one central thought or idea running through the whole of it, which is developed in this one book in a way it is in no other. I mean that just as the chapters in any book on science take up, one after another, separate and progressive steps or aspects of that science, while all are linked closely together, so it is here; and also that each book might have a heading, as we have to chapters in any other book, giving us in a few words its central idea.

The book of Genesis and the book of Revelation, the beginning and the end of God's record, present us with many strange likenesses and yet contrasts. They both treat of the same subjects; but, while one gives us these things in their beginnings and their failure, the other gives them to us in their wonderful consummation and 17 eternal triumph. As, in a logical discourse or a carefully-prepared book, the author will, at the beginning, state his subjects, and then at the end will come back to the same statements with all the added light that has been thrown upon them by the progressive developments between; so, in this book, we come back in Revelation to the things spoken of in Genesis, only with all the added light and development that the intervening chapters of the book have progressively revealed.

We open the book on a garden in Genesis (ii. 8), and close it on a city in Revelation (xxi. 9, 10). We see the garden a home for one man, we find the city has become a home for nations. Rev. xxi. 24.

In Genesis we read of the creation of the sun and moon to give light to the world (i. 16, 17); in Revelation we read, “And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (xxi. 23).

In Genesis we read, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth'“ (i. 1); in Revelation, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away” (xxi. 1).

In Genesis we are told that “the gathering together of the waters called He seas” (i. 10); in Revelation we read, “And there was no more sea” (xxi. 1).

In Genesis the curse was pronounced (iii. 17); in Revelation we are told, “And there shall be no more curse”' (xxii. 3).

In Genesis sorrow, and suffering, and death are introduced 18 (iii. 16-19); in Revelation we read, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away” (xxi. 4).

In Genesis man was driven away from the tree of life: “So He drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden cherubims and a flaming sword which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life” (iii. 24); in Revelation nations are welcomed back to this tree: “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (xxii. 2).

In Genesis we have the marriage of the first Adam and his bride (ii. 18, 21, 22, 23); in Revelation we have the marriage of the second Adam and His bride: “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready” (xix. 7).

In Genesis Satan, “that old serpent,” makes his first appearance (iii. 1); in Revelation he meets with his final doom (xx. 1, 2, 7, 10).

We see, therefore, how closely linked together, even in their contrasts, are the beginning and the end of the Bible. And we cannot but conclude from this, that between these two there must lie a regular and progressive plan which shall lead us surely, and by very definite steps, from one to the other.

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