George Everard, 1866
The wisest men have ever recognized most their own ignorance. The story of Sir Isaac Newton has often been repeated, in which he compares himself to a little child gathering pebbles on the shore, while the great ocean still remains unexplored.
There is not a single natural object around us which we can fully comprehend — still less can we find out the ways of God. But God has not left us completely in the dark. He is truly called "the Father of lights." He gives sun, and moon, and stars, to give light upon the earth. He forms the spirit of man within him, with all that is wonderful in his powers of reason or imagination. He sets before us all the marvels of creation, in which are displayed so many tokens of His excellent wisdom, His mighty power, and His bountiful goodness.
But the Great Father bestows upon man a far brighter light than any of these — it is His own Holy Word of Truth. "The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward!" Psalm 19:7-11. "Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path."
The perfections of this heavenly lamp first demand our attention.
We recognize a great beauty in the sublime mysteries of Scripture, side by side with its marvelous simplicity. We gaze upon the lofty mountains of Switzerland, their summits covered with perpetual snow, and often concealed behind a cloud, and there is a grandeur and majesty about them that strikes the beholder with awe, as if in the presence of the great Creator whose handiwork they are.
Even so is it with the devout mind, as it contemplates the mysteries of Scripture. As we dwell upon them we are gladly to confess, "My heart stands in awe of Your word!" The mysteries are its very glory! A Bible without mystery would be a Bible without comfort. What incomprehensible depths are to be found in . . .
the working of the Holy Spirit in the heart,
the sovereign purpose of God in election,
the great plan of earth's history which is ever being carried forward to its completion, and in which even the wicked are the unconscious agents of the Most High in fulfilling His designs!
Who can understand any one of these? And yet how closely are they bound up with every hope in which the Christian rejoices. As from those mountains there arise the mighty rivers which water the vast plains beneath — so do these mysteries minister to us streams of endless joy.
No less does the marvelous simplicity of a large part of Holy Scripture commend itself to us. It is a letter from our Father in Heaven, and it is addressed to the meanest as to the mightiest, to the most unlettered as to those of most cultivated minds. Surely the footprints of a God of love are seen in its thorough suitability to this end. Who may not come and drink here the water of life? Who, except those of a captious and unbelieving spirit, but will find words that shall come right home to their innermost soul?
Who can fail to be touched by the parables of Christ, so full of allusions to objects seen almost every day?
The sheep following their shepherd along the hill-side.
The fisherman casting forth his net into the sea.
The sower scattering precious seed.
The hen with her brood nestling beneath her wings.
The gardener seeking for fruit on the tree which he has planted.
Such references as these to common life abound in all the discourses of the Son of man.
What father, again, is there, however ignorant, but can enter into the touching comparison made in the hundred-and-third Psalm, "Like as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him"?
What mother is there, but will acknowledge the power of the argument which God employs to reassure His fearful ones, "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, they may forget, yet will not I forget you."
What little child is there but may understand the lesson taught by the sparrows, or by the lilies of the field? "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows." "Consider the lilies how they grow; they toil not, they spin not. And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."
What, again, could possibly he plainer than those free invitations and assured promises, upon which all our peace with God depends? Here, then, have we another element of the excellence of the Word of God.
We remark also, that Scripture sets before man a perfect standard of moral virtue. It is not in the heart of fallen men, to imagine such an elevation of human character as here is made essential to our happiness. Integrity, benevolence, and philanthropy; faithful friendship, and pitiful kindness, have often been commended and sometimes practiced, by those who have been ignorant of Jehovah. But where else, except in holy writ, are we commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves? What natural heart would ever have given such prominence to the grace of humility, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven." "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Heaven and earth are promised as the heritage of the humble minded.
What, again, can be set beside the life of our great Exemplar, with all its wonderful blending together of the various graces that form the perfect man? Where can you find anything like the Apostolic Epistles — at one moment soaring aloft and telling of Christ on His eternal throne — and the next, descending to the minutest duties which belong to our different relationships in the world? What a bringing down of Heaven upon earth, would be the carrying out of but one single chapter — the thirteenth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians!
The very fact that the holier men have become, the more deeply have they ever confessed their falling short of the standard set before them in the Word, is one manifest proof that such teaching could only come from the Fountain-head of all holiness and truth.
The exact fitness of Scripture to meet our acknowledged condition on earth also claims our notice. The condition of man is very peculiar; there is a strange mingling together; there is something that reminds us of what once he was in Paradise; there is still more that reminds us how deeply he has fallen into sin.
A traveler wanders over the ruins of an old abbey or castle, and is struck with the beauty that still lingers there. Its ivy-covered walls, the remains here and there of a gothic arch or window, recall the beauty that it possessed in years gone by — yet it is but a ruin — desolation reigns there — it is no longer inhabited by king or noble — gradually, more and more, is it falling to utter decay.
There is a sense in which this picture truly represents the soul of man. There are yet lingering rays of light; there are plain marks of better days; all the kindliness, the amiability that is abroad in the world among those who have not been renewed by Divine grace, is a proof of it. The religious element, perverted though it is, still survives. Few men can live without having some object of worship. There yet remains, also, natural conscience, and there are ever arising, from time to time, cravings and desires in the heart, which are not of the earth, earthy.
In spite of all this, however, it is plain that "man is very far gone from original righteousness." He is a child of sin, of sorrow, and of death:
Sin reigns, instead of Jehovah, within the palace of the soul.
Sorrow, in a thousand shapes, clouds his path.
Death quickly succeeds the griefs and distresses of our pilgrimage, and this is but the precursor of a still heavier doom which remains for the ungodly.
In this condition the Word of God finds us, and exactly meets our need.
It explains the mystery of our position.
It reveals the secret of those aspirations which arise within us.
It declares to us that we were created for communion with the Most High God, and that the soul cannot rest until it is enjoyed.
It tells us of His image once implanted there, and of its restoration by grace.
Is man a child of sin? The sure Word unfolds the depth of his depravity, his enmity to God, his guilt and the curse which attaches to it — but it goes much further.
It reveals the all-sufficient remedy.
It points to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
It promises a complete remission and justification to all who believe.
It brings to the door, even of the guiltiest, the offer of a present salvation.
It tells of the Holy Spirit, and His mighty power to enlighten and to sanctify.
It opens a ready way by which the sinner may be cleansed from all iniquity, and stand at length, without spot or blemish, in the presence of the Lord!
Is man a child of sorrow? The Word again meets his case — it sets the matter before him in a new light, "Whom the Lord loves, He chastens!" Proverbs 3:12. The season of affliction is God's threshing time, not to destroy His wheat — but to separate it from the chaff. "Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty!" Job 5:17
With this it testifies of Jesus as our Consolation, it brings Him to our side, whispering in our sharpest trials, "It is I, be not afraid!" It bids us remember Nain, and Bethany, and, above all, Gethsemane and Calvary. The fourteenth chapter of John, the eighth chapter of the Romans, and many similar portions come home to us with fresh meaning. They dry our tears, and call upon us to wait but a little longer; and, if we are Christ's, sorrow arid sighing shall flee away forever.
Is man a child of death? Does an open grave await him at the close of the journey? The Word still has its message of hope.
A tradition tells, that on opening a tomb in Italy a light was found burning, which had been fed by a stream of oil. This is but tradition, yet it may teach us that there is a light in the grave of believers. The body of Christ has hallowed it — the sting is gone. The corruptible body shall be raised incorruptible. He who is the Resurrection and the Life shall change our vile bodies, that they may be fashioned like unto His glorious body. Even while awaiting the resurrection, the soul shall be with Christ. Death may be a gloomy avenue, but at the close of it, is the palace of the great King!
We have, then, another excellence of Holy Scripture:
It supplies every need.
It is the key which unlocks every ward of the human heart.
It binds up every wound.
It wipes away every tear.
It altogether changes the character of our earthly pilgrimage.
In the midst of surrounding trials, it gives birth to cheerful hopes and blessed anticipations.
In addition to all that has been already stated, ever bear in mind that the Word of God is unchanging truth in a changing world. "The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever!"
The Word of God is unchanging truth in a changing world!
Generation after generation has arisen and passed away.
Great kingdoms have had their day, and now are no more.
Men, reckoned wise in their day, have propounded their opinions, and these again have given place to new ones.
But amidst all changes, century after century, the Holy Bible has been the Rock on which the heirs of the promise have been resting their every hope!
It has been the anchor of many a sorrowful, tempest-tossed believer.
It has been a pillow of rest to many a weary saint.
It has been a bright star to many a one passing through the dark valley of death.
While men everywhere are asking, "What may I believe?" "Where is truth to be found?" blessed are those who in faith can lay their hand on the old Bible, and, in spite of all specious objections, can heartily say, "Truth is here! I believe this. Here are promises that never fail. Here are hopes that never disappoint. Here is that upon which I may lean when friends are gone, when health fades, when the last milestone is passed, when death and judgment, in all their appalling reality, are close at hand!"
Unless you can calmly, joyfully take your stand on the unerring truthfulness of the written Word, it is impossible that ever you can find abiding peace, or one inch of solid ground upon which you can rest your foot.
How shall we best use this lamp which God has put into our hand? How shall we gain from it the light that is needful to guide us along one path?
It is very essential, carefully to avoid such reading as will unfit the mind for the perusal of Holy Scripture. The light we gain from Scripture depends mainly upon the tone of mind in which we approach it. If we read it in a skeptical, captious, or worldly spirit — it is next to impossible that we should find much profit. The books and magazines which are read during the week have great influence in directing our thoughts, and therefore we should give good heed what kind of works we choose.
Read no books for mere curiosity, which may insinuate doubts, or unsettle your faith in the authority of the Word. Unless the mind is well fortified in the evidences of Christianity, it is surely dangerous to take up the infidel writings that are now so freely circulated. Equally dangerous it is, to read books that would uproot our confidence in any one part of Scripture, while professing to reverence it as a whole. Never do so, without having time and opportunity patiently to investigate the objections that are urged in them.
That a full solution will hereafter be made of all that now seems incomprehensible, the Christian need never doubt — but meanwhile it is perilous work to play with Infidelity. Our knowledge is very limited; the Great Enemy delights to suggest difficulties; so that faith may be clouded over, hope may grow faint, yes, the soul may be robbed of its inheritance of truth, to its eternal undoing.
A caution is also required as to works of fiction. What is the evident tendency of a large proportion of them? Do they not put bitter for sweet — and sweet for bitter? Do they not call evil good — and good evil? Do they not palliate vice, and cast a fair cloak over the sin, which God has pronounced accursed? Do they not enlist the sympathies of the reader on behalf of those whose life is described to be such as is contrary to the plainest commands? The atmosphere of such reading must be injurious; it is as opposite as possible to that of Scripture. You cannot enter into it with pleasure, and then find any true delight in the Word of God.
The Ephesians burned their books, though the price amounted to fifty thousand pieces of silver. It would be well for many to follow their example. A bad book is the worst thief! It steals time. It robs the reader of purity of heart, and of those holy joys that are found in the pages of a treasured Bible.
In searching the Scriptures, single out special verses and passages for meditation. It can scarcely be imagined, that any true disciple will omit the regular daily study of these lively oracles. "Search the Scriptures" is a command as imperative as "Pray without ceasing."
In doing this, however, it is well to fix the mind on some choice gem of promise, precept, or example — and carry it away as a germ of thought. One Christian may learn by heart some particular verse in his morning chapter; another may take some special truth that has been the keynote of the portion read, and turn over in his mind similar or contrasted passages; another may copy out a difficult verse, or one that has touched his conscience, and, during some quiet hour in the day, may take out the paper and ponder it. It is in proportion as Scripture is really made the subject of meditation, that it becomes food and nourishment to the soul. "O how I love Your law! it is my meditation all the day." Psalm 119:97. "My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises!" Psalm 119:148
Search out the precious veins of truth which Scripture contains. In working a mine, if the workmen discover a vein of silver, or of gold, or of iron — they follow it out; they explore in the direction to which it leads. It is well for those who search the record of God's will, to act in the same spirit.
Single words or expressions frequently open out a vast field for thought, and may be illustrated and explained from large portions of the Word. Take the idea contained in the word "WASHING." Trace it as it runs throughout almost every book.
There are the multitudinous purifyings of the priests.
The ceremonial cleansings of those defiled by contact with anything unclean.
The Syrian leper seven times washing in the Jordan.
There is the prayer of David, "Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."
There is a promise given through the Prophet Isaiah, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool."
There is the assurance in Zechariah that, "a fountain shall be opened for sin and for impurity."
There is the saying of Christ to Peter, so deep in the meaning which it suggested, "If I wash you not, you have no part with Me."
The Apostle speaks of the once depraved Corinthians as "washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."
The beloved Apostle John also has penned that word, which often has shed its bright ray upon the heart of the contrite, "If we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin."
The Church on earth gives forth its chief note of praise in the song of the Apocalypse, "Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."
The Church above is beheld as a great multitude "clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;" and the explanation is added, that "they came out of great tribulation, and washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb!"
Surely these when brought together, set forth in its due prominence, the blessed truth of atonement through the blood-shedding of the Son of God.
Trace another vein running through one of the Gospels. Link together the "I AMS" of Christ in John's gospel. Marvelously do they unfold the fullness that dwells in Him, and the suitableness of His grace to the peculiar need of each individual soul.
"I am the bread of life: he who comes to Me shall never hunger; and he who believes on Me shall never thirst." (John 6.35.)
"I am the light of the world: he who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8.12.)
"Before Abraham was, I am." (John 8.58.)
"I am the door; by Me if any man enter in he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and shall find pasture." (John 10.9.)
"I am the good Shepherd; the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep." (John 10.11.)
"I am the resurrection and the life: he who believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die." (John 11.25, 26.)
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father but by Me." (John 14.6.)
"I am the vine, you are the branches: he who abides in Me and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." (John 15.5.)
We might also include another passage from the Apocalypse: "Fear not; I am the first and the last. I am He who lives and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore." (Rev. 1.17, 18.)
What a glorious galaxy of promises is here opened out before us!
Such subjects might be multiplied indefinitely. Trace the thought implied by the words "LIVING WATER" Exodus, Isaiah, Ezekiel, John's Gospel, and the Revelation alike will illustrate it. Or, examine the "FEAR NOTS" throughout the Old and New Testaments. Or the expression, "YOUR FAITH HAS SAVED YOU," in the Gospels, or the prayers of those who came to Christ. They will all afford inexhaustible treasures of instruction and consolation.
Above all things, never take the Bible into your hands except in a humble prayerful spirit. It is not human learning, so much as the teaching of the Holy Spirit, which is mainly necessary. All the appliances of scholarship can never take a man beyond the mere letter of the Word. Without the wisdom that comes from above, its inner spirit, its true beauty — will be hidden from you.
If we had in our hands a will which in parts was difficult to understand, to whom could we better go, if it were possible, than to the lawyer who prepared it? Just so, to whom can we better go, in the interpretation of the Sacred Record, than to that Divine Spirit by whom holy men of old were taught to write it?
It is by fervent prayer for the aid of the same Spirit, that the Word becomes effectual for our growth in holiness. Let the believer ever seek for a prepared heart, and a mind open to receive the truth. In the 119th Psalm very many times, does the Psalmist breathe forth a petition for Divine instruction. "Teach me Your statutes." "Incline my heart to Your testimonies." "Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law."
Then, again, when the chapter has been read, or the sermon has been heard — let the Christian upon his knees take the promise, or the precept, or the example, as it may be — let him name it before God and plead for grace that it may not be forgotten. It is then that the promises of the Word give forth their richest stores, and that its sanctifying lessons are most truly learned.
"O merciful God and heavenly Father, who has given unto us the rich and precious jewel of Your Holy Word — assist us with Your Spirit that it may be written in our hearts to our everlasting comfort — to renew us after Your own image, to build us up and edify us in Christ, to sanctify us, and to increase in us all heavenly virtues. Grant this, O Father, for Your Son Jesus Christ's sake. Amen."
Lamp of our feet, whereby we trace
Our path, as here we stray;
Stream from the fount of heavenly grace —
Brook by the traveler's way.
Childhood's instructor, manhood's trust,
Old age's firm ally;
Our hope, when we go down to dust,
Word of the living God!
Will of His glorious Son!
Without You, how could earth be trod,
Or Heaven itself be won!