J. R. Miller, 1906
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." Colossians 3:16
Just how to use the Bible so as to get from it the help it has to give, perplexes many good people. Some have an almost superstitious regard for the book. They think that it's physical presence will ward off dangers and bring blessings. Many a soldier, as he enters a battle, throws away his pack of cards—and puts a New Testament in his pocket and then feels safer. Some people suppose the Bible will answer their questions and mark out their duty for them in an infallible way. So when they have some serious problem which they cannot solve, they open the book at random and put their finger on a verse with their eyes closed, and take that verse as containing and inspired direction. But in no such way does the Bible offer to help us. It is not a fetish.
It is meant to be a book of life to us—but it must be used intelligently. It helps us from within, not from without. In one place we are exhorted to let the Word of Christ richly dwell in us. The Word of Christ consists primarily of all the very sayings of Christ which are preserved for us in the Gospels. There are not many of these—we can read them all in a little while. But they are the most wonderful words ever spoken. Then in a wider sense the Word of Christ includes all divine revelations. The Bible is a marvelous book. It contains lofty, spiritual teachings, which are meant to change earth's wilderness into a heavenly garden.
The Word of Christ does its work from within. Hence it must get into our heart and we must let it dwell in us. We can shut it out if we will. It cannot enter into our life unless we let it enter, nor will it stay with us unless it is hospitably entertained. It will not do anything for us either if we keep it out. A Bible lying on our table will not make known to us any of the wonderful revealings it contains—we must receive its words into our heart.
A great deal of advice has been given in books and sermons concerning the best way to study the Bible. The fact is, however, that not many people do study it. Many read books about the Bible—but not all of these read the Bible itself. Many know a few bright and great verses—but know nothing about the book as a whole. They find a little garden spot here and there and visit it now and then, breathing the fragrance of the flowers and eating the fruits they find there—while the vast continent of the Scriptures lies unexplored beyond. If we read any other book as most people read the Bible—-we would never properly understand it. The Bible should be studied intelligently. It should be studied thoroughly, for every portion of it is profitable for instruction, for correction, for comfort, for help.
If the Word of Christ is allowed to dwell in us richly, what will be its effect on our every day life? For one thing, it will transform our character. The Word of God is a lamp. Wherever it shines it reveals the faults, the flaws, the blemishes, the wrong things in hearts and lives. It shows us our selfishness, our envy, our jealousy, our lack of love, our doubts, our inconsistencies. We should count ourselves happy the day we discover a new fault in our life or character—not happy because the fault is there—but because we have discovered it, that we may rid ourselves of it. Where the Word of Christ dwells—it reveals faults and cleanses.
But cleansing is not enough. It is not enough not to do sinful things. Religion is not made up of negatives and "you shall nots." Jesus says that His words are spirit and life. They are like seeds; seeds gathered from heavenly gardens and brought to earth. When planted in human hearts, things of heaven will grow there. In Derbyshire, England, there are said to be some flowers which are not found in the English flora. The story is that in the far away days of the Crusades a knight from Derbyshire went, with others, to the rescue of the Holy Sepulcher. When he came back, after years filled with brave deeds, this crusader brought home with him seeds of Oriental flowers, which he planted on his estates. They grew there, and now, centuries afterward, they are still growing. The Words of Christ are seeds brought from heaven. They were planted in this world and are now growing all over the lands where the gospel has gone. Every true Christian life is a little garden where love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, and other spiritual things are growing.
The Word of Christ is to be a guest in our heart. Where His Word is thus welcomed and permitted to dwell, Christ Himself is guest. There is a story of a gentle and loving child who found her way into a loveless and prayerless home and stayed there, changing everything by the sweet, gracious influence of her life, until the home became a place of love and prayer. Wherever Christ is Guest—all of life is brightened, dull task work is made like angel ministry, friendships are sweetened, burdens are lightened, and commonplace circumstances are transfigured.
The reason we have so little of Christ in our lives, and are so little like Him—is because we have so little of Christ's Word dwelling in us. The housekeeper makes the home. She puts her own taste, good or ill, the beauty or the unbeauty of her own spirit, the gentleness or the ungentleness of her own heart—into her housekeeping and her homemaking. You know the woman by the home she makes. If the Word of Christ lives in us—it will be housekeeper in our hearts; and it will make the life like itself. If it is a guest in us, it will be homemaker too.
Every influence of the Word of Christ is toward beauty and joy. Some homes have always a somber air. Some people's religion seems to make them severe and ungentle. But that is not the Christly way. The religion which the Word of Christ inspires, is sunny and songful. Someone writes: "We want a religion that softens the step, turns the voice to melody, fills the eye with sunshine, and checks the impatient exclamation and harsh rebuke; a religion that is polite to all, deferential to superiors, considerate to friends; a religion that goes into the family and keeps the husband from being cross when dinner is late; that keeps the wife from fretting when the husband tracks the newly washed floor with his soiled boots and makes the husband mindful of the door mat; that keeps the mother patient when the baby is cross, and amuses the children as well as instructs them; that projects the honeymoon into the harvest moon, and makes the happy home like the Eastern fig tree, bearing on its bosom at once the tender blossom and the glory of the ripening fruit."
If the Word of Christ dwells in us—it will make us helpers of others. It will so saturate and sweeten our thoughts, our dispositions, our tempers, and our feelings that the love of Christ will flow out in all our common speech. It will make our words gracious and kind. It will keep us from all bitter, censorious, acrid, and hasty speech. It will inspire in us all helpful words. In no department of life do we more need to be divinely taught—than in the use of our tongues. Many people seem never to learn the fine art of Christian speech. Even in their efforts to do good, they speak unadvisedly, hurting when they want to help, making wounds of grief bleed afresh when they wish to give comfort. We need to pray continually for a gracious tongue—that we may know how to sustain with words him that is weary.
The possibilities of helpfulness in speech are almost infinite. One who has a consecrated tongue, a tongue thoroughly imbued with love, and completely under the sway of grace, can be the inspirer of all that is holy and beautiful in others, a comforter of sorrow, an encourager of those who are disheartened, a guide to inexperience, and in a thousand ways, a helper of fellow pilgrims. We should think much of the ministry of our own speech. If only we learn how to use the marvelous power we have in our tongues for Christ , there is no danger that our lives will not be worth while.
Another of the results of the indwelling of the Word of Christ is a joyful life. The Word of Christ puts psalms and hymns and spiritual songs into our lips. Joy is a Christian duty. We do not begin to realize the need of joy in those who bear Christ's name. In no other way can they truly and fitly witness for the Master. A Christian should never be discouraged, should never doubt the outcome of good from all that seems evil. A wailing, complaining, fearing Christian is failing his Lord.
In countless ways does the Word of Christ in the heart reveal itself in the life. It assures us of comfort in sorrow, of strength in weakness. It makes shining faces; it keeps songs always singing. It makes men bold, and women patient and kind. It blesses homes; it enriches and beautifies lives.