[Address delivered before the Biblical Congress in Washington and published at the request of the American Society for Religious Education.]
The object of study is twofold, to get information and to become educated. In studying for the sake of information, we should, obviously, select those subjects which will give us information of the greatest value. What we need to know for the highest ends of life Is what we should seek to learn. The German professor who on his death bed warned his son against attempting too much, saying: "I attempted the Greek article, when I should have confined myself to the dative case," this professor may have received important mental discipline, yet he got but little information of value from his studies.
The Ideal subject for the student is that by the study of which he can derive the greatest mental discipline and at the same time secure the most valuable information. Sometimes studies are highly valuable as means of mental discipline, while the information they impart is of comparatively little worth. This is true of astronomy, of the higher mathematics and of metaphysics. Other studies are valuable because of the information to be secured from them - like a course at a business college, where the mental discipline is little considered. Now the Bible combines both these elements in the highest conceivable degree. Nothing else offers such mental training and nowhere else can information of such transcendent value be secured. Hence the Bible is the Ideal object of study.
There was vast learning in the middle ages, and powerful intellects were engaged In subtle disputations. Charlemagne established many schools and brought scholars from all parts of Christendom to educate his people. But his efforts failed. All the appliances of wealth, power and learning did not and could not roll back the clouds or darkness which dimmed the intellectual firmament of Europe. The monk in his cell was learned in the legends of his monastery and could tell of wonders wrought by the relics of saints and by images of the Virgin. The philosopher was learned in metaphysical problems and in logical formulas. Skilled artists wrought such works as moderns cannot equal, and painters knew secrets of coloring now lost forever. In all departments of intellectual effort those ages were no whit behind the civilizations of the ancients and of the moderns, between which they stand as night between the brightness of successive days. The great mass of the people lay in ignorance and even the learned had no sympathy with each other's pursuits. There was no common ground, no common subjects of thought, and therefore but little mind among the masses. Wherefore Charlemagne's efforts were as vain as if Pygmalion had tried to create a soul In his beloved statue by placing it before a glowing fire.
The dawn of popular learning and literature broke forth when Wicklyffe and his coadjutors translated the Bible into the vernacular tongue and sent it forth on its grand mission among the nations. It gave to men common cause and common thoughts. The yeoman could now converse with men of other callings on high themes of general Interest. Other histories were closed, but in the Bible they found narratives which awakened their interest and roused their intellects. Minds grew stronger as men discussed the Bible records and teaching, and compared in their rude way the characters of patriarch and prophet. No other book or books could have done this, for no book coming without divine authority would have commanded the attention and awakened the interest of the people. The great consequences involved brought men to earnest study of the Scriptures and earnest study of the same thing gave them common characters and aspirations. People cannot be roused till some subject is placed before them in which all will take a deep interest; and thus far in the history of the world, only two things have been found which may thus serve as stepping stones to civilization - the Bible and a Republican form of government. It was the latter which made the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome possible, for it gave people common interests so their orators could get a hold on them and educate them in Areopagus and Forum. But even in this respect how infinitely do democratic institutions fall below the Bible, every student of history who lifts the glittering veil which conceals the lives of the ancient nations knows full well.
We all know the force which a quotation, familiar yet not trite, has in influencing the emotions and in giving a speaker power over his hearers. Assemblies have been thus roused to enthusiasm, when the same sentiment expressed in finer but unfamiliar language would fall to produce much effect. Thus a common knowledge of Scripture is a powerful aid and it is used with great effect by secular orators. They can rely upon the familiarity of their hearers with the words quoted, and the reverence felt for the Word of God prevents triteness in Bible phrases. So powerful is this influence of well-known words that even unbelievers are constrained to use Scripture quotations when they desire to move the hearts of the people. In this view, also, of its intellectual influence, no other books could take the place of the Bible; because without divine authority the masses could not be roused to a deep interest In any volume, and without reverence for the utterance, oft-repeated phrases would become trite and lose their power by repetition. Only the highest intellects can be roused to earnest effort by knowledge which does not personally concern themselves. If a proposition is discussed of which men are entirely willing either the affirmative or the negative should be true, you can rarely find one whose mind Is sufficiency awake to follow closely the arguments which establish the one or the other, On the other hand, the constant consideration of the narrow round of their own personal concerns, contracts men's minds and dwarfs their growth. That man will never become cultured whose mind is ever revolving around his family, his business, his crop, and who cares for nothing else. The Bible by the infinite interests of Its truths to each human soul, presents topics as immediately, personal as a man's business or a woman's children, and thus secures attention and thought, while the subjects of which it treats are the deepest and the grandest known to men. Thus it rouses and educates the Intellect. It combines at once all the wide culture of abstract truth, with all the close interest of personal concerns. So it reaches and elevates all whom it touches. The mind thus roused and trained by Scripture truth, thus taught that then is something high and noble in all truth, far beyond the sordid Interests which have hitherto absorbed it, goes forth into all the realms of knowledge conquering and to conquer. The vital interest felt in Bible subjects rouses the mind to its full strength, while the greatness of the themes enlarges and deepens the intellectual grasp. The very differences of opinion that have obtained In reference to the teachings of Scripture have aided in strengthening the minds of men. The hermit in his cell does not become strong like the athlete who struggles with his fellows, whether in a physical or intellectual arena.
Man is an imitative animal. Place ever before him things which are high and noble and true - things which kindle enthusiasm and stimulate study, and he will rise above the sordid and selfish in thought as well as above the low and base in action. The Book of Truth contains no truer saying than "Evil communications corrupt good manners," and it is true both mentally and morally. More than we think does our intellectual calibre as well as our moral character depend on our companions and on the books we read. No mind can be strong which is not fed on strong thoughts and noble ideas. To make grand men, you must train them grandly, from youth up, and nothing can be compared, in its strengthening power over men's minds, with the Scriptures of our God. Other books are feeble in comparison. From the grand opening scene at the birth of creation, when chaos gave up his sceptre to law, and light sprang full-armed from the lips of God - on to its close, grander still in its visions of glory, there is in all the Bible not a feeble chapter or paragraph. Strong beyond all human strength, in its power over men's thoughts and hearts, such a book, were its moral tendency evil, could wreck the world and destroy the race.
How all human laws show themselves feeble platitudes beside the stem simplicity of that grand old decalogue with its heart of fire! Take any author you please, and how low his theme compared with Bible subjects. Tyndall discourses on light - are all the laws ha can discover comparable in grandeur with the utterance, "Let there be light?" or with that yet grander declaration of the Master, "I am the light of the world!" Owen and Huxley, Aggasals and Darwin, Kalvhi and Dawson, tell as, and tell us wisely, perhaps many things it is well we should know - about the beasts of the earth, the arrangement of lto s t nU and the anatomy of our frames - but what are all such things compared with the great themes of death, judgment, eternity, destiny, God's majesty and sovereignty? Baskin tells us in beautiful language of the pictures fading away upon the stones of Venice and upon the crumbling walls of Florence - in a few brief words the hupired pansrum [?] gives us a picture of love and self-sacrifice, and the story of Ruth and Naomi fades never away from our minds. It will be admitted that outside the Bible the best thing in literature is Shakespeare, and that the best thing in Shakespeare is Hamlet. Tell me, is not the sorrow of a dreaming boy for his folly-murdered father - for that is Hamlet - trivial compared with the grand drama of Job, where God and the angels are spectators, and Satan wrestles with faith in the torn heart of the patriarch? In other books we have men's thoughts and experiences, interesting, suggestive and helpful, perhaps, but here in the Bible the great thoughts of God burn and glow with all the eloquence of Heaven. Here we learn to be "wise unto salvation." Here we learn how God can be just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. Here we learn of Him who was meek and lowly in heart, and who went about doing good; of Him of whom Moses and the Prophets and the Apostles did write; of Him who "gave Himself the Just for the unjust that he might bring us to God;" of Him who "died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was burled and rose again from the dead according to the Scriptures;" of Him who has entered into the Holy of Holies, where He "ever liveth to make intercession for us," and yet He is with us always even unto the end, till we go to be with Him forever more. Here we learn the things of God, things into which the angels desire to look, over which the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.
The great purpose of Bible study, however, is not that we may be wise or great or good. These are incidentals. The great purpose is that we may benefit others and so glorify our Father In Heaven. We cannot be anything worth being unless we strive to make others so. The golden rule is wide in its application. Whatever we desire to be, , we must strive to make others the same, or we cannot be so to any extent. If we would be happy, we must seek to make others happy. The man who seeks his own happiness will be miserable nearly all the time. There is no other way to happiness ever discovered but the unselfish way. If we strive to brighten the lives of others, our own hearts will be filled with joy. If we would be wise, we cannot become so by shutting ourselves up in libraries where we can study the greatest thoughts of the greatest minds. We can thus become pedants and bookworms, but never can we thus attain to wisdom. But if we study with a view to instruct others. If we learn that we may teach, if we get that we may give, then, and then only, will our minds assimilate the great thoughts we study and grow thereby. If we seek to be holy we must not fly from the world to hermitage or monastery, where in solitude we may commune with our own souls and with God. We can become morbid thus, but never holy. The fruits of righteousness do not ripen in solitude. To be holy we must devote our lives to making others holy. Only by following the Master in going about doing good can we become like Him. It is better to lift others than to rise ourselves, and only by lifting others can we rise in the kingdom of Heaven, wherein he is the greatest who is the servant of all. The wise man is "he that winneth souls." He only rightly studies the Bible whose one purpose is to use its truths to win, to comfort and to strengthen souls.
It is gratifying that the Bible is being more studied to-day than ever, before, and even though much of it may be through strife and vain glory, yet we rejoice that the Bible is studied and therein we will rejoice. But our joy is greatly modified and marred by the knowledge that much of this Bible study, is from wrong motives, and so is of little worth. Many who pose prominently as Bible students are studying the dates, authorship, style, &c., of the sacred writers. The boast is made that they study the Bible "as literature," and not with any view to learn the path of duty or of glory. Had these critics lived in the time of Moses, their study of the law would have consisted in carefully examining the tables of stone. They would have noted especially whether the two tables of stone were of the same size; and had they found any differences they would have evolved various theories to explain why this table was the shorter, while that was the broader or the thicker. They would have examined the composition of the stone to determine from what strata it was taken, and to define its relations to the various sorts of stone found in the neighborhood of Sinai. They would have carefully measured the size of the letters, with their number and the depth of the incision of each. They would have compared the style of composition with that of the Tel El Amarus tablets, and having thus studied the tablets, they would have complacently posed as experts in the law, and would have looked with contempt upon the ignorant and narrow souls around them who cared nothing for the chemistry, geology, mechanics and literature of the Ten Commandments, but saw in them expressions of God's will to be obeyed, rather than material for exploiting the "scientific, historic method."
To study the Bible as literature is like studying Washington as a hydrocarbon. Washington, as the world saw him, consisted of so many pounds of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and a few salts. And so our critics would note the exact proportion of these, as well as the exact quantity and volume of each. They would accurately measure the body, carefully studying the muscles, the bones, the nerves, etc., and marking their action. They would determine how much food and of what sort the father of his country consumed; and would have compared him with other contemporaneous hydro carbons like Franklin, Jefferson and Lafayette, as well as with the hydro-carbons which lived before and after Washington's period. By these means they would correct received dates of events in his life, and show that current views concerning him must be materially modified. Having thus mastered the hydro-carbon, which was the instrument Washington used in serving his country and the world, they would pose as Washingtonian scholars and specialists, though they would know practically nothing of the real Washington. Such a method of study renders any real understanding of the subject impossible. Fitting microscopes over one's eyes unfits one to see the world. Even a man cannot be seen through a microscope.
It is thus with much of the current study of the Bible. Burkin says that no word of Scripture was ever rightly understood except through a deed. And an infinitely greater than Ruskin, his and your and my Lord and Master, said: "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching," and only he shall know of it. The very fact that so much of the current Bible study is misdirected emphasizes the need for the great work this society has undertaken, to promote Bible study. The formulated purposes of this Society are:
To reaffirm the faith of the churches in the Bible as the revealed Word of God and the standard of faith and practice;
To review what has been done and consider what more may be done by the home, the Sunday-school, I the pulpit, and the college to disseminate Scriptural knowledge;
To determine the value of the methods of Biblical instruction now in use, and to decide what new methods may be employed;
To learn how best to carry the Word of God to the unchurched masses;
To promote a generous fraternity among those of different faiths and names who own Jesus Christ for Master and desire the triumphs of the sacred volume;
To contribute by all the foregoing means to a revival of Biblical Christianity and the unification of the spirit of American Protestantism.
If ever there was a time above every other time in the history of our country and of our churches when the work of this Society was needed, that time is the year of our Lord 1900.
(We therefore earnestly solicit the sympathy and support of all friends of the home, of all lovers of their country, of all who care for truth and righteousness, of all who long for the coming of the kingdom of heaven, and of all who are concerned for the welfare and destiny of immortal souls) The great and crying need for Bible study can never be met by the one sided and wrong sided study which has been already mentioned, which devotee itself to analyzing chemically the sword of the Spirit instead of learning how to wield it against the enemies of our Zion and of our God. We study the Bible because it improves our minds and elevates the grasp of our thought, because its strength will strengthen, its depth deepen, and its height elevate us beyond all human productions; still the chief reason for its study, never for one moment to be forgotten, is that it alone can make us "wise unto salvation;" it alone can teach us the noblest of all lessons, the fear of the Lord which is "the beginning of wisdom, and to depart from evil which is understanding." While human learning la a noble thing, let as remember that the highest of all promises is not to the great, the learned or the strong, but to the pure in heart, for they, and they only, shall see God - see Him in His Providence here, and hereafter behold "the King In His beauty."
Louisville, Ky. =========[From Baptist and Reflector, May 31, 1900, pp. 3-4. On-line edition. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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