a Necessity for the Knowledge of the Works of God.
The question next arises, How are we to possess ourselves of the truth of God, which lies ready for our believing search in the world about us, and at the same time to keep it subordinate to those far more necessary and important matters which are only revealed to us in His written Word?
We cannot originate a whole system of schools, from the primary class to the University, nor would it, indeed, be desirable that our children should be removed from that necessary intercourse with others which must mark our whole stay in this world. "I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil."
What is needed is that our children should be instructed in the way of the Lord from infancy. The safeguard which was thrown about Timothy, that from a child he had known the Holy Scriptures, which were able to make him "wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus," is the only and all-sufficient one to guard from the prevailing forms of error which are all about them and us.
It is a mistake to think that because the enemy has intruded into the domain of truth and sought to make use of it to further error, it should be relinquished into his hands. Truth abides, and all that is needed is the faith to stand firmly and resist the deductions which error would make from a partial or false view of the truth. If this principle is applied and made diligent use of from the beginning, we need not fear that our youth will grow up skeptics.
This shows us, however, the true order in which we must take up our study of truth. It will not do for us to go to nature first to the exclusion of revelation. That which is inspired of the Spirit of God and given to us, without mistake must precede and dominate all our acquisitions in the field of nature. Further than this, we cannot compare these two volumes of truth as to their importance. Nature, even when best understood, cannot give us, save in a symbolic way, those priceless foundation facts of the person and work of Christ, the counsels and purposes of God. These are matters only of revelation. We find them only in His Word. True, when that Word is known, we can then turn with it to the field of nature and find abundant illustration, as has already been said.
We address ourselves, therefore, to the question of fundamental importance in all education
— the systematic, thorough and progressive study of the word of God. If we are to be thoroughly furnished unto every good work, it must be as having acquainted ourselves with all Scripture, which "is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished."
Mark, it is not that we are to master the contents of Scripture. God forbid that there should be such a thought in our mind. The more we go on to know the wondrous depths, the perfect purity, the infinite holiness revealed in that Word, and the utter helplessness and worthlessness of the flesh, the more we realize that it is not we who are to grasp the Scripture, but rather, the Scripture which must grasp us as the living hand of the living God. We do not master it. Our blessing is to let it master us, and to set and keep us, by His grace, in communion with Him who is the Source, the Author, and the Object of all Scripture.
At the risk of repetition, let us press this most important truth. It is not an idle remark. It is not to be taken for granted. There is the greatest danger of a mere intellectual apprehension of the outline and contents of divine revelation. "Knowledge puffeth up," mere knowledge. If there is to be any benefit from entering into the revealed thoughts of God, it must be in a lowly spirit of faith and obedience.
Having said this, we pass next to ask, How can we best gain a knowledge of that wondrous revelation of God, the Bible, without, on the one hand, becoming intellectual dabblers in the holy things of God, which would harden the conscience and pave the way for grievous falls; or, on the other, becoming self-righteous and Pharisaic and intolerant of all further progress in divine truth? The answer is, briefly, to become acquainted with the letter of Scripture as one becomes acquainted with his native country. A lad who has spent all his life in a certain neighborhood, knows every foot of the ground over which his feet pass. He has not studied it; he has not set himself to master the various details of hill and dale or wooded nook and gurgling stream, but he has lived unconsciously drinking in the beauty by which he is surrounded, and can tell you where the first flowers of spring are to be found, the choicest fruits and nuts, and the icy pond for winter sport. In the same way, we are to live in the Bible land.
For this reason, there is nothing so important, from the earliest years to the close of life, as reading daily, and in considerable quantity, regular portions of Scripture. If the simple, homely rules of daily reading a chapter or two in the morning and evening are followed, one will keep fresh in his mind the general outline and detail of Scripture and will be wonderfully furnished with material for meditation and arrangement as he goes about his business during the day. We may not be able to spend very many minutes in the morning, and may be weary at night, but if, during the course of the day, we have spent as little as half an hour, or even less if that be too great a tax, in the attentive reading of the Bible, we will find that unconsciously to ourselves, our thoughts turn to this during the day. It will come up in conversation. It will be linked with our prayers. It will furnish us with many a safeguard against the temptations of the day, and it will form the solid groundwork for that which we are seeking to secure — a systematic and progressive knowledge of the Scriptures.
Ruskin traced all his mental furnishing for the voluminous writings of after years to the compulsory reading, chapter after chapter, of the Bible, from his earliest years, going through from Genesis to Revelation, and beginning afresh a work which was never to be ended.
In the next place, a habit of minute study, in the same systematic way, of some portion of Scripture, certain psalms, one of the epistles, studied as microscopically as we can, will serve as an offset, in its intensiveness, to the extensive reading suggested above.
But we must not anticipate that which may, if the Lord please, furnish the material for a handbook on "How to Study the Bible." It is an immense theme, and without attempting to be completely systematic in what we now present, we will seek, at least to give a brief outline of what, if carried through, would give us a systematic and, comparatively speaking, thorough knowledge of the contents and teachings of Scripture.
By way of explanation, it may be said that it is proposed — if the Lord please, and as He may enable, to devote a separate handbook to each of the following subjects, treated, in general, in a uniform manner. It will first be sought to present an outline of the subject, with its divisions and a certain measure of detail, which will open the subject to the student and enable him to begin his work in an orderly manner. The detailed work can, of course, not be more than an enlargement of the outline, as in the brief compass of the handbook it would be impossible more than to touch upon the various topics. In addition to this, however, there will be a few specimen pages of a more minute study of a few of the minor topics under the main theme, which will serve as a model for further study along these lines. The above will constitute the larger portion of the handbook.
Next will come a list of a number of helpful books upon the general theme. This list will not be a mere catalogue, but will furnish a brief outline of the contents of the various books, with recommendation as to their special values and adaptability to both young and more advanced students. Thus this second part of the handbook will serve as a guide for further study of the main subject, and suggest to the student how to pursue the topic under consideration as fully as can be done. Details of size of books and price, with directions as to their purchase, will be furnished.
We come now to speak of the various handbooks which it is hoped to prepare. They are not exactly grouped together in a complete, systematic outline, because it is not necessary that a student should always begin at the very beginning. However, there is in general an order which will easily be recognized. We begin with those subjects connected with the foundations of our faith. Next, we pass on to the books of the Bible considered in groups, such as the Pentateuch, the four Gospels, Paul's Epistles, etc.
Special handbooks will be devoted to such individual books as call for a more detailed and minute examination. Thus, Genesis would form the theme for an additional book beside the Pentateuch, and the epistle to the Romans might receive similar treatment. Growing out of this examination of all the books of the Bible would come handbooks on certain general principles of structure and the great truth of inspiration.
Next, certain prophetic and doctrinal outlines would be given, and then books for special need, such as The Difficulties of the Bible; The Bible for Skeptics; Current forms of Error; etc. A place would also be found for a book on Christian Service, and one on Nature Study for the Christian. The closing numbers would be de. voted to helpful suggestions for those who desire to take up the study of the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures, and, as has already been intimated, a practical outline of how best to study the Bible.
It will be seen that here we have no light task before us, surely not to be entered upon without prayer, self-distrust, and a confidence in the Spirit who guides into all truth. Surely, as we look even at such a partial outline as we have indicated, we may remember the words of Joshua to Israel: "How long are ye slack to go in to possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers hath given you;" and, "There remaineth yet very much land to be possessed." Without pretension to great scholarship or going beyond what God would have us enjoy, we may address ourselves to that which we rejoice to consider a life-work, and, indeed, reaching on into those eternal scenes when it shall be our joy to search the heights and depths of that which God makes known.