28. The Use and Abuse of a Concordance.

Some excellent persons regard the use of a concordance as a mark of great spiritual weakness on the part of those that use it, Any desired text, they say, may be found by searching the Bible itself  — if you search long enough. But there really is no merit in taking two hours to do what may be accomplished twenty-four times over in the same time.

Viewed rightly, a concordance is a means of "redeeming the time." It enables you to find quickly texts of which you can recollect only a word or two. This form of usefulness was quaintly expressed in the title prefixed to the first concordance to the English version of the Bible, published in the year 1550. It was compiled by John Morbeck, and entitled:

"A Concordance, that is to saie, a Worke wherein by the order of the letters A, B, C, ye maie redely find any worde conteigned in the whole Bible, so often as it is there expressed or mentioned."

This concordance however was not so useful as the "Cruden's" with which, doubtless, you are all familiar, as the division of the chapters of the Bible into verses had then been barely introduced. At any rate Morbeck does not make any references to verses, using only the letters, A, B, and C, to indicate the beginning, middle and end of the chapters respectively. This arrangement was not a very precise one. If you were wanting to find the words, "Order my steps," you would be directed to Psalm 119: B, that is, the middle of a Psalm of 176 verses. This method is very indefinite compared with the existing system of reference by means of numbered verses. Cruden refers you at once to the exact spot — Psalm 119:133; and this means of ready reference is the principal use of a concordance.

Do not be induced by reasons of alleged economy to purchase for your use an abridged edition of a concordance, that is, one that only professes to contain the chief of the series of passages in which the words occur. Your probable experience will be that the text you are seeking on a particular occasion is almost sure to be the one that is omitted, and the concordance therefore becomes useless to you in that instance, and the time you have spent in consulting it is quite wasted. Full editions may be obtained very cheaply.

But sometimes a concordance is put to a use that is often imperfect and misleading in its result. I refer now to the notion, not at all uncommon, that in order to ascertain the teaching of scripture on any given subject, say, for example, on love, all that is necessary is to examine every passage in which that word occurs, looking them up by means of the concordance. Such a practice is, of course, bound to be generally helpful, but it leads to a very incomplete result, as you may easily see. An ordinary concordance would not afford a single reference to 1 Corinthians 13 to find anything concerning love; and yet the whole chapter is full of it, from the first verse to the last. Only in those passages the word in our ordinary version is not "love" but "charity," so that the concordance does not help you under the former word. "Charity," however, there, as well as in several other places means love, and nothing else. Further, you must refer to passages, where "beloved" occurs, and "dear," in order to complete your list of texts dealing with this subject.

Supposing however you had made a full table of passages, speaking of love and allied subjects, as, kindness etc., do not fall into the snare of imagining that you have only to study these texts in the form you have tabulated them. No passage can be duly understood apart from its context. In other words, you must ponder upon each one in its connection.

Let us take an instance. The concordance refers you to Romans 5:5, 8, for "love." In the first text it speaks of the love of God shed abroad in our hearts; in the second it says, "God commendeth His love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." I am far from saying that it will not be profitable to meditate just upon the words found in these two verses. But I do urge upon you the fact that you miss a very great deal of their beauty and force if you do not consider the situation of the verses in relation to what comes before and after them.

You must recollect that the verses are only artificial divisions of the Bible (and so indeed are the chapters also) introduced to facilitate reference to any particular portion. For example, Paul, in writing to the Romans, did not divide his letter into chapters and verses. You should make a point, therefore, of reading each verse in connection with its neighbours.

Now, in Romans 5, carrying out the principle just stated, you will observe that in verse 5 there occurs the first mention of God's love in this Epistle. And the reason for this fact will become clear to you as you read the preceding verses. The apostle is there unfolding the truth as to righteousness for guilty man, which God had brought in by Jesus Christ. This is a question of justice rather than love. But directly this part of his subject is completed, and the believer is shown to be justified by faith, he immediately brings out what invariably enchains our affections — God's love. He says, "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost." But there is more than the Spirit's testimony "in our hearts" to this love; there is also the display of that love in the death of Christ quite outside of ourselves This fact the apostle amplifies in verses 6, 7, and 8, in a striking manner, which cannot be entered into here. But every word has its meaning, and adds its lustre to the great central theme of these texts — God's own love as brought out in the death of Christ for us. And the subject is continued in the succeeding verses — a series of golden links, culminating in that rapturous joy in God which can only result from His love shed abroad in the heart, and meditated upon as displayed in the cross of Calvary (verse 11).

This brief reference to an important feature of scriptural study is only made to show you that the use of a concordance is as a guide to the position of a text in the scripture. Bible study only begins when you reach the particular place in the Bible which you are seeking. You have business in Manchester. A railway train will take you there speedily. But, having arrived, you must go to work. So when the concordance has directed you to Romans 5:5, 8, its service is over, and you must then prayerfully seek God's mind as therein revealed.