I believe that a medical student attending any of our hospitals has first of all to devote his attention to "bones." For, while a person proficient in osteology does not necessarily become a skilful physician or surgeon, it is absolutely certain that no medical man could adorn his profession who was without this necessary knowledge. In like manner, while anyone knowing well the "bones" of the Bible may be ignorant of it as the living word of God (Heb. 4:12), on the other hand, no person can become a great teacher who is hazy about the chief historical facts of scripture, or who confuses, for example, the prophecies of Zephaniah and Zechariah, and is doubtful whether that very mournful book in the Old Testament is entitled the Lamentations of Job or the Lamentations of Jeremiah.
You must not mistake me in what I am about to say. For the growth and development of your spiritual life you need the application of the word in power to the heart and conscience by the Holy Spirit. This every one of you must have day by day.
But to this character of Bible reading I do not now refer. If however, you wish to understand the Bible as a whole, as well as in its multitudinous details, you ought certainly to learn its "bones." The scripture from first to last is based upon facts, and these facts should be mastered. By the histories of men and events God teaches us. This feature we learn from the word itself: "All these things happened unto them [Israel] for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition" (1 Cor. 10:11). We ought therefore to know accurately whatever God has recorded in His Book if we desire to learn the divine lessons.
It is not implied, however, require for this purpose a knowledge of the Hebrew and Greek originals, for instance, or of the latest opinion upon some disputed geographical sites. Such qualifications can only be attained by a very few who possess exceptional opportunities or facilities. But I am alluding especially to the facts narrated in the Bible which are within the reach of all of you. Young persons particularly ought to make it a matter of earnest aim to become perfectly familiar with the various biographies of scripture, and indeed with all the persons and events of whom God has seen fit to speak. Such knowledge becomes a solid substratum on which the divine interpretation may rest, in whatever proportion it may be subsequently imparted by the Holy Spirit.
The many facts recorded in the Bible are not all learned in a week or so. You should go quietly and steadily to work, gaining some fresh information daily. It will be some considerable time before you are entirely beyond the possibility of being confounded by a sudden question on some point of knowledge from an unfamiliar portion of scripture. I remember being told of one such test which must have puzzled very many of those who were confronted by it. It was to this effect: Say all you can in reference to the following verse, "At Parbar westward, four at the causeway, and two at Parbar." I wonder if you know where this phrase occurs, and how much you can say about it off-hand?
However, do not be over disconsolate if you are compelled to avow your ignorance on this point. It is one of many minute items of information all of which are necessary to the absolute perfection of God's revelation. But the more important features have the first claim of course. You would have greater reason to be ashamed if, for example, you spoke of Elisha witnessing for Jehovah on Mount Carmel, or of John the Baptist as one of the sons of Zebedee, or of Isaiah as being the son of Amos the prophet.
It is very necessary for you to bear in mind in this connection that the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is only one book. Though it comprises sixty-six various tracts by many writers in different places and at varying times throughout a period hardly less than sixteen centuries, it contains but one purpose and has but one Author — the Holy Spirit. You will find that the parts of the Bible are all connected. As the bones of the head, trunk, and limbs in the human body are all joined and are moved in relation one to the other, so with the text of scripture. Great central lines run from end to end. The sin of man is shown from its entrance into the world till finally removed in the closing chapters of Revelation. This is associated with the Christ of God throughout. The greater portion of the Bible is taken up with the history of Israel, the earthly people of God, in various aspects.
And so one might go on. But it will suffice to have indicated to you a direction in which you may profitably search for yourselves. Always be looking to discover what bearing one part of the word has upon another, and by such means you will gradually begin to understand its general structure.
Before concluding; I may just make a suggestion to some of you who have not already tried some similar plan, and whose memories may require a little artificial assistance. It is sometimes important to remember the order of a list of names. And you can often construct without mental difficulty a phrase the initial letters of which correspond with the initials of the names you wish to remember. For instance, the names of the seven churches in Asia, mentioned in Revelation 2:3 are:
Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea.
You might be helped to remember the correct sequence by such a phrase as this:
Every Saint Preserved Through the Saviour's Power and Love.
Again, many persons stumble over the names and order of the twelve minor prophets. They might find help in a similar way.
You must not forget, my young friend, I have been writing to you about bones, and about very dry bones, too. But it is a comfort to know that God's power can cause even these dry bones to live, if we but beseech Him that it may be so.