The Bible does not contain the word of God, but is the Word of God. The Old Testament is the record of God's actions in government; the New Testament unfolds God's ways in grace. In the Old we have revelations from God; but in the New we have God Himself revealed. In the Old we have the veil unrent — that is, God in light and man in darkness morally apart; in the New the veil is rent — that is, God is revealed, and man brought nigh to God. In the former revelation the Almighty God sustained the hopes and became the strength of the patriarchs in their path of strangership. Jehovah was the chosen title which guaranteed to Israel the fulfilment of prophetic promise and glory; but the higher designation of Father brings us into an intimacy and communion with God utterly unknown by saints, patriarchs, or prophets of old.
Counsels to Readers of the Scriptures.
In order to learn well and according to God, remember that the Holy Ghost, and not intellect or learning, is the only efficient teacher of the Church and of individuals; further, that our English Bible, being in very deed The Word of God, "is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:15-17); and lastly, that the perverted mind of man — the pride of the natural man — constitute our greatest hindrance in understanding the Holy Scriptures. Supreme faith in what is written by inspiration of God — namely, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments — combined with the simplicity of children, are absolutely needful to every student of the Word of God.
What a moment in the soul's history when one is consciously maintained in the Lord's presence! What is man when there! Ah! it is in the presence of Christ, where Mary sat and learned, and will sit and learn for ever, that we are preserved from mistakes and are taught according to God.
Should a difficulty (and who has not?) present itself, do not hazard an opinion or give "your thought," but in patience wait in prayer and communion with God, and He will meet your difficulty. If you are asked a question on any Biblical subject which you cannot answer, be frank and own your ignorance, saying, "I do not know." Be willing to learn from any child of God, whether a bed-ridden saint or an able teacher. Do not be fault-finding or captious; do not quarrel with unscriptural expressions on the part of others, but be you accurate in the extreme in your statements and quotations from Scripture. Do not be an Ishmaelite (Gen. 16:12) among the people of God, for "the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves" (2 Tim. 2:24, 25).
Do not bring "Church truths" before the unestablished in the grace of God, nor teach "prophecy" to persons not glorying in the cross of Christ. Seek to get souls right with God, and especially beware of mere sentiment, putting experience in place of Christ, shunning as evil and as destructive of practical Christian life occupation with condition of soul, which is not Christ and His Word. Firmly maintain, as of equal moment, Gospel and Church testimony; do not sacrifice either, for both sinners and saints are around us.
When persons ask you for "evidences," say to them that they will find these evidences in reading the Bible and prayer to God. Do not argue with sceptical persons, for he that cometh to God must believe that "He is" (Heb. 11:6); it is lost time, moreover, and will probably prove hurtful to your soul.
Give yourself to a systematic study of God's Word; avoid, as a general thing, desultory reading. Study the Bible as a whole. Seek to understand the general bearing of each book, the Holy Spirit's thought in its composition. Remember that God has subordinated the numerous and interesting details of Scripture to one general purpose, which is to manifest the glory of Christ. Have this purpose constantly before you, and the details, "so difficult to remember," will fix themselves on your memory. Do not make Scripture of "private interpretation" — that is, do not divorce any subject or detail from the whole. Do not say that facts in the realm of nature confirm the Word of God or establish its truth, nor that scientific facts throw light upon Scripture. The Scriptures never borrow light from man, nor do they need his confirmation; nor does text throw light upon text, as if a single word or letter penned by Him who is light could possibly be dark. One text may throw light into your darkened mind upon another, but the darkness is always in man, never in the Scriptures.) "Harmonies" and "evidences" should be rejected by all who have supreme faith in what God has written. We reject all efforts to show that various accounts and different genealogies may be reconciled. Variety, and not sameness, characterise the works and words of God, and hence we look for differences, not of course contradictions. Never allow the breath of suspicion to cross the soul that the facts culled from every department of the kingdom of nature can contradict the least or seemingly obscure statement in the Word of God.
Perfection of the Scriptures.
The Creator of the countless orbs of heaven — God, who created the stones, made the Bible. Why fear? We boldly challenge the science of the nineteenth century to produce one fact at variance with a single statement throughout the entire range of Holy Scripture. On the contrary, we could show, from the earliest of all records, human or Divine — Genesis and Job — that the statements in these books as to the earth and heaven are in fullest accord with the certain deductions of science, and have again and again corrected the scientist in his own special department, and those statements were penned ages before ever astronomy or geology or other science had an intelligent votary. We are not surprised at the perfection of Scripture; we expect absolute perfection in every page and every line, for God is its Author.
Its range of subjects — as, heaven, hell, sin, death, time, eternity, law, government, redemption, love, grace, Divine and human relationships, God, Christ, man, angels, creation — cover the whole field of human inquiry. Its authors — from forty to fifty — are drawn from all classes of society, as kings, prime ministers, priests, prophets, herdsmen, physicians, tentmakers, fishermen, tax collectors. Amongst the various places where its separate portions were composed were the deserts of Arabia, Egypt, Jerusalem, Rome, the court of the Gentiles at Babylon, the river Chebar in Mesopotamia, the dungeons of the Caesars, the rocky isle of Patmos, in places and countries 1400 miles apart, and at intervals of time during the slow progress of nigh 1600 years. The Hebrew for the Jews, the Syriac for the Gentiles, and Greek for the world at large, were the chosen languages selected by God wherein to express His will and word to man.
The Scriptures Imperishable.
The world passeth away, its glory withereth; man is but a fading leaf; but "the word of the Lord endureth for ever." Not one "jot or tittle" — the smallest particle of a letter — penned by inspiration of God will pass away. The Bible, because it is the Word of God, is imperishable. What a rock amidst the shoreless sea of human uncertainty and conflicting opinions! The pagan persecutions of the first Christian centuries; the papal fires of the Middle Ages, in which cart-loads of the Scriptures were cast; nor the gross ignorance which prevailed prior to the Reformation; centuries, too, in which an interdict was laid upon reading the Scriptures in the vulgar tongue; nor the yet more wicked attempts in our own times of so-called Christian men who are labouring with unwonted zeal and earnestness in the sad and hopeless task of undermining the authority and Divine character of the Scriptures — these, and the ten thousand attempts of ancient, medieval, and modern times, have covered the enemies of Divine revelation with everlasting confusion, while our dear old English Bible is invulnerable as ever. Do we say, it is a faultless version? Nay; but its mistakes and blemishes only display the blundering hand of man, while leaving untouched the peerless perfection and matchless beauty of the sacred Scriptures.
Testimony of the Fathers.
Jerome, the most learned of the early Latin or Greek Fathers, styled the whole collection of sixty-six sacred books The Divine Library. Chrysostom, the most eloquent of the Fathers, spoke of them as The Divine Books. Polycarp, who lived at a still earlier date, having been personally instructed by the Apostle John, spoke of the Bible as The Sacred Scriptures, as also the Oracles of the Lord. Clement of Rome, whom Paul styles his "fellow-labourer" (Phil. 4:3), termed the Scriptures The true sayings of the Holy Spirit. Irenaus, of the second century, makes about 1200 citations or references from the New Testament; Tertullian, also of the second century, refers to or quotes from the New Testament about 2500 times; Clement of Alexandria, another of the second-century Fathers, cites from or refers to the New Testament 800 times; and Polycarp, already referred to, in a brief epistle addressed to the Philippians, quotes from the New Testament about 50 times. Thus the Scriptures, and not misty tradition nor the varying decisions of councils, were the source of all authority. Their verbal inspiration was the ground from which their absolute and Divine authority became the settlement of every question, and from which there could be no appeal, for their testimony is the voice of God.
We reject the mysticism of the Fathers; we are strongly opposed to their fanciful modes of interpretation, and are convinced that the "spiritualizing" of Origen has been pernicious and hurtful in the extreme. We meet with the fruits of that system in most of our English Bibles, where the headings of the chapters in Isaiah — chapters which distinctly and exclusively apply to Israel — are applied to the Church; that is, in those headings which are destitute of Divine authority the blessings of Israel are applied to the Church, while the judgments are literally used of Israel. But, on the other hand, the constant appeal to Scripture, the numerous citations from the inspired word, in the writings of the Christian Fathers, are worthy of all mention and deserving of the highest commendation.
The Lord, the Jews, and the Written Word.
We rather fear that the thrice-repeated formula of the Master, "It is written" (Luke 4), is getting out of date and out of mind, and argument instead of Scripture is getting fashionable. The extreme reverence of the Lord, as also of the Jews, for the written word demands our rapt attention. With what care, with what minuteness of detail the Lord again and again quoted Old Testament oracles; how, too, in midst of an agony which only God could fathom, He remembered that there was one Scripture lying unfulfilled (Ps. 69:21). He could not die and so lay the foundation of God's counsels in grace till that one statement, penned a thousand years before, was fulfilled to the very letter (John 19:28). When He rose from the dead He did not give to His own another written Bible, but "beginning at Moses" — for Christ, in His sacrificial and prophetic glories, lay hid beneath the abstract typical system elaborated there — "and all the prophets" — the remaining thirty-four books of the Old Testament in which His regal and messianic glories are the burden of song and prediction — "He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:27).
Has the reader ever reflected upon the extreme care, the almost superstitious reverence with which the Jews regarded the inspired Word of God? Ask any of the ancient Jewish doctors how many words or even letters occur in any of the thirty-nine sacred books of the Old Testament — nay, ask even how many times each letter of the alphabet occurs in the whole collection of sacred books, and you would get an immediate answer. So scrupulous were they in transcribing their sacred books that if a mistake was observed the copy was rejected and the work commenced afresh. The perpetuity of the written word is divinely assured us (1 Peter 1:23-25), as also its stability (Ps. 119:89), and its all-sufficiency (2 Tim. 3:15-17), through all times and under all circumstances.
The paramount importance of the written word, even over and above the successive revelations of the name of the Lord, is also distinctly declared in the words, "Thou hast exalted Thy word above all Thy name."
The Bible the Word of God.
There yet remains one point to which we would briefly advert. Some hesitate to term the Bible "The Word of God," on the plea that it is merely a translation. But it is well known that the original Hebrew MSS. — immediately proceeding from the pen of Moses, Isaiah, and other inspired writers — were not in existence during the time of our Lord's sojourn on earth, and further, that the earliest of all translations, the Septuagint or Greek version of the Old Testament Oracles, was then in general use in Palestine; in fact, was the only translation commonly used till the beginning of the fourth century, and was universally regarded in early Christian times as having been translated from the Hebrew under special Divine influence. Origen was but partially acquainted with the Hebrew language. Jerome, however, who was a competent Hebrew scholar — the first of the Fathers who was so — discarded the Septuagint as authority, and studied and expounded the Old Testament from the original in which it was written — the Hebrew.
Now the important fact we bring before our readers is this: That the Lord, the Apostles, and early Christian writers reverently turned over the pages of this venerable translation, reading, citing, and referring to it as the Word of God. Many quotations found in the New Testament are from this Greek translation; others, of course, are from the Hebrew. Now, is there any difference in principle between an English and Greek translation? The question is a simple one. Have we got the very words of God whether expressed in Greek, English, or French? We have. Why, it was this very Greek copy of the Old Testament with which Timothy was acquainted from childhood, and yet the Holy Spirit through Paul terms it "The Holy Scriptures," declaring their full inspiration, besides coupling them with those then unwritten, "All Scripture given by inspiration of God (2 Tim. 3:15, 16).
Copies of the Septuagint rapidly multiplied through the diligence of scribes, as now the completed Bible by the aid of printing; then it was the Word of God although in Greek; now it is the Word of God although in English. Translations and multiplied copies, whether written or printed, do not in the least affect the question of inspiration, nor the Divine character and title of the Bible as being in very deed The Word of God.