5. Topical Study

It will be noticed that we have given the first place to the simple, daily reading of our Bibles; the next, to memorizing special portions; the third, to analyzing and outlining individual books and grouping them. These we feel are of far greater importance than the topical studies which we will now dwell upon for a little.

Our food comes to us, not divided up into the various elements which form its constituent parts; but into nutritious, wholesome meat, bread and vegetables,with fruit that is pleasant to the taste and attractive to the eye. God's word is like this. It is not a dictionary nor an encyclopedia of facts and doctrines, but a living, throbbing, organic whole, instinct with love and with life, in which eternal realities pass before us — not in a cold list of doctrines, but in the person of the Son of God, the narrative of His work, the exhibition of faith in Him as exemplified in His people, their experiences, sorrows, trials and failures. Even when we come to the doctrinal epistles, truth is presented not in a coldly theological way, but ever with the deep, personal interest of both writer and reader fully engaged and in such an order that the distinct purpose of the Spirit of God is ever kept prominent; while, flowing from the doctrinal statements, the Christian walk and practice are ever brought before us.

This we say furnishes the suggestion for the proper method of study. We have taken a walk in the fresh air, through a beautiful country. Field and tree, flower and running brook, even the very stones and red earth beneath our feet, have in turn filled the eye and caused our hearts to rejoice in the beauty all about us. We come home and arrange on a shelf a flower which we have plucked and pressed, a curious pebble which we found, a little box filled with the earth, a piece of the bark of a tree, perhaps a moth which we caught. A friend comes to see us, and, instead of taking him to enjoy the beautiful walk, we turn to our shelf and inform him that it is not necessary, that here we have the results of what we have gathered in the walk, and show him our dry bark, flower, pebble, etc.

Now this is, of course, extreme; but we do feel that topical study of the Bible, arranging and classifying it into doctrine, should occupy a minor place in our studies; but we must qualify this to a certain extent, and can best do so by going a little further into detail.

The apostle directed Timothy to "hold fast the form of sound words;" which could, perhaps, be more accurately rendered, "have an outline of sound words." A text-book of botany is necessary, although it does not glow with the beauty and brilliancy of the flowers that strewed our path. Indeed, it has a beauty all its own in laying bare the processes of plant life, the dissection of its various parts, all of which bring out the marvelous details of divine wisdom, power, and goodness. God would have us gather and arrange the great outstanding facts of divine truth in due order, and in this way gain knowledge of a more exact character, perhaps, than would otherwise be gathered from our daily reading.

To go back to our illustration, a museum which contains specimens of the various plants, soils, rocks, etc. , in a given country serves an important purpose, and enables one to form a more accurate knowledge than he would gather in a walk. We have indicated what we believe to be the order, and can therefore now take up the topical study of Scripture without seeming to ignore that which should come first.

1. The great doctrines of Scripture.

We might begin our topical study by forming as complete a list as we could of the doctrines which we have found throughout the word of God. Such a list would include the following:

Creation. Inspiration. Angels. Sanctification. Man. The Father. Sin. Election. Satan. Forgiveness. Salvation. Justification. Repentance. Adoption. The person of Christ. Deliverance from sin. The work of Christ. The law. The Holy Spirit. The coming of the Lord. New Birth. The judgments. Eternal Life. Eternity for the saved and the lost. Assurance. Eternal security.

This is but a partial list of some of the great fundamental doctrines. We might take them up and find that each one suggests a group.

Thus the subject of the person of Christ might be divided into,

1. His deity.

2. His humanity.

3. The union of His deity and humanity.

4. His earthly life.

5. His present life.

In like manner the atoning work of our Lord furnishes a number of subjects for detailed examination.

1. The relation between the person and work.

2. Substitution.

3. Atonement Godward, or propitiation.

4. Reconciliation, or atonement manward.

5. Access.

6. Priesthood.

7. Advocacy.

This list need not be formed all at once. Probably at the first we might think of only a comparatively small number of the great doctrines, grouping them possibly around the three persons of the Godhead: gradually, though, as days passed on, we would add other doctrines to the list, which should be kept open for further additions and rearrangements as our knowledge broadens. It is suggested that the student adopt his own method of classification here, which may be either that suggested above or the historical one indicated in our list, or some other.

We are now ready to take up our study of each doctrine separately, and will take as an example the solemn subject of "Sin." Pursuing the general method already indicated, and with our notebook ready at hand, we will not attempt any systematic outline at the start, but jot down the subjects as they occur to us, and the scriptures connected with them. Thus we would naturally refer to the fall in Gen. 3, and examine the nature of sin, so far as we might We would see that its outward expression was in disobedience to God, the temptation of Satan by which he deceived having preceded that outward act. Next, the effect of sin is seen in the sense of shame and guilt, of distance from God, and the loss- of the privileges previously enjoyed. All this is connected with the narrative in the early part of Genesis. We might then trace sin historically as finding its development in the family of Cain, the corruption of the family of Seth, save an elect remnant, and the inevitable judgment which followed.

This will indeed give us an example of the history of sin in the world. We might next trace it governmentally in the history of Israel under the law, and the oft-repeated apostasies and recoveries narrated in the historical books, where God's earthly government takes knowledge of and punishes by temporal chastisements the violations of that law. This, of course, does not touch the question of future and eternal retribution.

Passing on to the Psalms, Proverbs, and Prophets, we find an ever-broadening stream of iniquity flowing onward while in the New Testament we see it attaining special virulence during our Lord's presence on earth, and culminating in its most awful form in His rejection and crucifixion. This would be the historical method, of which we will speak more in detail presently.

Pursuing the subject of "Sin" further, we would take up the doctrine as found in the various Epistles, noting passages such as Romans, chapters 1, 2, 3, which delineate it in its various forms of corruption, whether man has been left to the light of nature, as in heathenism; to natural cultivation, as in the case of Greek or Roman philosophy; or to the exceptional privileges of those who had the Scriptures, as the Jews. In every case we find the solemn truth, "There is none righteous; no, not one."

We note sin as moral death in Eph. 2, and as enmity against God in Rom. 8, Col. 1, etc. The epistles of John furnish other characteristics of it; and in Revelation we find it rising to its full height of rebellion against God, only to meet its eternal doom in the lake of fire.

After having gathered such thoughts as these, with such helps as were at our command, and more particularly our own study of Scripture, we could begin to classify the subject and reduce it to a somewhat orderly arrangement, for instance, as follows:

1. The nature of sin.

2. Its effects in relation to God.

3. Its moral effects in relation to man. Its fruits.

4. Its punishment.

5. Its remedy.

This last, of course, would lead on to other and more blessed subjects. Before leaving this, however, we would find a number of subordinate subjects, as, for instance, the distinction between "sin" and "sins"; between "the flesh" and the "mortal body"; between "the old man" and "sin."

Let us next take up in an illustrative way the subject of "Atonement." We have already, in looking at the doctrine of "Sin," indicated its historical treatment. We will pursue this a little more distinctly under the present head. Of course the doctrine of "Sin" forms here an introduction, suggesting the deep need of man which has to be met.

We find in the book of Genesis that God's earliest dealings with fallen man, and man's only way of approach to God, were on the basis of sacrifice. Throughout the entire Old Testament this is portrayed in the sacrifices of clean animals whose blood was shed. In the patriarchal age great simplicity marked it. The offerer as Abel, Noah, Abraham, or Jacob — slew his offering and burnt it upon an altar. He was accepted on the ground of his sacrifice. We find no special mention of definite acts of transgression as calling for this sacrifice, if we except the implied suggestion of God that if Cain did not well a sin-offering lay at the door which could be presented as atonement for his guilt.

Sacrifice, throughout the book of Genesis, seems to have been largely, too, the means for maintaining communion with God. In it the savor of the offering went up to Him, and, in connection with it, doubtless the offerer received the communications which God had to give.

When we come, however, to the elaborate ritual established by God after the redemption of Israel from Egypt (where the passover sacrifice had given the clearest thought of substitution and shelter from judgment), we find much detail, particularly in the various offerings described in the first part of Leviticus. Taking them in inverse order as starting from man's need, we find in the trespass-offering provision for actual transgression; in the sin-offering the question is dealt with more radically, the root as well as the fruit suggested; in the peace-offering we have communion established on the basis of sacrifice; while in the burnt-offering, with its accompanying meal-offering, we have all offered up as a sweet savor to God, in which savor the worshiper finds his acceptance.

The great service of the day of atonement — Lev. 16 — goes still more fully into the doctrine; and here we have, in addition to what has already been noted, the holiest, or place of access, with its mercy-seat, suggesting the Person through whom atonement is effected. This gives us, typically indeed, but very really, a well-nigh perfect outline of the great subject. Different aspects of it are given, for instance in Num. 19, where the water of separation shows how the work of Christ forms the basis of the removal, not only of guilt, but of the moral defilement which would prevent communion.

Thus it will be seen that the Pentateuch furnishes us with well-nigh all the material necessary for a complete conception of atonement. It is only in type, however, and needs the full blaze of New Testament truth before it could be understood. The law had but a shadow of good things to come; was not, indeed, the very image, and therefore could never make the comers thereunto perfect as pertains to the conscience.

The historical books add but little to our knowledge of the subject of atonement, furnishing simply illustrations of what we have already learned. In the book of Psalms, however, we have a most complete and striking unfolding of this great truth, though still veiled behind the language of prophecy, so that faith alone could in any full measure divine its meaning.

We find thus, in the great atonement-psalms, our Lord presented as the Sacrifice, with details which are not typical, but as deep as any statements in the New Testament. We see Him thus as the Sin-offering in Psalm 22; as the Trespass-offering in Psalm 69; and as the Burnt-offering in Psalm 40h, and possibly the Peace-offering in Psalm 102. Many other psalms afford glimpses, more or less complete, of the atoning work of our Lord, while the blessed results of His redemption shine forth in all the splendor of Israel's millennial blessing,and out to the nations gathered around them.

Familiar passages in the Prophets are much in line with what we have already seen in the book of Psalms. They present to us, as the 53rd of Isaiah, our Lord's suffering and rejection: in the book of Zechariah, His wounding in the house of His friends; while all future blessings for Israel and the world at large flow from those stripes by which faith can say, "We are healed."

Passing next to the New Testament, in the four Gospels we have largely the record of our Lord's earthly life, which showed Him to be the "Lamb without blemish and without spot," the only One in heaven or earth fitted by the dignity of His person as divine, and His assumption of perfect manhood, to be the Sacrifice and Substitute for His people.

Each of the four Gospels gives us a special view of the sacrificial character of His atoning death. In Matthew we have Him as the Trespass-offering, bearing the consequences of sins, and death, which is sin's wages. In Mark there seems to be the more absolute view of the Sin- offering in His death. In both these Gospels our Lord cries, "Why hast Thou forsaken Me?" quoting from the great sin-offering psalm. In Luke, with its blessed human gospel throughout, we have Him as the Peace-offering; and in John all goes up to God as a sweet savor, the true Burnt-offering.

In the Acts the great doctrine of atonement is not brought out in any systematic way, but, rather, forgiveness and justification are presented, both to the Jew and Gentile, with their accompanying results.

When we come, however, to the Epistles, and particularly that to the Romans, the doctrine of atonement is developed to the fullest extent. Here, as we have already seen, first man's guilt and lost condition are presented. Every mouth is stopped, and all the world brought in "guilty before God." Then divine righteousness, which must condemn the guilty, is seen to be on the side of the guilty sinner who accepts the sacrifice which God has provided. Indeed, it sets forth our Lord Jesus Christ as a propitiatory, or mercy-seat — a meeting-place, through faith, on the ground of His blood, whereby we can approach to God. Not only is there forgiveness of sins, but a positive justification, resting upon this basis. The effects of this justification are "peace with God," access into His presence, rejoicing in hope of His glory; while God Himself becomes, instead of our dread, our exceeding joy, through our Lord Jesus Christ, "by whom we have now received the reconciliation."

Further on in the epistle the blessed results of our Lord's atoning work are set forth as meeting the condition of the believer born in sin, with a sinful nature, and prone to evil. The Cross which has secured our pardon has also "condemned sin in the flesh"; and now, for those "who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit," there is power for holiness.

Galatians teaches substitution in the most marked way. "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." Thus forgiveness and liberty are assured, with all their accompaniments; so that now we are to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.

Ephesians, in addition to much of what has already been dwelt upon, shows that we are made nigh by the blood of Christ, who is our peace, having broken down the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile, and brought both and presented them in one body to God, having slain the enmity by His cross.

Colossians dwells upon much the same truth, showing our emancipation from legal ordinances which were contrary to us. These, and Satan's power too, have been destroyed, so that we need no longer serve sin.

The epistle to the Hebrews takes us back to the Old Testament, with the light of the New shining upon the priesthood, the sanctuary, and the sacrifices offered by the law, and showing how all has been fulfilled and set aside through the one accomplished work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The epistles of James, Peter, John and Jude with the Revelation furnish also many statements as to the atonement in line with what has been before us.

We have gone thus into some detail to show how a doctrine can be traced throughout the entire word of God, and how, while gathering added truth, it shows the doctrine in germ in the earlier books of the Bible, but shining out more and more brightly until the full display is seen in the person and work of our Lord, and in the doctrine as enunciated in the Epistles. But we must go further here in our doctrinal outlines. Sufficient has been given to show how, with proper care, an endless field of profitable study is opened up.

We would suggest that special attention be given to the topic of the Scriptures themselves. What does the Bible teach as to itself? This could be taken up in connection with the general topic of inspiration, and it will be found that Scripture itself speaks in no uncertain way of the perfections of the divine Word.

The Psalms are full of this subject, the longest one in the entire collection being given to it (Ps. 119). The structure of this psalm is remarkable. Each section, as is known, of eight verses, is devoted to a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in its order, each verse beginning with that letter. It is as though the perfections of the word of God were suggested in this way. The entire alphabet is used. All the possibilities of human language are exhausted in setting forth the fulness and perfection of the word of God.

Other acrostic psalms, and other portions of Scripture suggest the same precious truth.

Coming to the New Testament, we find in the quotations from the Old, and constant references to it, a witness to the truth of its inspiration. Let all these passages be studied in their connection. A most interesting and profitable line of work it will be, and the student will rise from it with the conviction that "the Scripture cannot be broken," and that higher criticism in all its varied forms is but a device of the enemy and an assault upon the word of God.

It may be asked, When are we to finish all this? and our happy reply is, Never, in this life were we to spend every waking moment, we could not exhaust the fulness there is in the word of God. And indeed, this is neither to be expected, nor in one sense to be desired. There must ever be time given for the ordinary duties of life or, if one is engaged in the service of the Lord, in ministering to others that upon which he has already fed himself.