The New Zealand Evangelist
“Search the Scriptures.”—John V., 39
“Search the Scriptures.”—John V., 39.
This is a short but important command. Like every portion of the law of God it is exceeding broad, and, to be fully obeyed in its letter and spirit, involves a greater amount of duty than a superficial examination would lead us to conclude.
This command implies that every one ought to possess a copy—yea the very best copy of the Scriptures that it is possible for him to obtain. Those who love the Bible, ought to consider it a dishonour to this best of books, if they are not using the best copies of it which it is in their power to procure. We ought to blush if we are more solicitous about our dress, our dwelling, or our furniture; about procuring the elegant, the useless, or it may be the noxious luxuries of life, than about possessing really excellent copies of the Scriptures. Every impediment ought to be removed that would prevent us from searching the Scriptures: there is sufficient reluctance in every human heart to this exercise, without its being increased by any accidental impediment. Instead of being repelled by small print and page 170 dim type; by a soiled, tattered, or imperfect copy, we should be induced to search the Scriptures by the attractive appearance of the copy that we use. This is of more importance than many suppose. Very few will have courage to search the Scriptures, who do not possess a good copy of them; and let none who love the Bible grudge the expense. It is wretched, miserable economy to save off the Bible. Money cannot be better expended than in procuring good copies of the Scriptures. Heads of families cannot better employ their means than in supplying themselves and their children with these. An elegant but portable family Bible, should be the first bought, and most regularly used piece of household furniture in every christian family. Let young men, instead of expending their first gains on fashionable gaieties, and young women, instead of frittering away their earnings on expensive trifles—let both appropriate their money freely to procure good, well-printed, well-bound copies of the Bible. Till very recently, there was a want of Bibles in this settlement, but happily there either is, or shortly will be, an abundant and varied supply presented to the public.
This command implies that every one who possesses a Bible should be able to read it, both correctly and elegantly. It is not so easy a task to read the Bible, as many suppose. The Scriptures are rather a library than a single book. They are a series of treatises, written in a variety of styles, and containing a great number of words; and it requires time, labour, and close application to be able to read the Bible as it ought to be read. It is often truly painful to listen to the tasteless, slovenly, and even inaccurate manner in which the Scriptures are read, and that by persons who might have been good scholars. The Bible being the best book, should be read in the best possible manner. In this as in every thing else the Lord should be served with the best. Parents should spare no pains and grudge no expense, to enable their children to read God's book with ease and elegance; and young people ought to make it page 171 one of the prime objects of a laudable ambition to be able to read the Bible with fluency, correctness, and good taste. Unless the Bible is correctly read, it cannot be properly understood. Correct and elegant reading, especially of the Scriptures, lies at the foundation of all sound scholarship. Besides, no person will read much of the Bible, who cannot read it with ease; when the reading of it is a task, it is stripped of half its attractions. Lame men are seldom enthusiastic in walking; they may move slowly about, in smooth level paths around their own dwellings; but it is only the man of tight, strong, and vigorous limbs, that will climb the mountain steep, and gaze with enraptured eye upon the thousand beauties that adorn the landscape below; so it is only the person who can read the Bible with ease, accuracy and understanding—who delights to exercise this valuable acquirement, that will travel beyond the easy portions of the Bible—that will read through the most difficult passages, and the least inviting books—and that will discern the thousand beauties that lie scattered, even in its most seemingly barren and uninteresting pages.
This command implies that the whole Bible is to be read. We are not to read simply the Gospels, the Psalms, the New Testament, or the historical portions of the Old Testament, and omit the rest; we are not to pass over the genealogical tables, the geographical descriptions, the Levitical ritual, the judicial laws, or the obscure symbolical prophecies; but we are to read the whole Bible. It is all the word of God. It is all profitable. It has all been written for our learning. It may be right and proper to read some portions more than others; the danger is not, however, that we read the Gospel of John, or the Psalms of David; the Epistles of Paul, or the Prophecies of Isaiah too much; but that we read the other parts of the Bible too little or not at all. There is a danger of confining ourselves to favourite texts, chapters, or books, and of allowing the rest to remain neglected. The whole Bible was given by inspiration of God, page 172 and if be saw fit to reveal and record it all, he certainly intended that it should all be read. Every portion of the word of God is valuable, either on its own account or from the light it throws upon other parts. The Old Testament throws great light upon the New and the New in its turn is a key to a great part of the Old; they are two parts of a great but dependent and closely connected whole. The genealogical tables and geographical descriptions throw great light upon many portions of the historical books. The ceremonial ritual and the judicial laws throw great light upon the offices of Christ, upon many parts of the New Testament, and especially upon the Epistle to the Hebrews; while the prophecies and the histories elucidate and confirm each other. There are besides, precious gems of divine truth scattered over those portions that are considered most barren, which are found nowhere else. So that it is only those who read every portion of the word of God, and thus discover every truth—who call into active and healthful exercise every faculty of the soul—who obtain nourishment for all the graces of the Spirit—and who instead of being deformed and decrepit, weak and one sided Christians, like those who confine themselves to their favourite chapters or their favourite books, will, by the blessing of God, become distinguished for their well proportioned Christian character, and will in due time attain to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.
This command implies that the scriptures should be read regularly. The great object in searching the scriptures is to store the memory, enlighten the understanding, and impress the heart with divine truth; and to secure success in the prosecution of this or any other great and laudable object we must pursue it with regularity. The word of God is the food of the soul, and if we wish the soul to be vigorous and healthy, we must supply it regularly with this spiritual nourishment; like the Patriach of Uz we should esteem the words of God more than our necessary food. The Bible should not be read merely occasionally by page 173 fits and starts; but regularly,—daily. It should be read through at least once a year. By reading three chapters a day this can be easily accomplished. Many think they have not time for this, but “Where there is a will there is a way;” if the heart is in the work time will be found. A firm resolution to accomplish this object, and a holy wisdom in redeming time for this purpose, and laying it out to advantage, will perform wonders. In those families where domestic worship takes precedence of every thing else—where all are assembled around the family altar with their Bibles in their hands, the first thing in the morning, and a similar rule is observed at night—every secular business instead of being hindered is promoted; the simple principle of order that such a practice secures is favourable to every other pursuit. And if for the sake of obtaining time to read the word of God, we rise a few minutes earlier in the morning, or curtail an unprofitable conversation half an hour in the evening, we shall be gainers of time and not losers by the practice. There are strong temptations in Colonial life to neglect the reading and searching of the Bible; the bustle, activity, and energy with which every occupation is pursued,—the new and peculiar circumstances in which so many are placed, afford little of either time or convenience for this exercise; so that unless we ‘pursue the reading of the Bible upon some regular systematic plan, from which nothing will drive us, this exercise is sure to be lost sight of; but it is only by reading regularly that we can expect to profit. It is the coustant dropping that wears the stone. It was by adhering rigidly to the maxim, Nulla dies sine versa—“no day without its verse,” that Luther, in the midst of incessant occupations, found time to translate the whole Bible into the language of Germany.
This command implies that the Bible should be read critically, so as to be fully understood. “Understandest thou what thou readest?” was the question put by Philip to the Ethiopian Eunuch, and the same question is virtually put by the Spirit to every page 174 one who reads the Bible. It is only when understood that it can affect the heart and conduct. The reading of the Bible is not enough, it must be examined with care and attention if we wish to find out the meaning; the mind with all its powers, natural and acquired, must be applied to the investigation. The Scriptures are a mine, containing the true riches; but the treasures of divine truth, more precious than the finest gold, are not to be obtained without digging, and he who would be rich must apply his energies to the task. The Scriptures are a well, containing the life-giving waters of salvation; but the well is deep, and he who would drink to the satisfying of his soul must remove the stone and proceed to draw. We speak of the Bible as a whole; there is much that is simple and easy, “he may run that readeth it,” it is “milk for babes;” but there is also “strong meat,” profound mysteries, truths that furnish full scope for the highest intellects. In searching the scriptures, so as to understand in every passage what is really the will of God—what lessons of instruction we are expected to learn, we ought to use all the helps that lie within our reach; commentaries, dictionaries, concordances, marginal references, and works of a similar character. If works of this kind are properly used, as helps not as masters, they may be of great service. When men of the highest talents, the deepest piety, and the most extensive acquirements, have devoted their whole life to the investigation of the Scriptures, it would argue little wisdom in anyone to despise or neglect the result of those men's labours, while he is prosecuting the study of mysteries into which the angels desire to look. Henry has furnished us with an unparalleled amount of rich practical instruction. Hawes though less full is, perhaps, still more Evangelical. Scott is clear, sensible, and judicious, aiming every where at setting forth the mind of the Spirit. Clarke brings immense stores of human learning to elucidate the sacred volume, and though avowedly critical and not practical, is ever and anon discharging an arrow at the conscience. The Pictorial Bible, though page 175 containing little that is practical, is rich in illustrations; and a fascinating book for the young. We might refer to Home, Calmet, Brown, Cruden, Harmer, Burder, Paxton, and to many of the publications of the London Tract Society, especially to the “Companion to the Bible,” as containing much that is invaluable to the student of the Scriptures. But to those who have little time, we would urge a constant, careful, and prayerful reading of the Bible itself, and if possible let them look up all the marginal references. Comparing scripture with scripture is always the safest and often the most successful mode of ascetraining its true meaning.
(To be Continued.)