ALL the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full," said the wisest of the wise. We might add to this, and say, "All the rivers come out of the sea, yet the sea is not empty." All the books in the world have, more or less directly, come out of the Bible, yet the Bible is not empty. It is as full as at the first. Let us not be afraid of exhausting it.
There is but ONE book that would bear such study. Let us be thankful that our world does contain such a book. It must be superhuman, supernatural. Blessed be God that there is at least one thing thoroughly superhuman, supernatural in this world; something which stands out from and above "the laws of nature"; something visible and audible to link us with Him whose face we see not and whose voice we hear not What a blank would there be here, if this one fragment of the divine, now venerable, both with wisdom and age, were to disappear from the midst of us; or, what is the same thing, the discovery were to be made that this ancient volume is not the unearthly thing which men have deemed it, but, at the highest estimate, a mere fragment from the great block of human thought,--perhaps, according to another estimate, a mere relic of superstition.
"Bring the Book," said Sir Walter Scott, upon his deathbed, to Lockhart. "What book?" asked Lockhart. "What Book?" replied the dying novelist, "there is but ONE Book." Yes; there is but one Book, and we shall one day know this, when that which is human shall pass away (like the mists from some Lebanon peak), and leave that which is divine to stand out and to shine out alone in its unhidden grandeur.
God is now recalling humanity to the book which was written for it. By the very attacks made on it by enemies, as well as by the studies of its friends, he is bringing us back to this one volume, as the light shining in a dark place. That we may know the past, the present, and the future, he is bidding us betake ourselves to it.
Let us read it, let us study it, let us love it, let us reverence it.
It will guide, it will cheer, it will enlighten, it will make wise, it will purify.
It will lead us into all truth. It will deliver us from the fermenting errors of the day. It will save us from the intellectual dreams of a vain philosophy, from the vitiated taste of a sensational literature, from the specious novelties of spiritual mysticism, from the pretentious sentimentalisms of men who soar above all creeds and abhor the name of "law," from Broad Churchism, and High Church-ism, and no Churchism. It will lead us into light and love, into liberty and unity, imparting strength and gladness.
This Book is "the word of God." It contains "the words of God," but it is "the word of God," the thing that God hath spoken to man. Being the word of God, that which it contains must be the words of God.
Each word of God is true, and as divine as it is true. But are there not various readings, so that at times we are uncertain which is the authentic word? Yes; but these cases are few, and doubtful cases do not invalidate those that are not doubtful, of which latter more than nine-tenths of the Bible is composed. The doubtful readings make us far more secure as to all the rest. There are various readings in Homer and Cicero, but the occurrence of these does not prove that the rest are not really the very words of Homer and Cicero.
But are not there words of wicked men, nay, of Satan himself, in the Bible; how can I say that it contains nothing but the words of God? I did not say this. But I say that even the words of the wicked are inserted in it by God, for a wise purpose; and in interpreting such words we are to consider what that purpose is, so that taking the passage as a whole we shall extract the truth of God from it, nay, discover also how the words of the ungodly are made to illustrate the truth of God. No word is set down in the Bible save by the authority of God. This is our security and joy.
But are there not variations in the narratives, as in Kings and Chronicles, as in the Gospels; nay, as in the very words said to be spoken at our Lord's baptism. Yes; variations, but not inconsistencies; and these variations are introduced by the Holy Spirit on purpose to bring out all the aspects of the scene. These variations from the exact original words are not by chance or without a purpose. The Spirit was the author of the original words, he is the author of the variations also. Has he not a right to vary his own words when he sees fit; and when he varies them shall he be accused of inaccuracy? Shall the fact of the variation be used as an argument against the verbal inspiration of Scripture, as a proof that the original words were not worth the exact reporting? If the variation were a contradiction, the reasoning would hold good; but as this is not alleged, the accusation falls to pieces, for it is a pure sophism to deduce from a variation the same conclusions as from a contradiction; and it is as arbitrary as it is absurd to deny a writer the liberty of setting his own words in different lights, nay, and to found upon the fact of his doing so a charge or a suspicion that he never spoke or wrote any such words at all. So long as we can shew that we have divine authority for the variations, we need not shrink from acknowledging these, or suppose that the consequences of such an acknowledgment must be a relinquishment of the full inspiration of Scripture. Suppose I am arguing with a friend concerning something which I did and spoke, am I not at liberty at one time to cite my original words, at another time to vary them so as to give point to them or force to my argument. And because I thus explain myself in varying language, shall it be said that I never really used the very words, or that it is of no consequence to know whether the words were really mine, when the very object of the discussion is to get at the original words and their true meaning? Yes; we have divine authority for the variations in the different narratives; and, having that, we have divine security for words of Scripture, quite as much so as if there had been no variation at all. This becomes all the stronger when it happens, as is admitted in the present case, that the aim of the writer is really to present the varying truth to us, that he can have no object in misrepresenting it or misreporting himself, nay, that his character is such as to place him above all suspicion, both in regard to truthfulness and wisdom.
I take this Book, then, as "the one Book," the Book of God, as truly such as Calvin's "Institutes" or Hooker's "Policy" are the books of men. And why men should write books for their fellow-men, and God not write one Book for his creatures to tell them of himself, I do not understand. It seems to me the most natural of all things. The utter silence of God to the creatures which he has made would surely be so unnatural as to be incredible. That God should speak is what we might expect; that he should be dumb is beyond all belief. That he should speak in words of his own choosing is what we should above all things desire, for then we should know that his thoughts were really presented to us; that he should speak in words of man's choosing (if such a thing could be), is altogether undesirable and unlikely, for then we should not know whether the language and the thought were in the least coincident; nay, we should feel that we had gotten an incorrect and untrustworthy volume, that we had been cheated and betrayed, that instead of bread we had got a stone, and instead of an egg we had got a scorpion.
The pages that follow are an attempt to bring out, as briefly as possible, the thoughts of God, as contained in the words of his Book. It is with light and truth that we have to do, in handling that Book. The old Latin poet says,
Verborum vetus interit aetas,
but the divine volume, with its true words, like the light which is its emblem, remains, forever perfect, and forever young.