By F.B. Meyer
GOD, Who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son." (Hebrews 1.1-2).
What word could more fittingly stand at the head of the first line of the first paragraph in this noble epistle! Each structure must rest on Him as foundation, each tree must spring from Him as root; each design and enterprise must originate in Him as source.
"IN THE BEGINNING - GOD," is a worthy motto to inscribe at the commencement of every treatise, be it the ponderous volume or the ephemeral tract. And with that name we commence our attempt to gather up some of the glowing lessons which were first addressed to the persecuted and wavering Hebrews in the primitive age, but have ever been most highly prized by believing Gentiles throughout the universal Church.
The feast was originally spread for the children of the race of Abraham; but who shall challenge our right to the crumbs?
In the original Greek, the word "God" is preceded by two other words which describe the variety and multiplicity of His revelation to man. And the whole verse is full of interest as detailing the origin and authority of the Word of God, and as illustrating the great law which appears in so many parts of the works of God, and has been fitly called the law of variety in unity.
That law operates in Nature, the earliest book of God. No thoughtful man can look around him without being arrested by the infinite variety that meets him on every side. "All flesh is not the same flesh; . . . there are celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one; and the glory of the terrestrial is another. . . . One star differs from another star in glory."
You cannot match two faces in a crowd; two leaves in a forest; or two flowers in the woodlands of spring. It would seem as if the moulds in which natural products are being shaped are broken up and cast aside as soon as one result has been attained. And it is this which affords such an infinite field for investigation and enjoyment, forbidding all fear of monotony or weariness of soul.
And yet, amid all natural variety, there is a marvellous unity. Every part of the universe interlocks by subtle and delicate links with every other part. You cannot disturb the balance anywhere without sending a shock of disturbance through the whole system. Just as in some majestic Gothic minster the same idea repeats itself in bolder or slighter forms, so do the same great thoughts recur in tree and flower, in molecule and planet, in tiny atom and man. And all this because, if you penetrate to Nature's heart, you meet God.
"Of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things." (Romans 11.36). "There are diversities of operations, but it is the same God Who works all in all." (1 Corinthians 12.6). The unity that pervades Nature's temple is the result of its having originated from one mind, and having been effected by one hand, the mind and hand of God.
That law also operates throughout the Scriptures. There is as great variety there as in Nature. They were written in different ages. Some in the days of "the fathers"; others at "the end of these days" for us.
In the opening chapters, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, Moses has embodied fragments of hallowed tradition, which passed from lip to lip in the tents of the patriarchs; and its later chapters were written when the holy city, Jerusalem, had already been smitten to the ground by the mailed hand of Titus.
They were written in different countries. These in the deserts of Arabia, those under the shadow of the pyramids, and others amid the tides of life that swept through the greatest cities of Greece and Rome.
You can detect in some the simple pastoral life of Palestine, in others the magnificence of Nebuchadnezzar's empire. In one there is the murmur of the blue Aegean; and in several the clank of the fetters in the Roman prison cell.
They were written by men belonging to various ranks, occupations, and methods of thought. Shepherds and fishermen, warriors and kings, the psalmist, the prophet, and the priest; some employing the stately religious Hebrew, others the Aramaic patois, others the polished Greek.
There is every variety of style, from the friendly letter, or sententious proverb, to the national history, or the carefully prepared treatise, in which thought and expression glow as in the fires -- but all contributing their quota to the symmetry and beauty of the whole.
And yet, throughout the Bible, there is an indubitable unity. What else could have led mankind to look upon these sixty-six books as being so unmistakably related to each other that they must be bound up together under a common cover?
There has been something so unique in these books that they have always stood and fallen together. To disintegrate one has been to loose them all. Belief in one has led to belief in all. Their hands are linked and locked so tightly that where one goes all must follow.
And though wise and clever men have tried their best, they have never been able to produce a single treatise containing that undefinable quality which gives these their mysterious oneness; and to lack which is fatal to the claims of any book to be included with them, or to demand the special veneration and homage of mankind.
The world is full of religious books, but the man who has fed his religious life on the Bible will tell in a moment the difference between them and the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
The eye can instantly detect the absence of life in the artificial flower, the tongue can immediately and certainly detect the absence or presence of a certain flavour submitted to the taste, and the heart of man, his moral sense, is quick to detect the absence in all other religious books of a certain savour which pervades the Bible, from Genesis, the book of beginnings, to the Apocalyptic announcements of the quick coming of the King.
And in the possession of this mysterious attribute, the Old and New Testaments are one. You cannot say there is more of it in the glowing paragraphs of the Apostle Paul than in the splendid prophecies and appeals of the great evangelic prophet, Isaiah. It is certainly in the Gospels, but it is not less in the story of the Exodus.
Throughout there is silence on topics which merely gratify curiosity, but on which other professed revelations have been copiously full. Throughout, there is no attempt to give instruction on science or nature, but to bend all energy in discussing the claims of God on men. Throughout, the crimson cord of sacrifice is clearly manifest, on which the books are strung together as beads upon a thread.
And throughout, there is ever the subtle, mysterious, ineffable quality called Inspiration, a term which is explained by the majestic words of this opening verse, "God, having spoken of old to the fathers, has at the end of these days spoken to us."
Scripture is the speech of God to man. It is this which gives it its unity. "The Lord, the mighty God, has spoken, and called the earth." The writers may differ; but the inspiring mind is the same. The instruments may vary; but in every case the same theme is being played by the same master-hand. We should read the Bible as those who listen to the very speech of God. Well may it be called "the Word of God."
But the Scripture is God's speech in man. The heavenly treasure is in vessels of earth. "He spoke to the fathers in the prophets. . . He has spoken unto us in His Son." It is very remarkable to study the life of Jesus, and to listen to His constant statements as to the source of His marvellous words.
So utterly had He emptied Himself, that He originated nothing from Himself, but lived by the Father, in the same way as we are to live by Him. He distinctly declared that the words He spoke, He spoke not of Himself, but that words and works alike were the outcome of the Father, who dwelt within. Through those lips of clay the eternal God was speaking. Well might He also be called "the Word of God"!
And here the words of the prophets in the Old Testament are levelled up to the plane of the words of Jesus in the New. Without staying to make the least distinction, our writer tells us, under the teaching of the Spirit, that He who spoke in the one spoke also in the other.
Let us then think with equal reverence of the Old Testament as of the New. It was our Saviour's Bible. It was the food which Jesus loved, and lived upon. He was content to fast from all other food, if only He might have this. It was His one supreme appeal in conflict with the devil, and in the clinching of His arguments and exhortations with men.
And here we discover the reason. The voice of God spoke in the prophets, whose very name likens them to the up-rush of the geyser from its hidden source.
As God spoke in men, it is clear that He left them to express His thoughts in the language, and after the method, most familiar to them. They will speak of Nature just as they have been accustomed to find her. They will use the mode of speech whether poem or prose which is most habitual to their cast of thought. They will make allusions to the events transpiring around them, so as to be easily understood by their fellows.
But, whilst thus left to express God's thoughts in their own way, yet most certainly the divine Spirit must have carefully superintended their utterances, so that their words should accurately convey His messages to men.
In many parts of the Bible there is absolute dictation, word for word. In others, there is divine superintendence guarding from error, and guiding in the selection and arrangement of materials, as when Daniel quotes from historic records, and Moses embodies the sacred stories which his mother had taught him beside the flowing Nile.
In all, there is the full inspiration of the Spirit of God, by whom all Scripture has been given. Holy men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, . . . searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify" (2 Tim. 3.16 ; 2 Pet. 1. 20, 21; 1 Pet. 2.2).
We need not deny that other men have been illuminated, but the difference between illumination and inspiration is as far as the east is from the west. Nor do we say that God has not spoken in other men, or in these men at other times, but we do say that only in the Bible has God given the supreme revelation of His will, and the authoritative rule of our faith and practice.
The heart of man bears witness to this. We know that there is a tone in these words which is heard in no other voice. The upper chords of this instrument give it a timbre which none other can rival.
The revelation in the Old Testament was given in fragments (or portions). This is the meaning of the word rendered in the Old Version sundry times, and in the Revised divers portions. It refers, not to the successive ages over which it was spread, but to the numerous "portions" into which it was broken up. No one prophet could speak out all the truth. Each was entrusted with one or two syllables in the mighty sentences of God's speech.
At the best the view caught of God, and given to men through the prophets, though true, was partial and limited. But in Jesus there is nothing of this piecemeal revelation. "In him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." (Colossians 2.9). He has revealed the Father. Whosoever has seen Him has seen God, and to hear His words is to get the full-orbed revelation of the Infinite.
The earlier revelation was in many forms. The earthquake, the fire, the tempest, and the still small voice - each had its ministry. Symbol and parable, vision and metaphor, type and historic foreshadowing, all in turn served the divine end, like the ray which is broken into many prismatic hues. But in Jesus there is the steady shining of the pure ray of His glory, one uniform and invariable method of revelation.
Oh the matchless and glorious Book, the Word of God to men - to us, revealing not only God, but ourselves, explaining moods for which we had no cipher, touching us as no other book can, and in moments when all voices beside wax faint and still, telling facts which we have not been able to discover, but which we instantly recognise as truth; the bread of the soul, the key of life, disclosing more depths as we climb higher in Christian experience. We have tested you too long to doubt that you are what Jesus said you were, the indispensable and precious gift of God.