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The Bible as Devotional Literature

By J.H. Garrison


      The Bible is sided Book. Its historical value is beyond computation. As literature, it is without a rival whether in prose or poetry. As a book of authority in religion, it has no peer. It's doctrinal value also puts it in a class by itself. Its appeal to the human imagination and its to rouse the human intellect to loftiest efforts, are best known to those who are the most faithful students of its pages.

      But I speak of the Bible as devotional literature--its appeal to the heart and its cultural value to the spiritual nature. It will be acknowledged by all that if the Bible had been lacking in this quality, it never could have gained the place it holds in the affections of the as the world's supreme literature. Neither could it have exercised the influence which it has had on the life of mankind. "Out of the heart are the issues of life," and it is only as the heart is purified that we can see God either in his Word or in his world. It is to be feared that the Bible has been searched far more for proof-texts to establish our theories than it has been perused for the spiritual food which it is able to supply to the hungry soul. At this time of revival in biblical study, it is well to keep in mind the various worthy purposes for which we may study it, chief among which is its power to quicken and develop the spiritual life on its devotional side.

      In what ways, it may be asked, does the Bible contribute to the devotional life? [14] We shall attempt to answer this question from our own point of view, not unmindful of the fact that other students of the sacred volume would answer it differently in form, though perhaps in substance the answers would not differ so materially.

      1. The personnel of the Bible, or its biographical sketches, seem to us to possess great value in this direction. We cannot read of Adam and Abel, Enoch and Noah, and the patriarchs, Joseph and David, of Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, of Paul and Peter, John, and all the great women mentioned both in the Old and the New Testaments without feeling that in these portraits of living characters, containing their faults as well as their virtues, God is showing us the elements of character which He approves and those which He disapproves, and is thereby forming our ideals of what we ought to be and do.

      It is not difficult to discern in these character-sketches the elements which have contributed to their greatness or usefulness, and to see that it was not so much the intellectual superiority of the persons mentioned, as their faith, their humility, their courage, their devotion to God, and to the right, which gave them a place of honor in the world's most sacred literature. For this purpose it would be an excellent plan to make a character-study of the men and women whose names and deeds have such a place in the Bible as to entitle them to such study.

      2. The Psalms, which constituted the hymn book of God's ancient people, are a rich source of spiritual culture. In our hymns the heart speaks, and our deepest religious emotions find utterance. The Psalms live, and are in use today in the public worship and in our private devotional study, because they express the praise, the gratitude, the thanksgiving of devout souls to God, and we use them as vehicles by which to express the same sentiments in our own hearts. They grew out of the actual human experience of men struggling with the same great problems of sin and of suffering, of sorrow, of death, of forgiveness, and of retribution, with which we are struggling.

      These sacred writers found in God the chief source of their joy, of their hope, of their strength, and to him they poured out their hearts in expressions of penitence, of gratitude, of thanksgiving and of joy. When will men cease to read and admire the Twenty-third Psalm, known as the "Shepherd Psalm?" Never, so long as the human soul feels the need of God's kindly care and guidance, and has experienced some of the comfort in reposing upon his strength and wisdom. As long as the human heart hungers for the living God, the Forty-second Psalm will be cherished as a rich expression of its own deep desires, and its fire of devotion will be kindled by such expression. The penitent sinner will always find in the Fifty-first Psalm the language of true penitence, and a noble vehicle for a penitent prayer. Psalm Thirty-two will be found a most appropriate expression of thanksgiving for such forgiveness. The longing for the house of God finds a classic expression in the Eighty-fourth Psalm, and also in the One Hundred and Twenty-second. Literature does not furnish a nobler expression of human gratitude for divine blessings than is found in the One Hundred and Third Psalm; nor has the human mind ever conceived or expressed in sublimer strains the glory and majesty and wisdom of the material universe than those contained in the One Hundred and Fourth Psalm.

      But why need we specify? There is not a chord in the human heart but is touched and played upon in these Psalms, and not a worthy emotion that does not therein find expression. Many of these Psalms are prayers, and the element of prayer enters very largely into the most of them. It is such prayer, too, as recognizes the immanence of God in his world, and his continual presence as "a present help in every time of need." No truth can give greater vitality to prayer and inspire so deep a spirit of reverence as the reality of God and his nearness to man. It is a truth which has been too much lost sight of in the emphasis which has been laid upon the laws of the universe. The Bible recognizes these laws, but it sees in them but the constant outgoing and expression of God's will, and does not banish Him from the universe over which he reigns because he operates through laws, some of which we know and some of which are unknown.

      The prayers in these Psalms, and throughout the Bible, bring us face to face with the living God, and deepen that devotional element, the lack of which mars so much of our modern religious life. Prayer, in its highest and truest conception, is the merging of the human will into the divine. It is the soul's highest effort to become attuned to the Infinite. The secret of its power is that it establishes a relation of reciprocity with God so that our human emptiness is filled with the divine overflow of love and truth and grace. Prayer is faith [15] stretching out its hand to take hold of the hand of God. It is also all outlet for the devout soul in expressing its love and gratitude for blessings received. It is not only asking, but giving, receiving, adoring, aspiring, becoming.

      3. The Bible develops the spiritual nature and deepens the devotional life through the lofty ideals which it holds up before us. It does this partly through heavenly visions and partly through ideals of excellence realized in human life. Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and others caught a vision of God's holiness and righteousness, which caused them to seek renewed cleansing, and to become thoroughly dissatisfied with their former selves. It gave them new ideals of righteousness, and made them prophets of God for their generation. Paul had a vision of the risen Christ, which scattered all his former doubts and laid him low in the dust of humility and penitence.

      No book in all literature holds up such lofty ideals of righteousness as are found in the Bible. It lifts up the standard of living, not only for the individual and the Church, but for nations as well. It concerns itself with the establishment here on earth of the kingdom of God, in which God's will shall be done even as it is done in heaven. Because the Bible reveals a holy and loving God, it is the world's masterpiece in devotional literature.

      Hence, after all, the highest ideal of life and character in the Bible, or in the power of the human mind to conceive, is furnished to us in the life and character of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God. That life is the greatest force in the moral universe. It is the great transforming power which is at work in the world today. It is, therefore, the supreme power, both for the impartation of spiritual life to the souls of men and the development of that life, to its highest capacity. It is Christ in the Bible that gives it its supreme place in the world's literature, and makes it the highest cultural power for the souls of men. Across the pages, by type and prophecy in the Old Testament, and by historical narrative in the New, there moves the stately figure of One whose coming was the opening up of a new fountain of life for the world, and whose life and teaching have established the kingdom, which is to be both universal and everlasting. To study the life of such a One, to be brought into personal relations with him, and into company with the apostles and saints who appear on the pages of the New Testament, is to have heaven begin here on earth, and the soul to be taking on those features which shall fit it for companionship with God and the elect spirits in the life everlasting.

      Yonder on a mountain top, in Palestine, occurred a wonderful transfiguration scene, in which Jesus, in the act of praying, was transfigured until his garments were white as light and his face shone like the sun. In that scene witnessed by three; of his apostles, and by Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory, we have portrayed to it, the transfiguring power of Christ over the lives of those who keep company with him and share in his fellowship and service. It was a fore-glimpse of what God intends to make of us through Christ.

      To read the Bible believingly, reverently, obediently, not being "disobedient to the heavenly visions" which God gives to us, is to begin here on earth that moral and spiritual transfiguration whose climax is the glorified image of Christ.

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