“Man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of Jehovah doth man live.” Deut. viii. 3.
THUS is it asserted that the WORD and the WORDS of Jehovah constitute the food of the New nature.
As in the natural sphere so in the spiritual, the desire (or appetite) for the food which is the proper support of each respectively, is the sign of natural and spiritual health.
Attention to diet is becoming more and more recognized as essential to nutrition and growth.
A low condition of bodily health is produced by inattention to the laws of nature as to suitable diet. As this leads to the “drug habit,” or to the immoderate use of stimulants in the natural sphere, so it is in the spiritual sphere. A low condition of spiritual health is produced by improper feeding or the neglect of necessary food, which is the Word of God; and the end is a resort to all the many modern fashions and novel methods and widely advertised nostrums in the Religious world in the attempt to remedy the inevitable results.
The Root of all the evils which abound in the spiritual sphere at the present day lies in the fact that the Word and the words of God are not fed upon, digested, and assimilated, as they ought to be.
If we ask the question, Why is this the case? the answer is, The Bible is not enjoyed because the Bible is not understood. The methods and rules by which alone such an understanding may be gained are not known or followed; hence the Bible is a neglected book.
The question Philip addressed to the Eunuch (Acts viii. 30, 31) is still greatly needed:
Understandest thou what thou readest?
And the Eunuch’s answer is only too true today:
How can I, except some man should guide me?
The following pages are written with the object of furnishing this “guide.” Certain canons or principles are laid down, and each is illustrated by applying them to certain passages by way of examples. These are intended to be taken only as examples; and the principles involved are intended to be used for the elucidation of other passages in the course of Bible study.
The Word of God is inexhaustible. It is, therefore, neither useful, nor indeed practicable to extend these examples beyond certain limits.
By the aid of these twelve simple canons or rules, other passages and subjects may be taken up and pursued both with pleasure and profit-subjects which are even yet matters of controversy and of conflict.
We have to remember that the Bible is not a book of pure Science on the one hand, nor is it a book of Theology on the other. Yet all its science is not only true, but its statements are the foundation of all true science.
And, it is Theology itself; for it contains all that we can ever know about God.
The cloud that now rests over its intelligent study arises from the fact that it is with us today as with the Jews of old “The Word of God has been made of none effect by the traditions of men” (Matt. xv. 1-9).
Hence it is that on some of the most important questions, especially such as Biblical Psychology, we are, still, in what the great Lord Bacon calls “a desert.” He alludes to those “deserts” in history, where discovery or research comes to a stand-still, and we get schoolmen instead of philosophers; and clerics instead of discoverers.
The Reformation came as an oasis after one of these deserts. Men were sent from the stagnant pools of tradition to the fountain-head of truth. But within two or three generations the Church entered the desert again; Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms took the place of the open Bible; the inductive method of Bible study was abandoned, and to day it is scarcely understood.
One party abides by “Catholic consent” or the “Voice of the Church.” Other parties in the same way abide by the dicta of some who had stronger minds. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Darby, and Newton would be surprised today to find that those who question what they believed are treated as guilty of presumption, and of a sin to be visited with excommunication!
These good men little thought that the inferences which they drew from the Bible would be raised to a position of almost equality with the Bible itself.
The result of all this is too painfully evident. Controversies, bitterness, strifes have been engendered. These have taken the place of simple Bible study. If studied at all it has been too much with the view of finding support for one or other of the two sides of these controversies, instead of with the object of discovering what God has really revealed and written for our learning.
Failing to understand the Scriptures we cease to feed on them; then as a natural consequence, and in inverse proportion, we lean on and submit to “the doctrines of men,” and finally reach a theological desert.
Bishop Butler has pointed out the way back to the land of plenty and of delight. He has shown that the only way to study the Word of God is the way in which physical science is studied. He says:1 “As it is owned, the whole scheme of Scripture is not yet understood, so if it ever comes to be understood before the restitution of all things, and without miraculous interpositions, it must be in the same way as natural knowledge is come at, by the continuance and progress of learning and liberty, and by particular persons attending to, comparing, and pursuing intimations scattered up and down it, and which are overlooked and disregarded by the generality of the world.”
On this another writer2 has remarked, “Thus, the way of discovery still lies open to us in Divine things if we have only the moral courage to go to the fountain-head of truth, instead of filling our vessel out of this or that doctor’s compendium of truth . . . Were Bishop Butler’s method of inductive research into Scripture more common than it is we should not have stood still so long, as if spell-bound by the shadow of a few great names. ‘It is not at all incredible,’ Bishop Butler adds, ‘that a book which has been so long in the possession of mankind should contain many truths as yet undiscovered.’ Such a saying is worthy of Butler. It is only a philosopher who can allow for time and prescription. The majority of mankind think that they think; they acquiesce, and suppose that they argue ; they flatter themselves that they are holding their own, when they have actually grown up to manhood, with scarcely a conviction that they can call their own. So it always was, and so it will ever be. The Divine things of the Word are no exception, but rather an instance. The more difficult the subject, and the more serious the consequences of error, the more averse the majority are to what is called ‘unsettling men’s minds’; as if truth could be held on any other tenure than the knight’s fee of holding its own against all comers. Protestantism has brought us no relief against this torpid state of mind, for, as the error is as deep as the nature of man, we cannot expect any deliverance from it so long as the nature of man continues the same, and his natural love of truth almost as depraved as his natural love of holiness.”
But the way of discovery, as Bishop Butler has pointed out, still lies open before us; and it is our object in this work to enter on that way, and study the Bible from within and not merely from without.
We believe that only thus we shall be furnishing just that help which Bible students need.
It may be the work of others to explore Geography, History, Natural History, Chronology; the antiquities of Assyria, Palestine, Egypt, and Babylon; all these are legitimate subjects of systematic research, which cannot but help us in understanding more of the Word of God.
But our object is to “Open the book”; to let it speak; to hear its voice; to study it from within itself; and have regard to other objects and subjects, only from what it teaches about them.
The method of the “Higher” criticism is to discredit a Book, or a passage on internal evidence. Our method is to establish and accredit Holy Scripture on internal evidence also, and thus to derive and provide, from its own pharmacopoeia, an antidote to that subtle and malignant poison.
This method of study will reveal more convincing and “infallible proof” of inspiration than can be adduced from all the reasonings and arguments of men.
Like Ezra of old, our desire is to
“OPEN THE BOOK”
and let it speak for itself, with the full conviction that if this can be done it can speak more loudly, and more effectively for itself, than any man can speak on its behalf
May the Lord deign to use these pages, and make them to be that “guide” to a better understanding and a greater enjoyment of His own Word.