Preface: How to Enjoy Your Bible
London, September, 1907
It will add greatly to the interest of this work if I briefly describe the circumstances to which, under God, it owes its origin. Nothing will so clearly show its aim and object, or so well explain its one great design as embodied in its title: How to Enjoy the Bible.
In the autumn of 1905 I found myself in one of the most important of the European Capitals. I had preached in the morning in the Embassy Chapel, and at the close of the service, my friend, His Britannic Majesty’s Chaplain, expressed his deep regret at the absence of two members of his congregation, whose disappointment, be said, would be very great when they discovered they were away on the very Sunday that I was there.
As it was a matter which I could not possibly alter I was compelled, perforce, to dismiss it from my mind with much regret, and returned to my hotel.
In the afternoon a visiting card was brought to my room, announcing a gentleman holding a high Government position.
In explaining the object of his visit be began by saying that be had been brought up as a Roman Catholic; and that, a few years ago, there came into the office of his department a copy of The Illustrated London News. As he was learning English at the time, he was naturally interested in reading it. The number contained an account of the funeral of the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the illustrations of which attracted his attention. The letterpress made some reference to Mr. Spurgeon’s sermons and the world-wide fame which they had obtained. This led him to procure some copies of the sermons, and these, by God’s grace and blessing, were used for his conversion.
He was at the time thinking of marriage, and felt the importance now of finding a Christian lady for his wife. At the same time he began to attend my friend’s English Services, and before long he found an English lady, residing at that time in ---- , and in due course the engagement ended in marriage.
The lady, however, was, she told him, an “Anglican”; and saw no necessity for her future husband to make any formal recantation, but for private and public reasons advised him to make no change in his religion.
But grace had changed him so completely, that it was not a case, merely, of his holding the truth, but of the truth holding him: consequently he could not rest until lie had renounced not only his former Roman Catholic religion, but all religion that had anything to do with the flesh; for he had found his all in Christ, and was satisfied with the completeness which God had given to him in HIM.
After their marriage they began to read together the sermons which had proved, under God, so great a blessing to himself; and, before long, the same happy result took place in his wife’s case, and they rejoiced together in the Lord.
They soon however began to find that they had much to learn. Reading the sermons and the Word of God they felt that there were many subjects in the Bible which they found little of in the sermons. True, they found the same sound doctrines and useful teaching, and spiritual food; but, they found also the absence of other truths which they longed to know.
They spoke to my friend their minister, and told him of their trouble. He lent them my book on The Church Epistles. This book the began to study together, and as the husband told me, “we went over it, three times, word by word.” This they did to their great edification. “But,” he said, “we soon discovered that you did not tell us everything, and there were many things which you assumed that we knew; and these we naturally wished to learn more about. So, a few weeks ago, we resolved to take our holiday in London; find you it out; and talk over with you the things which filled our hearts.
“ In due course we went to London ; ascertained your address on enquiry at the office of The Christian, and made our call. We found, to our disappointment, that it you were here, in the very place from which we had set out to seek you.
“ So we returned here at once, and arrived only last it night, but were too tired to get from our suburb to the service this morning.”
Not till that moment did I discover that these were the same two persons to whom my friend the chaplain had referred when he spoke of his regret at their absence from the service that morning, and of the disappointment which he was sure they would experience.
“I have lost no time in searching you out (he said), it and am delighted to find you. You must come out to it us and see us in our home tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow (I replied) I am going to P-.”
“Oh, you cannot go,” he said; and in such a tone of voice and manner as made me really feel I could not.
I said, “I am not travelling alone, but my friend is standing near in conversation ; I will go and speak to him on the subject.”
We soon concluded that as our proposed journey was only for pleasure, it was clearly my duty to remain for a day, so we postponed our projected journey to another season. I returned to my new friend, and said we would gladly go out to him on the morrow.
At this he was very pleased; and spoke, now, freely, of the great desire of himself and his wife to know more of God’s Word.
“We want (he said) to study it together, and to be as independent as possible of the teachings and traditions of men. In fact,
“WE WANT TO ENJOY THE BIBLE.
“We want to read it, and study it, and understand it and enjoy it for ourselves!”
This, of course, sounded very sweetly in my ears; and it was arranged that he should come into the city, the next morning early, and fetch us out to his home in the suburbs.
He arrived soon after 8 o’clock, and by 9 o’clock we were sitting down together over the Word of God. There we sat till noon! In our preliminary conversation reference had been made to some work the lady had undertaken in the village. So we opened our Bibles at Matt, x. 5, 6, where I read the following words:
“Go not into the way of the Gentiles … but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
I did not know until a year afterwards that my friend naturally held the usual anti-Semite views of the governing party, or this would probably have been the last Scripture I should have quoted. But though, at the time, I little thought of what I was doing, God was over-ruling all to the accomplishment of His own purposes.
The lady, at once, very honestly exclaimed, “Oh, but I do go to the Gentiles.”
I replied, “But you see what this Scripture says.”
She said, “Is there not another passage which tells us to go into all the world?”
“Yes” (I replied); and, finding that passage, I asked, “What are we to do with the other?”
She confessed her perplexity and asked me to answer my own question.
I replied, “Both are the words of God, and both must be absolutely true. We cannot cut one passage out of the Bible and leave the other in. Both are equally true, and we may not use one truth to upset another truth.”
I proceeded to explain, alluding to the universally acknowledged fact that “circumstances alter cases.”
The circumstances connected with the former passage showed that the Lord was sending forth the twelve to proclaim the King, and the Kingdom at hand : while those of the latter showed that the Proclamation had been unheeded; the Kingdom rejected, and the King crucified. And I asked “Were not the circumstances so different in character and time as to fully account for the fact that the former command was no longer appropriate to the changed conditions?”
I pointed out that there was a precept which specially set forth our responsibility to the Bible as being “the Word of Truth” (2 Tim. ii. 15), and that was that it must be rightly divided. This command to rightly divide, being given us in connection with this special title “the Word of truth,” spoke to us, if we had ears to hear, and told us that unless we rightly divided the Word of Truth we should not only not get the truth; but, as God’s workmen we should indeed have need to be “ashamed.”
I showed that, if we would indeed enjoy the Bible it was absolutely necessary that we should rightly divide all that it contained, in connection with its subject-matter, as well as in connection with its times and dispensations.
In illustration of this important duty I pointed to such passages as Luke ix. 2, 3, compared with chap. xxii. 36, where the words “BUT NOW” gave the Lord’s own example; showing how He distinguished the difference between the two occasions.
I also referred to Rom. xi. and showed bow, by “rightly dividing” the subject-matter, the great difficulty was avoided of supposing that those who were assured in Rom. viii. 39 as to the impossibility of their separation from the love of God, could ever be addressed in chap. xi. 21, 22 in words of threatening and warning lest they “be cut off.” The key to the solution of the difficulty was in chap. xi. 13, where the Apostle distinctly states that he was addressing “Gentiles,” as such, and of course as distinct from the Jews, and, the Church of God:
“I SPEAK TO YOU GENTILES.”
I also illustrated the subject by a reference to Heb. vi. 4-6; and x. 26-30. But, as these and other passages are all dealt with at length in the following pages I need not do more now than refer my readers to them.
Our conversation continued (as I have said) till noon and, as it proceeded, my friends could hardly contain themselves for joy. As for myself I began to see in what form I should respond to my friends’ desire to “enjoy the Bible.”
On my journey home to England I thought much, and long, and often, of my pleasant intercourse with my new friends: and I was impressed by the thought that what they needed, thousands needed, and that the vast majority of Bible readers who were filled with the same deep desire to “enjoy the Bible” were beset by the same difficulties in attaining that desire.
Shortly after my return to England my thoughts began to take shape, and finally resolved themselves into what now appears in the “Table of Contents,” and which in the following September I had the great joy of going over with my new friends.
I visited them again in their home this September (1907), and bad the pleasure of reading over with them the proof of this “Preface,” so that it might faithfully record all that had so happily taken place.
This explanation of the origin of this work will show that no better title could be chosen, or would so well describe its object, and explain its end. My prayer is that, the same Spirit who inspired the words in the Scriptures of Truth, may also inspire them in the hearts of my readers and may cause each to say (with David), “I rejoice in Thy words as one that findeth great spoils” (Ps. cxix. 162): and to exclaim (with Jeremiah), “Thy words were found and I did eat them, and Thy Word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart” (Jer. xv. 16.)
It was this combination of the “WORD” and the “WORDS,” both here and in John xvii. 8, 17, that suggested the sub-title “The Word and the words; how to study them.”
Part I. deals with the “Word” as a whole. Part II. deals with the “words”; and, under twelve Canons, gives the important methods which must be observed and followed if we would understand, and enjoy them. A varying number of illustrations is given under each division; these are by no means exhaustive; and are intended only as a guide to further study.
This work should be gone carefully through, with Bible in band, in order to verify the statements put forward, and to enter on the margins of the Bible notes for future use.
This may be done individually; but, better still, in small classes meeting for the purpose, when each point could be made clearer and more profitable by mutual study and conversation.
With the hope that this course will be adopted by its many readers in many countries and climes, this work is at length sent forth.
My thanks are due to all those who, on hearing of its projection, volunteered their financial help to ensure its publication: and, above all, to “the God of all grace,” and “the spirit of wisdom and understanding” for bringing it to a happy issue.
Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word)