On Reading the Bible

“Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” —Romans 10:17

HOW MANY MILLIONS of copies of the Bible have been distributed throughout the past centuries no one today may know, but there is no other book in the world that has had such an enormous circulation and distribution. Our museums contain remarkable examples of the loving care taken in the making of beautiful hand-lettered and illuminated copies of portions of the Bible of the earliest examples of printing; and of the many famous translations made by noble men—translations from Hebrew and Chaldee into Aramaic and Greek, from Greek into Latin, from Greek and Latin into Anglo-Saxon, from Saxon into the classical English of Shakespeare’s day, and from that into what we are pleased to call ‘modern’ speech.

The story of the Bible is the story of man’s struggle by reason of sin and oppression to some degree of liberty, and with this Book as the assigned cause, countless have been the murders both individual and en masse which have punctuated its history. It has been enshrined in gold and jewels, revered as of itself possessing some magic quality. It has, at the instigation of men paradoxically vowed to uphold its teachings, been publicly burned as the curse of humanity. A strange history has this remarkable Book, but through all its vicissitudes it has been preserved by a Power greater than any arrayed against it, and it has triumphed over all its enemies—for it is the Word of God!

This, then, is the Book which perhaps graces some prominent point of vantage as an ornament of the home, and which, in common with all the other valued ornaments, is periodically moved and dusted, and replaced in its appointed position. Or perhaps it occupies a more honored place on one’s bedside table—the last object on which your hand rests and your eye falls each night.

It may remain, year after year, unsullied because unread; or it may have become dog-eared and tattered from much conning and study. It may be a source of exasperation because of the tenacity with which it seems to hold its secrets of wisdom and instruction; it may be an open book which yields ever richer treasures because the mind explores it in the spirit of humility and in the sincerity of desire to know the great Mind of its Author—the Great God and Creator of the universe.

Many of its readers have approached the study of this inspired record of the divine will and purpose with befitting reverence, desirous of knowing what message it may contain for themselves; others have regarded it with lofty detachment, have referred to it as ‘great literature’, and have paid it the compliment of admiring its style as a fine example of the purest of English speech.

Others, again, have discarded the Bible and its contents as superstition and Hebrew tradition; have scoffed at its teachings as worn-out formulas suitable to the simple lives of a pastoral and nomadic people, or to the social and political economy of a reduced and captive nation, but containing no message for the complicated world economy of our day.

Again, some have made what they have believed to be an honest attempt to understand its teachings and have given up in despair, declaring that the Book is filled with contradictions and contains no continuity of message or clarity of thought. Scholars have written thousands of weighty tomes designed to explain what the Bible really means, and critics have spent thousands of hours and used millions of words to prove that no part of it is authentic, or that any claim made for it as being divinely inspired is credible.

In spite, however, of the well-meaning efforts of its friends to simplify and explain it, and of its enemies to destroy it, the Bible as we have it today continues to enjoy the greatest circulation of any book in the world, and is read more consistently, if, in many cases, with less understanding, than the typographical effusions of all the novelists whose works flood our bookstores, and whose words are forgotten almost before the ink is dry on the paper.

There are those who read the Bible, apparently with the nebulous idea that it contains some intrinsic magical power, that the mere act of reading it has power unto salvation, and so these people dedicate their lives to a reading through of the Bible completely each year at the rate of so many chapters per day. Such value as this method of Bible reading may have is probably summed up in the fact that it IS a good book and that time so spent is never entirely wasted. But the hearing of which the apostle spoke in our text is akin to the hearing to which Jesus referred when, at the end of his parables he said to the multitude which had assembled to hear him, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Here was the implication that there was more in his stories than appeared casually on the surface.—Matt. 13:9

Paul says, “Study to show thyself approved unto God … rightly dividing the Word of Truth.”—II Tim. 2:15

Actually, once the key to the inner teachings of the Word is obtained, and its treasures unlocked, the Bible shows a definite continuity of narrative from the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation. The Book is a continuous and progressive story of man’s fall and the need for his redemption, and the reward to follow faithfulness in obeying divine law.

The scope of the story is on a far grander scale, however, than any novelist would dare to envision, covering, as it does, seven thousand years of history. And yet, in its presentation, the Bible narrative is clear and concise, though in much detail. It starts out with the prostration of two of the leading and primary characters, Adam and Eve. They are shown as being happy and content in a state of Edenic innocence. Evil suggestion comes to them in the guise of a serpent, the most ‘subtile’ of the beasts of the field who, working through the curiosity of the woman in the absence of her spouse, prevails upon her to violate the only law to which the happy pair has been made subject—the requirement of implicit obedience—and through her violation, she involves her husband in the sin of disobedience.

Carping critics, reading the realistic record of the fall of man, have derided Adam as a man devoid of the instinct of chivalry, in that, when queried by God as to the fault, he said, “The woman tempted me, and I did eat” (Gen. 3:12) thus, in the eyes of such critics, attempting to lay the blame upon his weaker companion and hide behind her weakness.

It would be a strange thing, indeed, if Adam had, so early in his experience, learned to lie and dissemble, by attempting some subterfuge in order to save his beloved from legitimate condemnation. He only knew the truth, and told it as he knew it. Admitting his own complicity in the sin, righteous condemnation fell upon him as the responsible partner, the one to whom the original restricting had been made known. And the promised sentence, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Margin: ‘dying thou shalt die’]” (Gen. 2:17), fell upon him and his unborn offspring.

This divine principle, that disobedience to righteous law should be followed by the death sentence, was countered by the adversary of God and man, Satan, with the statement, “Ye shall not surely die.” Thus early in the experience of the human race was born the great lie that has cursed mankind from then until now. Originated by Satan, the enemy of the race, and perpetuated by him through the writings and utterances of those sworn to uphold the purity of the teachings of God’s Word, that pregnant phrase, “Ye shall not surely die,” has come down through the ages, embalmed in the creeds of the so-called Christian churches as the doctrine of the inherent immortality of the soul. It has served to obscure the vision and deafen the ear of many who might otherwise have read the inspired record with some hope of gain.

In reading the Bible, the first thing essential to an understanding of its message is to approach it with an open mind, unobscured by the misconceptions of creedal teachings, and to hold the mind constantly receptive to the inherent truth which God has recorded there for our instruction and admonition.

It is a prime requisite to understanding that we, the descendants of Adam, must identify ourselves with our original father, admit the justice of God’s position, and grant unhesitatingly his right to deal with his creation as he sees fit. Having conceded this position, we readily recognize the need of special aid, if the human race is ever to be rescued from the condition of sin, degradation, and death, and that help must come from a source much greater than those to be aided; for, “none can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him.”—Ps. 49:7

So we resume the reading of the divine Word, still in Genesis, and we see there how the angels endeavored to infuse new life into the dying race, but how they themselves fell victims to the lust which was abroad in the earth. As it is written, “The sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair.” (Gen. 6:2) Their attempt at such an unauthorized regeneration of the race failed and came to naught as the record shows.

Next we read how God, determining to demonstrate to mankind their helpless condition and, at the same time, reward faith as demonstrated under adverse conditions by men and women of the fallen race, first chose Abraham, then his son and grandson, then the offspring of the grandson, whose descendants became the twelve tribes of Israel, and made covenants and agreements with them that he would make them a great people, and a great kingdom blessed of God if they, in turn, would keep his Law.

The “Old Testament”

Many people reading the Scriptures have regarded the Old Testament as of little practical value to the Christian life, for, they have said, it is simply a record of Jewish history and philosophy, interspersed with songs and poetry of the time, and replete with somewhat shocking episodes of national and individual degradation, and the warnings and punishments which followed such lapses.

True, such a summary of the Old Testament record is, in the main, correct, but also, it is extremely superficial. Think for a moment of those two words—Old Testament. What do they really mean? Actually, they mean the Old Covenant, for that word covenant has the significance of a last will and ‘testament’, and this in contradistinction to the New Covenant or Testament which God planned to make with his human creation at a time future to the happenings as recorded in the books of the Bible we call the Old Testament.

Much of that early part of the Bible, then, is the detailed history of one nation making another attempt to find a way of escape from sin and death—to find a way to redeem the race through man’s efforts, divinely directed and safeguarded. We know then that the Old Testament, with all its reports of human frailty, its scenes of national decadence, its stories of fortitude and faith triumphing over temptation and death, of the corruption of priests and people alike, and of God’s great patience with them, does have value.

As the pages of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are turned, there is revealed a tremendous epic of God’s triumph over the enemies of his people, of his rescue of them from bonds and slavery, and of his leading them forth to a land of promise. We see unroll before us a great record of aid and deliverance, of patience and mercy, in an endeavor to help his covenant people make good their promise to obey his Law.

With Moses we travel the weary years of the wilderness wanderings, so often close to the land of hope—again, so far away. We bear with the complaints of Israel even as we watch the families and flocks and herds increase, and we share that great leader’s impatience, when he strikes the rock in anger at Israel’s importunities, when God had told him only to speak to it. The water gushed forth to slake the thirst of the people, but with its rivulet it bore away the hope of Moses that he might share the triumph of that final entry into the Promised Land.

With Joshua we pass over Jordan and take the land, but not fully, not wholeheartedly. We faint at the last and compromise with sin as we have done so often in the past, and shall do so often in the future, and so we do not enjoy the full measure of peace and quietude that God was so anxious to have us possess, and that would have been ours had we had complete confidence in his Word.

To keep closer watch on the welfare of the nation, God gives to Israel judges who rule wisely and well; but Israel tires of them and, influenced by the pomp and circumstance of the surrounding heathen nations, demands that kings be set over them. So God, infinite in patience and mercy, gives them kings; but kings are merely flesh with all the frailties of flesh, and, after David, even the kings degenerate.

With David we sing his songs of joy, and pray his prayers of penitence and intercession for his people. We lament with Jeremiah, and sorrow over the division of the people as the ten tribes depart. With Ezekiel and Daniel we look into the future and see the distress to come; but we do not understand it, for it is not yet due time for the vision to be made known. And with the prophets after Daniel, we see the nation sinking ever further and further from the mercies of God, and the steady disintegration of the spirit of oneness with God which had been the nation’s stay through centuries of adversity. And finally, with Malachi, we see even the cleansing sacrifices debased and the priesthood debauched.

As we turn the last pages of Malachi we realize that man’s attempt to bring salvation and blessing to all people has failed, and we come to the conclusion that everything has been tried, and God’s patience is exhausted. Not through any past or present government has any hope been found for the salvation of the world. But God has promised deliverance and blessing. How is it to be accomplished?

The “New Testament”

We open the Bible again at the commencement of a new era dawning for man’s hope of redemption. Here, in the opening pages of the second part of the Book—the sequel, we might call it, to what has gone before—the Book of the New Covenant, we meet a new character. We have caught glimpses of him in the writings of the prophets of old time throughout the whole of the preceding books; we may have suspected from the hints and even the plain statements of some of these prophets that a helper was someday to appear.

Isaiah was very direct in his references, and all the prophets showed to Israel that there would be one of their race who would come to help them. Toward the close of the scenes portrayed in the former writings, and in the convulsions that rocked the nation to its foundation in the wars with the Roman invaders which resulted in the overrunning of the country and the virtual enslavement of the people for the last time before their final dispersion, the divine record tells us that the people, in the midst of their woes, were in anxious expectation of the coming of him to whom they referred as the Messiah. This Messiah, the Anointed, was to be the king who would lead his people again out of bondage, as God had done before, when the Pharaoh of Egypt would not let them go.—Luke 3:7-18

We read of the coming of the one, humble and lowly, with no sound of trumpets, no fanfare, no panoply of state. He came, the man Jesus of Nazareth, born subject to the Law which God had given Israel. He grew up with the people and was one of them. He, like many of his countrymen, went to John, who was a prophet preaching repentance in Israel, and was baptized of him in Jordan, not for sin like others of his nation, but to illustrate the death of his humanity and his subsequent resurrection to walk in newness of life on a much higher plane of existence—the divine.

John knew him and recognized him as the promised Messiah, and gave his life for his faith at the court of the ruling Roman potentate, and Jesus took up the work of ministry and commenced to preach to his people.

The scene changes now, as much is to change in the next few years of Jewish history, for Jesus preached a strange message, vastly different from the formalism and ritual which had characterized the Jewish God-worship from the days of the Tabernacle in the wilderness.

Jesus did not frequent the Temple precincts; he did not make offerings of animals continually upon the altar, nor give money to the priest. In fact, so strange was his approach to the subject of worship that the High Priest of the Temple began to recognize a menace in this man who was turning away the hearts of many from the established form of religion, and who might undermine the prestige of the priesthood and cost them their lucrative traffic and exalted position.

Finally, we see him present himself to Israel as their king, and then we see him rejected. We witness, too, another scene which clarifies much that we have read in the Old Testament; for we see him in sorrow, mourning over this nation which has enjoyed so much blessing at the hands of God and has so ill-requited him for all his favors: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killest the prophets. … Your house is left unto you desolate!”—Matt. 23:37,38

With those words there comes to a final end the second great attempt to rescue mankind from sin and death—an effort which has stretched over many centuries—only to prove abortive in the end. Not abortive to God, however, for these attempts were foreknown to him to result in apparent failure. Nevertheless, they were all working out to an ultimate glorious conclusion according to his divine plan of the ages.

Now, the pages turn faster as the tragedy of Jesus Christ is unfolded before our eyes. We see the culmination of his rejection in the execration of the mob in the judgment hall of Pilate; the condemnation and toilsome march up the hillside to Golgotha; the crucifixion on Calvary; and the convulsions of nature as the innocent blood of the Son of God fell upon the earth.

Now it looks as though the forces of evil have finally triumphed, and even God’s own Son cannot withstand the power of Satan. We turn the page, and there we find the miraculous answer! He triumphs over death! Hell [extinction of being] cannot hold him! And for the first time in all this long record we begin to see what is the ultimate vindication of God’s Word—that through one out of that stiff-necked and perverse nation of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth, who kept the Law perfectly, there is hope of blessing for all mankind! The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the proof that hope still lives and the rescue of Adam’s race is a possibility.—Acts 17:30,31

Not through natural Israel may the promised blessing come, for Israel after the flesh rejects the king and the message. The chosen people of olden time are cast off from divine favor to remain in that rejected and desolate condition through many centuries from that time forward. But a new people is to replace Israel, a new holy nation is to be selected, not from among Jews alone, but from all nations, kindreds, tribes, and tongues: “From henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles,” and the selection commences of a “people for his name.”—Rev. 5:9,10; Acts 18:6; 15:14

Does the Bible reveal who these people are? Let us read on for the answer. First, the faithful disciples who followed Jesus and prayed with him; those of whom he speaks in his prayer to his Father with love as “them which thou hast given me,” of whom “none is lost, but the son of perdition,” who betrayed him.—John 17:9,12

Then follows the record of the work of those faithful ones after Jesus’ departure—the story of their slow realization of the meaning of his parting words; the coming of the Holy Spirit upon them, and the illumination of mind which shows them the tremendous thing still to be done before his blessings may flow to all mankind. Jesus will take to himself a bride—for so he lovingly calls his church. Not just one person but one hundred and forty-four thousand!—and yet, few indeed when compared with the millions who are, through those intervening centuries, to call themselves by his name—are to be selected to make up this bride of Christ.

The requirements for membership in that bride class we find in the New Testament. Peter and Paul make clear in their writings what must be done by all individuals who aspire to be of this class and to earn the kiss of acceptance and love from the Bridegroom; and the way is not easy, even as the Master indicated.—Matt. 7:13,14; 16:24

But down through the centuries from Christ until now, there have been in each generation a few who have counted the world well lost if they might by any sacrifice make their calling and election sure. A few who have been glad to give up all hope of earthly blessing that thereby they might be found worthy of the “so great reward”—joint-heirship with Christ. (Matt. 5:12; Heb. 1:5; 10:35; Rom. 8:17) Today the selection is almost complete.

We have reached the last book of the Bible in our reading the book of visions of prophetic things—many of which are not yet, but are to be. Distress and agony will attend the birth of a new world, the throes of which are even now upon us. But in the pages of Revelation, shining ever more brightly amid the encircling gloom, we see the “holy city,” and the marriage of the Lamb with his tenderly loved and long-sought bride. And with John we hear, by faith, and in the distance as yet, but soon to ring out in clarion tones around the world, the voice of the Spirit and the bride saying, “Come. … And … take the water of life freely!”—Rev. 22:17

Yet a little more of the glorious story remains to be told. Through the eyes of John, the seer, we see the answer to that invitation, earth’s redeemed millions released from the thraldom of death by the great sacrifice of Jesus, coming up the highway of holiness with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads. And there in glory are the overcomers in Christ, his blessed bride, sitting with him in his throne administering justice and God’s righteous law, helping, sustaining, and strengthening the feeble footsteps of the children of Adam as they hesitatingly essay the new way to life.—Isa. 35

A thousand years of education sees the end of all sin and of the arch-knave whose machinations have brought such misery to mankind. The earth is restored to the glory of Eden and the restored millions of earth’s people enter into their heritage of peace and joy without end; for death is swallowed up in victory, and the city of God dwells with men.

In the future there will be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in that city. His servants will render him holy service and will see his face. His name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no night there, for the Lord God will shine upon them. And he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, nor sorrow, nor wail of woe, nor pain, for the former things have passed away! See Revelation 21:2-4,9,10.

We close The Book, and reverently lay it down. Here we have read a mighty soul-searching story, which commenced with innocence and happiness, entered into sorrow, but ended with everlasting joy.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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