THE BOOK THAT SPEAKS TO OUR DAY
Man may write a true book, but only God, the source of life, can write a living book. "The word of God ... liveth and abideth forever." 1 Peter 1:23. The Bible is the living word of God. We look at the volume; we hold it in our hands. It is like other books in form and printer's art. But the voice of God speaks from these pages, and the word spoken is alive. It is able to do in the heart that receives it what can be done only by divine power.
The Book That Talks
Far in the heart of Africa a missionary read to the people in their own language from the translated Word of God. "See!" they cried; "see! the book talks! The white man has a book that talks!" With that simplicity of speech so common to children of nature, they had exactly described it. This is a book that talks. What the wise man says of its counsels through parents to children, is true of all the book: "When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee." Prov. 6:22.
Here is companionship, faithful and true, a blessed guide and guardian and friend.
"Holy Bible! book divine!
Precious treasure, thou art mine!"
God Its Author
The sixty-six books of Holy Scripture were written by many penmen, over a space of fifteen centuries; yet it is one book, and one voice speaks through all its pages. Spurgeon once said of his experience with this book:
"When I see it, I seem to hear a voice springing up from it, saying, 'I am the book of God; man, read me. I am God's writing; open my leaf, for I was penned by God; read it, for He is my author.'"
This book declares of itself: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God." 2 Tim. 3:16. "The prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." 2 Peter 1:21. As the rugged verse of the old hymn puts it:
"Let all the heathen writers join
To form one perfect book:
Great God, if once compared with Thine,
How mean their writings look!
"Not the most perfect rules they gave
Could show one sin forgiven,
Nor lead a step beyond the grave;
But Thine conducts to heaven."
It is the voice of the Almighty. Very different it is from the sacred books of the non-Christian religions. In those writings it is man speaking about God; in the Holy Scriptures it is God speaking to man. The difference is as great as heaven is higher than earth. Here it is not man groping in the darkness after God. In this book of God's revelation we see the divine arm reaching down to save the lost, and hear the voice of the loving Father calling to His children, every one and everywhere. "Incline your ear," He calls; "hear, and your soul shall live." Isa. 55:3.
The Word That Creates
We must have something more than instruction; we must have a word of power that is able to tell of sins forgiven, and to conduct us beyond the grave to heaven. One of the greatest of China's sages, Mencius, said, "Instruction can impart information, but not the power to execute." That touches the crucial point. We must have instruction that can come with power divine to execute. We have it only in God's words. Christ said: "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." John 6:63.
The words of God are living words. When God spoke in the beginning, "Let there be light," lo, the light sprang out of the darkness. There was power in the word spoken to bring forth. "Let the earth bring forth grass," was the word of the Lord: and the earth was carpeted with its first rich greensward. So through all the work of creation, the creative power was in the word spoken.
"By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth." "He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast." Ps. 33:6, 9.
Even so, when this word speaks instruction to man, there is creative power in the word, if received, to work mightily in the soul that is dead in trespasses and sins. Man must be born again, be re-created. That we know; for Christ says, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again ["from above," margin], he cannot see the kingdom of God." John 3:3.
And the word of God—the Bible from heaven—received by faith, is the agency by which this new birth "from above" is wrought. This is the declaration of our text: "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever." 1 Peter 1:23.
The Word That Works Within
Not only does the word of God give the new birth, making the believer a new man,—the past forgiven and a new heart within,—but the word that re-creates abides in the believing heart that studies it and clings to it, to work in the life with actual power that is not of the man himself. To the Thessalonians, who had "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God," the apostle wrote:
"For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe." 1 Thess. 2:13.
The word itself works within, and works effectually. There is nothing mechanical about it. The mere letter profits nothing. The Bible on the center table, unstudied and unloved, has no magic power. But God promises to abide by His Spirit of power in the heart that listens to His voice and trembles at His word. Jesus Himself tells us the secret of this power of the word to work in the believing heart:
"If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." John 14:23.
No wonder, then, that believing and receiving the word brings divine power into the life, making it possible for transformations of character to be wrought, for victories to be won and obedience rendered to every command of God.
Simply believing God's word touches the current of everlasting power, even as the trolley arm of the electric car reaches up and touches the current of power flowing through the wire overhead. The faith that takes the living word brings the power divine into the heart to move all the spiritual mechanism of life's service.
The Word Our Safety and Defense
When Christ came to live as our example in the flesh, and to give His life a sacrifice for sin, He, the divine Son of God, made Himself like unto His brethren. "I can of Mine own self do nothing," He said. John 5:30. Tempted and tried, He found His defense in the Holy Scriptures. When Satan came to tempt Him to sin, the Saviour said, "It is written." He clung to the sure defense. Again the tempter came. He was met with the word, "It is written again." The third time it was the same weapon of defense, "It is written." Matt. 4:1-11.
Christ found safety only in the Scriptures of truth. So the Bible is the Christian's shield against the enemy's attacks. As Jesus studied the Scriptures and kept the words ever in His heart for a defense against temptation, so must every Christian study and meditate upon God's Holy Word if its counsels and precepts are to be his defense in the moment of sudden temptation to sin. "Thy word have I hid in mine heart," said the psalmist, "that I might not sin against Thee." Ps. 119:11. It was the only way for Christ, our Pattern; it is the only way for us.
The Bread of Life
The word of God is the daily food for the soul. "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Matt. 4:4.
Who has not, in hurried times, missed a meal, working on through the day, never thinking of the prolonged fast? But after a time there came a sense of weakening force, a lack of physical power. What was the trouble? At once the reason was evident—one had not taken food, and the system was calling for a renewal of its forces. Just so the spiritual life must needs be fed by the word of God.
Do we at times feel a sense of weakening of the spiritual power, a letting down of the vital forces of the soul? Ah, in the hurry of life we have neglected to feed upon the living bread. We can no more sustain spiritual vigor and health without feeding daily upon God's Holy Word than we can maintain physical power without eating our daily bread. Eat of the life-giving word. The taste for it grows with the partaking.
There is life in "every word." The psalmist found the Lord's testimonies "sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb," or, as the marginal reading has it, than "the dropping of honeycombs." Ps. 19:10. We get the picture of the honeycomb inverted, the cell caps broken open, the sweetness dripping down. Just so every word of the Lord is a cell full of sweetness and life for the soul that feasts upon the Holy Scriptures.
The Source of All Doctrine
The Bible is the complete and perfect rule of faith and doctrine. Here every doctrine of salvation is found. Inspiration has declared it in the words of the apostle Paul to Timothy:
"From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." 2 Tim. 3:15-17.
The divine command is, "Study." For every generation there has been a message borne by this living word, making call to reformation of life, or giving warning and comfort. "The Bible is not a collection of truths formulated in propositions," said Dr. Samuel Harris, of Yale, "but God's majestic march through history, redeeming men from sin."
In every age God has been ruling and overruling, witnessing by His Spirit through the living word. The experiences recorded of past ages have their special lesson for the present time:
"Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." Rom. 15:4.
"Let vs therfore all with feruent desyre," as the Old English of 1549 spelled the exhortation of Erasmus, "thyrste after these spirituall sprynges.... Let vs kisse these swete wordes of Christ with a pure affeccion. Let vs be newe transformed into them, for soche are oure maners as oure studies be."
The Book for All Mankind
It speaks in every tongue to the human heart. Its power to transform has been shown through all the centuries in every clime and among every race. One of the Gospels was put into the Chiluba tongue of Central Africa. After a time a Garenganze chief came to Dan Crawford, the missionary, changed from the spirit of a fierce, wicked barbarian to that of a teachable child. Explaining his conversion, the chief said: "I was startled to find that Christ could speak Chiluba. I heard him speak to me out of the printed page, and what he said was, 'Follow me!'"
Of the Bible's universal speech to all mankind, Dr. Henry van Dyke has said:
"Born in the East, and clothed in Oriental form and imagery, the Bible walks the ways of all the world with familiar feet, and enters land after land to find its own everywhere. It has learned to speak in hundreds of languages to the heart of man. It comes into the palace to tell the monarch that he is the servant of the Most High, and into the cottage to assure the peasant that he is the son of God. Children listen to its stories with wonder and delight, and wise men ponder them as parables of life. It has a word of peace for the time of peril, a word of comfort for the day of calamity, a word of light for the hour of darkness. Its oracles are repeated in the assembly of the people, and its counsels whispered in the ear of the lonely. The wise and the proud tremble at its warnings, but to the wounded and penitent it has a mother's voice....
"Its great words grow richer, as pearls do when they are worn near the heart. No man is poor or desolate who has this treasure for his own. When the landscape darkens and the trembling pilgrim comes to the valley named the Shadow, he is not afraid to enter; he takes the rod and staff of Scripture in his hand; he says to friend and comrade, 'Good-by, we shall meet again,' and comforted by that support, he goes toward the lonely pass as one who climbs through darkness into light."—The Century Magazine.
In the days of His life on earth, Jesus was a welcome guest in humble homes in Judea and Galilee. "The common people heard Him gladly." His presence brought peace and comfort to the home. He is no longer with us in bodily presence; but He is the same Saviour still—"Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever." Heb. 13:8. By His Spirit, through the living word of Holy Scripture, He enters the home where faith receives Him, and speaks again the gracious salutation, "Peace be to this house."
Christ the Central Theme
All the Bible bears witness of Christ as the Saviour of the world. He Himself said of the Scriptures, "They are they which testify of Me." John 5:39. "To Him give all the prophets witness." Acts 10:43. We see Him as the coming Messiah in promise and prophecy, in type and shadow. His is the divine, living personality standing out in every book that makes up the Sacred Volume. As we read with loving heart, the Author seems near in every page.
"Reading, methinks I bend
Before the cross
Where died my King, my Friend.
The whole world's loss
For love of Him is gain."
And having beheld Him giving His life as the divine sacrifice, and rising in triumph over death to be our great High Priest in the heavenly temple, as we read these Sacred Scriptures yet again, in every book, from Genesis to Revelation, we see Him as the coming King of kings, coming to take His children to the eternal home of the saved. The whole book is a bright window through which we gaze on coming glory.
"And yet again I stand
Where the seer stood,
Gazing across the strand,
Beyond the flood:
The gates of pearl afar,
The streets of gold,
The bright and morning Star
Mine eyes behold."
"The Word of God ... liveth and abideth forever." 1 Peter 1:23. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away." Matt. 24:35.