“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” – John 17:3
In the church year the second Sunday in Advent is designated as “Bible Sunday.” In the opening chapter of the book of Revelation we read: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep the things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.”
No man is wise who does not believe in God. A man’s idea of God may be confused, but however confused it is, he does not trust entirely in himself, but looks to One outside of himself as the source of life, power, and blessing.
Our text tells us that a knowledge of God is essential to eternal life. And we are also commanded: “Search the scriptures; for… they are they which testify of me.”
From its derivation the word religion means “a tying back.” It thus implies a sense of obligation to something outside of and above oneself. It is the idea of God that has everywhere produced religion, and the excellence of a religion varies in direct ratio to the fullness of its idea of God. Religions are compared and judged solely according to their concept of God. There are religious literatures other than the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures but not of equal validity. The Lord came on earth to fulfill the Hebrew Scriptures, not the other religious literatures. The Bible declares itself to be the Word of God, and the Lord said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” This is but one of many passages in the Bible which declare its nature.
In the early days of the Christian Church the Bible was accepted as Divine in its origin, as holy in its nature, and as being in reality as well as in name the Word of God. The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, the Old Testament and the New, were regarded as different from all other writings in that the men through whom they were written spoke not from themselves, but as they were directed by the Holy Spirit. But today this view is widely questioned. A prevailing view at the present time is that the Old Testament was the work of certain Jews, beginning perhaps with Moses and ending with Malachi. These men, they say, indeed had remarkable insight and there are many fine things in their writings, but of course there are also many misconceptions, exaggeration, and mistakes in their work. And they say the same of the New Testament or Christian Scriptures.
Isaiah writes of the Word which the Lord spoke through the prophets, “O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit.” In the growth of naturalism and a naturalistic philosophy of life is created the vital problem of our modern civilization. When knowledge of God ceases, men must of necessity become Godless. But what of it? Why can we not get along just as well without a God? History gives us the answer. This has been tried before, although never on the scale of a world civilization. It would be hard to predict what would be the outcome if the whole world should attempt to do without God, but modern civilization would certainly meet its doom.
The nearest approach to modern conditions was at the time of the Roman supremacy. The Roman Empire did try to do without a knowledge of God. Greek science, like the science of today, uprooted the popular faiths, and the Roman Empire became bankrupt in religion. The idea of God had become so debased that even the worst of the Roman emperors were deified. Even all moral standards were obliterated. What had happened? The civilized world had lost its idea of God and was bent on doing without it. It was this corruption that brought the Roman Empire to its end.
But the world did not come to an end, God does exist, whether He is rejected or not, and the life of the world is dependent upon His operation in the souls of men. And among the uneducated, simple masses there persisted the basic, everyday virtues of monogamy, honesty, and justice. And there was among them a longing for the concept of a truly good human life. Neither the concept nor the example can be found in men.
Those who have no belief in the Word, whose inner life is not directed by the Word, and who look to themselves and to others for light have no steady guide. They change from one view to another and follow this or that prevalent opinion. Without the Word “we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness. . . we stumble at noonday as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men.” “Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us.”
Men who reject the Bible do so because they judge it from appearance. That is like judging a man from his clothes, or like declaring that the earth is flat, or that the sun revolves about the earth, because it so appears to the senses. The Bible differs from all other books. When all is said against it that can be said, it still stands. A power issues forth from it that cannot be explained away. Like the bush at Horeb, it does burn with a supernatural fire.
When we look beyond the appearances in which the book of nature is written, we see that the sun does not revolve around the earth. When we see the writing within the Word, we see the Divine mind, the Divine truth within it. Paul writes, “The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” It is this meaning within the letter that gives the Word its life. If every sentence in the Bible were literally true, that would not make it the Word of God. There are compositions of men that are literally true; yet they are not the Word of God.
We recall that Moses, when he came down from the mount with the tables of the law in his hand and saw the people worshiping a golden calf, broke the tables, and later took stones from the bottom of the mount, upon which the Lord wrote the same laws, but in a lower form. Men had departed so far from the Lord that they could not receive truth in its higher forms. So in descending into the Hebrew mind revelation clothed itself in the form of Hebrew thought and life. The Word took this form because of the “hardness of their hearts.”
The New Testament was given through a higher type of mind. In it the old sacrificial ordinances were abolished. Life and immortality are brought into clearer light. God is to be worshiped in spirit and in truth. But however great are the outward differences between the Old and the New Testaments, their Divinity and spirituality are equal. The Lord came not to do away with the Law and the Prophets, and said, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.” In their inmost sense both the Old and the New Testaments treat of the Lord and are equally the Divine Truth.
Nor should we think that the harshness and apparent contradictions in the Word are blemishes. Quite the contrary. The Divine Truth is pictured thereby in its twofold aspect – as it is, and as it appears and manifests itself to human apprehension. Truth appears different to the evil man and to the good. It is a two-edged sword, and it is necessary that Scripture be so written that its holiness be withheld from those who would profane it. Men may dispute about the outer garments of the Lord, rend them in pieces, and divide them among themselves, as did the soldiers at the crucifixion, and yet not do violence to the Truth itself. But the inner garment, woven without seam, is the internal sense. This must not be profaned, because to do so is the unpardonable sin against the Son of man.
That the Word has this meaning within the letter the Lord clearly declared. To the disciples on the evening of the Resurrection He said, “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures.”
Through the Word the Lord is present with us. It was given, as the Psalmist says, to heal men, and to deliver them from their destructions. The Lord Himself is the Living Word speaking to us through the instrumentality of its pages. It is this that is meant by the words of Isaiah: “O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit: so wilt thou recover me, and make me to live.” We cannot see God with the physical eye. If we would know the meaning of life and the Lord’s purposes for us, we can find them only in the Bible. We live in darkness if we do not have its light.