The Christian Worker and His Bible
In addressing you today I shall not attempt anything in the way of a regular sermon. As most of you know, I do not have a very orderly mind. I am not accustomed to that delightful homiletical style that so many of you have cultivated and which is so much enjoyed by others. My practice is generally to say just one thing after another as it comes to my mind, and today I want to talk to you about the use of the Bible in Christian work, and in doing this I shall attempt to bring before you certain things that have been brought home to my own heart in power throughout the years that have gone.
In the first place, I do not see how anyone can be a successful Christian worker who has any questions in his mind regarding the inspiration of Holy Scripture. If we do not believe the Bible ourselves, how can we expect other men to believe it? If we are not sure of our own message, what right have we to expect other people to accept our testimony? We are to go to men with God’s own words as recorded in this inspired volume. Our commission is not merely, “Preach the Gospel,” precious as that is, but we are told to “Preach the Word.” There is a great deal in the Word which is not exactly Gospel but it is part of God’s revealed truth, and we are responsible to proclaim that truth to a world lost in darkness and stumbling in error.
A good many years ago Dr. Lyman Abbott, at that time editor of The Outlook, was announced to address a group of young theologs attending the Pacific School of Religion at Berkley, California. I was living in Oakland at the time, and I decided to go out and hear what he had to say. During the course of one of his lectures, he talked to these young men on the folly of accepting the Bible as an infallible book. As nearly as I can now recollect, he said something like this:
“Young gentlemen, you cannot go into a pulpit today as your forefathers did and hold up a book and say to the people, ‘This book is the word of the living God.’ If you do that, certainly you cannot expect anybody to take you seriously. Modern education has shown us the folly of that kind of thing. We know now that instead of being an inspired volume, the Bible simply contains the best thoughts of the best men who lived some thousands of years ago. There is in it a great deal of truth that is very, very valuable. On the other hand, much of it is made up of Hebrew folklore and the opinions of men like ourselves. What you need to do today is to go into the pulpit, not to declare what you find in an old book written thousands of years ago, but as God’s prophet for the times in which you live, speaking the message that He has revealed to you.”
One young man spoke up and asked, “Doctor, would it not be rather presumptuous for any of us to take the ground that we know more about spiritual things than the prophets and apostles who wrote the Bible?” The benignant old gentleman replied, “Young man, if, after nineteen centuries of Christian light and learning, I did not know more than the apostles of Jesus Christ in the first century of this era, I ought to be ashamed of myself.” Now that is the attitude of the so-called modernist.
Lyman Abbott went on to say that the Bible had to be tested by the human mind and not the human mind subjected to the Bible. When the Bible says, “Thou shalt not steal,” our minds endorse such a command. We know instinctively that it is wrong to steal. When the Bible tells women that they must cover their heads and keep their hair long if they are going to participate in divine services, we refuse this as mere superstition because it does not appeal to our minds! He used these two illustrations and several others to emphasize what he was trying to put over. But surely anyone can see that such an attitude toward the Bible would simply mean that it would have no authority whatever because each one would take out of it what he wanted and reject what was not in accordance with his own particular notions or desires.
Modernism is a misnomer. What is called by that name is a subtle form of infidelity which began in the Garden of Eden when the Devil asked, “Hath God said?” and then declared that if Eve acted on her own desire, she would be like God. That was the beginning of the theological liberalism, but it certainly should never be the attitude of anyone who is called a Christian worker.
If you have the laudable ambition to be used of God in any way, either on the public platform or as a personal worker, be sure you begin with a clear, definite understanding of the nature of the book that you have to bring before men and women.
“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, throughly furnished unto all good works.” I know there has been a good deal of discussion as to the exact meaning of the first part of this verse. Even the revisers dared to render it, “All Scripture given by inspiration of God is also profitable,” which would imply that a great deal of what is called Scripture may not be divinely inspired. But the reverent Christian scholars everywhere reject this as a mere gloss, an utter misunderstanding of the words the apostle used. When he spoke of Scripture, he referred to a very definite group of writings, as did our Lord when He said, “The Scripture cannot be broken.” Just as we use the word “Bible” for these sixty-six books that make up the blessed volume of holy writ, so in the days when our Lord was on Earth and when later on the epistles were written, the word “Scripture” was used by the Jews to cover all the recognized holy writings, that is, the entire Old Testament.
You know, of course, that our word “Bible” is simply an Anglicization of the Greek word “biblos” meaning “books.” This is the Book, God’s Book, the only Book that speaks with authority on the great questions with which it deals—life, death, and immorality.
When Sir Walter Scott was dying, he turned to his son-in-law and said, “Bring me the Book.” Lockhart thought of that vast library, which I myself have seen in Abbotsford, and said to his father-in-law, “Which book?” Sir Walter answered, “There is only one Book when a man is in my condition—the Bible.”
Now it is no disgrace if one doubts as to the inspiration of the Bible, but it is a disgraceful thing if one goes on preaching from texts in the Bible when his heart and mind are filled with doubts as to their authority. If one is troubled with doubt, I think he should face each question honestly and make every proper investigation and get his doubts settled before he goes out to play the role of a Christian worker. One of the finest books that I know of to help a perplexed one along these lines is Dr. Arthur T. Pierson’s Many Infallible Proofs. He stresses in the opening chapter of that book the importance of facing doubt honestly and endeavoring to get God’s mind regarding it. One thing he says I wish we all might remember. He tells us to be careful never to confuse our doubts with our beliefs. “Doubt your doubts,” he says, “and believe your beliefs.” This is salutary advice.
The Christian worker is to draw his teaching from the Bible. In fact, it is the Bible he is to teach. Many preachers are like spiders. They spin their webs out of themselves. We are not to do that. We are to draw everything from the Word of God. In order to do this, we need to know the Bible; this book which is profitable for doctrine, that is for teaching. It is also profitable for reproof; it shows me where I am wrong, where I have deviated from the mind of God. Then in the third place it is profitable for correction; it shows me how to get right. And lastly, it is profitable for instruction in righteousness; it shows me how to keep right. He who is thus filled with a knowledge of the holy Scriptures will be “throughly furnished unto all good works.”
I like that good old English word “throughly.” Perhaps some of you thought I was mispronouncing the word and that I should have said “thoroughly,” but look at your Bibles and you will see that I was right. “Throughly” suggests that we need to have the Word of God going through us. We do not want it merely in our heads, but we need to take it into our hearts and have it permeate the entire being so that we walk in the truth.
I sometimes refer to a lady who came up to me one day saying, “The trouble with me is when I read the Bible I so soon forget what I have read. If I read a passage in the morning, it has all gone through me before noon. I wish I had a good memory like yours.” She really flattered me. My wife says I have a terrible memory. She says I can remember things that never happened. But I understand what this woman meant. I am thankful that through studying the book for many years, much of it does remain in my mind so that I can quote it readily, and this is something I am sure that all of us as Christian workers might well desire to cultivate. But when this lady said the word that she read in the morning went through her before noon, I replied, “That in itself is a wonderful thing, and that is just what God desires. His Word is for cleansing as well as for instruction, and if it keeps going through you like that, it will have a marvelous effect upon your mind and heart and life. It will cleanse and purify you and fit you to be a real worker for the Lord Jesus Christ.”
You remember the story of the Scotch laddie who was one of those pernickety youngsters who always wanted a reason for everything he was told to do. He was working for a farmer and when the old man told him to do anything, the lad generally asked, “Why?” This disturbed his employer. On one occasion he said to the boy as he handed him a market basket, “Take this basket down to the creek and fill it with water.” When the laddie asked, “Why?” and started to explain that it would not hold water, the old man replied, “None o’ yer ‘whys.’ I’m paying for your time; you do as I tell you.” So the boy started for the creek with the basket in his hand. Wading into the water, he dipped the basket into the creek and lifted it up. Of course, the water all ran out. Disgusted, he said, “It will no hold the water.” The old farmer replied, “Fill it up again.” Again the lad obeyed, and once more the water all ran through. His master said, “Fill it again.” This time the boy answered, “I’ll fill it up once more, but if it does no’ hold this time, you will no make me a fool again.” So he dipped it into the creek the third time, but as he held it up, the water all ran out. Angry, he flung the basket over into the grass, saying, “Take your auld kreel; I’ll no be a fool fer ye or anybody else.” The old man picked it up good naturedly and then held it between him and the sun. As he examined it carefully he explained, “It’s a guid deal cleaner than it was, and that’s what it needed.” The water running through it had cleansed away the dirt, and this is how the Word of God affects our lives.
Our Lord Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them through Thy truth; Thy Word is truth.” We are sanctified by the washing of the water by the Word. We cannot give too much time to the study of this blessed book. I do not mean merely studying it in order to get sermons out of it, but what we need is a daily, thoughtful, prayerful study of the Word for the nourishment of our own souls, for building ourselves up in our most holy faith.
It is of all importance to read the books of the Bible consecutively until we are familiar with the whole volume. I think everyone who aspires to be a Christian worker should have an ambition to know the Bible from cover to cover. Never be content with just a smattering of Bible knowledge. Get things in their right places. Familiarize yourself with the history, the prophecies, and the doctrinal unfoldings of this wonderful Book of God. See that you have a clear grasp of the outstanding themes of each separate portion.
When I was only eight years old I heard an aged Christian minister say that he had read his Bible through at least once every year of his life. I made up my mind then that I would seek to be able to say the same, and so at eight I began to read my Bible through annually. For a number of years I read it through more than once until by the time I was fourteen I had read it through fourteen times, and all the years since I have been conscientious on this point, that I have never allowed a year to go by that I have not read it through at least once. Of course, I have given a great deal of time and study to many of its books and chapters besides the regular reading, but I have always thanked God that He brought to my attention in my early days the importance of thus habitually reading His Word through.
As you read the Word, ask God to apply it to your own heart and conscience by His Holy Spirit. As the Word of Christ thus dwells richly in your soul, you will be prepared to pass it on to others. If the Scripture is read, studied, digested, it will make you to be a man of God, complete and “throughly furnished unto all good works.”
There is something here that is of great importance and well deserves our consideration. If the knowledge of Scripture will furnish one unto all good works, then nothing can be what God calls a good work that is not provided for in this Book. People say, “Do you not believe Christian workers should be up to date and be in touch with all the various things that are engrossing the people of our day?” Well, of course the Word of God never puts a premium on ignorance, but it is a great mistake for servants of Christ to busy themselves with matters that are not in any sense related to the Christian ministry and which are not authorized by this blessed Book of God, when they have been chosen by Him to preach the Word.
People will come to you with all sorts of questions. If you attempt to answer their opinions, you leave them just where you found them—still in doubt and perplexity. But if you know the Word of God yourself and give them that Word, then their questions are properly answered.
Take this young man, Timothy, of whom Paul says, “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that 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.” Timothy’s training began when he was just a child. I do not know what opportunity he had as to synagogue instruction. He was living in Lystra or Derbe, and I am not sure that there was a synagogue in either of those cities. The apostle speaks of “That unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother, Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.” He got the Word of God from these godly women. They filled his heart and mind with the truth in his childhood. He grew up as one instructed in the Scriptures. When Paul came along, Timothy, a young man by this time, heard him preach and the message that Paul preached fitted in with what Timothy had been learning from the Bible. That is a beautiful picture showing the importance of instructing the young. It is like putting everything in order to prepare the fire. If you haven’t a furnace, you clean the grate out before you go to bed; you put in the paper and the kindling and the coal. In the morning, the bravest person in the house jumps out of bed and puts a match to the fire and it soon blazes up, and by and by it is warm enough for the others to get out and dress by the fire. That is the way with teaching a boy or girl the Bible. It is to fill the heart and mind with that which God can use in after years. Then along comes the evangelist or Sunday school worker, and it is just like putting the match to that which is already prepared. The knowledge of salvation comes to that one who has already been instructed. Paul says, “From a child thou hast known the scriptures,” but he also adds, “Which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” The Scriptures point the way to Christ, and it is when one puts his trust in Christ that he is saved.
Now after he is saved, he needs the Bible for his own soul’s nourishment, as we read in 1 Peter 2:2, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” He needs the Word as a baby needs milk and as he feeds upon the Word, he grows. Take, for example, two people who are converted on the same night. You meet them two or three years later, and one of them has made such remarkable progress that you are amazed at the evident growth in grace and knowledge. The other one, however, gives every evidence of salvation but does not seem to have grown appreciably. He is still a mere babe, while the other seems to have gone on to maturity. The reason is this: The one neglected the Bible and the other fed upon the Word. It is as we feed upon the Word that we grow. We are nourished and built up by it.
Then we need the Word for our own cleansing. I suppose one of the most deadening things of which anyone can be guilty is to give out truth to others (because he is called upon to give public testimony) that he has not really assimilated and learned to take in himself. It is a terrible thing, someone has said, to traffic in unfelt truth. Many a moral shipwreck has resulted in the cases of people who were brilliant and had a certain measure of the gift of speech but who were not really sanctified by the truth.
I shall never forget the time when I had a dealing with God, some six and a half years after I was converted, when I came to the place where I knelt before God with my Bible before me. I said, “By Thy grace, from tonight on I want to live according to all that I find written here.” I realized that for those first six and a half years I had given too little time to a careful consideration of what God Himself had said. But when I came to that decision, how things opened up! What a blessing it was! What added power it brought to ones ministry!
Then I need to know my Bible in order to meet the manifold errors of the day. The Word of God is likened unto a two-edged sword. I do not think the sword is the Bible as a whole. It does not do to throw a Bible at people. The term translated word there might be rendered saying—the saying of God. That implies that you know your Bible so well that when you come up against the evil, you know exactly the saying of God that meets it. Jesus gives us the example. The Devil says, “If thou be the Son of God, make these stones bread.” Jesus would not take a dare from the Devil in that way. If it was the Father’s will that He should have bread, it would not have to be made out of stones. Jesus replied, “Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” There was the saying of God. “Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.” Resist him in your own strength and he will laugh at you. Then Satan said, “All the kingdoms of earth are mine.” He offered the kingdoms without the cross. Jesus replied, “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” Then again the Devil took Him up and set Him on a pinnacle of the temple. “Now, if you are God, let the people see that you are held up by invisible hands. Then they will know that you are what you profess to be.” Cunning old Devil, he left out the important part when he quoted, “For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee.” That is not the way the ninety-first Psalm reads from which he was quoting. There it says, “To keep thee in all thy ways.” It was not part of the ways of the holy Son of God to be leaping from the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus did not argue with the Devil, but replied, “It is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” You know, as we familiarize ourselves with the Word, it is wonderful how the Lord will give us just the right word at the right time in order that we may meet people’s ideas or refute error.
So it all comes back to this: The Christian worker must have a profound faith in the inspiration of this blessed Book. He must receive it as it is in truth, and it must have control of his own life. He must feed upon it, meditate upon it, live in the Word. He must be sanctified by the truth: he must learn to wield it as the sword of the Spirit.