2 Timothy 3:16-17
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction…
The first thing I want to say to you is this: You are not to look in the Bible for a complete and comprehensive presentation of Divine truth. You are not to look in it for a revelation or disclosure of science of any kind, physical or metaphysical, natural or supernatural. It is not at all a scientific treatise. It does not aim or purport so to be. Nor are you to regard the Bible as an infallible book of equal value and equal authority in all its utterances and all its parts; as a book "without any intermixture of error." An infallible book would require, first of all, that the writers should be infallibly informed as to the truth; in the second place, that they should be able to utter it infallibly; in the third place, that they should have a language for the communication of their ideas which was an infallible vehicle of thought; in the fourth place, that, if they died, the manuscripts in which their thoughts were contained should be infallibly preserved, without any intermixture of error, through the ages after their death; fifthly, that, if the language in which they wrote were changed, the translators should be themselves capable of giving an infallible translation; sixthly, that, if the book were to be infallibly applied to the actual conditions of life, men who interpreted and applied these principles should be infallible interpreters. And, finally, it would require that the men who received should be able in fallibly to apprehend what was given. The treasure of truth in the Bible is not a minted treasure with the stamp of the Divine image upon it. It is like the gold hid in the bosom of the mountain. It must be mined, dug out with the alloy with which it is intermixed, washed, burned in the furnace, and the stamp must be put upon it before it is ready for currency. But as soon as this is done, the process begins over again. The Bible yields its treasure only to him who digs for it as for a hid treasure; the promise of the Bible is only to him who seeks and knocks. No age can do this seeking, this knocking, for another. The structure and the history of the Bible alike demonstrate that what God has given us here is not a substitute for thought, but an incentive to thinking. Lessing said, "If God were to offer me in one hand Truth and in the other Search for Truth, I would accept Search for Truth." What God gives us in the Bible is Search for Truth. What, then, is the Bible? It is a selection of literature evolved out of eighteen centuries of human life, comprising all various literary forms, written by men of all various types and temperaments, without concord, without mutual understanding, without knowing that they were making a book that was to last for all time. It is a collection of the most spiritual utterances, of the most spiritual men, of the most spiritual race, of past time. You are to come to it as such a collection. It is as such that you are to study and take advantage of it — as such a record of spiritual experiences.
I. In the first place, then, in view of this generic statement, I urge on you to have your Bible — not merely a Bible, but YOUR BIBLE. Mr. Shearman has a copy of the Bible which Mr. Beecher carried for something like forty years — perhaps more — with his marking scattered through it. It is more than a Bible — it is Mr. Beecher's Bible; and the pencil-marks in it tell the story of his own spiritual experience, while they emphasize the spiritual experiences of the ages that are past. So, have your own Bible, into which your life shall be woven, around which your spiritual associations shall cluster, and which shall become sacred to you, not so much for the voice that spake to Abraham, to Moses, to David, to Isaiah, or Paul, so many centuries ago, but for the voice that has spoken to you — through Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, or Paul — in your own life-experience.
II. USE YOUR BIBLE. The Bible that is to lay hold on you is a Bible that you must lay hold upon. Familiarise yourself with the Bible. It is a coy acquaintance. It does not let every one into its heart, or disclose to the chance acquaintance the secret of its power. You must love it. If you are to love it you must acquaint yourself with it. You must take it with you into your experience. You must make it the man of your counsel in your perplexity; you must go to it for comfort in your sorrow; you must find in it inspiration when the deadening process of life has brought you earthward; you must seek in it those experiences for which your own heart and soul hunger.
III. You must, in your use of the Bible LOOK BEHIND THE BOOK TO THE TRUTH WHICH IS IN THE BOOK, and which really constitutes the book. Studying Biblical criticism is not studying the Bible. Behind all form and structure is the truth which makes the Bible. What is the Bible? This thing that I hold in my hand? Not at all. Were it in Greek, it would still be the Bible. Not the book — the truths that lie behind the book, they make the Bible. Such truths as these: the man is immortal — not that he is going to live a thousand or a hundred thousand years after death, but that he has in him a spirit that death cannot and does not touch; that he is under other laws than those that are physical, that he is under the great moral laws of right and wrong; that there is a God who knows, thinks, feels, loves; and that there is a helping hand reached down out of heaven to lay hold of and to give help to every struggling man seeking, working, praying, wrestling toward a nobler manhood; an immortal spirit, a personal God, a forgiveness of sins — that is the Bible. Go to the Bible, not for an infallible philosophy of human life, but for unveilings and disclosures of infinite, helpful, inspiring truth.
IV. But behind this truth there is something further to be sought. FOR LIFE IS MORE THAN TRUTH, AND EXPERIENCE IS MORE THAN PHILOSOPHY. The Bible is the most human of books. It is the record of human life, and of the noblest and divinest experiences in human life. It is because it is a human book that it appeals to humanity. It is because it is a human book that humanity finds light and life and power in it. Writers of the Bible are not like lead pipes that take water from a distance and bring it a long way and deposit it for you, without the trouble of your drawing. Writers of the Bible are like the mountain-side, saturated with water which pours from its side in springs when we ask to drink. The Bible writers were saturated with Divine truth; then out of that saturation the truth sprang forth into utterance. In the Bible you come into association and fellowship with men who are living in the spiritual realm; you come in contact with men who are struggling, not for art, not for wealth, not for culture, not for refinement, but for walking with God. They blunder; they do not know; they have dim visions, oftentimes, of God — they see Him as that blind man saw the trees as men walking. Their notion is intermingled with the notion of their time; but in it all, throughout it all, inspiring it all, is that hunger and thirst after righteousness that shall be filled. To come into the Bible is to come, not into words graven on stone, however true, but into living experiences of love, of faith, or hope, wrought in imperfect lives, but glorifying them by the glory of an indwelling God.
V. And behind the truth and behind the experience you are to look for something still more than either — YOU ARE TO LOOK FOR GOD HIMSELF. Back of all Bible truth is the human experience of the Divine. Back of all human experience of the Divine is the God that inspires, irradiates, and creates it. Do I value the locket less because I know it is a human handiwork? It is not the locket I care for. It is the picture of the beloved that is in the locket. It is not the frame and form and structure of the book, but it is the God who dwells in the book that makes it dear to me. Kaulbach's famous cartoon of the Reformation presents Luther holding aloft an open Bible, while grouped around and before him are the inventors, the discoverers, the thinkers, the writers of genius, that were nurtured in the cradle of the Reformation. It is a true picture. Where that open Bible has not gone, there to-day is darkness illimitable. Where that Bible has gone, partly opened and partly closed, there is a dawning of the day. And where it is an open Bible with a free page and a well-read one, there is the illumination of civilisation.
(Lyman Abbott, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: