Shall we study the Bible? A chorus of voices may be heard in reply: Of course we will study the Bible! We must study the Bible! Then why raise the question? you ask. There are many good reasons. The inquiry is not a useless or foolish one, even when presented to ministers of the gospel, and a few of the reasons for giving it consideration may be stated as follows:
1. This is an age of spiritual decline. The spirit of the times is not conducive to spirituality. The influences attending circumstances and environment in this modern age draw away from rather than tend toward deeply religious experience. The people with whom we have to deal are, for the most part, nonspiritual and often anti-spiritual in words and acts, if not in profession. The educators and religious leaders of this generation are often found to be either out of sympathy with genuine spiritual experience or unacquainted with it. It would seem that the very air we breathe tends to despiritualize. All these elements combine to hinder or destroy a real love and craving for deep spiritual life, and the result is that hunger, thirst, and relish for vigorous Bible study become deadened. The very thing that would prevent or cure the spiritual malady is shunned as distasteful.
The ministry has not been immune to this spiritual decadence. There might have been immunity and safety for the ministry if the servants of God had lived up to their privilege in keeping so close to God as to be able to possess and preserve spiritual discernment; but, sad to say, it is a serious question as to whether the ministry of to-day, individually or as a body, are maintaining their rightful place as real Bible students.
2. This is a time of multiplied activities. The minister is ordained to preach the gospel of a crucified and risen Saviour to a world perishing in sin. But to-day we see him burdened by a multiplicity of varied duties, many of which pertain more directly to things temporal than spiritual. We may admit that these multiplied duties, most of them, at least, have their rightful place in the advancement of the work of God; but the difficulty lies in the fact that the responsibility for the detailed execution of these activities has been placed upon the shoulders of the minister, and has become so pressing and so absorbing that he finds his time and strength fully employed to the point of exhaustion. The quickly apparent result is that the minister is compelled to forsake the ministry of the word, to a greater or less extent, and devote himself to the serving of tables. Under such circumstances, real Bible study is almost sure to become a lost art with the ministry.
3. This is a day of superficiality. In no place is superficial work more unsuspected or more disastrous than in the realm of spiritual things. We are apt to become content with superficial conversation. The same is true concerning our prayers and our exercises of worship and devotion. In our Bible study we are too often satisfied with skimming the surface. We consider a small sip from the fountain of life good, yes, even precious; but that is sufficient. We do not thirst for the deep draughts. Even in Christian experience we are prone to accept form and profession for the genuine, especially when applying the rule to ourselves. This is a temptation which constantly stares the minister in the face.
None have greater temptation to be superficial than the minister; it is a danger which ever stands on the threshold of his life, ready at all times to enter and take possession of the motive and will power. But anything that is superficial is not real and genuine, and superficial Bible study is not real Bible study, even though much time is spent in the study.
4. Bible study is much impaired by limitation. This limitation is manifested in various ways. Some limit Bible study in the amount of time devoted to it. Many ministers have a habit of devoting but a few minutes occasionally to study with the Bible actually in hand. No adequate knowledge of the Scriptures can be gained unless hours and days are spent in diligent and vigorous study of the Bible itself; and even then, the knowledge of the Bible will be far too limited. Other ministers limit Bible study as to the field covered. They are contented with studying simply one phase of Bible truth. One minister studies Bible history, but omits all else; another confines his study to Bible prophecies, or possibly to just one phase of prophecy; still another may interest himself in the study of the doctrines of Scripture, until his vision becomes obscured so that he is able to see but little in the Bible but dogma and theory. Other ministers study only the literary side of the Bible.
Any one of these fields of study may offer opportunity for lifelong effort, but when a person limits himself to just one field, he shuts the gate through which he might enter upon a broad and well-rounded understanding of the Bible message.
Some ministers limit Bible study as to the method employed. There are those whose Bible study consists in reading over, in a casual manner, portions of Scripture here and there in a hit-and-miss fashion. Other ministers may limit their study to the memorizing of choice passages. Many min isters never study their Bibles except by topics or subjects, and while this is a good method, it will not put one in touch with all the blessings of Bible study. Space does not here permit of an outline of various methods of study, but it would seem to be but reasonable to suppose that the minister would seek to become familiar with all phases of the Scriptures.
5. Bible study is greatly weakened by substitution. Instead of bestowing necessary time for direct study of the Bible, some take the course of least resistance,— they close up the Bible, and turn to the writings of some author who has made a survey of this or that particular field, and immediately proceed to adopt, or adapt, with some offhand adjustments, reservations, or qualifications, what that writer has to say. In this way these people arrive at what they call " their own " understanding of the Scripture teaching. It may be that the author of the books read is reliable, and that his explanations and interpretations are true and worthy of acceptance. Nevertheless, such procedure is not Bible study. Rather, it is substitution for Bible study.
There is a rightful place for, and a legitimate use of, the writings of other men in the minister's study; but they should not be permitted to take the place of first-hand, original, and direct approach to the Bible itself. When we have by direct approach fully exhausted our own God-given powers and resources in trying to understand any portion of the Scriptures, then, and only then, may we appropriately and most profitably turn to the writings of men for help. It is the priceless privilege of each and every one to come direct to the words of Scripture, in prayerful dependence upon the Spirit of God to speak to us through the word, instructing and teaching the way of truth.
6. Bible study requires earnest application. Lack of application renders study ineffective. If we would unlock the treasures of the word and gain possession of them, we must focus all our powers upon the subject of our study. No easy-going effort will accomplish anything; we must be willing to make haste slowly, and dig deep. Long and laborious searching must at times be done. The greatest possible concentration of mind, the closest observation, the highest degree of mental alertness, are all essential in securing the greatest profit in Bible study. There must also be patient, steadfast endurance, a sticking to the job until the gem of truth is obtained. In brief, we must apply ourselves to the Bible in study.
Much of our Bible study is fruitless because we make wrong applications. There is a tendency to study the Bible and prepare sermons in the spirit and attitude of applying the instruction to the other man. It is only right that we should keep the wayward and the lost ever in mind, it is our business to reach out and try to save all sinners; but no man can give to another that which he does not himself possess. It would seem, therefore, that we should first go to the fountain for the refreshing of our own souls, and then go forth to witness, through sermon and song, to what we have seen and heard and actually experienced. Such is, in fact, the apostolic way of preaching the gospel. It calls for earnest supplication, complete submission, full surrender. The Spirit of God must come into the preacher's heart and ingraft the studied word into heart and life. In other words, we must apply the Bible to ourselves in study.
7. Bible study is often marred by presumption. Here we touch the matter of interpretation. One may read a text of Scripture, and upon first glance imagine that he sees some great truth or teaching, some new light shining forth, and he may begin at once to proclaim his new-found light. But a systematic and thorough study of the text may reveal that he is far from correct in his conclusions, and that they are based upon insufficient grounds. Very similar is the case where a man bases his entire belief relative to a given point upon a single statement of Scripture. The law by which to arrive at the true teaching of Scripture on any given point is the test of harmony in all that the entire Bible has to say on the subject. One can only presume to have found truth if he stops short of full investigation.
Bible truth in all its fullness is not to be discovered at a glance, and it would be presumption for us as a denomination, even after all these years of Bible study and light and knowledge which have come to us, to say that we have all the light and understand all Scripture. We are in great need of deeper knowledge of the word, as ministers, as individuals, and as a denomination. The times in which we live and the work to which we are called most certainly summon us to renewed effort in original Bible study.
What have we to say in face of the charge that Seventh-day Adventists are not Bible students to the same degree they once were? We may have to admit the charge as true, but are we going to let it continue to be so? The Bible is now undergoing the greatest attack by infidelity of all history. This is no time for us to abandon, or even lessen, our efforts in diligent Bible study; rather, this is the time above all times for most extensive, exhaustive, and far-reaching investigation of the Scriptures.
The stupor of spiritual decay seeks to rob us of interest in Bible study; the pressure of multiplied activities threatens to crowd Bible study out of our lives; the habit of superficiality deceives us into thinking we have mastered the study of a subject, when we have but touched the surface; the tendency toward limitation is reducing Bible knowledge to the minimum; the ease and prevalence of substitution well-nigh sets the Bible entirely aside; the lack of right application deprives our efforts of fruitage, and the dangers of presumption would make us miss the truth. All these elements, and many others besides, threaten to cut us off from a rightful recognition as Bible students. But if the people of God turn away from searching the Scriptures, these hindering elements will never furnish a sufficient excuse.
Shall we study the Bible? or shall we merely carry it about with us? Shall we indulge the consolation of the treasured thought that somehow — just how we cannot say, but somehow — the foundations of our faith are contained in this blessed Book? Or shall we know whereof we speak? Shall we study the Bible? or shall we study something in its place? Shall we study the actual words of the Book itself? Shall we delve into it, shall we feed upon it, until it becomes a part of our very life? There is a cry arising from this old world in behalf of a return to original, personal, first-hand study of the Bible. This movement should answer that cry.