The Bible is the book of inexhaustible, superlative greatness. Its magnitude and depth are beyond the scope of the human intellect. Men may master a language, an art, a science, or a vocation; but no man can master the Bible in the same relative degree. The Teacher and Guide in the study of this Book is the Holy Spirit; and He not only enlightens the mind to grasp the revealing of divine truth, but He takes possession of the heart and transforms revealed truth into actual personal experience in the daily life, so that the written word becomes the living word. To attempt to study the word of God under any other teacher, or failure to submit to the tutorship of the Holy Spirit, will result in the development of a mere theorist or formalist,—a skeleton of dry bones, devoid of spiritual flesh and blood. There may be a vast collection of facts, figures, and data; there may be accurate knowledge of the letter of the law, but the life-giving Spirit be lacking.
It is a sad fact, which cannot be ignored, that it is quite possible for young people to major in Bible subjects listed in the college curriculum and be graduated without having gained any real knowledge of the Bible. Follow such young people to their chosen fields of labor, and observe how often they discover, to their great disappointment, that they have neither an acquaintance with the Bible nor a knowledge of how to study it. It is because of this disappointing reaction in their college training that many young people seek positions where success does not so vitally depend upon true knowledge of the Bible and the efficient study of it.
There is no occasion for us to find fault with these young people, for we are confronted with the regrettable fact that many preachers and Bible teachers are inefficient Bible students. To a greater or less extent we have all been caught wading around in the flood waters of materialism and secularism that have submerged the world today. It is easier to keep busy in activities pertaining to the work of God than it is to maintain the prayer life with attendant constant and aggressive effort in study under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The assertion is ventured, and I think safely, that there are many workers in the employ of our denomination whose scope of Bible study is almost wholly limited to the Sabbath school lessons, and that more attention is given to the notes in the Quarterly than to the Scripture texts themselves.
Much of that which is termed "Bible study" is in reality only consideration of writings pertaining to the Bible. Such Bible study (the term is used in a secondary sense) is not of the truest value. The need of the hour is prayerful, serious, first-hand, original, and continuous study of the Bible itself. Let us go down into the mine of truth, rather than be content to examine the specimens of sacred ore which have been brought to the surface by others who have been enriched by personal effort in original study. Notwithstanding the many rich gems which have been brought to the surface by the men and women who have been willing to dig for them and to become the receptacle for their conveyance, we are told that there are vast mines of truth yet to be explored, and God is patiently waiting for those who are willing to be led forth into the depths of divine mysteries.
In a previous study* there were set forth seven essential requirements for successful Bible study. These should be kept in mind as we consider methods. Let us keep in mind also, that the one great objective in all true Bible study is to discover Him who is the Creator, Sustainer, and Saviour of the world—the divine Person who is carrying forward a redemptive program in this world in behalf of mankind. Through the study of the characters, events, and developments described in the Bible, we are to discover how that divine Person deals with men under varying circumstances and conditions, and perceive the fundamental principles and requirements upon which His program is advanced. To our finite minds there comes a clear vision of the larger aspects of that divine program by means of the divine promises, the historical developments consequent upon those promises, the divine commands and instructions given at various stages of progression, and the prophetic foregleams focused upon the plan even to the consummation of all things. It is our privilege to discover where we stand in the march of events and developments for the fulfillment of the divine program. And above all, we are to become intimately acquainted with the divine Person. Through communion with Him in daily fellowship as brother and friend, we are to become like Him, and be prepared to stand in His very presence. Through His abiding presence we are to be empowered to be of service to Him in the work of finishing His program for the salvation of men. Let us begin, pursue, and complete every effort in Bible study with this one great objective in view.
The following suggestions on methods of Bible study are-nresented in the hope that they will prove helpful to those endeavoring to do original and individual work in Bible study. The order chosen in naming and describing the methods of study is only a matter of convenience.
1. Reading.—The simple reading of the Scriptures in a devout and sincere manner is an act of worship as well as a form of study. Some people follow a hit-and-miss plan of reading a few verses or a chapter here and there at different times, while others read wherever the eye may chance to rest as the Bible is opened or the pages are turned. Even such casual reading brings spiritual blessing to honest seekers after truth. But a far more commendable method is to choose one book in the Bible, and read it through; then turn to another book, personal interest and choice directing in the arrangement of the order chosen. For instance, a New Testament book may be selected and read, followed by an Old Testament book. This plan will yield a wealth of blessing to the one who faithfully pursues it with a sincere desire for spiritual uplift. Sometimes it will be found highly profitable to read one book through several times before taking up another portion of the Scriptures.
It is a decided advantage to read the books of the Bible as they come in their order in the canon of Scripture, —first the historical books of the Old Testament, then the poetical, and lastly the prophetical. A similar grouping is also found in the New Testament, —the historical, which embraces Matthew to Acts inclusive; then the doctrinal, covering Romans to Jude inclusive; and then the prophetic book, Revelation.
A still better plan, perhaps, is to take the books in their chronological or historical order. Bible scholars differ as to just when some of the books of the Bible were written, and there is an element of uncertainty which applies to both Old and New Testament books. But for practical purposes, the approximate dates and the historical order of the books of the Bible may be obtained by consulting a reliable dictionary of the Bible, preferably of conservative authorship. The problem of chronology is not the chief objective of Bible study, though it has a feature of recognized importance; and by reading the Bible through chronologically, one is led to a greater appreciation of the unity of the Scriptures as a whole.
Whether reading the Bible in canonical or chronological order, it is always helpful to choose some special point of observation. For example, at one reading, look for all the promises and mark them as they appear. In another reading, note the commands of the Lord. Then the reader might keep in mind certain words and note their use, such as "Sabbath," "covenant," "Israel," "faith," "righteousness," "forgiveness." Or, one might choose to mark every passage dealing with or alluding to any doctrine or teaching of Scripture, such as the deity of Christ, the incarnation, the cross (or death) of Christ, the resurrection, the mediatorial work, the second advent, the judgment, et cetera. It will also be found worthwhile to note and mark in some distinct way all direct utterances of divine speakers,—words spoken by the Lord Himself or by an angel direct to men. All such utterances should be carefully analyzed and studied.
2. Memorizing.—Verses, chanters, and even entire books of the Bible should be memorized. The Morning Watch is a daily devotional exercise which is based on this method of Bible study. Memorizing of Scripture is greatly neglected by both ministers and laity, but it should be made a part of individual Bible study, regardless of the other method followed in the main.
There are limitations to this method of study. Few of us have the time or the ability to learn verbatim the whole of Scripture, and should we make an attempt to do so, it might develop a tendency to exclude other essential methods of Bible study. Memorizing depends chiefly upon the faculty of memory, while other methods of study call into action, in a larger degree, the faculty of reason. While the memory method should not be ignored, it would not be advisable to make it the exclusive method of Bible study.
It is a wonderful aid to the Bible student, be he preacher or teacher, to be able to recall at will the exact words of Scripture passages. Special effort should be made to memorize all the great outstanding promises of the Bible, also those portions of Scripture wherein are found, briefly and powerfully expressed, the basic elements or fundamental requirements of the gospel. Attention should also be given to memorizing a goodly number of the passages which clearly set forth the distinguishing characteristics of the rise and development of the advent movement.
Soon will come a time when the opportunity to memorize the Scripture will not be so favorable as it is now. Let us improve the present opportunity to make the language of Scripture our own, permitting the word of truth to mold and shape our characters. The inborn word is able to save our souls.
(To be continued)
Pine Blues, Wyo.
*See Ministry for March, p. 13.