It is to be deeply regretted that the Scripture reading often lacks the instructional and devotional elements. The congregation is not edified, nor the spiritual life quickened and elevated. The propriety and value of this part of the service is freely admitted, but there seemingly is a listless indifference manifest by many during the time allotted to this reading.
The cause for this regrettable situation is not wholly with the congregation. It is largely due to the lack of preparation on the part of the reader. Many times the selected Scripture lesson does not fit into the rest of the service, nor reveal thoughtful study of the message it contains. It is often read too rapidly or in a quick, businesslike way, without any change of pitch or voice modulation, so necessary to a proper interpretation of the thought. Selections from the Old Testament and the New; from the Psalms and the prophets; the prayer of the penitent sinner; the rejoicing psalm of the saint; the thrilling and triumphant experiences of Joseph, David, Daniel, and Esther in time of crisis, are all read with the same dead monotone, which is a misrepresentation of the beautiful thought and stirring spirit of the Scriptures. This is lip service, of which those who are guilty should "repent" and from which they should "turn away."
If there were wiser selection and better preparation of the Scripture lesson, there would be better attention and assimilation. In other words, better reading would result in better listening. When the priests and Levites officiated in this capacity, "they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. . . . For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law." Neh. 8:8, 9. And when Jesus read in the synagogue from the prophet Isaiah, "the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on Him." Luke 4:20. The art of reading, which holds every eye and every ear, and moves the heart of the listener, cannot be acquired without careful, painstaking preparation. The matter of preparation of the Scripture reading may well be considered from three aspects:
1. The attitude of the reader toward the Bible.
2. The attitude of the reader toward the congregation.
3. The reader's personal preparation.
Attitude of the Reader Toward the Bible
In the reading of the Bible, God's voice is to be heard without creating fear or dread. A living heavenly Father is speaking to His children. The reader of the Scripture hears, first, God's voice speaking to his own soul; and then, as God's honored mouthpiece, he is privileged to pass on to the people the message that has warmed and quickened his own spirit.
The Bible, through which God speaks, though not to be regarded as an object of worship, will be handled with care and thoughtful consideration. The reader will not carelessly handle God's Holy Book, ruthlessly opening its sacred pages, pounding it with his fists, or slamming it upon the desk. Every word spoken, and every act performed, will be with that dignity and reverence which is befitting one who is an ambassador of the heavenly courts, a representative of the King of kings.
Attitude of the Reader Toward the Congregation
The reader of God's message for the hour must have been in sympathetic accord with the sacred writer whose words he reads to the audience. He must be deeply concerned that the worshipers shall catch the spirit of the message and be abundantly blessed as they wait before the Lord. By earnest prayer and consecration of the powers of utterance, the reader's sympathy and burden for the souls of men has been awakened and deepened. He is not to read before the people; he is to read to them, and beseech them in Christ's stead, "Be ye reconciled to God."
The Reader's Personal Preparation
In order that the Bible reader may be qualified to minister to the people, a preparation of heart, of mind, and of voice is necessary.
Preparation.—This is the spiritual preparation. The spiritual import of the message to be read to the congregation, must be discerned and experienced by the reader before it can be expressed to the congregation. The power and conviction of a soul at one with God and His message must be revealed in the attitude and voice of the messenger. This cannot be put on as a garment, but is gained only through an intelligent, earnest, prayerful study of God's message. Its sublime spiritual truth must be incorporated into his own life and experience, that he in turn may encourage others to hear and obey the voice of truth.
Preparation of Mind.—The intellectual power of the mind must be under control, in both the study and the reading of the Scripture lesson. The mind must not only be clean, but it must be alert and keen, so that there shall be no hesitation in reading or incorrect pronunciation and substitution of words that are similar in construction but different in meaning. The proper pronunciation, especially of proper names, and the accurate meaning of all words, is a necessary part of the Scripture reading preparation, and should be mastered before the hour of service arrives. Otherwise the attention will be diverted from spiritual truths to the intellectual deficiencies of the reader, and a false interpretation of the message will result. Preparation of Voice.—Voice preparation is concerned not only with the physical, but also with the mental and spiritual powers. In fact, the sources of power in good reading are mainly
in the mind and the soul. Yet there is a physical or material basis which must be understood and utilized if the human voice becomes an effective medium of communication. God has provided each human being with a voice instrument to be used in communion with Him and with our fellow beings. He also desires to use it in communicating with man. He has set in His church, apostles, prophets, and teachers, who are to be His mouthpieces in making known His will to the church and to the world. In their ministry to the people the voice instrument is their principal means of communication.
A knowledge of the voice instrument and of its proper and efficient functioning is very essential to the public reader and speaker, if his ministry is to be effective and fruitful. The fullness of the truths in God's Word, their power, beauty, and charm, cannot be expressed without fullness of power, beauty, and charm of voice. What a travesty and tragedy to have the hour of divine worship marred by defective utterance!
The importance and necessity of cultivating the voice is strongly emphasized in the following instruction:
"By diligent effort all may acquire the power to read intelligibly, and to speak in a full, clear, round tone, in a distinct and impressive manner. By doing this we may greatly increase our efficiency as workers for Christ."—"Christ's Object Lessons," pp. 335, 336.
"Let all make the most of the talent of speech. God calls for a higher, more perfect ministry. He is dishonored by the imperfect utterance of the one who by painstaking effort could become an acceptable mouthpiece for Him. The truth is too often marred by the channel through which it passes.
"The Lord calls upon all who are connected with His service to give attention to the cultivation of the voice, that they may utter in an acceptable manner the great and solemn truths He has entrusted to them. Let none mar the truth by defective utterance. Let not those who have neglected to cultivate the talent of speech suppose that they are qualified to minister; for they have yet to obtain the power to communicate."—"Testimonies," Vol. VI, pp. 382, 383.
While the reader may have developed power and control of voice, yet by wrong emphasis and improper inflection, the thought of the Scripture may be misinterpreted, or may lack in force of expression. The following from John 4:2 may be read in two ways:
1. "Jesus Himself baptized not [none] but His disciples."
2. "Jesus Himself baptized not, but His disciples [baptized]."
The first reading indicates that Jesus baptized no one except His twelve disciples. The second, or true reading, indicates that Jesus did no baptizing, but that this rite was administered by His twelve disciples. This true meaning is expressed by emphasizing "not," giving it the falling inflection, and then making a short pause before finishing the sentence. The wrong interpretation results from lack of inflection and pause, and emphasis being placed on the words "not but His disciples."
Again, a wrong interpretation is given to James 3:2, "In many things we offend all [everybody]," if no pause is made. But if a pause is made after "offend," and "all" is given the falling inflection, then we learn that everybody offends, instead of all (everybody) being offended. Often the downward inflection is given to a word when the sense requires the upward inflection, as with "saying" in Matthew 5:2: "He opened his mouth, and taught them, saying."
These nonprintable elements,—emphasis, inflection, pause, touch, tone color, etc.,—cannot be inscribed on the printed page. They are inscribed on the tablets of the mind and of the soul of the intelligent, impressive reader, and are revealed in the human voice. The mastering of these elements of delivery is necessary to good expression. They are not seen, but heard, and make lasting and indelible impressions on the hearts and souls of those that hear. "The ear trieth words, as the mouth tasteth meat." Job 34:2.
Washington, D. C.