by Alexander Campbell
23 November 2008
NOTHING is more talked about amongst professors, and nothing is less practised, or indeed less understood, in proportion to its acknowledged importance, than the reading of the Scriptures. The Bible is, upon the whole and in general, in churches, families, and closets, a neglected book. It is, indeed, occasionally and statedly read in many churches and in many families but it is not read rationally nor religiously and therefore, for the most part, fails in being relished and consequently in reaching the heart, and in being practically believed and understood.
To be read advantageously, the Bible must be read in the order of its books, at regular intervals, and with a solemn and religious reference to the most exact and full conformity in heart, in word, in action, to all its pure, and holy, and heavenly lessons and precepts. But even this is too vague and indefinite for the exigencies of the times. Permit me, then, to explain:–It was not the design of the Author of the Bible that men should have a synopsis or summary of its doctrine, either before their eyes in writing, or committed to memory. Had such been his design, he would have given us, by the hand of some inspired person, just such a summary as would have been complete and infallible. But he has not done it and, therefore, such a document would be, to say the least, inexpedient and unprofitable. It would have been a substitute for the constant reading and studying of the Book. Now this is the very thing that the Author of the Bible does not desire. His will is that we be constant readers that by the constant attrition or wearing of the truth upon our moral nature, our minds may be exactly conformed to the image of Him who breathes into us the Spirit of our God. It is impossible to keep any company long and constantly without catching its spirit and becoming assimilated. Equally impossible is it to be frequently in company with Moses and David, Isaiah and Jeremiah, Jesus and his Apostles, without catching their spirit. This is what God designs and desires in giving us the Bible to read. He would that we catch the spirit, rather than learn the doctrine, of this Holy Book. Now this is the philosophy of the fact, that there is no substitute for constant reading: for although all the precepts and promises, or the whole doctrine of the Bible could be learned or committed to memory, and faithfully retained, it could not serve that special and supreme intention of the Author of this Book, in giving it to us as the means of sanctification and of our being imbued and inspired with the Spirit of our God.
Fortunes, it is now well established, are generally the ruin of their inheritors. The exceptions are just enough to make it a general rule that riches are laid up for children to their hurt. It is cruel in fathers to make fortunes for children: for, in so doing, they deprive them of the pleasure of employing their talents as they have done, and thus throw them, in a great measure, idle upon society. They also prevent them of the pleasure of doing, and ultimately enjoying good for we are so constituted that our powers of acquiring pleasure must ever be proportioned to our efforts in communicating it to others. And this is a work for which they are pre-eminently disqualified who are taught to live on energies not their own.
Hereditary orthodoxy, or fortunes of sound doctrine, made and bequeathed by our fathers, are still more fatal to their heirs than large inheritances of earthly goods and chattels. If sons are generally ruined in this world by large inheritances from their parents, they are, perhaps, as often ruined in the next world by large inheritances of orthodox sentiments and opinions, of which they are possessed by the wills of their ancestors, without the trouble of reading and thinking for themselves. There are not more helpless cases on earth than the heirs of orthodoxy for they are infallibly right without evidence, without examination, without any concern of their own. These persons are 36 wholly unapproachable. They are right by necessity, by prescription, by inheritance, because they are right and you are wrong because you are wrong, or because you dissent from them.
It is not intended by Him that rules in heaven, that we should possess either faith, knowledge, or grace by inheritance from our earthly or ecclesiastic progenitors. He intends that every man should dig in the mines of faith and knowledge for his own fortune–that every man should live and be rich by his own efforts. He thus calls forth and employs all our faculties, and affords us the pleasure of profiting by our own exertions. “If,” says Solomon, “thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures then thou shalt understand the fear of the Lord, true religion, and find the knowledge of God,” which is eternal life.
Bible reading is, therefore, as much an essential part of Heaven’s scheme of human sanctification, as the giving of the Bible is essential to the communication of the light which it contains. There is no substitute for it. Sermons, prayers, conversations, catechisms, tracts, and each and every religious exercise superadded, can never compensate the neglect of Bible reading. It has a place, a power, and an influence peculiar to itself. There is a communion with the Father, and with his Son, our Saviour, attainable by means of this sacred reading, which is not vouchsafed to mortals in any other way.
But there is a critical reading of the Bible–a polemic reading–a sectarian reading–and a penance reading–which, however frequent and sincere, reach not within the circles of grace and spiritual enjoyment. The Bible is a sort of world in itself and as mankind pursue and find many different objects in this wide world of nature and society, so Bible readers of all classes will find in it the respective objects of their pursuit. The politician, the jurisconsult, the orator, the rhetorical florist, the chronologist, the antiquary, the poet, the historian, the philosopher, the man of science, the artist, &c. &c. may all read the Bible with advantage to themselves and their professions and, indeed, every class will find that in it congenial with its aims and designs in reading.
But a devotional and sanctifying reading of that sacred Book, is essentially different from the readings of the theologian, the moralist, the sectary, and the virtuoso of every caste and school. The man of God reads the Book of God to commune with God, “to feel after him and find him, ” to feel his power and his divinity stirring within him to have his soul fired, quickened, animated by the spirit of grace and truth. He reads the Bible to enjoy the God of the Bible that the majesty, purity, excellency, and glory of its Author may overshadow him, inspire him, transform him, and new-create him in the image of God. Such a reader finds what he seeks in the Bible as every other person finds in it what he searches for. The words of Jesus to such a one are spirit and lifenthey are light and joy they are truth and peace. Such a one converses with God as one who speaks by-signs. His readings are heavenly musings. God speaks: he listens. Occasionally, and almost inconsciously, at intervals he forgets that he reads, he speaks to God, and his reading thus often terminates in a devotional 37 conversation with God. The Lord says, “Seek you my face” he responds, “Thy face will I seek.” Thy Spirit saith, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul “the Christian reader replies, “Open thou my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” The Spirit saith, “Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart” and the devout reader answers. “With my whole heart have I sought thee. O let me not wander from thy commandments.” The Bible reading of all enlightened Christians generally terminates in a sacred dialogue between the Author and the reader.
There is a peculiarity attendant on this reading which I beg leave to remark with emphasis. The Author of the Bible is always present with his Book. This is not true of any other book in the world. Most authors are dead and we sometimes regret that we cannot speak to them. But this Author for ever lives, and is for ever present and, therefore, while we read his written word it is as natural as life sometimes to speak to him on certain subjects as they occur. “Truly, then, our communion is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Christians, do you read the Bible in your families every day? Do you read it in your closet every day? And do you read it not to quiet your conscience as a work of penance but do you read it as a pleasure anxiously to be sought after? If you do, I need not tell you what utility, pleasure, and happiness is in the blessed employment. But if you do not, you may rest assured there is something greatly wrong, which, if it is not abandoned, subdued, or vanquished soon, will cause you sorrows, if not agonies, when you will be less able to conflict with them than at present. Resolve this moment, I pray you, that you will begin to-day to read the Bible, to enjoy God and Christ and the hope of immortality. “Let not mercy and truth forsake thee, bind them about thy neck, write them upon the table of thine heart so shalt thou find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man.” Then will you say with Solomon, “Happy is the man that findeth wisdom and the man that getteth understanding: for the merchandize of it is better than the merchandize of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared with her. Length of days is in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and honor: her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” “Begin to-day: ’tis madness to defer.” The religious world–I mean the great majority of all professors, are Bible neglectors. Their ignorance, prejudice, and error show it. I beseech you, daily, habitually, constantly, prayerfully read the Bible in its proper connexions, and you will grow in grace as you grow in the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ our Lord. The Lord will bless you, as he has said, in this deed. Read James i. 22-25., and may you prove it true!
December 4, 1838. The Millennial Harbinger, New Series, 3 (January 1839): 35-38.