The Right and Wrong Uses of the Bible
R. Heber Newton
Part 4 out of 4
field over which you have so lightly strayed.
Buy a Bible, my brothers! The current coin of the land, in the shops of
our best booksellers, may have failed to buy for you a real Bible. No
noble book is ever to be made your own in this easy fashion. Ruskin tells
us that the great picture will not give itself to us unless we give
ourselves to it. The Bible must have its price. The best comes dearest. If
you will not pay you cannot buy. Pay for the real Bible your costliest
offering of mind and heart. Spend upon it, day by day, your careful,
reverent study, until beneath your love the Book warms into life; and,
having proven well your loyalty, this teacher of the soul opens its soul
to you and whispers--Henceforth I call you not servant but friend. Wait in
these courts until the Eternal Wisdom, who walks within this temple, turns
her face upon you, "mystic, wonderful;" and the common places grow
refulgent with a new and heavenly beauty, and you humbly say--This is none
other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
* * * * *
How shall we thus rightly read the Bible, for ethical and spiritual
upbuilding? Let me offer some plain and practical suggestions to this end.
(1.) _Read it daily._
Your soul needs its daily bread. Do not starve your soul. Do not try to
fatten it on chaff. Get the best soul-food, the long tried manna that
forms upon these pages day by day, for him who will be at pains to gather
it. He must be busy, indeed, who cannot find time to keep himself alive.
(2.) _Read it in the choicest moments of the day._
The best picture should have the best setting. Our fathers' symbol of the
opening of a new day was the opening of the Bible. Their symbol of the
closing of another day's duties was the closing of the Bible. Can we
improve upon their ritual? John Quincy Adams noted in his journal his
custom of reading in the Bible each morning, of which he well observed:
It seems to me the most suitable manner of beginning the day.
Pitch the day aright with this tuning-fork, and hush the babel-voices of
the world to its tones of peace at night.
(3.) _Read the Bible whenever you need some special influence of strength
or cheer, amid the temptations and trials of the day._
It holds the unfailing corrective for the manifold disorders of our busy
lives. To think its thoughts and breathe its desires, even for a few
moments, is to have the horizon of the senses open, the heavy atmosphere
of earth clear, the illusions of the world evanish, the fever of business
cool and calm, the tempting appetites and passions slink down shamed into
their kennels. It is to have the dark look of life lighten, the sting of
disappointment lose its venom, the weariness of sickness forget itself,
and the sorrow of the stricken heart sob itself asleep within the
everlasting arms of One who, like a mother, comforteth his children, and
who with his own hand wipes away the tears from our eyes.
A few days after one of the battles before Richmond a Southern soldier was
found unburied. His right hand still clasped a Bible, and his stiff
fingers pressed upon the words of the Twenty-third Psalm:
I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
(4.) _In the choice of these daily readings, follow the guidance of the
soul's sure instinct._
You need no critical knowledge to teach you what parts of the Bible are
the most highly inspired. The spiritual sense will appraise these books
aright. As the beasts are led instinctively to the herbs that hold healing
for their ailments so you shall find the tonic and the balm that you
need. You will naturally pasture for the most part in the Prophets, the
Psalms, the Gospels, the great Epistles of Paul, the First Epistle of
John, and kindred writings. You may, dip into these books as the bees dip
into the flowers, now burying themselves in the luscious honey-suckle and
now lingering on the rich rose, if so be that you only suck sweetness into
(5.) _Wheresoever you read, read in the spirit._
"I was in the spirit on the Lord's day," wrote the seer. If he had been in
the understanding merely, he would not have had many visions. The Spirit
must interpret the Spirit's words. The Bible requires, as Bushnell wrote:
Divine inbreathings and exaltations in us, that we may asscend into
In his last sickness Archbishop Usher was observed one day, sitting in his
wheel-chair, with a Bible in his lap, and moving his position as the sun
stole round to the westward, so as to let the light fall on the sacred
page. That is a symbol of the right use of the Bible.
I picked up lately the choice Bible which I selected for myself as a boy,
and on the fly-leaf, in my boyish hand, I read the words:
Open Thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law.
I still find that the best commentator, for the ethical and spiritual use
of the Bible, is one Master Praying Always.
As the bard with the Muse, so the critic in the presence of Wisdom, must
forget his skill; "must be, with good intent, no more his, but hers:"
Must throw away his pen and paint,
Kneel with worshipers.
Then, perchance, a sunny ray,
From the heaven of fire,
His lost tools may overpay,
And better his desire.
Thus buying Bibles for yourselves, my friends, see that your children buy
themselves the Bible in the same good coin.
(a.) _Read with them the tales of its noble men._
Do not hesitate to read with them these stories of the ancients, because
there may be the commingling of legend with history, of myth with fact.
You do not hesitate to read them the story of William Tell, although there
are woven into it the elements of a very old and wide-spread sun-myth.
These mythic elements have been woven around some real historic hero, and
the spirit of his heroism breathes through every fold of the drapery. How
charmingly Kingsley tells the tales of the Grecian heroes! Through his
crystalline language we seem to inhale the crisp, clear air of the
morning of Greece, in which the simple souls of child-men thus shaped
their dreams of duty around their older dreams of nature. Conscience
fashioned these primitive fancies upon its form, and pulses through them
its quickening life; the touch of which makes our children buoyant with
aspiration, so that they mount on high, like Perseus of the winged feet.
Thus read the matchless stories of the Hebrews, mindless of legend or of
myth. The Spirit of Holiness breathing through these tales will inspire
the souls of the children, without restraint from the questions that the
reason may raise. Tell them no lies if they ask you questions. Read these
ancient stories _as_ stories, of good and noble men; stories written down
long ago, and told from father to son through longer ages before they were
thus written out. Leave the children to detect the legendary elements. I
find them quick enough at that work without parental help. The bright
child feels the unreal in the tales that he most loves; but he loves them
none the less, perhaps all the more, because of the spell upon his
imagination that he would not break; while through them, upon his open
soul, streams in the holy power of these sacred stories. Do you concern
yourselves with impressing the moral of these God-breathed tales.
Read with your children the stories of the dear Master, and make His life
grow real to them, till He shall draw them after Him, in the steps of His
most holy life.
(b.) _Form in the children the habit of daily reading in the Bible._
Say to each of them, in your own way, that which Sir Matthew Hale wrote to
Every morning read seriously and reverently a portion of the Holy
Scriptures. It is a book full of light and wisdom, and will make you
wise to eternal life.
(c.) _Cultivate in them a genuine interest in the Bible._
The aids to an intelligent interest in the Bible-books are now so
plentiful, and the human charm of them is so great, that it ought to be an
easy thing for a parent to awaken a real fondness for these immortal
writings. The best safeguard against bad taste in literature or life is
the formation of a good taste. These are books, to learn to love which is
the making of a man. Our children may not grow into the genius, but they
will grow into somewhat of the goodness of the illustrious and saintly
John Henry Newman, if, in after years, they can write the first lines of
their autobiographies in the words which open the biographical part of the
_Apologia Pro Vita Sua_:
I was brought up from a child to take great delight in reading the
(d.) _Train the children to commit to memory the choicest passages of the
John Ruskin doubtless, at the time, rebelled against the strict rule of
his good aunt, which kept him busy on the Sundays memorizing the
Scriptures; but he is thankful now, as he has owned, for the discipline
which stored his mind with their creative words. What a treasury of holy
thoughts and influences does he carry within him who has written on his
mind such passages as the nineteenth, twenty-third, ninety-first, one
hundred and third, and one hundred and thirty-ninth Psalms; the third and
eighth chapters of Proverbs; the fortieth chapter of Isaiah; the sermon on
the mount, the parable of the prodigal son, and the thirteenth chapter of
first Corinthians. Happy he who, like the palm tree in the desert, can
strike his roots below the arid surface of the world into fresh and living
waters, and thus keep life green amid the droughts of earth. The parable
of the temptation of Christ should teach us how to arm our children
against the wiles of the Evil One, whom they must surely meet: "And he
said, It is written." In the stress and strain of conflict, when the air
is dimmed with the dust of the contending forces and the vision grows
confused, it is a saving sound to hear the ringing call of Duty, from the
hills where One watcheth over the battlefield. When sore pressed by the
foe, it may prove our victory to fall back against the strong stone wall
of an external authority, that can hold our lines unbroken. It is no
wonder that the tempting sailors could do nothing with the cabin-boy who
was "chock full of the Bible."
(e.) _Teach your children, as you teach yourselves, to hearken through
these voices of the human writers to the voice of God._
Bother then with no theories of inspiration. Never deny nor conceal the
true human voices of these men who spake of old, but never fail to affirm
the true Divine breath in these men who spake as they were moved by the
Holy Ghost. And, since this is the power of the Bible, emphasize the
Divine speaking; make every God-breathed word sound to the children's
souls as the very voice of God; until, in simple faith and reverent
docility, they shall each answer--Speak, Lord: Thy servant heareth!
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet,
And a light unto my path.
Such is the holy office of the Bible: such be its blessed service to our
souls, and to the souls of our dear children! May we walk in its light
through life; that in the valley of the shadow of death that light may
still fall upon us.
It is not many months since I was called to the house where, in a ripe
and honored age, lay a warden of this church, stricken suddenly by death.
On the table in his room, as he had left it open after reading in it that
morning, I saw a Bible.
I can ask for my funeral no better symbol of the aim and effort of my poor
erring life, if so be it shame me not too much, than that which told the
story of an humble servant of the Lord. Upon his coffin, with the
book-mark between the pages where he last had read, was--his Bible!
* * * * *
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our
learning; grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and
inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of Thy Holy Word, we
may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which
Thou has given us in our Saviour, Jesus Christ. _Amen._
 The Second Sunday in Advent.
 1 Cor. vii. 10.
 1 Cor. vii. 12.
 1 Cor. vii. 40.
 1 Cor. vii. 25.
 Hebrews i. 1.
 2 Peter i. 21.
 1 Peter i. 10, 11.
 2 Timothy iii. 16.
 Sacred Books of the East, vol. i. p. xiii.
 2 Maccabees, ii. 13.
 "The Jews and the priests have found it good that Simon shall be their
leader and high priest forever until there shall arise a trustworthy
prophet."--1 Macc. xiv. 41.
 Introduction to the New Testament. Samuel Davidson, I.:279.
 Introduction to the New Testament. Samuel Davidson, I.:384.
 The contrast between the fifteenth and sixteenth century Confessions
of Faith reveals this process, and explains the prevalent Protestant
 About 600 A.D.
 2 Maccabees ii. 13.
 The Dial: October, 1840.
 Ewald: History of Israel, i. 4.
 Esther is the most notable apparent exception, but this it only
 In speaking of the book of Esther, Dean Stanley observes that "it
never names the name of God from first to last," and remarks "It is
necessary for us that in the rest of the sacred volume the name of God
should constantly be brought before us, to show that He is all in all to
our moral perfection. But it is expedient for us no less that there should
be one book which omits it altogether, to prevent us from attaching to the
mere name a reverence which belongs only to the reality.... The name of
God is _not_ there, but the work of God _is_.... When Esther nerved
herself to enter, at the risk of her life, the presence of Ahasuerus--'I
will go in unto the king, and if I perish I perish'--when her patriotic
feeling vented itself in that noble cry, 'How can I endure to see the evil
that shall come unto my people? or can I endure to see the destruction of
my kindred?'--she expressed, although she never named the name of God, a
religious devotion as acceptable to Him as that of Moses and David, who,
no less sincerely, had the sacred name always on their lips."--_History of
the Jewish Church_, iii. 301.
 Ewald: History of Israel, i. 4.
 The Old Testament is a record of the growth of human intelligence in
relation to the Deity--of the revelation made by Spirit to spirit. When
therefore God is described as _speaking_ to man, he does so in the only
way in which He who is a Spirit can speak to one encompassed with flesh
and blood; not to the outward organs of sensation, but to that
intelligence which is kindred to Himself the great Fountain of
knowledge.--Davidson: _Introduction to the Old Testament_, i. 233.
 Emerson: Miscellanies, p. 200.
 "To hear people speak," said Goethe, "one would almost believe that
they were of opinion that God had withdrawn into silence since those old
times, and that man was now placed quite upon his own feet, and had to see
how he could get on without God and his daily invisible
breath."--Conversations, _March 11, 1832_.
 Our advancing knowledge of the early portions of the Bible is
clearing its offensive portions of the grossness which characterized them
as literal histories, by resolving them into nature-myths, or into social
traditions, symbolical stories of casuistry, "token-tales," whose original
meaning had been lost by the time they were committed to writing.
Every school-boy knows how the worst stories of the Greek gods and
goddesses lose their immorality as seen to be parables of nature's
processes, myths, whose poetry had exhaled in the course of time.
Goldziher's "Mythology Among the Hebrews," shows the mythic character of
many of these revolting Jewish stories, though his theory carries him off
his feet. Fenton's "Early Hebrew Life," brings out the social and
casuistical origin of many of these traditions as decisions, "Judgments,"
of the village elders and priests upon cases of conduct, thrown into the
form of imaginary stories to make them realistic and ensure their
preservation. "In this way, various dubious points of primitive morality
and politics were governed; and the stories which enshrine them stand to
primitive life in much the same relation as do collections of precedents
to modern lawyers, and dictionaries of cases of conscience to father
confessors." (p. 81)
But, as these aspects of such traditions as Lot and his daughters, Judah
and Tamar, &c., cannot be divined without interpretation, they should be
omitted from our children's Bibles.
My suggestion of an expurgated Bible, on which so many hard criticisms
have been passed, seemed to me innocent enough, since most sensible people
have been in the habit of expurgating the Bible for themselves in home
readings and in the readings in the churches. This is what Plato thought
of such stories in the sacred book of the Grecians:
"Whatever beautiful fable they may invent, we should select, and what is
not so, we should reject: and we are to prevail on nurses and mothers to
repeat to the children such fables as are selected, and fashion their
minds by fables * * * For though these things were true, yet I think they
should not be so readily told to the unwise and the young, but rather
concealed from them. As little ought we to describe in fables, the battles
of the giants and other many and various feuds, both of gods and heroes,
with their own kindred and relatives; but if we would persuade them that
never at all should one citizen hate another, and that it is not holy,
such things as these are rather to be told them in early childhood; and
the poets should be obliged to compose consistently with these views * * *
Young persons are not able to judge what is allegory and what is not, but
whatever opinions they receive at such an age are wont to be obliterated
with difficulty, and immovable. Hence one would think, we should of all
things endeavor, that what they should first hear be composed in the best
manner for exciting them to virtue."
"Republic," Book II.
 How then are we to know what words and deeds express the mind of God,
are words of the Lord, examples He presents for our imitation? By the mind
of God manifest in 'the express image of His person?' All morality and
religion is to be tried by 'the mind which was in Christ,' 'the spirit of
Christ which dwelleth in us.'
 In what is said above there la no positive denial intended of the Old
Testament miracles. We are in no position to deny them. The point is
simply that they are not bounden on us in any reasonable and reverent
recognition of a real historical revelation in the Old Testament, and need
trouble no one who cannot receive them. The miracles of Christ, when
reduced to the wonders reported by the conjoint testimony of the
synoptics,--_i.e._, to the common tradition of the early church, stand apart
from all other Scripture miracles; having a reasonable and natural
character as the powers of such a personality, and coming within the ken
of our visions of possibility. They are imaged In the well attested powers
of rare men. They appear as in no wise violations of law, but as the
manifestations of nature's laws and forces worked by the normal man,
having 'dominion' over the earth. "The wise soul expels disease."
 So judicious a commentator as Dean Alford, in his introduction to the
Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, discussing the vexed question of the
Daniel-like section in the third chapter, so wholly unlike Paul observes:
"If we have" (in any sense, God speaking in the Bible) "then, of all
passages, it is in these, which treat so confidently of futurity, that we
must recognize His voice; if we have it not in these passages, _then,
where are we to listen for it at all_?"--Greek Testament III:64.
 "History of American Socialisms,"--Noyes.--p. 608.
 "To understand that the language of the Bible is fluid, passing and
literary, not rigid, fixed and scientific, is the first step towards a
right understanding of the Bible."--_Literature and Dogma_.--p. xii.
 The revised version calls the attention of English readers to this
latter influence, in the marginal rendering of "_Tartarus_" for "Hell" in 2
Peter, 11: 4.
 Luther's strong sense detected his unevangelicalness.
 Ewald says the tenth century, and Kuenen the eighth century.
 Ask at Abel and at Dan whether the genuine old statutes of Israel
have lost their force?--2 Samuel, xx. 18. Restored by Ewald from the LXX.
 Such a late codification is no more inconceivable than Justinian's
codification of Roman law.
 Brook Foss Westcott. Smith's Bible Dictionary: article on Daniel.
 "The Bible of To-day," Chadwick, p. 50.
 Of this process we see hints in the various references to the
consecration of great trees and stones to Jehovah.
 The indications of this nature-worship lie scattered on the surface
of the Old Testament so plainly that no one can fail to notice them.
 "Among the Edomites, Ishmaelites, Ammonites and Moabites--the tribes
with which Israel felt itself most nearly related--the service of the
rigorous and destroying god was most prominent The very names for God
which are most common among them--Baal, El, Molech, Milcom, Chemosh--are
enough to show this. These names denote the mighty, violent, death-dealing
God." "The Religion of Israel," Knappert, p. 29. These names constantly
recur in the early history of Israel. Jephthah's vow is a familiar
instance of this abhorrent rite. Circumcision is supposed to mark a
merciful compromise with this blood-gift; in addition to its sanitary
 We know from general history how among other people the homage paid
to the productive powers of nature led to systematized prostitution, in
the name of the personification of this force of nature. Tradition records
how early in this period the Midianites seduced Israel temporarily from
Jehovah, by the licentious pleasures of their worship of Baal-Peor. Later
on in history we find that it is these impure rites that especially
provoke the anger of the prophets.
 The sun symbols may not have been permanent features of the
Temple-worship at this period, though, from the probable identification of
the early Jehovah with the sun, it seems likely that their presence there
was no casual fact.
 2 Kings, xxiii. 6, 7.
 Isaiah, i. 11-17.
 Micah, vi. 6-8.
 Isaiah, xi. 2-5.
 Isaiah, v. 8; iii. 14, 15.
 Cf. Exodus, xxiii, 10, 11 (the earliest code) with Deuteronomy, xv.
 The latter seems the probable influence of Persia. At all events,
from this time Hebrew literature shows the gradual development of an
 The comparison of the earlier prophetic writings with the exilic
prophecies, and with the later writings, such as Jonah, Ecclesiastes, &c.,
will illustrate this change.
 Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones is the earliest
appearance of this thought in any writing of whose date we are certain.
 And thou shalt-number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times
seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto
thee forty and nine years. Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the
jubilee to sound on the tenth _day_ of the seventh month, in the day of
atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. And ye
shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout _all_ the
land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and
ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every
man unto his family. A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye
shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather
_the grapes_ in it of the vine undressed. For it _is_ the jubilee; it
shall be holy unto you: ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the
field. In the year of this jubilee ye shall return every man unto his
possession. And if thou sell ought unto thy neighbor, or buyest _ought_ of
thy neighbor's hand, ye shall not oppress one another: According to the
number of years after the jubilee thou shalt buy of thy neighbor, _and_
according unto the number of years of the fruits he shall sell unto thee:
According to the multitude of years thou shalt increase the price thereof,
and according to the fewness of years thou shalt diminish the price of it:
for _according_ to the number _of the years_ of the fruits doth he sell
unto thee. Ye shall not therefore oppress one another; but thou shalt fear
thy God: for I _am_ the Lord your God.
* * * * *
The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land _is_ mine; for ye _are_
strangers and sojourners with me. And in all the land of your possession
ye shall grant a redemption for the land.
* * * * *
And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou
shalt relieve him: _yea, though he be_ a stranger, or a sojourner; that he
may live with thee. Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy
God; that thy brother may live with thee. Thou shalt not give him thy
money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase. I _am_ the Lord
your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, to give you
the land of Canaan, _and_ to be your God. And if thy brother _that
dwelleth_ by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not
compel him to serve as a bondservant: _But_ as an hired servant, _and_ as
a sojourner, he shall be with thee, _and_ shall serve thee unto the year
of jubilee: And _then_ shall he depart from thee, _both_ he and his
children with him, and shall return unto his own family, and unto the
possession of his fathers shall he return. For they _are_ my servants,
which I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as
bondmen. Thou shalt not rule over him with rigor; but shalt fear thy
God.--Leviticus xxv. 8 _et seq._
Fenton, "Early Hebrew Life," has, I think, given the clue through the
difficulties of the jubilee-year legislation. He traces the early communal
character of Hebrew society, its gradual break-up under the encroachments
of manorial lords, and the natural efforts of the people to regain their
communal rights. "But how remedy the evil? How restore to the communities
their old rights and privileges, without unduly trenching upon rights and
possessions that had since been acquired? The year of Jubilee is the
Hebrew solution of the problem," (p 71). It was a compromise; the old
seventh year communal right adjourned to seven times seven years, and
enlarged. Fenton quotes a curious survival, in the borough of
Newtown-upon-Ayr, of this very compromise between the old and the new
social systems--a Scottish Jubilee.
It is a queer sign of the disproportionate development of individual
religion in our current Christianity, that this social and economic
legislation should have been so spiritualized away as to leave no
consciousness of its original character in the minds of those who sing in
our prayer-meetings that "The year of Jubilee is come."
 The Dialogues of Plato: Jowett's edition, II. 106.
 Matthew Arnold in _Contemporary Review_, xxiv. 800; xxv. 508.
 The Friend: Essay x.
 Sacred Books of the East: I. ix. _et seq._
 Confessions of Augustine: Book X. Sec. vi.
 Exodus, xx. 31.
 Richard Hooker: Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book I., ch. xvi. Sec. 8.
 Le Page Renouf: Hibbert Lectures, 1879, p. 250.
 Hibbert Lectures, 1879, p. 279.
 God in Christ, p. 93.
Back to Full Books