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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Bible Teaching Old and New

by Mary L. G. Petrie, B.A.
(Author of "Clews to Holy Writ.")
Volume 4, 1893/94, pgs. 241-249


Our age, which has invented the word "Paedagogy" and made our elementary instruction compulsory for all, is preeminently an age of education. It reconsiders the subjects to be taught. German is challenging Greek, and type-writing and shorthand have thrust out time-honored calligraphy. It re-considers the methods of teaching all subjects. Pinnock's "Catechism of English Kings" yields to Green's "Short History of the English People," and "Mangnall's Questions" to the series of primers by eminent specialists lately issued by Messrs. Macmillan.

But among all books to be learned for ourselves, or taught to our children, one Book, the most important book in the world, still stands supreme. If we want evidence that men have not outgrown their need of the Bible and its teaching, we have only to study the results of that system of education which the religious impartiality of the British government has shaped in India. "We have diligently sown," says the Bishop of Lucknow, "logic, mathematics, and physiology, and there comes up, not the Marci Aurelii of our imagination, but the modern Baboo, conceited, selfish, too often sensual, and far from loyal." That the government is as well aware of this as Dr. Clifford is shown by the recent proposal to issue textbooks of Ethics and appoint professors of Morality. As a London graduate, I have naturally a great respect for Ethics, but I much doubt whether learning its somewhat arid generalities by rote would turn the average schoolboy, either Oriental or Occidental, into a good man. On the other hand, we have proof positive of the intellectual as well as of the spiritual and moral benefits of Christian and Biblical education in India. The Director of Public Instruction in the Madras Presidency says in his 1889-90 Report--"I have frequently drawn attention to the educational progress of the Native Christian community. In the Language Branch (B.A.), whilst the number of Brahmins examined decreased by eight percent, the number of native Christians increased by forty percent. There can be no question, if this opportunity pursues with steadiness, the present policy of its leaders, that in the course of a generation it will have secured a preponderating position in all the great professions." The Madras mail mentions that in the Higher Examination for women, native Christians head the list with sixty-eight, as against five from all other sections of the native community.

Have our methods of Bible teaching advanced in proportion to our advance in less important things? Formerly, there was a widely approved and widely adopted plan of setting chapters to be written out or committed to memory as an imposition for unlearned lessons or unruly conduct. Surely, human thoughtlessness and human perversity never devised a more effectual method of implanting a distaste for religion and religious books. But it can scarcely have advocates now, Mr. Ruskin, in his delightful "Praeterita" tells how his mother made him as a boy read the Scriptures aloud to her chapter after chapter, book after book, not passing over the most recondite arguments, the most minute statistics, or the most complex genealogies. It is easy for fin de siecle wisdom to decry such a plan, but whether we look at the matchless style or at the moral influence of the great author who describes it, we must acknowledge that in one instance at any rate it is vindicated. This does not prove that there is not a more excellent way, for which we may now seek.

Ere we can teach the Bible intelligently, we must learn it intelligently ourselves. No book has suffered more at the hands of its friends. The attempt to equate its words with cast-iron systems of human dogma, the dull literalism that insists on reading its loftiest flights of poetry into bald prose, the exaggerated mysticism that converts its plainest statements of historical facts into doctrinal allegory, taking the figurative literally, and the literal figuratively, have to answer for much unintelligent reverence for the Bible, and much no less unintelligent cavil at the Bible. God has made the Greek girl pretty, and it is still possible to perceive this, though, as a recent traveler tells us, she does her utmost to disguise the fact by rouging her cheeks, painting her eyebrows, gumming and distorting her hair, and swathing herself in ungraceful clothes. God has given us in the Bible a book of unique power over the heart and conscience, and this power ofttimes makes itself felt, even amidst misunderstandings that are almost grotesque.

Sermons have, for instance, been preached on Zec. xiii.6, that have drawn men into faith and penitence to the feet of the Crucified Saviour. But what justification is there for applying to Him the words by which a false prophet endeavors to explain away the cuttings on his hands which had been inflicted by an idolatrous fanaticism? (Comp. Jer. xlviii.37, I Kings xviii.28).

"Their faith's heart beats, though her head swims
Too giddily to guide her limbs,"

That is no real excuse for the avoidable ignorance of the faith and virtue that will not go on to knowledge, a kind of faith and virtue that were never more inadequate than in this critical age which sets an inordinate value upon mere intellectuality. "God has no need of our learning," said a shallow fellow once to the erudite South. "Much less has He need of your ignorance" was the pregnant reply.

It is not possible to study the Bible too diligently; but it is possible to pay it a spurious and exaggerated reverence. There was once a people who annotated and expounded every syllable of the Scriptures, venerated the very paper on which they were written, and held the name of Him concerning whom they spoke in such awe that it was never uttered, and we consequently mispronounce it hopelessly. To these Bibliolaters it was said. "Ye search the Scriptures, and ye will not come to Me that ye may have life." (John v.39,40, R.V.) And when He to whom these Scriptures bore witness appeared among them, they cried, "Away with this Man!" There was once an English author who wrote a book to prove that "the Bible and the Bible only is the religion of Protestants." Those who applaud this dictum do not always remember that William Chillingworth repudiated the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity. These things are surely for our admonition, lest we give to a book about God adoration due only to God Himself; lest instead of the reasonable homage of earnest study, we give it such worship as the Sikhs give to their Granth under its glass case, with its attendant priests to face of the flies; or as the Mohammedans give to their Koran whose texts they wear as charms.

Our sacred Book is not a series of mystic oracles Divinely dictated ages ago, uniform in texture and equal in importance, to be encrusted with incomprehensible dogma, and buttressed with crude theories of mechanical infallibility, and assertions unwarranted by its own language. "The Bible is authoritative for it is the voice of God (I quote Dr. Westcott); it is intelligible, for it is in the languages of man." The idea that inspiration acted on and not through men, that not only the delineation of God which could never have entered into the heart of man, but historical facts which might easily be ascertained by ordinary methods of enquiry and observation, were miraculously communicated to its authors, is a stumbling block and not a staff to the true explorer of its fair regions.

Let us first grasp the fact that the Bible is, as S. Jerome says, "a holy library," produced during a period of at least 1600 years and reflecting the individualities of at least 40 different authors, ad that this library consists mainly of the historical books, and must therefore be approached in the historical spirit. Too many are ready to say with good Mrs. Merrington, in "Mademoiselle Ixe," when Biblical sayings or doings are discussed, "I do not think it right to speak of Scripture characters as if they were living people like ourselves." They would reduce those immortal portraits of real men and women with their sins and weaknesses, their errors and struggles, their courage and goodness and godliness of definitely varying type, to church window effigies of saints in strained attitudes, with solid metal halos, and garments never worn anywhere for the business of life. They would bind up not only reverence for the Bible, but belief in the Christian faith, with approval of all deeds that are described and not actually condemned; and with acceptance of all the half-truths uttered by Job's friends in developing the leading thought of the magnificent poem of "Job," or by the Preacher in manifesting the insufficiency of all happiness and wisdom whose source is "under the sun."

The great fact that "men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Ghost" (2Pet. I.21, R.V.), is obscured rather than vindicated by argument for the Bible which refuses to see evident though very unimportant clerical errors in the copies we now have of their original MSS.; or to recognize that the process by which God made Himself known to men was a gradual and slow one; that His revelation came "in divers portions and in divers manners" (Heb. I.1, R.V.), that the divine light which shone upon the Patriarchs was very different in degree, though not in kind, from that which illumined the Apostles.

We can demonstrate that our Biblical MSS. contain fewer doubtful readings than those of other ancient authors; that as other sacred books contain anything approaching the Scriptural description of God--uncreated and eternal, invisible and incomprehensible, almighty and all holy--who deals with men in infinite wisdom and infinite love.

But the attempt to insist upon the infallibility of every syllable of the Bible as we have it now leads to hopeless and unprofitable effort to reconcile, say, 2 Kings xxiv.8, with 2 Chron. xxxvi.9, or 2 Sam. xv.7, with 1 Kings ii.11, and the attempt to show that the Old Testament reveals the mind and will of God as fully as the New not only contradicts such passages as Mark x.5, and Heb. vii.18,19, but tends to disparagement of the supreme excellence and the glory of the revelation which God made, when He "spake us into all truth!" Theories and interpretations that wider knowledge may discredit are no sure upholders of Holy Scripture. "How are we to defend the Bible?" Spurgeon was once asked. The great Nonconformist preacher, with a true spiritual insight and a shrewd common sense sometimes lacking in profounder theologians and more versatile scholars, answered, "How would you defend a lion? Open his cage and leave him to defend himself!" There is I fear a latent unbelief in the timorousness of some Christians about reading the Bible in a natural way, and in their box, denunciations of all Biblical criticism. To all, therefore, who have the privilege and responsibility of giving higher education in the Bible, I would say, put all possible pain and care into your own study of it, remembering that it is the one book of which we shall never be able to assert, "I have exhausted all its significance; I have fathomed all its meaning." Then strive to imbue your pupils with the idea that it is the most human and interesting of books. Get out the maps, physical and political of Palestine, and trace the masterly plan of the three campaigns by which Joshua subdued that country. Take them to the British Museum and show the cast of the Moabite Stone with the names of Jehovah, the God of Israel, and of Mesha, King of Moab, who rebelled against Jehoram, and the great winged bulls from Assyria, with their mysterious resemblance to the cherubim of Ezekiel's vision. Take them to the Museum of the "Sunday School Institute," 13, Serjeant's Inn, Fleet Street, and show them the tribute money with Caesar's image and superscription, and the model of the stone that was rolled away from the Holy Sepulchre. There are pictures of all these things, and of many others to show if you cannot show the things themselves. Then encourage them to put pen to paper in working out Bible questions that will impress its facts directly, and its lessons indirectly, but not less surely, on their minds and hearts. Beware of filling their mouths with theological phrases that are meaningless to them, and doctrinal exposition that is meat for adults and not milk for babes. Observe that our Lord gave teaching that transcends the highest thoughts of the wisest, in forms so simple and pictorial that the youngest and the humblest find profit and delight therein.

Teach them to form a habit of regular Bible reading. Here you would find real aid in the scheme of the Children's Scripture Union, founded fourteen years ago, and now followed by nearly half a million of young people in all parts of the world. Address, 13a, Warwick Lane, Paternoster Row, E.C.

In "Clews to Holy Writ," I have dealt so fully with the interest and importance of studying the Bible in its chronological order, that I will only add here that in historical as contrasted with mere textual Bible study, we have the best result of Higher Criticism, properly so called, and the best safe-guard against that lower criticism which ends in cavil because it concerns itself with the mint and anise of verbal ingenuities and specious theories, and omits the weightier matters of the law, the judgment, mercy, and faith, which are the substance of the Bible message.

It is sadly possible to revel in its literary beauty as the Jews did to whom Ezekiel's inspired warnings were but "the very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice (Eze. xxxiii.32); to accumulate stores of illustrative erudition until we can argue as learnedly upon minute points of the date and place and linguistic inflexion as could the Sanhedrin who crucified Christ, stoned S. Stephen, drove out S. Paul, and "pleased not God" (1Thes. Ii.15), and to "believe the prophets" in the sense of accepting a traditional dogma about them, as did the immortal and irreligious Agrippa II. (Acts xxvi.27).

I have pleaded for utmost use of all gifts of intelligence, and all culture and learning that we may appreciate the thoroughly human character of the Bible. "One must read the Bible in a human way, for it is a Book written through men for men," says Herder; "and it should be securely believed that the more humanly (in the best sense of the word) we read the Word of God, so much the nearer do we come to the purpose of its Author who created men after His likeness, and deals with us in human ways."

Thence we may best go on to appreciate that the Bible is essentially Divine also. "They bear witness of Me" said the Incarnate Word of God, who was in a sense, Human and Divine, and it was because they ignored this testimony that the Jews to whom He spake searched the Scriptures in vain. Onward to Him and upward to Him they point throughout, and as we trace the manifold and unquestionable witness to the Coming One in the Old Testament, and the fulfillment of Israel's hope in the New Testament, the hypothesis that the Bible is but a chance congeries of old literature that chronicles man's search after God and not God's revelation to man, falls under the weight of its own inherent improbability.

The greatest scholars of to-day have triumphantly proved that the Gospels are contemporary history, not late legend; but the strongest confirmation of their testimony to the Christ who lived on earth nearly two millenniums ago, is the fact that (to quote the well-known words of the great Napoleon) "at this moment millions would die for Jesus Christ," for Him who lives for ever in Heaven. Prayerful study of the Bible must lead us to Him, and when we know Him all difficult questions about the Bible fall into their true place. But if we will not have the Man to reign over us, the Bible will remain, in spite of all its literary beauty and all its historical interest, an unsolved riddle, and moreover a riddle about whose solution we care less and less.

"The sword of the Spirit which is the word of God has always proved the best weapon wherewith we may arm the young Christian for that conflict with the world, flesh, and the devil, which he will certainly have to face ere long. Of this proofs in abundance meet us, from the days of Apollos and Timothy to the present day, when the mission house at Burganda has been thronged before daybreak by a crowd of eager purchasers in competition for the newly arrived copies of S. Matthew's Gospel in Lunganda. The C.M.S. missionary who described this scene to me added that not a few have learned the Swahili language in order to read those parts of the Bible which are not yet translated in Luganda. One generation ago, the name of Christ had never been heard of in Buganda, a book had never been seen there: the burning enthusiasm of the Waganda for Bible study to-day, the changes it has already wrought in their lives, the changes it promises to work in their national institutions ere long, form one more tribute to the universal and perennial power of Holy Scripture.

The late Bishop of Massachusetts puts its place in higher education very forcibly where he says:--"My friends, students, scholars, men facing the world and eager for its work, do you read your Bible? Alas for you if you do not. Does it sound like an old dame's exhortation, full of nervous and unreasonalble panic? Does it sound like a priest's question with superstitions lurking in its darkness? I care not how it sounds. I ask you, as true men, "Do you read your Bible?" Not in the old ways perhaps; not to find a charm and magic which will keep you safe; not to equip yourselves with arguments to maintain your creed, but do you read your Bible so that out of the heart of it there comes to you the Divine Man who shows you what it is to live divinely? Who exalts character and service as the only true crowns of life? Who gives human energy its glory and splendour when He sets it to struggling for those crowns? It is because this Being, this Christ, with His superb claim of humanity for God, with His salvation of humanity upon the Cross, lives in that book and comes forth from it into the heart of every man who reads it with his heart, that one would rejoice to put the Bible into the hands of every man who goes out from the college to the world."