Frank M. Goodchild, D. D.
Pastor, Central Baptist Church, New York City
“I accept the Bible unmutilated.” That was part of the statement I made thirty-two years ago to the council that examined me for ordination. Some who were present that afternoon did not like the statement. I am not sure that they would like it any better tonight. And yet I did not then, and I do not now, mean to make any insinuating suggestion. I simply meant to declare my absolute confidence in the oneness of the Holy Scriptures, and to intimate that any subtraction from them would be a mutilation of them. It was not an ill-considered statement when I made it at first, though I was then but a youth, fresh from college and theological seminary. And I make it again tonight after many years have furnished me ample opportunities for careful and profound consideration — opportunities that have not passed unused.
I am free to confess that during all these years I have felt no fear about the Book. I have enjoyed an unshakable conviction that it is God’s Book; that he is able to take care of it; and that he will take care of it. The people who have sat under my ministry know that I am not afraid of criticism of the Bible as such. The spirit of some critics, however, I have unsparingly condemned, and their dicta I have unhesitatingly repudiated. But criticism, so far as it means a careful, intelligent, honest, and scholarly study of the Scriptures, I have always welcomed. The Bible itself invites and common-sense approves it. The higher the claims a book makes for itself, and the more positive its demands for our obedience, the more searching our scrutiny of it should be. I have no use for a superstitious credulity that is determined to believe the Book, no matter what its contents. And I have no use, on the other hand, for the critic, who is determined not to believe the Book, no matter what its contents. The blind believer and the blind disbeliever are equally fools — both of them having cast reason to the winds. And I do not know but the man who professes to believe in the Bible, but denounces those who undertake to examine its contents and manifests fear for the results of an examination, does the Bible more harm than the worst critic of the Word can do. It is another case of our needing to have the Lord take care of our friends, while we ourselves are quite able to take care of our enemies. He does not believe in the Bible who hugs it to his bosom and runs off with it into the darkness of superstition and traditionalism, fearing to bring it to the light, lest its statements be disproved. But he believes in the Bible who confidently seeks to have all light possible shed upon it; who says, “The more light, the better,” and who feels that the more we study the Bible, the more we shall see what an infinite treasure we have in this Book of God.
Now, while I have not shut my ears against anything that scholarship has had to say about the Bible, and while I have done all that a busy pastor could do to keep up with the work of Biblical students at home and abroad, yet I am obliged to say, and I say it without any sense of shame whatever, that I have today pretty much the same Bible that my godly father gave me so many years ago. There are just as many books in my Bible as there were in his. The parables are all there; the miracles are unshattered; the history remains trustworthy; the requirements are just as high; the assurances are just as comforting; the promises are just as reliable. I find myself preaching from the Book pretty much as he did. And I make the bold claim today, that, in spite of the supposedly superior light of the present, he was as expert a student of the Word as are we. Not with grammar and lexicon. He did not know much about variant readings, or interpolations, or clay tablets, or the results of excavation. But he knew GOD as the men who walk the halls of Scripture knew him, and he knew how to make others acquainted with God.
It was the boast of Tertullian, the author of that fine saying, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” that every mechanic among the Christians of his day knew God, and could make him known to others, and it delighted Tertullian to set that fact in contrast with the ignorance about God of Thales, the Greek philosopher, just as Tertullian’s Master once said, “I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes.” Well, like those Christians of old, my father knew God and he believed his word implicitly. He did not know anything about the “Joseph-traditions” that modern scholars have guessed about, and when he told me the story of Joseph as I stood by his armchair one Sunday afternoon, he spoke as though it was all true. He did not know that Abraham was simply “a typical example of unworldly goodness elaborated by several schools of writers,” as Cheyne says. He thought Abraham was a real man, faithful enough to be called “the friend of God,” and when he told me the story of Abraham ordering his son Isaac as a sacrifice, I could fairly see the angel swoop down and arrest the uplifted hand. Of course he did not know anything about the story of the deluge being a myth which the Hebrews had borrowed from the Babylonians, and that it is “fundamentally a myth of Winter and the Sun-god.” He thought it was a true record of God’s wrath against a world that had given itself up to sin. And so one Sunday afternoon after a shower, when we took a walk together, he told me that there was once a terrific and prolonged downpour of rain, and that the waters prevailed over the earth and God’s enemies were destroyed, and only through the handful of people that were saved in an ark did humanity have another chance. And I remember walking by his side that afternoon, full of awe, as one who had seen the judgments of the Lord. And when every day that dear father of mine used to read from that Book and then fall on his knees and talk with God, every one of his children felt that God was a reality and that he was in that room with us. You will understand then, brethren, that having spent my childhood under the tuition of a man who knew God face to face, I feel much more obligation to him for showing me the Bible as a living book than to these scholars who, taking what Astruc called his “Conjectures,” have extended them and have acted as though they were certainties, and have merely shown how skilfully the wonderful Book can be dissected.
There is another way of knowing the Bible than by a critical study of the text or a scrutiny of its origins, and that is by the illumination of the Spirit. The Bible knows how to bear witness to itself. The divine qualities of the Book are intrinsic and self-authenticated, and are not dependent on anybody or anything outside for certification. We do not believe the Bible because of anybody’s attestation of it, but because of what it is in itself. It is not necessary for us to have the countersignature of Tübingen or Leipsic or Berlin or Oxford before we read the Divine Word. The Psalmist prayed, “Open THOU mine eyes, and I shall behold wondrous things out of thy law,” and to all appearances he did not pray in vain. The discouraged apostles after the great tragedy found in HIM who was dead but was now alive forevermore, the teacher they needed, and it is written, “Then opened HE their understandings that they might understand the Scriptures.” Grammar and lexicon and historical acumen are no doubt valuable in their places, but men may know the Bible well without them. And, on the other hand, men may feel that they know the source of every paragraph in the Book, and the historical setting of every incident recorded in it, and the biography of every word that is used, and yet altogether miss the inner meaning of the Book. It is as true today as ever it was, that some things are “revealed to us through the Spirit.” And I cannot escape the conviction that we get more from the Book if we approach it in sympathy and gratitude, than if we come with challenge and criticism. Scholars who are disposed to sneer at the average man’s attitude toward the Bible, should remember that it was to very plain men that Jesus Christ said, “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to them it is not given.”
Let me speak of the oneness of the Bible in its effects, its structure, and the personality it presents.
A man who had never seen a copy of the Bible, who should pick it up and look into it, would perceive at once that it is not like other books. It deals with wonderful things; it speaks in a wonderful way; there is a majesty in the words that makes them different from men’s words. There is an insight into our nature that makes us tremble, a perception of our needs that fills us with hope, a power to satisfy those needs that goes beyond our hopes. And these qualities so pervade this Book that there are many people who declare that they can open the Book at random and read, and they find the inspiration and comfort and counsel they need. And it is an undeniable fact that every part of the Bible has been instrumental in awakening men to a sense of their need, in relieving their consciences of the burden of guilt, in enlightening their minds as to what they ought to do, and in making their lives beautiful with goodness.
Archbishop Leighton has told us of a man who entered a church in Glasgow in his day, and heard the fifth chapter of Genesis read. You know that chapter is nothing but a list of the patriarchs, from Adam to Noah, and the number of years they lived. Did I say nothing but a list of names? No, for in that chapter we have the most marvelous biography of a good man ever written: “Enoch walked with God; and he was not; for God took him.” But it was not that verse that impressed the listener that day. Archbishop Leighton tells us that the man left the church that day a converted man, and that the thing that converted him was the constant repetition of that phrase, “And he died.” And Dr. Robert F. Horton, in alluding to this incident, says, “I believe you can show concerning every book, beginning at Genesis and going on to the very end, that each page has its trophies.” And then he tells of a French skeptic who was converted by studying for philological purposes that same fifth chapter of Genesis.
No one has a better chance to learn how the Book finds men out than the missionaries. And what testimony do the missionaries give us? Listen. Robert McAll says that one evening after giving an exposition of Scripture in the city of Lyons, a man came to him with tears running down his cheeks, and said: “Never have I heard the truth so proclaimed. My conscience answers to it.” That is the part that deserves special notice. “My conscience answers to it.”
Once, when Dr. John Chamberlain had read to the natives of an East Indian city the first chapter of the epistle to the Romans, an intelligent Brahmin said to him: “Sir, that chapter was written by one of you missionaries about us Hindus; it describes us so exactly.” But nobody disputes that that chapter was written by the apostle Paul eighteen hundred years before our missionaries went to India.
At another time a learned Chinese man was employed by some missionaries to translate the New Testament into Chinese. At first the work of translating had no apparent effect upon the scholarly Chinese man. But, after some time he became quite agitated and said, “What a wonderful book this is.” “Why so,” said the missionary. “Because,” said the Chinese man, “it tells me so exactly about myself. It knows all that is in me. The one who made this Book must be the one who made me.”
Dr. Robert F. Horton, from whom I have already quoted, seems to have made a specialty of preaching about the Bible, and he has made the startling declaration that, if any man will with unprejudiced mind read the Bible, it will surely bring him to God. He mentions the Moslems. They are particularly hard to move from their religious faith. But he says the only way a Moslem is ever brought to the faith of Christ is when he is induced to read the Bible. If you can once get a Mohammedan to read the Bible, his conversion is certain. He can resist preaching. Of course he can resist denunciation. All of us can do that. But he cannot resist the Bible. Doctor Horton gives an incident of an English officer in Kashmir who was a devout Christian man. He was shooting in the mountains of Kashmir, accompanied by his native servant, who was a Mohammedan. This Englishman was no more ashamed to be seen praying than was his Mohammedan servant. Every day he read his Bible and prayed in his tent. The servant observed it. He was not surprised at the praying, but was curious about the reading. He asked his master what he was reading. His master explained to him that it was the New Testament, and then he said, “If you would read it, I will get you a copy, but you must promise to read it.” The Mohammedan said he would. The English officer procured him a New Testament in his own language. The native read it, and before long came, asking to be baptized, and he became himself a herald of the Cross, and no longer a follower of the Crescent. Then Doctor Horton said: “This book left to itself, without note or comment, without explanation or criticism, left in the hands of any reader who is not hardened or prejudiced and determined to resist it, brings a man to God. You want no better proof of what a book is than that.”
Doctor Dale, of Birmingham, has told us in one of his books of a conversation he had with a Japanese gentleman of high intelligence and culture, who had accepted Christianity. The good doctor asked him by what arguments he had been convinced that Christianity was the true religion. He did not get the answer he expected. The thoughtful and learned man said that he had read no books of evidence, but he told how, in his heathen days, he had been a seeker after truth, and as he studied the cold system of Confucianism, he longed for the revelation of a personal God. At length, a New Testament came into his hands, and as he read it he seemed to be finding at every step just what he had been seeking. When he came to the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, he was fairly dazzled with the glory and truth, and felt that it must he divine. And when he read the Gospel of John, he became sure that Jesus was the Son of God. This seems always to be the result of an unprejudiced, open-minded reading of the Bible. It carries conviction to all who so read it that it comes from God, just as we know the light about us comes to us from the sun.
Now, when we find this Book so exactly adapted to all races of mankind — to the passionate Arabian, the sluggish Greenlander, the philosophic Greek, the lowborn Hottentot and the high-bred Chinese, the studious German and the polite Frenchman, the thoughtful Englishman, the enterprising American and the quick-witted Japanese — when we find it so well meeting the needs of all sorts and conditions of men, we must agree with the learned Chinese man that only the Creator of man could be the Creator of the Book. It is the one Book that appeals to all ages alike; it is the one Book that appeals to all classes alike. Old and young, wise and simple, learned and ignorant, all delight in it. A Canadian preacher has told us that he went into his own home one day and his little daughter cried out: “Oh, papa, nurse has been reading me such a beautiful story. Don’t stop us, please.” He found that the nurse had been reading the story of Joseph from the Bible. Soon after he went over to the home of Sir William Dawson, geologist and naturalist, and he found him poring with equal interest over the same story. The same Book for young and old, the rich and poor, the learned and the ignorant, the sorrowing and the rejoicing. This is no merely human book. It brings tears to eyes that have been pitiless, and wipes away tears from eyes that are overflowing. It arouses the careless, and it speaks peace to the penitent. There is no experience into which the human soul can come for which this Book has not an appropriate message. Surely we are right when we say that only He who knows man altogether could have made a Book that so exactly helps every man.
From the singularly uniform results that come from reading the pages of this Book we can easily infer that in all its parts it must have a singularly uniform character. And it has. It is a book marked by great diversity, to be sure. If some one who has never seen it before should pick it up and examine it, he would find that it is not a single book, but a whole library. Here are sixty-six books bound together. Some of them cover only a page or two, and you could read them through in a few minutes. Others are fair-sized books, and would take you many hours to read aright. These books were written by as many as forty different authors. These authors lived in different lands. They wrote in several different languages. They represent every social condition; they were kings, courtiers, shepherds, farmers, fishermen, a physician, and a publican; men of every degree of culture. Each author was evidently conscious of being free in the work he did: he developed his own theme, and used his own peculiar style of expression. These men wrote, some of them, as much as fifteen hundred years apart. There was no possibility of collusion. Indeed, they did not know that what they wrote was to be a part of a book, so thoroughly independent were they in their writing. And yet the result of their writings is not many books, but ONE Book — a Book so intensely one that we bind all its parts together and, following the example of John Chrysostom, we call it “The Book,” the Bible. And really that is one of the most marvelous things in the world. It is scarcely possible for any two men to report alike about anything they observe. It is as impossible to get men to think alike as it was for Charles the Fifth to get two clocks to tick alike in the famous experiment he made. Men differ about the simplest and most commonplace things. And yet we are confronted with this remarkable harmony of the Bible. Its authors, as we have seen, were men of the most diverse type. The literary forms in which they expressed themselves were very different — poetry and prose; the poetry, lyric and dramatic; the prose, history, philosophy, and prophecy. And the subjects on which they wrote were also those on which nature and their own thinking would give them the least light. And yet, in the whole fifteen hundred years of its composition, the aim of the Book was one, its principles were unchanged, its view of God and man remained the same, and all over the world, among the most varied peoples, the effect of reading any part of the Bible is always the same. There is nothing in the least like such unity anywhere else. It is unnatural. Men could not produce such unity if they set out to do it. They could only approach it. It is a unity so profound that it demands some explanation. What explanation shall we give? An illustration will set it forth.
You go some evening to a musicale. A symphony orchestra is before you. There are forty players, let us say. They are a varied lot of men; of very diverse temperaments; they come from very different homes, and they approach their work in very different moods. The instruments they play are very different: some are of strings, some are reed instruments made of wood, some are of brass, some are of skins stretched tight. Each man has his own strain to play, and these strains sound very different when heard separately. But when played together, the harmony is ravishing. Now, how do you account for the unity of effect? You are in no dilemma about that. You say one mind governs them all. One man wrote the symphony, and each of the players gets his directions from the one composer. We cannot think of such unity in result, such harmonious volume of sound, without thinking of one master mind as its cause.
My church built a new house of worship not long since. I often went to look at the men in their work of building. There was a small army of them. They were working on every part of the structure. They were very different men. The materials they worked with were very different. There was steel from Pennsylvania. There was limestone from Indiana. There was other stone from quarries at Germantown. There was wood from the forests of the Northwest. There was such a diversity of materials as forbids mention of the kinds. Each man went about his work without paying much heed to most of the other men. And yet out of all that confusion of movement, the structure daily grew into finer perfection of beauty and usefulness. And if, as I stood there, you had asked me for an explanation of such harmony of result, I should have pointed you to a man who now and then moved about among the workmen, stopping here and there to look, and then calling the attention of some of the men to a sheet that he had in his hands. That man was the superintending architect, and the sheet to which he referred was the detailed plan of the building, and that plan was the work of the one master mind that controlled everybody who did a stroke of work on that building.
So, of the marvelous harmony of the Bible. There is no reasonable explanation of the impressively harmonious work done by these forty or more men, unless we accept the statement that many of them made plainly and repeatedly, that they were inspired and controlled by one master mind, the mind of God himself. That is a sensible and a satisfactory explanation.
And the unity of the Bible is all the more remarkable when you remember that its teachings were often at variance with the notions that prevailed among the people with whom some of the authors lived. Men are usually profoundly affected by the ideas of their time. Environment is counted mightier than heredity today. Tennyson said, “I am a part of all I have met.” Ordinarily that is true of men. At the recent commencement of Crozer Seminary, Prof. B. C. Taylor, in retiring from the place as a teacher, which he has so honorably filled for more than forty years, said that he wished he could analyze himself and see just where each part of him came from. Often we can do something of that sort. We say of one trait, “That came from my grandfather.” Of another trait we say, “My father is responsible for that.” And we explain another by saying, “I had a friend, and I learned that of him.” And no doubt the Biblical writers betrayed many of their life relations by the ideas they express and the way they express them. Yet in the great thing for which God was using them, to reveal to men his own character; his abhorrence of sin; his grief over their fall, and the method by which they must be redeemed — in that one great thing the Bible writers are held absolutely true, and they always found themselves in instant revolt against the things that would in any way corrupt their thought.
Some have impressed it upon us that Moses learned much from the Egyptians, and that what the Jews have given us, they got from Babylonia, and Egypt, and Assyria. Stephen does indeed tell us that Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. But one of the main things Moses learned from the Egyptians was not to do as they did. No doubt in Egypt he was in the midst of the greatest civilization of his time, yet through what God had taught him, he found himself in revolt against it. Turn to the book of Genesis that carries the story of the race back to its beginning, and you will find there a view of things that is a flat contradiction of the notions that prevailed among the Egyptians and among the other nations that were neighbors to the Jews. Moses shows God creating the sun and moon and stars. Now you know that the sun and moon and stars were the gods of the nations round about the Jews. But, in Moses’ view, they were simply the creatures of God’s hand. The more you read that story and reflect upon it, the more marvelous it will seem to you. All through that first chapter of Genesis, Moses is demolishing the gods of the heathen. With almost every stroke of his pen a god goes. And, if you are familiar with the isms of today, and the prevailing false philosophies, you will find that that chapter demolishes them with equal effectiveness. And by the time any reader gets to the end of that chapter, instead of worshiping any creature, he finds himself bowing before the Creator of heaven and earth and all that in them is.
Turn to Leviticus. Many do not like the atmosphere of the book. It is full of blood. There are several good reasons for that, which it would be aside from my purpose tonight even to allude to. The book is so distasteful to some men who have no insight that they have called the priest of God in it a butcher, and the Lord’s altars have been sneered at as shambles. But think of what Moses is doing in that book. When he got his unorganized mass of people out into the wilderness, he had to teach them. How should he do it? Remember that they had come from a land where the bull was a god. The Egyptians worshiped cattle. The one time when the Israelites broke away from Moses they set up a calf as their god, showing that they had been profoundly influenced by their Egyptian life. But when Moses, the servant of the Lord, arranged his sacrifices, in what did those sacrifices consist? They were cattle — the gods of paganism. Every morning and evening in the worship of Jehovah the blood of an Egyptian god was poured out, and the flesh of an Egyptian god burned upon the altar. You see the point of it, surely. All the gods of the heathen are offered in sacrifice to Him who alone is God. And so in books that men have spoken slightingly of we find exalted testimony borne to the same great truths that are set forth in the other books of the Bible. And what I want to know is, where Moses got those ideas that are so different from the prevailing notions of his day and so in harmony with those of the other writers of the sacred Book.
And we have testimony from the Lord Jesus himself as to the unity of the Book. He says that the books are one in pointing to him. One great personality dominates the Bible. Does it sound a bit old-fashioned to say that each book of the Old Testament has Christ as its object and center? And yet our Lord himself says that. I know that there are many who do not believe it — and they are men who think they understand the Scriptures, too. But do not be troubled. They are no new species. In the Saviour’s own time there were two men who thought they knew the Scriptures, but they could not see Christ in them. And the Lord rebuked them for their blindness, and said, “O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets he expounded unto them the things concerning himself.” They had a Bible reading, conducted by the Lord himself, and his subject was “Christ in the Old Testament.” I should like to have been with them then. On another occasion he said of the Scriptures, “They are they which testify of me.” And on another occasion still he said, “All things must be fulfilled which are written in the law, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms concerning Me.” That covers all the divisions of the Old Book. It is a unit in its message concerning Christ. We can hear his lips saying, “In the volume of the Book it is written of me.” It is. He himself hath said it. If we are not able to see it, we should mourn over our blindness, and ask him to open our understanding. And he will do that. And our hearts will burn within us while he talks with us by the way, and opens unto us the Scriptures.
That the purpose of the New Testament is to present Christ to us, we do not need to have demonstrated to us. The purpose of the whole book John gives to us as he concludes his Gospel: “These things are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing, ye might have life through his name.”
I have but begun to speak. There are scores of signs of the Book’s mysterious unity to which I may not even allude. No matter how these books came together, they are one book. Whatever the principle of selection was, the result is such a volume that you cannot add to it profitably, and you cannot subtract from it without hurt. Men have tried to cast out certain books. But these books are there yet in the Book. Sit down and read them, and you will find they deserve to be there. To take them away would be like severing a limb from the body, or putting out an eye. It is a marvelous Book — one in its purpose, one in its structure, one in its saving effect on those who read it. Back of its historians, back of its prophets, back of its poets, back of its apostles, back of its seers who gave us their uplifting apocalyptic visions, there is one speaker, and that is the living God. The authors of the Book claimed to be the mouthpieces of the Almighty. Their work has proved itself to be God’s Word. Even the Lord Jesus places himself alongside the prophets who spoke before him, and the apostles who spoke after him. He says — you remember — “The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of myself, but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.” And again in his high-priestly prayer, he says: “I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them.” He never discriminated between the words he spoke and the words of the writers of these books.
It is a wonderful book! There is no other like it. Men have studied it microscopically. They have pulled it to pieces. They have tried to destroy it. But it has gone on ministering to the spiritual life of the centuries. It has shown a power to comfort and console, to strengthen and inspire men, to redeem men from sin, and to develop in them Christlike qualities, that sets it quite apart from the books that men have written. Wonderful Book! Its author is God, its subject is Christ, its object is the salvation of men, its end is eternity, its name is the Bible. Wonderful Book! Do you read it? Will you read it henceforth as never before? It will make you wise above your fellow men, wise unto salvation. Wonderful Book! No wonder men cling to it as worth more than life itself.
Let all the plans that men devise
Assault that book with treacherous art;
I’ll call them vanity and lies,
And bind that Bible to my heart.
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