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Study of the King James Bible Part 14

There are familiar reasons for it. For one thing, there has been a great increase of literature.

Once there was little to read, and that little became familiar. One would have been ashamed to pretend to culture and not to know such literature well. Now there is so much that one cannot know it all, and most men follow the line of least resistance. That line is not where great literature lies. Once the problem was how to get books enough for a family library. Now the problem is how to get library enough for the books.

Magazines, papers, volumes of all grades overflow.

"The Bible has been buried beneath a landslide of books." The result is that the greatest literary landmark of the English tongue threatens to become unknown, or else to be looked upon as of antiquarian rather than present worth. There our Puritan fathers had the advantage.

As President Faunce puts it: "For them the Bible was the norm and goal of all study. They had achieved the concentration of studies, and the Bible was the center. They learned to read that they might read the literature of Israel; their writing was heavy with noble Old Testament phrases; the names of Old Testament heroes they gave to their children; its words of immortal hope they inscribed on their tombstones; its Mosaic commonwealth they sought to realize in England and America; its decalogue was the foundation of their laws, and its prophecies were a light shining in a dark place. Such a unification of knowledge produced a unified character, simple, stalwart, invincible."

It is very different in our own day.

As so-called literature increases it robs great literature of its conspicuous outstanding character, and many men who pride themselves on the amount they read would do far better to read a thousandth part as much and let that smaller part be good.

Another reason for this decay of the influence of literary knowledge of the Bible is the shallowness of much of our thinking. If the Bible were needed for nothing else in present literary life, it would be needed for the deepening of literary currents. The vast flood of flotsam and jetsam which pours from the presses seldom floats on a deep current. It is surface matter for the most part. It does not take itself seriously, and it is quite impossible to take it seriously. It does not deal with great themes, or when it touches upon them it deals with them in a trifling way.

To men interested chiefly in literature of this kind the Bible cannot be of interest.

That is a passing condition, and out of it is certain to come here and there a masterpiece of literature. When it does appear, it will be found to reveal the same influences that have made great literature in the past, issuing more largely from the Bible than from any other book.

That is the main point of a bit of counsel which Professor Bowen used to give his Harvard students. To form a good English style, he told them, a student ought to keep near at hand a Bible, a volume of Shakespeare, and Bacon's essays. That group of books would enlarge the vocabulary, would supply a store of words, phrases, and, allusions, and save the necessity of ransacking a meager and hide-bound diction in order to make one's meaning plain. Coleridge in his Table-Talk adds that "intense study of the Bible will keep any writer from being VULGAR in point of style." So it may be urged that these times have and still need the literary influence of the Bible.

Add that the times have and still need its moral steadying. Every age seems to its own thoughtful people to lack moral steadiness, and they tend to compare it with other ages which look steadier. That is a virtually invariable opinion of such men. The comparison with other ages is generally fallacious, yet the fact is real for each age. Many things tend in this age to unsettle moral solidity. Some of them are peculiar to this time, others are not. But one of the great influences which the Bible is perpetually tending to counteract is stated in best terms in an experience of Henry M. Stanley.

It was on that journey to Africa when be found David Livingstone, under commission from one of the great newspapers. Naturally he had made up his load as light as possible. Of books he had none save the Bible; but wrapped about his bottles of medicine and other articles were many copies of newspapers. Stanley says that "strangest of all his experiences were the changes wrought in him by the reading of the Bible and those newspapers in melancholy Africa." He was frequently sick with African fever, and took up the Bible to while away his hours of recovery.

During the hours of health he read the newspapers.

"And thus, somehow or other, my views toward newspapers were entirely recast," while he held loyal to his profession as a newspaper man. This is the critical sentence in Stanley's telling of the story: "As seen in my loneliness, there was this difference between the Bible and the newspapers. The one reminded me that apart from God my life was but a bubble of air, and it made me remember my Creator; the other fostered arrogance and worldliness."[1]

There is no denying such an experience as that.

That is precisely the moral effect of the Bible as compared with the moral effect of the newspaper accounts of current life. Democracy should always be happy; but it must always be serious, morally steady. Anything that tends to give men light views of wrong, to make evil things humorous, to set out the ridiculous side of gross sins is perilous to democracy. It not only is injurious to personal morals; it is bound sooner or later to injure public morals. There is nothing that so persistently counteracts that tendency of current literature as does the Bible.

[1] Autobiography, p. 252.

From an ethical point of view, "the ethical content of Paul is quite as important for us as the system of Schopenhauer or Nietzsche. The organization of the New England town meeting is no more weighty for the American boy than the organization of the early Christian Church. John Adams and John Hancock and Abraham Lincoln are only the natural successors of the great Hebrew champions of liberty and righteousness who faced Pharoah and Ahab and put to flight armies of aliens." But aside from the definite ethical teaching of the Bible there is need for that strong impression of ethical values which it gives in the characters around which it has gathered. The conception of the Bible which makes it appear as a steady progression should add to its authority, not take from it. The development is not from error to truth, but from light to more light. It is sometimes said that the standards of morality of some parts of Scripture are not to be commended. But they are not the standards of morality of Scripture, but of their times. They are not taught in Scripture; they are only stated; and they are so stated that instantly a thoughtful man discovers that they are stated to be condemned. When did it become true that all that is told of a good man is to be approved? It is not pretended that Abraham did right always. David was confessedly wrong. They move much of the time in half-light, yet the sum total of the impression of their writings is inevitably and invariably for a more substantial morality. These times need the moral steadying of the Bible to make men, not creatures of the day arid not creatures of their whims, but creatures of all time and of fundamental laws.

Add the third fact, that our times have and still need the religious influence of the Bible.

No democracy can dispense with religious culture.

No book makes for religion as does the Bible. That is its chief purpose. No book can take its place; no influence can supplant it.

Max Muller made lifelong study of the Buddhist and other Indian books. He gave them to the English-speaking world. Yet he wrote to a friend of his impression of the immense superiority of the Bible in such terms that his friend replied: "Yes, you are right; how tremendously ahead of other sacred books is the Bible! The difference strikes one as almost unfairly great."[1] Writing in an India paper, The Kayestha Samachar, in August, 1902, a Hindu writer said: "I am not a Christian; but half an hour's study of the Bible will do more to remodel a man than a whole day spent in repeating the slokas of the Purinas or the mantras of the Rig-Veda." In the earlier chapters of the Koran Christians are frequently spoken of as "people of the Book." It is a suggestive phrase. If Christianity has any value for American life, then the Bible has just that value. Christianity is made by the Bible; it has never been vital nor nationally influential for good without the Bible.

[1] Speer, Light of the World, iv.

Sometimes, because of his strong words regarding the conflict between science and theology, the venerable American diplomat and educator, Dr. Andrew D. White, is thought of as a foe to religion. No one who reads his biography can have that impression half an hour. Near the close of it is a paragraph of singular insight and authority which fits just this connection: "It will, in my opinion, be a sad day for this or for any people when there shall have come in them an atrophy of the religious nature; when they shall have suppressed the need of communication, no matter how vague, with a supreme power in the universe; when the ties which bind men of similar modes of thought in the various religious organizations shall be dissolved; when men, instead of meeting their fellow-men in assemblages for public worship which give them a sense of brotherhood, shall lounge at home or in clubs; when men and women, instead of bringing themselves at stated periods into an atmosphere of prayer, praise, and aspiration, to hear the discussion of higher spiritual themes, to be stirred by appeals to their nobler nature in behalf of faith, hope, and charity, and to be moved by a closer realization of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, shall stay at home and give their thoughts to the Sunday papers, or to the conduct of their business, or to the languid search for some refuge from boredom."[1]

Those are wise, strong words, and they sustain to the full what has been urged, that these times still need the religious influence of the Bible.

[1] Autobiography, vol. ii, p. 570.

The influence of the Bible on the literary, moral, and religious life of the times is already apparent. But that influence needs to be constantly strengthened. There remains, therefore, to suggest some methods of giving the Bible increasing power. It should be recognized first and last that only thoughtful people will do it.

No help will come from careless people. Moreover, only people who believe in the common folk will do it. Those who are aristocrats in the sense that they do not believe that common people can be trusted will not concern themselves to increase the power of the Bible. But for those who are thoughtful and essentially democratic the duty is a very plain one. There are four great agencies which may well magnify the Bible and whose influence will bring the Bible into increasing power in national life.

First among these, of course, must be the Church. The accent which it will place on the Bible will naturally be on its religious value, though its moral value will take a close second place. It is essential for the Church to hold itself true to its religious foundations. Only men who have some position of leadership can realize the immense pressure that is on to-day to draw the Church into forms of activity and methods of service which are much to be commended, but which have to be constantly guarded lest they deprive it of power and concern in the things which are peculiar to its own life and which it and it alone can contribute to the public good. The Church needs to develop for itself far better methods of instruction in the Bible, so that it may as far as possible drill those who come under its influence in the knowledge of the Bible for its distinctive religious value. This is neither the time nor the place for a full statement of that responsibility. It is enough to see how the very logic of the life of the Church requires that it return with renewed energy to its magnifying and teaching of the Bible.

The second agency which may be called upon is the press. The accent of the press will be on the moral value of the Bible, the service which its teaching renders to the national and personal life. There seems to be a hopeful returning tendency to allusions to the Scripture in newspaper and magazine publications. It is rare to find among the higher-level newspapers an editorial page, where the most thoughtful writing appears, in which on any day there do not appear Scripture allusions or references. When that is seriously done, when Scripture is used for some other purpose than to point a jest, it helps to restore the Bible to its place in public thought. In recent years there has been a noticeable return of the greater magazines to consideration of the moral phases of the Scripture.

That has been inevitably connected with the development of a social sense which condemns men for their evil courses because of their damage to society. The Old Testament prophets are living their lives again in these days, and the more thoughtful men are being driven back to them for the great principles on which they may live safely.

The third agency which needs to magnify the Bible is the school. The accent which it will choose will naturally be the literary value of the Bible, though it will not overlook its moral value as well. Incidental references heretofore have suggested the importance of religion in a democracy. But there are none of the great branches of the teaching of the schools, public or private, which do not involve the Bible. It is impossible to teach history fairly and fully without a frank recognition of the influence of the Bible. Study the Reformation, the Puritan movement, the Pilgrim journeys, the whole of early American history! We can leave the Bible out only by trifling with the facts. Certainly literature cannot be taught without it. And if it is the purpose of the schools to develop character and moral life, then there is high authority for saying that the Bible ought to have place.

Forty years ago Mr. Huxley, in his essay on "The School Boards: What They Can Do, and What They May Do," laid a broad foundation for thinking at this point, and his words bear quoting at some length: "I have always been strongly in favor of secular education, in the sense of education without theology; but I must confess I have been no less seriously perplexed to know by what practical measures the religious feeling, which is the essential basis of conduct, was to be kept up, in the present utterly chaotic state of opinion on these matters, without the use of the Bible. The pagan moralists lack life and color, and even the noble stoic, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, is too high and refined for an ordinary child. Take the Bible as a whole; make the severest deductions which fair criticism can dictate for shortcomings and positive errors; eliminate, as a sensible lay teacher would do if left to himself, all that is not desirable for children to occupy themselves with; and there still remains in this old literature a vast residuum of moral beauty and grandeur. And then consider the great historical fact that, for three centuries, this Book has been woven into the life of all that is best and noblest in English history; that it has become the national epic of Britain, and is as familiar to noble and simple, from John-o'-Groat's House to Land's End, as Dante and Tasso once were to the Italians; that it is written in the noblest and purest English, and abounds in exquisite beauties of mere literary form; and, finally, that it forbids the veriest hind who never left his village to be ignorant of the existence of other countries and other civilizations, and of a great past, stretching back to the furthest limits of the oldest nations of the world. By the study of what other book could children be so much humanized and made to feel that each figure in that vast historical procession fills, like themselves, but a momentary space in the interval between two eternities; and earns the blessings or the curses of all time, according to its effort to do good and hate evil, even as they also are earning their payment for their work? On the whole, then, I am in favor of reading the Bible, with such grammatical, geographical, and historical explanations by a lay teacher as may be needful, with rigid exclusion of any further theological teaching than that contained in the Bible itself." Mr. Huxley is an Englishman, though, as Professor Moulton says, "We divide him between England and America." But Professor Moulton himself is very urgent in this same matter. If the classics of Greece and Rome are in the nature of ancestral literature, an equal position belongs to the literature of the Bible.

"If our intellect and imagination have been formed by Greece, have we not in similar fashion drawn our moral and emotional training from Hebrew thought?" It is one of the curiosities of our civilization that we are content to go for our liberal education to literatures which morally are at opposite poles from ourselves; literatures in which the most exalted tone is often an apotheosis of the sensuous, which degrade divinity, not only to the human level, but to the lowest level of humanity. "It is surely good that our youth during the formative period should have displayed to them, in a literary dress as brilliant as that of Greek literature, a people dominated by an utter passion for righteousness, a people whose ideas of purity, of infinite good, of universal order, of faith in the irresistible downfall of moral evil, moved to a poetic passion as fervid and speech as musical as when Sappho sang of love or Eschylus thundered his deep notes of destiny."[1]

[1] Literary Study of the Bible, passim.

But there is a leading American voice which will speak in that behalf, in President Nicholas Murray Butler, of Columbia University. In his address as President of the National Educational Association, President Butler makes strong plea for the reading of the Bible even in public schools.

"His reason had no connection with religion. It was based on altogether different ground. He regarded an acquaintance with the Bible as absolutely indispensable to the proper understanding of English literature." It is unfortunate in the extreme, he thought, that so many young men are growing up without that knowledge of the Bible which every one must have if he means to be capable of the greatest literary pleasure and appreciation of the literature of his own people. Not only the allusions, but the whole tone and bias of many English authors will become to one who is ignorant of the Bible most difficult and even impossible of comprehension.

The difficulties of calling public schools to this task appear at once. It would be monstrous if they should be sectarian or proselytizing.

But the Bible is not a sectarian Book.

It is the Book of greatest literature. It is the Book of mightiest morals. It is governing history.

It is affecting literature as nothing else has done. A thousand pities that any petty squabbling or differences of opinion should prevent the young people in the schools from realizing the grandeur and beauty of it!

But the final and most important agency.

which will magnify the influence of the Bible must necessarily be the home. It will gather up all its traits, religious, moral, and literary.

Here is the fundamental opportunity and the fundamental obligation. Robert Burns was right in finding the secret of Scotia's power in such scenes as those of "The Cottar's Saturday Night."

One can almost see Carlyle going back to his old home at Ecclefechan and standing outside to hear his old mother making a prayer in his behalf. A newspaper editorial of recent date says this decay of literary allusion is traceable in part to the gradual abandonment of family prayers. Answering President Butler, it is urged that it is not so important that the Bible be in the public schools as that it get back again into the homes. "Thorough acquaintance with the Bible is desirable; it should be fostered.

The person who will have to foster it, though,"

says this writer, "is not the teacher, but the parent. The parent is the person whom Dr.

Butler should try to convert." Well, while there may be differences about the school, there can be none about the place of the Bible in the home. It needs to be bound up with the earliest impressions and intertwined with those impressions as they deepen and extend.

So, by the Church, which will accent its religious value; by the press, which will accent its moral power; by the school, which will spread its literary influence; and by the home, which will realize all three and make it seem a vital concern from the beginning of life, the Bible will be put and held in the place of power to-day which it has had in the years that are gone, and will steadily gain greater power.

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