The Origin and Permanent Value of the Old Testament Part 15

[Sidenote: _Their effective methods of presenting truths_]

It is also astonishing how readily even a little child appreciates the essential lessons, as, for example, those regarding the nature and consequences of sin, presented by the story of the Garden of Eden. Under the charm of the attractive personalities that figure in them, and the stirring achievements, so dramatically presented that they command breathless attention, the early prophetic narrations unconsciously and, therefore, all the more effectively, instil into the mind of the child the most essential truths regarding God and life and duty. At the same time, as they study in order the deeds of the heroes and makers of Israel's history, they are becoming familiar with the real background of the earlier revelation recorded in the Old Testament.

[Sidenote: _The present position of these stories_]

Therefore scattered throughout Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, and the older sections of Ezra, Nehemiah, and I Maccabees, are to be found in rich profusion the material for the earliest years of Bible study. These should naturally be supplemented by the stories of the prophets, found in such books as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Haggai. Their sequel and culmination are the corresponding stories in the Gospels and Acts.

[Sidenote: _Study of the direct personal teachings of the Old Testament_]

In connection with the earliest study of the achievements of Israel's heroes and spiritual leaders, many of their greatest teachings would be appropriated and applied, but when the years of early adolescence are reached, the prophets in their sermons, the priests in their laws, the usages in their proverbs, and the psalmists in their psalms, each have certain personal messages, superbly adapted to the critical, formative years, when childhood begins to unfold into maturity. To make this material available, judicious selection and interpretation are required.

The organism of each book and of the child must both be carefully regarded to make the adjustment perfect. Naturally this most vital line of study would be the introduction to a corresponding study of the direct, personal teachings of Jesus and the apostles.

[Sidenote: _Study of the origin and growth of the Old Testament_]

This intensely practical work could profitably be preceded or followed by a study of the origin and growth of the different books and groups of Old Testament writings and the gradual stages whereby these Scriptures attained their present form and authority. The guides in this investigation should not be the Jewish rabbis or even the traditions of the Church Fathers. We have been misled too long by the pious guesses of the mediaeval saints; but rather the testimony of the Bible itself and the evidence of contemporary writings should be the guides. The spirit should also be frank and constructive. The results cannot fail to be practically helpful in a great variety of ways. Thus on the basis of facts, in the light of history, and by the use of those methods of research which alone command respect and acceptance in other kindred lines of investigation, the questions which come to every thoughtful boy and girl will be fairly and truly answered. In this way those experiences which are inevitable in this critical age will deepen and broaden rather than destroy the foundations of individual faith.

[Sidenote: _The historical method of approach_]

With this general introduction, many students and classes will find it profitable to approach the Old and New Testaments from the distinctively historical point of view. Beginning with the unfolding of the civilization and religion of ancient Babylonia, they will study in conjunction the history, the strong personalities, the literature, and the thought of each successive period. The advantages of this method of study are many. Each book will be read and its messages interpreted in the light of the conditions and forces that constitute its true background. The different characters will live again, and the significance of their work and words will be fully appreciated as they are viewed in the clear perspective of history.

[Sidenote: _Its practical aims and results_]

Above all, such a synthetic study of the unfolding of the supreme truths of revelation lays a foundation for the individual faith as broad as human experience. This is to attain one of the chief aims of all study, which is to put the individual into practical possession of all that is vital and best in the experiences and achievements of the past, that, thus equipped, he may go forth to fight the battle of life, valiantly and successfully.

[Sidenote: _Its natural sequel_]

This last course of study would call for several years, and, more than that, for enthusiasm, devotion, and real work. It would also take the student in time through the New Testament period, with its literature and commanding personalities and events, and perhaps beyond to the great epochs of Church history. Many would not stop until they had studied the latest chapter in Church history, the noble missionary activity and achievement of the past and present century.

[Sidenote: _Advances courses of study_]

When the Bible had thus been studied, the scholars in our schools would not be ready to graduate, but rather to enter upon that still deeper and more fundamental study which would mean an ultimate conquest of the broad field that it represents. Then it might be safe and profitable to adopt the topical method and study some one of the vital themes that are treated from many different points of view in the various parts of the Bible.

[Sidenote: _Study of Old Testament history_]

It will, however, probably be found easier and more natural next to take up in succeeding years the detailed study of the nine or ten great groups of writings which are found in the Bible. The natural and easiest method of approach to those of the Old Testament would be through a careful, constructive study of the history of the Israelitish race, perhaps beginning with the definite historical period of Saul and Samuel and concluding with the advent of Rome. Far better than any modern history of Israel is that marvellous history written by its own historians, which begins with the book of Samuel and ends with I Maccabees. Analyzed and arranged in their chronological order, these narratives tell the story with rare fascination and suggestiveness.

[Footnote: Volume II of the "Student's Old Testament": contains the narratives from Samuel through I Maccabees, thus arranged.]

[Sidenote: _Study of the prophecies and earlier narratives_]

On the basis of this detailed study of the historical background, the work and teachings of the prophets could next be traced in their true and chronological order. No Old Testament field is more neglected and none is more intensely interesting, when once the student understands the problems and aims of each great prophet. None has a more practical message for to-day, provided its supreme truths are interpreted into modern terms and conditions. After becoming intimately acquainted with the Hebrew prophets, it would be possible to go back and study with a new understanding and appreciation the early narratives which gather about the beginnings of Hebrew history. Then the intricate problems of the first eight books of the Bible would vanish in the light of a fuller knowledge. Above all, that which is essential and permanent would stand out in clear relief.

[Sidenote: _Study of the devotional literature_]

From the earliest fruits of prophetic activity it would then be profitable to turn to the later, represented by Lamentations and the Psalter. Here the best results require a classification of the different psalms according to their themes, so that their teachings can be studied systematically and as a whole. In this field of study the student comes very close to the heart of the Old Testament and the heart of the God who speaks through it.

[Sidenote: _Study of the wisdom literature_]

Less spiritual and yet intensely interesting and practical is the great department of the Old Testament known as the wisdom literature. _He that walketh with the wise shall be wise_ (Prov. xiii. 20) is as true to-day as when first uttered. This literature is a great mine of truth, almost entirely neglected by the Christian world. Systematic classification is the first requisite for the profitable study of the Proverbs and the later Wisdom of Ben Sira. From these the student may pass on to the fuller treatment of the omnipresent human problem, so sublimely presented in the book of Job, and to the many fundamental questions raised by Eccleslastes and the Wisdom of Solomon.

[Sidenote: _Study of the Old Testament laws and institutions_]

Last of all a year might well be spent in the study of the unfolding and concrete application and illustration of Israel's ethical and religious principles in the legal codes and institutions of the Old Testament.

Many of these have found a higher expression, some are but symbolic, but others still have permanent authority and value. Studied as a whole and on the basis of a logical classification, this little understood field would also cease to be a jungle, and Instead would yield its own practical spiritual fruits.



[Sidenote: _The practical realization of these possibilities_]

This very brief and fragmentary outline of methods and possibilities of Old Testament study is not an impossible dream. In colleges and in a few Bible schools it is already being tried with the gratifying results that might be anticipated. To put it at once into force in most of our Sunday-schools would be absolutely impracticable. It is presented simply as a suggestion of a definite and practical goal toward which to work.

With careful adjustment, these courses, adapted to different ages, could be arranged so that at least the intermediate grades in the Sunday-school would be studying in the same field at the same time. This plan provides for no graduation from the school of the Bible. It assumes that the Christian world is at last awakening to the real significance of religious education and to a recognition of the fact that the ultimate solution of our gravest national and social problems is to be found only in the inculcation of the true ethical ideals in the mind of the individual. It also assumes the fundamental principle that no worthy ends can be attained without real work, enthusiastic devotion, systematic methods, and above all a definite and worthy goal. It rests on the belief that the sense of gradual conquest and the attainment of practical results will alone inspire permanent devotion and evoke faithful work, and in the end prepare the individual scholar for the intelligent and loyal service of God.

[Sidenote: _The overwhelming responsibility of the Sunday-schools_]

Frank confessions are good for a cause as well as for the soul. We must admit that most of our Sunday-schools, with their vast resources in opportunity, in financial support, and in the devotion of the teachers and officers, do not permanently hold their scholars, and in the great majority of cases do not give them a thorough or systematic knowledge, even of the most vital teachings of the Bible. The ignorance of its literature and history on the part of even, the more intelligent students who enter college, is almost past belief, as many of us can testify from personal observation. The limitations in time and equipment of the Sunday-schools are undoubtedly great in comparison with those of the secular schools; and yet the responsibility now thrown upon the Bible schools is even greater than upon the latter. Parents have ceased to instruct their children in spelling and the multiplication-table because they have found that the teachers can do this better. Without justification, but by analogy and because they are themselves often unacquainted with the Bible, or uncertain regarding its interpretation, they are more and more leaving the religious education of their sons and daughters to the Church and the Sunday-school.

[Sidenote: _The transcendent importance of religious education_]

It is safe to say, and this without reservation, the most fundamental problem in England and America to-day is the problem of religious education, because this lies at the roots of all else--political, social, and theological. When the Christian world awakens to its profound significance, and when its ideals and methods are raised, even to a level with those of the public schools, the other grave problems will be near their solution. If the individual is thoroughly taught during the impressionable years of childhood and youth, the fundamental principles of ethics and religion, society and the state will have no difficulty in meeting their problems; but if not, these will perforce continue to remain unsolved.

[Sidenote: _Important that the Old Testament be taught in the public schools_]

It is a time for all earnest men of every denomination or creed to unite in meeting this need. In the Old Testament, Jew and Christian, Catholic and Protestant, stand on common ground. The modern inductive historical methods of study have prepared the way for union; for they aim to support no denominational interpretation, but simply to attain the truth. The last reasons, therefore, why the literature, history, geography, and ethical teachings of the Old Testament should not be taught in our public schools are rapidly disappearing, and the hundreds of reasons why any system of secular education is incomplete without it are coming to the front. With this fundamental basis of knowledge and instruction, the work of the Sunday-schools could also at once be placed on a far more effective plane. It is a consummation for which every intelligent citizen should earnestly work.

[Sidenote: _The task of the Church in the present century_]

The achievement of the last century was to complete the work of the Protestant Reformation and rediscover the Bible. The task of the present century is to instil its essential teachings, thus revealed, into the mind of the individual, so that they will become controlling factors in human life. Here lies the great responsibility and opportunity of the Christian Church. If it is to renew its hold on modern men, it will be through the mind as well as the heart, and its most efficient method will be--as it always has in reality been--religious education. Horace Bushnell proclaimed the watchword of the Church triumphant: "Christian culture."

[Sidenote: _The examples of the prophets and Jesus_]

His, however, was no new discovery. The Hebrew prophets, priests, and sages were not primarily preachers, but teachers. The prophetic messages which fell on deaf ears, instilled into the minds of a few humble disciples, in time won acceptance from the nation. Jesus himself was not so much the preacher as the Great Teacher. His earliest public preaching was but the net cast to catch the few faithful disciples. When these had been secured, he turned his back upon a popular preaching ministry, and devoted the best part of his brief public work to instructing a little group of disciples. History completely vindicates the wisdom of his method. Only by following closely on his footsteps can the Church hope to realize its true mission, especially in this age, when the heart and will must be reached through the mind. In this respect, it must also be confessed that the Catholic are far in advance of the Protestant churches and Sunday-schools, where the preaching still overshadows the teaching.

[Sidenote: _The call for a teaching ministry_]

To inspire and direct thorough religious instruction, carefully trained leaders are needed. The demand to-day is for a teaching as well as a preaching ministry, with an apostolic sense of a mission and a message.

Men with natural gifts and the most thorough preparation are wanted to raise the standards and to organize and transform, as they alone can, by personal contact, the teaching corps of our Sunday-schools into effective forces. Such men and women certainly can be found. It is a conviction, based on a wide experience, that many of the ablest students in our colleges and universities, who for many valid reasons do not feel the call to a preaching mission, would gladly and enthusiastically devote themselves to the work of religious instruction, could they be sure of a field, when their preparation was complete. Our universities and seminaries already have the facilities and could readily assume this important responsibility. As soon as our large city churches and the federated churches in our smaller towns, demand a teaching pastor as the permanent director of their Sunday-schools, and of the religious educational work under their charge, they will enter upon a new career of permanent conquest. The needs are undoubtedly great, the volunteers are at hand, thorough preparation can be assured; but the call must come from the Church, united and awake to its supreme opportunity and responsibility.

[Sidenote: _The antiquated methods of our Sunday-schools_]

It must also be confessed that our religious systems--if such they may be called--are still in the experimental stage. They are far inferior in every respect, except in the self-sacrificing devotion of the teachers and officers, to those of the secular schools. What is most vital to our national and individual life is most neglected. Instead of the latest and best pedagogical methods, the most antiquated largely prevail.

Saddest of all, the Bible which is being taught in the majority of our schools is the Bible of later Judaism and the Middle Ages, not the Book of Books which stands forth in the light of God's latest revelation, as a message of beauty and life to the present age. It is not strange that there is a growing distrust of the Sunday-school among many intelligent people, and an appalling apathy or distaste for Bible study in the mind of the rising generation.

[Sidenote: _The crying need for improved courses of study_]

If we shut our eyes to these facts, they will remain; but if we frankly face them, a decade of intelligent and devoted work will effect a great transformation. The first step is obviously along the line of improved courses and methods of study. Many different courses are at present in the field. All have their merits, and to those who have developed them highest praise and credit is due. Some have been prepared to meet immediate and practical needs, but ignore the larger unities and the historical background, and in general neglect the results of modern educational and biblical knowledge. Some have been worked out in the study and have a strong academic flavor, but do not meet the needs of the average scholar or teacher. Others are models of pedagogical perfection, but lack content. Progressive Sunday-schools are trying one system after another, and meantime the note of discontent is rapidly rising. The crisis is too serious to admit of personal rivalries or prejudices.

Chapter end

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