by frederic w. farr, d. d.
PEOPLE are always asking, how shall I study the Bible? What is the best method? There is no short cut, no royal road, no magic method. Say to such an inquirer, “Read the Bible over and over again—not once, nor twice, nor thrice, but many, many times.” And that is all any one can do. Read it until you become familiar, cognizant of its contents, until you are so familiar with your Bible, be it Bagster or Oxford, that you can close your eyes and visualize the passage by locating it upon a particular page just where it belongs.
In riding upon a railroad train, you hear the trainmen call out the stations, and you refer to your time card to verify the call as each station is passed, and you wonder at the trained memory of the man who can repeat that long list of way stations without a mistake, and you ask him how he ever does it, and he smiles and replies that he has done it so long it is automatic, done without thought and without effort; and so the best product of Bible study becomes spontaneous and involuntary. You have read the Bible so frequently, so thoughtfully, so earnestly, so prayerfully that it comes to you without direct effort on your part where to locate a passage and you label it instinctively. And when the facts of Scripture are all in your head and heart, you can safely trust the Holy Spirit to interpret those facts, and you need not that any man teach you, and therefore the only thing to seek and to secure is to become familiar with the contents of the Word—thoroughly cognizant of all the facts of Scripture, and read them so often that you see them on the page where they occur, even with closed eyes. In that way, a man with one book, if that book be the Bible, has a large and liberal culture and an education that will serve manifold purposes in solving the problems and bearing the burdens and discharging the duties of daily life.
Christian workers must be taught and trained. To teach is to cause to know; to train is to cause to do; knowing and doing are related as a means to an end, as a cause and effect. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” Theory precedes practice. How could a man ever do anything unless he knows how it ought to be done? We not only have to be taught, we have to be trained. We must learn the theory, we must acquire the practice and knowledge as a means to an end. I shall briefly mention seven conditions under which Bible study may be prosecuted with success.
The first condition is indispensable and fundamental; indeed it is not so much a condition as a prerequisite, and that is regeneration. You must be born again before you can understand the Bible. It is absolutely necessary. (Matt. 13:11.) What Daniel says of prophecy is true of all Scriptures—“The wise shall understand, the wicked shall not.” He means that character rather than culture is the condition of understanding prophecy. If you would understand the prophecies of God’s Word correctly, it is not necessary to graduate at a University or Seminary, and read Greek and Hebrew, but it is necessary to be good, to be pure, to be holy. The heart makes the theologian. The heart is the organ of spiritual vision, and character rather than culture becomes the key to unlock the mysteries of prophecy. That is true of all Scripture. (1 Cor. 2:14.) Suppose a man is sitting beside you on yonder mountain top, and you are describing to him the glories of a sunset. The west is brilliant with prismatic hues of iridescent rainbow beauty. The man is indifferent, and unconcerned. You grow indignant until you discover that the man is blind. What cares he about the sunset? What knows he about your words? You do not scold him, you do not blame him, you pity him. No unregenerated man can know anything about the mysteries of God and the meaning of the Bible. A man must be a Christian before he can open the Bible with any possibility of arriving at its meaning. It is spiritually discerned. Suppose I say to you that on the back of your hand there are scales like those of a fish, and you look at your white hand and laugh in scorn, and say that is nonsense. Suppose I take you out in yonder street and look up into the sky and say there are four moons revolving around the planet Jupiter, and you look up at that great white planet in the evening sky, and you say the man is crazy, it is no such thing. Suppose I take your razor and say it has a corrugated edge like a cross-cut saw, and you hold the razor up to the light, and you say it is not so.
Put your hand under a microscope; it looks like the back of an alligator. Put the sharpest razor you ever saw under a miscroscopic lens; it looks like a circular saw. Put the telescope on Jupiter, and you see the four satellites in their appointed order. That former statement was foolishness to your natural eye, because it was miscroscopically discerned. That latter statement was foolishness to your natural eye, because it was telescopically discerned. The axioms of the Bible are foolishness to the natural mind because they are spiritually discerned. A man must be born of the Spirit before he knows what the Bible teaches.
Filled With the Holy Spirit
Second: A man must be baptized with the Holy Spirit as well as born of the Spirit to study the Bible successfully. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit. “If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of His,” and “by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body.” But there is something beyond. There is a reception and an appropriation of the Holy Spirit as a teacher and a guide and a helper that confers a marvelous benefit upon the believer. We have a mental salvation.
“Be renewed in the spirit of your minds.” We have talked so much about purifying the heart by faith that we have forgotten about clarifying the mind. It is quite as necessary to have a renewed mind as it is to have a clean heart. A clear head may be a product of the Holy Spirit as well as a clean heart. A man may testify to heart purity, and only God and the angels know anything about it, but if a man says anything about his clear head, as soon as he opens his mouth he gives himself away. The Holy Spirit is like oil to lubricate the mental machinery so that a man can think coherently, imagine vividly, remember retentively, argue logically. I believe that a Christian student in the public schools uniformly takes higher rank than a scholar who is not a Christian. I ask for an explanation of that fact, and you say a Christian has a higher motive. He has a conscientious inducement to apply himself and to be faithful, but that accounts for it only in part. A Christian has a mentality illuminated by the Holy Spirit.
Once upon a time a young College student went into a class in mathematics with a problem in Algebra unsolved. He had studied long and hard over that lesson but in vain. When he got into the class, as happens so frequently, the Professor sent him to the board to demonstrate that particular problem that he didn’t have. He was a Christian student. He didn’t relish standing up before the class and failing. It was humiliating. But he went right up to the blackboard and stood before it feeling very helpless and very much ashamed, and then as he stood there with his back to the class and his face to the board, he prayed, “O God, show me how to solve this problem.” In the twinkling of an eye the solution flashed into his mind, and he seized the crayon and dashed off the figures, to the applause of the whole class. That was a mental miracle. It was the Holy Spirit illuminating his mind in answer to prayer. If he had wasted the morning on the campus loitering or gossiping, as many students do, he might have gone there and stood with his face to the wall until night and prayed, and he wouldn’t have been answered. But he had grappled faithfully and honestly with that problem, and what he couldn’t do God did in answer to prayer. Now that comes from having the Holy Spirit as your mentality to stimulate you, to enlighten you and to help you, and our minds need saving quite as much as our souls and quite as much as our bodies, for our highest life is a mental life, and even our spiritual life comes under the scope of our mentality, and the Holy Spirit is our teacher to guide us into all truth, and even a believer can study better with the help of the Holy Spirit.
A Ravenous Appetite
In the third place, there must be a ravenous appetite for Bible study. “Thy words were found, and I did eat them.” “I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.” If you don’t love to study the Bible, you’d better postpone this course of study, but the appetite grows by what it feeds on, and if you haven’t any appetite, you need praying for. Sometimes a person is run down, and goes to a doctor. Before the doctor makes a diagnosis, he begins to quiz you. The first question is, how is your appetite? If you have no appetite, you need medicine. When a Christian has no appetite for God’s Word, it is a dangerous symptom. Remember what the Israelites said in the wilderness, “Our soul loatheth this light bread.” Light bread, indeed. It was angels’ food. If it was good enough for the angels, it ought to have been good enough for the Israelites. We remember the food of the Egyptians—cucumbers, melons, garlic, etc. Many people prefer novels or newspapers to the Bible—members of the church too. They have no appetite. To make any progress in Bible study, you must love the Bible. Unless you put your heart into the work, it is drudgery, and it never succeeds. The highest success is the spirit in which you do your work. God never says, “Well done, thou good and successful servant,” but “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Cultivate your appetite. A strong spiritual appetite is the greatest spiritual safeguard. “How sweet are Thy words unto my mouth, yea sweeter than honey to my lips.”
Fourth condition: Unflagging industry, hard work. “In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge.” Men don’t find golden nuggets lying around loose on the surface of the earth. They have to look for them, and the deeper they dig and the harder they work, the more precious treasure do they find. There are no rewards for laziness. There is no truth to be discovered save by the hardest work. Every chapter, every passage, every verse is a great mine, of which we only scratch the outer surface. The Word is infinite and inexhaustible. But this is the greatest need of all—hard work. The chief attraction of heaven lies suggested in the activities of the cherubim—they rest not day nor night. They work 24 hours a day. Isn’t that delightful? The time we sleep is wasted. We are unconscious. What a small sum of our time remains to do anything! One-third of our time is spent in bed, resting, another one-third feeding, grooming and nursing these bodies of our humiliation. What a pitiable fraction of time is left to do anything for God or man, and oh, how glorious it will be to keep on working 24 hours at a stretch! The student who works the hardest does the most and goes the farthest.
Fifth condition: Implicit obedience (John 7:17). Power goes with plan, obedience guarantees blessing. If you want spiritual power, you must discover the divine plan, conform to it and cooperate with it, but if you want spiritual blessing, be perfectly obedient to every divine suggestion and command, and blessedness shall be yours. Whenever we discover some new truth in Scripture, it has to be translated into conduct and incorporated into character. When a man gets his head crammed with knowledge, he is like a ship with all the cargo on the upper deck, a very dangerous and most unstable condition. It is liable at any moment to capsize and flounder. Truth must percolate from the head down into the heart. There must be the moral response and an attitude assumed that shall be correlated to the truth itself. If I draw back and refuse to obey the light that is given, God will give no further light until I live up to what I have and act upon the knowledge that is given. Many a case of spiritually arrested development may be explained by disobedience. I suppose nine-tenths of all intellectual difficulty has an ethical root and if men would do what they know to be right, their doubts would melt away in the doing.
Sixth: Humility—reverent humility. “If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing as he ought to know.” This is only another name for docility. This is the characteristic of an ideal disciple. Disciple is the word those who followed Jesus first received. Disciple means learner. They entered the school of faith and of life. The Latin word from which humility comes means near the ground. An old writer said, “There are two safe places in the universe, the heavens and the dust. Of these two, the dust is the safer place, for there have been those who fell out of heaven, but who ever heard of any one falling out of the dust? Where could he fall?” Be clothed with humility, a new style of dress goods, prices not gone up on account of the war. “God resisteth the proud and giveth grace unto the humble.” But alas! when the consciousness of humility goes into the heart, the grace of humility goes out. Life is for learning, and there is no privilege greater than going to school. Christ is the Teacher, and we graduate into the High School of heaven to sit at His feet throughout eternity. Gifted godly men can teach you much, but by and by on the heaven side bank of the river of death, you’ll sit down with Paul and Abraham and Noah and Enoch, and they’ll give you Bible teaching that is worth looking forward to. That is a post-graduate course that awaits us on the other side. Humility is necessary because it tends to self-depreciation. There is no dogmatism or bigotry so hard and bitter as that of ignorance. Lord Bason said, “A little learning tendeth to self-conceit, but much learning tendeth to humility.” The men who know most think they know the least, and the men who know the least think they know it all.
Socrates was declared to be the wisest man in Greece. He was asked, “What do you know?” “I don’t know anything.” “That is very strange. The oracle declared you to be the wisest man in all the world.” They went back to dispute the oracle. “Socrates declares he knows nothing.” The oracle replied, “Others know not that.”
Seventh and last: Ceaseless prayer. (Jer. 33:3.) “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and hidden things which thou knowest not.” Suppose you ponder long on a passage of Scripture, and the meaning is vague. What shall you do? Consult commentaries? Yes, but get down on your knees and pray. Say “Lord, what does this passage mean?” Then get up and study it some more. If it still baffles you, get down and pray about it some more and plead the promise. Open your Bible toJames 1:5, put your finger on this passage, and say “Lord, I plead this particular promise. I confess my lack of wisdom. O, Thou Spirit of Light and Truth, illumine me.” Then get up and go to work, and while you work and while you pray, light will filter in, and thought will come from God. Have you ever wondered where thought comes from? Is not the origin of thought as great a mystery as the origin of life? Who can explain it? We say life comes from God. Doesn’t thought come from God? You hold your mind against a problem, and keep it there. From the north and from the south and from the east and from the west ideas come like doves flocking to the window? Whence come they if not from God? Luther’s motto was, “To have prayed well is to have studied well.” The time you spend in prayer is an immense advantage, not a hindrance, not a handicap, but an indispensable help to the understanding of God’s Word. Consider the seven conditions under which Bible study may be pursued: Regeneration, baptism of the Holy Spirit, ravenous appetite, unflagging industry, implicit obedience, reverent humility, ceaseless prayer.