« PreviousContinue »
BIOGRAPHY OF THE BIBLE, truth of the Bible that formed its chief attraction. So great was the value which our fathers attached to the Bible, that its various books were commonly called, in the sixteenth century, “ The Library," (" Bibliotheca;") “no other works,” says D’Israeli, “ being deemed worthy to rank with them."**
Regarded, therefore, simply as a book that has influenced our race more than any other ; a book which, in one part of it, has been thought by competent judges to have afforded matter for the laws of Solon, and a foundation for the philosophy of Plato,f and has certainly moulded all modern philosophy and legislation; a book which has been illustrated by the labour of learning in all ages and countries, has been admired by inillions for its piety, its sublimity, its veracity ; a book, above all, which has “ God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter,"—few subjects can be more interesting than even a fragment of a biography of the Bible.
And this fragment—its history, in fact, in other lands and tongues than our own, it is now intended to supply.
What seems to be thus interesting as a question of curious and instructive history, is doubly so when the Bible is regarded in its influence on a large scale upon the progress of
• Curiosities of Literature.
ITS INFLUENCE ON RELIGION. 15 religion, of learning, of civilization, and of freedom.
The Bible has all the elements of a great book. Composed of different parts, it has but one theme, and that theme is kept in view from the beginning to the close. It contains the history of two dispensations ; but in the truths they illustrate and in the impressions they are adapted to produce, those dispensations are one. Throughout we have the same God and the same “ Mediator between God and men." Human nature is everywhere seen depraved and guilty, needing pardon and renewal. God is ever just and merciful ; and everywhere he is revealed as seeking man's salvation and holiness. “ The Old Testament,” as was long ago said, “is the New veiled ; and the New Testament is the Old unveiled.” In the first we have the revelation of the earthly type-in the second the revelation of the heavenly reality ; the one gives us the “ shadow of good things to come"—the other, in a great measure, the good things themselves. The Bible has one object, and its aim is the noblest that can occupy the hearts or thoughts of man.
Hence its influence in perpetuating and in reviving religion.
Without it, the tendency of man to corrupt everything pure, everything holy, has everywhere corrupted religion itself. Thus was it, for example, in the earliest times. Between the days of Adam and Abraham we have four generations. Adam must have known Methuselah, 16 BIOGRAPHY OF THE BIBLE. as Methuselah must have known Shem. When Shem died, Abrahain must have been about one hundred and fifty years of age. To that race God had given a primitive revelation ; and once, at least, within those four generations God renewed it. Adam knew his will, and Noah entered into a second covenant with him. Written revelation, however, there seems to have been none; that began with the law. Mark the result ; trice, at least, during this time was the knowluge of the true God all but extinguished, and twice did the world fall into the grossest wickedness and idolatry ; once before the flood, and again in the days of Terah and Abraham. That a written Bible would have saved them from this condition is too much to affirm ; but the absence of a Bible must have left freer scope to the downward progress of man in iniquity.
At the giving of the law, revelation was put into a permanent form. God himself, with his own finger, wrote the precepts of the Decalogue, and he commanded Moses to write other precepts in the “ book of the law.” No provision seems to have been made, however, for the public reading or private study of these documents, except after long intervals. Hence the Jews fell rapidly into the superstitions of other nations. For nearly a thousand years they remained in this condition. After the captivity, synagogues and copies of the Scriptures (now greatly enlarged) were multiplied throughout Judæa, and from that time idolatry was unknown among the Jews. With other sins they
ITS INFLUENCE ON RELIGION. 19 are chargeable, but from this sin they were preserved.
The history of the gospel and of modern missions confirms this view. Wherever religion, once known, has become extinct, there has either been no Bible, or the Bible, though translated in whole or in part, has been, from circumstances or from system, withheld. Once South America was, to a large extent, nominally converted to “ the faith ;” as was Japan. Now the people of both countries are sunk in the darkest heathenism. Those who visited them kept the Bible out of their hands. The light was put under a bushel by the very men who introduced it into the house, and now the light itself, such as it was, has perished. The lesson taught by these missions is obvious. A permanent, accessible record of religious truths seems essential to secure their permanent influence. David ascribes his wisdom and stedfastness to his study of the law; and the cure for apostasy, apostles tell us, is to give heed to the things we have been taught through their word and their epistles. Without such heed we shall let them slip, and must then sink again into a state of profounder degradation than the one we had left.
If the reader wish a fact of an opposite kind, he may turn to the history of Madagascar. There the disciples of Christ have been for piany years exposed to bitter persecution, but though there have been many martyrs, there bas not been one apostate ; with holy stedfast. 18
BIOGRAPHY OF THE BIBLE: ness have the converts adhered to the faith. The explanation we now find to be, that they had the Scriptures among them, and that, though the foreign missionary could not longer reach them, they found there the secret of their comfort and strength.
What is thus essential for the preservation of religion is no less required for its revival. Contrast, for example, the state of the Jews before the reformation by Josiah with their condition after it, the reformation itself being the fruit of the discovery and dissemination of the book of the law, (Zeph. iii. 1–7; 2 Kings xxii. 11 ; 2 Chron. xxxiv. 30–33 ;) or mark the effects of the study of the Scriptures in the case of the same people, as recorded in the eighth and thirteenth chapters of Nehemiah, and it will be seen that the habitual study of Divine truth, such study as only a written record allows, is under God the great instrument of religious improvement. Knowledge alone may change the opinions of men, but it is meditation that influences their principles, moulds their characters, and subdues their hearts.
The mightiest instrument of the Reformation in Europe was Luther's version of the Bible ; and the Reformation made but little progress comparatively till that work was completed. In our own country the progress of evangelical faith among the people was owing to the multiplication of the English Scriptures; no fewer than one hundred and three editions of the Old or New