Project Canterbury


"The Bible"






Rector of St. Thomas's Protestant Episcopal Church






of Organized Bible Society Work in New York



Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2010

"Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." ROMANS 15:4

TODAY--this second Sunday in Advent by reason of the wording of the Collect and the reference in the Epistle to the Scriptures, is known as Bible Sunday. For whether or not you fully appreciate the fact, this Church of ours is a Bible Church. Selections from both the Old and New Testaments are read every time Morning and Evening Prayer are said. I suppose this is an outgrowth of old-time custom in the Jewish Church of reading first from the Books of the Law and then a selection from the Books of the Prophets. More than this, our Book of Common Prayer is almost entirely made up of words taken from Holy Writ; practically the only portions not taken bodily from the Bible being the Collects or Prayers. The attitude of the Church as a corporate body toward the Bible is tersely expressed in the 6th and 7th of the 39 Articles of Religion, which are as follows: "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not required of any man, that it should be believed as an Article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, Who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man . . . Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching ceremonies and rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the [3/4] Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called moral." The Church therefore rests her case so far as salvation is concerned not upon the traditions which have come out of the past, but upon the written word. If I seem to lay stress upon this phase of the question, it is because there is a tendency upon the part of some in the Church to cite tradition rather than the Scriptures as the authority for practices largely concerned with ritual which they hold up to be observed as of prime importance. Indeed there seem to be some instances where the proper observance of ritual is a rule laid down necessary to be observed if one would receive salvation.

The Bible is paramount as a guide and rule of life. It is the story of human men and women in their search after God. The story may not always be couched in scientific language; indeed there are cases where it is most crude; others where it is barbaric; others where it is distorted, and still others where it is alien to all our conceptions of Truth and the Natural law. And so we find ourselves puzzled by the books of the Bible in their complexity. We go to the Bible expecting to find infallibility and we find it exceedingly fallible. All because we seem more impressed with the external pattern than we are with the hidden spiritual thing which the pattern covers or which the pattern would suggest. I am going to quote to you Basil King out of his series of articles on "The Bible and Common Sense," which appeared a year or so ago, for he puts in more beautiful language than I am capable of using, the thought which I have in mind: on the forgetting to look within, or looking behind the pattern for the hidden spiritual thing, he says:--"there is the secret of most of the difficulties which beset the reader. He does not remember, or is unaware, [4/5] that this Word of God is a sword in a scabbard, a jewel in a shrine. The sword, not the scabbard, is the weapon; the jewel, not the shrine, is the thing of great price. And yet the shrine, the scabbard, the casket, so dominate the eye that one thinks of little else. Scholars, preachers, private readers spend most of their efforts on that. We look for the Bible's infallibility not on its spiritual message but in its outside husk. If the outside husk can be shown to have a crack in it, the essential truth is supposed to have a crack in it. For to the vast majority of Christians, and possibly of Jews, the outside husk is everything."

If one concerns himself solely and wholly with a literal reading of the Scriptures, and stops at that, he surely will find himself in difficulties, for the literal side of the Bible is difficult, requiring many kinds of knowledge, open to widely different interpretations! But if he will look back of and beyond the thing which he reads and seeks for the spiritual he will find that the spiritual is relatively easy and when seen it commends itself to us with an almost unanimous acceptance. Start if you will in the Garden of Eden, colored as the account of the tragedy in the Garden is with orientalism,--if you just read it as hurried reading, you may be annoyed with the childishness of it--the Tempter in the form of a snake and the expression of the Voice of God walking through the garden in the cool of the day. But if in reading, you mark the hidden thing and learn to place spiritual values where they belong, the story of the garden will unfold itself as a part of your own human experience, that you too, like Adam and Eve, endowed with a freedom of the will which permits you to choose your own course in life, have more than once made a false choice and for that choice were called to account by conscience. In essence it is one and the self-same thing. [5/6] Temptation to sin is the same slimy, sinuous sneaking proposition to-day as was the snake of the garden of Eden. Disobedience to the laws of nature which are the laws of God demand their penalty as much now as then. What matters it if the story does begin, "Once upon a time," if only the lesson necessary to be learned is there and we profit by the lesson?

Or, take the story of Abraham, who as Abram, went out from Ur of the Chaldees, (so recently brought to light by the archaeologist,) seeking God, though not knowing where his journey would take him. Is he not the counterpart of every man who torn and disturbed by the conditions which surround him, breaks through the ring of circumstances and conditions and seeks to find God? The Pilgrims, the Puritans, the followers of varied creeds who have blazed trails the whole world over, what are they but the followers of Abram in their search for a place where they might find God, and having found Him to worship and to serve Him? All the stories about such, some fanciful, others correct as to detail, are the outward husk covering the deep and hidden things,--the spiritual craving of souls for better things.

Or, take the Gospel stories of the Christ--some are puzzled by the account of His Birth, others by the miracles He performed, others by the seeming impossibility of His code of Ethics. I can sympathize with them in their difficulties. But friends, the miraculous birth, the miracles He performed, the seeming impossibility of His code of Ethics, due undoubtedly to the manner in which things were expressed then, so different from now, all these are the settings, the background of a picture; they help to make the picture, it is true; but they are not the picture; the picture is that of the Man Christ Jesus, in the presence of whose divine nature I bow in humble awe and adoration; the Man Christ Jesus who has revealed God to [6/7] Man as God was never revealed before and whose revelation is progressing in an ever increasing degree as men advance in an appreciation of all that God and Life mean.

Seek for the spiritual in the Bible and you will find it--God everywhere expressing Himself in the beings He has created. Seek for the spiritual as you seek for character in your friends. Your friend whoever he may be is not the clothes he wears, nor the physical beauty with which, or the lack of which, he may be marked. Your friend is the character--that hidden spiritual thing through which he expresses or projects himself to you. Upon this and this alone value depends. Do this in your handling of the Bible--seek the hidden thing and you will find God.

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