THE WONDER OF THE BOOK
"Thy testimonies are wonderful“ is the enthusiastic outburst of the 129th verse of the 119th Psalm. It has been echoed from soul to soul through the centuries, for the wonder of the Book grows on us as experience is enlarged. The more deeply we search it, the more we feel that the Bible is not merely a book, but The Book. Sir Walter Scott in his dying hour asked his son-in-law to read to him out of the Book. And when Lockhart asked him the question, “What Book?'" the great man replied, “There is only one Book, the Bible. Tn the whole world it is called ‘the Book.'" Yes. All other books are mere leaves, fragments. It alone is the perfect Book. It is the eternal Book. It is the Voice; all others are merely echoes. Of course, we all know that the Bible literally means the Book. It is a translation of the Greek title of the Bible, He Biblos; in English, the Book. In the Greek New Testament it is the first word of the first chapter of the first book, Biblos Geneseos, which almost might be rendered the Bible of Genesis, the Bible of the beginning, or origin, or source; a curious counterpart to the first words of the first chapter of the Old Testament. It is the Book that stands alone; unapproachable in grandeur; solitary in splendour; mysterious in ascendancy; as high above all other books as heaven above the earth, as the Son of God above the sons of men. Compare John 1:1-3; John3:31; John 17:17.
Now one of the first things about this book that evokes our wonder is the very fact of its existence. Anyone who has studied the history and origin of the Divine word must be overwhelmed with wonderment at the mysterious method of its formation. That it was ever a book, and is today the Book of the modern world, is really a literary miracle. Think of this. There never was any order given to any man to plan the Bible, nor was there any concerted plan on the part of the men who wrote, to write the Bible. The way in which the Bible gradually through the centuries grew, is one of the mysteries of time. Little by little, part by part, century after century, it came out in disconnected fragments and unrelated portions, written by various men without any intention, so far as we can tell, of anything like concerted arrangement. One man wrote one part in Syria, another man wrote another part in Arabia, a third man wrorte in Italy or Greece. Some writers wrote hundreds of years after or before the others, and the first part was written about fifteen hundred years before the man who wrote the law part was born. For the authorship of the books of the Bible ranges over a period ofnearly sixteen centuries.
Now take any other book you can think of on the spur of the moment and think how it came to be a book. In nine case out of ten a man determined to write a book. Then he thought out the thoughts. Then he collected the material. Then he wrote it, or dictated it. Then he had it copied and printed, and it was completed within say two or three months or years. The average book, we may suppose, takes from a year to ten years to produce. But geneally speaking, any book you can think of has been produced by one man within his own generation. Now, here us a Book that took at least 1500 years to write, and spanned sixty generations of this famous old world's history. It enlarges our conception of God, and it gives us new ideas of His infinite patience. We think of the wonder of His calm quiet waiting as He watched the strain, the haste, and the restlessness of man across the feverish years, while slowly and silently, the great Book
grew. Here a little and there a little of it came on; here a bit of history and there a bit of prophecy; here a poem and there a biography. At last in process of time, as silently as the House of the Lord of old(I kings 6:7) it came forth before a needy world in its finished completeness.
When Moses died there were only five small portions. When David sat upon the trone there were a few parchments more. One by one princes, priests and prophets laid on the growing pile their greater and smaller contributions, until in process of time thes whole of the Old Testament was written in its entirety, word for word, letter for letter, sentence for sentence, book for book, precisely as we have it now, intact and complete. But if the construction of the 39 books of the Old Testament is wonderful, the formaion of the 27 books is equally superhuman. For the New Testament is even a greater miracle from he literary standpoint than the Old Testament. The Jews, we know, were not a writing people. One hardly knows of a Jew who ever wrote a book, except Josephus, and we doubt very much if any man or woman could mention two. Their training was exclusively oral, and they had a disinclination for literary work. Everything in the national and spiritual position of the Apostles was unfavorale to the formation of a written record. To their Jewish minds the Old Testament admitted no rival, and seemed to require no supplement. That the New Testament should have ever been written by Jews is a moral wonder of overwhelming dignity. Not only so, but their Master was not a writer. Jesus never wrote a line as far as we know, and the idea of their writing an additional or supplementary Bible would never seem to have entered the mind of His disciples. They would doubtless have sprung back with horror at the very idea of such a thing, and for fifty years after Jesus was born there was probably not a line of the New Testament written. But then, by the mystic suggestion and overruling design of the Almighty Spirit, without any concerted collaboration or unity of plan, fragment by fragment, here a little letter, there a biography, the New Testament grew. But remember there was no prearrangement. It was not as if Matthew and Mark and Luke and John came togetehr in committee, and after solemn conference and seeking for the leading of the Spirit, Mattdhew undertook to write of Christ as the King, and Mark said, "I would like for my part to write of Him as a Worker," and Luke said, "And I think I will undertake to dilneate Him as a man;" and then John said, "Well, I will crown it all by writing of Hilm as the Son of God." It was not as if Paul met James one day, and after talkng and praying about it Paul agreed to write of the dogmatic and James of the practical specdts of Christianity. Nothing of the sort; there is no trace of such a thing. They simply wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit to meet some passing need, to express some earnest longing, to teach some glorious truth by letter, or a treatise, or a memoir. And so this composite of fragmentary memoirs and letters came into this miraculous unit that we call the New Testament. Yes, the book is marvellous; it is transcendental; it is altogether unexplainable. In one word, the very existence of the Bible is an overwhelmeing proof that the Book is not of man, but that it a production of Almgihty God.
Another wonder is its Unificaion. Another marvel is that it is one book, yet made up of manybooks. We talk of this Bible as a book, but we seldom think of it as a Library. Very few of us, save those who studied the matter, ever think of this book as a whole Library initself. It is a complete Library, consisting of sixty-six separate volumes, written by between thirty and forty different authors, in three different languages, upon totally different topics, and under extaordinarily different circumstances. One author wrote history, another biography, another about sanitary science and hygiene; one wrote on theology, another wrote poetry, another prophecy. Some of the authors wrote on philosophy and jurisprudence, others on genealogy and ethnology, and some on stories of adventure and travel of romantic interest. Why, if these sixty-six books were printed separately, in large sized print and heavy paper, and bound in morocco, they could all hardly stand on one table! And yet here we have them all, the whole sixty-six volumes, in a little book, that a child can carry in its little hand. And the strangest thing of all is, that though the subjects are so diverse and so difficult, the most difficult and abstruse of all conceivable subjects; though there was no possibility of anything like concerted action or transfer of literary responsibility; for it was impossible for the man who wrote the first pages to have had the slightest knowledge what the men would write about one thousand five hundred years after he was born, yet this miscellaneous collection of heterogeneous writings is not only unified by the binder in one book, but so unified by God the Author, that no one ever thinks of it today as anything else than One Book! And one Book it is, the miracle of all literary unity.
Another amazing wonder is the wonder of its youth. Again, it is a wonder that this Book is here to-day. I repeat; it is a wonder that we have the Bible at all when we think of its age. When we compare the Bible as a book with any other book in this respect it is a perfect wonder. I will tell you why. We all know that the greatest test of literature is time. Do you know of any book that is read by any one today to speak of, that was written one thousand years ago? Books that were the rage a few years ago are forgotten to-day. The fashion of this world passes away! Their force is spent. Their power is gone. They were literary skyrockets, but they are like the popular songs of forty or fifty years ago. The transientness of the great sales of the day is almost a sign of the times. Where is the book, after all, that is hundred years old and read by the masses nowadays. As we said, a book that is one thousand or two thousand, or three thousand years old is read by nobody. Horace and Homer may be studied by students of the classics, and school boys may have Virgil and Xenophon crammed into them, but whoever thinks of reading them? They are dead books in dead languages. Eor you can put it down for a certainty that the older a book is the smaller is its chance of surviving, or being read by people of diverse nationalities. And here is another thing. No book ever has much chance of being circulated widely among people from which it did not originate. No book for instance, written by a Spaniard has much chanc being read by Russians. German works are read by Germans; English works by Englishmen. What work do you know with a few great exceptions, such as that of Dante, Cervantes, Goethe, Dumas, Shakespeare, Tolstoi or Bunyan, that have been able to overleap the bounds of nationality. And as to Turkey, China, or Mexic Brazil, what man out of a hundred could tell whether they had any authors, or if they had name of one of their works. But the marvellous thing about the Bible is that it is the only book in the world that has not only oveleaped the barriar of time, and is possesed of n agelessness that is eternal youth; that it shows no sign of the decrepitude advancing years; it is the only book in the who world that has been able to overleap the barrier nationality. It was pointed out long ago by a noted scholar that all other Oriental books, be they ever so political, or be they ever so wise, in order that they be made intelligible and palatable to the Western mind, require to be transfused. Passage after passage has to be omitted, and large sections have to be modified. Curious is it not,that this Oriental Book, this Bible of ours, whether taken to Greenland, Madagascar, South Afrida Or India, is the Book that appeals to the mind and heart of those who hear it. O take the Koran. It is regarded with a reverence by the Moslem which few Christians pay even to their Bible. The whole of it is read daily in certain mosques by thirty relays of priests. There are some Mohammedan doctors who have read it 70,000 times, but how many Europeans or Americans have read the Koran? One writer said, "I must say, it is as toilsome reading as I ever undertook. There is in it unreadable masses of lumber, a wearisome confused jumble; endless iterations, long-windedness; entanglement; insupportable stupidity; in short, it is written, so far as writing goes, as badly as any bood ever was; in short, it is written, so far as writing goes, as badly as any book ever was” Or take the other so-called Bibles. The Veda the Hindus dates 1,000 B. C. The Zendavesta of Parsees dates 500 B. C. The Tripitaka of the Buddhists dates 500 B. C. The King or Confucian text of the Chinese dates 500 B. C. These have bee translated into at least one language beside their own, but their circulation has been so infinitesimal as to be unknown. As books they excite no general interest whatever. Now the Bible was written mainly in a dead language, for the Hebrew language is, technically speaking, a language that is scarcely spoken or written today; and yet that Book, written in a dead language, written by men who died two thousand or three thousand years ago, is not only living to-day, but it is the most widely-circulated book in the world.
The wonder of its circlation is another marvelous thing. The old Book is easily the best seller of the day. There are perhaps people who think that the Bible is a book of the past, and not sold now. Yet think of its circulation tody. An influential citizen of Toronto, who has devoted a vast amount of time and attention to the subject, has made the extraordinary computation that through the thirty Bible Societies (the British and Foreign Bible Society by itself publishes over l0,000,000 copies of the Scriptures a year), and the various publishing houses in many lands, that there are probably published today over 30,000,000 copies of the Bible a year. Here is a book that has been translated in over 900 languages, and is not only found in every great center of the world, but is read from the snow hut of the Eskimo, to the last lone village of the South Sea Islander. A remarkable thing about its sale is its purchase by the Yiddish ragman, the Polak axeman, the Chinese laundryman, the Arabian boatman, the Hottentot miner in order that they may learn their own tongue in that wonderful Book. You can quite understand then what a leading bookseller said when he was asked what book had the largest circulation. He did not mention a recent novel or the latest scientific work. He said that the book which outsells all the other books in the world was the book called the Bible. Other hooks compute their circulation by thousands; the Bible by millions.
Still another wonder of the Book is its Interest. Another marvellous thing about this book is that it is the only book in the world read by all classes and all sorts of people. You know very well that literary people rarely read a child's book, and children would not read books of philosophy and science even if they could. If a book is philosophical and scientific it commands the attention of literary people, and if it is a child's book it is read in the nursery. A wonderful thing it is to think that there is one book that differs from all others; a Book that is read to the little child and read by the old man as he trembles on the brink of the other world. Years ago I heard the nurse reading a story to my child, and I said to her, “What is it that you are reading to the little one?" “I am reading the story of Joseph in the Bible,” she answered. And the little child, in excitement, cried, “Please don't stop her, please,” as she listened with delighted interest to the reading of a book that was written in Hebrew probably three thousand five hundred years ago. And not far away from the room where the little child was listening, there sat one of the noblest of modern minds, one of the greatest of modem scientists, our foremost Canadian scholar, the great Sir William Dawson, President of McGill University, Montreal, reading with profound devotion and a higher delight the pages of that same marvellous Book. Here is a phenomenon. One of the ablest of modem scientists delights in the reading of a Book, which is the joy of a little child in the nursery! Verily it is without a parallel in literature. Our boys and girls read and study it in myriads of homes and Sunday schools, and great scholars like Newton, and Herschel, and Faraday and Brewster, and great statesmen like Gladstone and Lincoln and Lloyd George, and great soldiers like Gustavus Adolphus, and Gordon, and Stonewall Jackson, have taken this Book as the joy and the guide of their life.
In addition, I call your attention the Wonder of its Language. Another wonderful thing is that this Book was not written in Athens, the seat of learning in Greece, nor in Alexandria in Egypt. It was not written by men who received their inspiration from the ancient sources of wisdom. It was written by men who lived in Palestine, in Nazareth, in Galilee. Many of th writers were what we would call illiterate. Not only were they not university men, or scholars, or original thinkers, they could not speak their own language properly. There is a strong probability that neither John nor Peter could speak grammatically. You remember Peter was trapped because his dialect betrayed him. He spoke like a Galilean, with a provincial accent (Mat. 26:73; Acts 2:7; 4:13) Perhaps you remember the story of the man who was asked whether you should pronounce either, ithér, orither, or ether, and said, “other of ‘em will do.” Peter and John were uneducated men. It is probable that Peter at the time spoke the Aramaic dialect, and not only the words, but the pronunciation of the Northern province differed very strongly from the cultured dialect of Judea and th City of Jerusalem. There were certain letters such as the guttural Aleph for A, for instance, which they could not properly pronounce, and his mistakes even in short sentences would be at once detected. When it was said (Acts 4: 13) they perceived they were unlearned and ignorant men, it means that they recognizecd at once they were not what we call today's college men, men who had studied in the schools of Jewish culture. Now many of the men who wrote the Bible were of that character. One was a farm hand. Another was a shepherd. They were men of no literary reputation. And yet from men of that type educationally, has come a Book that God in His mysterious power has so divested of all provincialism that it has become the standard of the language of the most literary nations of the world. And not only so. It is a book that has gone to the North and South and East and West. It is the strongest factor in modern life today. And yet it is of the ancient world! It is the most potent factor in the influence of the great nations of the progressive West; and yet it proceeded from the narrowest and most conservative people of the unprogressive East. All its authors were Hebrews. And the Hebrews by instinct, education, tradition, and sentiment, were the narrowest of all narrow people. The Jew was not only narrow; he had no interest in other nations. You know what a time it took to get the idea into Peter's head that he ought to have an interest in the salvation of the Gentiles of the outside world. Only a miracle of special revelation did it (Acts 10:28; Gal. 2:11-14). How do you explain then the fact that these ignorant men, these most uncosmopolitan men, with all their provincialism and exclusiveness, were enabled to write a Book which has become not only the Book of the Jews, but the Book of all men, and The Book of the world today. It is for only one tongue, and that is, the world's. It is for universal man as man.”
It is the proud boast of the Church of Rome today that it has but one language, and that a dead language, the Latin. But the Bible Societies have a prouder boast. It is their boast that they have printed the Bible in over six hundred living languages; that they are giving the Living Word to every nation under heaven, that they may hear in their own own tongue the wonderful works of God. It is a wonder to think that an old Hebrew book, written by a lot of Jews, has in God's mystic Providence been so divested of all Orientalism and Judaism, and rabbinism, that the millions upon millions of boys and girls and men and women who read it never think of it as the writing of Hebrews or the language of an ancient and Oriental race. To them they are simply the words of their own dear mother-tongue. It is the English Bible; the best that our literature can give in simple noble prose. Huxley declared: “This Book, the Bible, has been woven into the life of all that is best and noblest in English history; it has become the national epic of Britain; t is written in the noblest and purest English.”It is a book for the whole world
One more wonder of he Bible is its creativeness. The creative power of the Bible is one of the wonders of history. For instance, take the history of literature. Could you name at random three creative works in the same class with Milton's “Paradise Los,t” Bunyons “Pilgrim's Progress,” and Dante's “Inferno,” whose grander springs as a tree from its roots, direct from the Bible? Think of the enormous volume of speeches, appeals and tracts, addresses, , circulars, books, leaflets and booklets that have poured out, and are pouring out millions upon millions flooding this mighty modern world every week, with their inspiration and suggestion. Think of the tremendous national and international movements that have owed their impulse to a verse or verses or words from the Bible. The tansformation of modern Europe was owing to the Bible. It is a liberating Book. It made slaves free, for it was the Bible that abolished slavery. It has made nations free. “Here,” was the word from Queen Victoria to an African prince as the Bible was handed to him, “Here is the secret of England's greatness.” Yes. And it is the secret of American greatness.
And now fo the last word. Let me say this one word more. O, do not think and do not say, as you have heard men say they think, that we ought to read this Book as we read any other book; we ought to study it and analyze it just as we do any textbok in literature and science. No, No! When you come to this book, come to it with awe. Read it with reverence. Regard it with a most sacred attention. "Take the shoes from your feet for the place whereon you stand is holy ground." Never, never compare this book in the terms of human comparison with other books. Comparison is dangerous. They are of earth. This is from heaven. And do not think and do not say that this Book only contains the words of God. It is the word of God.*
*This message is a reproduction of booklet written by Dyson Hague, Toronto Canada.
This little work came out originally in 1912. Although written at the beginning of the 20th century,it still continues to be relevent at the beginning of the 21st century and any century that may follow. I commend it to your reading and study.