( Originally Published 1879 )
THE Bible is not only the revealer of the unknown God to man, but His grand interpreter as the God of nature. In revealing God, it has given us the key that unlocks the profoundest mysteries of creation, the clew by which to thread the labyrinth of the universe, the glass through which to look " from nature up to nature's God."
It is only when we stand and gaze upon nature, with the Bible in our hands, and its idea of God in our understandings, that nature is capable of rising to her highest majesty, and kindling in our souls the highest emotions of moral beauty and sublimity. Without the all-pervading spiritual God of the Bible in our thoughts, nature's sweetest music would lose its charm, the universe its highest significance and glory.
Go, and stand with your open Bible upon the Areopagus of Athens, where Paul stood so long ago ! In thoughtful silence, look around upon the site of all that ancient greatness; look upward to those still glorious skies of Greece, and what conceptions of wisdom and power will all those memorable scenes of nature and art convey to your mind, now, more than they did to an ancient worshiper of Jupiter or Apollo? They will tell of Him who made the worlds, "by whom, and through whom, and for whom, are all things." To you, that landscape of exceeding beauty, so rich in the monuments of departed genius, with its distant classic mountains, its deep blue sea, and its bright bending skies, will be telling a tale of glory the Grecian never learned; for it will speak to you no more of its thirty thousand petty contending deities, but of the one living and everlasting God.
Go, stand with David and Isaiah under the star-spangled canopy of the night; and, as you look away to the " range of planets, suns, and adamantine spheres wheeling unshaken through the void immense," take up the mighty questionings of inspiration!
Go, stand upon the heights at Niagara, and listen in awe-struck silence to that boldest, most earnest, and most eloquent of all nature's orators ! And what is Niagara, with its plunging waters and its mighty roar, but the oracle of God, the whisper of His voice who is revealed in the Bible as sitting above the water-floods forever!
Who can stand amid scenes like these, with the Bible in his hand, and `not feel that if there is a moral sublimity to be found on earth, it is in the Book of God, it is in the thought of God ? For what are all these outward, visible forms of grandeur but the expression and the utterance of that conception of Deity which the Bible has created in our minds, and which has now become the leading and largest thought of all civilized nations?
The oldest reliable history is that given by Moses: "And God said, Let there be light, and there was light." And on and down, for four thousand years, the sacred volume follows the fortunes of God's chosen people. And, incidentally, it gives us; at the same time, light on the contemporary nations of heathen-dom. See what it has done for science. True, it does not unfold to us the mysteries of geology, astronomy, or chemistry. And yet it does train the mind for its loftiest flights and its broadest explorations. "I have always found," said a patron of the National Institute at Washington, "in my scientific studies, that, when I could get the Bible to say anything on the subject, it afforded me a firm platform to stand upon, and another round in the ladder, by which I could safely ascend." It throws its beams into the temples of science and literature, no less than those of religion; and so prepares the way for man's advancement in philosophy, metaphysics, and the natural sciences, no less than in the realm of ethics; and, as it saves the soul, it exalts the intellect.
The Bible is adapted to every possible variety of taste, temperament, culture, and condition. It has strong reasoning for the intellectual ; it takes the calm and, contemplative to the well-balanced James, and the affectionate to the loving and beloved John. The pensive may read the tender lamentations and the funeral strains of Jeremiah. Let the sanguine commune with the graphic and creative Joel; and the plain and practical may go to the wise Ecclesiastes or the outspoken Peter. They who like brilliant apothegms, should study the book of Proverbs ; and the lover of pastoral and quiet delineations may dwell with the sweet singer of Israel, or the richly endowed Amos and Hosea. If you would take the wings of imagination, and leap from earth to heaven, or wander through eternity, then open the Revelation; and pour over and fill yourself with the glory of the New Jerusalem; and listen to the seven thunders; and gaze on the pearly gates and the golden streets of the heavenly city.
Not only is this book precious to the poor and unlearned; not only is it the counselor and confidence of the great middle class of society, both spiritually and mentally speaking; but the scholar and the sage, the intellectual monarchs of the race, bow to its authority. It has encountered the scorn of a Lucian, the mystic philosophy of a Porphyry, the heartless skepticism of a Hume, the lore of a Gibbon, the sneers of a Voltaire, the rude weapons of a Paine, and the subtle, many-sided neology of modern Germany. But none of these things have moved it. Nay, parallel with these attempts at its subjugation, and triumphant over them all, have advanced the noble works of such commanding intellects as Newton, Chalmers, Robert Hall, Bowditch, Channing, testifying that, to them, the Bible bore the stamp of a special revelation and the seal of the Eternal God.
To multitudes of our race this book is not only the foundation of their religious faith, but their daily practical guide. It has taken hold of the world as no other book ever did. Not only is it read in all Christian pulpits, but it enters every habitation from the palace to the cottage. It is the golden chain which' binds hearts together at the marriage altar; it contains the sacred formula for the baptismal rite. It blends itself with our daily conversation, and is the silver thread of all our best reading, giving its hue, more or less distinctly, to book, periodical, and daily paper. When the good mother parts with her dear boy, other volumes may be placed in his hands, but we are sure that, with tearful prayers, she will fold among his apparel a Bible. On the seas it goes with the mariner, as his spiritual chart and compass; and on the land it is to untold millions their pillar-cloud by day, their fire-column by night. In the closet and in the street, amid temptations and trials, this is man's most faithful attendant, and his strongest shield. It is our lamp through the dark valley; and the radiator of our best light from the solemn and unseen future. Stand before it as a mirror, and you will see there not only your good traits, but errors, follies, and sins, which you did not imagine were there until now. You desire to make constant improvement. Go then to the Bible. It not only shows the way of all progress, but it incites you, to go forward. It opens before you a path leading up and still upward, along which good angels will cheer you, and God himself will lend you a helping hand.
You may go to the statesman, who has filled the highest office in his country, and ask him whether his cup of joy has been full? As he stands by at the inauguration of his successor, his shaded brow will tell you nay. Ask the warrior, coming from the battlefield, ,his garments rolled in blood, Did the shouts of victory satiate his thirst for applause? Bid, any of the godless sons of literary fame, Frederic of Prussia, Byron, or Volney, give in their testimony; and they affirm, in one gloomy voice:
"We've drank every cup of joy, heard every trump Of fame ; drank early, deeply drank, drank draughts That common millions might have quenched ;—then died Of thirst, because there was no more to drink."
But never a human being went to the Bible, who did not find His words true: "But whosoever drinketh of the water I will give him, shall never thirst; for it shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." Like an ethereal principle of light and life, its blessed truths extend with electric force through all the avenues and elements of the home-existence, "giving music to language, elevation to thought, vitality to feeling, intensity to power, beauty and happiness."
It is a book for the mind, the heart, the conscience, the will and the life. It suits the palace and the cottage, the afflicted and the prosperous, the living and the dying. It is a comfort to "the house of mourning," and a check to "the house of feasting." It "giveth seed to the sower, and bread to the eater." It- is simple, yet grand; mysterious, vet plain; and though from God, it is, nevertheless, within the comprehension of a little child. You may send your children to school to study other books, from which they may be educated for this world; but in this divine book they study the science of the eternal world.
The family Bible has given to the Christian home that unmeasured superiority in all the dignities and decencies and enjoyments of life, over the home of the heathen. It has elevated woman, revealed her true mission, developed the true idea and sacredness of marriage and of the home-relationship; it has unfolded the holy mission of the mother, the responsibilities of the parent, and the blessings of the child. Take this book from the family, and it will degenerate into a mere conventionalism, marriage into a " social contract;" the spirit of mother will depart; natural affection will sink to mere brute fondness, and what we now call home would become a den of sullen selfishness and barbaric lust!
And in our own day, a throng of good and great men have venerated this book, and imbibed its spirit. John Quincy Adams, through a long life, made it his daily study; a neigbor of his once told me that, amid the most active portions of life, he always translated a few verses in his Hebrew Bible, the first thing in the morning. He read it when a boy; he clung to it through his manhood; and to his last day, he owed to it, not only his rare veneration for the Deity, but his love for freedom and humanity, and all his adamantine virtues. Jackson, Harrison and Clay were each stir. dents of the Bible. They lived gratefully by its light; and they died in the hope of its glory. "Though I walk through the dark valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; " these were among the last words that fell on the ear of the dying Webster. Sir Walter Scott, a few days before his death, asked his son-in-law to read to him. "What book," inquired Mr. Lock-hart, "would you like?" "Can you ask?" said Sir Walter, "there is but one." Verily, there is but one book to be read in our last hours.