Articles on God's Word

The Wonder of the Book

 by Dyson Hague; edited by Stephen Ross

"Thy testimonies are wonderful" is the enthusiastic proclamation of the 129th verse of the 119th Psalm which has been echoed by multitudes through the centuries. For 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 was right when he asked his son-in-law to read to him out of the Book, and in answer to the question, "What Book?" replied "There is only one Book, the Bible. In the whole world it is called 'The Book.'" Yes. It alone is the universal Book, the eternal Book, the Book for all time. The Bible is "the Book" of all books. It is the Book that stands alone; unapproachable in grandeur; solitary in splendor; mysterious in ascendancy; as high above all other books as heaven above earth, as the Son of God above the sons of men.

The Wonder of its Formation

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 method of its formation. That it ever was a book, and is today the Book of the modern world, is really a literary miracle. For 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 grew is one of the mysteries of all time. Little by little, century after century, it came out in fragments and unrelated portions (Heb. 1:1), written by various men, without any intention, so far as we can tell, of anything like concerted arrangement. One wrote a part in Arabia, another in Syria, a third in Greece or Italy; 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 last part was born, for this Book took at least fifteen hundred years to write, spanning a period of nearly sixteen centuries.

Now, take any other book and think how it arose. In nine cases out of ten a person determined to write a book, thought out the thoughts, collected the material, wrote it or dictated it, had it copied or printed, and it was completed within two or three or more months or years. The average book, we may suppose, takes from a year to ten years to produce, though a book like Gibbons' "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," or Tennyson's poems, took longer to complete. But, generally speaking, the average book you think of has been produced by one person within their own generation.

Now, here is a Book that took at least one thousand five hundred years to write, and spanned the span of sixty generations of this world’s history. It enlarges our conceptions of God; it gives us new ideas of His infinite patience, as we think of the wonder of His calm, quiet waiting as He watched the strain and the haste and the restlessness of man across the feverish years, as slowly and silently the great Book grew. Here a little and there a little; here a bit of history and there a bit of prophecy; here a poem and there a biography; here a letter, there a treatise; and at last in process of time, as silently as the house of the Lord of old (1 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 throne there were a few parchments more; one by one princes and priests and prophets added their greater and smaller contributions, until in process of time the 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 formation of the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament is wonderful, the formation of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament is a greater miracle. There was no prearrangement. It was not as if Matthew and Mark and Luke and John came together in committee, and after solemn conference and seeking of the leading of the Spirit, Matthew undertook to write of Christ as the King, and Mark agreed to write of Him as the Servant, Luke undertaking to write of Jesus as the Man, and John to write of Him as the Son of God. It was not as if Paul met James one day, and after talking and praying about it, Paul agreed to write of the doctrinal, and James of the practical aspects 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 present need, to express some earnest longing, to teach some glorious truth, by a letter, or a treatise, or a memoir; and so this composite of memoirs and letters came into this miraculous unit that we call the New Testament. If the books combined to form a perfect whole, then this completeness is due, not to any conscious cooperation of the writers, but in the will of Him by whose power they wrote and wrought. The very existence of the Bible is an overwhelming proof that the Book is not of man, but of God.

The Wonder of its Unification

Another marvel is that it is one Book, yet made up of many books. We talk of the Bible as a Book and seldom think of it as a Library, yet in fact it is. The Bible is a Library consisting of sixty-six separate volumes, written by about forty different authors, in three different languages, upon totally different topics and under extraordinarily different circumstances. One author wrote history, another biography, one wrote on theology, another wrote poetry, another prophecy; others on philosophy, jurisprudence, genealogy, ethnology, and narratives of adventure and travel. Here in the Bible we have them all in a little Book that a child can carry in its little hand. And the strangest thing of all is that, although their subjects are so diverse and so difficult, although it was impossible for the man who wrote the first pages to have had the slightest knowledge what the men would write about 1500 years after he was born; yet this collection of writings is not only unified by 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.

The Wonder of its Age and Circulation

Again, it is a wonder that the Book is here today. It is a wonder that we have a 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. Books that were the rage a few years ago are forgotten today, "for the fashion of this world passeth away." 1 Corinthians 7:31 Where is the book that is five hundred years old and read by the masses nowadays, for, 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 thrashed into them, but whoever thinks of reading them? They are dead books in dead languages. 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. Also, no book has ever had much chance of being circulated widely amongst a people from which it did not originate. No book, for instance, written by a Spaniard has much chance of being read by Germans. German works are read by Germans; English works by Englishmen.

What book do you know of, with a few great exceptions, such as that of Dante, Cervantes, Goethe, Dumas, Shakespeare, Tolstoy or Bunyan, that has been able to overleap the bounds of nationality? But the marvelous thing about the Bible is, that it is the only book in the world that has not only overleaped the barrier of time, but it is the only book in the whole world that has been able to overleap the barrier of nationality. It was written largely in a dead language, for the Hebrew language is 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 today but it is the most widely-circulated book in the world.

The Wonder of its Interest

Another marvelous thing about this Book is that it is the only book in the world read by all classes and all sorts of people. 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 and five hundred years before. 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 modern scientists, our foremost Canadian scholar, the great Sir William Dawson, President of McGill College, Montreal, reading with profound devotion and a higher delight the pages of that same marvelous Book. Here is a phenomenon—one of the ablest of modern 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 great soldiers like Gustavus Adolphus, and Gordon, and Stonewall Jackson, have taken this book as the joy and the guide of their life.

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 the 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. (Matt. 26:73; Acts 2:7) And he and John were described as "ignorant and unlearned men" (Acts 4:13). And many of the men who wrote the Bible were men of that character. One was a farm hand, another a shepherd, others were fishermen. They were men of no literary reputation, yet by the mysterious power of God, the Book has become the standard of 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 West, and yet it proceeded from the narrowest and most conservative people of the East.

It is truly a miracle. It is a wonder to think that an old Hebrew book, written by a lot of Jews, has in God’s 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. And yet, wonderful to think of, the German never thinks of it in any other way. To him it is the German Bible.

The Wonder of its Preservation

Another wonderful thing about the Bible is that it has withstood ages of ferocious and incessant persecution. Century after century men have tried to burn it and to bury it. Crusade after Crusade has been organized to extirpate it. Kings of the earth set themselves, and rulers of the church took counsel together to destroy it from off the face of the earth. Diocletian, the Roman Emperor, in 303, inaugurated the most terrific onslaught that the world has known upon a book. Almost every Bible was destroyed, myriads of Christians perished, and a column of triumph was erected over an exterminated Bible with the inscription: "Extincto nomine Christianorum" (The name of the Christians has been extinguished). And yet, not many years after, the Bible came forth, as Noah from the ark, to repeople the earth, and in the year 325, Constantine enthroned the Bible as the Infallible Judge of Truth in the first General Council of the Church held in that year.

Then followed the prolonged persecution of medievalism and the Church of Rome denied the Scriptures to the people. The Church of Rome never trusted the people with the Bible. For ages it was practically an unknown book. Martin Luther was a grown man when he said that he had never seen a Bible in his life. No jailer ever kept a prisoner closer than the Church of Rome has kept the Bible from the people. In consequence of Edicts of Councils, and bans and bulls of Popes, Bibles were burned, and Bible readers sent by the Inquisition to rack and flame. Many of us have seen the very spot in old London where baskets full of English Testaments were burned with great display by the order of Rome.

Yet perhaps the worst persecution of all has been during the last two centuries, with rationalism and modernism seeking to undermine the authority, inspiration and infallibility of God's Word. It was Voltaire's boast that within 100 years of his death, not a Bible would be found except as an antiquarian curiosity. Yet many more than 100 years have passed, and other pens and other voices have joined in the attack, but the Bible stands and is more widely distributed and used than ever before.

Before closing I would like to briefly refer to certain other things that are what I consider the crowning wonders of this wonderful Book.

The Wonder That the Bible is Self-authenticating

You need no historical critic or university professor to prove that the Bible is God's own Word. The Holy Ghost alone is the Author and Giver of that conviction. If you will but hear His voice you will be assured beyond all possibility of argument that this book is God's own Word. Men have come and still come to unsettle and destroy. The Spirit of Christ comes to validate and confirm with a Divine conviction and a Divine certainty that is incommunicable by mere reason, and is impervious to the assaults of doubt. You have perhaps heard Spurgeon's story of the poor woman who was confronted by a modern agnostic, and asked: "What are you reading?" "I am reading the Word of God." "The Word of God? Who told you that?" "He told me so Himself." "Told you so? Why, how can you prove that?" Looking skyward, the poor soul said: "Can you prove to me that there is a sun up in the sky?"

"Why, of course; the best proof is that it warms me, and I can see its light." "That's it!" was her joyous reply. "The best proof that this Book is the Word of God is that it warms and lights my soul." You cannot explain this. But it is a fact deep and real.

The Wonder of its Inexhaustibility

Another wonder of the Bible is its inexhaustibility. It is like a seed. You can tell how many acorns are on an oak, but you cannot tell how many oaks are in an acorn. The tree that grows from a seed produces in turn the seeds of other trees; each tree contains a thousand seeds; each seed the germ of a thousand trees. Its depth is infinite; its height is infinite. Millions of readers and writers, age after age, have dug in this unfathomable mine, and its depths are still unexhausted. Age after age it has generated, with ever-increasing creative power, ideas and plans, and schemes, and themes, and books. The greatest minds have been its expositors. Myriads of students have studied it daily, and its readers from day to day can be numbered by millions. The volumes that have been written on single chapters or even verses would fill the shelves of many a library, and today they are as fresh, as fertile, as inexhaustible, as the day they were first written. The treasures yet to be found are as the stars of the sky in infinity of multitude.

The Wonder of its Non-improvableness

Another wonder is its non-improvableness. We do not gild gold, nor do we paint rubies. We cannot brighten diamonds. And no artist can add any final touch to the finished Word of God. This present, proud-pinnacled-world can add nothing to it. It stands as the sun in the sky. It has the glory of God and any attempt to improve it can but disfigure it.

The Wonder of its Authoritativeness

The irresistible authoritativeness of the Bible is another wonder. It breaks upon you as a Voice from heaven. Five hundred times in the Pentateuch it prefaces or concludes its declarations with the sublime assertions, "The Lord said," or "The Lord spake"! Three hundred times again in the following books it does the same, and in the prophetical, twelve hundred times with such expressions as "Hear the Word of the Lord," or, "Thus saith the Lord." No other book dares thus to address itself to the universal conscience. No other speaks with such binding claim, or presumes to command the obedience of mankind. The Book speaks to the inner conscience with the authority of God Himself. Therefore we receive it. Therefore we trust it. And we find it true.

The Wonder of its Inspiration and Living Power

Men think of the Bible as a book that was inspired. But the wonder of the Bible is that it is inspired. From the far-distant heights of time it comes sweeping into the hearts of man today, and the same breath of God that breathed into it its life makes it living and energizing again today. It is the living Word, vital with the life of the living God who gave it and gives it living power. The Twenty-third Psalm was inspired, but again and again today, as it is whispered in the hush of the death-chamber, or read with the hidden cry, "Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law," the Spirit makes it live once more. For this is the most remarkable and unique feature of the Bible. I feel that it is mine. Its promises are mine. As I read the 103rd Psalm, it is not ancient Hebrew, it is present-day power; and I, a living soul, over-whelmed with gratitude, cry out: "Bless the Lord, O my soul." The other day I took up this dear old Bible that my mother gave me, and I noted a verse in Genesis with a date written on the margin. There floated back upon my mind a time, some years ago, when I was in great trouble. I had to leave my dear wife and children, and to travel in quest of health in distant lands; and my heart within me was sad. One day opening my Bible, at random as men say, my eye caught these words in Gen. 28-15: "Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land." I shall never forget the flash of comfort that swept over my soul as I read that verse! All the exegetes and critics in the world could never persuade my soul that that was a mere echo of some far-off relic of a Babylonian legend, or of an Oriental myth. No, no! That was a message to me. It came straight down to me, and it swept into my soul as a voice from heaven. It lifted me up, and no man will ever shake me out of the conviction that that message that day was God’s own Word to me, inspiring because inspired.

The Wonder of its Prophecy

Another wonder of the Bible is its prophecy. It shows things to come. It declared things that were not yet done, centuries before they happened. The Old Testament as a whole is a book of prediction, anticipation and expectation. All through its thirty-nine books there are predictions beyond human conjecture. Its predictions with regard to Moab, to Edom, to Sidon and Tyre, to Egypt and Assyria and Babylon are so definite and have been so marvelously fulfilled that they have stopped the mouths of scoffers, and changed the hearts of infidels.

The prophecy in the second and seventh chapters of Daniel surpasses all human forecasting ability. Its prophecy in the New Testament in regard to the kingdom and the last days have been incredibly fulfilled during the passing of centuries. Any thoughtful reader can conclude that the great question whether there is or is not a divine revelation is satisfactorily settled by Genesis 3:15; 12:2,3; 22:18; 49:10 alone. The incredible conception that in the descendants of an Oriental sheik all the families of the earth should be blessed; that world powers surpassing in their might any of the modern nations should absolutely disappear, and their capitals be obliterated from the face of the earth; that a nation that was to be the source and center of the blessings of the world should be disrupted and scattered to the uttermost corners of the earth, and that upon its ruins should arise a world filling, all-nation embracing, spiritual inheritor of the divine blessing; all these are so far beyond the reach of human prophetic power that one is compelled by this argument alone to recognize the divine hand in authorship.

Take, for instance, the prophecies about the first coming of Christ. Centuries before Christ was born, His birth and career, His sufferings and glory were all described in outline and detail in the Old Testament. Christ is the only Person ever born into this world whose ancestry, birth time, forerunner, birthplace, birth manner, infancy, manhood, teaching, character, career, preaching, reception, rejection, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, were all written in the most marvelous manner centuries before He was born. Who could draw a picture of a man not born yet? Surely God, and God alone.

In the Bible we have the most striking and unmistakable likeness of a Man portrayed, not by one, but by at least twenty artists, none of whom had ever seen the man they were painting. The man was Christ Jesus. The painters were the Bible writers. The canvas is the Bible. Beginning with the books of Moses, Christ's whole career is described, the pictures becoming more and more precise as the time of fulfillment draws near.

The Wonder of its Christfulness

But the final wonder of the Book is Christ. He is its fullness, its center, its fascination. It is all about Jesus! Old Testament and New Testament alike tell of Jesus, the great fact of history, the great force of history, the great future of history; for of this Book it can be said: "The Glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof." And as long as men live upon the face of this globe the Book that tells of that supreme Personality, the center of a world’s desire, Jesus; Jesus, the arch of the span of history, the keystone of the arch of prophecy; Jesus, the Revealer, the Redeemer, the Risen, Reigning, Returning Lord; Jesus, the Desire of all nations; so long will this Book draw men’s hearts like a magnet, and men will stand by it, and live for it, and die for it.

The Last Word

And as I close, let me say this one word more. O, do not think and do not say, as I 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 textbook in literature or 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 thy shoes from off thy feet, for the ground whereon thou standest is holy ground." Never, never compare this Book with other books. Comparison is dangerous. They are of earth. This Book is from heaven. Do not think and do not say that this Book only contains the word of God! It is the Word of God. Think not of it as a good book, or even the better book, but lift it in heart and mind and faith and love far, far above all, and ever regard it, not as the word of man, but as it is in truth, the Word of God; nay more, as the living Word of the Living God: supernatural in origin; eternal in duration; inexpressible in value; infinite in scope; divine in authorship; human in penmanship; regenerative in power; infallible in authority; universal in interest; personal in application; inspired in totality.

Edited by Stephen Ross from an address delivered by Dyson Hague at the Annual Meeting of the Parkdale Bible Society, Toronto, Canada, May 15, 1912.