By Mary Channel Stevens
Speak thou to me, O God:
Inflame my soul,
Thou Inspirer of seeking men.
Prophets and men of God
Speak beautifully to me;
But without thy spirit
Their words are dull and empty.
Thou dost inflame the prophets:
Inflame me, O God.
Moses need not speak,
For it is thou who makest them
To stir my heart.
Speak though and move me
With the greatness of thy words.
Thou who turnest a burden
Into a staff
Who cleavest the midnight hour
With a shaft of divine glory,
Speak to me until thy voice
Shall quiet the beating of my heart,
Shall quiet the clamor in my mind,
Speak Thou to me, O God.
Mary Channell Stevens (Courtesy of Adult Bible Class Monthly)
These studies are not concerned with the making of the Book of books, its history, geography or literary qualities. Like miners digging for rare metals or gems, we are delving into its pages seeking for direction to precious truth, that which will enable us to live life victoriously.
When our lives have been changed by a deep inner spiritual experience we need to learn how to live purely, honestly, practically. Where shall we turn for a description of the reality which is to motivate us? Where shall we find testimony to the authority upon which to base our actions? Where read the rules that are to assist in governing us? Where, if not in this Book containing the experiences of men and women like ourselves who have travelled the same pathway and left a record of failure and achievement to guide those who follow after? Where, if not in the Book containing the biography of Jesus Christ, the Founder and Finisher of our faith?
The Bible is composed of the writings of men who looked out on life with thoughtful eyes, who felt for it with aching hearts and clutched it with eager fingers. Through diverse experiences they found the realities that endure unchanged and testified of them for future generations to ponder. These, in turn, focusing their intellects and spirits on the great mystery of life, proved the conclusions of the earlier thinkers to be true. The profound wisdom imparted by those writers leads us to profit by their convictions and admonitions as we in our turn seek to understand life, to rise superior to the natural instincts which, uncontrolled, would drive us to defeat. The Bible is the perfect textbook, for it contains suggestions and counsel of life, which, if followed, make living a triumphant process. It holds a wealth of material, and directs us to that which satisfies intellectual and spiritual needs. If we search its pages prayerfully we shall not be disappointed in finding confirmation of what the Spirit reveals.
What did Jesus think of the Scriptures, the books we call the Old Testament? The records of the history of His own people? The gospels are replete with His references to the Old Testament. Indeed He summed up His teaching (Mark 12:29-31) in the words quoted from Deut. 6:4, “Love God with all thy heart … soul … might”, and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”, Lev. 19:18.
Christ said to His hearers, “Ye search the Scriptures because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they that testify of me, but ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” (John 5:39.)
The great Apostle Paul testified to early converts: “For all that has been written of old has been written for our instruction so that we may always have hope through the power of endurance and the encouragement which the Scriptures afford.” (Romans 15:4.)
And again in II Timothy 5:14-17: “Every Scripture inspired by God is useful both for teaching, for convincing, for correction of error and for instruction in right doing; so that the man of God may himself be complete and may be perfectly equipped for every good work.”
The history of the translation of the Bible into various languages shows the great value placed upon its revealed truth by men of earlier centuries. Testimony as to the ever-present help it has been to struggling men and women has mounted with the centuries.
The Bible is a book about life. Its pages give us true direction. To neglect the Bible is to lose a wise and helpful companion. To receive its teaching would lead to that which opens a door to true freedom.
“If ye abide in my word (His living word), then are ye truly my disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32.)
Under such guidance we shall comprehend what is necessary for the development of our life in relation to God and our fellows.
Chapter 1. Material Helps
Certain material helps beside the Bible may be used to advantage in these studies. They may be looked upon as stepping stones over a miry path, or as staves carried in the hand for support in climbing.
One should, of course, have a Bible with marginal references or footnotes; this is almost a necessity. There are the Authorized, or King James Version, The American Standard Revised Version and the new Revised Standard Version; also Moffatt’s translation of the Bible, Goodspeed’s translation, Weymouth’s New Testament, French, Spanish and other foreign language editions, as well as the Psalter in use by the Episcopal Church and Phillips’ “Letters to Young Churches” (for the Epistles). These are excellent to consult and one can compare these various versions with delight to discover that they throw fresh meaning on the familiar texts. A Concordance (Cruden’s) is invaluable for topical or word study. In some Bibles, a brief concordance is included.
Also learn to use the dictionary. It takes a word, turns it over and hands it out to you dressed in a fresh, new meaning. Keep a notebook, write down the word with its definition and follow through its synonyms as well.
I have in mind the advice an old teacher gave some years ago, “Never make your directions for students so specific as to rob them of the pleasure of discovering things for themselves.” One should not be a mere passive individual waiting for another person to pour into the mind his thoughts, suggestions, conclusions, only to accept them blindly. These studies should be regarded only as a light upon the pathway. We should go about making our own discoveries in this Book of rare treasures.
Chapter 2. Inspiring Chapters
There are many chapters of exceeding beauty in our Bible, chapters one should know well, should read often and meditate upon. As we become familiar with the different books we will select unconsciously those which possess a special appeal for us. Until that time arrives the following will be found to yield a rich reward for frequent reading:
Deuteronomy 4th chapter contains some very wonderful words to seekers for truth.
Joshua 1:1-9 brims with courage.
II Chronicles 20 gives a few incidents in the life of Jehoshaphat that bring to us after these many centuries the message of dependence on God when difficult situations arise.
Psalm 4 is an evening prayer of Trust in God. Read before retiring
Psalm 15 describes the kind of life a follower of God should live.
Psalm 103 should be memorized as well as read.
Psalm 139 brings God close to one.
Proverbs 3 is a mine of jewels. Search through all of Proverbs for others.
Isaiah 58 sets before us the ideal of a God-controlled life.
Jeremiah 2 should make us of this age deeply thoughtful as we ponder over the experiences of an ancient people.
Ezekiel 34 is unforgettable because of the light it throws on incidents in our times.
Matthew 5-6-7 these chapters contain the incomparable sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ own words to His Disciples.
Mark 1 is a remarkable chapter. It can be studied very thoroughly, even yielding new truth and beauty.
Luke 24 Jesus and His Disciples on the road to Emmaus and in the Upper Room.
John 4 Jesus and the woman at the well; with the Samaritans and others.
Acts 9 and 10 changed lives.
Romans 8 Nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christe Jesus, our Lord.
I Corinthians 13, “Love never faileth”.
II Corinthians 12, God’s power made perfect in man’s weakness.
Chapter 3. Help from the Gospel of John
When a person has actually experienced the new birth about which Jesus talked to Nicodemus he finds himself eagerly seeking for help on how to live it. The Gospel by John seems written for the purpose of directing men to Christ. Among the ways one may become familiar with the contents of John’s Gospel are the following. First read the book through in one sitting.
2. Who are the principal persons mentioned?
3. List principal persons mentioned, chapter by chapter.
4. How many times is “love” mentioned?
5. What did Jesus teach about love?
6. What do chapters 14-16 emphasize?
7. What light on “prayer” does chapter 17 reveal?
8. Study Chapter 8, verses 31-32 as one whole teaching. What is the lesson taught there/
The above are merely suggestions toward opening up the spiritual wisdom of this remarkable book. Whoever preservers in reading it will find it a rich mine of soul education.
Chapter 4. The Psalms
Out of the deepest heart of men who were at grips with life have come the Psalms, and ever since they were written others have been encouraged and comforted by the lofty sentiments therein expressed. We should not be confused by the frequent exhibition of human passions. They only reveal man at his worst, as the seeking after God and finding Him reveal man at his best. The writers show how God works in the heart of man calling him to Himself.
To get at the rich spiritual wealth in the Psalms let us read each one earnestly and write down what appeals to us as the best thought in each. Check with colored pencil in the margin those verses that refer to “strength or “courage”. It is a great source of inspiration when one is ill or discouraged to have these marked, for one can turn to them quickly.
Check with pencil of another color the verses that describes God’s timely aid to the writer when in trouble of any kind.
Note the references to Nature and its Creator. Ex.: Ps. 8:19.
Make a list of the Psalms that express thanksgiving and gratitude.
List those that are prayers to a friendly God and all verses that mention that prayer is heard.
Check in some way the references to “joy” and “rejoicing”.
Chapter 5. Using Marginal References
This opens up a very interesting and profitable way of reading the Bible. It is like walking through a house of many chambers, passing from one into another by an indicated door.
By say of illustration, let us take I Corinthians 3:18 (A.R.V.) “Let no man deceive himself”. A tiny letter “o” direcuts us to a similar letter in the margin. There we read the reference Isaiah 5:21. We turn to Isaiah, read the verse, and folling another marginal sign turn to Proverbs 3:7; from there to Romans 12:16; then to I Corinthians 3:18-20; to I Corinthians 8:1-3, and finish with Galatians 6:3; Philippians 4:8.
Thus have we walked on through the inner doors, coming at last into a fuller understanding of self-deception.
This comparative reading is of great value in uncovering the meaning of a verse that has an individual appeal.
Chapter 6, Reading the Bible Topically
This can be a very fascinating method if we learn how to use it. The Concordance is almost necessary; though marginal references are very helpful as we search out the teachings of the Book on one particular subject. For instance, suppose we desire to learn more about the “word” of God, or of God speaking immediately to men. In the Concordance, we look up all the references under the heading “Word”, “My Word”, “Thy Word”, etc. the reading of each verse given will quickly tell use whether or not it applies to the topic we have in mind, and slowly we shall realize there is a very definite, coherent truth lying within and behind what we read. Gradually this shapes itself into clear, transparent truth. As an illustration there follows a topic that evolved and took form out of the course described above.
Some Facts The Bible Reveals Concerning Love
Love is the underground stream that flows continually beneath and through all human life. It springs into thought and action if so directed. To realize this truth is to discover eternal life, peace and power.
1. The love of God is eternal, enveloping, magnetic Jer. 31:3; John 3:16; Rom. 8:35-39.
2. Man is forever in need of it. John 15:5; 8:31,32.
3. His response should be sincere. Deut. 4:29; 6:4-6; Mark 23:30-31.
4. Love is basic in moral law and develops character. I Cor. 13:1-3; Gal 5:16-26.
5. Man’s concret application of love. Luke 10:25-37.
6. The Christian Ideal Matt. 5:44; John 15:34-35.
Other topics that hold possibilities of much spiritual enrichment are: Light; Value of Solitude in Spiritual Development; Paul’s Prayers for His Friends; Jesus and His Love of Nature; The Prayers of Jesus.
Chapter 7. Favorite Verses
From Genesis to Revelation are scattered divinely inspire sayings pointing to truths that are as wings to the heavy-hearted, as alpenstocks to the faltering; as drink to the thirsty and food to the hungry. These nourish our spirits in hours of weakness, depression and sorrow.
As we read, it is well to mark in some way or to write in a notebook such passages as speak to our individual needs. The following are a few that stand out in my experience as God-given messages in times of great need.
Deut. 20:3, 4
Job 42:5, 6
Habakkuk 3:17, 18
Acts 10: 34,35
Phil. 3: 13, 14
Phil. 4: 6,7
Heb. 12: 1,2
I Peter 3: 14,15
Chapter 8. The Book of Proverbs
This is a striking, noteworthy book, for here is collected the wisdom of the ages in terse, cogent phrases. In the past 2,000 years, we have not re-learned nor assimilated the truths garnered in that ancient past.
Sit down for a quiet perusal of its contents. They will startle you with the suitableness to moral needs in this modern age. In the opening chapter, verses 1-6 state clearly and simply the purpose of the book. From then on the reader is fascinated by the wisdom stored in its pages. In fact, the very word challenges attention by its repetition and thoughtful presentation.
Note its source (2:6-8; the necessary virtue for gaining it (3:5-7); the effect of its use (2:9-12).
Wisdom is accounted as of greater value than anything the world can offer (3:13-18 and as the secret of happiness as well as the center of security (3:21-26).
The advice of a father to his son is often emphasized but the women are not forgotten; note (14:1; 24:3-4).
It would be an education in social welfare and human relations to study the Book of Proverbs thoroughly. We need to become acquainted with the rules of living peacefully with people. It is especially relevant in these days of effort toward uniting the nations.
“Wisdom resteth in the heart of him that hath understanding” (14:33), and “Understanding is a well-spring of life unto him that hath it” (16:22).
As a person becomes familiar with his Bible other ways of making its contents his own will occur to him. He will desire knowledge of the history of ancient peoples, of their cultural and religious background, of the geography of Palestine and adjacent countries. He will seek information as to how these many books written by different men in widely separate centuries were brought together to one Book and what stamped it as divine. He will inquire as to how it was translated into English and other languages. The minister of his church should be able to direct him to the source of such knowledge. This paper has only to do with opening a door into the wealth of moral and spiritual concepts, standards and principles available to all who long to make their daily struggles eventuate into triumphs.
Mary Channel Stevens, a Friend, also wrote a history of the library in Friends House, Washington, D.C. in 1960.