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CHAP. XIX. of DR. THOLUCK'o “Hours of Christian DEVOTION.
Translated for the Bib. Repository, by Rev. Wm. Hall, New York.
The building vast, sublime, the weak child's eyes
f this little rol of Godsoon as he Scripture must really
2. Tim. 3: 16. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for in. struction in righteousness.
Ps. 92: 5, 6. O Lord, how great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep ;'a brutish man knoweth not, neither doth a fool understand this.
*Ps. 25: 14. The secret of the Lord is with (for them) that fear him.
1. Cor. 13: 12. We see now through a glass darkly, (in a dark word. Luther's trans.)
" I regard it as a sign, that one has already become almost a master in the art of prayer, who has come so far as to prefer the Lord's prayer before all other prayers, and has become inwardly convinced, that scarcely any other prayer can be thought of, wherein a Christian heart, is able to include so perfectly everything which it has to plead before the eternal God. What now holds of this little portion of the Word of God, holds as true, also, of the whole Word of God, viz: that a Christian man has already become rich in grace, so soon as he has reached the point of being better edified by the books of Holy Scripture than by any other Scripture. How powerfully the Holy Spirit must rule in the Bible, we can recognize in the fact that it seems, humanly speaking, so small by the side of many other books, and has also, as history teaches, been put together in its present form quite incidentally, and yet accomplishes such astonishingly great things in a human heart. Verily, in this book the Lord Jesus, too, is wrapped in poor and insignificant swathing-bands, as in the crib of Bethlehem, but still the wise men of the West, and of the East have been obliged to come and kneel down before this crib, and offer their gifts. When we at first approach the book, how strange all there from the beginning to the end, seems to one, and yet in the end a soul can make itself such a home therein, that it shall feel better off there than in all other books in the world. It is only the dark places in our hearts that cause us to find so many dark places in the Bible. But let Christ grow and become greater in the human heart, and he will at the same time become ever greater and more
glorious in His Word. Still you can meet with no experienced Christian, who would not testify, that he has found in the Bible a fountain which no one can exhaust, as Dr. Luther has so pleasingly said: “I have now for some vears read the Bible through twice a year, and were it a great and mighty tree, all its words being twigs and branches, then it were true that I have knocked on all its little twigs and shoots, and longed to know what was on them, and what virtue they had, and still, during the whole time have knocked down only a few little apples or pears."
Therefore, dear brother, will thou have a blessing from the read. ing of Holy Scripture, let it not stumble thee, if even by the very side of what is clear, there is always much still which remains hidden to thee; only consider, that though the Heavenly Father certainly thought of thee too when he caused the Bible to be written for all the millions who dwell upon the earth, in order that those therein shouldst find thy light and thy dish, thy little herb and thy little vine, He had in the meantime equally in mind all his other children. From this it must follow then, as thou canst easily conclude, that an incomputable amount which will be clear for them, will be dark for thee, and that one acre of the Divine Word is designed to bear fruit specially in one, another in a different time. Here e. g. the Word of God has passages, which were written particularly for learned men, who are seeking their solution, in others Divine Wisdom has been thoughtful for Kings, again there are others in which special care has been taken for little children. In some passages seeds have been sown, from which high and deep thoughts were designed to grow up to shine as stars before human knowledge, from others exhalted and excel. lent deeds, from others again noble arts were to spring forth. Some of the beautiful flowers have given a strong fragrance only in the East, others in the West ; with some the middle ages were refreshed, others are best suited to us. O what a skillful and what a rich Lord must He be, who has been able to cover so beautiful a table for so many, and such very different guests! Be it now, that some dishes don't fit my palate, it certainly were not quite decorous towards the master or respectful towards the various guests by my side, to grumble. Suppose 1 let what does not agree with my palate, pass by-the table is still richly furnished. And who knows-the day has not come to an end yet! Perhaps my Lord has even for me in his rich Word still many an enjoyment in reserve, of which I have as vet no conception, as soon as the Scripture expresses it, “my senses shall be exercised !”
As in a certain place the Saviour says to his disciples : “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit—when the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth,” so the Saviour has likewise probably kept back much 1 Heb. 5: 14. 2 John 16: 12, 13.
from me in his holy Word, which I cannot bear now, and which therefore will not suit my taste. Then patience, humility !-And besides, the best seasoning must still be added by that cook, who after all, has the most to do with all good relishing—hunger. That hunger is a good cook, has been set down to his credit for the longest possible time the world over, but what a good teacher he is also ! He interprets to the poorest peasant the gospel of St. John, upon which many learned masters are still breaking their heads, so intelligibly, and offers such delightful explanations to him, that his heart beats for joy over it. Such is the teacher, whom the Saviour himself so beautifully commended, when he says: “ Blessed are ye who hunger !” It is not my opinion on this account that we should deprive of their creed and homes those learned gentlemen, who interpret the Scripture form in the church of the Lord. Oh no, I am rather of the opinion, that many pious Christians are not quite sensible enough how much the good God has given to the church in the beautiful expositions of the Bible by learned men, and are not justifiable, in being willing to go down into the shaft of the Divine Word with but just the little miner's taper which the Holy Spirit has kindled for them. That is not right. The Holy Ghost, who has kindled the light for the understanding of the Divine Word, belongs not merely to one individual member of the communion of the Lord, not merely to thee or to me, but to the whole body ; therefore no one should lightly esteem the gifts, which the Holy Ghost has imparted in all times to learned men and servants of the church, since indeed it stands written, that “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man for the common profit.?" so that, therefore, a humble spirit ought rather to praise God, if through the guidance of Divinelyblessed writings of pious Scripture expositors in all ages it is granted to him, to be able to enter upon his journey into the glorious land as it were in the company of so many godly and experi. enced path-showers, that is to say, the glorious land of holy Scripture. Does not in this way become mine, what of light the Spirit of the Lord has in all ages of his church, sent for the understanding of the Word of God ?
From the fact that it is the Holy Ghost alone who can teach us to understand the holy Scripture, I have also deduced another doctrine still for myself, viz., that in reading the Word of God the right interpretation can by no means be reached by picking at the letter. In time past I have but too often-and even with a true and earnest conscience-tormented myself to comprehend very literally this and that verbalism, however hard it might sound, and was obliged still to grant that many other passages of holy Scripture and especially its general spirit were against my sense, and that
"Luke 6: 21.
made much trouble and anxiety for me. I knew very well for instance, that many laid stress upon the spirit only in order to put their own spirit into God's Word, and where perhaps the doctrines and commands were too strong for them, flew over it with the spirit and wished out of it, as much as did not answer their turn. For as Dr. Luther says: “ Human reason flits and flutters about the letter of the Divine Word, until it has got it to rights for itself," that is, in other words, until it has regulated the sun. dial by the clock in its chamber. But is it now the Spirit of God, who alone teaches to understand the Word of God, then working on the letter can certainly not open the door of the understanding, on the contrary so far as one would protect himself from the haughty illusions of human reason, nothing will do except to learn rightly to distinguish the human spirit and the Divine spirit. Hence I believe, that, just as what a human author has meant in a single passage of a book, is perceptible only from his meaning in the whole book, and as the importance of a single member can be known by us only so far as we endeavor to understand it correctly from the structure of the whole body, so also, what the Holy Scripture means in any one passage, only then rightly occurs to a pious reader, when he holds up and accomodates the individual part to the whole, as Luther has said of his own translations, that “the good understanding was more in bis estimation than the disputatious letter.” It is true that timid spirits are often alarmed at such spiritual freedom with the Word of God, as if, when we do not keep rigorously to the letter, God's Word would be trifled with and perverted; now we must on no account pervert God's Word ; as the Emperor Conrad once said of the imperial word: “ An Emperor's word will not do to be perverted and trifled with.” But on the other hand the chief of apostles has also told us that “the letter killeth and only the spirit maketh alive.” Although ye, who squeeze and press the letter, do it with good intention, do but be reminded by history, which may truly be named a genuine mother's breast how often when Scripture has been too much pressed, blood instead of milk has flowed forth! Heaven forgive us. What abominable fanaticism, and how much cruel bloodshed have come out not only of that word of the Apostle--when for instance the flesh has interpreted it: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free,” or from the Lord's own language : “ And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free !!! As to which so many have entirely forgotten, what stands in another place : "Only use not liberty for an occa. sion to the flesh,"3 and : “ As free, and not using your liberty as a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God;" and again : “ All things are lawful unto me but all things are not expedient,"s The apostle writes, “ “ Ye children be obedient to parents in all
Gal. 5: 1. * John. 8: 32 Gal. 5; 13. •1 Peter 2 ; 16. 1 Cor.; 6, 12.
yaro me but all ants of Godliberty
things" may not then the flesh pervert from the letter, as if children must be obedient to their parents even in everything base and ungodly? Has our Lord said : “ When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsman, nor thy rich neighbors, but when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and thou shalt be blessed,”? may not the flesh which seizes the letter with a rough hand, so press this, as if one should never invite his relations to his table? So the Lord has likewise said : “Sell what ye have and give alms,” and here too the flesh may press the Word, as if a Christian ought to have nothing at all of his own—while still so many other passages of Scripture contradict all such childish misconstructions of the flesh! Thus then thou seest, that nothing helps here, except as thou humbly seekest well to understand the spirit of the Lord from the entire holy Scripture, in order that it may become clear to thee, what is meant in this or that place.
To the unenlightened eye, the New Testament may seem, it is true, an unsightly edifice, wherein the architect has committed many an error : as if he might have placed the gable somewhat straiter, added a story or two in grander style, also set here a window, there the door still differently. But in the end it is with this building of the Word of God precisely as with the building of the whole world ; we are obliged to give God the honor, and to say: “ Thou hast ordered all according to measure and number and weight.” As the history of the Lord is the foundation-stone of our faith, this, therefore, has the first place in the writings of the New Testament, in order that every one may first with it lay the foundation-stone of his faith. Then after the seeking soul has in the four Evangelists become acquainted with the Head, it is informed by the history of the apostle, how at first the body with its members was added to its head, in the next place learns from the letters of the holy apostles, what the faith, love and hope were, by which the body of the first community of believers was supported and whereon it was nourished, and finally with the Revelation of St. John, contemplates the victory of the Christian church through all times up to the end of the world. Again, how wise and graci. ous is this too, that one and the same truth of the gospel has come to us in such a manner, that the one beam of light has been obliged to be broken into different colors, in order that its riches might be rightly manifest and be as it were just so many doors, through which a man desirous of salvation can enter the palace of truth.
It is very true, as soon as human reason begins to subtilize, we imagine that we should have been able to impart to our Lord God better advice, in everything. Thus it occurs to one, first of all, whether it might not have been more beneficial and promotive of general good had it pleased God, instead of so repeating the one
'Col. 3: 20. 2 Luke 14: 12, 13. *