Karl barth, whose views about the Bible were not all we wish they might have been, once warned against the danger of replacing the Bible with books about the Bible. One hundred years ago that great evangelical pulpiteer, G. Campbell Morgan, made a similar discovery. His grandson, Richard Lyon Morgan, late in adulthood, rediscovered the same truth for himself. His essay is based on a sermon preached at Fairview Presbyterian Church, Lenoir, North Carolina, on the occasion of the dedication of a pulpit Bible in memory of his father, Howard Moody Morgan, who, for 57 years, preached in five churches across the country.
John 5:39: “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me.”
Luke 24:32: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
These two texts from the New Testament plainly show us the wrong and right ways to approach the Bible. Religious people misread the Bible because in it they failed to recognize Christ—the key to understanding the whole of it. Two disciples of Jesus walked the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus that first Easter afternoon with broken hearts and denied dreams. Then Christ walked with them, opened the Bible in a new way, and they found new hope and new life in the midst of what had been overwhelming despair.
Almost 100 years ago, in 1883, a young British minister named G. Campbell Morgan experienced an eclipse of his faith in the Bible. Confused and perplexed by the many theories of his times, he seriously doubted the truth of the Bible. However, he took all the books about the Bible and locked them in a corner cupboard. Relating this afterward, he remarked, “I can hear the click of that lock now.” He went down to a bookshop, bought a new Bible, and said, “I am no longer sure that this is what my father claims it to be—the Word of God—but of this I am sure, if it be the Word of God, and I come to it with an unprejudiced and open mind, it will bring assurance to my soul of itself.”
Almost 30 years ago I entered seminary and began to be exposed to critical views of the Bible. As a boy I had loved the Bible, and the stories of Jesus were very real to me. But, like my grandfather, I too had an “eclipse of faith” as I became more preoccupied with views about the Bible than with listening to the Bible itself. Now, in my twilight years, I have come back to the Bible with new interest and hunger. I have learned through experience that it is more important to have your heart stirred with God’s Word than your head stored with man’s views.
The Misuse Of The Bible
Despite the fact that the Bible remains the best seller among all books, it is still one of the least known and most abused books in the English language. That is as strange as if every home should have a television set and never turn it on, or as if inhabitants of the city of Lenoir, North Carolina, which is filled with furniture factories, never used furniture in their homes.
Some people regard the Bible like a fetish. For them it serves as a charm against danger or a guardian against death. Ralph Sockman used to say that too many Christians treat the Bible like bridesmaids treat wedding cake after the wedding. They take a piece of it the last thing at night and hope it will work a miracle!
It is even stranger how this Book has been used to justify all manner of ignorance and human opinions. Many people treat the Bible like a drunk treats a lamppost: for support, not illumination. John Calvin said that the Bible has been used like the waxen nose the actors used—that is, shaped to mean whatever men desired.
To the religious men of his day, Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life: and it is they that bear witness to me.” Too many people focus their attention on the Bible as an answer book that speaks to their question without ever listening to what the Bible itself writes to us today. When we let the Bible speak for itself we quickly discover that its central message is Jesus Christ and the good news of his grace.
The Power Of The Bible
Unlike those religious leaders, these two disciples of Jesus on the road to Emmaus experienced the power of the Bible as Christ himself made its meaning plain to them.
My father used to tell this story: Two men were sitting working in Africa. One was a white man engaged in translating the Bible. The other was an African, called in by the white man to check the translation. The African was unfamiliar with much of the Bible, and so the white man would stop him from time to time to make quite sure the translations were clear. Suddenly the African said, “This Book is not like other books. When a man reads this Book, he hears another speaking to him in his heart.”
The Bible’s power lies in the fact that God speaks to us directly in the pages of this Book. This does not mean that God cannot speak to us in nature, experience, or history. But in this Book, he speaks as nowhere else. It is his written Word. In this Book, we hear the voice of the living God speaking to us his truth.
Throughout Christian history, reformation has occurred in the church when men and women rediscovered the Bible. A Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther heard God speak to him in the biblical words, “The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17), and the Christian church was reborn and reformed.
During the days of great evil and social sin in England, a clergyman named John Wesley found his heart strangely warmed as he meditated on those same biblical words, and the church again found new life. The power of the Bible lies in the fact that when we listen in faith we, too, hear the liberating word of God for our own day. The old hymn of John Burton makes us aware of the constant power of the Bible to change our lives:
Holy Bible, book divine,
Precious treasure, thou art mine;
Mine to tell me whence I came;
Mine to teach me what I am;
Mine to chide me when I rove;
Mine to show a Savior’s love;
Mine art thou to guide my feet
Mine to judge, condemn, acquit;
Mine to comfort in distress,
If the Holy Spirit bless;
Mine to show by living faith,
Man can triumph over death;
Mine to tell of joys to come,
And the rebel sinner’s doom;
Holy Bible, book divine,
Precious treasure, thou art mine.
The Way To Discovering The Bible’S Power
Both the religious leaders and those two disciples of Jesus read the Bible. For the first group, the Bible never brought them to Christ. For the two men, it was through the Bible that they found Christ. What was the difference? It was that those two men on the road to Emmaus were broken men. Their hopes for a better world had been nailed to a cross outside the city wall. The One in whom they had placed their trust had been killed. Through this despair, they knew their need. Karl Barth once said, “We must read the Bible through the eyes of shipwrecked people for whom everything has gone overboard.”
These are troubled days for the church, and one does not always hear the authentic Word from every pulpit. Amos prophesied that there would be a “famine of hearing the word of God” (Amos 8:3). Telling clever stories, giving advice, expressing merely human opinions is not giving people the Bread of Life. Nothing is more necessary to any church, large or small, than that people hear what this Book has to say, for it is the Word of God. On its pages we learn what God would say to us. It is God’s marching orders for each day of our pilgrimage on this earth.
Richard Lyon Morgan is pastor of the Fairview Presbyterian Church in Lenoir, North Carolina. He is also a pastoral counselor at the Life Enrichment Center in Morganton, North Carolina.
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