Saturday, January 2, 2021

Dead Men Speak

Someone once told me of a book-collecting uncle who visited his favorite nephew on the eve of the youngster’s move to another city. In a pile on the floor were old discarded books through which the uncle haphazardly sorted. The nephew announced that the night before, he had thrown away an old dusty Bible in some foreign language printed by Guten-someone. The uncle cried out, “Not Gutenberg.” He continued, “Just last year a copy of Gutenberg’s Bible sold for five million dollars.” The nephew, still unaffected, replied, “Well, this one wasn’t worth anything. Some guy named Luther had scribbled notes all over the pages.”

People today don’t usually think of the Bible as a classic. But it has endured throughout the ages. In Israel, the Law and the Prophets were excruciatingly copied by hand to ensure their accuracy. In medieval monasteries, the Old and New Testaments were handled in a similar fashion by monks who barely saw the light of day. The remarkable part of all this is that Christians from apostolic times until Gutenberg’s printing some 1400 years later didn’t have access to personal copies of the Word. They were dependent upon their memories of the Scriptures read to them from the pulpits.

In our age, we are truly blessed with a flood of Bibles—dusty ones, piled up ones, unread ones, and some worn out ones. Christian Johnson is known for saying, “A Bible that’s falling apart probably belongs to someone who isn’t.” It is not the presence of Bibles in our age that can be significant, it is the proper use of them.

It’s old news to Christians that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time. In 1975, the Book of Lists reported the Bible as the number-one best-selling book of all time. The editors figured that more than 2.45 billion copies had been sold between 1816–1975. Sales are still increasing at an encouraging rate. The Almanac of the Christian World reported that in 1990, one distributor alone sold in excess of one million copies. There are many distributors and even more producers of the Bible in our day. There are over three hundred translations, paraphrases, and portions of Scripture available for the English-speaking public. However, its weight is not felt on our societal structures. Why? Christians may read while they do not heed the contents of their Holy Book.

My personal frustration with all this is that people who are quick to defend an inerrant Bible before accusing skeptics are slow to implement the principles in their own life and worldviews. What good does it do to believe in an inerrant revelation from God if we are not going to obey it? Call this “impractical inerrancy.” With their mouths some confess that God has the right to impose obligations upon His people; with their hearts they want autonomy and freedom. God’s obligations break our bondage. By His grace, He gave us an objective standard so we may know what we are to do. But He doesn’t leave us there. He gives us the Spirit who works in us to make us willing to obey the Word. This tandem frees us to do what we ought, removing the chains of autonomy and self-delusion. He reaches down and guides our steps. To see the path, we must be aware of the Bible’s message. We must listen to and read the Word, for it is our bright light to guide the way.

Question #157 of the Westminster Larger Catechism asks, “How is the Word of God to be read?” It offers this answer: “The Holy Scriptures are to be read with a high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God, and that He only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer.”

We must cultivate a gracious, thankful attitude in which we hear and read God’s Word. Thomas Watson wrote, “Read the Scripture, not only as a history, but as a love letter sent to you from God.” Revere the Word. In the Scriptures alone we find the good news of salvation.

I like to read Christian writers from centuries past who have endured the tests of time. The writers, standing upon the firm shoulders of Scripture, continue to declare the truth of God. Those writers, though dead, still speak:

That Deadman Band  

Dead men speak.

It sounds absurd.

Their lips are still.

They can’t be heard.

They’ve penned their words,

Enshrined in ink.

Then bought and sold;

Not now extinct.

Perused and pondered,

We understand.

We’re grateful for,

That Deadman Band.

This week, remember that God has spoken in His Son, the One who died for our sin and rose from the grave that we too may speak the word of reconciliation to a spiritually dead humanity. Never take the bountiful gifts of God for granted. Remember to thank Him for His speaking to us in His Word and for making that message available to all.