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The Pleasure of
Reading the Bible

By Temple Scott




The Pleasure of
Reading the Bible

By Temple Scott

New York

Mitchell Kennerley


Copyright I gog by t,
Mitchell Kennerley



Press ofj. J. Little & Ives Co.

East Twenty-fourth Street

New York


HE Bible is not one book; it is
a library of books; a literature
in itself. It is the ancient liter-
ature of the people of Israel, embodying
the best exercise of the creative imagina-
tion in poetry, romance, history, oratory
and prophecy, of the people who believed
themselves to be the chosen people of
God. It is also the ethical code of both
Jews and Christians, and the source of
rabbinical exposition and Church The-
ology. In dealing with this book, how-
ever, as a means for giving pleasure, I
must disregard its authoritative value
for religion or theology. The religious



emotion is not primarily pleasurable;
nor is theology literature. The purpose
of religion is directive to conduct; it is
based on the existence of a definite re-
lation between the individual and an ac-
cepted objective ideal. Pleasure is di-
rective to nothing; it is the emotion
experienced from a freedom from any
relation, when the individual is most
himself. The two, therefore, are anti-
thetical. This is not, however, to say
that the religious man cannot experience
pleasure, or that the man of pleasure
may not be deeply religious. Each can
be the other; but, in being each, he is not,
for the time being, the other. The Ser-
mon on the Mount can be read for the
purpose of fortifying a faith in Christ;
but it can also be read for the sake of
the beauty of its literary form, its noble
language, its suggestive influence on the


mind for cherishing an inspiring ideal.
The pleasure from this is the purest and
most satisfying of all pleasures, because
it affirms and fulfils the self.

When I speak of the Bible I mean
the English translation of the Hebrew
Scriptures and the Greek Testament.
The translators of these writings tapped
the purest springs of the English lan-
guage. Whether or no they rendered
the exact meanings of the original words
of the Hebrew and Greek texts is, in this
connection, of small matter. As it has
been given us, in the Authorised and
Revised Versions, the Bible is the noblest
monument of English we possess; a book
of magnificent language embodying the
aspirations of men and women for an
ideal to be cherished as an abiding influ-
ence on life.

It is the reading of this book for the


sake of the pleasure to be derived from
the reading that I am now urging-; and
I am urging this because, in the first
place, the pleasure is purifying and, in
the second place, because I believe we are
losing that freshness of outlook and that
child-like naivete which are so essential
to pure enjoyment, and which are espe-
cially essential to the reading of the
Bible. Our Puritan forefathers had
these qualities. When the Bible was first
given to them it became for them a uni-
versal solvent, a comfort and a joy.
What the discovery and the translations
of the Greek and Latin classics did for
the Renaissance, the translation of the
Bible did for the Reformation. It
brought about a new birth, a re-awaken-
ing of men's spirits. Men and women
knew each other again, and joyed in the
knowledge. An ideal was revealed which


each could cherish in his own soul; and
a new language was in the people's
mouths :

" Come unto me all ye that labour and are
heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."

" For ye shall go out with joy, and be led
forth with peace; the mountains and the hills
shall break forth before you into singing, and
all the trees of the 'field shall clap their hands"

" Search me, God, and know my heart:
try me, and know my thoughts: and see if
there be any way of wickedness i/n me, and lead
me into the way everlasting."

" Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of
the Lord, make straight m the desert a high-
way for our God. Every valley shall be ex-
alted, and every mountain and hill shall be
made low; and the crooked shall be made
straight, and the rough places plain; and the
glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all
-flesh shall see it together."

" God made not death; neither delighteth
He when the living perish. For He created all
things that they might have being; and the



generative powers of the world are healthsome,
and there is no poison of destruction m them
. . . for righteousness is immortal. 9 '

" Blessed are they that hunger and thirst
after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
. . . Blessed are the pure in heart: for they
shall see God."

The compelling power precipitated
from words rightly placed is enough in
itself to make converts. The mind is
lifted by the beauty of the language and
placed on the high road to faith: the
pleasure has paved the way. To men
and women, " looking before and after
and pining for what is not," such words
as I have quoted must have come like the
sound of refreshing waters to the thirsty
traveller. They carried a music in them
that charmed quite apart from the com-
forting message they bore. The people
marched to the music, they fought to


the sound of it, and they died with it
ringing joyously in their ears, the while
their souls were dancing to it. Unhap-
pily, to later generations, the freshness
of the music wore off; the message alone
was heard, and heard without the music,
robbed of its virgin vivifying beauty.
Teachers then became fanatics; soldiers
dogmatics; and the people spiritually
barren. Science and trade, with their
siren voices, led to the worship of false
gods where beauty is not; men fought
for wealth and killed each other for a
creed. Beauty fled, a hunted thing, to
dwell in lonely places, and now the music
of the Bible is rarely heard at all. Even
where, in some quiet spot, a sincere shep-
herd may be found piping to his flock,
his voice is often uncouth, and his fin-
gers have not been taught the cunning of
their use. What we too often hear are


brazen-mouthed teachers blatantly repeat-
ing the words; but the noise that comes
from them is that of sounding brass, as
if they were counting the coins of their
wage the harp and the psaltery are no
more. Yet can I well imagine a Salvini
in the pulpit speaking the words of the
Bible in such fashion as to put a tongue
in every sense and set the hearts of his
hearers again dancing to the organ
music :

" Every valley shall be exalted, and every
mountain and hill shall be made low; and the
crooked shall be made straight, and the rough
places plain; and the glory of the Lord shall
be revealed."

" Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to
the waters."

" Sing, heavens:
And be joyful, earth;
And break forth into singing, O mountains;
For the Lord hath comforted his people,
And will have compassion upon his afflicted."



Why are not ministers of religion
more generally taught the art of reading
this Bible aloud, that its language might
be listened to and its music be made
known in all its many tones of exquisite
sound? It is an education devoutly to be
wished for.

Biblical criticism and modern science
may have settled this or that fact. The
story of the creation as we read it in
Genesis may or may not appeal to the
sophisticated reason of the day; but the
reader of this story, if he is to know its
real pleasure-giving power, must deal
with it in quite a different fashion from
that of the critic. It will be sufficient for
him that the writer of the story believed
it; and by the writer I mean the transla-
tors just as much as I do the author of
the Hebrew original; for only because of
the influence of such a belief can I ac-


count for the excellence of the later ex-
pression. It is the excellence born of
sincerity, a sincerity that is stamped
everywhere in the Bible, and that makes
its language so arresting and so appeal-

" In the beginning God created the heavens
and the earth. And the earth was without
form, and void; and darkness was upon the
face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved
upon the face of the waters. And God said,
Let there be Light: and there was Light. And
God saw the Light that it was good: and God
divided the Light from the Darkness. And
God called the Light Day; and the Darkness
he called Night. And the evening and the
morning was the first day."

The arresting impressiveness lies in the
telling simplicity of the language that
holds the poet's imaginative thought
amply and completely: not a drop is
spilt. Out of this telling simplicity
comes a fulfilling music of words in-


evitably placed that soothes the ear:
" And darkness was upon the face of the
deep. And the spirit of God moved
upon the face of the waters." The words
with their music send us feeling with

" A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mmd of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things."

With what a fine reiteration does this
same sense steal over us in reading of
God's covenant with Noah! How nobly
simple is the language of the poet's child-
like naivete of intimacy, expressing his
own soul's relation with nature and na-
ture's God!


" And God said, This is the token of the
covenant which I make between me and you
and every living creature that is with you, for
perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the
cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant
between me and the earth. And it shall come
to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth,
that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: And I
will remember my covenant, which is between me
and you and every living creature of all -flesh:
And the waters shall no more become a -flood
to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in
the cloud: and I will look upon it, that I may
remember the everlasting covenant."

God was very real to this writer, as real
to him as the spirit that " rolls through
all things " was to Wordsworth. The
personification is the poet's way of mak-
ing his thought visual so that his readers
might be, with him, in the same living
relation to it. The rainbow in the cloud,
coming as it did with the cheering light
of the smiling sun, spoke to him of di-
vine clemency after storm; filled him


with the benignancy of the quiet, cool
atmosphere after summer's heary show-
ers, and coloured an imagination tran-
quilised after the fear from the raging
elements. It became the symbol of a
covenant between God and man, of se-
curity and life.

In the art of story-telling the writer of
the human tale of Joseph and his breth-
ren has very rarely been surpassed. The
narrative opens simply and moves along
gently, reaching its climax of emotion
by the very force of the situation
brought about. It is nowhere strained,
nowhere marred by attempts at the
grandiose or pathetic. It is a delightful
example of the power of sincerity in the
telling of a tale. Who can read un-
moved Joseph's final words, when he re-
veals himself to his brothers? "I am
Joseph: doth my father yet live?" But


it is all so simple, so direct and so finely
inevitable in its simplicity and directness.
The splendid imagery of Jacob's fare-
well words to his sons is another instance
of the wonder-working literary art of
the Biblical writers. It is an appeal, a
benediction, a touching of spirits to fine
issues, a father's prophetic insight into
his children's characters, and all couched
in noble words nobly ordered. It reads
like an ode addressed to the founders of
a new nation:

" Reuben, thou art my -first-born,
My might, and the beginning of my strength;
The excellency of dignity, and the excellency

of power.

Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel.
* * *

" Simeon and Levi are brethren;
Weapons of violence are their swords.
my soul, come not thou into their council;
Unto their assembly, my glory, be not thou



For in their anger they slew men,
And in their self-will houghed oxen.
Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce;
And their wrath, for it was cruel:
I will divide them in Jacob,
And scatter them in Israel.

" Judah, thee shall thy brethren praise:
Thy hand shall be on the neck of thine ene-

Thy father's sons shall bow down before thee.
Judah is a lion's whelp;
From the prey, my son, thou art gone up:
He stooped down, he couched as a lion,
And as a lioness; who shall rouse him up?
The sceptre shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,
Till he come to Shiloh,
Having obedience of the peoples.
Binding his foot unto the vine,
And his ass's colt unto the choice vine;
He hath washed his garments in wine,
And his vesture in the blood of grapes:
His eyes shall be red with wine,
And his teeth white with milk' 9

From such a stock were born the tribes
who founded a new nation and ordered a


new commandment. Is it any wonder
that they did great deeds and saw vi-
sions? Who shall dare hope to win
against men who walk with God, and see
their ideals in all living things, and who
make the ideal appear in the work of
their hands? This was the spirit with
which Palestine was nationalized; it was
the spirit in which the great mission
bearers conquered. It is the spirit in
which alone abiding work can be accom-
plished. It is the power that lies in all
noble expressions, and gives meaning
and value to all literature. Poets have
made more heroes in the flesh than they
have pictured in their language. That
is what they are for through noble lan-
guage to attune hearts and inspire minds
to doing nobly and being noble. Other-
wise literature has no place in life. I go
back in thought and find the solution of


England's greatness in the past and
America's foundation in the present to
the moving influence of this English
Bible on our Puritan forefathers. It
was a trumpet-blast calling on them as
the hosts of the Lord to fight the battles
of the Lord; it was a revelation of man's
equality in the sight of the Lord; it was
a realization of a living ideal by which
men might come to live in peace and joy
together; and it was also a glorious mes-
sage of hope.

" The people that walked in darkness have
seen a great light; they that dwelt in the land
of the shadow of death 9 upon them hath the
light shined."

The light that shined on the people of
England in King James's and King
Charles's days came from this Bible.
Life, because of it, took on new and
lovely colours, and men braced them-


selves to live it anew. What they had
once dared as barons they now dared as
yeomen; and the fathers who dared
King Charles bred sons who dared King
George. Thus does literature justify

What must have been in the hearts of
the children of Israel as they listened to
Moses' song, on the eve of his death,
when in sight of the Promised Land?

" Give ear, ye heavens, and I will speak;
And let the earth hear the words of my mouth:
My doctrine shall drop as the rain.
My speech shall distil as the dew;
As the small rain upon the tender grass.
And as the showers upon the herb:
For I will proclaim the name of the Lord.

" For all his ways are judgement :
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
Just and right is He."

Do these same children of Israel hear


these words now? Does their music make
glad their spirits? Surely, if words mean
anything, these words mean the same to-
day that they meant thousands of years
ago! God is still a God of faithfulness,
if we remain true to our ideal. He is still
without iniquity, if we keep our own na-
tures clean. He remains just and right,
so long as we live justly and rightly,
each to the other. But we have missed
the pleasure of reading this Bible, and
no longer hear its inspiring music. I
must believe that we have misunderstood
this wonderful book; that we have al-
lowed ourselves to be led astray and so
lost the sense for pure enjoyment. If
we have read the letter we have been alto-
gether blind to the spirit the spirit of
Beauty, which is in the Bible as it is in
the Iliad, as it is in the Divine Comedy,
as it is in Shakespeare, in Milton, in


Keats, in Wordsworth, and in all great
manifestations of literary art.

The conforming Jew reads the Psalms
every Sabbath day, until he has learned
them by rote. They appear in his daily
prayers and reappear in the devotional
exercises on festival and fast days. He
can chant them by number, and recite
them at command. Has he accomplished
more than a feat of the memory? Has
the poet's music stirred his soul to finer
impulses through purer pleasure? Let
his life answer the questions. But the
same questions may be asked of the
Christian also. The truth is we have
spoiled our taste for this splendid litera-
ture by making its reading a task instead
of a life-giving delight. When the child
at school is compelled to learn by rote
Wordsworth's " Lucy Gray," or Shelley's
" Ode to a Skylark," or Keats's " Ode


to a Nightingale," or a hundred lines
from Goldsmith's "Deserted Village,"
the child cannot possibly see the reveal-
ing beauty in these poems. Its mind is
centered on quite a different object, the
object of accomplishing an ordered ex-
ercise. For the child to see beauty it
must come on beauty, so to speak.
Beauty must startle it into an awareness
of something strange in its experience.
Then will the child's curious soul be
drawn to the revelation, and it will never-
more forget the meeting. In exactly the
same way all great literature must be ap-
proached gently led to delightful sur-
prises. If the mood be not upon us it is
wiser to leave the reading alone. " Soft
stillness and the night become the touches
of sweet harmony." Let the right at-
mosphere be made and the right mood
realized before you listen to the poet's


songs. Then will such a psalm as the
nineteenth lift your spirit on self -born

" The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the -firmament showeth his handiwork.
Day unto day uttereth speech,
And night unto night showeth knowledge.
There is no speech nor language;
Their voice is not heard.

" Their line is gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.
In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his

And rejoiceth as a strong man to run his

His going forth is from the end of the


And his circuit unto the ends of it;
And there is nothing hid from the heat


" The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the


The testimony of the Lord is sure, makmg
wise the simple.



The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing
the heart:

The commandment of the Lord is pure, en-
lightening the eyes:

The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for-

The ordinances of the Lord are true, and
righteous altogether.

" More to be desired are they than gold, yea,

than much fine gold;

Sweeter also than honey and the droppings of
the honeycomb"

Or this exquisite confession of God's
protective influence, as embodied in the
twenty-third Psalm:

" The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:

He guideth me m the paths of righteousness
for his names' sake.

" Yea, though I walk through the valley of the
shadow of death,



I will fear no evil; for thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

" Thou preparest a table before me in the pres-
ence of mine enemies;

Thou hast anointed my head with oil;

My cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and loving-kindness shall
follow me all the days of my life;

And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
for ever."

The poetry of devotion must be gently
dealt with, otherwise we are in danger of
adulterating its fine aroma. The poet's
mood must be our mood, or we shall alto-
gether miss the music. The hour that
fits Burns's " The Jolly Beggars " is not
the hour for Tennyson's " In Memo-
riam," and the mood meet for the story
of Samson and Delilah shuns the Ser-
mon on the Mount. The Bible must be
treated fairly, as we would any other
work of accepted literature. One need
not read at all if the ear be not inclined.


If the singing of songs is the natural
demand, then sing songs. We are no
longer children to do this or that at a
bidding. It were well that children were
also dealt with in a proper fashion. It
is unseemly to force or be forced, and
unjust to your author. When we shall
have learned to be less familiar and more
courteous to the Bible we shall not only
value it with livelier discrimination, but
the book itself will yield to us, more and
more benignantly, the fine enjoyment
of its beauty.

Rich as the Bible is in poetry of de-
votion, it is as rich in lyrical poetry. The
Book of Psalms is full of lyrics, and the
Song of Solomon is an entire series of
love lyrics. These latter are exquisitely
beautiful :

*' / am a rose of Sharon,
A lily of the valleys.

* * *


As the apple-tree among the trees of the wood,
So is my beloved among the sons.
1 sat down under the shadow with great de-

And his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house.
And his banner over me was love.

Stay ye me with raisins, refresh me with


For I am sick from love.
Let his left hand be under my head,
And his right hand embrace me.

" The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh,
Leaping upon the mountains.
Skipping upon the hills.
My beloved is like a roe or a young hart:
Behold, he standeth behind our wall;
He looketh in at the windows;
He glanceth through the lattice.
My beloved spake and said unto me,
Arise up, my love, my fair one, and come

" For, lo, the winter is past;
The ram is over and gone;



The flowers appear on the earth;

The time of the singing of birds is come,

And the 'voice of the turtle is heard in our


The fig-tree ripeneth her green figs,
And the vines are m blossom;
They give forth their -fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away"

These songs of love between a husband
and wife must be read in their complete
sequence to enjoy their pulsating melody.
Whatever secondary interpretation the
criticism of theologians may offer by
way of explanation, the poems must con-
tinue to appeal because of the response
they find in every true lover's heart.
" Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it."

The writers of the Bible possessed a
gift which few modern writers possess; /
they had the power to express the phi-
losophy of life as literature. The Book


of Job is a masterly dramatic allegory,
the language of which rises to the highest
form of poetical expression. The Prov-
erbs of Solomon may be arranged, as
Professor Moulton has arranged them, so
that they form sonnets. He has also di-
vided the Book of Ecclesiastes into es-
says, epigrams, sonnets, and "wisdom
clusters." But the Book of Job stands
supreme, among its kind, in all literature.
We shall best accept it as the poetic trag-
edy of a noble mind struggling to find a
reasonable basis for faith in God's divine
judgments and finding peace at last in
a realization that faith is better than
knowledge and is the profoundest wis-
dom the human soul can attain.

Job had been a wealthy man. He

feared God and walked in the ways of

righteousness. Suddenly, in one single

day, ruin came upon him. He lost his



flocks, his camels, his home and his fam-
ily. He barely had time to realize the
calamities that had befallen him when he
himself was afflicted by a loathsome dis-
ease. He became an outcast and a
dweller with the dogs on the village ash-


Online LibraryTemple ScottThe pleasure of reading the Bible → online text (page 1 of 2)