Australasian Signs of the Times, vol. 19

Australasian Signs of the Times, Vol. 19


March 7, 1904

“Literary Value of the Bible” Australasian Signs of the Times 19 pp. 113, 114.



The English language and English literature must be studied in Christian schools: “Our own tongue, second to that of Greece alone in force and copiousness:” “our own literature, second to none that ever existed.” And in this field, as in every other proper one, the Bible stands preeminent. BEST March 7, 1904, page 113.1

As to the language, the English of the Bible is the purest and best English that there is in the world. There are in the Bible more pure English words, and better English words, than in any other book in the English language. Then, whoever would become acquainted with the purest and best English must study the English of the Bible. BEST March 7, 1904, page 113.2

In the English of the Bible there is more said in fewer words than in any other writing in the world. This directness and force-fulness, this true weightiness, is the characteristic of the language of the Bible above that of all other writings. And the person whose vocabulary is composed most fully of the words, the phraseology, and the forthrightness of the Bible, will be the most direct and forcible speaker or writer, will be able to say most in fewest words. BEST March 7, 1904, page 113.3

The Bible holds such an immense advantage over all other matter in English that to it it belongs by true merit to be the beginning of all study in English literature, and the basis and guide of all study of English literature in other books. Yet this is not all. To say that the Bible is deservedly the beginning, basis, and guide in the study of English literature is not enough. The Bible in itself alone is a whole English literature. This truth has been best expressed by Macaulay, in his allusion to the Bible as “that stupendous work, the English Bible—a book which, if everything else in our language should perish, would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power.”—Essay of Dryden. BEST March 7, 1904, page 113.4

No one who is acquainted with the English Bible, and the spirit of it, and with other literature in English, will question for a moment this estimate of the wealth of the Bible as English literature. In the Bible there is every phase of literature that is involved in the art of human expression, or in the portrayal of human feeling. And the transcendent merit of the Bible in all this is that it is all true. Its scenes are all adopted from real life, and are drawn to the life. They are not “founded on fact;” they are fact. BEST March 7, 1904, page 113.5

Truth and Fiction

Or the other hand, bow much of that which is studied to-day as English literature, in the schools, colleges, and universities, is true? Is not nine-tenths of if fiction? And is it not the fictional that stands the highest in these schools, as literature? What can give a man prominence to-day in the world of English literature more quickly than the writing of a popular novel? Even a minister of the gospel, an earnest, godly, powerful minister of the gospel, never can gain the prominence, even among people who profess the gospel, by simply preaching the gospel of the word of God, that he is assured of by the writing of a popular novel; and especially if he writes two or three, and so demonstrates that he has special ability as a novelist. That is to say, his standing as a minister of the word of Cod, which is truth, is made to be dependent on his popularity as a producer of fiction! BEST March 7, 1904, page 113.6

Now which is better, which is the more Christian for Christians, or for a Christian school—to study English literature that is inferior in quality, and is fictional besides, or to study it in that “book which, if everything else in our language should perish, would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power,” and which, in addition, is all the very perfection of truth—the truth of God? To ask the question is certainly only to answer it, in the mind of every Christian and in the mind of every person who would receive a Christian education. BEST March 7, 1904, page 113.7

When this can all truly be said of the Bible as compared with the literature of Christendom, what shall not be said of it in contrast to the literature of paganism? “It has come to be generally recognised that the classics of Greece and Rome stand to us in the position of an ancestral literature— the inspiration of our great masters, and bond of common association between our poets and their readers. But does not such a position belong equally to the literature of the Bible? If our intellect and imagination have been formed by the Greeks, have we not in similar fashion drawn our moral and emotional training from Hebrew thought? Whence, then, the neglect of the Bible in our higher schools and colleges? BEST March 7, 1904, page 113.8

Save Professor Moulton:— BEST March 7, 1904, page 114.1

“It is one of the curiosities of our civilisation that we are content to go for our liberal education to literatures which, morally, are at an opposite pole from ourselves: literatures in which the most exalted tome is often an apotheosis of the sensuous, which degrade divinity, not only to the human level, but to the lowest level of humanity. Our hardest social problem being temperance, we study in Greek the glorification of intoxication. While in mature life we are occupied in tracing law to the remotest corner of the universe, we go at school for literary impulse to the poetry that dramatises the burden of hopeless fate. Our highest politics aim at conserving the arts of peace; our first poetic lessons are in an Iliad that can not be appreciated without a bloodthirsty joy to killing. We seek to Incas a character in which delicacy and reserve shall be supreme, and at the same time are training our taste in literatures which, if published as English books, would be seized by the police. BEST March 7, 1904, page 114.2

“I recall these paradoxes, not to make objection, but to suggest the reasonableness of the claim that the one side of our liberal education should have another side to balance it. Prudish fears may be unwise, but there is no need to put an embargo upon decency. It is surely good that our youth, during the formative period, should have displayed to them, in a literary dress as brilliant as that of Greek literature—in lyrics which Pindar can not surpass, in rhetoric as forcible as that of Demosthenes, or contemplative prose not inferior to Plato’s—a people dominated by an utter pass on for righteousness, a people whose ideas of purity, of infinite good, of universal or er, of faith in the irresistible downfall of all moral evil, moved to a poetic passion as fervid, and speech as musical, as when Sappho sang of love or Eschylus thundered his deep notes of destiny.” BEST March 7, 1904, page 114.3

It has been truly said of the book of Isaiah alone, that “It may be safely asserted that nowhere else in the literature of the world hate so many colossally great ideas been brought together within the limits of a single work.” This can be extended to include the whole Bible, and it still be equally true. BEST March 7, 1904, page 114.4

So also the following:— BEST March 7, 1904, page 114.5

“Even in literary form the world bas produced nothing greater than Isaiah, and the very difficulty of determining its literary form is so much evidence how cramped and imperfect literary criticism has limn made by the confinement of its antitank to the single type of literature which has tome to monopolise the name ‘classical.’ But when we proceed to the matter and thought of Isaiah—the literary matter, quite apart from the theology founded on it—how can we explain the neglect of such a masterpiece in our plans of liberal education? BEST March 7, 1904, page 114.6

“It is the boast of England and America that their higher education is religious in its spirit. Why is it, then, that our youth are taught to associate exquisiteness at expression, force of presentation, brilliance of imaginative picturing, only with literatures in which the prevailing matter and thought are on a low moral plane? Such a paradox is part of the paganism which came in with the Renaissance, and which our higher education is still too conservative to shake off.”—Modern Reader’s Bible,” Isaiah, preface, p. xxiv. BEST March 7, 1904, page 114.7

Shall it be that Christians in their education will still refuse to shake off this paganism? Shall not the supreme Christian literature—the Bible—have its own supreme place alone at every stage and in every phase of Christian education? BEST March 7, 1904, page 114.8