The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: T

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Things new and old

God has given instructions to His servants in many different ways; He has spoken "at sundry times and in divers manners", as the apostle puts it, and He has chosen very different instruments to convey the messages. The perfection of divine wisdom was revealed in a divinely perfect man who is to us "wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption." Divine wisdom has also come to us through very imperfect men who have been "wisdom" and warning.

In many ways the most remarkable example of divine instruction coming through a faulty man is in the writings of Solomon the son of David. Solomon would seem to have been the most favoured of mortals; the son of a great king and the heir to the throne, coming into power at the most favourable time in his nation's history when all enemies were subdued and when even Egypt sought alliance with the growing strength of Israel. Solomon had wealth in abundance, he had bodily health and such vigorous mentality that according to Jewish tradition he could speak all the languages known in his day. Finally, in addition to all this God granted to him a special wisdom so that he became a vehicle for the conveyance of divine instruction to mankind. He is the supreme example of the ease with which natural blessing may be turned into spiritual curse, of how a man who knows may fail to perform, and of how the treasures of divine knowledge and wisdom may be contained in an "earthen vessel" which perishes even while it conveys imperishable truth.

In writing of the Proverbs there is no difficulty in applying the lessons to the circumstances of our own time. They are astonishingly "up to date". There is vitality and freshness in the Scriptures after all the centuries that have passed since the words were written. A sermon only a hundred years old seems old-fashioned and dead, but the words of scripture are continually new and living. They keep pace with a growing intelligence, yielding further messages as we are able to receive them. "The dark sayings of the wise" often seem perfectly clear and simple. They do not in any way obscure truth or confuse the mind of a reader. They are simple in the first message that they yield, but that is not all that they contain. The darkness is in hidden depths.

The Proverbs are not intended merely for one class of reader or one grade of intelligence. Their appeal is universal. "A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will attain unto sound counsel." Indeed in this as in so many human lessons, those who would seem to need the instruction least get the most out of it, while those who need it most refuse to listen. This incongruity is noted in the first chapter of the book. It is the wise man who hears and increases his knowledge. "Fools despise wisdom and instruction."

There is a fundamental truth regarding the human mind which everyone ought to know and which in all probability everyone will claim to know when once it is mentioned. We refer to the fact that the mind is so constituted that we are bound to learn gradually. Some can take the successive steps much quicker than others, but it is always by steps that we make any advance. The best way of learning, in fact the only satisfactory way, is in the manner of a child. It involves much repetition; we pass repeatedly over the same mental track, but each time makes it a little deeper, a little clearer, and perhaps carries it a little further. A man has so much in his mind that he may be able to put thoughts together much more rapidly than is possible for a child, but in this essential matter of forming really fresh impressions, our aptitude diminishes as we grow older. There is no such thing as sudden enlightenment, for we are not able to receive it. It is possible to concentrate a great amount of instruction in few words, but those few words are unintelligible to a man who is unprepared. We have heard lectures which would express a great mass of truth to hearers who were well prepared, but the only definite impression made on a complete stranger was a headache. Indeed, as we have often remarked, a book entirely filled with new ideas would be as unintelligible as one written in an unknown tongue. Take a text book regarding some technical matter that you have never studied and you will make nothing of it. It may be an excellent book giving all the main facts that are known concerning the subject under review. It would be sudden enlightenment if you were able to grasp the meaning of it all at a single reading, but that is impossible. If you want to understand it you have to learn in the ordinary way, gradually building up from that which you already know and with much repetition as knowledge is extended. In other words, you have to learn in the manner of a child.

It is worth while to emphasize this truth, for so many people in later life, and perhaps especially in this generation, become impatient of instruction that might help them. Some teaching is rejected because it is new and they can make nothing out of it, everything else is despised because it is old and they know all about it. With less aptitude for receiving new impressions than was once theirs, they decline to pass with childlike interest along a well trodden path of thought and so they never carry it any further.

This is not an age for serious reading. Millions of people with all the advantages of modern education pass through life without ever reading a single good book. They read a great deal of trash and perhaps Macaulay's dictum is true that it must be a very bad book to be worse than no book at all, but this is only a negative recommendation. Much can be learned by good reading if the student is willing to learn in the manner of the inquiring and interested child, pleased to renew acquaintance with that which is well known and anxious to understand that which seems new and obscure.

One who tries to write with the sole object of serving and helping must have two questions before his mind. Can I give some instruction or suggest thoughts that will be helpful? Can I write in a manner sufficiently interesting for people to read? It is easy to do either of these things alone but difficult to combine them, yet the combination must be effected if we are to achieve our purpose. The Lord Jesus suggested the right way. The instructed scribe must be like a householder bringing forth from his treasures things new and old. They must not be all new or no one would understand, but if possible some of the treasures must be new at least to some readers. It may be possible, too, to show the old in a new light so that even those who have forgotten how to learn may be stimulated into a revival of interest. It is not merely in the matter of humility that we need to become like children. Those who seek the Kingdom of God also need the childlike interest in things both new and old and the child's readiness to learn, step by step, carrying the old thought a little further.


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