In this series of lectures I propose to deal only with the first and fundamental matters, as my purpose is preëminently that of helping those who are beginning the Christian life in the study and teaching of the English Bible.
Among English-speaking people there are two classes likely to read the Bible; first, those who are Christian believers, and secondly, those who, as honest enquirers, are desirous of knowing exactly what is taught in the Scriptures.
There is a distinct difference between these classes in the mood of approach, and consequently in the mode thereof. The first almost necessarily comes to the study of the Bible with a prejudice in its favor, expecting to find therein teaching which will guide in life and service; while the second approaches the study with a perfectly open mind as to what the Scriptures teach, but in many cases with a prejudice against the attitude of the first, not being prepared to admit upon the basis of the conviction of others, that the Bible is the Word of God, that it is a Divine Library, or that the writings are in any special sense inspired. Such a reader does not believe these things because he honestly cannot, and is not prepared to make his judgment blind. There are many senses in which such an attitude is the most easy to deal with, for it is the true condition for receiving teaching.
These classes are, however, unified, by their common desire to study the Scriptures; and they are both asking for help as to the best method of doing so.
It would appear as though there ought to be no difficulty in the matter, but it is quite certain that there is a very serious difficulty. This difficulty is the result of the way in which the Bible has been treated, rather than the outcome of anything in the Bible itself. There are thousands of people who have been brought up in somewhat close relationship to the Christian Church, who nevertheless think only of the Bible as a book of texts from which sermons are preached, or which are quoted in proof of some theological position. The result is an entirely false conception of the value of the Scriptures, and is largely to blame for the present condition of affairs. As I have travelled on both sides of the Atlantic, endeavoring to teach the Bible, and striving to help men to a methodical study thereof for themselves, I have been constantly asked by intelligent young people, some of them decided Christians, others honest enquirers, Will you tell us how to study the Bible?
Now I have never been asked to tell any one how to study Shakespeare. That may be accounted for by the fact that no one suspects me of any ability in that direction; but I venture to say that it is a question that is not asked, even of those who are Shakespearean experts; and the reason is that Shakespeare has not been submitted to the false treatment which the Bible has received; and consequently the difficulty and perplexity have not been created.
The present lectures are intended in the simplest way possible to answer that enquiry.