THE INCOMPARABLE BOOK
To Guide You as You Read it Through
WILBUR M. SMITH
The ROAD map does not change the direction of the highway – it may have to change the sense of direction for the driver. Nor does the map alter the terrain, the location of the rivers, lakes and cities. It merely enables the driver to locate them more readily. Maps provided by certain oil companies also show the places where they have stations to service and refuel the car. Most of them also show the ideal stopping places for a picnic or over-night camping.
This book is like a road map. It in no way seeks to erect new highways through the Scriptures or create new locations for rest, refreshment, and refueling. It is rather a guide to the reader as he journeys through the Scriptures. It will help him locate the scenic spots, give him the proper sense of direction, show him where he should slow down, even more than usual, as he reads the book through.
Few, if any, are as well qualified to prepare such a guide as the author, who kindly consented, in spite of his many responsibilities and activities, to write a little volume which could serve as a handbook for the many who are resolving to read the Book of Books through.
– Arnold T. Olson
Olson Chairman of Planning Committee for “Returning the Bible to the Heart of the Nation” – National Association of Evangelicals.
Whatever one may think of the authority of and the message presented in the book we call the Bible, there is world-wide agreement that in more ways than one it is the most remarkable volume that has ever been produced in these some five thousand years of writing on the part of the human race.
Even before we consider the Bible as the principal channel of divine revelation and the Word of God, we will find that its pre-eminence over all other religious literature is revealed in the contents of the book itself, in the remarkable unity and structure of the volume as we now possess it, in its enormous and beneficent influence, and in its unparalleled circulation through the centuries.
This is the only volume produced in the whole of the ancient world that gives us a reasonable account of the creation of the world and the origin and earliest history of the human race. It is the only volume ever produced by man, or a group of men, in which is to be found a large body of prophecies relating to individual nations, to Israel, to all the peoples of the earth, to certain cities, and to the coming of One who was to be the Messiah. The ancient world had many different devices for determining the future, known as divination, but not in the entire gamut of Greek and Latin literature, even though they use the words prophet and prophecy, can we find any real specific prophecy of a great historic event to come in the distant future, nor any prophecy of a Savior to arise in the human race. That Israel would be taken captive, that Judah would suffer the same tragic fate, that Jerusalem would be destroyed and the temple with it, are frequently predicted by the earlier prophets. Here in the Old Testament is a series of prophecies, beginning with the third chapter of Genesis, continuing down through the last book of the Old Covenant, setting forth the coming, the character, the birthplace, the work, and death of Jesus Christ, a catena of prophetic statements which cannot be matched in any other work. Mohammedanism cannot point to any prophecies of the coming of Mohammed uttered hundreds of years before his birth. Neither can the founders of any cult in this country rightly identify any ancient text specifically foretelling their appearance.
The Portrait of Christ
The portrait of Jesus Christ in this volume presents the most remarkable person who has ever lived on this earth. Christ alone, of all people ever born on this globe, is said to have been pre-existent (John 8:58; Hebrews 1:1-3 etc.). He alone was divinely conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit; at least, we must grant this is what the Bible teaches and the Church has believed. No other body of literature has ever even attempted to set forth the life, teachings, work, and death of any great man born of woman as of one who was from birth to death without sin. He Himself said He had no sin (John 8:46). His enemies said He was innocent (Matthew 27:4). After Christ’s work on earth was finished, the Apostles were unanimous in saying that He knew no sin (Acts 3:14; Hebrews 4:15; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5). No other person who has ever lived on this earth has ever ascended to a mountain with three disciples and heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, hear ye him” (Matthew 17:5). Neither you nor I, nor anyone else, long before it occurs, knows anything about our death, either when it will be, where it will occur, or what kind of a death it will be. Jesus told twelve different things concerning His death yet to come and, remember He was in the fullness of young manhood when He spoke these things. (See, e.g., Matthew 16:21; 17:22, 23; 20:18,19 etc.). No one on this earth has ever dared to say that He would arise from the dead the third day after his death, and has had such a prediction confirmed by the event. No one in his right mind who has won the adoration and love of countless millions and who has lived a life of sanity, self-control, and holiness, has ever dared to make such claims for himself as Jesus made. He said He came down from heaven (John 3:13; 6:38,42). He claimed to teach an ethic deeper and more authoritative than Moses. What other religious leader in history has ever dared to affirm that he himself, and only he, in his life and character was the perfect revelation of God? He said that no man would come unto God except through Him (John 14:6). He claimed that by His crucifixion all men would be drawn to Him (John 3:14). Who else has ever dared to say, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall never pass away” (Matthew 24:35)? Over and over again He insisted that the very destiny of the souls of men would depend upon their relationship to Him. Moreover, He said He would come again and receive us unto Himself and that at the end of the age, the last day, the dead would come forth from their graves and would be judged by Him. On that last night before He was betrayed, when He took the cup, He said that this represented His blood which was shed for the remission of sins. No one from the time of Abraham through the prophets, to the last of the apostles, ever said that his blood would be able to remit sins, and no one has ever dared say it since (Matthew 26:28).
Nowhere in the world will we find as high an ethical standard for the guidance of mankind as is unveiled for us in the New Testament. Even Bertrand Russell, who insists he does not believe in a personal God, has in recent years admitted that the only hope for mankind is that they should attempt to practice the very words of Jesus, that we are to love one another. The basic code of law rests solidly upon the Decalogue.
This Bible is the one book that can be called the Word of Hope. There is a message of hope here for the most depraved sinner. Though man by nature is dead in trespasses and sins, here is the Divine offer of eternal life; here is set forth the ultimate hope of a harassed, tortured, despondent race, Israel; here is the promise of deliverance from the power of sin, the domination of Satan, and the fear of death; and here is the assurance of a life of glory and fullness of joy continuing through the everlasting eternities available for all who will but believe.
Influence of the Book
This book is not only pre-eminent above all other literature because of its contents, but also because of its enormous influence. The very date we see on our daily newspaper and write at the head of our letters; the very date recorded in the decision of a court is determined by the advent of Jesus, just as for us, all the historic events of the ancient world are similarly determined. When we say that Caesar invaded Britain in 45 B.C., we are referring to the birth of Christ, and when we say that the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776 A.D., we mean in the year of our Lord.
Not only does history divide with the advent of Jesus of Nazareth, but the three greatest days in the calendar of any nation in Europe and of Christians in the Near East, are those which relate to the life of Jesus on this earth – Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. How comparatively insignificant in meaning, for example for us here in America, are the birthdays of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and the Fourth of July. Every meeting house, every church, every mission, anywhere in the world, down through the centuries, every cross, bear testimony to the pre-eminent significance of Jesus Christ.
Around no other person who has ever lived have such great paintings been created, including hundreds and hundreds of Madonnas. Around no other themes has such exalted music been composed as the theme set forth in this Word of God. Every recitation of a creed, every occurrence of the Lord’s Day, every company coming together to sing praises to His name, every request for forgiveness on the part of God, all derive from the One who is portrayed in this volume.
Around the person of Christ more books are written every century than around any other ten of the greatest characters of history. Think of the enormous influence of this book in the lives of individuals, read, studied, prayed over, wept over, embraced, beloved, as no other book in the world. I have heard a few Greek scholars say that when they first read Plato, they found it a mirror for their souls. It may be. But they never found in Plato salvation, nor a sinless Redeemer, nor the absolute assurance of eternal life and of resurrection.
Versions and Translations
And what shall we say about versions and translations and the circulation of these Scriptures? There have been some other great books in the world but even in the matter of their translation, the Bible is of unparalleled pre-eminence. It is stated on the best authority that Homer’s classic, The Iliad, has been translated into twenty languages, Shakespeare into forty-seven, The Imitation of Christ into four, Tolstoi into forty-seven, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress into one hundred languages. But the Bible in whole, or in part, as of this year, has been translated into more than 1100 languages and dialects. And why? Because men of every tongue and race need this Book for their own comfort, salvation, and hope and for what it reveals to mankind of God’s nature and character, His love and mercy, His holiness and power, His purposes and plans. We need this book for a right understanding of what has occurred on this earth, especially the great redemptive acts of God culminating in the advent of His only begotten Son. We need this book to teach us the way of life, the sins we are to avoid, the righteousness we are to practice, our right relations with those about us, our families, our nation, and God.
And how greatly we need this book which tells us of the things to come, of how this age will end, of the final destruction of evil powers, the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the establishment of the Messianic kingdom on this earth, our eternal home in glory, and that precious promise that we are to be made conformable to the image of the Son of God. Where can we find such things revealed to us with certainty except in this Bible? We do not turn to Shakespeare, nor to Goethe, nor to Carlyle, or Buskin, to know the will of God, the character of God, and our destiny by the grace of God. We turn instinctively to the one and only source of this knowledge – the incomparable Book.