This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spoke to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers…
Whatever sense "lively" (A.V.) may once have had, it can only now mislead: it is limited to certain special characteristics of life; "living" (R.V.) implies life in itself, life as a principle, life with all its manifold issues. The one is particular, the other is comprehensive. What more striking illustration could we have of this life, this vitality, than the great Bible Society, comprising members of many countries and churches, dispensing an income of more than £200,000 a year, dependent on gratuitous support, and bringing no gain to its members, concentrating all its energies and absorbing all its resources on the reproduction and the dissemination of one single Book — a Book, too, of which the latest page is some eighteen centuries old; claiming to have distributed already between ninety and a hundred million copies, and at this moment distributing year by year close upon three million of its volumes, whole or in part, in well-nigh every spoken language of the globe; however you may look at it this is a fact, to which the long roll of history presents not the faintest parallel. And yet this society does not stand alone. It is the handmaid of almost all the missionary associations throughout the world, to whatever church or whatever country they belong.
I. LIFE INVOLVES GROWTH; growth is at once a characteristic and an evidence of life. We speak of life in a plant or tree, because it puts forth leaves and flowers and throws out fresh branches. We do not speak of a crystal as living. A crystal may be a very beautiful thing, but one thing it wants — Life. This figure fitly describes the Bible as contrasted with other sacred books. It did not come into being all at once; it was not the product of one mind or age; it is not a book, but a library; it is legislation, chronicles, poetry, philosophy, epistolography, allegory, romance, apocalyptic. It spreads over some thousands of years; it traverses the history of the race from the earliest dawn to the full noon-day of an elaborate civilisation. It was not written in any one place; Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, all contribute. Now we find ourselves wandering with nomadic tribes over lonely pastures beneath the starry sky; now we are dazzled by all the splendid surroundings of an Oriental despot's court; now we are lodged in some humble peasant household, and now we stand face to face with the majesty and the insignia of the imperial law. Sea and land, mountain, field and forest, crowded city and trackless desert, each in its turn furnishes a theme for this ever-shifting drama. All the vicissitudes of human life, poverty, and wealth, mourning and joy, the marriage and the funeral, the secret communings of the individual soul, and the tumultuous activity of public life — all contribute their quota to its incidents.
II. LIFE INVOLVES UNITY — a unity underlying the various devolopment. There must be some principle of life from which all the growth is evolved, which stamps its character on all the parts, which secures the harmony and coherence of the whole. We speak of the germ in the plant, of the soul in the man. So it is with the Bible. Amidst all these marvellous diversities of time, place, condition, form, subject-matter, there is a principle of unity which is also the principle of life. This unity is quite as real in the different parts of the Bible as in the different; parts of a plant, or in the different ages of man. The first chapter of Genesis finds its natural and appropriate climax in the last chapter of Revelation, while all the intermediate parts have their proper place in the sequence written though they were long centuries apart and gathered together we hardly know when and we cannot say how; the New Testament latent in the Old, the Old Testament patent in the New. Its fame can never grow old or out of date. And this principle of life, this animated soul — what is it but the Eternal Word speaking through lawgiver and captain and priest and prophet and king, speaking in the continuous history of a nation and in the chequered but unbroken light of the Church until at length He became incarnate in the man Christ Jesus. The many modes and the many parts of the Divine revelation were harmonised, explained, completed when in the last days God spoke through His Son. Contrast this infinite variety, these worldwide interests and associations with the monotony of other great books. The Koran is Arabian, the Vedas are Indian, the Zendavesta is Persian, the Bible alone is cosmopolitan. Other books for the most part have a oneness of treatment, of subject-matter, even of style. They are like the statue fused in a mould; it may have a beauty of its own, but it is rigid; it has no movement and no life, and the purpose served by all this is that life speaks to life. As a living thing the Bible appeals to the mind, affections, historical instincts, domestic sympathies, political aspirations. It arrests first that it may instruct afterwards. And here in this intimate union of intensely human sympathies and interests with intensely Divine teaching, this close alliance of heaven and earth, the Bible ever is a type, a reflection, a counterpart of the Incarnation itself. In the Bible God stoops to man, in the Incarnation God becomes man. Thus the Incarnation is the ultimate satisfaction of all religious craving and the final goal of all religious history, beyond which no other step is possible or conceivable.
III. LIFE INVOLVES STRUGGLE. The Scriptures have proved themselves as living oracles by the controversies which they excite and the antipathies which they provoke. Is it not an eloquent fact that in the early persecutions, pre-eminently in the last and fiercest of all, the main object of attack was the sacred writings; that the foes of the gospel were ready enough to spare the lives of men if only they might take the life of the Book; that those were branded by their fellow-Christians with the name of traitor, not who had surrendered a human being, whether leader or confederate or friend, but who had betrayed the Book into the hands of the destroyer? Aye, these heathen persecutors were wise in their generation; they felt instinctively that these Scriptures were living things; that they were active and aggressive; that, as Luther said of St. Paul's Epistles, "They have hands and feet — hands to grasp and feet to march; therefore they must be killed; they must be hurried out of sight." Was Milton so far wrong after all when he said that one who killed a good book is worse than a homicide; for, striking at the very breath of reason, he slays an immortality rather than a life? And as it was with the Greek Bible in the days of Diocletian, so was it also with the English Bible in the days of Henry. What a testimony to its living power is the record of its early days when that great man, who has won for himself an undying name, not only in English Christianity, but in English literature also, an outlaw and a wanderer in a foregin land, fled from city to city, carrying with him the half-translated texts, the half-printed sheets of his new version, the parent of our English Bible of to-day! Can we reflect without the deepest thanksgiving on this magnificent irony of the Divine goodness that within a stone's-throw of the place where the gentle, tender-hearted, reasonable Tunstall committed to the flames the first issue of Tyndale's New Testament as a thing to be abhorred and detested by all faithful Christian people, his latest successor in the see of Durham is able this day to congratulate a large, powerful, and wealthy society on its distributing within a single year no less than one million and a half copies of the English Bible, whole or in parts?
Parallel VersesKJV: This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us: