Frederick W. Farr (1918)
Edited by Dianthe Bells
Published by Rosy Garland Books (Australia) 2017
People are always asking, how shall I study the Bible? What is the best method? There is no short cut, no royal road; no magic method. Say to such an inquirer, “Read the Bible over and over again—not once, nor twice, nor thrice, but many, many times.” And that is all anyone can do. Read it until you become familiar, cognizant of its contents, until you are so familiar with your Bible, that you can close your eyes and visualize the passage by locating it upon a particular page just where it belongs.
In riding upon a railroad train, you hear the trainmen call out the stations, and you refer to your time card to verify the call as each station is passed, and you wonder at the trained memory of the man who can repeat that long list of way stations without a mistake, and you ask him how he ever does it, and he smiles and replies that he has done it so long it is automatic, done without thought and without effort; and so the best product of Bible study becomes spontaneous and involuntary. You have read the Bible so frequently, so thoughtfully, so earnestly, so prayerfully that it comes to you without direct effort on your part where to locate a passage and you label it instinctively. And when the facts of Scripture are all in your head and heart, you can safely trust the Holy Spirit to interpret those facts, and you need not that any man teach you, and therefore the only thing to seek and to secure is to become familiar with the contents of the Word—thoroughly cognizant of all the facts of Scripture, and read them so often that you see them on the page where they occur, even with closed eyes. In that way, a man with one book, if that book be the Bible, has a large and liberal culture and an education that will serve manifold purposes in solving the problems and bearing the burdens and discharging the duties of daily life.
Christian workers must be taught and trained. To teach is to cause to know; to train is to cause to do; knowing and doing are related as a means to an end, as a cause and effect. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” Theory precedes practice. How could a man ever do anything unless he knows how it ought to be done? We not only have to be taught, we have to be trained. We must learn the theory, we must acquire the practice and knowledge as a means to an end. I shall briefly mention seven conditions under which Bible study may be prosecuted with success.
The first condition is indispensable and fundamental; indeed it is not so much a condition as a prerequisite, and that is regeneration. You must be born again before you can understand the Bible. It is absolutely necessary. (Matthew 13:11) What Daniel says of prophecy is true of all Scriptures—“The wise shall understand, the wicked shall not.” He means that character rather than culture is the condition of understanding prophecy. If you would understand the prophecies of God’s Word correctly, it is not necessary to graduate at a University or Seminary, and read Greek and Hebrew, but it is necessary to be good, to be pure, to be holy. The heart makes the theologian. The heart is the organ of spiritual vision, and character rather than culture becomes the key to unlock the mysteries of prophecy. That is true of all Scripture. (1 Corinthians 2:14.) Suppose a man is sitting beside you on yonder mountain top, and you are describing to him the glories of a sunset. The west is brilliant with prismatic hues of iridescent rainbow beauty. The man is indifferent, and unconcerned. You grow indignant until you discover that the man is blind. What cares he about the sunset? What knows he about your words? You do not scold him, you do not blame him, you pity him. No un-regenerated man can know anything about the mysteries of God and the meaning of the Bible. A man must be a Christian before he can open the Bible with any possibility of arriving at its meaning. It is spiritually discerned. Suppose I say to you that on the back of your hand there are scales like those of a fish, and you look at your white hand and laugh in scorn, and say that is nonsense. Suppose I take you out in yonder street and look up into the sky and say there are four moons revolving around the planet Jupiter, and you look up at that great white planet in the evening sky, and you say the man is crazy, it is no such thing. Suppose I take your razor and say it has a corrugated edge like a cross-cut saw, and you hold the razor up to the light, and you say it is not so. Put your hand under a microscope; it looks like the back of an alligator. Put the sharpest razor you ever saw under a microscopic lens; it looks like a circular saw. Put the telescope on Jupiter, and you see the four satellites in their appointed order. That former statement was foolishness to your natural eye, because it was microscopically discerned. That latter statement was foolishness to your natural eye, because it was telescopically discerned. The axioms of the Bible are foolishness to the natural mind because they are spiritually discerned. A man must be born of the Spirit before he knows what the Bible teaches.
Filled With the Holy Spirit
Second: A man must be baptized with the Holy Spirit as well as born of the Spirit to study the Bible successfully. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit. “If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of His,” and “by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body.” But there is something beyond. There is a reception and an appropriation of the Holy Spirit as a teacher and a guide and a helper that confers a marvellous benefit upon the believer. We have a mental salvation.
“Be renewed in the spirit of your minds.” We have talked so much about purifying the heart by faith that we have forgotten about clarifying the mind. It is quite as necessary to have a renewed mind as it is to have a clean heart. A clear head may be a product of the Holy Spirit as well as a clean heart. A man may testify to heart purity, and only God and the angels know anything about it, but if a man says anything about his clear head, as soon as he opens his mouth he gives himself away. The Holy Spirit is like oil to lubricate the mental machinery so that a man can think coherently, imagine vividly, remember retentively, argue logically. I believe that a Christian student in the public schools uniformly takes higher rank than a scholar who is not a Christian. I ask for an explanation of that fact, and you say a Christian has a higher motive. He has a conscientious inducement to apply himself and to be faithful, but that accounts for it only in part. A Christian has a mentality illuminated by the Holy Spirit.
Now that comes from having the Holy Spirit as your mentality to stimulate you, to enlighten you and to help you, (and our minds need saving quite as much as our souls and quite as much as our bodies) …for our highest life is a mental life, and even our spiritual life comes under the scope of our mentality, and the Holy Spirit is our teacher to guide us into all truth, and even a believer can study better with the help of the Holy Spirit.
A Ravenous Appetite
In the third place, there must be a ravenous appetite for Bible study. “Thy words were found, and I did eat them.” “I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.” If you don’t love to study the Bible, you’d better postpone this course of study, but the appetite grows by what it feeds on, and if you haven’t any appetite, you need praying for. Sometimes a person is run down, and goes to a doctor. Before the doctor makes a diagnosis, he begins to quiz you. The first question is, how is your appetite? If you have no appetite, you need medicine. When a Christian has no appetite for God’s Word, it is a dangerous symptom. Remember what the Israelites said in the wilderness, “Our soul loatheth this light bread.” Light bread indeed. It was angels’ food. If it was good enough for the angels, it ought to have been good enough for the Israelites. We remember the food of the Egyptians—cucumbers, melons, garlic, etc. Many people prefer novels or newspapers to the Bible—members of the church too. They have no appetite. To make any progress in Bible study, you must love the Bible. Unless you put your heart into the work, it is drudgery, and it never succeeds. The highest success is the spirit in which you do your work. God never says, “Well done, thou good and successful servant,” but “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Cultivate your appetite. A strong spiritual appetite is the greatest spiritual safeguard. “How sweet are Thy words unto my mouth, yea sweeter than honey to my lips.”
Fourth condition: Unflagging industry, hard work. “In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge.” Men don’t find golden nuggets lying around loose on the surface of the earth. They have to look for them, and the deeper they dig and the harder they work, the more precious treasure do they find. There are no rewards for laziness. There is no truth to be discovered save by the hardest work. Every chapter, every passage, every verse is a great mine, of which we only scratch the outer surface. The Word is infinite and inexhaustible. But this is the greatest need of all—hard work. The chief attraction of heaven lies suggested in the activities of the cherubim—they rest not day nor night. They work 24 hours a day. Isn’t that delightful? The time we sleep is wasted. We are unconscious. What a small sum of our time remains to do anything! One-third of our time is spent in bed, resting, another one-third feeding, grooming and nursing these bodies of our humiliation. What a pitiable fraction of time is left to do anything for God or man, and oh, how glorious it will be to keep on working 24 hours at a stretch! The student who works the hardest does the most and goes the farthest.
Fifth condition: Implicit obedience (John 7:17). Power goes with plan, obedience guarantees blessing. If you want spiritual power, you must discover the divine plan, conform to it and cooperate with it, but if you want spiritual blessing, be perfectly obedient to every divine suggestion and command, and blessedness shall be yours. Whenever we discover some new truth in Scripture, it has to be translated into conduct and incorporated into character. When a man gets his head crammed with knowledge, he is like a ship with all the cargo on the upper deck, a very dangerous and most unstable condition. It is liable at any moment to capsize and flounder. Truth must percolate from the head down into the heart. There must be the moral response and an attitude assumed that shall be correlated to the truth itself. If I draw back and refuse to obey the light that is given, God will give no further light until I live up to what I have and act upon the knowledge that is given. Many a case of spiritually arrested development may be explained by disobedience. I suppose nine-tenths of all intellectual difficulty has an ethical root and if men would do what they know to be right, their doubts would melt away in the doing.
Sixth: Humility—reverent humility. “If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing as he ought to know.” This is only another name for docility. This is the characteristic of an ideal disciple. Disciple is the word those who followed Jesus first received. Disciple means learner. They entered the school of faith and of life. The Latin word from which humility comes means near the ground. An old writer said, “There are two safe places in the universe, the heavens and the dust. Of these two, the dust is the safer place, for there have been those who fell out of heaven, but who ever heard of any one falling out of the dust? Where could he fall?” Be clothed with humility, a new style of dress goods, prices not gone up on account of the war. “God resisteth the proud and giveth grace unto the humble.” But alas! when the consciousness of humility goes into the heart, the grace of humility goes out. Life is for learning, and there is no privilege greater than going to school. Christ is the Teacher, and we graduate into the High School of heaven to sit at His feet throughout eternity. Gifted godly men can teach you much, but by and by on the heaven side bank of the river of death, you’ll sit down with Paul and Abraham and Noah and Enoch, and they’ll give you Bible teaching that is worth looking forward to. That is a post-graduate course that awaits us on the other side. Humility is necessary because it tends to self-depreciation. There is no dogmatism or bigotry so hard and bitter as that of ignorance. Lord Bason said, “A little learning tendeth to self-conceit, but much learning tendeth to humility.” The men who know most think they know the least, and the men who know the least think they know it all.
Seventh and last: Ceaseless prayer. (Jeremiah 33:3.) “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and hidden things which thou knowest not.” Suppose you ponder long on a passage of Scripture, and the meaning is vague. What shall you do? Consult commentaries? Yes, but get down on your knees and pray. Say “Lord, what does this passage mean?” Then get up and study it some more. If it still baffles you, get down and pray about it some more and plead the promise. Open your Bible to James 1:5, put your finger on this passage, and say “Lord, I plead this particular promise. I confess my lack of wisdom. O, Thou Spirit of Light and Truth, illumine me.” Then get up and go to work, and while you work and while you pray, light will filter in, and thought will come from God. Have you ever wondered where thought comes from? Is not the origin of thought as great a mystery as the origin of life? Who can explain it? We say life comes from God. Doesn’t thought come from God? You hold your mind against a problem, and keep it there. From the north and from the south and from the east and from the west ideas come like doves flocking to the window? Whence come they if not from God? Luther’s motto was, “To have prayed well is to have studied well.” The time you spend in prayer is an immense advantage, not a hindrance, not a handicap, but an indispensable help to the understanding of God’s Word.
Consider the seven conditions under which Bible study may be pursued:
Baptism of the Holy Spirit
Prayer Power by Dr. Frederic W. Farr
The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16)
No translation has done this passage justice. The difficulty of translating lies not in the obscurity of the original, but in the fullness of its meaning. There is a middle participle in the Greek which may indicate either the cause or the time of the effectiveness of the prayer. It may mean that the prayer is effective through its working, or while it is actively working.
The key to the interpretation of these words is supplied by the context: “Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again and the heaven gave rain and the earth brought forth her fruit.”
Here are the prominent facts to be considered. Elijah was a man like other man, subject to human frailties and infirmities. He was a mighty man of power because he was a man of prayer. He prayed “earnestly” -- literally: “He prayed with prayer, prayed pressingly, prayed habitually, prayed importunately.” All this is in the word.
It might seem to us that a man must be more than mortal who could thus open and close the heavens. No, one can read his brief history without being convinced that he was very human. He had his victories and his defeats. He alternated between hope and despair. He sat down under the juniper tree in doubt and despondency and prayed that he might die.
Just because he was so much like other men, he is held up to us as an encouraging example of the power that prevails in prayer. A consideration of his prayer will illustrate for us the law of prayer and teach us how results are brought to pass.
He Prayed Alone
Elijah was alone. He withdrew from other men that he might give the full strength of his fervent soul to the work before him. Praying is not always easy. It may be easy to say one’s prayers. There is a devotional meditation which is the calm musing of a tranquil spirit. But there is also involved in prayer the agonized wrestling of the entire being, when intellect, conscience, heart and will are all vigorously engaged. That is no child’s play.
We are told in Scripture that on one occasion when our Savior was praying, the disciples came to Him “when he ceased” and asked Him to teach them how to pray. The word translated “ceased” means, “when he rested.” This implies that prayer may be hard work. The intensity of that work is by no means to be gauged by vociferation.
There is an agony too great; there is an energy too deep even for utterance. It is scarcely conceivable that Christ shouted in Gethsemane.
Alas, our prayers are so formal and cold that frequently the labor of any vocal utterance seems too onerous and distasteful to be attempted.
His Prayer Was Definite
Elijah had a definite object in view when he prayed. His whole soul was bent on securing rain. He had done all he could in the way of cleansing the land from idolatry and he now asked God to take away the curse which that idolatry had brought. He knew what he wanted and if you had asked him what he had been praying for, he could have told you. This is more than many professing Christians could do.
We might as well post a letter without addressing the envelope and expect it to reach its destination, as to pray without any definite aim and expect it to get an answer. Such prayer becomes a burden and a weariness to the spirit, instead of a joy and a refreshment as it was intended.
He Expected An Answer
Elijah prayed definitely and then expected an answer to his prayer. He sent his servant to look for its appearance. He never doubted that his prayer would be answered; for that reason he set a watch for the coming of the answer.
Is it not a wonder that we so often are surprised at the fidelity of God? The Eternal God is ever faithful. It is one of the laws of His moral government that prayer should be answered if it is the right kind of prayer. What a commentary on our unbelief that we should wonder at His laws actually operating!
He Prayed Without Ceasing
Elijah was importunate in his praying. Six times he servant returned and reported: “There is nothing,” but he kept on praying. He asked and sought and knocked until he saw the answer. Jesus Himself prayed again and again in Gethsemane, saying the same words. Why should we be disappointed and desist because there seems to be no immediate delivery?
Elijah recognized the answer when it began to come. His servant came back the seventh time saying: “Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea like a man’s hand”. Elijah knew this was the answer and sent to Ahab to hasten his departure, lest the rain should prevent his return.
This is an illustration of the suddenness, rather than the gradual manner in which God answers prayer, for although this coming cloud was so mall, the storm burst so soon that the king was bidden to make all haste to escape it. It shows also that God often answers prayer through the ordinary operation of the laws of nature. What men call physical laws, have been so established and arranged by God, in order that He might carry on through them the administration of His Providence and answer the prayers of His people.
When God created the world, He did not shut Himself out of it. To suppose that He who gave the laws to the universe is unable to use them to answer the entreaties of His children which He Himself has inspired within them by His Spirit, is to make Him the slave rather than the Master of creation.
His Prayer Got Results
Most important of all, Elijah’s prayer was an INWROUGHT prayer. It is an example of the “effectual inwrought prayer of a righteous man which availeth much.” Prevailing prayer is always inwrought by the Word and the Spirit.
The efficient energy in the case of Elijah was not so much in the prayer that he offered, although it was definite, believing and importunate, as it was in the word of the Lord that came before he prayed. The God who has ordained prayer has also directed the means and the modes of praying (Romans 8:26).
Every prayer that is inwrought by the Holy Spirit must be effectual. It cannot be otherwise. It comes from God and it goes to God. It is prayed out in the energy of the Spirit and carries with it the pre-assurance of the answer. The gift of faith is necessary in order for us to believe that certain things shall be accomplished. There may be no human probability and no specific promise of the Word of God to warrant the petition. When we pray “in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18) we pray with faith given by the Holy Spirit. The answer is certain.
Power Available to All
Every Christian may have the gift of faith by living near enough to the Lord to discern the mind of the Spirit and receive the revelation of His will. Prayer must be offered in Jesus’ Name because it is heard for Jesus’ sake. There is no merit, either in the prayer or the one who offers it. Prayer needs also to be inwrought by the Holy Spirit, Christ’s Representative in the believer’s heart. Such prayer can only be inwrought in a righteous, or thoroughly consecrated person.
There is a vast amount of skepticism and unbelief in the world and even in the church concerning prayer. Christians lament the fact that He does not seem to answer prayer. There never was a time when so many prayers were being said and so little true prayer being offered.
God and the angels are wondering why prayer is not offered, and saying, as they look down upon a silent world: “Where is Elijah?” The God of Elijah is where He has always been. Where is Elijah? Prayer is a lost art. Where are the believers who know how to pray?
Wherever you can find the trustful, willing heart of a righteous man, there you have the soil into which effectual prayers can be inwrought by the Holy Spirit.
Dependence on Christ
by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
These remarks may assist those, who, conscientiously attempting the duties of religion, find them so often a hard and painful endeavor, and who progress by a constant and desperate struggle. How is all to be made easy?—to follow forth spontaneously and delightfully? Christ certainly had some meaning when he said, ‘Learn of me and ye shall find rest;’—he meant just what he declared, when he said, ‘my yoke is easy and my burden is light;’ and they who do not find them easy and light, may be persuaded that they are not following the practice of religion in Christ’s way, but in some colder and more difficult mode of their own. They may be Christians, and their sad and disheartened endeavors may be very precious in the eyes of Him who will not break even a bruised reed; but while their whole life is a constant conflict of a sense of obligation and duty with an ever rebellious heart, they may be persuaded that they do not yet understand the terms on which their Saviour would have them live with him; nor the perfect ‘freedom of the sons of God.’ There is such a way of living with, or in Christ, that watchfulness, prayer, devotion, patience, gentleness, meekness, become so many sweet and spontaneous impulses, instead of labored acquisitions, alternately the subjects of hope and of despair; and this is true freedom.
The very figure which Christ uses illustrates this idea; ‘as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me.’ Now how does a branch bear fruit? Not by incessant effort for sunshine and air; not by vain struggles for those vivifying influences which give beauty to the blossom, and verdure to the leaf;—it simply abides in the vine, in silent and undisturbed union; and the fruit and blossoms appear as of spontaneous growth.
How, then, shall a Christian bear fruit? By efforts and struggles to obtain that which is freely given; by meditations on watchfulness, on prayer, on action, on temptation, and on dangers? No, there must be a full concentration of the thoughts and affections on Christ; a complete surrender of the whole being to him; a constant looking to him for grace. Christians in whom these dispositions are once firmly fixed, go on calmly as the sleeping infant borne in the arms of its mother. Christ reminds them of every duty in its time and place—reproves them for every error—counsels them in every difficulty, excites them to every needful activity. In spiritual, as in temporal matters, they take no thought for the morrow—for they know that Christ will be as accessible tomorrow as to-day, and that time imposes no barrier on his love. Their hope and trust rest solely on what he is willing and able to do for them; on nothing that they suppose themselves able and willing to do for him. Their talisman for every temptation and sorrow, is their oft repeated, childlike surrender of their whole being to him; as the infant in every trouble, finds a safe asylum in the bosom of its mother. That such was the course of the subject of this narrative is shown by her great and uncommon activity in every good thing; for, we read, ‘He that abideth in me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing.’
Some may say, ‘Truly this is a very delightful state of feeling, but how shall we obtain it? How shall we begin?’
We answer, just in the same way that a sinner begins the Christian life, by coming to the Saviour, and making a full, free and hearty surrender of his body, soul and spirit; fully resolved in future to resign the whole to the Redeemer’s direction. And having made this general surrender, make it also in particular, in reference to every circumstance of every day.
Let us imagine a day spent on this principle. You awake in the morning and commend yourself to Christ’s care for the day. The first temptation that besets you may lead you to a waste of time. Say immediately, ‘Lord, assist me in this particular.’ The next may be a temptation to irritation. Cast yourself again on Christ for this. A few hours after you may be tempted to censorious remarks on some neighbor. Cast yourself upon Jesus. A while after, you may perhaps forget yourself and give utterance to some hasty or ill-judged expression. Turn instantly to Christ, confess your fault, and ask for further help. If you find yourself beset with uncommon difficulties and temptations, and in danger of forgetting what manner of spirit you are of,—steal from your avocations though but for a few moments, and ask help of Jesus. The example of the subject of this memoir, in having a full and stated season of prayer at noon, cannot be too highly commended. The middle is usually the most unspiritual part of the whole day. The cool of the morning is generally to every one a time of good purpose and resolution, and the quiet of the evening is often devoted to penitence and retrospection; but the noon is too often a season of hurry and bustle—there is therefore so much the greater need that we then consecrate a portion of the time as a stated season of prayer. But the Christian, who would live as Christ directs, must beware of making seasons of prayer the substitute for that constant recurrence to him which we have endeavored to inculcate. Morning and evening the little child is with its mother in a long and fond embrace; it listens with rapture to the expressions of her affection, and willingly renders the tribute of promised obedience. But in times of difficulty or danger, it instinctively runs to the same arms for protection, without reflecting whether the danger be great or small.
A direction of great importance to one who would live this life, is this:—In your sins, troubles, and temptations, make no distinction between great and little things. Remember that nothing that has the slightest bearing on your improvement and spiritual progress is insignificant in the estimation of Christ. Now it is a fact, that Christians are more impeded in their progress by little things, than by great ones;—because, for great things, they seek the strength of Christ, and for little ones, they act in their own. But if the little accidents of every day’s occurrence, the petty annoyances to which every one is subjected, be sufficient to ruffle the temper and excite an unchristian spirit, they are to you matters of very serious moment; and as such, you must regard them—nor can you fully abide in Christ by attaching to such things that just importance, which shall lead you to refer them to Him with the same freedom that you feel in reference to what you commonly call serious affairs. If you are conscious of peculiar and besetting faults, familiarize your mind to those incidents of the life of Jesus, which show a particular bearing on them.
If you are irritable, examine all those incidents which show his untiring patience; if you are proud, those which exhibit his humility; if you are worldly, those that show his spirituality; if you are negligent and careless in duty, those which show his incessant zeal and activity. Study them, understand them, keep them in memory, and pray to him to infuse into you the same spirit. The memory too may well be stored with those sacred songs descriptive of the character of the Saviour, or imploring his divine aid; for their sweet words will sometimes come to you in hours of temptation like gentle messages from your Lord.
The remarks now made are intended as general hints; but the only teacher of the true life of faith, is Christ. Go to him and ask him to direct you. Remember the remarkable dying words of the subject of this memoir, in relation to the Saviour, ‘He came and looked upon me and said, “I am willing to make you just as meek as I am, just as patient, just as lovely. Indeed it seemed as if he had been by me long before, only I had not perceived him.”‘ Christ in the Bible says this to every Christian, when he says, ‘I will put my law into their hearts and write it in their thoughts.’ Christ is willing to make you just as meek, just as patient, just as lovely as he is; and if you desire it earnestly, if you desire it more than everything else, if you are willing to give up all beside for it, he will explain to you practically what is meant by ‘abiding in him,’ and by his coming to make his abode with you. Then your Christian race will be full of love and joy; more like the free flight of a bird, than the struggles of a captive. You will naturally lay aside every weight, and the sin that easily besets you, and run with patience the race that is set before you, because your whole soul will be so filled with the view of Jesus at its termination; you will be so inspired with admiration, hope and joy, that you will run because you cannot hold back;—the spectators, the race-course, all about you, will be forgotten in the view of Jesus, at once your helper, your judge, and your eternal reward.