When one has passed the age of sixty, aware that more than two-thirds of his life has gone by, and that probably not more than ten or twelve years remain for work at any task worth mentioning (and when, of these years, twoscore have been spent in one profession) he is compelled to ask himself two questions. If the answers do not satisfy him, the questions may torment him the remainder of his life.

The first is this: If I had my life to live over again, and had any choice in the matter, would I devote myself to the same work that has engaged my time and strength these forty years? And the second: How shall I most satisfyingly occupy myself in the years that remain, should God grant this further period of time? This question in turn poses a supplementary one: Is the work in which one has labored all these years (if I may now use the third person rather than the first) of such a character that life’s greatest joys will be found in continuing in these same tasks; or is one convinced that he has more or less exhausted what his chosen field of labor offers, and that new joys will be found only in the exploration of some other area of knowledge or activity?

Unless in this article I purpose to face such questions impersonally, and thus merely spin out a few pious platitudes, it is necessary to be somewhat autobiographical—a line I have not normally pursued in my writings. In the fall of 1918, I began my first pastorate, among the beloved, hospitable folk of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, at Ocean City, and there realized that the great passion of my life was the study, preaching and teaching of the Word of God. In all the years that have followed, there have been other secondary interests in life, but I believe there has never been a rival passion with me.

The gifts and inclinations which God gives one man in the Christian ministry are not, I am fully aware, necessarily those which he bestows upon another, but of this I am sure today: God has so ordered the duties and obligations of my life that it has not been necessary for me to forsake at any period of time this first love, the study and exposition of the Holy Scriptures. I have no administrative gifts, and it has never been necessary for me to spend two or three years, as pastor of a church, wrestling with the financial problems involved in the erection of an ecclesiastical structure, and arguing day and night with contractors, stone masons and plumbers—all of which I realize someone must do. I have no talents for playing musical instruments, for painting or for singing. I would be utterly bored in spending afternoons making imitation antique furniture, and friends who have asked me to play golf have never extended a second invitation after one afternoon on the links, for reasons that need not be mentioned. This does not mean that I do not enjoy music, or art, or a football game, but I have no gifts in these directions. Nor should this be interpreted as meaning that I live the life of a hermit, for no man could possibly enjoy more than I the rich fellowship of Christian friends.

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The Torment Of Regret

It is now time to consider the two questions we have posed. All will readily admit that nothing could be sadder in the life of a Christian minister, apart from gross malfeasance, after having given the best years of his life to the ministry, than coming to the conclusion that he should have been engaged in some other major work during those years. It is then too late. Never will I forget that afternoon, twenty years ago, when I visited for the last time a beloved friend in Newcastle Presbytery, the most brilliantly educated minister on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, with a Ph.D degree from Harvard under Munsterberg and William James, a man of wholesome Christian character and a diligent scholar (though perhaps he had never preached to more than two hundred people at one time in his life). Pointing to a bookcase holding some of the major tomes of philosophy he had once mastered—Hamilton, Berkeley, and others—and placing the other hand on the Bible, he said regretfully, in the rapid manner in which he always spoke, “Smith, I wish I had given less time to these philosophers and more time to this Book in which we read, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ ” My own personal conviction is that the man who spends his life, believingly, in the study and interpretation of the Word of God will never be tormented by such regrets as these.

Inexhaustible Themes

It is hard to conceive how anyone who makes the study and interpretation of the Scriptures the pre-eminent labor of his life could possibly be tempted to believe that some other area of study and work would bring deeper satisfaction. For the loftiest themes that can ever occupy the minds of men are set before us in the Word of God, with fullness and certainty, as in no other literature of the world. The student of the Scriptures is continually confronted with such vast subjects as the creation of the universe, the divine purpose of history, the origin, nature and destiny of man, Messianic prophecy, a divinely-given legislation for every major area of life, the Incarnation, character, work, teachings, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the organization and activity of the Church, the profound factors of salvation, the consummation of the age, and the meaning and certainty of eternal life. No one man, or even the whole Church, has exhausted such themes as these, and it is in understanding these subjects that the heart of man comes to rest and the mind is delivered from darkness, doubt, and despair.

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The faithful student of the Scriptures will find increasingly true the words of Augustine, written to his son in A.D. 412, “Such is the depth of the Christian Scriptures that even if I were attempting to study them and nothing else from early boyhood to decrepit old age, with the utmost leisure, the most unwearied zeal, and talents greater than I have, I would still daily be making progress in discovering their treasures; not that there is so great difficulty in thumbing through them to know the things necessary to salvation, but when anyone has accepted these truths with the faith that is indispensable as the foundation of a life of piety and uprightness, so many things which are veiled under manifold shadows of mystery remain to be inquired into by those who are advancing in the study, and so great is the depth of wisdom not only in the words in which these have been expressed but also in the things themselves, that the experience of the oldest, the ablest, and the most zealous students of Scripture illustrates what Scripture itself has said.…”

The statement of David in “the Psalm of the Word of God,” “I rejoice at thy word as one that findeth great spoil” (119:162), can be echoed in the experience of anyone who faithfully labors in the Holy Scriptures. His is a life of constant exploration and discovery. He has the opportunity, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, of discovering in the Scriptures not only those truths which many other Christian students have previously seen, from century to century, but things which perhaps no one else has noted. One would think, for example, that the subject of the birth of Christ, with all the hundreds of volumes that have been written around it, would have been exhausted long ago, but actually no one has as yet presented to the Christian Church a volume which completely covers all the various aspects of this epochal theme. The number of treatises on the subject of the Virgin Birth is ample, but there are scores of other topics embraced in this single event—witness Hastings’ Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, which includes 71 articles relating exclusively to the birth of Christ! Who would want to leave the study of the Word of God at any time of life, and give his prime strength to the exploration of any other themes, when such divine subjects are before him, inviting to years of exciting research and discovery?

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Scope For Investigation

We have had a number of books on Christ’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, and we are now witnessing the publication of considerable literature, long overdue, on our Lord’s Olivet Discourse, but no volume known to me has attempted to examine all the prophecies of the Lord Jesus. A number of scholars have given us the results of their study of the influence of the Book of Genesis in the New Testament, but who has done something on the influence of Exodus and Deuteronomy in the New Testament, or of Genesis in the remaining books of the Old Testament?

There has never been a time in my own ministry when I have not had before me lists of subjects or passages in the Bible that I hope soon to investigate. What does Isaiah mean, e.g., when he says that God has “declared the end from the beginning and from ancient times the things that are not yet done” (46:10)? What is meant by “the deep things of God” in Daniel 2:22 and 1 Corinthians 2:10? I long for time, extended periods of time, in which to study carefully the deeper meanings of the oft-recurring phrase, “the Word”; to examine exhaustively the work of the Spirit in revealing “the things of Christ”; and to know thoroughly every aspect of the message of the Book of Revelation. Also, for some time I have wanted to give extended study to the doctrine of good in this divine volume. Here is a word that occurs more than 800 times from the second chapter of Genesis to the Third Epistle of John, many of the passages being of great doctrinal and ethical importance.

I do not have space in this autobiographical fragment to speak with fullness of one of the never-failing joy that comes to one who immerses himself in the oracles of God, namely, the privilege of living with the greatest society of authors that has ever gathered around one literary masterpiece, that glorious company of expounders of the Word of God, and theologians of the Church, from the days of the Apostles to this very hour. What wonderful works are those to which the study of the Scriptures so often leads us: the writings of Augustine and the Venerable Bede, Dante and Wycliffe, the monumental works of Luther, Knox and Calvin, the quickening pages of Hooker, the cleansing lines of Lancelot Andrewes, the inspiring poems of Milton, the unexhausted treasures of Richard Baxter and John Owen, the sermons of Flavel, Thomas Chalmers, South, Guthrie, Liddon, Parker and Alexander Whyte, the theological works of Jonathan Edwards, Tholuck, Robert Candlish, Charles Hodge and Robert Flint, not to mention the thousands of books that have been written on the life and work of Christ, and that vast library of the more important biblical commentaries. What field of study and research in this whole world can draw an earnest student away from the ever-fascinating, compelling, transforming pages of the Word of God?

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The Book And Our World

One born near the beginning of this twentieth century—a century which has seen the advent of radio, television, the airplane, of atom and hydrogen bombs, the rise and fall of three evil dictatorships, the fanatical devotion of more than a third of the world’s population to materialistic and atheistic communism—who has made the study of the Scriptures the major concern of his life, now finds himself in a period of more worldwide interest in the Word of God than has been known probably since the days of the Apostles. The recovery of interest in the whole field of biblical theology, the archaeological explorations in the Near East, the excitement created by the unexpected discoveries at Qumran, Jericho and Byblos, the phenomenal sale of the Revised Standard Version, the work of Wycliffe and other agencies in Bible translation—all have brought the Bible again to the front pages of our newspapers.

The establishment of Israel itself, and the effort to reintroduce the Levitical code as it pertains to land, food, the Sabbath, etc., has compelled the citizens of that state to re-examine the Word of God. Congresses are now being held frequently in cities in Palestine, attended by hundreds of scholars from all over the world. The fruitful evangelistic labors of Dr. Billy Graham, whose messages are so constantly interspersed with the phrase, “the Bible says,” have caused multitudes to recognize anew the power and meaning of the Word of God. Courses in subjects directly related to English Bible are more numerous and assigned more importance in the curricula of theological seminaries these last few years than at any time in this century. Economists and statesmen have gone back to the final book of the New Testament to find the right word to describe this terrible hour in which we live—so frequently designated, particularly since Hiroshima, “this apocalyptic age.” So manifold and vast are the areas of Biblical investigation today that even the most serious scholar finds it difficult to keep abreast of the important literature appearing year by year in his own circumscribed field of biblical knowledge.

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Crumbling Modern Altars

How comparatively inconsequential are the other so-called great classics of literature, even those of our modern age. When I was in college, in the realm of literature we worshiped at the shrines of four of the outstanding writers of the last half-century, and some of the professors almost trembled with excitement and adoration as they opened books by these men. There was the playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906), the greatest of modern German dramatists and poets, Gerhart Hauptmann (1862–1946), the French essayist and novelist, Romain Rolland (1866–1944), and the English poet, Alfred Noyes (1888–). What message for today has the man who in the second decade of this century dedicated his life to the study of any one of these writers? How many students in our universities today are gathered around their voluminous writings? How often do we hear lines quoted from their once-stirring pages? I still love the poetry of Alfred Noyes, but how irrelevant are his words today—“It is lilac time in London”—in view of the frightful bombings that London knew, and may know again (may God forbid)? What contribution did Goethe make to Germany when that nation came under the demon power of Adolf Hitler? The strength for German faithfulness to high principles came in those days from the inexhaustible wells of the Word of God. The man who comes from his study with that one Book in his hand, in his heart, and on his lips, has the only message that can bring comfort and hope and deliverance in this mid-twentieth-century hour. This alone fills his heart with joy, and he thanks God for that divine guidance that has peritted him to spend his days in searching the oracles of God.

Spirit Of Expectancy

A look into the future must conclude this brief and inadequate testimony. It may seem almost fantastic, and I would not have believed it possible if someone had predicted this ten years ago, but the truth is that today I personally have a greater spirit of expectancy regarding the tasks I want to undertake in Bible study in the years that remain than I have known in any preceding years.

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It is in the habitual, lifelong study of the Word of Truth that we begin to enter into the experience of the Psalmist, an experience of which the world knows nothing, “In thy presence is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11). The Word Incarnate is revealed to us in the Word Written, and the more we know of this written Word, the richer and deeper is our knowledge of Christ; and the more we know of him, the more we love him; and the more we love him and keep his commandments, the more do we come into a revelation of his great love for us. Is not the persistent study of, and obedience to the Word of God the key to the words of our Lord recorded in John’s Gospel (15:7–11): “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; and so shall ye be my disciples. Even as the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you: abide ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”

The name of Wilbur M. Smith has been synonymous for a generation with the study of the English Bible. Born in Chicago on June 9, 1894, he ministered in Presbyterian pulpits in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania before teaching at Moody Bible Institute (1938–47) and then at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he has served the last ten years as Professor of English Bible. He is Editor of Peloubet’s Select Notes on the International Sunday School Lessons, and is currently featured in a Sunday night television series (Los Angeles, Channel 13) on the fulfillment of biblical prophecies. An indefatigible writer, he is author of over a dozen books.

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