I think, beloved friends, the best way in which I can introduce the subject which is to be before us, will be by stating how the Lord has led me into the apprehension of it. The first thing for us, however, is to realize, what I trust we do, that the Word of God is absolutely that from beginning to end of it,—every line, I may say, and letter of it. Of course I do not mean by that at all that translations do not fail. I do not mean that there are not errors of transcription in copies which have been transmitted to us from old time. But I do mean that when we get fairly and fully what was written at first, we have there, absolutely and fully, the word of God; although He has spoken through man, and the diverse character of His instruments be apparent on every page, yet we have none the less on this account God's word in unclouded majesty—pure truth, without any mixture of defect whatever.
And, beloved, while it is a little volume—this Bible of ours, and thank God it is, so that we can hold it in our hands and carry it in our pockets, yet how large, how immense a book it nevertheless is! Always yielding new fruit to the patient and diligent explorer; age after age does not exhaust it, but continually beckons into fields which lie beyond. If I should say to you that here, in the nineteenth century of the complete revelation, after so many centuries of learned, continuous, believing investigation, there was yet a character of it written upon every page, and of a most important kind, which had wholly escaped research, would it not seem impossible? And yet that is what I do say, and hope to prove to your complete satisfaction before these lectures close,—a character which is itself a most convincing proof of its inspiration in every part, and which offers itself as a key, divinely given to its intelligent apprehension.
Have we still a use for such a thing? Indeed, indeed we have. Of the real meaning of how much of Scripture are we still profoundly ignorant! I might mention whole books—especially of the Old Testament,—of which we know really very little yet. And if you say, We know enough, would it not be to put dishonour upon the large bounty of God, who has given us in all this out of His very heart, not mere intellectual furnishings, but His whole mind in Christ, that we may have fellowship with Him?—a fellowship in which all sanctification lies. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works."
Alas! beloved brethren, is it not true that we little believe in the necessity of the whole Word for sanctification? Why has God given it as He has, sending His inspired servants one after another, to make it over to us? Has He done more than necessary? Shall we tell Him so? and that we can afford to let a large part of it be practically without use? I feel that what we want first of all to realize is that this blessed Word, being God's word, is worthy of our fullest, deepest attention in every particular. It is in the practical faith of this only that we can expect to find what is in it. We have to believe that something is there, in order to find that it is indeed there. In the gospel, of course, God meets man with what He has made plain—as plain as possible; but it is only as having received the gospel that His word comes fully and properly before us; and if as Christians we desire the wonderful blessing that is for us there, we must with diligence of heart give ourselves to it. "I have esteemed the words of Thy mouth more than my necessary food," says the Psalmist. But our necessary food claims much labor from us. Yet the Lord says, "Labour not for the meat which perisheth but for the meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of Man shall give unto you."
Given it is: no mere earnestness or toil would avail otherwise, but yet so as to need diligence of heart for its reception. "If thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding, if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasure, then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God."
Beloved, if we had but an earthly treasure in our gardens, and did not quite know where it was, would there be a bit of the garden that we would not turn over with pick and spade to get at it? Yet here is heavenly treasure! And with this difference, that there is no uncertainty as to whether our toil will be rewarded. Here truly, "in all labour there is profit:" that is, of course, if faith be mixed with it.
Now it is because I believe that God's Word has in it immensely more than any thing we have ever found,—because the Lord has in His goodness shown me a little of this, because He has given me to find a road in a new direction into His blessed Word, and which gives, I am sure, views of it which should and will attract and minister to our souls as we travel it,—it is on this account I desire to bring before you what He has shown me. My real desire is that the Word itself in its fulness may be ours,—that we may possess ourselves more of what are our choicest possessions. May God by His Spirit, who alone can, and for His Son's sake, grant it to us!
Now let me show you briefly how the Lord led me into this, and this will at the same time give us much of the Scripture proof. You will test by it all that is said,—prove all things, hold fast what is good. To the judgment of the Word I desire unfeignedly to submit every thing that may be uttered.
Some years since, now, I was engaged in the study of the Psalms as a whole. I had been made painfully to feel how little I knew of a book which is the very heart of the Old Testament, and in which all the people of God at all times have found language for some of the deepest emotions of their souls. I knew, of course, as all Christians do, certain parts of the book, and had found, as all have, what was of the greatest interest and profit too; yet as to the whole, I have often compared the view I had to what one might have of a line of coast lying in a fog, points sticking out here and there, sunny and attractive, and you are sure there is connecting land between, only you do not see it. I longed for this fog to rise, and took up the book to seek out more the connection of psalm with psalm, and thus, as I believed, the place and power of each.
While pursuing this with the best help obtainable, two things became plain, which soon united to lead me into new thoughts, not only as to the Psalms, but as to the whole of Scripture. I began to see that there was a methodical structure throughout, and that this had to do with the meaning of what was there.
One of the two things I speak of I was led to through a remark I found in a well-known critical commentary—that of Franz Delitzsch,—that the Jews called the book of Psalms the "Pentateuch of David." You have now in the Revised Version that division into five books, which is found in the Hebrew, and which makes the Psalms a Pentateuch, or whole of five parts. But it is not merely the fact of such a division which is conveyed by such a term. Delitzsch himself admits in a certain way that the arrangement of the books was guided by a purpose of "imitation of the Thora" (The Law); and that "it was perhaps this which led to the opening of the fourth book, which corresponds to the book of Numbers, with a psalm of Moses of this character,—the ninetieth psalm. Of Psalm 107 at the beginning of the fifth book, he also says, "Now, just as in the book of Deuteronomy Israel stands on the threshold of the land of promise, after the two tribes and a half have already established themselves on the other side of Jordan, so at the beginning of the fifth book of the Psalter we see Israel restored to the soil of its fatherland. There, it is the Israel redeemed out of Egypt; here, it is the Israel redeemed out of the land of the exile. There, the lawgiver once more admonishes Israel to yield the obedience of love to the law of Jehovah; here, the Psalmist calls upon Israel to show gratitude toward Him who has redeemed it from exile, and distress, and death."
The resemblance is fuller than Delitzsch makes it; but seeing so much, is it not a wonder to find him stop and look no further into the matter? He is on a track which would open the Psalms to him from end to end: what hinders him from pursuing it? Plainly enough, a lack of faith in a divine superintendence of all this: "A psalm of Moses was placed first, in order to give a pleasing relief to the beginning of a new psalter by this glance back to the earliest time"! Manifestly, if that is all, there is nothing divine in it. So the clue is lost, and never regained by him.
But it led me further; simply because that in making me see the resemblances, he had convinced me that they were of God. And I soon found that as the psalm of the wilderness opened the fourth book, so a psalm of the sanctuary—the seventy-third—opened the third or Leviticus book; followed by other psalms of similar character. More than this, I soon learned that not only a few opening psalms, but the books in every part corresponded, book with book, in these two pentateuchs.
This is not the place for taking up this further. It opened the Psalms to me as I had never seen them; but another discovery united with this to lead me on, and now beyond the book of Psalms itself.
I was arrested by the structure of the alphabetic psalms. Our version is here in general deficient, and with one exception, the nine psalms of this character have nothing to mark them out as such to the English reader. The hundred and nineteenth psalm is this one exception; and even here, many are not aware that the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which are found at the head of each section in it, are intended to notify us of the fact that each of these letters begins the eight verses of the section which it heads. There are twenty-two letters in the alphabet, and twenty-two sections in the psalm. Thus the psalm runs through the alphabet: twenty-two sections of always eight verses each.
Why, then, this strange peculiarity? If the Psalms were only a human composition, we should not care much to consider. Poets write acrostics, and it is a mere question of good or bad taste,—sometimes indeed an aid to the memory; but if this be of God, and the Spirit of God has written an acrostic, can we afford to pass it lightly by? Is there not,—must there not be,—meaning in the very form?
Can we gather a meaning? This number 8 written upon the whole psalm has a significance of its own in Scripture. Where used in types, it speaks of the beginning of a new period, the first day of a new week, and in general of what is new in contrast with the old which has passed away. It may thus mark the new creation, the new covenant, etc.
Now it flashed upon me—What is this hundred and nineteenth psalm? It is the longest psalm in the Bible, beautifully noteworthy as such, for it is throughout the praise of the law. It follows the hundred and eighteenth psalm, in which the Jews are viewed prophetically as receiving Christ. They say, as the Lord declares they will say, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord," and the "stone which the builders rejected" becomes the "head of the corner." Hence, yielding their hearts to God, they break out in praise of the law. Every letter of man's speech is used to celebrate it, and this number 8, stamped on the whole, is the new-covenant number, for "I will write My laws upon their hearts" is a promise of the new covenant.
Here, then, is a new thought gained: the structure of the psalm has impressed upon it a number in harmony with its spiritual meaning. If this be a law of Scripture, how important to have reached this law!
Does this psalm stand alone? Though our Bibles give no hint of it, every commentary, however brief, will assure the least critical that there are nine of these alphabetic psalms—often more or less irregular, but still evidently that; and with method even in their irregularity.
Take, to begin with, two psalms that stand together—the one hundred and eleventh and one hundred and twelfth psalms. In your Bibles you will find they have, not twenty-two, but only ten verses each. If you look more closely, you will see that in both psalms, eight verses are—as in general the verses are in the poetical books—composed of two parts each. This gives sixteen parts: we need six more to make up the twenty-two, and the last two verses are composed of three parts each, just completing the proper number. The letters of the alphabet stand in regular order at the beginning of these twenty-two parts.
That these psalms correspond thus exactly with one another is our assurance that there is method in it; but here there is no irregularity. If we look at the twenty—fifth and thirty-fourth psalms, we shall find what would be called irregularity, but even in this, the one is precisely similar to the other. In each, one letter, and the same one—the letter "V," is dropped, and the alphabet, so far defective, ends with the twenty-first verse. But there is a concluding verse—a twenty-second, and in each psalm again this begins, not with the omitted letter, but with the letter "P."
Now I cannot explain this, but who that would treat God's Word with reverence would not say, There must be design in it? If design, then, whose is the design?—but let us still proceed.
In the ninth and tenth psalms, we find again an alphabetic structure, but this time with much more irregularity. Here, one alphabet runs through the two psalms, and unites them together. There are certain omissions which I need not dwell upon in the ninth psalm. The tenth begins regularly with the needed "L," But there it stops: from the second to the eleventh verse inclusive there is no trace of alphabet. Six letters are gone, although the six divisions representing them are there. Then with the twelfh verse, "Arise, O Lord," the alphabet begins again, and from this it goes on regularly to the end of the psalm.
This tenth psalm has naturally been a cause of trouble to the commentators. They did not know what had become of the missing letters. There was an apparent confusion in it which did not seem as if it could be designed at all. Some have set it down to mere inability in the writer to carry out his plan all through. Some, with more reverence, have imagined an accident to the psalm in its transmission, and Bishop Horsley tried to rearrange the verses so as to get the alphabet in order, as he thought it must have been at first; but it would not yield itself to his management at all. Because the psalm as it stands is perfect, and the apparent disorder is designed.
Can we interpret it? In measure, at least, beloved friends, I think we can. The two psalms are connected in matter as in structure, and the common subject is, The day of the Lord,—God's triumph over the wicked in the last days. The tenth psalm takes up especially one wicked one, who comes into terrible prominence in the prophecies of those days. I need not speak more of him, for my purpose is not at all interpretation now, but I want you to notice that it is just the description of this wicked one which occupies the gap in this alphabetic structure of the psalm. Before it comes to him, there is regularity of structure. After the description of him is ended, there is regularity again. But when he is before the view, the order of the psalm is apparently destroyed. Beneath the surface it is still there: the six divisions answering to the letters are all there, although the letters themselves are absent; there is an apparent interruption of God's ways,—only apparent. Patiently He seems to endure the evil,—"keeping silence," as He Himself expresses it,—until the due time of judgment comes, the harvest-time for which all has been ripening. Then His purposes, never set aside, come into open light. How significantly the structure speaks here, and what order is in this disorder!
But it is not only in the Psalms that we find such things as these. The book of Lamentations is another very striking example. Of course I refer to the Hebrew, for the English version is as silent here as elsewhere. The book of Lamentations is written in a very singular way. There are five chapters, and these are very distinctly marked as divisions in the Hebrew. You may notice that each chapter, except the third, has twenty-two verses—just the number of the letters of the alphabet again. The third chapter has sixty—six verses—22 multiplied by 3, the number of the chapter itself. In the first and second chapters, we have once more a regular alphabetic structure. One letter stands at the beginning of each verse in regular order. In the third chapter, as I have said already, there are sixty-six verses, each letter being repeated three times. In the fourth, we have another single alphabet; in the fifth, again, the same number of verses, but no alphabet at all.
I simply call attention to this now, and the structure of the third chapter is specially important. It seems to show that a third section is pressed upon our attention as a third. It is intimated to us that this is significant; and if we could look into the chapter, we should find once more that in fact the number impressed upon the structure is in harmony with its spiritual meaning. But this we are not prepared to do just now.
Is this the way then, in which Scripture is written? or are these merely exceptional instances? Beloved friends, when a man, prospecting for ore, comes upon a seam of metal on the surface of a rock, he does not readily believe that that which comes just before his eyes is all that is to be found there. And geologists have remarked upon the special providential care that has tilted up and broken across the strata of the earth, as it were, just to make known to man the stores more deeply packed away. Had they lain just as, ages ago, they were deposited, we might forever have been ignorant of the wealth lying in the bowels of the earth for us. And has not God in these scriptures just exposed to us, as it were, the heads of precious veins which lie deeper? Would He not have us follow them out, and see to what they lead? Is it not worth while? Surely it is not a meaningless thing if the Spirit of God has been pleased to adopt man's fashion and write acrostics. The strangeness of it should invite our attention. Alas! instead of following them out, we have refused to recognize in this strange human guise the God who comes to meet us thus, and once more dropped out of our hands a clue that would have led us on to wealth of blessing.
Can we find, then, a similar structure elsewhere where no alphabetic mark is given to indicate it? That is very soon answered. Let any one take up, for instance, the second psalm. You will note that it has twelve verses. And these verses, let us remember, are not, as in the prose parts of Scripture, arbitrary divisions too often, a convenience merely for making the text accessible for ready reference; but real verses, necessitated by the text itself, and accepted by every scholar and critic the world over. There are twelve verses, then. The subject of the psalm is God's appointment of Christ to be king in Zion, in spite of the opposition of the nations to it. The first verses are quoted by the apostles in the Acts, "Lord, Thou art God, which hast made the heaven and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is; who by the mouth of Thy servant David hast said, 'Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers took counsel together against the Lord, and against His Christ.'" And thus they apply this: "For of a truth, against Thy holy child Jesus, whom Thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done."
Now if you will look at the twelve verses of this psalm, you will see very easily that there is a regular division indicated by the subject. It is divided into sections of three verses each: the first giving the rebellious attitude of the nations; the second, Jehovah's attitude; the third, Christ Himself declaring the decree; the fourth, the exhortation to the kings of earth to submit to Him during the time of his long-suffering.
A regular structure is apparent here; but not only so, the verses of the psalm are twelve in number; but twelve has been taken by many before myself to be the governmental number: the psalm, we cannot doubt, is a psalm of divine government. Hence we find another exemplification of the law I have mentioned, that the number impressed upon the structure of a scripture corresponds with and points out its spiritual meaning.
We might go through many a passage by way of illustration and proof that the alphabetic psalms only bring to the surface, as it were, a character of Scripture found where there is no alphabet whatever. The fifth psalm gives another example of the same structure as the second. The seventy-sixth is again another. The one hundred and thirty-ninth psalm has twenty-four verses, and these divide into four parts of six verses each. The fifty-third of Isaiah, to which the last three verses of the fifty-second admittedly belong, gives thus fifteen verses, which fall regularly into five sections of three verses each. But it would not be profitable here to pursue this. Regularity of structure, let it be noted also, is found comparatively seldom. A given number of verses may be divided in various ways, and each mode of division be perfectly fitted for the expression of the truth contained. What is maintained is simply that in every part of Scripture a significant structure exists, the significance of which is in some expressed number, to be interpreted by the ordinary meaning of that number, as elsewhere found in Scripture.
And this applies, not only to the smaller divisions, but to the grand divisions of the Bible no less,—to books, and divisions of books, wherever divisions can be shown. The numerical seal is impressed upon every part,—a witness of the perfection of every part, as well as a guide in its interpretation. It is plain that if this be true, it has exceeding importance. The proof of it is only begun at present; and before it can be rightly given, it is evident that we must first of all look at, closely and with care, the meanings of the numbers themselves. Unless there is some precision as to these, the locks we seek to open will not yield themselves to the key.
Before, however, we devote ourselves to this inquiry, allow me a few brief words upon what is indeed not Scripture, but what we cannot therefore dismiss in that way as of no importance to it. By the Word of God all things were made; yea, "without Him was not any thing made that was made." The Word of God is He by whom God is told out. Thus God is made known in all His handiwork. True, the knowledge of Him thus is not sufficient where sin has come in, as it has into this world of ours. And, moreover, dim are our eyes to see what exists, except as they are controlled and guided by revelation. Yet what Christian doubts that there is real agreement between God's work and word, or the confirmation of both as His that is found in this agreement? The physical world,—scarred as it is by the entrance of sin,—yet gives us plentiful proof that it is an orderly scene, still obedient and witnessing to the hand that made it. Winds and waves are not in rebellion against Him. "Its laws," as a noted sceptic has it, "must be His laws." There is system, and method, throughout: one God, not working capriciously, but according to His wisdom, and so as to display Himself to His creatures.
Now of old, the wise could affirm the God "looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven, to make the weight for the winds, and to weigh the waters by measure" (Job 28:25). And the prophet, centuries after, challenges on God's part, "Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with a span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?" (Isaiah 40:12.) But who could have anticipated how modern science would find in these weights and measurements the key to a very large part of all its knowledge? Weights and measures! what would chemistry, for instance, do without these? Sir John Herschel says, "Chemistry is, in a most pre-eminent degree, the science of quantity, and to enumerate the discoveries which have arisen for it from the mere determination of weights and measures would be nearly to give a synopsis of this branch of knowledge." But he goes further than this, and affirms, "Indeed, it is a character of all the higher laws of nature to assume the form of a precise quantitative statement."
This means that the numerical structure which we have begun to trace in Scripture pervades all nature no less than Scripture. How profoundly interesting to find it so! And in this case, no man of science will ever question it. Another celebrated man, Alexander von Humboldt, declares that "it may be said that the only remaining and widely diffused hieroglyphic characters still in our writing—numbers—appear to us again as powers of the cosmos, although in a wider sense than that applied to them by the Italian school."
But if so, how striking to find that they are powers in Scripture as well as in the world! and yet what more natural?
Let us look at a few facts, well known, but which may serve to impress us more with the reality of all this. Chemistry, it has been already said, is pre-eminently the science of quantity—i.e., of numbers. Every element known has its distinct combining number. For instance, if we speak of oxygen, its number is 16. This means that in every compound in which oxygen is found, it is either just sixteen parts by weight of this, or some multiple of this, as 32, 64, etc. And so with all the elements.
Not only so, but certain of these elements may be easily made to form a series differing from each other by some fixed number, or multiples of it, and this seems to mark some family likeness between the numbers of such a series. Thus, fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine, have real likeness, and their combining numbers are 17, 35, 80, 125. These numbers differ from each other by multiples of 9.
Chemistry, then, dealing with the very foundations of the world, finds there this numerical stamp upon every stone in it. And how much more may be any day added to our knowledge! So much is known as makes it easy to predict that every advance will be in this direction.
Botany and zoology cannot be said as yet to show just the same susceptibility to numerical law. Yet even here there have been those who believed in a definite numerical proportion of groups and species. I shall have to quote from one of these writers somewhat at another time; but it seems, at least, most probable that explorations in this line would be attended with the best success. A narrow conception seems most to have baffled previous attempts. Most certainly, if it were attempted to prove that all Scripture divided into a fixed number of sections, a number which ruled in every division and every subdivision of these to the very smallest, nothing could result but disappointment. Yet a numerical system obtains, none the less, through—out the Word; but freer, broader, and greater in conception than this, whose narrowness would destroy at once all spiritual significance.
Be this as it may, as to these sciences, there is yet plenty to show that numbers are in them still at any rate "powers of the cosmos." In both, we find certain numbers attaching themselves to certain groups, and series of numbers in definite proportion to one another. Thus we find the number 2 prevailing among mosses; 3 and its multiples, among endogens, such as the lilies; 5, among the exogenous of netted veined plants. In the arrangement of leaves upon the stem, a law of proportion prevails which is of a very striking character. There is clearly nothing haphazard about it. All leaves will be found situated in the course of an upward spiral which winds round the stem. Scales on a disk and flowers on a disk are similarly placed. "These spirals are not the same, and are defined by the number of circuits round the stem as contrasted with the number of leaves in the circuits considered. We have thus the fractions, ½, ⅓, ⅖, ⅜ each succeeding fraction being formed by the addition of the numerators and denominators of the two preceding ones, as the formula of these relations. The fraction ½ expresses one circuit and two leaves; the fraction ⅓, one circuit and three leaves. The remaining fractions are combinations of these two. Two-fifths represents two circuits and five leaves; ⅜, three circuits and eight leaves," etc.
These proportions are very singular. To us, they have, indeed no precise significance. It is only in Scripture at present that we find definite speech in numbers. Yet they show none the less that there is a pervading use of them in nature which is certainly designed and of God. If we found but so many stones arranged in rows or circles in just these proportions, we should be assured that mind had been at work in it. Here, we may be surer, if possible, that the Infinite mind has been at work.
As to zoology, all that I have to say of it I shall reserve for a little further on. It is a field little worked as yet in the direction indicated, and it will be only what is to be expected if its numerical system be more complicated and recondite, less easy to be grasped than that of lower forms. Still there are intimations sufficient to assure us that there is no lack of harmony between zoology and her sister sciences. Helped and strengthened, then, by these witnesses from the works of God around, let us now go back to the Word, to learn the language of these numerals, which are then to be the interpreters of so much else.