Every thinking man, when he thinks, realizes what a very large number of people tend to forget, that the teachings of the Bible are so interwoven and entwined with our whole civic and social life that it would be literally—I do not mean figuratively, I mean literally—impossible for us to figure to ourselves what that life would be if these teachings were removed. We would lose almost all the standards by which we now judge both public and private morals; all the standards toward which we, with more or less of resolution, strive to raise ourselves. Almost every man who has by his life-work added to the sum of human achievement of which the race is proud, of which our people are proud, almost every such man has based his lifework largely upon the teachings of the Bible. Sometimes it has been done unconsciously, more often consciously; and among the very greatest men a disproportionately large number have been diligent and close students of the Bible at first hand.
Lincoln—sad, patient, kindly Lincoln, who after bearing upon his weary shoulders for four years a greater burden than that bourne by any other man of the nineteenth century, laid down his life for the people whom living he had served so well—built up his entire reading upon his early study of the Bible. He had mastered it absolutely; mastered it as later he mastered only one or two other books, notably Shakespeare; mastered it so that he became almost "a man of one book," who knew that book, and who instinctively put into practice what he had been taught therein; and he left his life as part of the crowning work of the century that has now passed.
In America we rightly pride ourselves upon our system of widespread popular education. We most emphatically do right to pride ourselves upon it. It is not merely of inestimable advantage to us; it lies at the root of our power of self-government. But it is not sufficient in itself. We must cultivate the mind; but it is not enough only to cultivate the mind. With education of the mind must go the spiritual teaching which will make us turn the trained intellect to good account. A man whose intellect has been educated, while at the same time his moral education has been neglected, is only the more dangerous to the community because of the exceptional additional power which he has acquired. Surely what I am saying needs no proof; surely the mere statement of it is enough, the education must be education of the heart and conscience no less than of the mind.
It is an admirable thing, a most necessary thing, to have a sound body. It is an even better thing to have a sound mind. But infinitely better than either is to have that for the lack of which neither sound mind nor a sound body can atone—character. Character is in the long run the decisive factor in the life of individuals and of nations alike.
Sometimes, in rightly putting the stress that we do upon intelligence, we forget the fact that there is something that counts more. It is a good thing to be clever, to be able and smart; but it is a better thing to have the qualities that find their expression in the Decalogue and the Golden Rule. It is a good and necessary thing to be intelligent; it is a better thing to be straight and decent and fearless.
So I plead, not merely for training of the mind, but for the moral and spiritual training of the home and the church; the moral and spiritual training that have always been found in, and that have ever accompanied the study of this Book; this Book, which in almost every civilized tongue can be described as "The Book," with the certainty of all understanding when you so describe it. One of the highest tributes of modern times to the worth of the Bible as an educational and moral influence of incalculable value to the whole community came from the great scientist Huxley1See this for some thoughts as to why Huxley was not a good choice to name as a defender of the Bible., who said: "Consider the great historical fact that for three centuries the Book has been woven into the life of all that is noblest and best in our history, and that it has become the national epic of our race; that it is written in the noblest and purest English, and abounds in exquisite beauties of mere literary form; and finally that it forbids the veriest hind, who never left his village, to be ignorant of the existence of other countries and other civilization and of a great past, stretching back to the furthest limits of the oldest nations in the world. By the study of what other book could children be so much humanized and made to feel that each figure in that vast historical procession fills, like themselves, but a momentary space in the interval between the eternities. The Bible has been the Magna Charta of the poor and the oppressed. Down to modern times, no State has had a constitution in which the interests of the people are so largely taken into account; in which the duties, so much more than the privileges, of rulers are insisted upon, as that drawn up for Israel in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Nowhere is the fundamental truth that the welfare of the state, in the long run, depends upon the righteousness of the citizen so strongly laid down. The Bible is the most democratic book in the world."
The immense moral influence of the Bible, though of course infinitely the most important, is not the only power it has for good. In addition there is the unceasing influence it exerts on the side of good taste, of good literature, of proper sense of proportion, of simple and straightforward writing and thinking.
This is not a small matter in an age when there is a tendency to read much that, even if not actually harmful on moral grounds, is yet injurious, because it represents slip-shod, slovenly thought and work; not the kind of serious thought, of serious expression, which we like to see in anything that goes into the fibre of our character.2See this for Jefferson's thoughts on the same.
The Bible does not teach us to shirk difficulties, but to overcome them. That is a lesson that each one of us who has children is bound in honor to teach these children if he or she expects to see them become fitted to play the part of men and women in our world.
If we read the Bible aright, we read a book which teaches us to go forth and do the work of the Lord; to do the work of the Lord in the world as we find it; to try to make things better in this world, even if only a little better, because we have lived in it. That kind of work can be done only by the man who is neither a weakling nor a coward; by the man who in the fullest sense of the word is a true Christian, like Great Heart, Bunyan's hero. We plead for a closer and wider and deeper study of the Bible, so that our people may be in fact as well as in theory "doers of the Word, and not hearers only."