The Perspective of the Bible

The plan of the Bible is not logical, as of a treatise, but historical; and, therefore, must be viewed in relations of time. It must be looked at in its depths, and in its distances, in order to be understood and appreciated. It is not a string of propositions, but a series of pictures; and its pictures are not the abstract unreal delineations of geometry, but true pictures in perspective, delineated as they appeared in natural life. They are pictures from nature, and not from the imagination; which, by the way, is the true explanation of their exhaustless freshness and endless adaptation The Bible is the least artificial, the most artless of books; but it is by no means the least artistic. It is truly artistic, because it is true to nature, because it is true to life. Now this feature of the Bible has been very much neglected in the study of it. There has been, so to speak, too little use made of the eyes in the study of the Bible. It has been dealt with as a book of propositions rather than of pictures. It has been used as a book of texts, subjects, stories, and biographies. These texts, these subjects, these stories, these biographies have, as a rule, been taken out of the general mass and studied by themselves; which is very much the same thing as if you were to get your idea of some great landscape painting by having certain pieces of it cut out and brought to you: a leaf here and a leaf there; then perhaps a tree or a shrub or a human figure in the picture. The consequence would be that, while you would see whatever beauty there was in the particular objects examined, you would lose the effect of seeing each in its appropriate place. And, moreover, if the pictures were painted in true perspective, the different figures would often seem out of proportion when looked at out of their right place in the picture. And what is of more consequence, you would not have seen the landscape at all. You would still have the picture itself to see. When we think of all these things we shall see that the subject of Bible perspective is one that needs special attention. The lovely flowers of the Bible that are scattered here and there and everywhere on its pages, have been gathered and enjoyed ten thousand times. Its precious gems have been dug up, displayed, admired, and treasured; but its magnificent landscapes are scarcely ever seen. The study of the Bible in perspective will remove many difficulties. It will enhance the beauties we have already seen, and reveal new beauties we were not wont to see; and discover hidden treasures too. It will greatly aid us oftentimes in the interpretation of the Scriptures, and assist us frequently and materially in their devotional and practical use. It will show in a striking light the unity of the Scriptures, and so afford a proof of their Divine origin, altogether apart from questions as to their human authorship. It will prevent the dislocation of Scripture, rendering it as impossible, for example, to tear the Book of Deuteronomy from its place (as some modern critics have attempted to do), as it would be to shift a building or a figure from the foreground to the background of a picture without altering all its proportions. Take some of these large pictures and shift one of the figures in the foreground--a man, or a house, or a tree--and place it in the back part of the picture. Every rule of perspective would cry out against it. Similarly with Bible perspective. Some of the advantages we have just enumerated may appear as we attempt to set before you certain important effects in Bible reading, which are ordinarily lost, but which would be secured if the perspective of the Bible were carefully attended to. This is all we can undertake to do with so wide a subject. Let me call your attention to the importance of--

1. Depth and distance. Just as a picture may represent great depths and distances of space, so the Bible represents great depths and distances of time. It is not a flat surface, as a scientific book would be. It stretches away from us into long distances. Now, it is of very great importance to recognize these distances--to see them. I verily believe that if any intelligent and candid person, however sceptical in his disposition, could fairly realize “the sundry times and divers manners” of revelation--the “sundry times,” extending over thousands of years, perhaps several thousands, if we take into consideration the pre-existing materials of which Moses probably availed himself when he prepared the Pentateuch, and the “divers manners,” embracing such wonderful diversity of circumstances in the different authors, and such totally different influences by which they were surrounded--if anyone, I say, could only fairly realize “the sundry times and divers manners” on the one hand, and the unity and progress of thought on the other, he would need no other proof to convince him that the Bible must be of God. Had the human authorship been the whole account of the matter, it would have been a heterogeneous mass. It must have been so, coming at such “sundry times,” and in such “divers manners,” and under such diversity of influences. It must have been a heterogeneous patchwork, and not the consistent, harmonious, and progressive whole, which it is.

2. Light and shade: Relief. How many read the Bible as if it were as level as a prairie. They lose its edges, its corners, its hills and valleys, and they do not even recognize its lofty mountain peaks. They will be close up to Sinai before they have had the first glimpse of its vast and rugged mass, and they will be at the very foot of the Cross before they have seen its projection on the canvas or its shadow on the ground. The life of Abraham is a grand thing in itself. It is a matchless biography; but how very much of it is lost when it is taken by itself -away from the dark background of heathen Chaldea, and without its relations to all that goes before, and all that follows. You may take Genesis 12-25, and cut it out, print it by itself and read it as a biography, and you have a most admirable monograph: something very valuable and very useful. But while Abraham out of the Bible is an excellent monograph, there is no comparison with Abraham in the Bible, standing out there in grand relief in his own place in the great panorama. So it is with Moses. So with David, and so, above all, with the Lord Jesus. How many are there able, after any fashion, to construct in imagination the life of Jesus as it appears on the canvas of the Bible, standing out there after all the preparations that have been leading up to it throughout the old Testament, and after the solemn and impressive pause between Malachi and Matthew. A good picture is distributed in masses, and a practised eye will see and dwell upon those parts of the picture, taking the remaining parts in relation to those masses. And so in the Bible we see a similar massing: as for example, around Egypt and the Exodus, around David and the Monarchy, around Babylon and the Restoration, around Christ and the Cross. Let any Bible student master as thoroughly as he may these four things, the Exodus, the Monarchy, the Restoration, and the Cross, and he is in a fair way for seeing the relation and bearing of the greater part of both the Old and New Testaments.

3. The point of sight. The point of sight in a picture is that point in the horizon toward which and on which the most important lines converge. This is not a strictly scientific definition, but it is close enough for our purpose. This brings us into the religion of perspective proper; and, as every artist knows, it is quite essential that the eye be directed to the point of sight, in order that due proportion throughout be maintained; and so far, at least, as the beholder is concerned, the point of sight in Bible perspective is of much greater importance than in the enjoyment of art. It is possible to see very much of the beauty of a picture even though you do not know what “point of sight “means. But it is impossible to understand and appreciate the Bible unless you know its point of sight. That was the trouble with the apostles in their reading of the Scriptures before the Lord called their attention to it. “Oh, fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luk_24:25). Observe, it is not: You have not understood that passage in the 53rd of Isaiah, or the 2nd Psalm. It is, “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” There is the point of sight.
And still further (Luk_24:44). All the great lines converge on Christ. He is the point of sight of the Bible as a whole; of the Old Testament and of the New; and of each of the series of pictures which make up the one and the other. It is only by keeping this in view, that we can make anything at all worthy of very much that is in the Old Testament Scriptures especially: the dry genealogies for example, the long descriptions of the tabernacle and its furniture, the otherwise wearisome details of the Levitical code, and many other things. The point of sight is the key to the whole. The Bible as a whole may be considered as a grand panorama, yet without the defects of a panorama; for immense as it is, it has but one point of sight from beginning to end, as a long panorama cannot have. Christ is the Alpha and Omega: the all and in all. We might take up other points, such as the importance of having the light fall rightly on the picture, especially the light from the Sun of Righteousness; but time forbids any further attempt at detail. Let us close with a few general thoughts. There are, as every artist knows, certain necessary elements for drawing a picture aright, and for appreciating a picture that is correctly drawn. There are similar necessities in Bible perspective. First is the base line on which the picture is constructed; then the line of the horizon (speaking of a landscape picture, though there is technically a horizon in any picture), where earth and sky meet, the most important point of which is the point of sight already referred to. What is the base line of the Bible? It is sin. And is it not one of the chief reasons why the Bible is made so little of that men do not realize what sin is how dreadful and how fatal it is? What is the horizon line of the Bible? It is holiness. That is where earth and heaven meet. But on that horizon line there is only one point of sight. It is where God and man meet, in Christ, in whom alone holiness can be reached. Look at that landscape painting. At the top of the plane of the picture, you have the sky, which seems to approach nearer and nearer to the earth, as it falls away to the background, descending and descending until it touches it on the distant horizon. Again, beginning at the base line, the foreground seems to ascend and ascend until it reaches the horizon and meets the sky. From high heaven, God comes down to meet man upon the earth. From the base of sin man is borne upward to meet his God. The place of meeting is in Christ. There all the lines of faith and hope converge. “There is salvation in no other.” (J. M. Gibson, D. D.)