The Beginnings of the Bible Truth Chat Room
A Personal Testimony from the Editor
This blog really began before the foundation of the world. And we have solid Biblical support for making such an extraordinary statement: Ephesians 1:4: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world; II Timothy 1:9: Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began; Ephesians 2:10: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto to good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. And finally, Philippians 2:13, For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
Neither is this extraordinary opening statement extravagantly boastful. The Bible makes that clear in I Corinthians 4:7―For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? And I cannot deny that it was God, for His own purposes, who gave me a love to read, an adequate brain to think, and a stomach to endure solitude, each of which in its own way is an indispensable faculty required to compose this blog. Further, any real spiritual good that anyone may receive from this blog will be the result of His hand, not mine.
And as God knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), so there is no such thing as ‘chance’ or ‘coincidence’ in the life of a true believer in Jesus Christ. It was, for instance, no coincidence that I took a typing class as an optional course during my high school years 40 years ago. My purposes were entirely self motivated―it seemed like an easy course credit, and even better, in those days the typing class was filled with teenage girls. But God had much higher and more noble purposes in mind―purposes that would not come to fruition for nearly four decades.
About two and a half of those decades were wilderness years. I am sorry to say that I wasted my youth wandering in a foggy selfish haze of drunkenness, drugs, violence and sexual immorality―without God, without Christ, and without hope in the world. But even then, for His own purposes, a gracious God preserved me from many perils, and kept me alive.
Somewhere along the way, God gave me a desire to write. And I had some small beginnings of literary publication, which, in my silly pride, I thought to be much more impressive than they really were: a few short story prizes; a few magazine articles; a few newspaper op-eds. I also spent a year as a markets editor for a literary magazine. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, to call me by His grace, and to bring me to Himself through faith in Jesus Christ, everything changed forever. At age forty-one, it was an astonishing and humbling thing to discover that I had been wrong about almost everything all of my life. And all of those writings of which I had been so inordinately proud went straight into the garbage can―oh, the writing style wasn’t so bad, but the content―Oh! the content! As I slammed the lid back onto the garbage can, I thought that I would never write anything ever again.
But, as I said, God had other plans.
Looking back, I can now understand some of God’s purposes that were accomplished during those days. First, God’s chosen time had come, and He was effectually calling me to the faith that He had purposed for me in Christ before the world began. Second, He was separating me from all the sin I loved, and giving me a new heart with new desires and affections. And third, it necessarily followed that my reading changed. No longer was I reading for recreation or escape as I had done in my pre-conversion days. Now I was reading with an insatiable spiritual hunger such as I never had before.
Open thy mouth wide, God promises in Psalm 81:10, and I will fill it. And so He did. I literally devoured the Bible, reading it through completely several times. And in answer to the prayer of “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law,” Psalm 119:18, God opened the Scriptures even to me—and graciously taught me things that I have not found, nor will I find, in any other book; that the Bible is verily the literal Word of the only true Living God is a proven fact of life to me.
Further, the particular manner of my coming under conviction of sin, and my conversion to faith in Jesus Christ was definitely not the norm; even in that, I was outside the box, so to speak. This also was God’s doing to accomplish His own sovereign purposes with me―Salvation belongeth unto the Lord, Jonah 2:9. There was terror. And I think that I understand a little bit of what the Apostle Paul was talking about when he wrote these words: Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men, II Corinthians 5:11. And as I struggled to find safety in a hail storm of spiritual distress, seeking to rest my soul on the solid Rock of Jesus Christ’s finished work of atonement, God also permitted the devil to mix in his own frights, and alarms, and confusions, as if to muddy the ground into a swamp of despair. I confess that there were times when I felt as set upon as king Saul in I Samuel 16:14 & 15.
Of those particular incidents I will say no more, but for this: I can say with very good confidence that anyone who thinks that Paul was complaining about an eye problem when he wrote that “there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me,” (II Corinthians 12:7) doesn’t really have a clue as to what Paul was actually talking about in that passage. Christ’s word of assurance to Paul that “my grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness” was more than a mere eye-salve to soothe an optical problem.
I also read everything else that I could get my hands on―expositions, commentaries, sermons and biographies. My main purpose was to try to understand the spiritual turmoil that was happening to me; had God ever dealt with anyone else like this? After twenty years, the closest thing I have ever found to my own personal experience has been in John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding. Even so, in His unique dealings with me, God, for His own wise ends, was teaching me something beyond mere head knowledge: He was giving me some extraordinary experiential lessons that are far more valuable treasures than what can be obtained in any religious seminary.
Yet in all my reading, I was learning Scriptural head knowledge, too.
Some books, however, were more than useless; they were actually harmful; we live in an age of epidemic apostasy and superficial Christianity that is awash with oceans of “spiritual” nonsense. But God swam me through the floods of it, and kept me from swallowing down a lot of sea water polluted with error. I can’t exactly explain the how of it. I know at first that I didn’t know anything, let alone enough theology to know why some things were errors. But to change the metaphor, somehow there were things that just didn’t ring true―a believer’s heart, when it is being properly tuned by God’s hand, responds the same way to God’s truth as a well-tuned guitar string does to a tuning fork―it vibrates on the same frequency. But if the tuning fork itself is vibrating an off-key wrong note, that guitar string will not resonate in sympathy.
It was also as Elihu told Job, “the ear trieth words, as the mouth tasteth meat,” Job 34:3. Whenever a certain pithy phrase, or the good flavour of a certain truth struck home to me in my reading, I copied it out by hand, or highlighted it in the book. Later, I typed out the quotation and its author’s name on an old typewriter, and pasted it into a scrapbook for my own personal use. Other than using these quotations as reminders to myself, I had no attention of doing anything more with them. But through this somewhat tedious scrapbooking, God was dusting away the cobwebs of my mind, and furnishing it with a new library; and more, He was restoring the typing skills I had neglected for so many years, a talent that I would need to accomplish His own purposes. Over a few years, that first scrapbook became two, and then three.
Just before the turn of the century, a man gave me a very old computer; I think it had about a Windows Word-1 in it. Staring at that glaring white font, I began to type my storehouse of quotes into a computer file. “You ought to record the sources, too,” the man told me. And so I numbered each quote and placed them into a source reference index, except for a few early recorded quotes that I could not track down.
Meanwhile, my reading, and highlighting, and typing continued.
As more up-to-date computers followed, my growing files eventually had to be reorganized by subject, and cross-referenced by author. With all the necessary re-reading that was required to re-sort them, these quotations all passed through my mind again like a refresher course. I can’t tell you why some little snippets of phrasing so impressed me when I recorded them many years ago; in themselves, some of them seem almost too trivial to bother with. But I recorded them all the same, and now, nearly twenty years later, I find that most of them have their handy uses. In all, I now have over 8000 sourced quotes from more than 300 different authors, which is enough material for an awful lot of these Chat Room style conversational meditations.
Of course, it took several years of false starts and failed experiments before the style and format of what you will read in this blog came to its final form. There were four particular books that most influenced its literary development. These were as follows:
1. Daily Light, a 19th century devotional composed solely of Scripture verse fragments and texts with both morning and evening readings, published by Bagster & Sons.
Originally composed from the devotions of the Bagster family, the individual family members had prayed for guidance over the texts as they made suggestions of what material to include in each of the various readings, which is probably one solid reason why God has so blessed that devotional to the souls of so many people for more than 100 years. It is truly amazing how often some portion of a Daily Light reading speaks to some specific event during the day. When I was a babe in Christ (at age 41), a much older man gave me this little book, and some wise advice; “Saturate yourself with Scripture,” he told me. And so I have read through Daily Light many times, and learned a great deal from its judicious selections. It also gave me an enduring sense of how the Bible fits together, and sowed the seed for the fitting of quotations together in a conversational style.
2. The second book that influenced me greatly was C. H. Spurgeon’s The Treasury of David. Of the large number of observant quotations that he had attached to every verse of the Psalms, Spurgeon said this: “The collection of quotations was an after-thought. In fact, matter grew upon me which I thought too good to throw away. It seemed to me that it might prove serviceable to others, if I reserved portions of my reading upon the various Psalms; those reserves soon acquired considerable bulk, so much so that even in this volume only specimens are given and not the bulk.”
About two years after God had saved me, I read through Spurgeon’s entire Treasury of David and typed out many a quote on my old manual typewriter. And Spurgeon was right―very “serviceable” indeed did those quotations become to me by introducing me to good authors and writings of which I had no previous knowledge, and also in the matter of the quoted material itself, by increasing my understanding of God’s Word. I hope that this blog will also prove serviceable to others in the same fashion.
3. The third book was The Thought of the Evangelical Leaders: Notes of the Discussions of the Eclectic Society London during the years 1798-1814.
First published in 1856, it was reprinted by the Banner of Truth Trust in 1978. In 1783, the Eclectic Society was founded by the Anglican clergyman John Newton, the author of the hymn Amazing Grace. Nearly 60 years old at the time, Newton’s intention was to bring together various Christians to hold religious discussions to one another’s edification; the society, according to Newton’s original design, included two or three laymen and ministers from other denominations. The group met together once every two weeks to discuss a question proposed by one of its members. Notes were taken and edited by John Pratt (29 years old in 1798). It was this book that did much to cause me to see the possibilities of what might be done by organizing a judicious selection of quotation into a conversational style format.
4. This last book was more of a confirmation of direction than a stylistic influence which watered the seeds that had been sown by the three previous books. The Experience Meeting was written by William Williams during the 18th Century Methodist Revival in the Welsh language. Translated into English by Mrs. Bethan Lloyd-Jones, the little booklet was published in 1973 with a preface written by her husband. Although this book was written in form of several dialogue conversations, it was rather more the preface by Martyn Lloyd-Jones that confirmed to me the practical necessity for an experiential and ‘living’ flavour to some of the conversational meditations that I was beginning to develop.
Speaking of the Methodist Revival, Lloyd-Jones wrote that “the leaders were led to gather together the converts into little groups or societies for further teaching and nurturing in the Faith. These men of God had a great concern for the souls of the people, and realising that the parish churches were so spiritually dead that they could provide neither the fellowship nor the teaching that was necessary for these raw converts, they developed the idea of these ‘religious societies’ where such people could meet together regularly every week.
The object of the societies was primarily to provide a fellowship in which the new spiritual life and experience of the people could be safe-guarded and developed. The great emphasis was primarily on experience, and the experimental knowledge of God and His love and His ways. Each member gave an account of God’s dealings with him or her, and reported on any remarkable experience, and also their sins and lapses, and so doing compared notes with one another in these respects. The societies were not ‘bible study’ groups or meetings for the discussion of theology. Of course great stress was laid on reading the Bible as well as prayer, but the more intellectual aspects of the Faith were dealt with in the preaching services and not in the societies. Here, the emphasis was on daily life and living, the fight against the world, the flesh and the devil, and the problems that arise inevitably in the Christian’s pilgrimage through this world of sin.”
And who does not think that these same spiritual needs apply in our own day?
Well then, enough. To conclude: What you see recorded in these blog postings began before the foundation of the world. It was advanced over the centuries by the men of God who wrote the Bible by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and who told us of the one and only mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ. Then it was furthered by a great cloud of Christian witnesses―teachers, commentators, preachers, and many others who have believed in Christ during the two milleniums since the Day of Pentecost, and who said and wrote all the words which you will read in these quotations. Finally, this blog is also a result of sixty years of my own life; and thus it is very hard for me not to see the providential guiding hand of God in all of that.
“To God be the glory, great things He has done.”
And may God greatly use this blog to His own glory, to the edification of His people as He sees their spiritual needs, and to the conversion of sinners to the true faith of His Son, Jesus Christ. For except a man believe in Jesus Christ, and be born of His Spirit, he shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.