Moody on Bible Marking!

When we talked about Bible Reading in the early service, I mentioned that there was a handout at the back of the church that talked about marking your Bible. If you missed it, or came to the second service, here it is for you to print out!

from Golden Counsels by Dwight L. Moody, 1899.

An old writer said that some books are to be tasted, some to be swallowed, some to be chewed and digested. The Bible is one that you can never finish with. It is like a bottomless well; you can always find fresh truth gushing forth from its pages. “No Scripture,” said Spurgeon, “is exhausted by a single explanation. The flowers of God’s garden bloom not only double, but sevenfold; they are continually pouring forth fresh fragrance.” Hence the great fascination of constant and earnest Bible study. I thank God there is a height in the Book that I have never been able to reach, a depth that I have never been able to fathom.

Hence also the necessity of marking your Bible. Unless you have an uncommon memory, you cannot retain the good things you hear. If you trust to your ear alone, they will escape you in a day or two; but, if you mark your Bible, and enlist the aid of your eye, you will never lose them. The same applies to things you read.

Every one ought to study the Bible with two ends in view-—his own growth in knowledge and grace, and passing it on to others. We ought to have four ears,– two for ourselves, and two for other people. My Bible is worth a good deal to me because I have so many passages marked that, if I am called upon to speak at any time, I am ready. We ought to be prepared to pass around heavenly thoughts and truths, just as we do the coin of the realm.

Bible-marking should be made the servant of memory; a few words will recall a whole sermon. It sharpens the memory, instead of blunting it, if properly done, because it gives prominence to certain things that catch the eye, which by constant reading you get to learn by heart. It helps you to locate texts. It saves preachers and class-leaders the trouble of writing out notes of their addresses. Once in the margin, always ready.

There is a danger, however, of overdoing a system of marking, and of making your marks more prominent than the Scripture itself. If the system is complicated it becomes a burden, and you are liable to get confused. It is easier to remember the texts than the meaning of your marks.

The simplest way to mark is to underline the words, or to make a stroke alongside the verse. Another good way is to go over the printed letters with your pen, and make them thicker. The word will standout like heavier type. [For example], mark “only” in Psalm 62 in this way.

When any word or phrase is often repeated in a book or chapter, put consecutive numbers in the margin over against each text. Thus, “the fear of the LORD” in Prov. 1:7, 29, and so on. Number the ten plagues in this way. In the second chapter of Habakkuk are five “woes” against five common sins.

When there is a succession of promises or charges in a verse, it is better to write the numbers small at the beginning of each promise. Thus, there is a sevenfold promise to Abraham in Gen. 12:2, 3, “1I will make of thee a great nation, 2and I will bless thee, 3and make thy name great, 4and thou shalt be a blessing, 5and I will bless them that bless thee, 6and curse him that curseth thee, 7and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” In Prov. 1:22, we have 1simple ones, 2scorners, 3fools.

Put a cross in the margin against things not generally observed. For example, the law regarding women’s wearing men’s clothes, and regarding bird’s-nesting, in Deut. 22:5, 6; the sleep of the poor man and of the rich man compared, Eccl. 5:12.

On blank pages at the beginning and end of your Bible, jot down texts to answer the various kinds of difficulties that you meet in talking to people in the inquiry-room: “can’t hold out,” “too great a sinner,” “fear persecution,” etc. Also on these blank pages write short Bible readings and outlines of sermons.
In addition to the examples already given, I find it helpful to mark:

1. Scripture references. Opposite Gen. 1:1 write, “Through faith. Heb. 11:3,” because there we read, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God.” Opposite Gen. 28:2 write, “An answer to prayer, Gen. 35:3.” Opposite Matt. 6:33 write, “1 Kings 17:3” and “Luke 10:42,” which give illustrations of seeking the kingdom of God first. Opposite Gen. 37:7 write, “Gen. 50:18,” which gives the fulfillment of the dream. You can connect the prophets with the historical books, the epistles with the Acts, in this way.

2. Notes to recall a sermon, story, or hymn. Against Ps. 19:59,60, I have written, “The prodigal son’s epitaph.” The recalls John McNeill’s sermon on those texts.

3. Railway connections; that is, connections made by fine lines running across the page. In Dan. 6, connect “will deliver” (v.16), “able to deliver” (v.20), and “hath delivered” (v.27). In Ps. 66, connect “Come and see” (v.5) with “come and hear” (v.16).

4. At the beginning of every book, a short summary of its contents, something like the summary given in some Bibles at the head of chapters.

5. Key words for books and chapters. Genesis is the book of beginnings; Exodus, of redemption. The key-word of the first chapter of John is “receiving”; second chapter, “obedience”; and so on.

6. Any text that marks a religious crisis in life. I heard Mr. Meyer preach on 1 Cor. 1:9, and he asked his hearers to write in their Bibles that they were that day “called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Do not buy a Bible that you are unwilling to mark and use. An interleaved Bible gives the most room for notes and suggestions.

Be precise and concise in your marking; for instance, Neh. 13:18, “A warning from history.”

Never mark anything because you saw it in the Bible of some one else. If it does not come home to you, if you do not understand it, do not put it down.

Never pass a nugget without trying to grasp it. Then mark it down.

Thoughts on Acts 21:1-17

Have you ever done your devotions and had a passage of Scripture puzzle you?  That’s what happened to me today as I read in Acts.  Does this passage teach that Paul was disobedient to the Spirit?  Does God reveal contradictory things to different people?  Here is what Gleason Archer has to say about it in The Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties:

“Was Paul obedient or disobedient to the Spirit when he went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem?

Acts 20:22–23 expresses Paul’s confidence that he is in the will of God as he journeys back to Jerusalem to fulfill his vow as a pilgrim: “And now, behold, bound in spirit [or ‘the Spirit’], I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me” (NASB). But in Acts 21:4 the disciples at Tyre “kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem” (NASB). Likewise, at the home of Philip the evangelist in Caesarea, the prophet Agabus took Paul’s belt from him and symbolically wound it around his own hands and feet, saying, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles’ ” (Acts 21:11, NASB). After this warning, all the local believers and friends strongly urged Paul to desist from his purpose; but he answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (v.13, NASB).

It is clear that the Holy Spirit did everything to warn Paul of the danger and suffering that awaited him if he went back to Jerusalem. The statement in Acts 21:4 that the disciples told Paul “through the Spirit (dia tou pneumatos) not to set foot in Jerusalem” makes it sound as if Paul was acting in disobedience by persisting in the fulfillment of the vow he had taken at Cenchrea (Acts 18:18). W. L. Pettingill states his definite opinion that “Paul was forbidden to go to Jerusalem at all. It is therefore evident that he was out of the Lord’s will” (Bible Questions Answered, ed. R.P. Polcyn, rev. ed. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979], p. 332). But this is a rather difficult position to maintain in view of God’s continued faithfulness to him through all his trials. As Paul stood before the Sanhedrin, before Felix and Festus, and even before Herod Agrippa II, he enjoyed opportunities for witness that would never have come to him had he not become a cause célèbre.

If Paul was really out of the will of God, would he have been so marvelously delivered from the violence of the mob at the temple? Would he have been so notably used as a preacher to governors and kings? Back at the time of Paul’s conversion, the Lord had told Ananias of Damascus, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15–16, NASB). It certainly looks as if Paul’s arrest and trials at Caesarea, and his later appeal before Nero Caesar at Rome, were God’s means of bringing to pass the purpose He announced to Ananias so many years before.

Paul’s attitude in regard to the dangers and sufferings awaiting him in Jerusalem is not too dissimilar to that of our Lord Jesus as He too faced the prospect of His last journey to Jerusalem, there to meet His humiliation and death on a cross. There is something almost Christlike about the way Paul spoke of his impending sufferings in the presence of the Ephesian elders: “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (20:24, NASB). He gladly laid his life on the altar, as one who was completely expendable for the Lord Jesus.

All things considered, then, it seems best to understand Acts 21:4 as conveying, not an absolute prohibition of Paul’s journey to Jerusalem, but only a clear, unmistakable warning that he is not to set foot in Jerusalem—if he wants to avoid danger and stay out of serious trouble. But Paul had counted the cost, and he was willing to risk everything in order to fulfill his vow and set an example of fearless courage before the whole church of God. From the sequel it seems quite clear that he was indeed following God’s good and acceptable and perfect will for his life.”

Let’s assume that Archer is correct.  Verse 14 says, “When it was clear that we couldn’t persuade him, we gave up and said, ‘The Lord’s will be done.'”  Was this some sort of fatalism, with them thinking that Paul was being disobedient and prideful?  Or, does it mean that they realized that they might not have the full picture?  It could be seen either way, and it should serve as a warning to us today.  Are there times when we might not see the full picture? Could it be that we don’t always have a right or complete understanding of what God is doing?  Could it also be that sometimes the more difficult way is the more God glorifying and kingdom building way?

Oh Lord, protect us from our own vanity and pride.  Help us to better understand your ways, and to take the hard road and the difficult path if it will bring glory to you.