The Bible has to do with two great subjects, which, taken together, and in connexion with each other, make up what we call Religion. These two great subjects are Goodness and God. The Bible tells us about God and Goodness; this is what gives to it its unity. This is what gives to it its unique value. No other book has told men so well and so truly of goodness and God as the Bible. All that it says about God and all that it says about goodness is not indeed of equal value and of equal truth: there are degrees of excellence and of worth. But, taken as a whole, no other book has spoken and still speaks of God and goodness as this book, the Bible. And this is what has made the Bible precious and beloved through so many ages and to so many very different peoples. For God and Goodness can never grow old. Men and women always want to know about them, and in this respect one age is the same as another. The poetry of the Bible is often very beautiful, but men have not loved it for its beauty. Its stories are often very interesting, but men have not read them again and again for their interestingness. Its proverbs are often very wise, but men have not learnt them for their wisdom. Its history records many facts, but men have not greatly cared for the facts. Just as the writers cared for the ‘moral’ more than for the facts (and the later the historians the less they cared for the facts and the more for the moral), so its readers have always cared for the history of the Bible because they found in it something which told them about God and goodness, about virtue and vice, holiness and sin, about God’s rule in the world and how he governs it for the best.
The subject of the Bible, then, is Goodness and God. You may perhaps ask: How did the Hebrews — the men who wrote the Bible — get to know so much and so well about God and goodness? That sounds an easy question, but it is really a difficult one. I cannot answer it fully because I do not fully know. The best answer I can give is this, that it was God who told them what they have told us. It was by God’s help and will that they wrote about him and about goodness the noble words which we read in the Bible. Let me explain what I mean a little more clearly. If there were no God, we should not know anything about him. If there were no God there would be no goodness. I believe that this is perhaps the most important sentence, telling the most important truth, in all the world. But when I say ‘it was God who told them,’ I do not mean that he told them in the same way that I might tell you about a strange fish on the south coast of Africa which you had never seen or heard or thought of. God did not tell them, and does not tell us, things in that way. He does not pour knowledge into us as we pour water into an empty bottle. He has given us the power and the desire to know him and to be good, and if we use our power, he helps us to become good and to love him (for to know God and to love God are very near relations to each other). But over and above the help which he gives to every man, he gave a special help to the Jews, or perhaps I should say to the best men among the Jews, and to the men who wrote the Bible. He needed the Jews for his own good purpose to be the interpreters of his will to other nations and peoples. Through the Bible the Jews have taught the world about goodness and God, and so God told them more and let them know more about himself and how to serve him than he told to any other people. How exactly he told them I cannot tell you. That he told them, that he let them know a special and peculiar amount about himself and his service, that is a fact of history which everybody must accept. We shall soon hear various stories from the Bible itself how God told the Jews about himself and of his service and of righteousness and mercy; but the important thing is not exactly how the Jews were told, for their greatest men could hardly have explained it to you quite clearly themselves, but that they were told, that they somehow received this higher and better knowledge of goodness and God, and that through them Europe and America and Australia have received it too.
Claude G. Montefiore