The following Synopsis was originally written and published in French, at the desire and more immediately for the use of Christians speaking that language.
A few words only are needed to introduce the reader to the present publication. He is not to expect a commentary, nor, on the other hand, to suppose that he has a book which he can read without referring continually to the Word itself in the part treated of. The object of the book is to help a Christian, desirous of reading the Word of God with profit, in seizing the scope and connection of that which it contains. Though a commentary may doubtless aid the reader in many passages in which God has given to the commentator to understand in the main the intention of the Spirit of God, or to furnish philological principles and information, which facilitate to another the discovery of that intention; yet if it pretend to give the contents of Scripture, or if he who uses it seeks this in its remarks, such commentary can only mislead and impoverish the soul. A commentary, even if always right, can at most give what the commentator has himself learned from the passage. The fullest and wisest must be very far indeed from the living fulness of the divine Word. The Synopsis now presented has no pretension of the kind. Deeply convinced of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, given to us of God, and confirmed in this conviction by daily and growing discoveries of their fulness, depth, and perfectness; ever more sensible, through grace, of the admirable perfection of the parts, and the wonderful connection of the whole, the writer only hopes to help the reader in the study of them.
The Scriptures have a living source, and living power has pervaded their composition: hence their infiniteness of bearing, and the impossibility of separating any one part from its connection with the whole, because one God is the living centre from which all flows; one Christ, the living centre round which all its truth circles, and to which it refers, though in various glory; and one Spirit, the divine sap which carries its power from its source in God to the minutest branches of the all-united truth, testifying of the glory, the grace, and the truth of Him whom God sets forth as the object and centre and head of all that is in connection with Himself, of Him who is, withal, God over all, blessed for evermore.
To give all this as a whole and perfectly would require the Giver Himself. Even in learning it, we know in part, and we prophesy in part. The more—beginning from the utmost leaves and branches of this revelation of the mind of God, by which we have been reached when far from Him—we have traced it up towards its centre, and thence looked down again towards its extent and diversity, the more we learn its infiniteness and our own feebleness of apprehension. We learn, blessed be God, this, that the love which is its source is found in unmingled perfectness and fullest display in those manifestations of it which have reached us even in our ruined state. The same perfect God of love is in it all. But the unfoldings of divine wisdom in the counsels in which God has displayed Himself remain ever to us a subject of research in which every new discovery, by increasing our spiritual intelligence, makes the infiniteness of the whole, and the way in which it surpasses all our thoughts, only more and more clear to us. But there are great leading principles and truths, the pointing out of which in the various books which compose the Scriptures, may assist in the intelligence of the various parts of Scripture. It is attempted to do this here. What the reader is to expect, consequently, in this Synopsis, is nothing more than an attempt to help him in studying Scripture for himself. All that would turn him aside from this would be mischievous to him; what helps him in it may be useful. He cannot even profit much by the following pages otherwise than in using them as an accompaniment to the study of the text itself.
From what has been said it will easily be understood that the writer can readily feel the imperfection of what he has written. Often he would have liked to have introduced the developments which he has enjoyed, when unfolding particular passages in detail and applying them to the hearts and consciences of others; but this would have turned him aside from the object of the work. He trusts, however, that the right direction is given to the scriptural researches of the reader: grace alone can make those researches effectual.
He cannot close this short introduction to the book without expressing the effect which the discovery of the perfectness and divinely ordered connection of the Scriptures produces in his mind as respects what is called Rationalism. Nothing is proved by the system so denominated but the total absence of all divine intelligence, a poverty associated with intellectual pretension, an absence of moral judgment, a pettiness of observation on what is external, with a blindness to divine and infinite fulness in the substance, which would be contemptible through its false pretensions, if it were not a subject of pity, because of those in whom these pretensions are found. None but God can deliver from the pride of human pretension. But the haughtiness which excludes God, because it is incompetent to discover Him, and then talks of His work, and meddles with His weapons, according to the measure of its own strength, can prove nothing but its own contemptible folly. Ignorance is generally confident, because it is ignorant; and such is the mind of man in dealing with the things of God. The writer must be forgiven for speaking plainly in these days on this point. The pretensions of infidel reason infect even Christians.
He would add that it has not been his object to unfold the blessed fruits the Word produces in the mind and ways of him who receives it, nor the feelings produced in his own mind in reading it, but to help the reader in the discovery of that which has produced them. May the Lord only make the Word as divinely precious to him as it has been to the writer; to both ever still more so!
Translated from the French as appearing in “Etudes sur La Parole.”
J. N. Darby.
I present to you in these pages the beginning of a work which I trust will be of use to you in the study of the precious Word of God. I also desire that the outlines you will find therein, giving you a glimpse of part of the wealth contained in the Word, may induce you to study it more carefully. I feel conscious, even more conscious than you could be, of the great and numerous imperfections that are found in this outline. However small one’s value of the Word may be; however little one may have felt its divine character, any work of man referring to it will be, in the eyes of a believer, quite colourless and poor. I feel this, and wish to say a few words to explain to you my object in publishing these thoughts, and to let you know what to expect in perusing them.
A few years ago a brother suggested that I should undertake this work, but until now, I have shrunk from the task, more because of a sense of my inability for such an undertaking, than because of my being occupied in the Lord’s service, although the latter may have accounted somewhat for the delay. The feeling that the Lord is near inclined me to devote myself to service rather than to undertake work in my study. The needs of brothers who are also in the Lord’s field, and most of them in a more useful way than I am, caused me to decide to set about this work, without, I hope forsaking a fitting humility, which I would rather maintain than accomplish any kind of work whatsoever. Several matters, however, weighed in the balance to hinder my commencing this task.
Firstly, the immense responsibility, which, when it is a question of the Word of God, attaches to the one who would give guidance to the thoughts of Christians; and however modestly it might be, to present ideas as being the intention of the Spirit of God. How grave an error to wrongly direct the dear children of God in the understanding of His thoughts and of His will; or to present as the purpose of His precious communications, that which may not be it!
Another consideration also checked me; it was the fear that anyone might assume to find in this work, the whole contents of the Word. The grave and serious harm of all commentaries is that they make room for this thought, lending themselves thus to the slothfulness of heart and the lack of spirituality which are satisfied with a few explanations, good, perhaps, in themselves, but which only give a few thoughts suggested by the Word and fall infinitely short of communicating its life, its power and its wealth. Nothing is more harmful than this laziness which prefers to dwell on a few thoughts rather than fathom the divine Word itself, which latter is denied to the soul who does not earnestly seek of the Lord, with diligence, spirituality and devotion, the knowledge which He alone can give. The reader therefore, will not find here any pretension to give him the whole contents of the Word. He will find— at least, such has been my desire and the object of my work—a few indications which will help him in the study of the Bible, but which will be useless to him without this study. I should have rendered him an injurious service had I helped him to gather up ideas, at the same time diverting him from the living and true Word which puts us in touch with God Himself, places our hearts beneath that eye which sees all, which judges all; but which sees it in order to heal us and bless us.
A further and more personal consideration weighed with me a little—the fact that the task truly was very great. The influence of this thought vanished in the hope of being of service to my brethren; and, in the great joy I anticipated in performing the work, which joy indeed, I have not failed to experience. Even if my reader does not derive any great gain from it, I, at any rate, have the consolation that it has been of immense gain to me. Whatever may be, I do not regret having undertaken it. I beseech the reader not to read these pages without accompanying them with those of the Word, and to use them only for the study of the Word. My purpose is that the Word should be studied, and I even hope that it will be impossible to use these writings otherwise than in the study of the Word.
Finally, I did not propose to speak of the result the truth has produced in myself, nor give utterance to the godly emotions which gush up in the heart when the Word is rightly read. I intended to help my reader to understand that which should produce these feelings. I prefer to let them spring up through grace in his heart, rather than to impart to him much of what has taken place in mine. I simply express the desire that the effect may be not only the joy of knowledge, but of true communion with God.
I have only one word to add. I intended to publish a summary of all the books of the Bible, indicating as far as it may be given to me the intent and thought of the Holy Spirit in each book. As it is a great undertaking it seemed that the work could very well be published in parts. The Pentateuch suggests itself naturally as a group which could appear separately. My work on the other books is well advanced, so that I hope to be able, God willing, to resume shortly the publication of this work. It is sweet to think that my brethren will help me with their prayers that I may have guidance from God in this work, and that His Spirit may preside over it, and that thus it may be a blessing to us all.
I must not finish this Preface without informing my reader that if he finds that which edifies in these pages, he will be largely indebted to the care and affectionate interest brought in by our brother M. H. Parlier, who has greatly helped me in editing.
May the teaching of the Holy Spirit Himself be granted to you, dear reader; may the Word become always more precious in these last days, and may an obedient spirit, mingled with love for all that belongs to Christ, be with you. This is the desire of your affectionate brother in Him.
J. N. Darby.