Our societies, organized for the study of God’s Word, afford us a wonderful opportunity for searching the Scriptures. This fact we began to discuss with you in our last installment of this department. In continuation of that thought we would like to point out to you now why our societies are such a wonderful and valuable means to this end.
You have first of all this fact to consider, that in connection with our society discussions we are called upon to do personal investigation of the Word of God, searching these Scriptures in order to be prepared for the discussion that takes place in our society. The spiritual instruction we receive on the Sabbath is quite different. Then we gather to share in the fruits of another’s searching of the Scriptures. Then we gather to listen and to receive instruction, comfort and admonition. We are and indeed must be active while we are assembled in God’s house. Our physical presence means nothing apart from spiritual activity. But in the preaching of the Word we are not actively searching the Scriptures, we are instead listening as one of God’s servants leads us through the truth as God has led him to find it in his preparation for that service. This does not mean that this of necessity must be the last word in the matter. There is abundant room also for us today, after enjoying the work and search of the Scriptures of those God has sent to us as His servants, to do as the people of Berea did. We must search the Scriptures as further personal study of the truth we have heard. A sermon does not exhaust the matter. If it did, then we would soon come to the time when we would not need divine services anymore for our instruction. But the attentive listener on the Sabbath will often feel the need of searching the Scriptures after a particular sermon not because he does not agree with what has been said but because he desires to see it more clearly. This often occurs when a text is treated from one of the gospel narratives dealing with some incident recorded in one or more of the other gospel narratives as well as in the particular text that has been chosen for that morning’s sermon. The attentive listener will like to look up the parallel passages when he gets home and further search the Scriptures. A similar instance arises when a sweeping remark is made in the course of the sermon which the attentive listener feels that he would like to explore and investigate further, not because he believes his pastor is misleading the congregation but because this is a new thought to him and he desires to see it more clearly. His pastor may for example state that in the Scriptures we nowhere read of God being reconciled to man but always of man being reconciled to God. When he gets home, he may want to take his concordance and with its help search the Scriptures and look at each text wherein the word “reconcile” occurs to investigate this matter somewhat more deeply than was possible in the sermon that morning.
In such ways as mentioned above one is often lead by the preaching of the Word of God to search the Scriptures even as the Bereans did after Paul’s preaching in their city. In fact the preaching of the Word on the Sabbath ought to have just exactly that effect that it spurs us on to personal investigation and study of the truths recorded in God’s Word. But does it in your life? Our Sabbath days are more apt to be days of extra sleep and overeating rather than wonderful opportunities to search the Scriptures from which we are kept to a great extent during the week days. And so our societies occupy an important place in our spiritual life because to a greater or lesser degree they discipline us in this search of the Scriptures. Indeed there are again those who though they belong to a society organized for the study of God’s Word never prepare for their lesson discussion except when it becomes their turn to explain or to introduce the lesson. But the fact remains and is even more clearly brought out by this fact that we need to be driven and to be trained to search the Scriptures. It is well for us all to join a society in order that we personally may search, the Scriptures.
You may say “Yes, but the preaching of the Word on the Sabbath is sufficient and society membership is not compulsory.” This is an excuse rather than a reason for not joining such a society. And the value of a personal study of the truth both in the preparation of the lesson and in the discussion in the society meeting is not to be so lightly put aside. As the well-known expression has it, “You get out of a thing what you put into it”, so the personal application of the individual to the Word of God is never without its fruit and blessing. The work you accomplish yourself in the study of God’s Word remains with you much longer than that which you simply hear from the mouth of another. Besides this we would impress upon the minds of those who belong to a society but never or seldom prepare for their lesson discussion, that to come prepared to discuss the lesson with others also means that you come prepared to benefit by the discussion. Your own personal study of the text will help you tremendously to profit from the remarks of others who also have studied that same passage.
This leads us to our next point. In our societies there is that mutual assistance of the various members for one another. We all have our own God-given natures and talents and with these we personally study God’s Word. The one has a practical mind and sees in the text many things that have a direct bearing upon our walk in the midst of this world. The other is more inclined to delve deeply into the doctrinal significance of the text and has discovered in his personal study at home something the others were not able to see. The one sees the text as a direct and strong denunciation of a prevalent false doctrine. And so one can continue, for in a society one will find al) these and many other approaches to the lesson be discussed. In this way the society members are favored with the thoughts of their fellow men, and very often as a member is explaining his view, you will observe others in the literal act of searching the Scriptures. You will notice them paging back and forth either at the suggestion of the speaker to particular verses or else if they cannot quite agree with what is being said to search for texts to substantiate what they are about to say in reply. That element in our society life is not to be overlooked. In the preaching of the Word you have no opportunity to stop the speaker and call his attention to other texts. Nor can you ask him to repeat or make himself clearer on a certain point. Of course you may and even must do so afterwards if you think that he has presented the lie, but we are now considering only the fact of a clearer understanding of the truth. In society you benefit from the study of others and you have the opportunity of questioning them further until you see the point as well as they. In fact it often happens that when you come with a point yourself of which others never thought, you yourself by the question and the remarks which are made and directed to you go home with a clearer and richer view of your own point than you had before society. That is also what we mean by the statement that if you come prepared to discuss your lesson, you also come prepared to benefit from the discussion. If a person does not benefit from the discussion, he must not go home and say that he is not going back again because it is not worthwhile. He ought first of all to examine himself and ask himself whether he is making that society what it ought to be by preparing himself for it and by taking part in the discussion. There are passages of Scripture which are more difficult than others for a society to discuss, but there are no passages which when discussed are of no value at all and which cannot be enjoyed if all the members will but study it personally and then discuss it together. The member who never does anything else in the discussion than to raise questions which he himself cannot answer is helping the discussion along, provided, of course, that his questions are sensible ones and are not, as some delight to present the “if” questions. By “if” questions we mean those which run along this patter, “If this happened instead, then would this be the result?”
A third factor which makes our societies a valuable means to our activity of searching the Scriptures is the fact that in our society life we have a systematic searching of the Scriptures. A book of the Bible is usually discussed and an effort is made to search it for the spiritual knowledge our faith requires and upon which it feeds. Or else a well-known chapter is discussed. It makes no difference, there is a system of lessors followed. And this makes for systematic-searching of the Scriptures.
If we are not a member of any one of these societies which are organized for the study of God’s Word, we are not even apt to spend any time during the week to study the truth. We will read it perhaps at the table once or twice a day, but study or searching of the Scriptures is quite something else. Even if we do study that Word of God apart from any society membership, the tendency is always there for us to do it rather unsystematically. First of all we stand before the questions, “Where shall I begin?” And once having begun a certain passage, we soon come to passages which are more difficult, and we simply skip them to go on to what requires less effort and search on our part. If it is a little too involved, we take the liberty to disengage ourselves from it. A society does not, or at least should not behave that way and is not inclined to do so as quickly as an individual.
Besides this of course the society is a wonderful thing for just exactly that reason. There you can go with your questions and problems for help from your fellow members. And a passage from which you would have derived no benefit because you left it alone becomes significant for you too. It is a good thing for us to be tied down to a particular passage that we may systematically study God’s Word together.
By means of our society, system is also brought into the study itself. It is amazing how time flies, and he who has no special night for studying the Word of God soon finds out that weeks go by in which he did not study that passage he meant a few weeks ago to look up and examine carefully.
It is a sad thing that we have to be tied down to a society in order to be busy with the study of God’s Word, but so it is, and it behooves us all who are not prevented by God from such profitable activity to organize or join such a society and to search together the Scriptures for our spiritual welfare. We may expect a rich blessing upon our labor when we gather together to build one another up in the faith. We will not become rich in material things, but we will grow in His fear, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.