THE INFLUENCE OF THE BIBLE
T. PIERCE BROWN
Regrettably, I do not now seem to find time to read as widely in classical literature as I might. But yesterday I again picked up some of Shakespeare’s writings for a few moments and was impressed again with what I had noted many years ago when I read more from great authors. Practically everyone I remember would frequently make allusion to some Biblical story or character. A person reading their writings without a familiarity with the Bible would have found it “flat, stale, and unprofitable,” as Hamlet put it, or at least enigmatical.
The assumption of those great writers that their readers would be familiar with the Bible reveals a great deal about their own familiarity with it, as well as the great esteem in which they held it. A long article could be filled with specific quotations from multitudes of great men of literature, art, sculpture, science and various other disciplines that show their respect or reverence for the Bible. But it is at least as impressive to me to find literally thousands of allusions to some remote Biblical circumstance with the awareness that their readers did not need a footnote with an explanation of the time and place of its occurrence.
One might expect to find this in the writings of Alexander Campbell, Moses E. Lard, or others of the great Restoration, or even those of the Reformation movement, but to find it so widely in men of general literary fame is instructive. If there is any one thing that more readily shows the influence of the Bible and the respect in which it was held, I do not know of it.
Seldom have I found it advisable to accuse a man of lying, but if I should ever need to do so, I should like to be able to do it as superbly as did Moses Lard. He said, in reviewing Mr. Jeter’s book, “Campbellism Examined,” “It is to be regretted that an author whose pedigree points to an American origin should still by his speech so often betray a Cretin extraction.” Brother Lard expected his readers, largely men of religious interest, to understand his allusion to Titus 2:12 without any explanation.
But it is almost equally fascinating to hear Shakespeare saying, “The sons of Edward sleep in Abraham’s bosom” (showing his familiarity with such passages as Luke16:22) or Pope saying, “Who sees with equal eye, a God of all, A hero perish or a sparrow fall” (indicating his familiarity with such passages as Mt.10:29-31). One might expect Bunyan or Milton, or others who were writing of Biblical themes to fill their writings with such references, but when so many others, whatever their theme, are found doing it, it gives us particular pleasure.
Although it is probably possible to read most of the kinds of literature produced in recent generations without knowing anything about the Bible (and much of it could not be read with interest by anyone who cared much about the Bible), if we want our children to understand some of the greatest literature of the ages, we will have to help them learn the Bible.