Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
The “Sacredness” of the Bible
By Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887)
[Lecture on “Conscience.”—A Summer in England with H. W. B. Edited by James B. Pond. 1887.]

THERE are multitudes of men who think that the Bible is sacred. No thing is sacred except a responsible human being or Divine Being. Only by the permission of language we call places “sacred,” but they have no virtue in them; nothing issues out of them, no atmosphere comes from them. We use the language in that way. The Bible: it is a Book that makes a vast amount of sacredness among men. It is a Book that, as respects the past, is almost as invaluable as the future which it depicts. Criticism may carp, men may cut at it and cut it up; the Bible is, after all, a Book that will stand as long as men are in sorrow and in despondency, and are in conscious guilt, and are desirous for the development of love and peace and hope and joy; it is the fountain of the best qualities that can exist in the individual and in human society. The only proof that you can make of the Bible is to live it: that will settle it. A very worthy methodical man, whose mind is very much like the multiplication table, everything divided off into exact figures, and accustomed to read his Bible before he goes down, as he says, into the world every morning, has got half way down the block when he says: “My soul, I forgot to read my chapter!” and back he goes, all a-tremble, to the house, and runs up into his chamber and shuts the door, and draws down his face and reads a Psalm. Blessed be David, who wrote so many short chapters! The moment he has read his chapter he feels better. Now he goes down: “I have done my duty.” What sort of a God must he imagine our God to be? My children love me, and greet me with the morning kiss and with the evening farewell; but suppose, in the height and excitement of some enterprise, one of my children should forget to kiss me; do you suppose I would lay it up all day, would think anything about it? Do you suppose God lays up all these little things in his disciples and friends? Is He as narrow and as mean as our conceptions of him are? And it is in this way that the Bible is constantly used. Men swear by the Bible. It is an idol under such circumstances; stands in the place of God, and is an idol. A man sits down accidentally, or he has put his child upon the Bible, and the mother says: “My dear father, the child is sitting on the Bible!” Well, better foundation he could not sit on.

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