A Wee Booklet

Readers often wrote to Isabella asking how they could study the Bible on their own, and Isabella was always happy to suggest a method that seemed to fit their individual circumstance.

Here’s what she wrote to one reader, a harried housewife who had very little time each day to call her own:

As to methods of Bible study, there are numberless ways, and they are all good. The main point is to choose one of them and study. There are books that help wonderfully in the understanding of the Bible. Some of the very little ones contain a great deal of instruction.

This is notably the case with a wee booklet of not more than fifty small pages. It is called “Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth,” and contains ten outline studies on the divisions of the Bible. It is prepared by C. I. Scofield and published by the Asher Publishing Co., St. Paul, Minn.

Black and White photo of Cyrus Ingerson Scofield in his later years. His hair is white and he is dressed in a three-piece suit. He is seated at a table.  In one hand he holds a pair of glasses. His other hand points to a passage of text in a Bible open on the table before him. Behind him are bookcases lined with books.
Dr. C. I. Scofield at work in the library at Princeton University.

You can read the “wee booklet” Isabella recommended.

“Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth” by C. I. Scofield is available online.

You can read an electronic version for free on one of these websites:

BibleCentre.org

BibleBelievers.com

Or you can purchase a paperback copy from Amazon by clicking here.

Have you read Scofield’s booklet?

Do you think it’s a helpful guide for someone who is new to studying the Bible?

Advice to Readers about Dissatisfied Lives

For many years Isabella wrote a popular advice column for a Christian magazine. She used the column to answer readers’ questions on a wide variety of topics.

This question came to Isabella in a letter from a woman named Jessie:

What is the meaning of the Bible verse: “He satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness”?

I am not satisfied and I don't know what I want. I have asked God to help me find out, but I don't get help. I try to do what I think is right, but I seem to be as badly off today as I was yesterday. The soul hunger is still there, and I don't know where to look in the Bible, or out of it. How can I satisfy this hunger, or this longing for something that I haven't got? Can you help me? 
          Jessie

Here is Isabella’s advice:

I think the Bible verse you quoted means exactly what it says; it is the out-pouring of a glad heart in thankful song because God has made good his promise.

“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

That is the promise, and there are multitudes who can testify to its truth. The first step in securing its fulfillment to the individual soul is to believe it unquestioningly.

As to the reasons why some Christians (who think they are hungry for righteousness) continue from day to day to be “as bad off today as they were yesterday,” they are various. There is a state of longing, of unrest, of desire for something—one hardly knows what—that has very little to do with God. It merely represents a dissatisfied heart that thinks itself willing to take God, or anything else, in order to find happiness; but that is not hunger for righteousness.

The Bible verses quoted have to do, I think, with those who have already had an actual Christian experience that abides. They have settled it once and for all that they belong to the Lord Jesus Christ in covenant relations. That is, they have seen themselves as sinners, and Christ as the only Savior, and have definitely accepted him as their substitute. They recognize that they are not their own, that they have been “bought, with a price,” and have ratified the transaction; that henceforth their time, their talents, their possessions are his—lent to them for use, but absolutely under his control. Such an experience leaves no room for dissatisfaction and vague unrest.

Their days begin with prayer, real prayer—a definite commitment of each hour and each bit of work, each responsibility, each “thorn in the flesh,” each trifle to God, asking and expecting his minute and continuous attention.

Old photo of a woman kneeling in her bedroom in front of her dressing table, her hands are clasped together in prayer.

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Sometime during the progress of their day there is definite Bible study. Not simply the reading of a few verses in succession, or scattered here and there, without giving careful attention to their meaning, but a real feeding of the mind:

“Whose word is this that I am reading? Is it my Lord’s?”

“Just what does he say here, and how?”

“What part of this is assuredly for me? Is it a promise? Can I claim it? Have I done so, definitely?

“Is there a direction here? Am I obeying it?”

“Is the meaning obscure?

“Am I using my best endeavors to find out just what he meant me to get from this portion?

“Has he explained it somewhere else in my Bible?”

Remember that he will work no miracles for you except those of which you stand in need. He has given you the book and a capacity for studying it; he will no more do the studying for you than he will make the bread in your kitchen while you fold your hands and wait for it.

I speak intentionally of daily Bible study, remembering, as I use the phrase, that there are some lives so crowded with what are known to be duties, that not even a small portion of their day can be claimed for what they call actual study.

Old photo of a Bible on a table. Beside it is an old oil wick lamp made of etched glass.

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In those situations there is a delightful and helpful “study,” which one dear saint calls “feeding upon a Bible verse.” Take a little verse, or a piece of a verse, into the duties and perplexities and pin-pricks of the busiest day, and it will often prove a veritable armor.

Think of going into the thick of a Monday morning with a cantankerous parent to appease, with a wide-awake and deeply interested baby at the mischievous age to watch, with two or three heedless and belated children to be buttoned and brushed and smoothed and sent happily off to school; with door bells and telephone bells to answer, with luncheon to manage for seven or eight persons, with a tardy announcement that a friend is coming for luncheon and to spend the afternoon with the neighbor next door running in to borrow, and chat and hinder, with the thousand and one besetments of a wife, and mother, and housekeeper. Think of her as taking hold of all these duties, freshly armored with the verse:

There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear; God is faithful who will not suffer you to be tempted above what ye are able: but will, with the temptation, make also the way of escape that ye may be able to endure it.

You can imagine one’s temptations to the hasty word, to undue fault-finding, to feeling sure that she simply cannot endure any more of this.

“No,” says the Word upon which she is feeding, “you must not say that. God will not suffer you to be tempted above what you are able. He says so. He knows the temptations; he will make the way of escape. He says so.”

Did he mean her? Oh, yes, indeed! He had her in mind. “Neither pray I for these alone,” said Jesus, “but for them also which shall believe on me.” That includes her, and she knows that “he ever liveth to make intercession for her.”

Who is going to estimate the effect on the world of that day’s soul-food, as the busy daughter, wife and mother, with quiet face and sweet, low voice, meets and endures her multiform temptations with the armor that her Lord has supplied!

Such Bible reading is Bible study reduced to living. Such a life will grow; will feel more intimate acquaintance with the Lord today than it had yesterday, more joy in his service.

Such a soul will learn to long after fellowship with Jesus Christ, and will daily be given more and more of his felt presence.

Such a soul will “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” not in a sickly, sentimental, dissatisfied way, but with an eagerness and a hopefulness born of experience, and an experience that will refuse to be satisfied with anything less.

I believe real soul-hunger to be a pleasant experience: as when one with a healthy, normal appetite sits down to a well-filled table, knowing that he is very hungry, and knowing, also, that his hunger will be satisfied.

What do you think of Isabella’s advice?

Have you ever tried her method of memorizing a single Bible verse to carry with you throughout the day?

Isabella based some of her novels on the advice she gave here about “feeding upon a Bible verse.”

In Frank Hudson’s Hedge Fence, for example, Frank learns that memorizing one Bible verse a day, and keeping it top of mind all day long, can make a big difference in his outlook and his walk with God. You can get your copy of the book by clicking here.

She used a variation of the method in A Dozen of Them, where a boy named Joseph promised his sister he would choose one Bible verse a month and make it a rule to live by. You can read the book for free by clicking here.

Quotable

“Bloom where you are planted” is a popular phrase that Isabella Alden took to heart. Many of her books—such as The King’s Daughter and Interrupted—feature characters who use small acts of kindness as a way to witness for Christ under trying circumstances.

A New Graft on the Family Tree is another example. In the book Louise Morgan and her new husband move in with his difficult parents, who do not hide their disappointment in their new daughter-in-law.

If you’ve read the book, you know how Louise responds. No matter how much her mother-in-law complains or gives her menial tasks to do, Louise does everything asked of her with a cheerful spirit, because she believes that in serving her mother-in-law, she is also serving the Lord.

Illustration of an open book and blue vase with pink flowers on a table near an open window. Below are the words: "I bless Him that I may constantly serve, whether I am wiping the dust from my table, or whether I am on my knees." -From A New Graft on the Family Tree, by Isabella Alden.

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What do you think of Louise’s method for dealing with her in-laws?

Have you ever had to deal with a difficult person? What method did you use?

Advice to Readers on Church v. Nature

Isabella wrote a popular advice column for a Christian magazine. Some topics she addressed may sound very familiar to today’s readers, like this one from 1897:

“What can be said to someone who says he can get as much good from reading sermons at home, or communing with nature, as in going to church to hear, perhaps, a poor sermon?”

Here is Isabella’s answer:

I infer from your letter that the person who takes this position is a professing Christian. To that person should come, first, a reminder of this direct command: The church we believe to be a divine institution, and careful study of the Bible shows that the Lord has promised to be in a special sense “in the midst” with those who gather in His name. To argue, then, that as much good can be secured in other ways is to set one’s self in opposition to the Lord’s wisdom, and to thwart His plans of grace for us.

Photo of man sitting on a large rock as he looks out over a pastoral scene.

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Moreover, the first object in attending church is not to hear a sermon—good or poor—but to worship God in united prayer and song. He has planned that we shall gather in companies to do this, in order to be helpful to one another, as well as to ourselves. There is always that question of influence over others to be remembered. The habit of church-going is an unquestioned safeguard to thousands of people who have no deep-seated Christian principle in regard to it; and whatever I can do to confirm and increase this habit I am bound—by the rules that govern good society—to do. So that (leaving myself out of consideration altogether) for the sake of others I should be regular at church; but God has planned so wisely for us that in helping others we are, as it were, compelled to help ourselves.

Illustration of a man and his dog sitting at the base of a tree, looking out over a open field with a grove of trees in the background.

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These are some of the reasons for habitual church-going that appear on the surface. But the best remedy for one not inclined to regularity in this matter is to ask the Master who “went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day,” “as his custom was,” what He thinks.

Have you ever heard someone say they believe reading their bible or communing with nature is just as good as attending church?

What do you think of Isabella’s advice?

A Hard Text about Burdens

Isabella’s brother-in-law Reverend Charles M. Livingston wrote several articles for The Pansy magazine in which he explained Bible verses that might seem confusing at first. Here’s one he wrote in 1888:


Bear ye one another’s burdens. (Galatians 6:2)
Every one shall bear his own burden. (Galatians 6:5)
Cast thy burden upon the Lord. (Psalms 4:22)
Old illustration of a hand holding up a Bible surrounded by rays of light.

How do we reconcile these verses that conflict one with another? Think in this way:

One day Martha went over the way to the pump with a four-quart pail for some water, and soon returned to her mother with it.

An hour later she went with an eight-quart pail and, filling it, tried to carry it back, but could not. Her neighbor, Mark, happened to be there with his three-quart pail. He offered to carry hers and let her carry his, and so they did and got on nicely.

Some time after they were both at the pump again, each with an extra pail. They were soon filled, but when they tried to lift them all and go forward they could not. Just then their good friend Moses came along and, seeing their trouble and their pleading looks, came to them, and with his two strong arms took up the extra heavy pails of water and easily and cheerfully carried them to their homes, while they followed with their other pails.

Maybe this will aid you to see that those three texts are not so hard, after all; that they do not go against each other, but go rather hand in hand.

What do you think of Rev. Livingston’s explanation?

Advice to Readers about Selfishness

Isabella wrote a popular advice column for a Christian magazine. In 1897 she mentioned in her column that she had received “at least a dozen letters lately about selfishness.”

Here is Isabella’s Advice:

It is a curious illustration of human nature that in nearly every instance the writers are sufferers because of this trait in others, and are not themselves guilty of the sin. Of all sins to which the human being is heir, that of selfishness seems to me sometimes the most insidious.

Let me tell you about two lovely young friends of mine, sisters, beautiful girls, who have been carefully trained in a choice Christian home. It was summer, and in their hospitable home were gathered several guests. The mother, who had been an invalid during the winter, and like most mothers was tempted to overtax her strength, was being watched over tenderly, not only by her husband, but by grown-up sons and daughters. The morning which I am especially recalling was that one trying to the nerves of housekeepers generally—wash-day.

Illustration of two women. An elderly woman sits in a chair. Before her stands a woman dressed in the apron and mob cap of a maid.

It was a country home, and the cook, Jane, was also the maid of all work. There was a second girl, Norah, who served during the influx of company; but on this particular morning, when she was most needed, her aunt’s brother’s cousin had arrived from Ireland, and she must needs go home to welcome her. I came down to the piazza in time to hear and see a bit of family life, after this fashion:

“I’ve kidnapped her,” said Marian, the eldest daughter, gleefully, as she held with gentle force the little mother in the large rocker where she had placed her. “Now, dear mamma, do be persuaded not to go upstairs again. Don’t you know that it is warmer this morning than it has been for several days? And don’t you remember what the doctor said about exerting yourself on warm days?”

Illustration of elderly woman sitting in a chair. A younger woman sits upon the arm of the chair, with one of her arms wrapped around the elderly woman's shoulders.

“But, my dear,” protested the mother, trying to withdraw her arms from the loving clasp, “I was not doing anything to injure myself; and Norah is away, you know.”

“I cannot help it if she is. Your strength is more important than the work of fifty Norahs. Come and help me, Norm. She ought not to bustle around in the heat, ought she?”

“Certainly not,” said the tall brother. He strolled toward them, and drew a chair beside his mother.

Illustration of a young man and young woman speaking to an elderly woman.

As the morning waned, she made ineffectual appeals to both son and daughter to let her “step out for a few minutes” and see how things were going.

“No, indeed!” said Marian with emphasis. “As if we should let you into that hot kitchen for a minute! We might better go without luncheon than to have it at any such price. Don’t worry, mamma dear; things will come out all right; they always do.”

Yet the mother undoubtedly worried, although the guests were as polite as possible, and protested that it was too warm to think of anybody’s doing anything. People did not need to eat in warm weather. Yet they knew, and the hostess knew, that people do eat in warm weather, and that, moreover, the average man and woman like cool, dainty edibles that do not make themselves.

 After a time the two self-constituted policemen became absorbed, the one in a new embroidery stitch which a guest was teaching her, the other in a volume of Browning. As the other guests were by this time engaged in writing or reading, the hostess slipped away. My thoughts followed her regretfully. If I were only well enough acquainted to beg to be allowed to help, how gladly would I have done so! Later, two or three of us took a stroll about the grounds, and discussed the several members of the family.

“What a lovely girl Marian is!” said one. “So unselfish, and so thoughtful of her mother! It was really charming this morning to see her solicitude. And the eldest son seems very much like her.”

“They are so different from Kate,” chimed in another voice. “One never sees her hovering around her mother, anxious lest she should overtax her strength. I wonder where she is, by the way. I have not seen her since breakfast.”

“Kate is sufficient to herself, I fancy,” said a third. “She seems to have her own pursuits, regardless of family life. But I do not wonder, I am sure, that Marian and her brother are anxious about the mother; she looks miserable this summer. I think they will not have her with them long.”

The mother returned, sooner than I had expected, and her face was serene. Something had happened to lift the burden of care.

“Your children are very solicitous for you,” I said in an aside to her a few minutes afterwards. “It is pleasant to see them.”

“Yes,” she said with a motherly smile, “I am blessed in my children. Marian’s anxiety is sometimes almost burdensome; but the dear girl means it well. This morning, for instance, I felt as if it would have been a real comfort to be able to slip away and attend to a few things. But I need not have worried; I might have known that my dear Kate would manage.”

“That is your second daughter, is it not?”

“Yes, the dear child! You do not know her very well; she gives herself little time for our friends, she is so busy assuming the cares of others. I wanted to arrange the lunch today, for Jane does not like to be interrupted; but I found Kate had planned everything, and executed it, for that matter. She had even been to my room, and made the bed, and put everything in exquisite order. I don’t know how she found time to accomplish so much. It is not any of it her regular work, you understand—just extras that she is doing to save me.”

Illustration of a young woman arranging flowers on a dining table.

I moralized, afterwards, over this bit of revelation. Did any of us think that the daughter Marian was selfish? Did she herself for a moment imagine such a thing? And yet . . .  

Oh, it is the little bits of things that catch us. Why, bless your heart! I know a boy who most cheerfully gave up a cherished plan to make a three days’ visit to a friend, because there were reasons why his mother did not wish him to be absent at the time. There were reasons why it was more than an ordinary sacrifice for the young man, and I admired him for making it. But that very fellow came to breakfast, dinner, and supper a few minutes late every time but one during the five days that I was his mother’s guest, although he knew perfectly well that both his mother and his father were annoyed by it. He did not do it intentionally, mind; but his ease-loving nature found it to his convenience to dawdle just at those moments. I think he would have been surprised and pained had one accused him of selfishness. Yet what was the name of the difficulty?

I am glad I used that word “cheerfully” in speaking of him. It hints at another way of giving up. I have a friend who sacrificed her quarter’s salary to relieve her father of a temporary embarrassment; yet she did it so ungraciously, and he heard about it so continually for the next six months, that I doubt whether he would accept such an offering again no matter how great the stress. That girl considers herself a monument of unselfishness.

What do you think of Isabella’s advice?

Poor, Wretched Peter!

Isabella was deeply involved in the Christian Endeavor movement. Each month the Society of Christian Endeavor published meeting guides and lesson plans for local chapters to use in their meetings. When the May 1894 meeting guide focused on Peter’s actions in the book of Luke, Isabella wrote a special “open letter” to the youngest C.E. members to help them understand the context of the lesson. Here’s what she wrote:


Dear Young People:

Some of you are studying this month about Peter. You are dreadfully shocked over him as you read his story in the twenty-second chapter of Luke. I do not wonder. How terrible it must have been to Jesus to have heard Peter say, “I know him not!”

And in another place it tells how Peter even swore that he did not know him! Poor, wretched Peter!

If we had not heard anything more about him, we should have despised him all our lives. And as it is, we are quite sure that we would never have done such a thing as that, if we had been on earth when Jesus was. I heard a boy say so, once.

“No, ma’am!” he said, his cheeks growing red at the thought. “I tell you, I am very sure I never should have denied him. The idea!”

Yet only the next day that boy was playing croquet with some other boys, and two began to swear.

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“Hush!” said one of them, after a minute. “We mustn’t swear before Tommy; he’s a goody-goody boy and has promised never to use any naughty words. Run away, Tommy, before we hurt you.”

What did Tommy say? Remember, he was the boy who knew he would not have denied Jesus. He laughed, and blushed, and said:

“I’m not afraid of your words; say what you like.”

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Why did he say that? Why, because he was ashamed to own before those boys that he belonged to Jesus Christ, and had promised to try to please him. Don’t you think he denied him quite as much as Peter did?

Oh, there are many ways of doing it. I am reminded of a girl I used to know, whose mother did not approve of little girls taking walks on Sunday.

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On the way home from Sunday-school, her classmates said to her:

“Come on, let’s go down to the river for a walk;” and she answered:

“Oh, I can’t today; I have a little headache.”

She said this, not because of her headache, which was not enough to keep her from going anywhere she pleased, but because she did not like to own that she had been taught it was not the right way to spend Sabbath time, and she was trying to do right. Do you think there was a little bit of denial of Jesus in her heart just then?

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What do you think of Isabella’s letter?

A Little Word Lost

In The Pansy magazine Isabella used stories, illustrations, and poems to teach young people what it meant to follow Jesus. The following poem was published in an 1893 issue of the magazine, and although it was written for children, it has meaning for adults, too!

I lost a very little word
    Only the other day;
A very naughty little word
    I had not meant to say.
If only it were really lost,
    I should not mind a bit;
I think I should deserve a prize
    For really losing it.
For if no one could ever find
    Again that little word,
So that no more from any lips
    Could it be ever heard,
I'm sure we all of us would say
    That it was something fine
With such completeness to have lost
    That naughty word of mine.
But then it wasn't really lost
    When from my lips it flew;
My little brother picked it up,
    And now he says it, too.
Mamma said that the worst would be
    I could not get it back;
But the worst of it now seems to me,
    I'm always on its track.
If it were only really lost!
    Oh, then I should be glad!
I let it fall so carelessly
    The day that I got mad.
Lose other things, you never seem
    To come upon their track;
But lose a naughty little word,
    It's always coming back.

While no author name was given when the poem was published, Isabella’s husband Ross and son Raymond were both talented poets, as was Isabella.

When she wrote stories about children losing their tempers, she wrote from experience. Isabella shared stories from her own life about how often her anger got her into trouble when she was young.

You can read about some of those instances in these previous posts:

Joy Go with You

BFFs at Oneida Seminary

Locust Shade … and a New Free Read

Quotable

Isabella was a wise woman who had a talent for stating Christian truths in simple, meaningful ways. Here’s one example:

"Extraordinary afflictions are not always the punishment of extraordinary sins, but sometimes trial of extraordinary graces."

You can find more of Isabella’s words of wisdom to read, print, and share. Just enter “quotables” in the search box on the right to see more.