A Hard Text about Swearing

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 1889:


Matthew 5: 33-37:

33. Again, ye have heard that it hath been said of them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:

34. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne:

35. Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.

36. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

37. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

Image of open Bible

With these words in mind, how, then, do good men swear on the witness stand in the court-room?

That is intended to be a solemn, religious thing, for the sake of truth and law and justice. It sets the fear of God before the witness to deter him from falsehood, and the love of God to lead him to tell the truth.

The spirit of prayer is in it.

Our Hard Text refers to profane, wicked, idle swearing. It is taking the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain. It is very common in ordinary conversation among many people. They curse and swear “by” this and “by” that, just for fun, or to make folks believe them, usually when they are telling a lie. At last it becomes a vile, dreadful habit, and in almost every sentence they swear. Many little children do this. It is an awful sin. It leads to destruction.

Shun the first step in that direction. Have a character for truth. Consecrate your tongue to Christ as He died on the cross to redeem your entire body and soul from all sin.

Have you ever wondered if swearing a solemn oath was the same as swearing in ordinary conversation?

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


Click on the links below to read more of Reverend Livingston’s “Hard Text” articles:

A Hard Text

A Hard Text in Matthew

A Hard Text: Matthew, Mark and Luke

The Many Names of Jesus

Isabella had a wonderful way of using her own personal experiences to show people how relevant the Bible could be in their everyday lives. In 1895 she wrote this uplifting piece for a Christian magazine:


Have you ever noticed how many beautiful names Jesus has?

One of the pleasantest Sunday afternoons I remember was spent with my dear father, looking up some of them, and trying to find what they meant.

We began with that one in Zechariah 3:8, where it says:

“Behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch.”

Graphic with Bible verse: I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH. Zechariah 3:8

I suppose I was not old enough at the time to understand much of its meaning, but I liked the sound of the verse; and I like now to think of Jesus as a part of God, a branch from the divine one, broken off from the great tree and sent to earth for us.

Then we looked at Isaiah 9:6, and found that he was not only a branch from God, but that one of his names was “Everlasting Father.”

And Isaiah 7:14 called him “Emmanuel,” which means, God with us.

And Paul, in Romans 11:26 called him the Deliverer; and Peter called him the Corner-Stone, and John, the Good Shepherd, and the Lamb of God, and the Light, and the King, and the Word, and the Why. John has so many names for him!

Graphic with Bible verse: There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer. Romans 11:26

Take your Bible some day, and try and find out all the names of Jesus; if you have not thought about it before, you will be astonished at the number of them. I do not think you can imagine a great or helpful name which has not been given to him.

So many times he is called the Savior! Then he is the Mighty One, the Maker of all things; the Prince of Life, the Prince of Peace, the Morning Star, the Redeemer, the King of Kings.

I wonder if you will have a preference among these names? If some of them will seem to make him come nearer to you than others?

One day I was very much afraid of something which I feared was coming to me; I did not see how I could escape it, and I was glad to remember that Jesus was the Deliverer.

Graphic with Bible verse: The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer. II Samuel 22:2

Then, when my father died, and my heart felt as heavy as lead, and it seemed to me as though I could never be happy again, I found this name for Jesus in Revelation 1:5:

“The first-begotten of the dead.”

Graphic with Bible verse: Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead. Revelation 1:5

Then  I remembered that Jesus died, and was the first one to rise from the dead by his own power, and had promised to raise all others, and that my father would surely live again.

Oh, this is a beautiful thing to study about! Who will try it? See how many names you can find.

What do you think of Isabella’s idea for Bible study?

Do you have a favorite among the different names for Jesus? one that—as Isabella said—makes him feel nearer to you than others?

A Hard Text in Matthew

Isabella’s brother-in-law the Reverend Charles M. Livingston wrote several articles for The Pansy magazine in which he explained some of the Bible’s most challenging verses in terms young people could understand. Here’s one he wrote in 1888:


A Hard Text

Matthew 10:34: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
Photo of open Bible.

In Luke 2:14 the angels sing of Jesus when He was born, “On earth peace.” At first sight these verses in Matthew and Luke seem to contradict each other. They do not. The blessed Book never does that. Remember:

When one thing in one part of the Bible seems to conflict with another part, or say something which seems to be wrong, you are to conclude that a little better understanding will set it all to rights in your mind.

“I come not to send peace” to a sinner if he stay in his sins. “There is no peace to the wicked.” There ought not to be. But as soon as a sinner asks Jesus for forgiveness, he gets peace. That’s the way peace comes on earth; it is the peace of God in the heart; peace and joy in believing.

Now, when one gets this peace, it seems so good that he wants some other one to get it, too. So he speaks to his other one and urges him to confess his sins and seek Jesus; and in most cases this other one gets angry and talks against Jesus or Christians. That often happens in a family where one is a true Christian and the others are not. You see how trouble will come. There will be war in that family. It may not be a war of swords, but it will be a war of words. Jesus does not want the war, and there wouldn’t be any if the sinner would give up. But he does not usually surrender till after a hard battle with Jesus. So Jesus is said to send a sword or war. It simply means, “I am come to fight against the wrong; and people who are on the wrong side and stay there, will fight against me and my soldiers.”

My dear, dear children, I wish you may never be found with a sword in your hand, or mouth, or heart, fighting against the Lord. Let Him put His sweet peace into your heart, and when you draw the sword, draw it against sin.


Did you know? … Reverend Livingston’s daughter was beloved Christian novelist Grace Livingston Hill.

Click on the links below to read more “A Hard Text” columns:

A Hard Text

A Hard Text: Mathew, Mark, and Luke

A Hard Text: Matthew, Mark and Luke

Isabella’s brother-in-law the Reverend Charles M. Livingston wrote several articles for The Pansy magazine in which he explained some of the Bible’s most challenging verses in terms young people could understand.

Rev. Livingston wrote the following article for an April 1891 issue of the magazine:


A Hard Text

Matthew 8:28: And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way.
Mark 5:1-2: And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit;
Luke 8:26-27: And they arrived at the country of the Gadarrenes, which is over against Galilee. And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs.
Photo of open Bible.

They don’t seem to agree. How to account for that?

But don’t you see that if the writers wanted to cheat the readers they wouldn’t contradict each other?

The truth in this case is that they mention different cities but in the same region or neighborhood. Christ went into the same neighborhood.

“There met him two … ” says Matthew.

But Mark and Luke mention one, so then here’s another seeming contradiction. Two cannot be one. How to account for this?

Easily enough.

Mark and Luke do not deny that there were two; they simply call special attention to the very furious one. He was a man of some standing before this and so his cure from such dreadful violence by the power of Christ would be so much the more noticeable.

This may be a key to many other “hard texts.” The writers only seem to contradict each other, whereas they may be telling different things about the very same person or thing, or calling special attention to one of several persons. When writers try to deceive, they do not give names and dates, [but] you will find them in the Bible.

It may not always be possible to harmonize all things as you read along in the Bible; but do not therefore conclude that those things cannot be harmonized.

Remember:

When one thing in one part of the Bible seems to conflict with another part or say something which seems to be wrong, you are to conclude that a little better understanding will set it all to rights in your mind.


[break or line]

Did you know? … Reverend Livingston’s daughter was beloved Christian novelist Grace Livingston Hill.

Click here to read another “A Hard Text” article by Rev. Livingston.

Advice to Readers about Shortcomings

For many years Isabella wrote a popular advice column for a Christian magazine in which she answered readers’ letters about their problems and concerns.

In 1912 she received a letter from a very disappointed person who signed her letter, “Honest.”

Here is the letter:

I don’t know as there is any sense in my writing to you, but I kind of want to talk to somebody. I’m pretty near discouraged, and that’s the truth. And of all things to be discouraged about it’s religion. Isn’t that dreadful?

Folks disappoint me so! There isn’t anybody half as good as I thought they were; nor one-quarter as good as they ought to be, considering what they profess.

There’s a man here that I used to think was too good for earth, and I’ve found out he’s got an awful temper. And another man that they boast about being excellent is almost too stingy to eat his own dinner. And so it goes—everybody disappointing; and I’m disappointed in myself, too; maybe that’s the worst or it.

It seems as though religion has gone back on us, somehow, or we would all be different. What do you honestly think about it? I’m not “young people,” but I have lots to do with young folks and they disappoint me fully as much as the older ones.

Honest.

Here is Isabella’s reply:

I am especially glad to receive this honest letter just at this time. I wish very much that you could all have been at the devotional service this morning in the great amphitheater or the New York Chautauqua, and heard President Frost, of Berea College, Kentucky, on “Good People’s Shortcomings.” It was so entirely in line with your experience, and so helpful. I wonder if I can tell you enough about it to pass on the helpfulness?

His Bible illustrations interested me; they were in a line of which I had never thought before. For instance, there was Terah, who started to go with his family to Canaan, pulled up stakes and got out of the old home, and on his way to the new. But he found a pleasant place to stay, and tarried.

And they departed together from Ur to the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they went as far as Haran and settled there. Genesis 11:31.

He meant to go on; he fully meant to. He thought about it quite often; but what is the record?

“And Terah died in Haran.”

Isn’t it a striking analogy? So many of us, having started for the promised land, tarry by the way, are willing to do so, feed ourselves on good resolutions and let the days slip by, not getting on an inch. Doesn’t that account for some of your disappointment?

Then read the story of Azariah. He “did that which was right in the eyes of Jehovah.” Ah, doesn’t that sound well? It encourages us; but just read on. There is a “howbeit”’ in his record.

“Howbeit the high places were not taken away.”

He did well, in most things, even in the sight of God; but he didn’t reach up to his opportunities. He left those idolatrous high places standing, to lead the people astray.

Howbeit the high places were not taken away, and the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. 2 Kings 1:4.

Then there was Noah, the famous ark builder, so remarkable for his exact and persistent obedience that he stands out in history as an example, and was given the rainbow for a pledge that God would have him in remembrance. Yet, read in Genesis of Noah’s sad lapse into sin. The truth is told plainly: Noah began to be drunken.

And he drank of the wine, and was drunken. Genesis 9:21.

That final record of human weakness and imperfection stands; it must have been for a purpose.

Now, come over to the New Testament and see those two friends — Nicodemus and Joseph of Aramathea — creep out of the shadow to minister to the body of Jesus the crucified. They must have been good men, great men, admirable men in character. In fact, we know that they were. But how much more we could have thought of them if they had not followed him secretly!

And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes. John 19:39.

So we might go on indefinitely, always finding a “howbeit” or a “but” in the record.

Suppose we were to write a few chapters of the Bible ourselves, this morning? About Deacon Justice, and Elder Earnest, and Mistress Lofty, and Miss Tearful. Good, honest, sympathetic, devoted, “but” ….

The fact is, we are all strung up on disjunctive sentences, every one of us.

The record of imperfection, failure, missing the mark, lapsing into sin, was all made for a purpose. What was that purpose? Certainly not to discourage us. Wasn’t it, rather, the contrary? Even those who walked with God failed or fell short. They need not have done so, but they did. Search where we may, we find one perfect Pattern only. Was not this record made to give us courage to try forever to measure up to it?

It is pleasant and helpful to find the people who are traveling with us gaining in strength, in courage, in self-control, in all the graces that we need for the journey; but, after all, we need but one perfect Leader. If we keep our eyes fixed upon him, we need not stumble, even though those just ahead of us do.

It is no wonder we are disappointed with ourselves. We ought to be, but not to the point of giving up or of laying the blame on others. Our lapses should simply drive us closer to the Guide who has promised, someday, to present us to his Father “without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing,” and to cultivate a living faith that “what he has promised he is able also to perform.”

That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. Ephesians 5:27.

This will keep us from discouragement, and help us each day to grow more sure that, while we are none of us by any means what we might be, it is not “religion” that has “gone back on us,” but our own weak following.

As for our “professions,” what do we profess, my friend, but that we are sinners, trusting in the redemption that is in Christ Jesus to save us and pledged to look to him for daily grace to help us follow closely?

Be sure that he will do his part; let us begin anew each morning and try hard at ours.


What do you think of the advice Isabella gave?

Do you think Isabella’s advice helped give “Honest” a different perspective?  

New Free Read: “Scattered Verses”

This month’s Free Read is “Scattered Verses,” a short story Isabella Alden wrote in 1892.

In “Scattered Verses” Isabella illustrates the sacrifices mothers often make for their families, which makes this a perfect story for Mothers’ Day! Here’s a brief description:

“Such a chance! I never had any such chances, you know. They didn’t study the Bible much when I was a girl, not in this way!”

So says Mrs. Halstead when she, her husband and daughter, take a cottage for the summer at a famous Sunday-school assembly. But those Bible classes, as precious as they are, occupy a good deal of time—time she used to spend caring for her family; and while she may be learning a lot about Paul’s letters to the early churches, her little rented cottage is in chaos from kitchen to bedroom! Before long Mrs. Halstead is faced with a difficult decision: should her devotion to studying the Bible be stronger than her devotion to her family?

You can read “Scattered Verses” for free!

Click here or on the book cover above and choose the reading option you like best:

  • You can read the story on your computer, phone, iPad, Kindle, or other electronic device. Just choose your preferred format from BookFunnel.com.
  • Or you can choose the “My Computer” option to read a PDF version, which you can also print and share with friends.

Marking Ester’s Bible

Ester Ried owned a Bible—a “nice, proper-looking Bible” that she read from time to time when she remembered to do so.

If her Bible was at hand when Ester was ready to read, she used it. If not, she took her sister Sadie’s, or picked up “the old one on a shelf in the corner, with one cover and part of Revelation missing.

But when Ester traveled to New York to visit her cousin Abbie, she packed in such haste, she forgot to add her Bible to her suitcase—a circumstance Abbie immediately tried to correct.

“Oh, I am sorry—you will miss it so much! Do you have a thousand little private marks in your Bible that nobody else understands? I have a great habit of reading in that way. Well, I’ll bring you one from the library that you may mark just as much as you please.”

Mark in a Bible? That was an entirely new concept for Ester.

She had never learned that happy little habit of having a much-used, much-worn, much-loved Bible for her own personal and private use, full of pencil marks and sacred meanings, grown dear from association, and teeming with memories of precious communings.

Once Abbie delivered the Bible to her, Ester began to think the idea of marking certain verses was an excellent one. The only problem was, she didn’t know how to go about it and had only a pencil to at her disposal.

When Isabella wrote Ester Ried in 1870, there were no Bible journal kits, stickers or markers like the ones we can buy in stores today.

Colorful Bible tabs from Etsy.com

And she probably never imagined there would one day be Bibles specifically designed for readers to create their own artwork inspired by a verse on the page, like the one below:

From ScribblingGrace.com

So when Isabella wrote Ester Ried, she had her title character take a much more simple approach; she had Ester merely underline certain Bible verses that had meaning to her, which was a perfectly sensible method for a young lady who was new to regular Bible study. As Ester progressed in her Christian journey, so, too, did her ability to memorize and mark verses that held special meaning for her.

Reverend Dwight Lyman Moody was a friend of Isabella’s family, and a keen proponent of Christians marking their Bibles.

Dwight Lyman Moody

He rarely went anywhere without his Bible, which he called his “Old Sword.”

After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871—a disaster that caused so much loss for so many people—someone asked Rev. Moody what he had lost in the fire. Rev. Moody focused on what was important:

“I have not lost my Bible, or my reputation.”

Anyone who was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the pages of his Old Sword would have seen proof of Rev. Moody’s constant study.

“My Bible is worth a good deal to me because I have so many passages marked that, if I am called upon to speak at any time, I am ready.”

He often told people not to buy a Bible they were unwilling to mark up or write in; and he suggested using a Bible that was printed in a way that offered plenty of room for jotting notes and suggestions.

“Bible-marking should be made the servant of memory; a few words will recall a whole sermon. It sharpens the memory, instead of blunting it, if properly done, because it gives prominence to certain things that catch the eye, which by constant reading you get to learn by heart.”

So what method did Rev. Moody use to mark in his Bible? Below is a plate (unfortunately it’s a little fuzzy after being duplicated many times) that shows his Bible, open to the first chapter of Ephesians. (You can click on the image to see a larger version.)

In addition to notes and references to other verses, he utilized a series of underlines and diagonal lines, which he called “railways.” It may look like a jumble of lines and notes, but his system was really very simple.

In the first column in the page on the right you can see how he used railways to connect words of promise that had meaning to him:

Blessed
Chosen
Accepted
Redemption
Together
Inheritance
Sealed

In the second column he underlined words he identified as “together” words. Then, in the blank area on the page on the left, he cited additional “together” verses he found in Galatians, Colossians, Ephesians, Romans, and I Thessalonians.

Although this system worked for him, Rev. Moody encouraged everyone to find their own methods.

“There is a danger, however, of overdoing a system of marking, and of making your marks more prominent than the Scripture itself. If the system is complicated it becomes a burden, and you are liable to get confused. It is easier to remember the texts than the meaning of your marks.”

In 1884 Rev. Moody wrote an introduction to a book titled How to Mark Your Bible, which incorporated many of the methods he used in his own Bible markings.

The book shares many examples of how to mark your Bible with railway connections and word groups in the same way Rev. Moody did.

You can read the book for free. Just click on the cover to get started.

Do you use markings, colors, stickers or tabs in your Bible?

What marking method works best for you?