|LEARNING BY HEART
To encourage young people to commit the Holy Scriptures to memory the Trinitarian Bible Society established the "Scripture Learning Prize Fund", which is used to provide an attractively bound Bible as a reward for learning several short passages selected from the Authorised Version. Details of this scheme, and a list of the passages to be learned, will be sent on request, and readers who are interested are invited to write to the Secretary for this information.
Among our older readers there are no doubt many who are deeply thankful that they were encouraged to learn portions of the Scriptures by heart when they were children. Those passages of God's Word thus fixed in the mind and memory of a child have remained after many years while so many of the words heard and read a week, a month, or a year ago, have been so easily forgotten. One to whom God gave "a wise and an understanding heart" wrote, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (1 Kings 3.12; Proverbs 22.6).
The example of Timothy
Timothy, acknowledged by the Apostle Paul as his "brother" in the Lord's service, addressed by him as "my own son in the faith," and commended as "my work-fellow," "the servant of Jesus," and "faithful in the Lord," was prepared for his place in the Lord's service from his childhood days--"From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." When Paul called to remembrance "the unfeigned faith" of Timothy, he remembered also Timothy's godly grandmother Lois and his godly mother Eunice, by whom no doubt that gracious instruction was given in his childhood days. (Colossians 1.1; 1 Timothy 1.2; Romans 16.21; Philippians 1.1; 1 Corinthians 4.17; 2 Timothy 3.15; 1.5)
A blind Egyptian
Many centuries have passed since the Gospel was first preached, and in times of oppression, persecution and spiritual darkness, when Bibles were scarce, some who could not read would listen carefully when the Scriptures were read and commit the precious words to memory. Learning by heart played a great part in the ancient world-- a fact which has to be remembered when we consider the educational work of the first Christian missionaries. Ordinary Christians carried a good deal in their minds...and there were some whose memories were prodigious. In the fourth century Eusebius met in Palestine a blind Egyptian, who had been exiled from his country, of whom he wrote, that "he possessed whole books of the Holy Scriptures, not on tables of stone, as the divine Apostle says, nor on skins of beasts or on papyrus, which moth and time can devour, but in his heart, so that, as from a rich literary treasure, he could, ever as he wished, repeat now passages from the Law and the Prophets, now from the historical books, now from the Gospels and the Apostolic Epistles." - (A. Harnack--Bible Reading in the Early Church, London 1912).
The Waldensians in the 13th century
The Waldensians spread the Word among the illiterate classes. Their people could not read, but this was not to say that they could not learn. An inquisitor giving evidence at Beziers in A.D. 1246 declared: "I myself have seen a young cowherd, who for the space of only a year stayed in the house of a certain Waldensian heretic, who learned by heart and retained with such diligent attention and careful repetition in his mind what he had heard, that within that year he had learnt and remembered forty of the Sunday Gospels (without counting feast days), and he had learnt all these in his own tongue word for word, apart from other words of sermons and prayers."
Another inquisitor wrote in A.D. 1260 attacking the Waldensians, "They have translated the New and Old Testaments into the vulgar tongue, and this they teach and learn. For I have heard and seen a certain unlettered countryman who used to recite Job word for word, and many others who knew the whole New Testament perfectly." - (M. Deanesly--The Lollard Bible, Cambridge 1920).
Learning a chapter each week
In 1552 Archbishop Holgate enjoined that all vicars choral of York, who were under forty years of age, should commit to memory every week--"One chapiter of Sancte Poule's Epistles in Latyne, after the translation of Erasmus, begynnynge at the first chapiter of the Epistle to the Romanes; and that the queresters do learn withoute booke every weke, or at leaste every fourtenighte, one chapiter of the Gospells, and th'Acctes of the Apostles to th'ende, in th'Enlishe tonge, begynnyng at the first chapitour of Sancte Matheue." (F. Harrison--"Life in a Medieval College", London 1952).
Readers under the age of forty today would find it rather burdensome to memorise a chapter of one of the Epistles in Latin each week, and few would attempt the exercise even in English. Perhaps if parents were to spend a little more time with their Bibles their children would follow their example and find pleasure and profit in the exercise, and with God's help both would truly "learn by heart" the words of everlasting life. - (The quotations are found in H. G. G. Herklots' "How the Bible Came To Us" 1957).
For more information write to: