Arlow Carey, as my grandfather, was a fixture in my life for many years. When he passed away a couple years ago, the family entrusted me with his Bible, a treasured possession by both of us. This isn't an ordinary Bible.
The specs: It is a Thompson New Chain-Reference Bible (third improved edition) that was purchased from Leroy Gager in 1936. On the back of the title page are these words, "I bought this Bible in 1936. It has the "third" new cover now in 1980's". What does that say about a man? I suppose first it says a lot about his love for the Word of God and its author. This Bible was carried for nearly 70 years – all through his adult life. It spent time in his recliner, in his lap during sermons, on the breakfast table with weak coffee and burnt toast, on a lectern as he taught adults and hundreds of other places. I'm sure that it went to Gideon meetings. It probably accompanied him to Africa. My own memories place this Bible in his hands as he read the Christmas story every year.
Frankly, the Bible shows the wear and tear. Though treasured and recovered, it's a mess. I would have changed it out years ago. Stained by oily hands, it bears the marks of torn pages oft repaired by tape. Some entire sections (the Epistles) show lots of discoloration and marks over marks, and at times, underlining further enhanced by highlighting. It takes me back to a day when people didn't just toss aside something because it was worn, but actually cared for it, recovered it, protected it, and milked it for all it was worth. Arlow owned and drove more than 100 cars in his lifetime (and he could tell you the price paid and received, miles driven, repairs, etc. on every single one of them.) But he only owned this Bible.
I think that says something about more than just Arlow. It speaks to me of the permanence of God's Word. All of those cars are now forgotten. Sure, there are pictures (if you have one send it!), and somewhere there is a list. But there is still only one Bible. You and I will acquire mountains of stuff over our lifetimes, but some things remain forever.
This is the 400th year of the King James Bible. This is the Bible of my youth. I grew up memorizing these words. I rattled off words like perisheth and clave. Just this morning I smiled when I came across the word "clave" in the story of Abraham and Isaac. When was the last time you claved wood? See, made you smile.
I haven't read the KJV in many years, but felt a call to revisit it. Yes, it's old. No longer speaketh I the same. But it is part of my heritage and part of my history. I honor the men and women who died to put it into print 400 years ago. I have lots of Bibles. I have Bibles like Arlow had cars. I'm looking now fondly at my college Bible – a brown NASB, purchased as a freshman at Moody Bible Institute (who also published it) at a warehouse across the street. It had a defective cover with a small spot of glue that discolored it. I read it cover to cover and underlined and highlighted it. I took it everywhere. But somewhere I changed it out for another version, another printing, and another format. Always something new with me.
So in returning to this Bible I am doing something on several levels. I am asking God to speak to me fresh, but in 400 year old words. I am also connecting to something deeper – to generations and to history. The God of the past remains the God of the present.
I am also very, very curious to learn about my grandfather.
He did a lot of underlining (pencils and pens) and there was a phase of his life when he highlighted. I can't tell the dates or occasions. On rare occasions he put a single word or phrase in the margin. Mostly he underlined. I don't know whether a pastor said it or whether he simply heard it from the Lord on a winter's morning and wanted to remember it. I know my grandpa's life and I can read what he's underlined, but I am at a loss to make a solid connection between them. I am going to read this text and pay close attention to what he's underlined. In the days to come I hope to learn again from my grandfather. Too long have I paid attention to what is new, what is fresh, what is shiny and what is still under warranty. I am anxious to learn from a generation past and have these words speak to me of truth that does not change.