On my wall is a 400 year-old page from a book.
It is a page containing words God has seen fit to magnify above his very name. These words were printed by Robert Barker on paper made from old clothing. This page on my wall, printed with words from God, magnified by God above his name, was literally worn by someone over 400 years ago, perhaps as a shirt, some pants, or maybe this page contains the remnants of many shirts and many pants worn by many people. Those remnants were ground into paper and adorned with words given by the creator of the universe.
The words on this page were given by God to a king of Israel named David, about 2,530 years ago and about 3,485 years after God gave Adam the breath of life.
The words on this page are alive. No, you can’t tell by looking at the ink. You can’t tell by looking at the fibers of the paper, fibers that once made up clothing for English citizens over 400 years ago. But, I tell you, I testify to you, dear reader, that the words on this page are as alive as you are. I can tell when I read them. I can tell when they comfort me; console me; make me feel joy; and surely enough, I can tell that these words are alive when they convict me and show me how unworthy I am to even cast my gaze upon them.
On my wall, in a frame, is a 400 year-old page from a book.
For hundreds of years after the words on this page were given by the Holy Spirit through David, careful Hebrew scribes diligently copied each word, exactly as it appeared, being used by God to preserve them from generation to generation.
Could I have done such careful, honorable service as they, over two millennia ago? I would need parchment made of skin only of clean animals, and I would have to sew them together with string, also made from clean animals. I would have to take care not to write columns less than 48 or more than 60 lines. I would have to prepare my ink according to a strict recipe from which I could not waver. I could not use my memory, no matter if I had memorized an entire chapter or merely one line. To copy from memory would taint the entire manuscript, and I would have to destroy it. I would have to read aloud each word and each letter as I copied them, one by one, again not by memory but only by sight. When I came to the word “God,” I would then carefully set my pen down, go, and wash my entire body before I proceed. These words are living, and I know it; I must not contaminate the name of my God in my work. When my work is reviewed, one mistake on a sheet of paper would require the entire sheet to be destroyed and rewritten. Should I err three times on a page, the entire manuscript would be destroyed. In my work, I would come to the last book of Moses, and begin to copy: “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it…” I tremble. When I am complete, another verifies my work, counting each letter. Should he find that I have added a letter, or left one out, or should he notice one letter touching another or not formed exactly, my work shall be for naught and I must start again.
And what of the saints since Calvary? What of the ones, like Tyndale, who were killed for merely translating the words into a common language? Could I have been as he, burned in a prison yard at the end of his earthly life after being betrayed, saying only: “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes!”
On my wall, in that frame, on that page, in letters I can still read quite clearly, and in words that sound no different than they did 400 years ago when they were translated into English, I read:
“I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name. “
Yes, reader, the letters look a little different than they do in today’s print—a lowercase letter S looks like f, for example. But when I pronounce each word aloud, they sound exactly the same.
These words appear under the heading “P S A L. CXXXVIII”—Psalm 138. The words are from the second verse.
I sometimes wonder: are other pages of the book from which mine is taken on someone else’s wall? To whom did these words speak over the last 400 years, after they came off Robert Barker’s printing press in 1611? Surely there was some use or damage rendering other parts of the book unusable, or this page would never have been separated from the others. Who read from this page in church? Or in whose house did it sit, ready to illuminate whenever a reader desired?
How many readers in four centuries looked at the same page I look at, reading the same verse I read, amazed at just what it means that God has magnified his word above all his name?
Psalm 119:140 Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it.
(Verse references: John 6:63; Romans 3:2; Psalm 12:6-7; Deuteronomy 4:2; Psalm 138:2; Psalm 119:140.)