SIR ROBERT ANDERSON
Secret Service Theologian
INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE
from "THINGS TO COME" April 1897.
BY DR. ROBERT ANDERSON, C.B.
(At the Mildmay Prophetical Conference, Oct., 1896.}
STANDING upon this platform, I assume not merely that we
possess a revelation, but that it is contained in the Bible. And when I speak
of the Bible as containing a revelation, I use the words in a sense far
different from that of the Sacerdotalists. Mr. Sholto Douglas, this afternoon,
touched upon the question whether the Church had given us the Bible. In
distinguishing between the Book and the Revelation, I acknowledge that we owe
the Bible to the Church, much in the same sense as we owe it to the printer.
But it is not the Church that has constituted the revelation, for the Church is
itself the creature of the revelation. And possessing the revelation we are
dependent only upon God who, in it, and through it, speaks to every heart that
is open to hear His voice. We do not judge that revelation by the Church: we
judge the Church and its teaching by the revelation. Nor do we need to turn to
the "wise and prudent" to interpret it for us, for has He not said that the
great mysteries of our faith are hidden from the wise and prudent, while they
are revealed unto babes? We are thus brought face to face with God, and, coming
into His presence as little children, as little children we hear His voice, not
to cavil or to criticise, but to believe and do. He is wise and good and
gracious and loving, and would not mislead us, and, therefore, we may accept
what He tells us literally. Thus, travelling by a wholly different path, we
come back to the same goal - literalness of interpretation.
I think it would be mere quibbling to object that sometimes He uses the language of figure and symbol. Why, is not that precisely the language which children love, and which they understand? This is a further reason why we need not turn to the Pundits to interpret it for us. The typology of the Old Testament is the very alphabet of the language in which the doctrine of the New Testament is written; and as so many of our great theologians are admittedly ignorant of the typology, we need not feel surprised if they are not always the safest exponents of the doctrine.
And there is another reason. If we are to understand the Word of God aright, as Dr. Bullinger told us this morning, we must "rightly divide the word of truth." We must know something of what we technically describe as Dispensational Truth. You cannot easily exaggerate the importance of this. He, I fear, was misunderstood by some in regard to what he said, specially with reference to the Sermon on the Mount; but what he really meant is perfectly clear, perfectly intelligible and perfectly true. The great principles which are enunciated there, are principles for all time and for all places; but the special precepts were for the time in which they were spoken, and for the men to whom they were addressed.
There is another quibble, which needs a passing notice, that we have not the Bible, the Word of God, in the language in which it was given and, therefore, we are dependent upon the Church, the skilful and the learned, who understand these things. It is a quibble by which the learned impose upon the ignorant. God has not a language. God is not a Hebrew or a Greek. It is perfectly true that, as we speak to one another we speak in the language in which we think, in the language in which our ideas have been framed, in which our minds are steeped; and if you translate our words into another language they may suffer. But it is not so with God. Time forbids of my enlarging upon this; but I would ask, Was it the Church that gave us our English Bible? It was Tyndale who gave us our Bible, in the very teeth of the opposition of the Church. I recall his words; I think I quote them correctly, though I quote from memory -"I will make it that the man who follows the plough in England shall know more of the Bible than the Pope of Rome." The Church's answer was to strangle him at the slake, and fling his body into the flames! It is no less a quibble to ask us to turn aside to discuss rival theories of inspiration. We have got far beyond that in these days in which we live. Such controversies weigh little with practical men. We brush them aside and ask the plain question which underlies them all: "Have we a Divine revelation? Has God spoken, and has He spoken in such wise that we can hear His voice and know His will?"
The great controversy of all the ages is about the Living Word. All God's purposes centre in Christ. Our forefathers believed that the home of man was the pivot of the universe, and that the sun and stars moved round our earth to give us light, or to adorn our sky. They believed that the heavens were made for man. But Science has told us thnt this earth is but an insignificant planet, and that each one of those stars is itself a sun, the centre of a system which far transcends our own in greatness and in grandeur. Science has thus poured contempt upon the belief of other days. But I make bold to say that the belief of other days was right, save only in this - the misapprehension as to the Man for whom these things were made. It is not man the creature, "Man, vain insect of an hour," as one of our poets has written; not the first man who is of the earth, earthy, but the Second Man, who is the Lord from heaven. By Him were all things created. For Him the universe exists, and in His power it is held together. This was my theme, the last time I spoke from this platform. But what I want now is to notice that the living Word has its counterpart in the written word. Why is Christ called "the Word of God"? It is because He is the expression of the mind of God. And just for the same reason the revelation that He has given us is called "The Word of God." I say they are perfect counterparts. Although He is now upon the throne, beyond the power of Satan's malignity, beyond the reach of the wicked hands of men, He is still the centre of the great controversy between God and man. But it is around the written Word that the battle rages now. Was He intensely, absolutely Divine, and yet intensely, absolutely human? The same is true of the written Word. The Bible is made up of "words proceeding out of the mouth of God "; and yet it is the most human book in all the world. Was He subject to every infirmity of human nature, sin excepted? So it is subject to every infirmity of human language, error excepted. Was He absolutely holy? It is absolutely true.
And remember this: you can only reach the person through the record. If this is true, as it is unquestionably true, of the historic Jesus of our critical theologians - if this is true, as it is unquestionably true, of the traditional Jesus of the Christian religion, it is still more true of the Christ of Christianity, the Christ of God, our adorable Lord Jesus. You can only reach the Living Word through the written word. In proportion, therefore, as you lower the Bible, you lose Christ. Every attack upon the Bible is aimed at Him; not, of course - and I would guard my words - in the purpose and intention of the men who lead these attacks, for, although they think they are leaders, and lay claim to independence of intellect and judgment, they are but pawns upon the board; they are but puppets in the hand of an unseen power behind them.
But now, someone may say, "All this only serves to prove that you must settle the principles of inspiration before you can settle the principles of interpretation." Well, be it so, and let me test it. as I always like to do, at its weakest point. They urge upon us that there are different degrees of inspiration. Well, surely there is no revelation which would require such a low standard of inspiration as that of giving directions as to how to erect a building for public worship. Turn with me to the ist Book of Chronicles, the 28th chapter. We there read in the 8th verse: "Then David gave Solomon his son the pattern of the porch and of the houses thereof, and of the treasuries thereof," and so on, "and the pattern of all that he had by the Spirit of the courts of the house," and so on. And then in the following verses, it goes into details. Well, how did David get the pattern of all these things? We read of it in the 14th verse. "All this, said David, the Lord made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern."
But I must not forget that this is a prophetic conference, and you may expect me to turn specially to prophecy. May I appeal to your imagination for a moment. Will you picture to yourselves a prophetic conference in Jerusalem, some 2,000 years ago, of those who were waiting for redemption in Israel. Will you imagine some Rabbi standing up in that meeting, referring to prophetic Scriptures such as the 22nd Psalm, the 69th Psalm, the 53rd of Isaiah, the 9th and following chapters of Zechariah, and kindred passages, and saying words like these: '' We know that our Messiah is to come in glory. We know that He is to reign upon the throne of His father David. We know that all nations are to be subject to His sceptre; but though I cannot explain how it will be, I find here that He will be a suffering Messiah. He will be rejected. He will ride into Jerusalem upon an ass's colt in mock triumph. He will be sold for 30 pieces of silver, and the money of His betrayal will pass to the owner of a potter's field. Those who will take Him prisoner will divide His clothes among them, but they will hold a lottery over His coat. He will be hanged upon a tree, and His feet and hands will be pierced, but there will not be a bone of Him broken. He will have His grave appointed to Him with the wicked, but His body will be taken care of by some rich man."
May I stop for a moment and rescue for you the 8th and 9th verses of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah? Of the one I will give you the translation of the American Company of Revisers, and of the other I give you the rendering of Hengstenberg: " By oppression and judgment He was taken away, and for His life, who shall recount that He was cut off from the land of the living for the transgression of My people to whom the stroke was due. And they appointed Him His grave with the wicked, but He was with a rich man after His death, because He had done no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth." Well, to resume. We can understand this Rabbi putting all these things before his brethren; and you can picture to yourselves the indignant contempt that they would pour upon his words. They would say, "It is a slavish following of the text of Scripture, to the sacrifice of the spirit of Scripture. It is trifling with serious things to attempt to interpret the prophets thus": and so on, and so on. But the event has proved that this Rabbi would have been right, and that all the Pundits would have been wrong. And may I not say with these facts before us, with this example, which God has given us of what He means by prophecy and the interpretation of it, that we simply stultify ourselves if we refuse to take His words about the future as simply and as literally?
Let me apply this for a moment to two truths, both important, though not of the same importance - the coming of Christ, and the coming of Anti-Christ. As regards "the Second Advent," as it is called, the Church falls into precisely the same error that characterized the Jews in old time, an error that betrayed them into crucifying the Lord. They assumed that it was one single event that was referred to in every passage that spoke of His coming. Just so is it with the Church now. But the "second advent" is not one separate distinct event. We are told that He will come to take out of this scene His saints living and dead ; that His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives as on the Day of the Ascension, and that then the mountain will divide to the East and to the West - not some mountain in the moon, but the Mount of Olives at the east-side of Jerusalem - and that there is to be thus a way of escape for that people when hemmed in by the armies of the nations round them. We are told that He will come to judge the living nations. We are told that He will come personally to destroy the Anti-Christ. We are told that He will come in flaming fire to take vengeance upon them that know not God and obey not the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. These are not necessarily one event. There may be, I know not how many stages of that great event which is called the Parousia, the revelation, the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so, with regard to the personal Anti-Christ. I ask any fair man whether the coming of a personal Anti-Christ is not foretold in the Old Testament, with as much definiteness as the coming of Christ. And when you turn to the New Testament it would be absolutely impossible to use words more simple, more plain, moje unequivocal than those which describe it. And so I say we stultify ourselves when we put all these -to borrow a phrase from the lawyers - into hotch-potch, and get a general sort of impression that something or other is going to happen, we do not know what. Prophecy is history written in advance, and it is to be fulfilled absolutely and literally.
(To be concluded in our next.)
(Continued in the May edition of "Things to Come" 1897)
But I must hurry on. The question is, are these prophecies,
as the critics tell us, men's words inspired by God, or are they God's words
delivered through men? The Pundits draw distinctions between one part of
Scripture and another, between one prophet and another. They tell us, for
example, that Isaiah is a higher type of inspiration than Jeremiah. There is
more of the Divine afflatus; and so on. Turn then to the book of Jeremiah. I
have taken the pains to count the passages in that book in which "saith the
Lord," or kindred words occur, and how many times do you think they occur? I
have done it hurriedly, and I do not know how many I may have skipped, but I
have counted no less than 330. Turn to the Book of Ezekiel for a moment, mark
the opening words: "In the fifth day of the month ... the word of the Lord came
expressly unto l, the priest, the son of Buri, in the land of the Chaldeans, by
the river Chebar, and the hand of the Lord was there upon him." Poor Ezekiel!
His hand was indeed upon him! And it is not true only of the Prophet Ezekiel,
it is true of everyone who yields himself to God to be a channel for the
communication of His truth to others that he must learn to be crushed and
brought down if he is to have any place in the service of God. Not only did God
take from him all that he turned to and rested on, not sparing even " the light
of his eyes " - his dearly-loved wife - but He struck him dumb, lest he should
speak one syllable beyond the words which He gave him to speak. Not a word
passed his lips that did not "come expressly" to him ; and you read some
forty-eight times in that book, " The word of the Lord came unto me,
Turn to the New Testament. You remember the opening words of the Epistle to the Hebrews: "God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers, by the prophets,"or" in the prophets," "hath in these last days spoken unto us in the Son." The same God, the same voice, in the prophets and in the Son. Look at the 3rd chapter of the Epistle to the Romans: "What advantage then hath the Jew? "They had a magnificent shrine; they had a magnificent ritual; they had that Divine religion - the only Divine religion, remember, that the world has ever known, for Christianity is not a religion, it is a. revelation and a faith. But what was their greatest advantage? It was not in any of these things. It was that God appointed them the custodians of this Book. The words are: "Chiefly that they were entrusted with" - mark the words - "the oracles of God." In the opening chapters of the New Testament you have again and again the prophets quoted, and how? "The Word spoken by God through the prophets" - not "by," but through the prophets. The word is din. And remember we receive the Old Testament Scriptures from the hands of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ Himself; and what then was His estimate of these Scriptures? Turn to a passage which was briefly referred to this afternoon, the closing chapter of the Gospel of Luke. The Lord is there with the gathered disciples and we read at the 44th verse, how He told them "that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, in the prophets and in the Psalms concerning Me." The Jews divided the Book into three portions, the Law, the Prophets, and the other writings, or the Holy Writings. The first book of the third division was the Psalms, which thus gives its name to the rest, and when the Lord Jesus used these words He meant the whole of the Old Testament. And the passage adds: "Then He opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures." As we read at verse 27, "Beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself." Hear Dean Alford on this - one of our rea'ly Christian expositors: - "I take this to mean something very different from mere prophetical passages. The whole Scriptures are a testimony to Him : the whole history of the chosen people, with its types and its Law and its prophecies, is a showing forth of Him, and it was here the whole that He laid before them. This general leading into the meaning of the whole, is the law, fulfilled in Him would be much more opportune to the place, and the time occupied, than a direct exposition of selected passrages."
The Lord, I repeat, made no distinction between one book of the Bible and another. You remember how, in the account of the temptation, in the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, we read that three times He answered the Tempter with, "it is written." And He spoke of the Scripture as "words proceeding out of the mouth of God." And what was it that He quoted from? Despised, discredited Book of Deuteronomy! Again, in the sth chapter of Matthew and the 17th verse, we have a statement to which we do well to take heed. The jot (or yod) was the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet; the tittle was the smallest stroke used in forming the letters; and yet He says, "Not one jot, not one tittle of the law shall fail." Such are the words of our blessed Master.
Then look at a passage in the 22nd chapter of Matthew, which we had before us today. The question is the resurrection. The 3ist verse reads, "As touching the resurrection of the dead have you not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." "Oh," say the critical theologians - or they would say it if they dared -"that is a slavish adherence to the mere words of the book, and a trifling with Scripture, to make the whole argument depend upon the tense of the verb. What God meant was merely, ' I was the God of Abraham when Abraham lived ; I was the God of Isaac when he lived; and I was the God of Jacob when he lived.'" But the word is "I AM the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob," and to this our Divine Lord appeals, as proving the truth of the resurrection. We are free from the superstition of praying for our dead ; but remember that the God we love and serve is the God of our loved ones whom we have laid in the grave as much as He is our own God. "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacobs - see again our Lord's use of the statement in the 82nd Psalm: "I said ye are gods." When, as recorded in the 10th chapter of John, He was reproached for making Himself equal with God, He quoted that Psalm, and added: "and the Scriptures cannot be broken." Here is an incidental statement in one of these Psalms, that are now held up to contempt and Christ says of it that it "cannot be broken." It is divine, eternal truth.
But someone will say - for these things are said - that in all this the Lord was only pandering to Jewish prejudices. My friends, this would not only destroy our belief in Him as God, it would destroy our respect for Him as Man! Again, it is urged that this is merely a human record of words spoken by our Divine Lord; and the writers were Jews whose minds were steeped in Jewish prejudices. If I had time to enlarge upon this, I would insist that, if the Gospels be not inspired in the same sense in which the Old Testament is inspired, our whole belief in Christ is a sheer superstition : we have no foundation for our faith. And look what this implies. This dispensation of ours is the dispensation of the Spirit, and yet we are asked to believe that this is precisely the dispensation in which the Holy Spirit is of least account! We all know what it is to read the report of a political meeting in some remote provincial town that possibly we never heard of before, at which one of our leading statesmen addresses a few hundred provincial people. But he is not really speaking for the humble folk in the seats before him, his words are addressed to the civilized world. And so it was with the teaching of our blessed Lord. His words were not spoken for a few Galilean fishermen, or for the peasants of Judea. They were words for all the world ; they were words for all times. His words are for us, and for us here and now. "The words that I speak unto you," He says, "they are spirit and they are life." And if so, they are not dead words, but living words; they ore immortal words; they can never die. "Heaven and earth shall pass away (Me declares), but My words shall not pass away."
And yet I do not wonder that the disciples of the historical Jesus, the traditional Jesus, taunt us that in speaking thus we are putting the Bible above the Master, for the Jesus they believe in is the Buddha of their religion, who is removed from them by 1800 years of time. But the voice we, hear is that of our adorable Lord Jesus, our living, though absent Lord in glory, who speaks to us in this open word, in all the power of the Holy Spirit Whom He has given to us to this end. And by Him we are comers to God, for by His blood we are made nigh, we "who by Him do believe in God that raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory," And this is our power for service; this our confidence, our peace, our joy, our safety in the midst of sin and failure here, in the midst of sorrows and temptations; in the midst of perils on every hand, perils by robbers that would filch the Bible from us, perils among false brethren who, even while they pretend to prize it and to hold it sacred, tear it to pieces and degrade it; our safety in days when the path of every true Christian is becoming so lonely; our safety in the hour of death; our safety in the day of judgment. By this word we reach a living Christ. And through Him we reach a living God, for "the Lord Jehovah is become our salvation," and in Him we are absolute!v and forever safe.
THE END *
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