A PLEA FOR THE
POSSESSING OURSELVES OF ALL GODS REVELATION
"I HAVE more understanding than all my teachers," says the
psalmist enthusiastically, "for Thy testimonies are my meditatation." The
Christian can surely not think him too emphatic. That is the voice of the
disciple; but it is the voice of the Master that has said: "Search the
Scriptures: for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they that
testify of Me."
In their own line, therefore, every believer recognizes that they are absolutely unique. Not all the books that have ever been produced in all the ages of human history outside of them are equal even to the small dust of the balance when weighed against these.
It is well to remember in such days as ours, that it was of the Old Testament, and almost certainly of only part of the Old Testament that the writer spoke. As it was of the Old Testament also that the apostle spoke when he reminded Timothy that from a child he had "known the holy Scriptures; which are able," he adds, "to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith that is in Christ Jesus." How small a part of what we have to day was the wisdom for which the psalmist disclaimed in comparison all that the, world beside could show!
But this is not now what I intend to take up or speak about. I am not writing for those that would contest it. In their own line, it is admitted, let us say, that the Scriptures are unique. I would yet propose the question,- and it will be by no means so readily or unanimously answered, even by the Christian,- what is then "their own line?" How far does this unique value of theirs extend? Supposing we desire to use the Bible fairly, and (as given of God,) for all for which He gave it, how could we define this? is it not desirable to do so? at least to have some practical idea of how to use it, if not an absolute definition?
If God had meant by Scripture only to teach us the way to heaven, or, along with this, how to live a good life here (and this is pretty much the definition that would be adopted by many) the first thing that would naturally occur to any one thinking seriously about it, would be that the Bible is a very large book and a very strange book, on this view of the matter.
It is a very large book: for it surely does not take so many words to tell us the way to heaven: and any one knowing the gospel knows (and thank God that it is so) that a very few texts will suffice to show this with the most absolute clearness. As to the living a good life here, the simplest way to show us this would be in something like the ten commandments, with applications to suit the varied circumstances of life; or, if that were too legal, a catalogue raisonné of Christian principles.
Scripture on the face of it is not at all like this. Though there are blessed statements of the gospel, as we very well know, and many a page of Christian exhortation, yet these are not put together as we might imagine they would be, and they are mixed with much else and various matter very different from all this. Things are not so definitely stated that there should be no possible mistake about them, as witness the conflict of Christian men over their meaning. What a help to a common understanding would be at least a divine summary of faith and practice, such as the various churches have adopted and which for this purpose they find so useful. But then these articles of faith separate: they are but the expression after all of the judgment of a section of Christendom; suppose there had been given us by divine inspiration as plain a creed as any of these, would it not have united instead of scattering us? if the Westminster Confession had been written by apostles instead of theologians of the seventeenth century, would we not have all subscribed it? and would not Arminianism have been effectively excluded from the minds of all honest-minded and believing men?
But such help as this it has not pleased God to give us; and we have to hunt up even texts upon any given subject - not always sure even that we have got the right ones - from every part of Scripture! Does not God care for the poor? Does He not know the dullness of our minds at best, the multifarious occupations that we have to be engaged in, the trouble and anxiety caused by our many differences, the darkness in which true - hearted saints grope often after His will, the tendency we have on account of all this, to follow the men who will do our thinking for us, and in whom in some way or other we have concluded to put confidence?
Yes, surely: all this and more God knows; and, knowing it, has written Scripture as He has, a book so large, so various, so needing to be searched, studied; so certain to exercise most the most careful, earnest, conscientious, God-fearing. His thought then for us, whatever it may be, is not to save us from thought,- not to let us off from the necessity of labour for what we get from it. It was not to a class of theological students, but to men so poor that they could follow Him for the loaves with which He fed them, that He said: "Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you." (John vi. 27.) Notice, therefore, that this applies not merely to the more hidden things of the Old Testament, but to the plain speech of the New as well, that it calls for labour - for more earnest and untiring labour than our daily food does; and that not from a special class of selected, capable workmen, but from all who need and desire such spiritual food.
Evidently the Lord distinguishes the thing that is to be laboured after in the way He does in order to challenge our interest by the exceeding importance of it. "Meat that endureth to everlasting life" is a very significant title indeed, and one that we shall do well if we seek to realize what we can of the depth of its meaning. I have seen it interpreted as signifying "food that will give you entrance into everlasting life,"- by which you will become possessors of it: and that is true enough as a thought, and afterwards affirmed also: "he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever." It is a true thought in itself, and a thing justly worthy of all the emphasis that can be put upon it. And yet, if that were all, for the Christian, who has already the possession of eternal life, the urgency of the exhortation would necessarily pass out of it. He is not to be persuaded that he needs labour to get what he has already got, or to keep what it is as certain he can never lose.
Here too, it may be pleaded that the Lord is actually speaking to men who were not believers; but it is plain all the way through the chapter that there were disciples also among them, while in the open synagogue He is not hindered from speaking of such things and in such a way as to test disciples themselves. Here in seeking to attract men to Himself He might, as with the woman of Samaria, speak of things the depth of which they would not yet be able to penetrate, and yet of what they would understand to be a blessing set before them; and those who sought it would not be stumbled to find at last greater than at first they had realized.
After all, the truth itself is not so difficult to conceive, and the Lords words to the Samaritan are strictly parallel. To her He speaks of "living water springing up unto eternal life," and under this figure of the Spirits presence, permanent and operative ever, not to bring one into life, but throughout it. So here with the bread of life, the living bread, it too abides unto eternal life, in opposition to the "meat that perisheth." Not only the life is eternal, but all that ministers to it partakes of the same eternity. Christ abides, and abides as the unfailing support of a life which though eternal is dependent too, and which never ceases to realize its dependence.
An image of this, and to which the Lord also, in His epistles to the churches, refers us, was that "hidden manna," which was preserved in the golden pot and carried into the land, the type of our glorious heritage, that the children of Israel might see the food with which Jehovah had fed them in the wilderness. (En. xvi. 32.) Thus the food of the wilderness abode, but abode simply as a memorial, to be seen. To the overcomer at Pergamos on the other hand, the promise is: "I will give him of the hidden manna" (Rev. ii. 17): he shall partake of it, not simply see it. Christ as enjoyed in the wilderness shall be enjoyed afresh in the glorious land to which we are going: more perfectly, surely, for all shall be perfect there, and yet, let us mark it well, the very wilderness-food itself. For the manna is Christ in His humiliation, and in heaven He is no longer in humiliation, yet it is the hidden manna of which the saint in heaven still partakes.
A serious consideration presses upon one here, that, if this be the food partaken of,- and since one cannot call up again the wilderness-condition, save in memory,- he who has not had the wilderness experience cannot have the repetition of it in heaven: he cannot recall what he has never known. Thus, too, there must be some correspondence between the measure of apprehension of Christ here and the measure of such apprehension of Christ there. Take an angels knowledge: it could not in this respect be the knowledge of the redeemed from among men. There is no sin in the angel, and it is not sin that limits his view; nay, his very freedom from it - his never having had the experience of it - would be a necessary limitation. And so would it be with the babe, only coming into the world to be taken out of it. The perfecting of its faculties in another scene would not give it experiences of a state in which it had never been.
Perfecting of experiences that we have had is, of course, another thing. This there will surely be: for we shall look back with eyes purged from the films of earth, and with memories that will themselves be perfected. But the knowledge will still be measured - finite, not infinite; and with limitations, whatever may be the enlargement of its scope.
If Christ then be the "meat that endureth unto everlasting life," and the manna so laid up must be manna gathered here, how important must this gathering of the manna be! Surely there can be no "meat that perisheth" to be compared with it; and one can no longer wonder at being called to seek it with proportionate earnestness.
Now it is Scripture that is to give us this knowledge of Christ, though of course there is in Christ more than can be justly spoken of as manna. This will not make Scripture of less importance to us surely. Christ it is that is the knowledge of the "new man," and Christ is "all" that knowledge. (Col. iii. 11.) God has "predestinated us to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He may be the First-born among many brethren." (Rom. viii. 29.) The "edifying of the body of Christ" also is "till we all come unto the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." (Eph. iv. 13.) We are now growing up to this; and for this it is that the word of God is given to us, not simply that we may be saved, or even live here a life of piety and good works, but to form in us the mind of Christ, that "we may grow up unto Him in all things." (ver. 15.) No wonder Scripture is as large, therefore, as it is: communion with God, though we talk quietly enough about it, yet if it be realized in the depth and fullness of its meaning, how immense a thing it is! Communion with God, realized in this way would be nothing less than sharing all His thoughts as He has revealed them to us; thoughts which have Christ as centre and circumference; for "all things were created by Him and for Him." (Col. i. 16.)
Here then is what we are called to enter into: here is a field to be worked which will call for all our faculties in all their energy to be engaged with. God does not tell us that it is easy work: how could it be? delightful work it is, and that increases all the energy that it demands. But it requires that we yield ourselves unreservedly to it, subordinating everything else to Gods great purpose with regard to us. Christ must come to fill the whole range of our vision; but, so filling, to enlarge and rectify and illumine it with divine glory.
Here the nature of man finds what it craves, and expands in all parts and in equal proportions. Mind, heart and conscience develop together. Scripture, while it makes men of might, produces no monsters: no men of intellect without heart; no conscience urging one to self-devised torment; and yet no self-complacent egotism either: "I live, not I," says one who is without question a competent witness to us; "but Christ liveth in me." (Gal. ii. 20.)
This is not simply doctrine, nor even faith in a doctrine. A glorious truth underlies it, but this is more; it is the apprehension of the truth, and the experience which flows from it. He who spoke this had accepted what Christ had done for him, the death in which he himself for faith had died, and which enabled him to turn away from himself, the man down here, to the One with whom he was now identified before God, and with whom he had in the joy of his heart accepted identification.
His old life had ended therefore: he was now a man in Christ; though realizing that there was still upon earth a "self" in which he could not glory, save in the infirmity which made him conscious of the need,- a need continually met as realized,- "that the power of Christ should rest upon" him. (2 Cor. xii. 5, 9.) This for the pursuit of Christs interests on earth to whom he belonged, while, beholding Him above, he was "changed into His image" (chap. iii. 18.)
I believe that a most false and limited idea of the design of Scripture is shutting masses of Christian people out of the very desire to possess themselves of what our gracious God has given them in it. It is a book larger by far than they have any use for. To find salvation and to live a good life on earth, these are the ends they have before them, and which they suppose to be all that God has in His mind for them. But for these ends, I say again, Scripture is too large; I may say boldly, it is very much too large. Did they think that they had any particular responsibility about it, they would perhaps even be distressed to know what to do with it all. As it is they read it more or less, perhaps conscientiously all through, but with a languid interest in much of it at best, and with a wonder which they scarcely like to admit, why it should have been written.
Of searching it for themselves, save certain parts, they know very little. They get light here and there upon it through others, and read books, if they are not too deep. They have really no thought that what God means by it all is to form in them the mind of Christ - to give them fellowship with Himself - to train them for co-heirship with His Son; and that all this means not a little need of teaching, not a little exercise, as well as the disciplinary dealings of His hand by the way ;- "exercised to discern both good and evil,- "suffering that they may reign with Him."
To accomplish this the word of God is not too large; though that of course, does not imply but that it will always be beyond us. It is plain that He means us to be busy with it,- would not let us off thinking,- would not leave any vacuity with us for the thorn and thistle-seed always floating in the air, to plant themselves in and spring up. To His people of old He spoke earnestly about this: "And these commandments that I command thee today shall be in thy heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently to thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them as a sign upon thy hands, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes; and thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house and upon thy gates" (Deut. vi. 6-9). All this implies a constant keeping the words of God before themselves and others, constant confession of them and meditation upon them. And how thoroughly a saint of old could respond to this, the delight he could have in it, and the fruit he could find, the 119th Psalm alone is sufficient to assure. Is it to be supposed that God would have us less fully occupied or give us less joy or profit from the occupation?
The whole heart also, if it be this we bring to it, needs the whole Word. How could it do less than this, if only because God has given it? Has He misjudged our need, or put upon us useless labour? Certainly He does not mean to have it drudgery for us, nor does He give us mere chaff to thresh out for the granary. If there be what may seem strange to be from Him, would He not have us inquire the more because of its strangeness? If we seem sometimes to be laying up useless store, we should find, if we keep it long enough, occasion for it. We have (if we are Christians) the Spirit of God as our Teacher; and He, let us remember, "searcheth the deep things of God." (1 Cor. ii. 10). If the heart is only enough engaged, and the throne of grace is yet accessible, we need not despair of learning because things are "deep."
I have found too that one of the most fruitful causes of not understanding or misunderstanding a portion of Scripture is just the lack, as the man of science would say, of a perfect induction. That to say, something - perhaps obvious enough - has escaped me. It was there, but I was too careless, too much in a hurry,- perhaps too doubtful of being able to find any meaning - actually to find it. The key too may be some distance off, and in a part I have not read or remembered. Hence the necessity of storing the mind with Scripture. It is all valuable - too valuable yet perhaps, for me to appreciate, just as a savage might have no use for a sewing-machine. Let us be assured that in Scripture there is nothing barren or unprofitable anywhere.
The whole Word, then; and all to be honestly thought upon and sought into. But even so, we have not got all the riches God designs for us. There is the great book of Nature, wide open, and inviting us by its appeal to all our senses. Here again, if we have minds that work, we shall find what will give them full activity. "Too much," perhaps, you may say; "there is no end to it." No, truly: no end to all Gods wonders, nor to the riches He has spread around us.
But here, also, is a field which has been much worked of late in mans interests, and he is very proud of what he has done in it. It has for the most part to do with a world which has been put under the dominion of man, as meant for his use, and he has only lately begun to find how rich is his inheritance.
But God has taken care, also, that this world with which man has so much to do should be full of witness to His power who is above him, as well as the love that has strewn this munificence around him: a witness he can never lose, never escape. It shines upon him from the lights of the spangled sky above him; it breathes in the whisper of the gentle breeze around, which before night may have increased to a hurricane; the various voices of the day and night preach it in melody and in dissonance: and everywhere man has acknowledged this witness to be divine, and worshipped.
Scripture has brought nigh God and perfected this witness. In the mirror of Nature every spiritual truth has its reflection; and these images appear throughout Scripture and become the familiar language in which its doctrines are conveyed. In the New Testament the Creator Himself is declared to be the Word - thus the Revealer - of God, and creation therefore by implication to be a revelation. Gods witness is twofold; and on the face of heaven and earth Scripture again is written out in incorruptible signs that may be appealed to. Not in vain, surely, has God done this: He can still "call to the heavens and to the earth that He may judge His people" (Ps. 1. 4.); and rebuke the unbelief which uplifts itself against Him in the very face of such tokens.
Now, if Christ be indeed the One by whom and for whom all things were created, it is only the one to whom Christ has become what we see He was with the apostle, who can be at the centre of any branch of knowledge. All roads must lead to Him. The spiritual must everywhere underlie the natural, give meaning to it, make it really what it is meant to be, clothe it with the power that should belong to it. No science but must run into theology. All the analogies of nature become but witnesses of this inner reality, without the knowledge of which the savant and scientist becomes indeed but a pitiful agnostic; all his utterances but broken fragments of sentences,- the stammerings of infirmity and impotence itself.
And if this be true, what must be the value of Scripture, what must be its comprehensiveness? what field of knowledge will you shut off from it, what shall we think, for instance, of the so readily accepted dictum, that Scripture was not intended to teach science, and which is meant - not to assert of it that it is infinitely beyond a mere primer or text-book of science, but - to rule it out as incompetent in this sphere, as without help or authority as regards the visible, and to relegate it to the sphere of the invisible alone.
The effect is that as to the immensity of nature round us we may think what thoughts we please, unhindered by anything in Scripture. Guesses we may have, and theories, and "working hypotheses" ad libitum, which even palpable self-contradictions shall not destroy,* and they must not be even limited by any intrusion of the divine. Thus practically we get a world- yea, a universe as far as man has explored it- Christless, if not godless; to which Scripture, with its old-time child-notions of miracles and a God nigh at hand, is in plain opposition.
* See as to Ether and the Wave-Theory of Light, Prof. J. P. Cookes "Credentials of Science the Warrant of Faith," pp. 223, seq.
Take the common theory of evolution in proof of this. It has been lately said of it that "Whatever differences of opinion as to this theory may still exist, few naturalists can feel reluctant to acquiesce in Wallaces statement that Darwin did his work so well that descent with modification is now universally accepted as the order of nature in the organic world. "
Prof. Calderwood: "Evolution and Mans Place in Nature," p, 1.
Now, if this be so, open your Bibles at the second chapter of Genesis, and ask yourself how on the principle of "descent with modification" Eve could have have been by any possibility evolved out of Adam! That is evidently not in the order of nature: it is the exact opposite of it; it is miracle and nothing else. Apply to it the slow successive changes demanded by Darwinism, and the absurdity is heightened at every step; but the absurdity is there at the beginning in the male producing the female for the continuance of the race. It is not even the poetry some have claimed for it. It is simply absurdity, or miracle and divine truth.
Let us take our stand then with Scripture, or give it up: compromise is impossible. If the account of creation is not true, Scripture opens with falsehood in its face. It asserts knowledge of what only revelation could make known; or else gives conjecture, and then how much else of the same sort follows it, who shall say?
In fact the history has been amply safeguarded. I venture to say that the proofs of divine inspiration in it can challenge the world to refute them; and thank God, the evidence is of a sort as accessible to the non- scientific as to the scientific mind. If it can be shown that according to the Genesis account the story of the restoration of the earth out of its "waste and desolate" condition is but the symbolic picture of the restoration of the same earth morally to God, as history and prophecy combine to picture it;- a picture also of the restoration of an individual soul to God, but in terms which we have to go to the New Testament to make clear to us;- if we can show a numerical symbolism running through the whole, uniting the physical, dispensational and individual aspects of the history together, and uniting itself to a symbolic numerical structure running through other parts of Scripture;- then assuredly we have a threefold cord which shall not be broken, binding it into a wondrous whole which can only be from God. This has been already done in measure,* but deserves to be done in a much more thorough and painstaking way. The whole is a many- linked proof of the underlying of the natural by the spiritual of which I have already spoken, and of which every parable in Scripture speaks, to which every one of those analogies of which we all so confidently and as it were instinctively avail ourselves, bears witness.
* See "Genesis in the Light of the New Testament;" "Numerical Bible," vol. i. notes; and the last "Appendix."
This analogy, if it be real, can be used also in another and a reverse way from that in which we usually employ it: a fact which deserves the most attentive consideration. If the spiritual and the natural run thus in parallel lines, why should we not trace the natural by means of the spiritual, as well as the spiritual by means of the natural? Take, for instance, once more, the first chapter of Genesis. If it be indeed a picture of either the soul or the world being restored to God, then we cannot possibly miss what is here so plain, that this restoration implies a fall having taken place, which the waste and desolate condition of the earth, darkness upon the face of the deep, so strikingly symbolizes. May we not see in it, then, physically, a lapsed condition of the earth, the effect of some cataclysmic overthrow, instead of the condition in which it was originally created, as many believe? This can be proved, I am sure, otherwise; but that therefore proves that such a conclusion would, in this case, lead us aright. Would it not in every case in which the grounds of the conclusion were as plain as this?
But if so, again how valuable must Scripture be for the knowledge of Nature! It should be in every way the firm ground of the naturalist, and induction be here as reliable as that directly from nature; the microscope also being as great a revealer in one case as in the other. Ah, how little patient, believing work has been done in this direction with regard to Scripture: a neg1ect which has shut us out so much from the light it could have given, just in the very matters hidden from the mere man of science. The beginnings of things and their points of connection with the unseen, are things largely thus hidden: how good would it be to have all the light that Scripture can give thrown into those dark inmost recesses of the constitution of things. What a thing it would be to have a faithful company of devout explorers giving themselves to explore nature with the light of Scripture, and Scripture also, one may reverently say, in the light of nature. For both are Gods books and both alike truthful, and Christ the theme of and the key to both.
"The earth is the Lords and the fullness thereof." In every corner of it He is to be found; upon every part of it His Name stands written. Oh for the students that shall make His glorious sanctuary their college, and see in nature that which only the anointed eye can see, and hear the worship of the things we call inanimate, but through which the Life of life is pulsating everywhere.
If we desire this, we must bring the word and the work of God together in a way that yet, it seems to me, we nowhere see. It seems almost as if we had here believed that we had the incompatible service of two masters, to one of which whosoever clings will despise the other. And so it will be until we discern that the Master is in fact only One, not two at all. And when Christ reigns over the whole of science- over all that is worthy to be called knowledge,- then we shall have an education in which heart, mind, and moral nature, shall find equal and true development; and in the heart and mind of those so taught there shall be no distraction between secular and sacred, no divided life from one half of which God is banished; but for these "there shall be," as the prophet says, "One Lord over all the earth; in that day there shall be One Lord, and His Name One."
Go to Appendix Five
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