Miscellaneous Writings Vol. One
RE-TRACINGS OF TRUTH:
IN VIEW OF QUESTIONS WHICH HAVE BEEN LATELY RAISED,
I. THE PRESENT OUTLOOK ACCORDING TO SCRIPTURE.
IN looking out upon the features of our own times, and
even in proportion to our personal interest in them, we are apt to project our
own personalities upon them. That a sanguine person will take a hopeful view,
where a desponding one will only see gloom and shadow, no one needs to be
informed. But every idiosyncrasy, whatever it may be, is quite apt to make its
mark upon the canvas of the picture. Hence the taking of one in a manner
perfectly trustworthy is a thing as rare as it is desirable. How thankful
should we be, therefore, for the briefest testimony of Scripture as to the
character of the times through which we are passing, when it is the pathway for
our feet that is in question, and our responsibility to God presses upon us at
each step we take!
Such guidance we have, through the tender mercy of our Great Shepherd, in the seven epistles of the book of Revelation; every one traced by His own hand, and our attention called to every address, as in no other part of the word of God: he that hath an ear being bidden to hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches! We are not going to dwell upon this now: the application has been long familiar to those for whom I am specially writing; but I would nevertheless press upon my readers the main points of that to Philadelphia, which (to myself at least) seems ever of more commanding interest as the time goes on, and the features of the last days develop themselves before our eyes.
There can scarcely be much difficulty in discerning what Philadelphia stands for. If the "woman Jezebel" makes popery absolutely plain in Thyatira, Sardis, having a name to live, though dead, yet with a remnant undefiled, marks out as clearly the state-churches of the Reformation. Philadelphia, following this, with its "brotherly love," as simply speaks of the movement to find and to separate the true Church out of this world-mass. Such has been more or less the character of many "revivals" since the Reformation, when there was sought a true "communion of saints" and subjection to the word of Christ, rather than the state-upheld creed. Laodicea nevertheless closes the series here; a picture, alas, less and less hard to be read at present, of a church made more and more popular to please the masses, and lukewarm as to the Christ outside. But we have to do now with Philadelphia. Here, if "brotherly love "characterizes the assembly, that which the Lord specially commends is classed under three heads: first, that they keep Christ's word; secondly, they have not denied His name; thirdly, they have kept the word of His patience. Their danger is that, having but "a little strength," they may not hold fast that which they have; the over-coming will, therefore, be in holding fast.
Of necessity the stream will be against them: that is no more than is implied in every phase in which men are found cleaving to God. The world is against God; and, the world having come into the church, the stream here is against God also. Where shall we find a haven of rest outside of it all? Not in any earthly refuge anywhere. Philadelphia is no place of rest, but the centre of a battle-field; and the cry of "overcome" is found here as elsewhere. Our rest is only in the glorious Leader, who covers our head in the day of battle, and in the power of the Holy Spirit who can make something out of things that are not, and out of weakness make us strong. Our trust cannot be in the attainment of an ecclesiastical position, though a right one,- in principles of truth, although divine; through all this the enemy made his way at the beginning, when things were almost in their first freshness; no! we need tireless energy to resist fresh inroads; never more likely to be successful than when we are beginning to believe that the battle is over, and that our victories are to be now only in the quiet harvest-field,-in the ingathering of souls from the seed sown by the evangelist, or the recovery of the people of God themselves out of the superstition and error that have inwrapped them. Then indeed it may be that, while we are congratulating ourselves that we are leaders of the blind, lights of those who sit in darkness, instructors of the foolish, teachers of babes, the pit of darkness may be opening at our feet, to ingulf us all.
A terrible thing it is, in fact, to think of that actual chasm which swallowed up the church of the apostles' days - the church of Peter and John and Paul - and left only as the successor of this the legal, hierarchical, ritualistic church of the so-called "fathers," of which one well-known to us has said, "It is quite certain that neither a full redemption, nor, though the words be used once or twice, a complete possessed justification by faith, as Paul teaches it, a perfecting for ever by its one offering, a known personal acceptance in Christ, is ever found in any ecclesiastical writings after the canonical scriptures, for long centuries." In what, then, were they inferior to us, those men to whom apostles and prophets preached, - what have we that they had not, which is to assure us that we are not in danger of making such ship-wreck of the faith as it is certain they did? What but the most foolish self-confidence could say, with such a warning before our eyes, that we were in none? Nor can we seriously consider the epistle to Philadelphia in connection with the character of the present times, without realizing that Satan's batteries today are turned upon the very central points of Philadelphian position; and that we are contemplating the beginning of an apostasy from the Christian faith which will be more complete than any which have preceded it? What is the so-called "higher criticism," spite of its lamblike speech where the flock of Christ perchance may be alarmed, but the most thorough attack that can be imagined upon the Word of Christ? He Himself was hardly beyond His times in matters of criticism; and grounded His triumphant argument against the scribes as to David's Son being David's Lord upon a mere mistake as to the authorship of the hundred and tenth psalm! But, in fact, who knows if the evangelists have rightly reported Him? or who knows anything that the critics may please to question? Judgment is removed from the power of the common man: we have no more our Bibles with the appeal to every man's heart and conscience; you must have trained specialists to settle the facts! and what they will leave you after they have completed their dissections is but the fragments of a corpse without voice or life!
Look again at the denial of Christ's Name! Was there ever a day in which heresies affecting His Person or work more abounded? or the tendency to leave out any particular demand for orthodoxy as to either, so long as people accept Him as their Leader in some way not to be too severely criticized. If you should have mistaken the Son of the Father for a mere servant of the Father's house, eternity will make that right, of course, and it is hoped that the mistake will not prove very serious! After all, the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man are the broad lines upon which religions are to be reconstructed today; and we need not fear but that they will be found to run on into eternity.
This, it will be said, is outside the sphere of Philadelphia; but it is what infects the air which day by day we breathe, and Satan is the "prince of the power of it." There are plenty of modifications of such principles to ensnare those for whom the full poisonous dose would be too large; and what is even more to be noted is that there are apt to be contradictories and opposites of them, born, indeed, of reaction, which by this opposition may deceive the earnest-hearted. For the serpent's lie is scarcely ever the mere negative of truth; and he is apt himself to have an alternative to it, planned directly to catch the opposers. And he who goes by the safe-seeming rule of steering as far as possible from Scylla may find the enemy's Charybdis lying before him on the other side. With God is perfect guidance; but even with the word of God before our eyes, how far from it may we swerve through the self-will to which we are so prone!
I have no desire to conceal the thought that prompts me in writing the present series of papers, which is to examine in the light of Scripture principles and doctrines which are being put forth at the plesent time among those who, I believe, have truly filled a position answering to what the Spirit of God has characterized as Philadelphian, and which are but the enemy's wile to seduce them from it. Nay, I fear, in the wide-spread acceptance which they are certainly gaining, the loss of that precious deposit of truth which the grace of God had committed to their trust. This is, to me, much more than any ecclesiastical position, however true, which owes its value so largely to the truth to which it witnesses. I therefore desire to take up, with whatever ability the Lord may give, the main points that are in question; in which I shall be in large measure but retracing the outline of truths once familiar, once how precious!- only necessarily to put them in connection and comparison with what is now presented for truth, and not without the hope of some fresh light being elicited by the discussion; which is what God would surely overrule all our differences for. We shall try to look at the moral bearing of things; as indeed the one who is very much the cause of the present inquiry rightly presses: without this they cannot get their just value for our souls; and this is what, speaking for myself once more, I can say I desire. Oh that the value of God's truth may be more realized by us all! It is inestimable, as that which alone can form in us the mind of Christ; and as this, one cannot help contending for it, though it is nowonderif one's motives should be challenged, and one should be treated as a mere "accuser of the brethren." Protestations are of no avail in such a case; specially as those who charge this are not those most likely to seek to satisfy themselves if there may be a cause. One may be well content if there be some who go far enough with me to discern its gravity.
I do not propose, however, to try and establish any specific charges, or make any quotations from any one with regard to what we shall consider. I prefer to leave every one to make for himself the personal application, and thus to eliminate as far as possible the distressing personal element. Let the inquiry be strictly a scriptural one; though it must be along lines which are marked out by what has called forth these papers. Then, if after all one is only fighting a nightmare of the imagination, we shall still not have made, I trust, a wholly useless survey of some important truths. If, on the other hand, it should be found that there is some serious question raised with regard to views that are really current and finding acceptance with many at the present time, then let my readers, without regard to persons, take it into the court of their own conscience, with God alone as the Judge of all, and argue it out there, with all that could distract them put aside. Truth carries its own authority with it for the true; although that in no wise means the setting aside of needed exercise, and the absolute subjection of one's mind to Scripture where Scripture has plainly spoken. And indeed we have little truth, of any spiritual importance, outside of that which Scripture has given to us. We shall by the course pursued be as far as possible delivered from the collision of opinion as to what Mr- .. has said, or what he means by what he has said, and fasten our minds upon the one question of any prime importance, "What saith the Lord?"
There is, however, one question with which I shall now conclude. Looking again at the epistle to Philadelphia, and referring to the first two points in the commendation there, they are plainly these: "Thou hast kept My word, and not denied My Name." Serious, then indeed, would be the issue which raised question as to both of these! If there were admittedly a question as to the Person of the Lord plainly raised, and permitted to go at least without any public settlement of it; the thing dropped, perhaps, yet the offending expressions never withdrawn! not justified; not condemned; not retracted! And again, if Scripture, while formally admitted to be the written and authoritative word of God, yet were always in practice distinguished from the "word of God, living and powerful," as that which does not exactly teach, and which, but for the failure of the Church, would never have been needed!
If these two things should demonstrably come together, what more would be needed to show the extreme gravity of the questions to be raised?
2. WHAT IS THE VALUE OF THE WRITTEN WORD.
THINGS must have come to a pass indeed, when with Christians such as those for whom I am writing, one has to dwell upon - still more, defend - the value of the written Word. That which has been to us all the revelation of all the truth which we possess (and it is by the truth we are sanctified); that which alone brings into communion with the mind of God; that which, as inspired of God -"God-breathed "- furnishes the man of God to all good works;- how needless, how unutterably foolish it must appear, to tell any one who owes his all to it, the value of the written word of God! Is this what those are thinking who, to one's utter astonishment today are letting pass without word of audible comment (that has had power, at least, to come across the breadth of the Atlantic) statements that would seem as if they should rouse to indignation impossible to be repressed every soul divinely taught as to what Scripture is? There is only one way besides in which this silence is comprehensible to me. Perhaps by some strange obliquity of mind words have lost for me their proper meaning, and I have failed to understand what I have had before me. If it be so, still let me state this figment of my imagination, and meet it as if it were a reality. How good it would be to get a strong knock-down reply from some one somewhere, to dispel for ever this delusion of mine, and assure me that I was dreaming! Why does not some one in pity to me, who, I think, have no evil intent, but a real longing over souls who seem drifting away from truth whither they know not, prick this bubble for me, and give relief to more than myself from as uncomfortable a nightmare of the imagination (if it be that) as for long has visited them? The delusion which I am combating (whether mine or that of others) begins with fair speeches about Scripture (always written characteristically with a small "s") as being authoritative and the written word of God. It blurs this, however, immediately by saying, it is more the record of it than the thing itself. I suppose every higher critic of the decent kind would say as much. It warns us, for all that (as I have never known the decent critic do), enforcing this too by personal example, that one can study it too much, and that a Bible student is not much after all; which means, of course, that the study of the Bible does not count for much. In fact, we are told, the method of learning truth by Scripture was not God's original plan at all: if the Church of God had remained in its first estate, we would not have wanted the Scriptures. The mind of God which is in the Scriptures would have been livingly expressed in the Church without them; and that was the divine idea! A very important thought, as some one remarks, if true; and very important, of course, to know if it be true: for by it the whole Old Testament is practically discounted and set aside for us.
But how, then, without the Word, was the Church to become the "living expression" of the mind of God? Here a leaf is taken from an old book which is not Scripture, but which many will recognize. The truth is in the Church. The apostles had it and communicated it; Paul to Timothy; Timothy to faithful men, who were to teach others. Here are four generations: Paul; Timothy; faithful men; others: that is the way the truth was to be transmitted. It is the way which the church of Rome hold today; and the technical name for it is "Tradition."
But it failed! Yes; somehow it failed. Rome may be excusable here in believing that God's plan could not fail; but it could and did. Have you not observed that it is in the second epistle to Timothy, not the first, that Paul speaks of the Scriptures in that well known eulogy? That was when failure had fully set in; and then it was that the Scriptures came to be so important! But at any rate, one would say, the method of teaching by Scripture is that by which we come into the truth today; and all that one can say of it in this respect today is fully justified! Ah, but we must not seize that comfort yet, or all that has been said just now must go for little. No, the old method has not been given up like that. The Church is still the method as before; only supplemented by Scripture because of the failure that has come in. It is a kind of humiliation to have to send the Bible to the heathen, and it is no good sending Bibles, if there are not preachers. People do not learn exactly from Scripture, but from the Spirit of truth; and if you say, "Granted that it is always by the Spirit of truth that any true work is done in the soul at all, but do you say that God will not use the Bible to a man's soul without a preacher?" well, it is difficult to put it that way, because God is sovereign; in a day of decay and ruin, He may speak through an ass's mouth; but how shall they hear without a preacher? The divine way, undoubtedly, is preaching. All as glibly said, as unquestioningly taken, even to the gross irreverence of putting the words of God alongside of the miracle of a speaking ass! Is it then a mistake of the apostle that they are "able to make wise unto salvation?" Well, that is asked and answered, if any one is wise enough to interpret the answer: that "the man of God wants to be furnished with the Scriptures because of their disciplinary value "!- the relevancy of which I confess I do not understand; nor do I think that the apostle's words need any explanation. Why should we not inscribe them in every Bible sent to the heathen as an all-sufficient justification?
But how then with regard to the truth as ministered to the believer? Well, in general, in the early days, we are told that they had to take things on trust. The Old Testament did not give the truth of Christianity; and the New Testament was not written till the Church's decline, of course; otherwise, the whole system taught here would be subverted. The safeguard people had is said to be (what again is somewhat difficult to understand) that "the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets;" words which are certainly found in Scripture, though scarcely in that connection. However, now that failure is come in, and Scripture as the resource in view of it, it is of the utmost importance to prove all things.
Here the Bereans are commended to us as a model for imitation; somewhat in forgetfulness that this example comes to us from before the failure of the Church, and when it is supposed that another method was in order; yet it seems that they had Scriptures in their hands which they searched to some purpose. Only it is assured us that what they heard they first received; and only searched the Scriptures to get confirmation! A severe critic might say, perhaps, to see what mistakes they might have made in receiving it! Our clay is an evil day; and God has given us the Scripture that we may have a standard of truth. Scripture is the limit; and though you don't exactly learn from Scripture (and indeed it is legality to want chapter and verse for doctrine) yet the more familiar people are with it the better: because a man's mind is thus continually pulled up in its tendency to go beyond the limit! Thus for the outside world Scripture is not to be reckoned on for the conversion of souls. God may use it for that, because He is sovereign, and might be pleased to use the speech of an ass; while for the flock of Christ it is as it were a tether, to prevent their natural tendency to stray! You are right to search it for confirmation of what you hear; only you are to receive this first, and search afterwards. Even then remembering that it is legal to want chapter and verse for doctrines, and that it is possible to study the authority too much!
It would be perfectly natural to say that that must be a caricature of anybody's teaching. My comfort is that, at least, those who think so cannot have received it themselves. If they can find no one who has, or who knows of its existence, that would only show to me how few take in what they read; perhaps even while they applaud it. However, let us make it an occasion for examining what is the use and value of the written Word.
Only think of it as that !- the written word of God! a word prepared for us as the outcome of past ages which have contributed, age after age, their quota to the full result; the whole, in every line and word of it, "God.breathed,"- the quickening breath of the Spirit in it!- from the heart of God to the heart of man! The more we look into it, the more in faith we credit it with a divine message and meaning, the more it responds and opens,- the more it draws and wins us to itself. Had I my life to live over again, I would study it more, not less, drink it in, live in it, have it my meditation all tile day long. Where else shall I find the Voice of Him who seeks me for Himself? Can any one tell me where? Fancy one telling me that the use of Scripture is in its being a "limit" to my poor human thoughts; when it is that which, as far as may be, leads me out into the limitless,- into the "deep things of God"! Here are the things that the Spirit searches - the Spirit, wonderful to say, in me!-and which, having set before me the infinite, leads me into the measureless delight of exploring my inheritance! How many people, handing down to me with flawless accuracy, the traditional truth, could replace for me the scriptures of prophets and apostles which God has put into my hands, with their tale which they are never weary of telling,- which I can read and re-read, carry into my room, set down before me, pray over and look again,- listen to in the quiet of His Presence who is in them and with them, till the music of their chime begins in my soul, soothing, quickening, harmonizing, subduing all my nature to them! If I owe my possession of them to tile failure of the Church,then blessed is that failure which, under God, has secured me so priceless a result.
I speak soberly and deliberately while I say, that not the presence of tile whole of the apostles with the Church to-day could replace for us the loss of Scripture. Could they all together give us one truth more than God has seen good to give us in it? Did they communicate, in fact, one truth besides, which we have lost? More than that, is it certain that they even knew all that was in their own communications? still more, can we believe that they knew all that all other inspired writers had communicated from tile beginning? Have we one shred of truth, or of interpretation of Scripture even, which has come down to us by this so much lauded tradition, that any one can show us, much less show us value in today? What can we glean from apostolic "fathers"? Has not God been pleased to make a clean, broad mark of absolute limitation between Scripture and all else that went before or followed it, so that it should shine out to us in its own peerless character to-day? What has God given us through all the centuries since, which is more than a development from it,-a bit of the treasure from this exhaustless treasure-house?
I do not expect, then, with whatever amount of prayer or meditation, to obtain from my poor thoughts, which have indeed to be kept in order so, one thing which directly or indirectly has not come to me from the Word. Nor can I think of anything higher for myself or any other, than to be an expositor of this glorious Word. Tell me, then how I can study it too much? You need not tell me that I can pray too little: Alas, I know that well. I suppose, we have nothing to assure us how early in Christian times the Gospel of Matthew may have been written. It is pre-eminently, as all are aware, the Jewish Gospel; as the church in Jerusalem was for some time a Jewish remnant, and little more.
Luke shows us at the end of his Gospel what special pains the Risen Saviour took to ground His disciples from the beginning in the Old Testament, and its relation to the New. Here their feet always stood firm; and the example of the Bereans a good while afterwards makes plain to what good use it could be put by those who had not had the advantage of such instruction. When they had thus assured conviction as to the trustworthiness of those through whom they had received the knowledge of the Saviour, and the pledge and witness of the Holy Spirit, there was of course abundant warrant for their reception through a channel so certified, of those additional communications which God was pleased to give. But notice here that the very slowness with which we know such communications came, gave the fullest opportunity to incorporate them one by one with all that they had known before; the scattering of the truth abroad being itself gradual, so as to carry better together the whole body of disciples. The more we reflect upon all this, the more we shall realise how fully from the beginning of Christianity the Lord grounded His people upon the written Word; and that this was no after-plan when the Church had fallen. Such thoughts may catch those who do not study Scripture too much; and alas, there are plenty of them. They are the mere vagaries of a dreaming mind, to which the word of God is not even a 'limit. We have no need to undervalue the preacher, because of the efficacy of the Word. I would emphasize it more, indeed, than all this system does. Instead of saying for instance, that God does not use us instrumentahly as effecting anything, Scripture assures us that men can "so speak" that others shall believe (Acts xiv. 5). It makes the character of the speaking effective in the production of the result. But there is another reason for "how shall they hear without a preacher?" without dishonouring Scripture to furnish one; and that is serious and sad enough. It is that men, alas, have to be pursued by the grace that seeks them and the living voice of the preacher is the most effectual means in this way. Wisdom has to cry aloud, and utter her voice in the corners of the streets. "Go out into the highways and the hedges, and compel them to come in!" Scripture had always been, while necessarily safeguarded by the barrier-wall thrown around Israel, yet placed in the very centre of the chief civilizations of the world, and on the highways of commerce. Had men desired the treasures of it, they were readily accessible, and there was no prohibition of their acquirement; but they manifested no desire. And in the midst of Christendom today, with the completed Word in our hands, what would we do without that publication of it in various ways, by which it is forced upon the notice of the unwilling-hearted? That does not in the least affect the power existing in the Scriptures to make men wise unto salvation which they assuredly have - a power which is being proved continually.
We have spoken, perhaps, enough of the Bereans, and their readiness to receive the word preached to them. No doubt that there is in the truth always an inherent acceptability to an earnest mind. But the belief of it is distinctly put here after that searching of the Scriptures which they are praised for, not before it. Think of the consequences of a principle such as is advocated, of receiving first, before proving! when the proving will surely follow with a laggard and indifferent step; and during the delay how many falsehoods may spring out of one error received, which may not be destroyed, even when they have lost their attachment to the root from which they sprang! How would such a principle account for the rapid and wide spread of a movement like that which we are now contemplating, in which the captivating brilliancy of many new ideas may with the ready aid of the emotions sweep the traveller off his feet too far away for any present recovery. A voyage of exploration always has its charm; and to be told that you need not know whither you are going, but may give yourself up to the guidance of one who seems so impressively confident of his ability to carry you safely, is a luxury in itself. Certainly you make progress: everything moves. By and by you can take your bearings and see where you have arrived. You can return by the way you have come, if in the end you are not satisfied. But have you gauged then the strength of the stream that is bearing you on it?
3. LETTER AND SPIRIT.
WE have not yet done, however, with doctrines which affect Scripture; and I place these first, because the character of all the teaching may be rightly judged by them. If that which is the standard of truth be taken from us,- if it be obscured even, or made less available to the common mass of Christians,- it is plain that this will have disastrous effect upon every truth drawn from it, or to be compared with it. Rome herself makes great parade of late of her reverence for the word of God. She will exalt it as much as you please, - and the more she does the more gain will it be to her,- if only you will let her interpret it for you. It is the interpretation that is the great point; and if a system of interpretation is adopted which takes this out of the reach of the simple man, then you have set an esoteric teaching which is not subject to Scripture, however much you may accredit those who receive it (as it is quite easy to do) with a higher spirituality which enables them to do so. No doubt spirituality is of all importance in the things of God; but it is not this which will refuse to submit to the plain word of Scripture: "If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa. viii. 20).
Now the system before us, as represented in its chief exponent, avowedly sets aside the letter of Scripture, in the interests of what it is pleased to consider the "spirit" of it. Scripture, has been put alongside of a supposed faulty hymn, to say-" I do not read those hymns in the letter; I do not read Scripture in the letter: I try to get the spirit of the hymn, and I do." The self-complacence of the last two words is characteristic. Are we not left to infer that as with the hymns, so with Scripture, he not only seeks to get the spirit of Scripture, but he does? Most people would have left others to say that of them. Whatever conviction they might have as to their success in such a matter, they would not expect to move others by their own conviction - at least those of the class that it would be worth while to convince: "let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth" (Pro. xxvii. 2) is a rule which has long been commended to us as a maxim of wisdom.
But the important point is, that we are not, as it seems, to read Scripture in the letter. It would be gratifying to know whether this is what the Book itself teaches, and how it teaches it. The thought is not altogether a new one; others have equally proclaimed their belief in Scripture as "read by the illumination of that Spirit of Christ which dwelleth in us," as contrasted with "the letter that killeth" But one can hardly think of the one from whom I before quoted as meaning to refer us to a text which gives the contrast between the old covenant and the new, and this last even as ministered by grace to us in the present gospel. It could not be said indeed rightly of the new covenant in any wise that the letter killed, although as Gentiles we should not come under it. Those who do come under it will certainly not be killed, even by the letter of it. The spirit is the spirit of the letter and that is the sweetest grace.
In Romans again (vii. 6)," the oldness of the letter," in which as Christians we are not to serve, is that legal bondage which the old covenant implies, and has nothing to do with Scripture as such. For the Christian in the liberty to which God has called him, the very letter of the law as such remains, not only without injury, but with plenty of profit in it. There is absolutely no scripture which so much as suggests that the letter of God's blessed word is something to be put aside, even in favour of the spirit which resides in it. If I want to be in communion with the spirit of a man, I do not kill his body for that purpose; and grotesque as such a comparison may seem to be, it is a joy to me to believe that God's word is as it were a living organism, in which even far beyond what we find in man (as man is now) the spirit residing is expressed in every part; so that every jot and tittle has importance from it, and must be preserved, for the spirit to be in any proper manner realized.
I own, therefore, with gladness and thankfulness of heart, that I do read Scripture in the letter - that is, in the very form and expression which God has been pleased to give it - and that more and more. Can I give it a form more suited? To convey to another what I find in it I may use other terms, and find them useful, to break through that crust with which a mere external familiarity often encrusts them:- all well; yet shall I find that not only will the same crust form over these new inventions, so that to those familiar with them in the same external way they shall become still a lifeless verbiage, but also that, after all, the words by which I have expressed what I have found will in the end be proved too narrow to contain the fulness of the divine meaning, if happily they may not be proved in some way inaccurate and really misleading. I do not deny at all the very great usefulness, therefore, of other phraseology than that of Scripture, for the explanation of Scripture; while yet I am sure that for the rectification of all our phrases, and also that Scripture may not he narrowed into the littleness of human conceptions, we must go back, and ever back, to refresh and purify and enlarge our thoughts by the very words - the only adequate, the divine words of the peerless Book which infinite grace has given us.
Distil the blessed words in your alembic and give me the result: to justify it, you must show both the material and the method. But to show me that what you have got is the full equivalent of all the material is still another matter; when your material is scripture, a very difficult thing indeed. But at least you must justify all that you speak of as the spirit by the letter, which is the only thing to begin with which we have. The Spirit within us does not give any new revelation, but "searches the deep things of God" which are contained in what has been already given. The spirit of Scripture is that contained in the letter: it is the spirit of the letter; I read it in the letter to get the spirit of it. The letter has the spirit in it, and more than all that we may please to call the spirit. How important to remember, when you contrast, as in this case, the letter and the spirit, that the letter is of God, the spirit is that in which you have to fear the instrusion of an element which is not of Him!
The principle which we have had asserted is, undoubtedly, one of contrast: "I do not read Scripture in the letter;" but, if that which has been stated is the truth, then there is as to practical apprehension, in this case, no such contrast. The letter is but the wisest possible expression of that which you may express otherwise sometimes with benefit, no doubt, but yet in a way which is still in reality something less wise than the old one. How unsafe then would it be to say, "I do not read Scripture in the way it is written, but according to what I take to be the meaning of it"! Would it not assume, in fact, that wisdom was in my poor words, beyond that of those who wrote, "not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Spirit teacheth?" (i Cor. ii. 13). Where can you show me the spirit of Scripture in words which have the sanction that such words have? After all, will it not be your letter in contrast with the actual letter, neither more nor less?
The whole statement is such arrogant assumption that it is hard to believe that a spiritually sane man could make it. The effect of it, if carried out, would be to give us a Bible, or rather, Bibles many, which would be anything rather than the endeared, familiar, well-proved friend of all our hearts. The adoption of such a principle would be at once to blur all lines and bring in everywhere confusion and uncertainty. This is not the Voice of the Spirit that would enfeeble and degrade what the Spirit Himself has given, as this system does; putting it at one time in company with a faulty hymn, at another time with the speech (miraculous though it were) of Balaam's ass! I do not envy the quietness of those who can take all this (go with it or not, as they may) without a protest. "I do not read Scripture in the letter"! Why, it is just the most literal part of it that of necessity must be used to interpret all the rest. That there are figures, types, parables in it, who is not aware? But who would like to build his soul upon things such as these, without the plain letter of doctrine which alone can interpret them definitely and surely? Is it not "letter" that "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life "? Am I to read that in the spirit, and not in the letter? Who will stand forth then and tell me, in contrast with the letter, what the spirit of it is?
See now how it all works together: I am justified in accepting this guidance that is offered me, of one so spiritually wise and competent that he can give me the spirit of that which I, poor dullard, have been reading in the letter. What can I do but submit myself to this, and let tue proof abide a more convenient season? I may be bewildered at first to find how things immediately begin to change, and how little remains absolutely what it was before. But then, if I am humble, this is all proof of how I needed a teacher,-how without a teacher (and indeed, with all the teachers I have had hitherto) I have been going astray. I learn to distrust myself the more, and cling to my guide. By and by indeed, I must come to a halt, and begin to see where I am,- to see if perchance anything may have gone wrong with me. I have heard that "in a day of evil it is of the utmost importance to prove all things, and not accept the dictum of anybody." That is all right, I suppose: it is the same guide says it; I am yet to prove all by Scripture! But Scripture, what Scripture? He does not read it in the letter; no more must I then, if I am to reach the same results! God has somehow provided me with a Bible in the letter; and this Bible in the spirit I have got to form for myself out of it, and by its help; or, at least, I have got to prove the new Bible in the spirit which has been put into my hand by that old Bible which is so different, and which it will be my wisdom in due time to give up! Think of the perplexity to a simple soul, of using in this way a standard which has to be renounced, and for the very purpose of being able to renounce it; while at the same time, it is capable in some way of putting me on a platform higher than itself! Must not all this end in inextricable confusion? Is it not, in fact, confusion all the way through?
Chapter Five. The New Birth, what is it?
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