with replies to some alleged discrepancies,
by H. H. Snell.
"For ever, O Jehovah, thy word is settled in heaven." Ps. 119:89.)
"Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. ― (Matt. 24:35.)
The following pages contain the substance of Lectures which were lately delivered in Montgomery Hall, Sheffield, with the view of meeting the flood of infidelity as to the inspiration and divine authority of the holy scriptures, which has of late been overflowing Christendom.
It it hoped that the reader will not fail to turn to the various passages of scripture to which reference is made.
The prayers of all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, for God's blessing on this little service, are cordially invited.
H. H. Snell. Sheffield, 1889.
Our Lord, when speaking of the scriptures, said, "They are they which testify of me;" and when the Spirit of truth is come, "He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you." It is clear then that those who are led by the Holy Spirit into the true teaching of scripture, will have the Lord Jesus Christ ministered to them. How can it be otherwise, for is He not emphatically "THE TRUTH"? Is it possible, then, to overrate the value of such divinely-given landmarks?
Atheists and Deists have long indulged in throwing their invectives against the sacred volume. Every now and then a Voltaire, a Tom Paine, or some other of that stamp, has been the avowed champion of infidelity, and has made no secret of his blasphemies; so that faithful men of God knew whom they had to encounter, and what they might expect from such. But now a far more effective class of instruments are actively employed in seeking to undermine the infinite worth and divine authority of the inspired word; and, we blush to add, not a few of them are the professed ministers of the gospel. The fatal mischief is wrought too, not as formerly by ignoring the Bible as a whole, as much as by various persons levelling their attacks on different portions of divine revelation; so that at this time there is scarcely a fundamental truth of scripture that is not being either questioned or denied in some part or other of Christendom. The days of evil have indeed come. The emissaries of Satan are active. Everything that can be shaken is on the move. Rationalists are busy. Distrust and incredulity abound; and many are fearful as to what may be coming next. And why all this? Is it not because they have not known "the truth"? Our Lord said, "I am . . . . the truth." "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. . . . If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." This only is true freedom. (John 14:6; 8:32, 36.)
The root-error of all this departure from the truth, is doubtless the refusal to accept the divine verdict that "they that are in the flesh cannot please God," and receiving instead the false notion of human competency to judge of the things of God; thus ignoring our fall through Adam's disobedience. For matters of this life, no doubt men have natural abilities; but we are plainly told in scripture that "the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God." (1 Cor. 2:11.) Even the apostles, who were "able ministers of the New Testament," with marvellous gifts and qualifications, were wont to say, "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything, as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God." (2 Cor. 3:5, 6.) If such mighty men of God declared their inability to think a right thought apart from the teaching of the Spirit, how appalling is it in these days to find so many relying on learning and natural ability, and expressing their opinions of the scriptures with such temerity and boldness, instead of humbly owning and relying on the gracious ministry of "the Holy Spirit, whom God hath given to them that obey him," and thus receiving in faith God's testimony.
It is scarcely possible that scripture could speak more plainly than it does on this momentous subject. We say nothing against learning and human talent for worldly things, but in reference to the things of God another scripture says that believers have "received . . . . the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. ... But the natural man [observe it is the natural man] receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2:12, 14.) How truly this is verified in these days! Let us not fail to notice further that one must be "spiritual" (under the guidance, teaching, and power, of the Holy Spirit, who occupies the soul with the Lord Jesus where He is), to discern the things of God ― "He that is spiritual judgeth [or discerneth] all things." (1 Cor. 2:15.) No doubt most of the confusion in Christendom as to the scriptures can be traced to confidence in human wisdom, instead of honouring the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It would be impossible for those who are born of God to advance opinions, or value those of others, as to the plain testimony of the written word, much less would they confer with known sceptics and Deists, if they knew in their own souls the teaching and power of "the Spirit of truth." To question the divine authenticity of the holy scriptures (alas! how few think it), is to refuse God's word, God's Son, and therefore God's salvation. We are told that our Lord, "beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself." (Luke 24:27.)
Men may boast of "modern thought," and "intellectual progress," and style themselves "an advanced school;" but we are persuaded that a solemn crisis is not far off. The question throughout Christendom, already beginning to be heard far and near, is, "Is the Bible God's revelation of His mind and will? or, Is it merely a collection of the writings and opinions of good men?" Many of the adversaries of the truth lavish their praises on its being "the best of books," but such compliments are unnecessary and unacceptable. Are the scriptures the utterance of God's mind, which came by His will, and not by the will of man, which holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost? If not, there can be no faith, no divine ground on which the soul can rest. But, having His own word, and knowing His perfect love and faithfulness in the accomplished work of the Lord Jesus, and having heard and received the gospel of His grace, the soul rests in perfect peace before Him, and can rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
The believer is not called on to define Inspiration. How the scriptures were inspired has not been revealed. It is enough for him that by them God is made known, that holy men of God testified by "the Spirit of Christ which was in them," and that they minister Christ to his soul. Our Lord, too when speaking of us to the Father said, "I have given them thy word." After that, we read that the apostles and brethren prayed that they might "with all boldness speak thy word," and were so answered, that "they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and spake the word of God with boldness." Believers knew that the ministry in old time, and also by our Lord and His apostles, was the ministry of "the word of God."
Neither are believers called on to solve all the mysteries and difficulties of the scriptures. They may know but very little of the Bible; but they find it therein revealed, without a shadow of question, that Jesus the Son of God "was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification;" and that "by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses," and they are filled with "joy and peace in believing."
How plainly we can "see the day approaching"! The cry of "Peace and safety," the prelude of sudden destruction, well-nigh encircles the habitable earth. "The times of the Gentiles" are rapidly being fulfilled. Not a few have departed from the faith. The cloud which has been so long hanging over Christendom, thickens and lowers with incredible rapidity. The disciples of modern infidelity are being multiplied. "The way of Cain," or approach to God without blood, is becoming largely accepted. The name of Christ is unblushingly attached to unscriptural efforts, in order that they may be accredited; and "having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof," from which the faithful are enjoined to "turn away," is spreading itself far and near. The numberless confederacies of men on all sides may be casting their shadow, to intimate that the binding of the tares in bundles is not far off. Nor can we fail to see that the hostility between confessed infidels and formal professors of Christianity may possibly be the harbinger of that great collision ere long to have its solemn fulfilment. when they will "hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh and burn her with fire." (Heb. 10:25; 1 Thess. 5:3; Rev. 17:16.)
It would be impossible at this time for the faithful not to "sound an alarm." We are to "warn" as well as "comfort." Neutrality is out of the question; for our Lord said, "He that is not with me, is against me." With those who are true to Him, the supreme authority of scripture will be maintained at all cost. Its intrinsic perfection and excellency have been tasted and enjoyed by them, and they know the Shepherd's voice. Christ Himself, their life and righteousness, is their resource; His Father is their Father, who loves them as He loved His Son. The Holy Spirit is their Teacher, Guide and Strength. Their watchword is, "It is written," and they find real delight in serving the living and true God, and waiting for His Son from heaven. They know that "the night is far spent" and "the day is at hand."
That the scriptures have been marvellously preserved for us to the present moment is an unquestionable fact; but what means God has employed for its accomplishment is another thing. Certain it is as to the Old Testament that to the Jews "were committed the oracles of God;" and it is most interesting to observe how scrupulously pious Jews have sometimes guarded the sacred treasure, and also that the books which they still accredit as divinely inspired correspond with what we call the Old Testament, though the books are not bound up together precisely in the same order.
The pretensions of Romish or Anglican churches to be the appointed custodians of the scriptures, and that the decisions of their councils gives them their authority, is as gratuitous and unfounded as anything can be. Where is there a line of scripture to warrant such a conclusion? We are well aware that our opponents would say, "Hear the church;" to which we reply, though that scripture gives church or assembly authority in case of discipline, it gives not a shadow of warrant as to the oracles of God being now committed to the church. The words, "Hear the church" are found only in Matthew 18, and refer to an offending brother, who having been told of his trespass by the offended one alone, and not having been gained, then, having his fault again brought before him in the presence of one or two more, and having neglected to hear them, the assembly or church must then be told of it, and "if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican." Now, honestly, whatever has this to do with the church being the custodians of the scriptures, and to decide on their authority? Instead of the church giving authority to the scriptures, it is really the scripture which, in cases of discipline gives authority to the church.
Another word brought forward of late to bolster up this tradition of men is quoted from Luke 10:16, when our Lord on sending forth the seventy to preach the glad tidings of the kingdom (for the Messiah was there, and ready to set up His kingdom), said, "He that heareth you, heareth me." Now where is there any allusion to the church or its authority here? To receive or reject the servant being to receive or reject the Sender has always been true, as here it is the servant being heard because he came to them in Messiah's name. We know from Matthew 16:18 and other scriptures that the church on earth was not then in existence, nor could it be till the Holy Spirit came down, as recorded in the second chapter of Acts.
Again, refuge is taken by the opponents of the truth in the words, "the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." (2 Tim. 2:2.) These words are found in Paul's last epistle to Timothy, when all Asia had turned away from him, and a prominent fellow-servant had forsaken him, and loved this present world. The Church had long gone on as God's corporate witness on earth, and had deeply failed, and nothing would have been easier than for the aged apostle in prospect of martyrdom to have commended Timothy to church authority; but instead of that, he calls upon Timothy to look out for individuals in the church on earth whom he can judge true to the Lord, and commit the truth which he had received from the apostle to such as he could call "faithful men," so that they might be able to teach others also. Timothy could not fail so to understand it. There is no thought of church authority in the passage. Nor is there such an idea here or elsewhere in scripture as that "the church teaches." Instead of the church teaching, the church is taught by the "gifts" received from Christ in ascension; and in the prospect of ruin and difficulty in the church looked at as God's corporate witness on earth, we are directed to the scriptures and their sufficiency as our resource in a time of evil in the last days. (2 Tim. 3:15-17; see also Eph. 4:8-16.) From first to last in the sacred writings their divine authority is set before us. Even when Paul preached, who had received his commission directly from the Lord Himself, as he says, "not of men neither by man," the Bereans were specially commended by the Holy Spirit, because they searched the scriptures daily, "whether those things were so." (Acts 17:11, 12.) How important it is at this time to see that instead of the church giving authority or adding any value to the written word, it is that word which is the only authority in the church, and is sufficient to guide, instruct, and correct every believer and furnish him unto every good work.
The truth is, that "the faith once delivered," instead of being deposited to the care and authority of a corporate association ― the church ― we are plainly told was once given "to the saints," so that every believer (for all such are "saints" by calling) has received this wondrous endowment from the Lord, and is under obligation to Him to "contend earnestly" for it, and maintain it at all costs for His honour. (Jude 3.) When the word of eternal truth is not heeded in its divine character, as the daily resource and guide, men and books will be almost sure to be resorted to, and will usurp the place of "God, and the word of his grace," in the heart and mind, with great loss and damage of soul. "To obey is better than sacrifice;" and to heed and keep the "words" of the Son of God is the proof of our loving Him; and an apostle was wont to exhort believers to "be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour." (John 14:23; 2 Peter 3:2.)
On the Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures
If when Moses saw that the burning bush was not consumed, he was told to put his shoes from off his feet for the place whereon he stood was holy ground, with what humility of mind, and holy reverence, should we approach the consideration of the imperishable and unalterable word of God which has been written for our instruction; especially when we remember our entire dependence on the Holy Spirit to receive, reveal, or communicate the things of God!
God knows our total inability for searching His deep things apart from the operation of the Spirit of God; but the Spirit having been given to those who believe, we may now not only know the things that are freely given to us of God, but are enjoined to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." God's own revelation of His mind has not then been given merely to gifted preachers or teachers, but is the common property of the saints of all those who are called of God by the gospel of His Son Jesus Christ. To such it is God's wondrous gift. It is the present heritage of all His children. To neglect "the faith once delivered" is therefore to dishonour Him, and plainly shows that the heart is on something else. To prize it beyond all else here should distinguish us. Not to find the deepest interest in the pages of holy scripture argues that we ponder it but little. It is well to read it; but to meditate on it night and day with delight is what God gives to those who seek increased acquaintance with Himself through His word. Happy are they who can truly say, with one of old, "How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth." (Ps. 119:103.)
With what lowliness of heart, then, should we approach the sacred volume, and with what gratitude to God for having given us such a treasure; with what godly fear, too, lest by an improper thought or utterance we tarnish the glory of its infinite perfection! When we consider that these words of God" shall shine in all their unchanging brightness and eternal worth when heaven and earth shall have passed away, how can we but tremble lest by ignorance or weakness on our part we mar the testimony to the truth of God, or hinder its blessing to others?
If we think only of ourselves―our infirmities, our failures and unworthiness, how could we ever go forth to "fight the good fight of faith"? But when we consider that God has caused the scriptures to be written for our comfort, that the apostle desired that "the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified," that by it sinners are begotten of God, and His saints corrected and built up, we can then confidingly cast ourselves on the loving care and upholding goodness of our gracious God, and reckon upon His tender mercy. Nor would we, by grace, forget that He has said, "To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word." (Isa. 66:2.) May this be the state of heart in which we ponder the inspired volume! For ―
"A glory gilds the sacred page
Majestic, like the sun;
It gives a light to every age ―
It gives, but borrows none.
"The hand that gave it still supplies
The gracious light and heat;
Its truths upon believing rise―
They rise, but never set."