In approaching our consideration of the New Testament, it is well to premise that there are two common errors in the present day, and found almost everywhere in Christendom: 1, That the use of the Bible is only to teach persons the way of salvation; and 2, That the Book of Revelation is too difficult for any one to understand. As to the first point, it is plainly said that the scriptures are not only able to make "wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus," but that every scripture is God-breathed, or "given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Tim. 3:15-17.) Thus we see that the scriptures are the complete and all-sufficient guide of man after he has been born of God and saved from coming wrath. There is another point of all importance here. When the inspired apostle says that "evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived," he turns to scripture as the only resource in an evil day; and would have Timothy know of whom he had learned the things he had been assured of. If many were asked in the present day from whom they had learned this doctrine and that, they would find it difficult to reply; some would say, "Our church teaches it." Now, true Spirit-taught and Spirit-led souls would say they learnt it from the scriptures, and therefore they can assert its divine authority. This is the exercise of faith, and nothing short of it can be pleasing to God. And as to the expression, "Our church teaches," it is not only unauthorised by the scriptures, but exactly opposite to scripture, for there we learn that, instead of the church teaching, the church is taught, and built up by various gifts from an ascended Saviour. (Eph. 4:11, 12.) If any take refuge in another snare, that such and such doctrines must be true because the clergy have accepted them, we do well to remember that "the faith was once delivered to the saints," and is therefore the common possession of all true believers. The scriptures, not clever men, or preachers, or traditions, are our resource in these evil days; but we are enjoined to have that abiding in us which we have heard from the beginning; that is, the beginning of Christianity. (1 John 2:24.)
It has been truly said, that the church has no power to give authority to the written word, because it is the word of God; but, on the contrary, the word speaks to us of the authority of the Lord in the church, for He is Lord of all. The scriptures call for submission, because they are God's word; by their own moral evidence and intrinsic authority they commend themselves to the conscience. Confidence in them, as the word of God is to us of infinite value.
As to the Book of Revelation being too difficult to be understood, it is only another instance of man's perversion of what is of God; for "Revelation" means revealing, or making known, which is surely something exactly opposite to difficult and inexplicable. Those who approach that book in unfeigned dependence on God's teaching by His Spirit, not only will certainly have the blessing promised in the third verse, but will have an intelligence as to things around, and their hearts drawn into the path of devotedness in a way that they could not otherwise have known.
With regard to "every scripture being God-breathed," if they were merely the expression of the judgment of even good men, we should then have only human instead of divine authority, and have no basis for faith, no authority of God on which to rest. Those, therefore, who deny inspiration are always restless, and have nothing but uncertainty as to the eternal future.
We shall be told by some that the human element is easily perceived in the sacred writings; to which we reply, Of this there is no doubt. No one can be familiar with the writings of Paul, or John, or Peter, or James, without being struck with the style with which each sets forth his particular line of truth. The same thing is seen in the Old Testament. How different was the manner in which Moses, Isaiah, David, Jeremiah and others, communicated the instruction for which the Spirit of God employed them. No doubt God not only selected His workmen, but each at the very time, and in the state and circumstances He was pleased to appoint, as best suited to carry out His mind and will. He called into the service of inspiration a king or a fisherman, a man of wealth or of poverty, a learned man brought up at Gamaliel's feet, or an unlearned, a mighty man or a feeble woman, just as it pleased Him. He used their tongues, tears, affections, memories, or pens. He instructed them by direct intercourse with Himself, by visions, dreams, what others had written, or by the Spirit's teaching and revelation. He used them in a palace or a dungeon; in a shipwreck or before magistrates; in poverty, or in abundance; in distress, or in joy, or other circumstances; as well as concerning what they saw, and heard, and felt. He who had used all kinds of instruments in the history of His people to accomplish His purposes, could use any means He was pleased to select in giving us His own revelation of His will. All are His servants.
The various writers were not only enlightened, but they were inspired. In giving us their writings, they acted not according to their own will, but in so doing, carried out God's will; so that what they communicated is over and over again called "the word of God." For example, in the Old Testament we read, "The Spirit of God came upon Azariah," and, "The word of God came unto Nathan saying," etc.; and in the New Testament we read of one who had abundance of revelations," and of his communicating to believers what he had received, as "the word of the Lord."
No doubt God could do without men in communicating His mind if He saw fit. An unseen hand has written it on the plaster of the wall. He also opened the mouth of an ass to speak with man's voice. He can use any instrument He pleases. He has also put words by His Spirit into the mouth of a wicked Balaam, and allowed the foul Betrayer to work miracles as the other apostles. But He is usually pleased, in His loving kindness and tender mercy, to take up such in His service as walk in His fear. He has also caused the words and ways of Satan and wicked men to be recorded, but the writer was inspired to write so much or so little of them as suited the will of God, in exposing their wickedness, and in ministering for our warning and blessing. Faith rejoices in the perfect love and almighty power of our Saviour God.
We have had the most incontestable proofs of the Old Testament scriptures being inspired, and authenticated by our Lord and His apostles. Our Lord honoured, obeyed, and used the very words of the Old Testament; and with the apostles an appeal to their authority was final. As to the inspiration of the New Testament, we are told by an inspired apostle, "which things [the things of God] also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth;" and at the same time he emphatically disallows all ability in the natural man, either to know, receive, or to communicate the things of God. So completely does the Spirit of God teach, that He alone is the source of the scriptures of truth, that though Paul had been caught up into the third heaven, yet we never find him on this account asserting any competency for divine things apart from the Holy Spirit.
Although the New Testament scriptures are equally inspired as the Old, and are interwoven with many hundreds of quotations from it, yet the instruments employed in giving us the sacred writings were somewhat different. Thus we find that the Old Testament prophets did not understand their own prophecies, and searched as to what they signified; yet they knew they were ministering to others rather than to themselves, even unto us who now have the ministry of the Holy Ghost come down from heaven. Their prophecies testified also to "the sufferings of Christ and the glories which should follow," so that the church on earth formed no part of their ministry. We know from other scriptures that the church was not revealed in the Old Testament, although now we can go back to it and find typical instruction concerning the church. We are emphatically taught, that the revelation of the church or assembly was "hid in God," "kept secret since the world began," and "not made known" till Saul of Tarsus was called by divine grace. We have, therefore, in the Old Testament, after the call of Abraham, Israel and the heathen or Gentile nations; but in the New Testament we have Jews, Gentiles, and the church of God. (1 Cor. 10:32. See also 1 Peter 1:10-14; Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:3, 5, 9.)
There is an important text in 2 Timothy 2:15, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." Now this rightly dividing the word of truth does not simply mean, as many say, giving to the saint and sinner each their portion, but it is cutting in a straight line the word of truth. In consequence of the accomplishment of eternal redemption, and the coming down of the Holy Ghost because of Christ being glorified, believers are brought into a totally different position and state to what could possibly have been known before. From the second chapter of Acts then, when the Holy Spirit came down to indwell believers, and abide with us for ever, we have the truth flowing out by the inspired apostles, and made known as could not have been known before. (1 Cor. 2:9, 10.) We judge, therefore, that we rightly divide, or cut in a straight line the word of truth, when we accept, as in contrast with God's earthly people, our standing in Christ in the heavenlies, and know our union with Him by the Holy Spirit sent down by Him in ascension as Lord and Christ, and given to be the Head over all things to His assembly which is His body, the fulness of Him which filleth all in all. (Eph. 1:19-23.)
No doubt what is known as dispensational truth is also included in "rightly dividing [or cutting in a straight line] the word of truth." Hence we find some scriptures which apply to God's earthly people, the Jews; and others which especially belong to His heavenly people, the church the body and bride of Christ. We have also instruction concerning millennial saints, and other Old Testament saints, the reign of Christ, etc.
The New Testament was written after the coming of the Holy Spirit, hence the intelligence of these inspired writers compared with the Old Testament prophets. Again, we do not find apostles saying, "Thus saith Jehovah," because their relationship was not with God as Jehovah, but with the Father and the Son. Hence they wrote, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," and the like.
When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he reminded them that he had received the gospel, which he preached from the Lord Himself, and not of man, nor by man; and so divinely-given did he know his ministry to be, that he could solemnly declare, "though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." How could he possibly use such language unless he had known it to be given him by the Lord? We may remember, perhaps, that when he was converted by a sight of the Lord Jesus in heaven, he was then told, "I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee" (Acts 26:16); so there is the plainest possible evidence that the apostle Paul received his commission for the ministry of the word immediately from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
The New Testament, like the Old, is also presented to us in three parts. 1. We have first the gospels, and Acts 1, giving us the coming into the world of the Only-begotten, His birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and His bidding His disciples to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit, and assuring them, by angelic ministry, that He shall so come in like manner as His disciples saw Him go into heaven. 2. From Acts 2 to the coming of our Lord for us, we have another portion of the New Testament chiefly occupied with the church of God on earth ― its calling, endowments, ministry, and hope. 3. The Book of Revelation, and other prophetic writings in the epistles and gospels, which give us the divine estimate of everything here, and God's judgment of evil, and the translation and reign of saints with Christ, concluding with the new heaven and new earth, in which righteousness will dwell.
With regard to the four gospels, they are almost entirely occupied with our Lord's own ways, ministry, and works. We are told that the "words" He spake, He received from the Father; so perfect was He as Man in dependence on the Father, that He said, "The Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say and what I should speak." Again, we read, "He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God," so that nothing could be more truly of, and from God, than the words which He spake. It is no marvel, then, that He should say, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."
In reference to the inspiration of the New Testament, we must keep in mind that the Holy Spirit had come and indwelt believers before any part of it was written. Those whom He employed to write it, no longer, as in olden time, wrote what they did not understand, and greatly desired to know; but those who wrote the New Testament, though by the same Spirit, had intelligence of accomplished redemption; they enjoyed communion with the Father and the Son, and new relationships as to what they wrote, for they were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. We, therefore, as we have before observed, never find them saying, "Thus saith Jehovah;" but they speak of the Father and the Son, especially in the epistles, as addressing the children of God.
There are, however, certain true marks of the distinguishing activities of the Holy Spirit. He is the Glorifier and Testifier of the Son of God, and takes of the Father and the Son, and shows unto us. He always leads into the path of obedience to the Father's will, and subjection to Christ as Lord of all. Now, without going farther as to the operations of the Holy Spirit, by whose power, as come down from heaven, the gospel is preached, it is clear, that every part of the New Testament abounds with proofs of His ministrations by the writers. Moreover, the scriptures speak to us continually of holiness, truth, righteousness, the grace of God, and of His faithfulness to His own word; and all taught of Him learn that "the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God;" that He is "given unto us," that "we might know the things that are freely given to us of God," for "the Spirit searcheth all things, yea the deep things of God." (John 14 ― 16; 1 Cor. 2:10, 12.) God hath then not given unto us "the spirit of the world," or "the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."
Thus while we find it is said that, as to the Old Testament scriptures, holy men of God were "moved by the Holy Spirit" to give them to us, the New Testament scriptures were written by the same Spirit through those instruments who knew the Lord Jesus as the Accomplisher of their eternal redemption, and were intelligent by the indwelling Spirit concerning what they wrote.
With regard to the apostle Paul's ministry, he was especially a minister of the church or assembly; to him was revealed "the mystery," as we have seen, and only his writings give us the revelation of the assembly, or "one body" and its administration. He taught also its practical power on the life and walk of saints now, both individually and collectively, by the same Spirit, as well as the ministration of the affections of Christ in nourishing and cherishing every member of His body. Besides this, and the instructions he received of the Lord from heaven at his conversion, he received also an "abundance of revelations." For example, as to the Lord's Supper, when it was instituted by our Lord, the nation of Israel had not been judicially set aside, and the assembly set up, we therefore find it was taken in hope of the kingdom; hence our Lord added, "I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." (Matt. 26:29.) It is quite true, looking at drinking wine as a type of earthly joy, He has not since had joy in, or with, His earthly people; nor will He till He comes in great power and glory, and brings them into their promised blessing in the land as a repentant people. When, therefore, Israel was actually given up for a time, and this marvellous mystery of the church or assembly began to be built according to God's eternal purpose, as a people on earth united by one indwelling Spirit to Christ in heaven, as the limbs of our natural bodies are united to our head, then the Lord's Supper needed a special revelation. And what was it? Hear what the Apostle says, "I have received of the Lord, that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you; this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also, he took the cup, after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood; this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as oft as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come." (1 Cor. 11:23-26.) Now this was a most important revelation, and the Apostle declares that he had it from the glorified Lord, and for us; so that we have His own mind about it now, that instead of watching for events, and waiting for the kingdom on earth, we are to be doing it as looking up, not knowing whether the next moment we may hear the shout, and in the twinkling of an eye be taken away from the earth ― changed, translated, meet the Lord in the air, and enter with Him on our heavenly and eternal inheritance.
It is also since the glorification of Jesus and His having sent the Holy Spirit, that we read in scripture of "the Lord's table." Hence it is only after the formation of "one body" by "one Spirit," that we are taught that, in breaking and eating of the "one bread" (one loaf) we express "one body," "for we are all partakers of that one bread" (or loaf). We are also enjoined to be using diligence to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." These truths were specially committed to Paul as a minister of the church, or assembly. (See 1 Cor. 10:16, 17, 21; 12:13. Col. 1. 24-26.)
Again, we find as to His coming another special revelation, not given before; for while Old Testament scriptures speak of the Lord coming to reign with His saints, His coming for us at the rapture was not known till the Apostle wrote to the Thessalonian saints. He said, "This we say unto you by the word of the Lord." What was it? That the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, the dead saints be raised, the living changed, and all caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and so be for ever with the Lord." It is clear, then, that the Apostle had revealed to him, by the Lord Himself, many things to communicate to us for our instruction and blessing. Peter, in his second epistle, most touchingly refers to Paul's writings being inspired, and therefore scripture. He says, "Even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given unto him, hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned, and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." (Chap. 3:15, 16.)
So careful was the apostle Paul in his writings to minister what he was commanded of the Lord, that when, on one or two occasions, he gave his own judgment merely, as a servant of the Lord who had the Spirit of God, he would say, "I have no commandment of the Lord; yet I give my judgment as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful." (1 Cor. 7:25, 40.) But in the same letter he says, in another part, "If any man think himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant." So absolutely was his ministration to them the word of God, that he says, "What! came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?" (1 Cor. 14:36-38.)