The Authority of the Word

We quote the following sentence from a letter recently received: "The word of Christ as a living power over the soul seems to be quite lost. You say to a man, the Scripture in such a place says so and so; his attitude is, Well, suppose it does, what of that?'"

Our correspondent was not writing of infidels, or openly godless men, but of Christians, of those who as a matter of doctrine would stoutly maintain that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God. Is his witness true? If so, herein lies the secret of the widespread spiritual dearth and death that we have to mourn. Is it true? Let our readers answer for themselves, for it is a vital matter. We press it as being the most important question that we could press. IS IT TRUE THAT THE WORD OF CHRIST AS A LIVING POWER OVER OUR SOULS IS QUITE LOST?

BY THE SAME POST that brought the letter from which we have quoted, we received a copy of a letter written by the late J. N. Darby, giving an account of the way that the Lord led him when first those truths of Scripture which so greatly affected him and his generation began to be unfolded to his understanding. What impressed us was the place that the Scriptures had in his mind and life. He says, "As a result of great soul exercise, THE WORD OF GOD BECAME TO ME AN ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY, I had always recognized it as being the Word of God." And what was the effect of this? "The three persons in one God, the divinity of Jesus, His atoning work on the cross, His resurrection, His seat at the right hand of God, were truths which, learnt as orthodox doctrines, began to be living realities to my soul. Not only were they truths, but I knew God personally after this manner; I had no other God but He who had thus revealed Himself, and I had Him. He was the God of my life, of my worship, the God of my peace, the only true God."

But not only did these as well as other great truths become living realities to him, but he was compelled in subjection to the same Word to test all his association and relationship by its light, so that, what "was not in accordance with what I read in the Bible concerning the church," was judged and departed from by him. We could quote other exceedingly interesting and helpful passages from this letter, but our purpose is to emphasize the authority of the Scriptures as being God's Word to us, and the effect upon the soul and life when there is submission to this authority.

On laying down this very interesting letter we took up a paper written by the same hand about forty years after the exercises described, and we desire to bring to the notice of our readers the following forcible sentences. Speaking of the Scriptures, the Word of God, he says: "That only is the rule and measure of my responsibility, the expression of the authority of God over me. It is direct from God, and God's title is absolute, and embraces my whole being in obedience; He exercises His authority immediately by the Word … My first, immediate, and all-ruling relationship is with God by the Word. It has precedence of all others, and claims absolute and immediate subjection. 'We ought to obey' is the Christian's ensign; but 'We ought to OBEY GOD rather than man' is the absolute claim of God, who has revealed Himself fully, and reveals Himself immediately to us by the Word."

THE IMPORTANCE of this matter cannot be exaggerated; the Scriptures are the Word of God to men; the revelation of Himself, the declaration of His will; His voice speaking in love, with many warnings and with all authority. They "cannot be broken," said the Lord. In them we learn the way of salvation; they are sufficient to thoroughly furnish the man of God; (2 Tim. 3:15-17); he who will not obey them is no fit company for any Christian (2 Thess. 3:14); and those who wrest them and reject them do so to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). This word LIVETH and abides for ever; it is the sword of the Spirit, quick, powerful; it is the discerner, or critic, of the thoughts and intents of the heart of man, to be heard and obeyed, and not to be criticized by him. Raving such a treasure in our possession lays upon us the solemn responsibility of hearing it and being subject to it, that it may exercise its living power over our souls.

THE TENDENCY IS, when fervency of spirit wanes, and the divine life within grows feeble, to escape the exercise that is necessary in order to know the truth and will of God directly from the Word, and to turn to leaders and accept what they say simply because they say it. This is the easy path, but a most dangerous one, for the ear becomes dull to every other voice but the favourite one, and then the result is often carnal zeal for some special line of teaching or ecclesiastical procedure which may not be wholly according to the Word, and which can be adopted without that soul exercise which subjection to the Word demands, and thus are sects and parties formed.

It is true that the Word exhorts, "Remember your leaders" (Heb. 13:7), and this we must do, but my conviction is that these here spoken of were the God-inspired men, who, as the Scripture says, "have spoken to you THE WORD OF GOD." They were "His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit" (Eph. 3:5), to whom the truth was first given, and whose ministry is now embodied for us in the New Testament. About this I have a question, for it is not God's way to turn us to fallible men, who, because they are fallible, must of necessity be more or less affected by their limited outlook, but He would turn us to those whom He kept in answer to the Lord's request (John 17), and whom He made the inspired vessels of His communication to us. It is only as the lesser men have directed us to the Word that they have helped us. If their sayings have become in any measure our guide instead of the Word, and displaced the Word, one of two things is certain, either their sayings are carnal or we have taken them up carnally. The writer from whom we have already quoted continues: "If another knows THE WORD better than myself, has more spiritual power, he can help me; and that is according to the will and mind of God. But he does not come between my soul and the Word, but brings me more fully into acquaintance with what God says to me in it. My soul is only the more in immediate relationship with God by His Word …"

Another able writer has said:

"Leaders there always will be, and all right when it is their faith that carries them ahead of others. But faith must be in the Word of God, and have this to justify itself to others. This true guidance is always by the Word, and that is what preserves following from being a mere following of men. Apart from this, we may go easily astray in the path of very good men. Peter led Barnabas astray after this fashion. Paul says: 'Follow me,' but adds, 'as I follow Christ.'"

THERE IS DANGER also in looking back to anything that is short of the beginning, or of taking as our pattern or standard any effect of the truth that we have seen or heard of. As to this we quote again from the writings of J. N. Darby:

"Let me here engage my reader to realize in his own mind, and, if occasion call for it, insist upon it with others … 'Let that therefore abide in you which ye have heard from the beginning: if that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye shall continue in the Son and in the Father' (1 John 2:24). Nothing has secure authority for the believer but that which was from THE BEGINNING. This alone secures our continuing in the Father and the Son. There may be much 'reverend antiquity'; and the spirit of reverence, where the object is true, is a very important quality in the believer, but an amazing means of seduction when it is not; but as a ground of faith, the Christian must have, 'what was from the beginning'; the authority for believing must be 'that which existed from the beginning.' In the Scriptures I have that certainty — I have the thing itself and nowhere else. Many may preach the truth and I profit by it, but by the Word I have the certainty, of what was from the beginning, and I have it nowhere else."

TRADITION holds a certain cast of mind in a thrall, from which only the Word can deliver. We must beware of this. The Pharisees of old were great sticklers for what they held to be correct, but they made the WORD OF GOD OF NON-EFFECT by their traditions, and were the most persistent critics and opponents of the Lord Jesus.

The traditions that we must follow are clearly indicated in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 they were taught by the apostles in word and letter, and are now contained in the Word for us; as we stand fast in these we are safe.

CONSCIENCE is also often taken as guide and standard instead of the Word; and this is a subtle snare, and the more so as people often confound their opinions with their conscience. To substitute conscience for the Word is bad enough in matters which are purely individual, but this becomes a serious matter when it obtrudes itself in questions that involve the name and testimony of the Lord, and when it assumes the place of dictator in the fellowship of saints and the service of the Lord's servants. Yet we fear that often the plain word is not sought or is set aside, and conscience, or what is said to be conscience, taken as a guide even in this sacred enclosure.

It is of the utmost importance that we should see the end of the commandment, which is "love out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned." But we must first have the Word, and the conscience subject to it, then all will be well. Without this we shall do serious damage in the interests of Christ on earth; and the more sincere and zealous we are the greater the damage, like Saul of Tarsus, who, with a perfectly good conscience, believing he did God service, persecuted the church of God and wasted it.