That the Scriptures were written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and are therefore of divine authority would be admitted by every true Christian. My object in writing is not to seek to prove to the reader what I hope he already accepts. Rather I wish to draw attention to certain principles which tend to obscure the undivided and absolute subjection due to the Scriptures.
Before proceeding to this, however, a few general remarks may not be amiss as to why we Christians do receive the Bible as the written Word of God. Clearly, to the Christian, Christ is the Authority. He is the Word and has fully communicated the mind of God––and that in a way intelligible to men. He is the Apostle or Sent One, and speaks the words of God. He comes out of heaven, is above all, and what He has seen and heard He testifies. It is indeed true that man’s moral state hindered him receiving this testimony (save as God worked) but the glorious truth remains that the Son has revealed the Father and thus God has been fully declared. To such a One as this the most absolute subjection must be due and, through infinite grace, we who believe have submitted to the Son.
What, then, has our Lord to say as to the Scriptures? During His ministry here below, as everyone likely to read these lines well knows, He repeatedly affirmed their full, divine authority and unerring accuracy. How wonderful to see Him who is over all and God blessed for ever, here as the perfect man, delighting in Jehovah’s law and answering the tempter by the written Word! How instructive! Many and varied are the ways that the Lord Jesus could have met those deadly thrusts but, in the wisdom of God, and in perfect accord with the place He had taken in manhood, He met them as we must always meet them––by the Spirit with that simple, unanswerable “It is written” (Matt. 4: 4). Again, a little further on, as He unfolds the principles of the kingdom on the mount, we hear His words: “verily I say unto you, Until the heaven and the earth pass away, one iota or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all come to pass” (Matt. 5: 18)––striking testimony to the word–perfection of the Scriptures. Yet again, in the presence of the bitterest opposition from dead formalists, comes another tribute: “the scripture cannot be broken” (John 10: 35). As risen from among the dead, He graciously served two of His own, chiding them for their slowness of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken, and interpreting “in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24: 27). Finally, in the circle of His own, He opened their understanding to “understand the scriptures” (v45), speaking of them in detail as “the law of Moses and prophets and psalms” (v44). It is evident from this (and much more that could be brought forward besides) that he who receives Christ must receive the OT Scriptures in their entirety and integrity.
When we come to the NT all was written after Christ’s ascension, but still His authority is carried through in the apostles. The twelve received their commission before the Lord left the earth, and Paul was apprehended by Christ in glory, having his own special mission. These men had direct authority committed to them from the Lord and whoever resisted them resisted the Lord. No one since that time has had direct authority committed to them. There have been many honoured servants of outstanding gift, but they have all had to go to the apostle’s doctrine for authority. Furthermore, the measure in which they were in accord with that doctrine was the measure of their authority over the consciences of their hearers––no more and no less. None had direct authority and, needless to say, the more truly such a servant was in accord with his Master the less likely he would be to claim it (or permit it to be claimed for him).
It has pleased God, in His faithfulness to the assembly, that all that is necessary for doctrine and conduct should be preserved for us in the apostolic writings which (along with those of Mark and Luke) make up the NT. These writings carry the full authority therefore which we have seen that our Lord accorded to the OT. As we know, Paul claims explicitly that the things he wrote were the Lord’s commandments (see 1 Cor. 14: 37) and Peter, too, in a beautiful touch, brings in Paul’s writings with “the other scriptures” (2 Pet. 3: 16).
To summarize: the whole of Scripture has in the most absolute sense God’s authority. Nothing may be taken from it and nothing may be added to it––the whole is written by the inspiration of the Spirit of God and carries in itself the authority of God to every conscience of man. Here, then, I can rest my soul––I have God’s own Word: pure as He gave it, and yet absolutely suited to me in all my need. It is a treasure beyond all price, “able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which [is] in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3: 15).
Here then, is that by which all must be judged, beginning, first of all, of course, with myself. In the presence of this divine communication it is my part and my blessing to discard all that I may have clung to as a natural man and receive what God has so graciously given me. My righteousness––through grace I willingly let it go, and receive God’s righteousness. My wisdom, my pride, my will––all likewise must go, if I am to be blessed and obtain what God provides. My gain, if I do so, is infinite.
But this is not all, for everything that I receive must be measured by the same standard. If the Scriptures were not a complete revelation of the mind of God, it might be allowed that there were some things, perhaps, which did not need to be judged by them. Is it not obvious that to suggest that any voice does not need to be tested by the Word of God is to deny, in effect, the true character of that Word? The believer has a responsibility to judge everything, without exception, by the teaching of Scripture. It is not a question, as is sometimes alleged, of ‘claiming a right to judge’ for every saint has a solemn duty to judge. Indeed, I assert, without any equivocation, that failure to do so is, in principle, infidelity. It is conceivable that this may strike some as going rather too far, but I am persuaded that I have not overstated the case. I am sure that if any who doubt will soberly consider what immediately follows, they will arrive at the same conclusion.
There are two main lines along which infidelity works in the human mind. Either it will reject all authority, or it will set up an additional human authority, which must have the effect of nullifying, in any practical sense, the authority of the Word of God over the soul. The latter is the more subtle line, but is as equally destructive of true faith as the former. Why? Because faith is simply this: that God is believed on His own authority.
Now, if God has spoken to us in His word––and Mark 7.13 fully justifies us in speaking of the Scriptures as the Word of God––if He has graciously caused a written communication to be made to men, then this communication must have supreme authority in the soul of the believer. And by supreme, I mean in the sense that all other speaking is only authoritative in the measure in which it is subject to, and derives from, that supreme authority. If I receive any other communication from any source whatever without reference to the Scriptures, it is, in essence, lawless and infidel: lawless, because I admit another authority, and infidel because I am receiving man’s word and not God’s. What is said may or may not be true, but that is not the point at issue. The point at issue is the principle on which I receive what is said.
I am sure this is of the very greatest practical importance, for once let it become habitual to refer to man in relation to the truth of God, though the terms of the truth may be held (even held rigidly) the proper effect of the light of God will, in measure at least, be lost, and, in the same measure, darkness will enter the soul.
It has been said: ‘Why ask for a Scripture? Take teaching on first, and afterwards all will become clear’. But on what authority can a man take anything on apart from the written Word of God? If a saint receives any line of teaching as the truth even though he cannot see it clearly in the Scriptures, is that not treason to the authority of the written Word of God? Is it not, also, a violation of conscience, of which account must be given before the judgment seat of Christ? He who knows the fear of the Lord will know no other fear! It is certain that taking a thing on when there is any kind of obscurity in the mind is not the way for true intelligence in the things of God. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119: 105).
It has also been said: ‘It must be of God because so many Christians are doing it’. But where is that principle in the Word? What were all the brethren in Asia taking on when they turned away from Paul? Or what had they got in Laodicea when Christ stood outside? We can be sure they had plenty of company, but did that put them in the right? Is it not evident that on this principle Luther would never have raised his voice against the corruptions of Rome, and the Reformation never taken place?
Again, it has been said: Would the Lord let such and such a company of gifted saints go wrong? Will not the testimony go through? I am profoundly convinced, and that from the Word, that the testimony will go through. But where is the testimony? Surely with those who hear the Word of God and do it! It can be with none other. Two distinct things are being confounded here––God’s faithfulness and man’s responsibility. It recalls to mind what a servant of the Lord said a century and a half ago as to the religious systems of his day: ‘They go on building in wood, hay and stubble, and then they speak of the gates of hell not being able to prevail against it!’ Though God is ever with us in grace, patience and faithfulness, as regards power in testimony and victory in conflict He is only with us while we are with Him. If we entertain in our hearts the thought that it is not really possible for a certain line of ministry to go wrong, (however valuable it may be––for I speak of the principle upon which it is received, not of the ministry itself), then we have ceased to rest on God’s Word––we are trusting in man. And that is an exceedingly dangerous thing to do, beloved brother or sister, as ecclesiastical history bears abundant testimony. Honoured servants may fail, brethren may fail, but the Word of God will never fail. In all its imperishable integrity, it will remain till time shall be no more.
I conclude with the five following propositions:
1. The Holy Scriptures, as the written Word of God, must be accorded absolute, and therefore undivided, authority.
2. To refuse to accept any part of that Word is to deny its authority.
3. To claim authority for anything not contained in that Word is to deny its authority.
4. True ministry, because, from Christ, by the Holy Spirit, will claim no authority distinct from the written Word of God.
5. Every saint has a responsibility to test all ministry by the apostle’s doctrine as contained in the Scriptures, and to fail to do so, in reality denies the authority of the written Word of God.
May the Lord grant us all a deeper sense of the true perfection and infallibility of the Holy Scriptures!