One of the greatest needs of
our time is to plough our way down through the heavy and tangled
growth of Christian doctrines to the virgin soil of spiritual
life and reality. A master-stroke of the great subverter, in his
purpose to neutralise spiritual effectiveness against his
kingdom, has been the resolving of Christianity into an endless
system or series of doctrines, most of them in conflict with each
other. By these Christianity has been crippled and frustrated,
turned in on itself, and a state of civil (or uncivil) war has
The Church cannot move, as an
integrated and single-fronted body, against a very powerful and
wily foe, because it does not believe together; its mind is
divided into so many conflicting interpretations.
This means that authority has
almost entirely disappeared. Men have repeatedly tried to correct
this by forming creeds, confessions of faith, principles and
practice, etc., but these only serve to form groups, widen
breaches, harden antagonisms, create superiorities, and foster
complacencies; they never solve the problem of spiritual dividedness.
They engender suspicion, breathe an atmosphere of fear, and
stimulate a mentality of heresy.
All this is due to certain
fundamental weaknesses and defectivenesses in Christian life.
One of these is a wholly
objective approach to Christian truth.
There are two aspects of this.
(a) The exhausting of truth as
such, so that a state of saturation and finality is reached, and
the whole matter is reduced to the best text-book, manual,
'authority' or 'classic' on the subject. Book succeeds book, and
the matter is covered, embodied and compassed in a library.
Do you want to know what is the
fullest presentation of any given 'truth'? So-and-so and
such-and-such is the answer. It is in book form. That is 'the
last word'. If someone has something 'fresh' or 'original' or a
bit off the beaten and well-worn track, he is either suspect or
creates a vogue which obtains for a time and then falls into line
or passes out. Generally, that sort of thing is just not allowed.
(b) But an even deeper and more
serious aspect of this objective approach is the immense cleavage
between the verbal statement of truth and the inward
Here traditional, spiritual
Christianity is in violent dividedness, bitter conflict, and
complete confusion. In this dividedness an extreme position is
taken by one side. The Bible says so-and-so. It just says that,
in actual words. Unless it is obviously and unmistakably parable,
simile, symbol, allegory, or figure, it must be taken just
as it stands. All that it means is on the surface of the simple
verbal expression. There is no place or allowance for any
interpretation, deeper, fuller, or other meaning than that which
is conveyed by the words themselves. In the realm where this is
the beginning and end of the whole matter, positively no place is
allowed for any fuller light, other meaning, or clearer
understanding. As a consequence of this rigid attitude no new
experience of fuller or clearer illumination is tolerated, but is
at once written off as dangerous.
We know of a 'Faith Mission'
(so-called) which demanded the resignation of any of its
missionaries or staff who claimed to have any new experience
based upon a new revelation of Christian truth. In this way it is
trying to safeguard itself against certain 'isms'.
It is true that the Scriptures
themselves forbid 'private interpretations', 'wresting the
Scriptures', "handling the word of God deceitfully". It
is also true that a very different and much better situation
would exist in Christianity if Christians took more careful note
of, and gave more implicit obedience to, just what the Scriptures
say. We are often shocked and appalled that Christians who have
the Bible can so easily violate its so clearly stated
injunctions. If the Bible is read at all by vast numbers of
Christians it surely is read far too objectively!
But, given that there should be
a meticulous observance of the letter of the Word, is that all?
Of course we have no sympathy
with any position that is above the Word. If, for
instance, the Bible says that 'if a man does not work he shall
not eat', there is no spiritual getting round that by an
able-bodied person. That must be taken literally! It is dangerous
and pernicious to be 'spiritually' above the clear statements of
God's Word, just as much as to ignore them. Many have their
spiritual life strangled, thwarted, arrested, limited, because
they do not, or will not obey the Lord in some clear statement of
But when all that can be said
along that line has been said, is it not also a dangerous,
harmful, and mistaken thing to reduce the life of the child of
God to a merely mechanical, automatic, 'penny-in-the-slot' kind
of thing? That is, to exclude the possibility that the Scriptures
- in whole or part - have a meaning which is either more or other
than we have seen? to take the position that we have the true and
full meaning at first sight and in the words employed to convey
truth? If it were not the case, it would be hard to believe that
many Christians, and among them leaders, do take such a position.
To such it is heresy to speak of fuller light, illumination or
'revelation' as to what the Scriptures contain or mean. Such
people forbid any 'experience' based upon such illumination, but
what a static and coldly legal Christian life theirs must be! We
do not overlook a much more thoroughgoing 'study' of Scripture,
with 'aids' and comparings, but whether it be little or much, the
ultimate issue is the difference between an intellectual approach
and Holy Spirit enlightenment.
Well, with the fullest
recognition of the perils of any position carried to an
extreme, one way or the other, we are compelled to face some
facts. These lie in two directions: (a) in the Bible itself; (b)
in the history of God's ways since. But before we do this let us
say that we know how impossible it is for us to resolve by
argument the problem with which we commenced this editorial. We
shall come to the true solution presently.
The outstanding illustration
and example of the defectiveness of holding the verbal
presentation of Scripture without spiritual illumination is
The Hebrew Prophets are just
full of this failure; indeed, it might be said that this is both
the heart and the sum of their ministry. This long history headed
up to and became the root-cause of the crucifying of Jesus. It
was this 'blindness' that He was encountering all the days of His
ministry. It is a searching and challenging statement, with
extended significance, that -
"They that dwell in
Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew... not... the
voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath, fulfilled
them by condemning him... and... asked... of Pilate that he
should be slain" (Acts 13:27,28).
Then to take another instance.
This holding of the Scriptures without inner illumination was
the explanation of the breakdown, scattering, offence, and
disconsolateness of the disciples after the crucifixion. They had
the Scriptures. Jesus did not give them the Bible as something of
which they had never heard. They knew their Bibles in an
objective way. But it is a solemn fact that their kind of
Bible knowledge did not mean anything to them in the day of the
fiery ordeal. "Selah" - think of that!
See the two representatives of
the rest on the Emmaus road. What the Lord did was not to give
them the Scriptures, but to 'open their understanding that they
might understand' them. That was an experience! That
made all the difference!
To go on with the instances.
Was there a man who had a better knowledge of and devotion to the
Scriptures than 'Saul of Tarsus'? It was this very thing that
accounted for his vehement antagonism to Jesus and His followers.
But listen to his later confession:
"I verily thought...
that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of
Nazareth" (Acts 26:9).
There is much more like this
from Paul. But, again, it is a solemn reflection that it is
possible to be so utterly wrong while believing that we are in
line with Scripture.
One more instance in the Bible.
No less a person than Peter himself had a big crisis on this very
issue. His controversy with the Lord - a bit of the old Peter -
over 'unclean things' and 'going in to eat with Gentiles' was
based upon his apprehension of the Scripture of Leviticus 11, an
absolutely governing Scripture for Jews. That that Scripture, in
the meaning that Jews, including Peter commonly gave to it, did
not hold good in heaven, at least since the Cross, is implicit
and unmistakable in the voice accompanying and ending the vision
of Acts 10. And yet Peter could find his scriptural support for
saying: "Not so, Lord". It could have been disastrous
to his apostleship and ministry if he had stuck to his own
apprehension of Scripture. What an immense thing issued from the
revolutionary new light that came to him. It was indeed an
Through the ages, when God has
moved on in His purposes, a new development has so often been
based upon a new illumination or revelation of His word. So often
such has been quite revolutionary in the life of those concerned,
and they have not hesitated to refer to it as a revelation from
God, although, of course, never extra to the Scriptures, but
only as to their content and meaning.
So it was with such men as Dr.
A. T. Pierson, Dr. Hudson Taylor, Bishop Handley Moule.
In the case of Dr. Pierson, he
had been brought up, trained, and ordained in a certain
interpretation of Scripture, and spent half of his life teaching
and practising accordingly, gaining considerable eminence in that
connection. In mid-life, or after, he received what he referred
to as new light, and said that 'God has shown me'. This related
to a fundamental interpretation of much in the Scriptures. This
new light and altogether different interpretation (the
exact opposite to his old conviction and teaching) cost him his
church, his denomination, and favour in his whole erstwhile
realm; but it led to a new and world-wide ministry, which was the
ministry for which he is known by so many of God's people and is
extant in his books.
As to Dr. Hudson Taylor: it
will go without any argument that he would know as well as anyone
the fifteenth chapter of John's Gospel. But it was when God gave
him a new revelation of the inner meaning of that Scripture that,
leaping into a new experience, he was saved from the darkest
time, and the work of God went on. The story can be read in the
monumental Life, in the chapter called 'The Exchanged
Dr. Handley Moule's association
with the 'Keswick' testimony is well-known and his ministry
therefrom has enriched multitudes. But remember - that
association was born of a big battle on the Scriptures, and Dr.
Moule was no novice in that realm. Only by new and revolutionary
light on the Word did he come into the 'experience' and the
And so we could repeat the
story in numerous instances. That 'The Lord has yet more light
and truth to break forth from His Word' is not disputed by many,
but sometimes the breaking forth may prove revolutionary for one
whose apprehension has been quite mistaken.
Let us here pause to say that
this issue is not really one of alternatives i.e. between the
literal statements of Scripture and the spiritual meaning. It is
really the balance between the objective and the subjective. The
loss of this balance on either side is the cause of the loss of
very much real value and effectiveness. That the 'letter' is not
all has the very authority of Christ Himself behind the
That it is possible to have a
new revelation, extra to and apart from the Scripture, no
one ought to believe. But to have "a spirit of wisdom and
revelation in the knowledge of him" is Scripture for
We have not even yet reached
the very heart of this whole matter. We commenced by saying that
a great need of our time is to break through the matted tangle of
systematized doctrine to the soil of life. How can this be done,
and what does it really mean?
The answer lies in a return to
spiritual life. This is a return from the merely intellectual,
traditional, and 'accepted' school-realm of Christian
interpretation of our construction of the Scriptures, to what the
Lord meant when He said: "The words that I have spoken unto
you are spirit, and are life."
Alongside of that He said:
"It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth
The "flesh" surely is
the unillumined natural mind of 1 Corinthians 2. This constitutes
an impasse, Paul says; and it is instanced and demonstrated in
Nicodemus, "the teacher in Israel", when it came to
"heavenly things" (John 3).
This impasse obtains and
remains for all who know nothing of the indwelling, inward
illumination of the anointing Spirit - the Teacher within. Those
whose only approach to the Scriptures is objective are thus
Did Jesus say of the coming
Spirit: "He shall guide you into all the truth"? Surely
to be guided into all the truth is something more than
having the truth presented, conveyed, and written down!
Did Paul pray for believers that
they might be given "a spirit of wisdom and revelation in
the knowledge of him" (i.e. Christ)? Surely that is an
imparted faculty, ability, in the believer, and more than
Did John write: "The
anointing which ye received abideth in you, and... teacheth you
concerning all things"? Surely - this is an inward activity
of the Holy Spirit, and more than the result of reading the Bible
without that work!
The only hope for oneness of
mind and spiritual authority in the Church is the absolute
Lordship and mastery of mind, heart and will by the Holy Spirit;
a crucified selfhood in all these respects. This is life, power,
assurance, and impact upon the world.
It is the return to or
discovery of the life in the Spirit. "The Lord is the
Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is
liberty". "The veil is taken away". "In
that day ye shall know" - "When he, the Spirit of
truth, is come".
First published as an Editorial in "A Witness and A
Testimony" magazine, Jan-Feb 1957, Vol 35-1