Previous article in this series: December 1, 2019, p. 111.
The Scriptures do not fear examination
If you have ever let Mormon missionaries through your door, you will have noticed that they urge upon you something that at first seems similar to the Reformed faith’s “Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit.” Before they read the Book of Mormon to you or tell you the story of Joseph Smith, they will attempt to prepare you for what they call, “the burning in the bosom.” “This,” they say, “will be a feeling you will get as we read or talk to you. This feeling shows you the Book of Mormon is divine.” Then, as they read or explain, they will ask, “Did you feel it? Do you feel it now?”
Last time we saw that the Scriptures are self-authenticating. That is, they show themselves to be divine and rely on no other witness outside of themselves to establish their authority. They do this by claiming to be divine, but also by the divine way they perform their task of revealing the things of God. We also said that because we are blind in ourselves, it takes the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit to believe Scripture’s testimony concerning itself.
So what is the difference between this internal testimony of the Spirit and the Mormon “burning in the bosom?” First, unlike the “burning in the bosom,” the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit is not mysticism. By the power of manipulative suggestion, the Mormon missionaries often convince gullible people that they are having some mystical experience that must indicate the Book of Mormon is divine. By contrast, the internal testimony of the Spirit is not a manipulative emotion or experience, but a growing trust. It is not even necessarily perceptible until one reflects back upon it after a period of time studying the Bible. There may be something mysterious about its progress, as all the work of the Spirit has a certain mystery to it, but it is not mysticism.
Second (and closely related to the previous), the internal testimony of the Spirit is not subjectivism. The supposed burning of the bosom is. The burning of the bosom is not conviction that comes in conjunction with the objective qualities of the material as one carefully examines that material and its implications. Rather, it is a purely subjective response to an initial exposure. By contrast, the Bible is not threatened by careful examination; the Spirit’s powerful testimony to the truth of the Word only grows under study. To be sure, there is a subjective element in the internal testimony of the Spirit, but belief comes in progressive conviction from the nature of the examined material itself. It only increases as the one who examines closely sees the divine marks stamped on Scripture’s form and content, that is, if one’s heart has been liberated from irrational hatred of the God of the Word.
An omniscient God foretells the future
One of those marks of divinity a Christian perceives when examining Scripture is what the Belgic Confession mentions: “the things foretold in them are fulfilling” (Art. 5). Neither the Book of Mormon nor any other holy book contain such fulfilled prophecies.
When studying the Bible, one learns the God of Scripture is not bound by time and space. The Bible says God is a God, “declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isa. 46:10). This passage and others like it speak of God as determining and thus knowing all things—past, present, and future. This leads one to wonder, “If such a God revealed Himself in history, would He not be able to tell us things that He determined were to take place in the future?” In fact, one might even look for Him to do so, knowing who He is. When one studies the rest of Scripture, he learns that in this book God does exactly that. As an artist cannot help but reveal something of who he is not only in what he paints, but also in the very way he paints, so the Scriptures reveal God not only in what they say, but also in how they say it (here, by foretelling the future). The Scriptures carry within themselves the marks of the One who wrote them. Who else but a God with an eternal counsel could reveal Himself in such a way that He accurately tells the future? And the fact that He tells the future, as one would perhaps expect an omniscient God to do, reveals a divine mark upon this book.
So, returning to Calvin’s instruction on the subject, he calls our attention to the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah for two outstanding examples of such prophecy and fulfillment.1 Jeremiah 1:1–3 tells us that Jeremiah prophesied during the reigns of the last five kings of Judah. Jeremiah was alive when Nebuchadnezzar rolled into Jerusalem with his massive army. After Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion, Jeremiah was exiled to Egypt. There, Jeremiah prophesied for a time to the Jews who had taken him to Egypt with them (against his will). Jeremiah died in Egypt long before the Jews returned home from captivity. Yet, in Jeremiah chapter 25, the prophet records God speaking through him, pronouncing that Judah would go into captivity and remain there for a specific length of time: seventy years. “And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the Lord, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations” (Jer. 25:11–12). By Scripture’s testimony and the historical record, we know that Judah was indeed in captivity to Babylon for seventy years. “Must not his tongue have been under the guidance of the Spirit of God? How shameless will it be to say that the authority of the prophets has not been confirmed by such proofs….”2
The first verse of Isaiah 1 tells us that the prophet Isaiah prophesied during the period of kings who ruled from 740–701 B.C. Isaiah finished his prophecy to the people of Judah therefore, before they entered captivity. Yet, the prophet’s message predicted the captivity, the experience of the captivity, and the return from captivity. And not only that, Isaiah received from God the name of the king who would be born and who would let Israel return from captivity. “Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus…. For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me. I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me” (Isa. 45:1–5). Keep in mind this is over 100 years before Cyrus is born. The explanation given for why God knows Cyrus’ name 100 years before he is born is that God is the one who names him! God from eternity determined Cyrus’ name, and God would guide Cyrus’ parents to give their son that name. Judah must know, God is God over this coming Cyrus, though Cyrus does not know Jehovah. And Judah must know, in the future, the God who controls the future, will use this man to keep His promise to bring Israel back to the promised land when Jeremiah’s seventy years are accomplished. “That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid” (Isa. 44:28).
We know from Scripture and historical record that this prophecy came true also. Hence, Calvin: “Does not this bare narrative, without any verbal embellishment, plainly show the things Isaiah recounts to be undoubted oracles of God, not the conjectures of a man?”3 And this astounds us, without even mentioning anything about Isaiah’s prophesies of the virgin that shall conceive (Isa. 7), the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9), and the atoning, suffering Servant (Isa. 53).
The very words of God
We can add to this so many other prophecies throughout the Bible: the over three hundred prophecies of Christ He fulfilled in His life, death, and resurrection; the prophecies of Daniel that foretell the rest of history (so much of which has already come to pass); the prophecy of Christ Himself that Jerusalem would fall. “Before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Is. 24:9). These prophecies are part of Scripture’s own commendation of its divine claims. They come forth as so many brush strokes of an omnipotent painter as He displays the revelation of Himself. When you hold the Bible, you hold the very words of God. And you need not be pressured to say that because of a manipulated feeling in the first moment it is read to you. The Spirit is confident enough in His own work to let people dig in and see it for themselves.
Next time we will examine the unity of God’s Word as another self-authenticating mark of Scripture’s divine origin.
1 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.8.8.
2 Calvin, 1.8.8.
3 Calvin, 1.8.8. Because it is so astounding, this prophecy has been a lightning rod, attracting the comment of liberal scholars. The only thing they have come up with to try to discredit it is that someone else must have written the second half of Isaiah later after Cyrus was born and then went back and included it with Isaiah’s prophecies. The unity of the book under the repeated naming of Isaiah as its author makes this impossible. There are books of the Bible (Psalms) that have more than one author. But in every instance where that is the case, the other author(s) are named. In addition, John 12:38–40 quotes from the part of the book in question and calls it Isaiah. And besides, the prophecies of Christ’s coming by virgin birth and as atoning sacrifice cannot be subject to even this ridiculous attempt. The proof stands.