2. THE PILGRIM AND THE BIBLE
“I dreamed, and behold, I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back.”
With these words did John Bunyon begin his enduring work, Pilgrim’s Progress (written in Bedford Jail, England, in 1675). He saw a man on a journey, a pilgrim, with a great weight of sin upon him, and a book in his hand. That book was the Bible. Bunyon accurately portrayed the Christian as a stranger in the midst of a dark, danger-filled world, a world that would mislead, entangle, and destroy the Christian. And so as Pilgrim makes his way; he has the Bible open in his hand, right in front of him at all times, so that he does not lose his way. He needs that. He needs a lamp unto his feet and a light upon his pathway. He needs signposts that will, without fail, direct him to his destination. These signposts must point in the direction of the land where he has his citizenship, the heavenly country where God is not ashamed to be called his God. They must point out his specific calling as he wends his way through a sin-darkened, God-hating world. They must point out the dangers he will confront: the swamps of sin to be avoided, lest he become spotted with the mud of the world; the entangling alliances that would paralyze him if entered into; the pseudo-gospels that deny his God the glory and rob him of needed comfort. Clearly, these signposts must not err! What a terrible predicament for the pilgrim if the signposts, or the guidebook, misleads and proves to be untrustworthy!
It is our position that God has provided His children with an inerrant Guide, with infallible Signposts, with true Light, so that throughout his pilgrimage the Christian pilgrim may know assuredly all that is needful to know this side of the grave. He may know God as the Creator of the Universe, as the Sustainer and Governor of all things, as the Father of Jesus Christ. He may know Jesus as the Lamb of God slain from before the foundations of the world, and may know the fellowship of His death and resurrection. He may be convinced of the reality of the kingdom of heaven, as it is now being established in the hearts of the elect and as it will be perfected when Christ returns for those elect with power and glory. He may know what God requires of him while he remains on earth. What Father would have him avoid, and what pleases Him. How to view the world round about, how to estimate its goals and activities, how to live in respect to the neighbor. This inerrant Guide is theBible, in which the Christian pilgrim discovers who he is, where he came from, where he is going, and how he is to behave while he is going there.
The Devil does not miss the importance of all this. As he rages on this earth in the short time that he has been given, he repeatedly makes attacks on the authenticity and reliability of the Scriptures. The success of these attacks may be gauged by the concessions the church on earth makes in this area. The word apostasy (to fall away from a firm, established position, hence, to fall away from the truth of the Scriptures) may be applied to much of what the church decides nowadays. Cardinal truths of the Word of God are questioned, superficially studied, confidently denied. The doctrine of Scripture itself is a favorite target on which Satan and his apostates “zero in.” Their strategy is: if the foundations are undermined, can the house of Truth long stand?
Saddest of all is the response of the church in this devilish attack. In one denomination after another the reaction can only be described as a caving in, a buckling under, a compromising. Oh, it can appear so very innocent. A church will decide to appoint a committee to study the nature and extent of the authority of Scripture, or something like that. But does that need study? May that be studied and questioned in the year of our Lord 1971? Does it not belong to the very foundation of the church of Christ that the Word of God is absolute authority and completely reliable for all the areas on which it chooses to speak? That has been established at Carthage and Hippo under Augustine in the fourth century. Luther and Calvin asserted the same, necessarily, at the time of the Great Reformation. If the church forever chooses to wonder about this point, it can only serve the advantage of the enemy. We wish in this article to demonstrate that the Word of God is unassailable by making some explanatory and applicatory remarks concerning II Peter 1:20-21: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Peter and the other apostles faced the same apostasy, the same attack on the Scriptures, that the church faces today. In their speech and writings, they were accused of following cunning devised fables. In response Peter states: one, we were eyewitnesses of those things concerning which we wrote; and, two, no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation.
That the Bible is the Word of God
It is necessary, first of all, to show that when Peter speaks of “prophecy of the Scriptures” he is referring to the Old and New Testament, the complete Bible as we know it today. It is true that at the time he wrote these words there existed only the Old Testament writings; all of the New Testament books had not yet been written, nor had they been gathered into the canon and received by the church as such. When his audience read and heard these words, therefore, they undoubtedly thought of Moses and the prophets. However, the New Testament is also prophecy and must also be included in the consideration of this text. It speaks of the fulfillment of all the types and promises in Jesus Christ, and it looks forward to the final realization of those promises in the great day of Christ. All Scripture is one; it is all prophecy Therefore, Peter refers here to the whole Bible, from its opening “In the beginning. . . .” to the final “Amen.”
It is of the utmost importance that the pilgrim know that no prophecy of any Scripture is of private interpretation. That phrase has given commentators considerable trouble; the majority of them seem to think it refers to the fact that you cannot interpret Scripture privately, that is, you cannot explain the Bible by yourself, in your own understanding. In itself that is true. Unless the Spirit guide us in our study we can never understand the deep things of God. Spiritual things can never be spiritually discerned except in the light of the Spirit of Truth. Yet, this is not the idea of the text. If we keep verse 21 in mind here (“For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man.”) we find that Peter is teaching a fundamental and far-reaching truth concerning theorigin of Holy Writ. Thus, what we have in the Bible is not the private interpretation or personal opinions of a man, a writer, or a prophet! Let us understand this! When Moses wrote the book of Genesis long, long after the flood, and when he wrote that beautiful first chapter on creation, he did not give us his thoughtson how the universe came into being. He did not record a private, human interpretation of those days, and what happened on those days, or what was the folk-lore of various tribes and peoples concerning the beginning of the world. But God gave him to understand the fact of creation, and gave him the interpretation of that grand event. What Moses. wrote, therefore, is God’s Word concerning His work of creation. Or, when Peter, James, and John wrote concerning the transfiguration on the holy mount, they did not record their private interpretation of that event, nor did they manufacture cunningly devised fables, but God revealed to them what had transpired! Christ was given the power and glory that would be His in endless measure at His great and second coming. Or, finally, when the Scriptures tell us that as children of God we are pilgrims and strangers on the earth, with heavenly life, heavenly citizenship, and a heavenly calling, then it is not so that we have but a human estimation of the situation. But God is saying we are pilgrims, God is saying that we have a glorious destination, and God is telling us what our behavior must be as His people. There is nothing private or human about any of the Scriptures. They contain no personal opinions or pet theories. They give us God’s own word!
Because this is so, man may not give to the Scriptures his private interpretations either. Man may not explain the Word of God to suit his fancy, ignoring those passages which humble him or limit him or offend his human sense of fairness. We may not ignore those passages which tell us we are dead in trespasses in sin, nor those that teach that God has chosen us unconditionally unto glory, and damned others unconditionally to perdition. We may not so explain grace that it turns out works, may not change the hatred of God for the wicked into love for them, may not make the atoning, satisfying death of Christ for His sheep some kind of making available of salvation to anyone that believes. Because no Scripture is of any private interpretation, we must hear, and accept, and love all of Scripture. The full counsel of God must be sounded forth and embraced. And then if we run into questions, a simple rule will see us through. The rule is: Scripture interprets Scripture. Man may never say what the Bible means, but the Bible itself tells us what the Bible means. Then God Himself is our Interpreter. In His light we see light!
And if men rise in the church who would do otherwise, if men stand up and begin to misinterpret the Word and give to it their private opinions, if men would confuse the pilgrim and lead him astray, then the church may not be tolerant of them! Because we deal here with the very Word of the living God, tolerance is a terribly sinful thing. It is deadly. The creature man is not allowed to believe what he wants concerning the Being of God, the eternal decrees, the death of Christ, the pilgrim calling, or any other matter touched on by divine revelation. If a man perverts that Word, he must be called into account and brought to repentance; and if repentance is not forthcoming, he must be cast out of the church lest the unrighteous leaven of the word of man begin to permeate the church. The Bible is the Word of God which cannot be broken. And you may be sure that it cannot be improved upon. What God has revealed is sufficient, in order that He have all the glory, and that the church is surely saved!