The Bible Not An Ultimate Guide
The Bible should not be regarded as the ultimate guide of the Christian, in any sense to put it in the place of the Holy Spirit. To so regard the Scriptures is just as grave an error, though not producing such gross public evils, yet fraught with just as much mischief to spiritual liberty, as to regard the Church as guide. The very shock which this statement will likely make upon the average Christian when first read, is itself strong evidence of its truth; but nevertheless, I hesitate not to say that, if those who are moved to opposition by the statement, will take time to look into it, without prejudice, that they will come into practical harmony with its sentiment. Let us not then jump to opposite conclusions before the evidence is examined, and with prayerful patience, without fear or favor, let us look into the question.
The Church was ordained and instituted of God, for the fellowship and communion of saints, and the propagation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now it is no reflection upon that Divine institution, to say it does not in any sense, take the place of God. Nor does it reflect upon the Christian Church to point out the grave error and idolatry of those who make it stand in the place of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, it magnifies the real purpose of the Church and thus glorifies God.
When the reformers shifted the source of Divine guidance from the Church, to the Bible, and gave the individual the right to interpret the Bible for himself, an immense stride was made back to the teaching of Jesus. The mind of the Christian before fettered, now became free, and many gross outward abuses, were things of the past; and in spite of the fact that an infallible book was substituted for an infallible Church, hundreds of people through the Reformation did get a great spiritual uplift, and became personally acquainted with God.
But when it got settled down into a creed that the Bible was the guide of the Christian, and when individuals acted out their creed, I declare that from a purely spiritual standpoint, this last error was as bad as the first.
To say this, does not detract from the value of the Holy Scriptures, but adds to their value, when properly understood. I take second place to no living man in my appreciation, up to the measure of my capacity, of the Bible; it is the Book of books. It is a history of God’s dealings with His people, with various invaluable accounts of His revelations to them. It contains the great principles upon which God governs mankind, morally and spiritually. It demonstrates in a variety of ways, the fact that it is always well with all men who are true to God, and that it is ill with all who persist in disobeying Him.
It points out the rocks upon which men have made shipwreck on the voyage of life, and reveals the open water where there is safe sailing. It is a history of Jesus with His plan of human redemption, and with the record of the establishment of the Christian Church on day of Pentecost. It is a mine of truth which seems inexhaustible; and it furnishes supplies for all sorts and conditions of men.
All this, and a great deal more can be truthfully claimed for the wonderful Book, but it is still a book and not God. It is the Father’s letter to His children, made necessary by man’s fall from spirituality, but not the letter of an absent father. It is an outward and sensible reminder to mankind of the perpetual presence of the invisible God. If man had not sinned, and lost his spiritual faculties, there would have been no need for such a reminder, nor would there have been any use for a law regulating his conduct, for in that case, man would have been controlled instinctively, or at least directly, by God, as in the beginning. That the Bible is not the guide of the Christian, I gather from the following, among many other reasons.
The Bible does not claim to be the guide of the Christian. Under the Mosaic dispensation, it seems clear that God did give certain laws for the government of the people, but these laws were given because of the hardness of their hearts. That is, their spiritual faculties were so dead, they could not perceive a purely spiritual law, but as we learn from Paul, the written law was only meant to be temporary, in the absence of something better. He states that the law was the schoolmaster to bring men to Christ. Whatever may have been the precise nature of God’s method of guidance in the past, the Old Testament Scriptures breathe with the expectation of a better day, when the law, instead of being upon tables of stone or upon parchments, was to be written upon human hearts. In other words, the day was coming when God would write His directions upon the heart of each individual; when it would not be necessary for one man to get instruction for another, for “They shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, saith the Lord.”
But even under this old dispensation, we have abundant evidence that God was the Guide of His people and not the law. Individuals who were spiritual, came direct to God for guidance without any medium, while of course, people who were not spiritual, had to get the mind of God through the Priest with the Urim and Thumrnirn, or otherwise.
“The steps of a good man are ordered of the Lord.” “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths,” are sample passages concerning even Old Testament guidance, which condemn many persons living under our brighter dispensation, who confine the voice of God to the Bible, and practically forbid God speaking direct to them or to others.
It is most remarkable, how Scripture is wrested from its proper meaning, to make it bolster up this idolatrous notion of the blessed Bible. Take those numerous passages referring to the “Word of the Lord.”
They are most generally quoted as meaning the Bible, but they rarely, if ever, mean anything of the sort.
I will be thankful if any person can point out to me, anywhere in the Bible where the expression “The word of God” is used meaning the letter of the sacred Scriptures. Generally, the obvious meaning is, what God has told the individual or, what the Holy Spirit communicates to the soul.
Even when God gives a message to one man for another, it is not the word of God to the second man, until God in some way makes the second man know that the message is from Him.
Jesus is called the “Word,” because in His person, and in His message, He declared the mind and will of God, speaking with authority, and giving the necessary evidence to convince the world that He was indeed the teacher of God to mankind.
Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit was to be the Guide of the Christian and therefore by implication, that the Bible was not to be the guide.
It seems clear to me, and I do not see why it should not be clear to every unprejudiced investigator of this subject, that if Jesus meant the Bible to become the guide of His people after His departure, He would have said something about it. But there is not a word said about it by Him, and nothing that can be construed to mean any such thing. If He had intended to commit the teaching and guidance of His followers to the Bible, He would not have left them to find that out after the lapse of centuries. And, it is a notable fact, that Jesus did not leave a word of written direction behind Him. If He had meant His people to be guided by such direction, it would seem highly probable, that He would have written something Himself to be read after He had gone. Nor did He give directions to have anything written by others in the nature of a guide book, for His future followers. But what did He do? Did He leave them on life’s ocean, without rudder or compass to steer by? Did He start them on an unknown journey without a guide? Did He commit them to the temptations of the world, the flesh and the Devil, without instructions concerning the spiritual battle? Did He leave them to solve life’s problems without a teacher, or to undergo the trials of life without a comforter? Certainly not, for He loved His people too well to leave them without making ample provision for their needs on the journey of life.
He made much better provision for their guidance than constituting a book as their guide, even so wonderful and matchless a book as the Bible. He left an Omnipresent and All-wise Spirit, in charge of them, whose work it is to attend the Christian’s footsteps along the whole length of the road, and to supply his every need of body, spirit, soul. An ever-present, loving, almighty companion, to whom the followers of Jesus can turn with the rapidity of thought, under all circumstances, and be sure of infallible direction.
See how plain the words of Jesus are concerning the guidance of the Holy Spirit; so plain that it is beyond comprehension, how those who love Him, have overlooked His teaching, and have chosen other guides, and have so taught about the Bible being the guide, that thousands to-day accept it rather than the Holy Spirit. Mark 13:11, “But when they shall lead you and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand, what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate; but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Spirit.”
Luke 12:2,12, “And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer or what ye shall say: for the Holy Spirit shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.”
John 14:17, “And l will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive; because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him, for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.”
John 15:26, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of me.”
John 16:13, “Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth; for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak; and He will show you things to come.” And His last words before His ascension, previously referred to are, Acts 1:8, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you : and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” In fullest harmony with what Jesus said, were the actions of His disciples in the earliest years of the Church. Christ’s followers received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and then began to walk in Him, or what is the same thing, to be guided by Him. Christ’s immediate followers did not pretend to take the Bible as guide, but they were guided by the Holy Spirit. Let us take a few sample instances.
Acts. 8:29, “Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near and join thyself to this chariot.” Philip did as the Holy Spirit told him to do, and when he got through with the work God had for him to do, the same Spirit told him to leave the man he had been instructing unto himself; the record is Acts 8:39. “The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more.”
In the case of the conversion of Saul, and after that experience had been received by him, but prior to any knowledge on his part of the Holy Spirit, as a distinct person; the Lord appeared to the disciple Ananias, telling him to go to Saul’s boarding-house to instruct him about matters of the Kingdom, and especially that he might receive the Holy Spirit for his guide.
Acts 9: 2. “And the Lord said unto him (Ananias), Arise and go into the street that is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus: for, behold he prayeth.”
When God had Gospel work to be done in the home of Cornelius, and wanted Peter to do it, the Holy Spirit made him acquainted with the fact. Peter had a remarkable vision to get him ready for the message of the Spirit, and the record is Acts 10:19. “While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold three men seek thee.” In giving an account of this afterwards to the Apostles at Jerusalem, Peter says, Acts 11:12, “And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting; ” and he went, for it is always safe to obey God.
While the leaders of the Church at Antioch were engaged in a prayer meeting, Acts 13 : 2, “The Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them,” and they had the wisdom to obey without debate. And just as one would expect in a Spirit of wisdom, He also told Barnabas and Saul what He wanted of them, for we read, Acts 13:4, “So they, being sent forth by the Holy Spirit, departed unto Seleucia, and from thence they sailed to Cyprus,” doubtless being guided all the way by the ever-present Spirit.
That the Holy Spirit is given for a guide in every detail, we infer from the fact recorded, Acts 16 :6-7. “Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia, after they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia : but the Spirit suffered them not.” The Holy Spirit cannot be limited as to the medium by which He communicates His instructions, and so when He wanted Paul to go to Macedonia, He talked to him in a vision through a man of that country, Acts 16: 9-10. “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the Gospel unto them.”
But why multiply instances of God’s method of guidance? The few I have referred to will stir up others in your minds, and they demonstrate with certainty that God’s plan of guidance is through the Holy Ghost alone. God will not, and we must not, allow any rival guide, no matter if as sacred an institution as the Church, or as blessed a book as the Bible.
In the very nature of things the Bible cannot be a competent guide. This will be seen at a glance by seeing how much is involved in being the guide of a Christian. Such a guide must be able to instruct the Christian at all times, under all circumstances, in all ages of the world, how to act, so as to please God. Ten thousand different circumstances arise in a Christian’s experience, concerning which he needs to know how to act in order to be well pleasing to God. Nothing is too trivial for God to notice affecting the life of one of His children, for as Jesus said, “The very hairs of your heads are numbered.”
There is a certain attitude a Christian ought to take to every event which affects him, and all other attitudes will be wrong. He should go to a certain place, or not go; he should do a certain thing or not do it; he should do a certain kind of Christian work or he should not; certain pleasures are right or they are wrong. There is a right time and a right way to do a certain duty, and there is a wrong time and a wrong way to do it. There is a certain way which God wants him to act under every circumstance, and to act in any other way, is contrary to God’s plan, and therefore displeasing to God. There is no use in referring him to experience, reason or common sense for an answer to such questions, as they are beyond the ken of these natural faculties.
Now then, if God expects us to do right and not wrong under all circumstances, that is, to do the thing He wants us to do; how can He expect such obedience except He makes it possible for us to know His will concerning every such event? But where is the man who is foolish enough to say that the Bible makes detailed provision for every’ contingency in human life, in which it is possible to either please or displease God?—that is, that the Bible itself contains sufficient directions to cover every possible contingency without going outside of its lids?
And yet the Bible does refer us to the source whence guidance can be had, for it directs that, “If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.” The Bible does direct to the true Guide, but it is not itself that Guide. The Bible does refer us to the Teacher of spiritual wisdom, but does not claim that distinction for itself. The Bible does point out the Physician, but the most it claims for itself is that, it is the prescription.
A book to have detailed instructions as to duty-doing, under all circumstances, for every individual would need to be a thousand times as large as the Bible, and then the mind of man would need to be infinite to memorize it all in order to be guided by it.
How much better is God’s method, which is so simple that “The wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein.” Jesus our Master, exulted over this thought when he said, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”
A child can take in the thought, that God the Holy Spirit is with him to teach him. and guide him, and a child can know enough to be guided in this way; but the other method demands a person with an exhaustive education, a strong intellect, an iron will, and then only to find out that the so-called method of Divine guidance, is no guidance at all, and that he has miserably failed to do the will of God notwithstanding all his painful efforts.