“The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.” (Psalm 119:130)
It is of consequence to every one to know what the Bible teaches. Like the noble Bereans, we should search the Scriptures carefully, prayerfully, to become acquainted with the utterances of God. We should inquire, not what the minister, the church, or some personal friend may say, but what the Lord says. “To the law and to the testimony. If they [ministers, churches, or friends] speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
While searching for the truth as for hid treasures, light from the written word breaks into the mind. The benumbed and dormant faculties are awakened to new life and energy, the limited capacities are expanded to comprehend the truth, and earnest efforts are put forth to bring others into the light. Then why is it that there is such blindness in regard to the Scriptures? Why are ideas entertained, and sometimes taught to others, that are so vague and inconsistent? It is because the heart is not in harmony with the revealed word; the conscience has been so long depraved by practices condemned by that word, that the mental and moral powers are incapable of discerning spiritual things.
A great responsibility rests upon those who minister in word and doctrine. They should deal kindly, yet faithfully with souls. If they speak as the ambassadors of God, they will echo the teachings of the prophets and the apostles, and, above all, of Christ himself. Not only in the desk, but out of it also, they should seek to lead their hearers to search the Scriptures, and to impress upon them the necessity of understanding the word for themselves.
Let no man think that it is only the minister who is able to understand the Scriptures. Every man may have an intelligent knowledge of God’s word; and he who does not make it his life-work to understand it is in danger of making shipwreck of faith. He must study it, comparing scripture with scripture. Such study strengthens and enlarges the mind. By it, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, truths which have been hidden for ages, buried under the rubbish of superstition and error, have been dug out, and brought to the light of day.
Many do not want to know the truth, because it condemns their practices. The words of Christ are applicable to them: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” They do not have moral courage to obey the truth when it calls upon them to leave the customs and practices of the world. They have decided that they will not follow the teachings of the Bible if it requires a separation from the world. When obedience to God requires them to become peculiar in faith and practice, and to take their position with a people who are distinct from the world, they think the cross is too heavy for them to lift. They listen to the truth, and are convicted that it is the truth; but the world has a large place in their affections, and they go away and forget the word spoken.
Those who are seeking salvation must undertake the work understandingly. God’s word is our text-book. It tells us what sin is, and points out the remedy. When the lawyer inquired, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Christ referred him to the law. “What is written in the law?” he asked; “how readest thou?” The apostle tells us: “Sin is the transgression of the law.” Conviction of sin is the first step in conversion; and the law of God is the instrument to convict the sinner. It is this holy law that discovers the deformity of character, that reveals the plague-spot of sin.
And when man is convicted of sin, when he realizes his lost and undone condition, Jesus reveals himself as a sin-pardoning Saviour. Through him the sinner may obtain forgiveness, though he has failed so decidedly in his duty to render obedience to God. But salvation is never gained by abolishing the law, or lessening its sacred claims.
“If I had not come and spoken unto them,” said Christ of those who rejected his gospel, “they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin.” There is no condemnation where light is not given. But Jesus came as the light of the world. He taught men the true aim in life, the purposes and principles that underlie right living. The acquisition of property is not the great end of our being. We have individually a work to do to place ourselves in right relations to God, to bless others, and to win souls to Christ. There is true nobleness and dignity in this service. Riches are not enduring; they are often swept away in a moment. But the treasure in Heaven, which the God-fearing worker is garnering up, will endure to all eternity. It will be to its possessor riches and joy in the future life, when wealth, and fame, and worldly honors have perished.
Just before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed for his disciples: “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth.” But those who love the truth, and will cling to their Bibles, will have trials and persecutions to meet. In all ages the defenders of the faith have realized the truth of the apostle’s words: “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” But there have ever been some who have stood unmoved in their adherence to principle, and have refused to yield their faith to save their lives. The early Reformers were of this number. When urged to accept tradition and the commandments of men in place of the word of God, these men, firmly grasping their Bibles, replied, “Here is the foundation of our faith. Show us from the Bible that we are in error, and we will willingly renounce our doctrines.” But their enemies knew that if the Bible were to decide the matter, they would be condemned; for they had not a plain “Thus saith the Lord” for the doctrines they held. They therefore refused to bring their views to the test of God’s word, and tried to wrench the Scriptures from the hands of the defenders of the faith.
There are many ministers who are now pursuing a course similar to that of the papists. When the truth is presented to them, and they know that they cannot prove their doctrines by the Bible, they advise their congregations to have nothing to do with these new doctrines; the best way is to take no notice of them. And they take this course because they know that the Bible condemns their doctrines and their practices.
Jesus met with just such teachers in his day. The Pharisees claimed to be teaching the word of God to the people; but instead they taught their own sentiments and the commandments of men. Jesus said to those who would catch him in his words: “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.” From the great Teacher a steady light was reflected to the world; but the prejudice of the chief priests and rulers was excited against him. They saw the light; the evidence from the Old Testament Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ was overwhelming. But they exerted their influence to turn the people away from hearing the truth; and many who believed the teachings of Christ had not the courage, in the face of prejudiced, frowning, self-righteous priests to acknowledge their faith in the despised Nazarene.
Says the psalmist, “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.” When light from the word of God shines into the soul, a man ceases to be sensitive to reproach, neglect, or contempt. He will not be ambitious for worldly rank or honor, but will become a meek and quiet learner in the school of Christ. Those who are sanctified through the truth will have courage to stand on the side of truth and right, no matter who may scoff or how bitter the opposition they may have to meet. Nor will those who thus serve God lose their reward. “They shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.”