From the Pulpit of a Holiness Preacher
An email newsletter ministry of Richard D. Swift, publishing the sermons of Rev. Reed A. Swift (1899-1973), a holiness preacher
[Editor's note: This sermon was preached in the Free Methodist Churches of W.Hollywood, CA (Dec.6,1936), Pomona, CA (Dec.8,1946), and MiraLoma, CA (Dec.1949) This sermon is based on "Why I Believe the Bible" by David James Burrell, DD,LL.D (1844-1925). The Roman numeral points are the chapter headings in that book. The title of the book is not mentioned in the sermon. Appearing at the top of the first page of this sermon, there is written, "Forward! The Story of the Conversion of David James Burrell". The only other clue that this sermon came from a book is the beginning sentence under the VIth point. So I had to do some research and finally found out the title of the book. Burrell was president of the Anti-Saloon League of New York state. He was also President of the Lord's Day Alliance for many years. He pastored the Marble Collegiate Church, New York and contributed to "The Fundamentals, A Testimony to the Truth" edited by R.A.Torrey. Because of the
sermon's length (21 points), I've elected to divide it into three parts, one per month. This is part II]
The Bible: Inspiration and Power Part II
VIII. Its Tone of Authority
THERE are three lines of evidence in favour of Christianity; namely, oral testimony, Scripture and personal experience. These when combined are conclusive and irrefutable. "A three fold cord is not easily broken."
First: As to Oral Testimony.
Peter says, "We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!' And this voice which came from heaven we heard when we were with him in the holy mount."
The Apostle was here speaking to those who had not seen Jesus in the flesh. He himself had heard his sermons, seen his miracles, witnessed his wonderful life. In particular, he had been with him in the Mount of Transfiguration, had seen his homespun garments flutter aside for a moment revealing the royal purple, and had heard the Voice saying, "This is my beloved Son!" All this was no dream, no fable, no hallucination; he had seen and heard it. And there were others who, as eyewitnesses, were prepared to testify in like manner as to the divine character and mission of Christ. This sort of testimony is still offered to sustain the Gospel claim. But you say, " This is mere hearsay." We answer:
1I) Such hearsay has valid weight as evidence. In fact we are all the while accepting evidence of this sort without a murmur. How do we know that light travels at the rate of 186,000 miles a second? Only because certain persons, after investigation, have said so. How do we know that melancholy remnants of the British and German fleets are lying at the bottom of the North Sea? Men who were present have told us so. How do we know that Croton water is fit to drink? We rest on the assurance of scientists who have analyzed it. I suppose that ninety-nine per cent. of our knowledge comes by hearsay. We receive the testimony of eye-witnesses, as a matter of course, unless there is some definite reason for rejecting it.
(2) Such evidence, in favour of Christianity, has a cumulative value for us. In Peter's time there were only a few witnesses who could say, "That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled of the word of life, declare we unto you." We, on the contrary, have the testimony of a great multitude which no man can number. For the little procession of eleven men who originally came down the outer stairway from an upper room in Jerusalem has increased along the centuries from hundreds to thousands, from thousands to hundreds of millions. They have passed by the light of fagot-fires and under the shadow of dungeons and gallows-trees, declaring the testimony of Jesus and singing his praise in hosannas that blend like a chorus of many waters and mighty thunderings issuing from the heavenly gates. Hundreds of millions of Christians living to-day are prepared to testify as to their personal experience
in the truth of the Scriptures. They certify with one accord, "We were sinners, troubled with a certain fearful looking-for of judgment. We came to the written Word for knowledge as to the Incarnate Word; and finding Christ we have found salvation through faith in him. Thus the peace that passeth all understanding has come into our hearts. We have not followed cunningly devised fables. We speak from experience. We know whom we have believed and are persuaded that he is able to keep that which we have committed to him until that day."
It is submitted that so great a body of testimony is of overwhelming weight. To a reasonable man it must be quite conclusive, unless some definite rebuttal is forthcoming. Certainly no court of justice would reject it.
The Second line of evidence is Scripture itself.
Of this Peter goes on to say, " We have also a more sure word of prophecy (i.e. more sure than hearsay), whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn and the daystar arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the 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."
The fact that Scripture is "more sure" than oral testimony is thus clearly based upon its ultimate authority as the inspired and veritable Word of God.
It is obvious that there must be somewhere a final criterion of truth. There are standards of weight and measure at Washington for the testing of every pound and yardstick in our country. It cannot be supposed that the Heavenly Father would set his children adrift without a trustworthy chart for their direction. This is the rationale of the Scriptures. They were intended to be an ultimate and infallible rule of faith and conduct. -And they are so received, despite all controversy, by the Universal Church. The man who rejects them is bound, in justice to himself, to discover some other court of final authority, where he may seek, amid the noise of conflicting voices, a confirmation of spiritual things.
The apostle justifies his confidence in the Scriptures by adding that they "came not by the will of man; but through holy men who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." If this means anything, it means that the men who wrote the Scriptures did not sit down of themselves, with stylus and parchment, saying, "I will write an account of the Creation," or, "I will write the history of Israel," or, " I will write a prediction of the Messiah," or, "I will write doctrine and ethics;" but they proceeded to their work and performed it under the immediate direction and control of the Spirit of God. The figure is that of a vessel under sail. They were "moved" by the divine Breath as a ship is borne onward by the wind filling its canvas. In other words they wrote what they were directed to write by the Spirit of God.
Still further, the apostle says that the Scriptures so written are not " of any private interpretation." The word here rendered " private" is idia, literally "one's own." This means that no man is his own interpreter. When we speak of "the right of private judgment" with reference to Scriptures, we mean to exclude all human interposition between the soul and God; but alas for one who approaches Revelation in the dim light of his own unaided reason. The finite cannot grasp the infinite. "Spiritual things are spiritually discerned." God, who gave the Scriptures, must help us to understand them. Wherefore the Holy Ghost, by whom the sacred page is illuminated, is represented as "anointing our eyes with eyesalve" that we may wisely read it.
The chancellor of Queen Candace, riding in his chariot, with the sacred scroll of the prophet Isaiah before him, knit his brows in perplexity as he read the Messianic prediction, "He is led as a sheep to the slaughter; and, like a lamb dumb before his shearers, so he openeth not his mouth." Philip, the evangelist, walking alongside and hearing him, asked, "Understandest thou what thou readest?" He answered, "How can I, except some man shall guide me?" He was then guided by the Spirit; and straightway the truth flashed upon him.
The Third line of evidence is also named by Peter; to wit, Personal Experience.
We are like wanderers in the night; voices are heard about us, saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it;" better still, the Bible is given us as a lantern "shining in a dark place;" but, when yonder we see the light of the morning, our perplexity is over. Thus personal experience adds final confirmation to oral testimony and Scripture. Peter says we do well to listen to the word of eye-witnesses and to give heed to the lamp-light of prophecy "until the day dawn and the day star arise in our hearts."
A woman once came running into the city of Samaria, saying, "I went out to Jacob's well to draw water; and a wayfarer met me who spake as never man spake of spiritual things; he told me all things that ever I did. Is not this the Messiah for whom we have been looking? Come and see!" Her friends and neighbours followed her back to the well and heard him. They besought him to be their guest and he abode with them two days; and many believed because of his word. Then they said to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of thy saying; for we have heard him ourselves and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world." Thus in the last reduction a man is savingly convinced only by personal experience; when he can say, "I have met Christ, have made his acquaintance, have reasoned with him by the way, and have learned to reverence and love him."
It is evident, however, that the final reference with respect to spiritual truth is to the Bible itself. Hearsay is not infallible; personal experience is confined to the purview of a single soul; but the Scriptures are the Court of Final Appeal because they speak with the authority of a supreme and omniscient God.
It might be supposed that a book like this, dealing with spiritual truths all of which lie beyond the bailiwick of the physical senses, would speak with some measure of reserve or uncertainty; but there are no ifs or perhapses or peradventures here. How could a divine book speak that way? We want no guesses about life and immortality. We must know. We want authority; and there can be no final authority with respect to such problems except that of a divine ipse dixit. Wherefore the Book says always, "Yea and Amen," and " Thus saith the Lord," and, "Verily, verily, I say unto you."
Put an "if" into the Decalogue and you lay a charge of dynamite under the morality of men and nations. Put an " if " under the manger at Bethlehem, and you destroy the happiness of a million homes. Put an "if" under Calvary, and you make us Christians of all men most miserable. Put an "if" under the empty sepulchre in Joseph's garden, and straightway our visions of life and immortality vanish into thin air. But blessed be God, there are no ifs in the Bible. It gives no uncertain sound. It speaks as becomes the Oracles of God.
IX. It Trustworthiness
The marvel is not that there are variations and discrepancies here, but that they are so trivial and insignificant. They are indeed of such a character as to convince any candid mind that they had no place in the original autograph but have crept into the text in the process of transmission along the ages.
Singular to relate, there is none that affects in the slightest degree the integrity of the doctrine and ethics of the Book. If the destructive critics are taken at their word the Bible is full of frightful errors; its prophecies have failed, its history is unhistorical, its science is unscientific and its chronicles are myths. It need scarcely be said that, so far from being a true statement of the case, not a single error has yet been indicated which cannot be most reasonably explained as either purely imaginary or unimportant. But here is a marvellous thing: these enemies of Scripture are themselves insistent with one consent, that the errors in the Bible which they so loudly exploit, do not in any degree impair the integrity of its doctrinal system and ethical code!
These things being so, we are warranted in concluding that the inspired Book has in some manner been singularly safeguarded in its transmission along the centuries. The same gracious God who protected his secretaries—those " holy men who wrote as they were moved by his Spirit"—from all possibility of error in the original autograph, has apparently by a special Providence so protected the flying scroll in its journey down to us, that transcribers and translators have left an "infallible rule of faith and practice" in the versions now current among men.
If it be urged again that we are not practically concerned with the original autograph, inasmuch as no living man has ever seen it; we observe that a like objection could be offered against Christ himself with equal force on precisely the same grounds. The objection proves either too little or too much. No living man has ever seen the Incarnate Word of God. He lived only thirty-three years in this world of ours and then vanished from sight. The only knowledge that we have of him, apart from the Scriptures, is through his followers; for every Christian is, so to speak, a current version of the Incarnate Word. Christ, like the Bible, has suffered by transcription through the ages.
X. Its Influence on Personal Life
THE ultimate test of life and character was aptly set forth by our Lord and Saviour in the words, "Ye shall know them by their fruits." And the question which followed was one that appealed to the common-sense of all, "Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?"
Certainly not. If a man wants a cluster of grapes he will go to a vineyard for it and not to a thicket of thorns. Or if he is searching for figs he will go not to Scotland, "the land of the thistle," but to Arabia, the garden of figs.
Why so? Because like produces like. This is one of Nature's laws. "And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed and the fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind, whose seed is in itself; and it was so."
Would you know the Bible, now? Test it under the same law of fruitage.
It proposes to save men from the penalty and power of sin. Of all the religions of the world this is the only one that suggests the possibility of blotting out a mislived past and so removing the handicap of hope and aspiration.
It proposes also to sanctify the forgiven sinner or, in other words, to build up his character in truth and righteousness. And this it does by placing him under the transforming power of the Spirit of God.
Thus the Bible develops character. Who shall explain the subtle metaphysical force in this Book which somehow gets hold of the lingering possibilities in the soul of a reprobate and transforms him, changes his heart and conscience and will, so making a new man of him?
XI. Its Influence on National Life
As for England it was publicly affirmed by Queen Victoria that the Bible was "the secret of its greatness."
As for Germany, at the close of the Franco-Prussian War it was declared by Pere Hyacinthe to his people that the reason for their calamitous defeat lay in the fact that they were irreligious, while every German soldier had a Bible in his knapsack.
As for America, its whole constitutional fabric is permeated with the teachings of the divine Word.
Of the other nations now most rapidly coming to the front Japan stands foremost. A dozen years ago a Japanese student asked to be enrolled as a member of the church to which I minister. His name is still upon its roster. At the conclusion of his post-graduate course at Columbia University he received the degree of Doctor of Laws. On the eve of his departure to his native country he left with me his Japanese Bible as a token of friendship. I said to him, "Are you going back to advocate the teachings of that Book?" His answer was: " I love my country. We want your light, your freedom, your constitutional rights."
The first of these principles is the Rights of Man, as formulated in the word "equality,"
The second of the great ideas which underlie our Republic is the Sanctity of Law, as formulated in the word, "government," which is the antithesis of personal independence.
The basis of social order is the just recognition by every man of the rights of his fellow-men. One who dwells alone in the desert may do as he pleases; but if another join him his personal freedom is so far forth abridged as that he is now free only to do that which does not trespass on the freedom of the other man. As still others arrive there comes to be a compact; that social compact is government, whose basis is law.
The third of our great national propositions is the Voluntary Principle in Religion: which is formulated in the word " non-conformity," the antithesis of which is the uniformity of a political church.
The fourth of the great Scriptural ideas is one which has not yet found its realization in our Republic; that is the duty of Communication, as it is written, "To do good and to communicate, forget not." This finds its best expression in universal evangelization, which is the antithesis of war.
XII ITS PLACE IN THE FOREFRONT OF EVENTS
Modern progress was struck by 1 Wiclif, A.d. 1380. In the Museum at Prague there is a symbolical picture of the Reformation as a fagot-fire to which Wiclif is applying the torch. His watchword was, "Let us get back to the Bible!" The search-warrant which Christ himself placed in the hands of the people when He said, "Search the Scriptures," had been snatched away and appropriated by the Pope and hierarchy. So far as the people were concerned the Bible had long been a closed book, kept in cloisters or chained to the highaltars of cathedrals. When given to the multitudes it was recited in an unknown tongue. Wiclif said, "I will translate the Scriptures into the vernacular; so that every ploughboy may read them as he toils among the furrows." His Bible on being published was immediately placed in the Index Expurgatorius. He himself was persecuted to the death and after; for by order of the Council of Constance his bones were burned and their ashes cast upon
the river which carried them to the sea. But the keynote of Protestantism had been struck: "A true Bible and an open one!"
In that same picture of the bonfire at Prague there is another man blowing the flame. This is Luther, who nailed the ninety-five theses of Protestantism to the chapel door at Wittenberg, A.d. 1517. While still in monastic orders he had happened upon a volume of the Scriptures. He knew them only as a forbidden book. He read it furtively until he came to the place where it is written; " There is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved." Meanwhile he had grown lean and haggard. The friars saluted him, " Good appetite, brother Martin "; but the refectory had no charms for him. He returned again and again to the forbidden book. Presently he read, " By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified." The peril of his spiritual state overwhelmed him. At length he came upon the words, "What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin condemned
sin in the flesh." Then the light began to break!
(1) Let us affirm at the outset that the Bible stands foremost in maintaining the sanctions of domestic life.
(2) The Bible leads the way, also, in the betterment of social life. It stands for law and order and all the conditions that make a community a desirable place to live in.
(3) Furthermore the Bible is at the forefront of our industrial life.
(4) Further still the Bible, as we have already seen, is at the forefront of the world's national life. Our country is a Christian country. It was founded, we repeat, on the principles laid down in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount; and it has developed along the lines marked out in the divine Book of the Law. In the year 1777 a strange thing happened. The Revolutionary War had arrested the output of the printing presses, and the result was a famine of the Word. Congress was petitioned to relieve the situation; and what did Congress do? It authorized the importation of twenty thousand Bibles from Holland to be distributed among the people! Would Congress go so far in these days? I fear not. But this is what our forefathers thought of the Book of the Law.
(5) Finally, the Bible leads the march in international affairs. And now you are pointing across the sea and saying, " Behold the war of Christian nations! Is this the best that an open Bible can show for itself?" The point is well taken. But Christian nations are no more perfect than Christian men. The inconsistency would be unnoted were it not for the universal conviction that the prevailing war is not the outcome of loyalty to the Scriptures but in violation of them.
XIII IT IS CHRIST'S BOOK
THE storm-centres of religious history are Christ and the Bible. As to this Jesus which is called the Christ, who is he? Is he what he claimed to be, the only- begotten Son of the Father, or a trickster and dis- sembler? This is the Chateau Hougomont around which the Waterloo of the centuries has been waged; for it is understood on all hands that if Christ could be disposed of the fabric of Christianity would vanish into thin air. And when the controversy has not been about Christ it has centred in the Bible. What is this old Book? Is It what it claims to be, "God-breathed," or is its distinction due only to certain venerable associations? Are there any clear characteristics which lift it out of the category of other books? Can it be received with confidence as an "infallible rule of faith and practice "; or are those who so regard it merely a sort of fetich-worshippers? Is it the Truth, or does it only contain truth, that is, more or less
of it? What think ye? It is significant that both Christ and the Bible are characterized as "the Word of God." How indeed could God reveal himself to men otherwise than by his Word? He is seen in nature but not clearly. It would be difficult for a man to look so far " through nature up to nature's God " as to be able to say " Abba, Father!" He would be much more likely, standing amid the bewildering glories of the earth and overarching heavens, to cry aloud in desperate desire, " O God, if thou art or wheresoever thou art, speak to me!"
Let us now observe what the Bible has to say about Christ: and afterward what Christ has to say about the Bible. It will thus appear how they stand together as complementary each to the other.
To begin with, the Book is something more than a mere biography of Christ. To say that its purpose is exclusively to outline the scheme of salvation, in its narrow sense, may furnish a taking phrase but not a complete statement of fact. There are many things in Scripture which have no direct bearing on the way to escape from the penalty and power of sin. And whatever the Book contains, whether theological, ethical or scientific, is absolutely true. Thus it is written, "All Scripture, given by inspiration of God, is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto every good work," i.e., that he may have a well-rounded and symmetrical equipment for life every way.
What now, on the other hand, was the attitude of Christ toward the Bible?
To begin with, he was familiar with it. He learned it memoriter in his boyhood; and ever after made it his " infallible rule of faith and practice." In each of His three temptations in the wilderness He used it as effective foil against the adversary. When urged to change stones into bread to satisfy his hunger he answered, " Nay, I cannot! For I remember what my mother taught me out of the Book, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.'" When urged to cast himself down from a pinnacle of the temple to prove his Godhood by his superiority to natural laws, he answered again, " Nay, I cannot! For I remember what the Bible says, 'Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.'" And when urged finally to avoid the agony of the cross and accept the world's sovereignty in return for a single act of homage rendered to its de facto prince, he answered, "I cannot! For the Book says, 'Thou shalt worship the Lord thy
God, and him only shalt thou serve.'" Thus in every case the Bible was his stand-by. "It is written" was enough for him. And blessed is every one of his followers
who can defend himself in like manner with the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
XIV EXCURSUS Jesus: His Book
Again, we say that by the fruits of the Word, we know it is the very Word of God.
1. It makes a happy home.
2. In the workshop: the Golden Rule and diligence
3. In busines: Faithful stewards
4. In Institutions of learning, those who took the Bible for their guide stood out distinctly.
5. In hospitals, we see it is a Good Book to die by.
6. In church, we sing because of the Bible.
7. In legislative halls, they can truthfully sing, "Our Father's God to Thee, Author of Liberty..."
"The Book that was good enough for my Lord and Saviour, is good enough for me".
Part Three, Next month! Chapters 15-21.
Yours for Radical Holiness
Richard D. Swift