The Spirit of the Word


(Continued from No 7.)

     Some passages of Scripture are habitually misquoted. For instance, Hab. 2:2, last clause, is almost always quoted, "he that runs may read;" and the application is that God's way of life is so plain and easy that a very slight attention, a passing glance, is sufficient to make it known to us. Now the passage is misquoted and utterly misapplied; it reads, "The Lord answered and said, write the vision and make it plain on tables, that he may run that readeth it;" not, he that runs may read, but he that reads may run. It is not easy to find and to walk in God's way of life now; "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." But if God has opened our eyes to see the way if he has made the "vision" plain to us in any part or degree, so that we can "read" it, the knowledge thus obtained does cause us to "run with patience the race set before us" that we may obtain "the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." The "vision" referred to here is in connection with the coming of the Lord as is clearly manifest by comparing Hab. 2:1-4 with Heb. 10:35-38.

     To strengthen the false application of the preceding text, Isa. 35:8, is sometimes quoted, where we read that God's way of life is "an highway" so plain that "the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein." In this application a very important principle of Bible interpretation is violated' Paul expresses it when he says to Timothy, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). This rule is of very great importance, though many entirely ignore it. Most Christians consider the Bible as all true now; they have no idea of different ages and dispensations each of which have their own special truths that will apply to no other period. All scripture is jumbled together, regardless of God's "times and seasons," and thus much of the force, and the true sense of Scripture is lost, and ofttimes persons are led thereby into grave and serious error. Now take the passage under consideration (Isa. 35:8), where does it belong? to the present time? to some time in the past? or to the future? Read the context in connection with the preceding chapter, and every one will see (unless he has a very vivid and inventive imagination) that the language cannot apply to the present time or to any time in the past, and that it must apply to some future time period; and the last verse clearly indicates that that future time is when Christ's kingdom is established on the earth. "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened . . . then shall the lame man leap as an hart" (verse 5 & 6), and THEN "an highway shall be there," &c. In the same way Rev. 22:17 is often misquoted and misapplied, "Whosoever will let him come," as though the passage applied to the present time and condition; now in the first place there is no such passage in the Bible; it reads "Whosoever will let him take the water of life freely;" in the second place the context plainly shows that the passage belongs in "the New heavens and earth" (compare 21:1,6; 22:1), now "No man can come except the Father draw him" (John 6:44).

     That class of Christians who are specially interested in the subject of holiness are very apt to violate this rule in their Bible references; they are so eager to find scriptures to make out their favorite doctrine that they search the Bible through with great diligence and any passage that has in it the expression, holiness, sanctification, perfection, or any other kindred word, is seized upon as a proof text, without the slightest regard to any indication in the context as to the proper time, place and persons of its application; for instance Ezek. 36:25, etc. is often quoted in this way: "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you; a new heart also will I give you," etc. This is a very favorite text to this class of Christians, and I have often heard it quoted to prove that the Christian should be clean, and holy, and perfect in this life. But it is grossly misapplied whenever it is thus quoted, and so plain is the true application from the context, that any one who misapplies it is thereby shown to be totally unable to "rightly divide the Word of truth." The place where, the time when and the persons to whom this passage applies is clearly stated in the chapter. When God's Israel are brought again to their own land, "THEN [and there] will he sprinkle clean water upon them," etc., it is "handling the word of God deceitfully" (though it may be unintentional) to thus wrench a passage out of its plain connection and to apply it anywhere, to any time, and to any person or persons according to the necessities of our creed or theory. Rather let us "Study to show ourselves approved unto God [whether we are approved of men or not], workmen that need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth."

     As a further illustration of this principle we will examine 1 Cor. 15:24-26. Most Christians reading this passage would think that "the end" referred to, is to be synchronous with the "coming" of  Christ; Jesus comes, and the end of all things earthly immediately follows, is the way this passage is commonly understood; and in accordance with this interpretation the passage is used to prove that there is no redemption, or mercy, or work of grace, or millennial reign after Christ comes; but his coming is simply to end all temporal things and to introduce an unchangeable eternity. But here again the Word is not rightly divided. "Then cometh the end;" when? What is the time referred to by the adverb "then"? The correlative of then is when, and the apostle goes right on to tell "when" the end comes; not at the coming of Christ, but "when he shall have put down all rule and all authority;" transpose the clauses, and read verses 25 and 26 parenthetically and the sense is plainly apparent; "Christ the first fruit afterward they that are Christ's at his coming, and when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God even the Father, when he shall have put down all rule and authority and power (for he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet, the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death), then cometh the end;" that is to say, the end cometh the end of the great redemptive work when, or after, Christ has reigned and "subdued all things unto himself" (Phil 3:21), and death, the last enemy, is destroyed. The word rightly divided is harmonious throughout, but if this principle is disregarded, confusion and error must ensue.

     Now we will notice another scripture that is very frequently misquoted. Hos. 4:9 is usually quoted, "like priest, like people," when the reading is just the other way about "like people, like priest;" and we have a similar statement in Isa. 24:2, "as with the people so with the priest.: Those who misquote it as above, do so to prove that the people will be like their priests, their religious teachers; this may be true but this is not the point that the prophet is aiming at, but rather the reverse of this, viz. that the priests, the religious teachers will be like the people, "like people, like priests," and this is a truth that is confirmed by other scriptures both in the Old and New Testament, and is plainly apparent in the days in which we live; see Isa. 30:8-11; 2 Tim. 4:2-4. In this respect as in commercial affairs, "supply and demand are equal." The people demand "smart" preachers who will "speak unto them smooth things," and here you have them in great abundance in the nominal Christian ministry of today to supply this demand; if only a rich "hire" (Mic. 3:11) and a good "pasture" (Jer. 23:1) be provided, the "clergy" will accommodate themselves in the unimportant matter of morals and religion to the fancy of the people. Truly, "like people, like priests."

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