The Spirit of the Word


     A sister asks, "What do you think about Satan? I have long disbelieved in his personality, but I judge you deem him a fallen spirit; please explain."

     I think the Bible clearly teaches that Satan is a personality; and I have no difficulty in accepting this view, seeing, as I believe I do, the true purpose of evil. Satan is one of God's servants to do his will like the unfallen angels, as I have shown in 1-8-169. If I accepted the orthodox view if for instance I believed as the brother does whom I answered in the preceding paper (page 224, &c.), then I should endeavor by all means, if possible, to destroy the personality of the devil; for if he is a person, according to that view, he would be a powerful rival of Jehovah, and in some respects equal and even superior to Him; but with the true idea of God's plan, the purpose of evil, etc., I can accept the personality of the devil as readily as the personality of God or the angels. By the way, I have never seen an argument against the personality of Satan, that would not, if logically carried out, destroy the personality of God, of angels, and of all spirit existences. If the word devil is simply a modification of the word evil, and only an imaginary personality, then is not the word God a modification of the word good, representing no personal existence whatever? If some one will send me an argument that Satan is not a person, that does not destroy also the personality of other spirit beings I shall be glad to consider it.

     In this connection I will notice another criticism from a brother in reference to the pre-existence of Christ; in opposition to that truth, and in criticism of 1-3-49, he makes this remark, "The Preexistence of Christ! something pre-existed, but not a personality." The brother must have read my article very carelessly if he thinks that I hold that Christ had an impersonal pre-existence; to my mind such an idea is the same as saying that he had no pre-existence at all. I believe the Bible most positively teaches that Christ had a personal pre-existence; but it tells us very little about that pre-existent state, hence we must leave the details of that condition among "the secret things that belong unto the Lord our God (Deut. 29:29).

     A brother takes exceptions to the statement made in the paper that all scripture has a spiritual meaning; he says, "I utterly deny that all scripture has a hidden meaning;" and then he goes on to say that the Old Testament prophecies have a hidden meaning and should be taken in their most obvious sense; "this is a general rule," he says; and he continues, "we have no right to suppose another hidden meaning in the prophetic writings beneath the meaning brought out by the preaching and  writing of the apostles."

     I have already referred to this brother's objection and partially answered it in 1-9-211, q.v. I refer to it again, in order to bring out one or two other points in connection with it. This principle of the spiritual import of Scripture is by far the most important of all the rules of Bible interpretation; and as the elucidation of this principle is the specific object of the paper, I shall take occasion to introduce the subject very frequently.

     To the last statement quoted above I would fully agree; when the New testament explains Old Testament scripture it is final; and yet the explanation cannot be understood without spiritual discernment. It is not true, however, as this brother declares in substance, that though the Old Testament has a hidden meaning the New Testament has not, but must be taken in its most obvious and surface sense as "a general rule." In regard to Christ's teachings he himself expressly tells us, "It is the spirit that giveth life; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life." And we know that he spoke in parables and figures in order that the majority of the people might not understand the deepest truths, "the mysteries of the kingdom." In the apostles' writings we find the same principle plainly apparent and expressly declared, as in the case of the Lord Jesus. Read 1 Cor. 2. In this chapter the apostle declares that his teaching and preaching had a spiritual or "hidden" meaning. He says, "We speak wisdom among them that are perfect, yet not the wisdom of this world; but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom." He goes on to tell us that the "things which God hath prepared for them that love him" are revealed to us "by the spirit," which searcheth all things, yea the deep things of God; which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the holy spirit teacheth, interpreting spiritual things to spiritual men [N. V., margin]; but that natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual, discerneth (understands) all things [compare 1 John 2:20, 27], but he himself is discerned (understood) of no man; for who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ." If this passage does not teach that there is a spirit to the apostle's words, as there was to Christ's, that there is a "hidden" meaning "the wisdom of God in a mystery" in his writings, then I know not how that idea could be expressed in human language. Why is it that the apostle's words, spoken according to "the wisdom which the holy spirit teacheth," could not be understood by the "natural man"? (1-1-4) the apostle himself answers the question; "Because they are spiritually discerned." There is a "hidden wisdom" to these words that only the "spiritually minded" can comprehend. Furthermore, Peter, referring to Paul's writings on the subject of Christ's second coming, says, "Even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him [the hidden wisdom] hath written unto you; as also in his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." If we look over Paul's writings and notice what he has given us on the subjects to which Peter refers we shall not find anything very "hard to be understood" if we take only the letter; any one could understand the words and the literal sense without any trouble at all. But there is a "mystery" to Paul's writings, a "hidden wisdom," and it is this that the "unlearned" cannot comprehend; the "unlearned" are those "that have need of milk and not of strong meat, being unskillful in the world's righteousness, for they are babes" (Heb. 5:11-14). "Whom shall the Lord teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk and drawn from the breasts." (Isa. 28:9; read the whole chapter). Milk is good for babes, "But strong meat [the Spirit of the Word] belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."

     Now a word further as to what is meant by the spirit of the word. The spirit of the word is the intended meaning in contradistinction to the apparent meaning or meanings. We use the same expression in regard to a law; we speak of the letter of the law and the spirit of it, and sometimes it is said that a certain person has broken the letter of the law but not the spirit, or vice versa. Now I will give an illustration; I remember reading once that many years ago a colossal statue or column was to be erected; it had been wrought out of solid stone, at immense expense and prodigious labor, and now it was finished and was to be erected upon its pedestal; it was a great undertaking; extraordinary preparations were made for its successful accomplishment; a lofty and ponderous derrick was set up with blocks and falls and every precaution taken taken to insure success; the architect was very anxious about the result, as his reputation was at stake, and as a final precaution a law was made that no one of the vast multitude who had assembled to witness the operation should utter a single word or sound on pain of a very severe penalty. All things were ready at last and the important work began in the midst of the almost breathless silence of the assembled throng; everything proceeded well and the enormous mass rose steadily inch by inch until it was nearly erect, when, to the dismay of workmen and spectators, the hoisting blocks came together and the statue could not be raise another inch. The rope used was new, and not enough allowance had been made for its stretching, and there the enormous mass hung in momentary danger of falling, as it seemed. What was to be done? a murmur of horror arose from the multitude which was sternly suppressed by the officers in charge; the architect was almost n despair, while the workmen looked on in blank dismay, when suddenly a voice rang out on the startled multitude, "Water!" a sailor in the audience had been an intensely interested spectator up to the time of the unexpected interruption; he it was who made the cry; the hint was at once taken; water was brought and thrown upon the ropes and their shrinkage under this treatment was sufficient to bring the statue to an erect position; and now what was to be done to the sailor who had uttered the one word that had probably averted a terrible disaster, but in so doing had broken the law and was liable to the severe penalty? The authorities decided that although the man had broken the letter of the law yet he had not transgressed its spirit, i.e. its real intention; the law had been made in order to facilitate the accomplishment of the important work, and to guard against any possible distraction, delay or confusion that might be occasioned by outcries from the spectators; its real intention and purpose of the law the sailor had advanced more than any other person, hence, although he had broken the law in its letter he had contributed more to the carrying out of its spirit than all the rest; the penalty, therefore, was remitted, and instead thereof the man was munificently rewarded. In this historical incident we have an illustration of the letter and the spirit as applied to human laws and regulations;  the letter is the outward form, the spirit is the inward substance, the real purpose and intention expressed under that form; the form is of minor importance, and may be changed or modified to any extent, provided the real purpose is carried out.

     One more illustration in order to make this point very plain to everyone. A general was sent off with a division of an army to occupy a certain position; in his route was a river, over which was a bridge, and his written instructions were that he should cross this bridge; but when they arrived at the river the engineers pronounced the bridge unsafe for the passage of the army with their heavy wagon train of ponderous artillery; not far from the bridge, however, a place was discovered where the river was readily fordable, and where the surroundings were such as to make it perfectly feasible to take the whole army across; the general accordingly took the responsibility of disobeying the letter of his instructions, took his army across the ford and proceeded on his way. Afterward he was called to account for this infraction of discipline, but was entirely exonerated on the ground that he had perfectly obeyed the spirit of the command of his superior; the real intention of the order was to get the army across the river; this intention the general in command carried out perfectly and wisely though he transgressed the letter of the command.

     Here then we have letter and spirit illustrated. Now apply this to God's law, God's book of instructions, and we shall find that the letter and the spirit is the same in their nature and their relation as in human law. The letter is the outward form of the word, its dress, its surface meaning, its "most obvious sense," its apparent significance. The spirit is the substance, its real meaning, purpose and intention, and this of course is the most important; the letter is important because it is through the form that we arrive at the substance, but it is important on no other account; the letter is a means to an end; if we stop at the means and never arrive at the end, of course we fail to derive the benefit intended through the letter, and thus "that which is good, [if properly used] is made death unto us" because of our misuse; "the letter kills."

     Now if in reference to any portion of God's Word we can learn what God's intention was when he spake thus by the holy spirit, then we have the spirit of that word and may proceed to carry it out accordingly. There may be a half dozen or more possible ways of understanding a passage; each one may be able to harmonize it with their particular creed, no matter how contradictory the creeds may be, But the real lover of the truth will not seek to harmonize the passage with a creed, or to prop up thereby come preconceived notion, but his sole inquiry will be, "What is the mind of God in this passage?" If he can only learn that, he disregards all other possible explanations and acts entirely on the spirit of the word. If a monarch should make a law, and those whose duty it was to carry it out should find that the wording of the law was obscure or capable of several meanings, they would refer to the king in order that he might explain his real intention; and when that explanation was received the officers would proceed to carry it pit without troubling themselves further about any other construction that might be put upon the verbal expression of the law; they know what the king's real intention was when he made the law; this is the real purpose or spirit of it, and no matter though the wording might be so ambiguous as t be capable of a dozen other meanings, they have nothing to do with anything but the spirit of the law. So with the word of God; the spirit of that word is the all important thing, that is to say, we need to learn God's thoughts, his mind, his intentions and purposes, "the end of the Lord" (Jas. 5:11).

     Now another thought. The letter of the word sometimes expresses the spirit as near as it can be expressed in human language; and sometimes the spirit of the word is something altogether different from the letter. I have already referred to this point in 1-9-211, and refer to it again now simply because I wish to call attention to an important difference between God's word and man's laws and regulations. Men usually try to make their laws plain and clear so that there may not be any possibility of a misunderstanding; they do not always succeed in this endeavor but this is what they strive for. On the other hand God's word is purposely obscure and ambiguous. The truth is given in parables and dark sayings, hidden away under figures, allegories and types, in order that it may not be understood except by the chosen few to whom "it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom." That this is so is the plain teaching of the word, as has been noticed again and again in this paper. That it should be so seems strange and unaccountable to many Christians: but that is because they do not understand "God's plan of creation," nor the purpose of probation. God's plan of creation is to bring mankind to his own image and likeness through various ages, "the times of restitution," and in different "orders" (1 Cor. 15:23). By means of Christ and the saints, "the promised seed," which is the first order or "first fruit," other orders of the race will be saved in "the ages to come." During this age this first order is being perfected; hence to them it is given to understand the mysteries; others do not have this light, not because God is unjust and impartial, but because, so to speak, their turn has not yet come. "God will have all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth;" "but every man in his own order;" others will have the light in due time. The purpose of probation is not to give man an opportunity to escape hell, as very many Christians seem to believe; but it is for training, discipline, education; hence things are so arranged that those who are undergoing their trial shall get this training and education. It is not so important in this time of probation that we should get a certain amount of truth, as it is that we should be trained, disciplined and developed in spiritual things, until we come in the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to the perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;" and one of the means that God uses for this training and development is the spiritual character of the word (see 1-9-214); the effort we must make in order to "find" the truth (Prov. 2:1-9) covered up and his away as it is, and with all the adverse influences of error around us, is the one great means that God uses for our spiritual development.

     I will illustrate. A farmer has one hundred and fifty sheep; neighbor Jones has fifty sheep; the farmer's little boy knows how many sheep his father has but he does not know how many Mr. Jones has, so he asks his father "How many sheep has Mr. Jones?" The father replies, "If neighbor Jones had half as many more sheep as he has, he would then have half as many sheep as I have." The boy is puzzled; he does not like the answer; he would rather his father would tell him in plain language; but the father says, "Figure it out, figure it out," and leaves him. The boy does figure it out, after much thought and study, and, with the air of a conqueror shows the correct result to his father, who is proud of his boy and says, "Well done." Now the benefit that boy has received from the studying out of the problem is far greater than any he could derive from simply knowing how many sheep neighbor Jones has. Had the father told the boy directly he would simply have had the information he asked for. But the father told him in such a way that in addition to that information the boy gets something that is far more valuable, viz., a certain amount of mental training and development. So in God's economy. The truth is hidden away, and the obstacles in the way of its possession are numerous and great, so that the spiritual training we obtain in overcoming these obstacles, and in searching for this "hid treasure," is very potent to advance us on in the divine way; and this spiritual training is after all the main purpose of our probation. It is not the amount of truth we have that will save us, but it is  "the love of the truth" (see 2 Thess. 2:10); and it is this love of the truth that will incite us to search for it, and in the search we receive that spiritual development that shall fit us for "an abundant entrance into the ├Žonial kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." Thus "all things are for your sakes" (2 Cor. 4:15); the trials and afflictions, the reproaches and shame, the pain and the suffering, the obstacles and difficulties, the straitness of the gate, and the narrowness of the way these are the very things that God uses to bring you at last to the condition of the Perfect Man. "All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours; and ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's."

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