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The most essential qualification for understanding scripture is a mind illumined by the Spirit

September 16, 2014 1 comment

Arthur PinkHere, then, is the first and most essential qualification for understanding and interpreting the Scriptures, namely a mind illumined by the Holy Spirit. The need for this is fundamental and universal. Of the Jews we are told,

“But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart” (2 Corinthians 3:15).

Though the Old Testament be deeply venerated and diligently studied by the “orthodox” section, yet is its spiritual purport unperceived by them. Such also is the case with the Gentiles. There is a veil of ill will over the heart of fallen man for “the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Romans 8:7). There is a veil of ignorance over the mind. As a child may spell out the letters and learn to pronounce words the sense of which he apprehends not, so we may ascertain the literal or grammatical meaning of this Word and yet have no spiritual knowledge of it, and thus belong to that generation of whom it is said

“hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive” (Matthew 13:14).

There is a veil of prejudice over the affections.

“Our hearts are overcast with strong affections of the world, and so cannot clearly judge practical truth” (Manton).

That which conflicts with natural interests and calls for the denying of self is unwelcome. There is a veil of pride which effectually prevents us seeing ourselves in the mirror of the Word.

Now that veil is not completely removed from the heart at regeneration, hence our vision is yet very imperfect and our capacity to take in the Truth unto spiritual profit very inconsiderable. In his first epistle to the Corinthian church the apostle said,

“If any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know” (8:2).

It is a great mercy when the Christian is made to realize that fact. So long as he remains in this evil world and the corrupt principle of the flesh continues in him, the believer needs to be led and taught by the Spirit. This is very evident from the case of David, for while he declared, “I have more understanding than all my teachers,” yet we find him praying to God,

“Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law…. Teach me, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes…. Give me understanding” (Psalm 119:18, 33, 34).

Observe that the Psalmist did not complain at the obscurity of God’s Law, but realized the fault was in himself. Nor did he make request for new revelations (by dreams or visions), but instead a clearer sight of what was already revealed. Those who are the best and longest taught are always readiest to sit at the feet of Christ and learn of Him (Luke 10:39).

It is to be duly noted that the verb in Psalm 119:18, literally signifies “uncover, unveil mine eyes,” which confirms our opening sentence in the last paragraph. God’s Word is a spiritual light objectively, but to discern it aright there needs to be sight or light subjectively, for it is only by and in His light that “we see light” (Psalm 36:9). The Bible is here termed “God’s Law” because it is clothed with Divine authority, uttering the mandates of His will. It contains not so much good advice, which we are free to accept at our pleasure, but imperious edicts which we reject at our peril. In that Word are “wondrous things” which by the use of mere reason we cannot attain unto. They are the riches of Divine wisdom, which are far above the compass of man’s intellect. Those “wondrous things” the believer longs to behold or clearly discern, yet is he quite unable to do so without Divine assistance. Therefore, he prays that God will so unveil his eyes that he may behold them to good purpose, or apprehend them unto faith and obedience— i.e., understand them practically and experientially in the way of duty.

“Behold, God exalteth [elevates the soul above the merely natural] by His power: who teacheth like Him?” (Job 36:22). None; when He instructs, He does so effectually.

“I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go” (Isaiah 48:17):

that is what His “teaching” consists of—a producing of pious conduct. It is not merely an addition being made to our mental store, but a bestirring of the soul to holy activity. The light which He imparts warms the heart, fires the affections. So far from puffing up its recipient, as natural knowledge does, it humbles. It reveals to us our ignorance and stupidity, shows us our sinfulness and worthlessness, and makes the believer little in his own eyes. The Spirits’ teaching also gives us clearly to see the utter vanity of the things highly esteemed by the unregenerate, showing us the transitoriness and comparative worthlessness of earthly honors, riches and fame, causing us to hold all temporal things with a light hand. The knowledge which God imparts is a transforming one, making us to lay aside hindering weights, to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. Beholding the glory of the Lord we are

“changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The very character of Divine teaching demonstrates how urgent is our need of the same. It consists very largely in overcoming our native antipathy for and hostility to Divine things. By nature we have a love of sin and hatred of holiness (John 3:19), and that must be effectually subdued by the power of the Spirit ere we desire the pure milk of the Word—observe what has to be laid aside before we can receive with meekness the ingrafted Word (James 1:21; 1 Peter 2:1); though it be our duty, only He can enable us to perform it. By nature we are proud and independent, self-sufficient and confident in our own powers. That evil spirit clings to the Christian to the end of his pilgrimage, and only the Spirit of God can work in him that humility and meekness which are requisite if he is to take the place of a little child before the Word. The love of honor and praise among men is another corrupt affection of our souls, an insuperable obstacle to the admission of the Truth (John 5:44; 12:43), which has to be purged out of us. The fierce and persistent opposition made by Satan to prevent our apprehension of the Word (Matthew 13:19; 2 Corinthians 4:4) is far too powerful for us to resist in our own strength; none but the Lord can deliver us from his evil suggestions and expose his lying sophistries.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

There are multitudes of unregenerate religionists who are well versed in the letter of Scripture

September 9, 2014 1 comment

Arthur PinkNor does the Holy Spirit’s teaching of the individual Christian by any means set aside or render him independent of making diligent and conscientious use of the ministry of the pulpit, for that is an important means appointed by God for the edifying of His people. There is a happy medium between the attitude of the Ethiopian eunuch who, when asked, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” replied, “How can I, except some man should guide me?” (Acts 8:30, 31), and the wrong use made of “ye need not that any man teach you” (1 John 2:27) — between a slavish reliance upon human instruments and a haughty independence of those whom Christ has called and qualified to feed His sheep. “Yet is not their understanding of the Truth, their apprehension of it, and faith in it, to rest upon or to be resolved into their authority, who are not appointed of God to be ‘lords of their faith,’ but ‘helpers of their joy’ (2 Corinthians 1:24). And therein depends all our interest in that great promise that we shall be ‘all taught of God,’ for we are not so, unless we do learn from Him those things which He has revealed in His Word” (John Owen).

“And all Thy children shall be taught of the Lord” (Isaiah 54:13, and cf. John 6:45).

This is one of the great distinguishing marks of the regenerate. There are multitudes of unregenerate religionists who are well versed in the letter of Scripture, thoroughly acquainted with the history and the doctrines of Christianity, but their knowledge came only from human media—parents, Sunday school teachers, or their personal reading. Tens of thousands of graceless professors possess an intellectual knowledge of spiritual things which is considerable, sound, and clear; yet they are not Divinely taught, as is evident from the absence of the fruits which ever accompany the same. In like manner, there are a great number of preachers who abhor the errors of Modernism and contend earnestly for the Faith. They were taught in Bible institutes or trained in theological seminaries, yet it is greatly to be feared that they are total strangers to a supernatural work of grace in their souls, and that their knowledge of the Truth is but a notional one, unaccompanied by any heavenly unction, saving power, or transforming effects. By diligent application, and personal effort one may secure a vast amount of scriptural information, and become an able expositor of the Word; but he cannot obtain thereby a heart-affecting and heart-purifying knowledge thereof. None but the Spirit of Truth can write God’s Law on my heart, stamp His image on my soul, sanctify me by the Truth.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

Without the Spirit one is not lead and guided into all truth

September 2, 2014 3 comments

Arthur PinkSince the imagination of man, like all the other faculties of his moral being, is permeated and vitiated by sin, the ideas it suggests, even when pondering the Divine oracles, are prone to be mistaken and corrupt. It is part of our sinful infirmity that we are unable of ourselves to interpret God’s Word aright; but it is part of the gracious office of the Holy Spirit to guide believers into the truth, thereby enabling them to apprehend the Scriptures. This is a distinct and special operation of the Spirit on the minds of God’s people, whereby He communicates spiritual wisdom and light unto them, and which is necessary unto their discerning aright the mind of God in His Word, and also their laying hold of the heavenly things found therein. “A distinct operation” we say, by which we mean something ab extra or over and above His initial work of quickening; for while it be a blessed fact that at regeneration He has

“given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true” (1 John 5:20),

yet more is needed in order for us to

know the things that are freely given to us of God” (1 Corinthians 2:12).

This is evident from the case of the apostles, for though they had companied and communed with Christ for the space of three years, yet we are informed that, at a later date,

“Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45).

How what has been just alluded to should impress the Christian himself with the need for holy caution when reading the Word, lest he wrest its contents unto his own injury! How it should humble him before its Author and make him realize his utter dependence upon Him! If the new birth were sufficient of itself to capacitate the believer to grasp Divine things, the apostle had never made request for the Colossian saints that they “might be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (1:9), nor would he have said to his son in the faith, “the Lord give thee understanding in all things” (2 Timothy 2:7). There never was a more foolish notion or pernicious idea entertained than that the holy mysteries of the Gospel so lie within the province of human reason that they may be known profitably and practically without the effectual aid of the blessed Spirit of Truth. Not that He instructs us in any other way than by and through our reason and understanding, for then we should be reduced to irrational creatures; but that He must enlighten our minds, elevate and direct our thoughts, quicken our affections, move our wills, and thereby enable our understandings, if we are to apprehend spiritual things.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

Much Bible reading and Bible study of the last few years has been of no spiritual profit to those engaged in it

August 26, 2014 1 comment

Arthur PinkWe will repeat here what we wrote in Studies in the Scriptures twenty years ago. “There is grave reason to believe that much Bible reading and Bible study of the last few years has been of no spiritual profit to those engaged in it. Yea, we go farther: we greatly fear that in many instances it has proved a curse rather than a blessing. This is strong language, we are well aware, but no stronger than the case calls for. Divine gifts may be misused and Divine mercies abused. That this has been so in the present instance is evidenced by the fruits produced. Even the natural man can (and often does) take up the study of the Scriptures with the same enthusiasm and pleasure as he might one of the sciences. Where this is the case, his store of knowledge is increased, and so also is his pride. Like a chemist engaged in making interesting experiments, the intellectual searcher of the Word is quite elated when he makes some new discovery, yet the joy of the latter is no more spiritual than would be that of the former. So, too, just as the success of the chemist generally increases his sense of self-importance and causes him to look down upon those more ignorant than himself, such alas, has been the case with those who have investigated the subjects of Bible numerics, typology, prophecy….”

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

The Holy Spirit explains the meaning of certain words, yet they are unintelligible to the natural man

August 19, 2014 1 comment

Arthur PinkIN the previous chapter we sought to show the need for interpretation, that it devolves upon us to ascertain the import of what is meant by every sentence of Holy Writ. What God has said to us is of inestimable importance and value, yet what profit can we derive therefrom unless its significance is clear to us? The Holy Spirit has given us more than a hint of this by explaining the meaning of certain words. Thus, in the very first chapter of the New Testament it is said of Christ,

“they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

And again,

“We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ”—margin “the Anointed” (John 1:43). Again,

“And they bring Him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull” (Mark 15:22).

Yet again

“Melchisedec, king of Salem… first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace” (Hebrews 7:1, 2).

Those expressions make it clear that it is essential that we should understand the sense of each word used in the Scriptures. God’s Word is made up of words, yet they convey nothing to us while they remain unintelligible. Hence, to ascertain the precise import of what we read should be our first concern.

Before setting forth some of the rules to be observed and the principles to be employed in the interpretation of Scripture, we would point out various things which require to be found in the would he interpreter himself. Good tools are indeed indispensable for good workmanship, but the best of them are to little purpose in the hands of one who is unqualified to use them. Methods of Bible study are only of relative importance; but the spirit in which it is studied is all-important. It calls for no argument to prove that a spiritual book calls for a spiritually minded reader, for

“the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned”(1 Corinthians 2:14).

God’s Word is a revelation of things which affect our highest interests and everlasting welfare, and it demands both implicit and cordial acceptance. Something more than intellectual training is required: the heart must be right as well as the head. Only where there is honesty of soul and spirituality of heart will there be clearness of vision to perceive the Truth; only then will the mind be capable of discerning the full import of what is read, and understand not only the bare meaning of its words, but the sentiments they are designed to convey, and a suitable response be made by us.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

Interpretation is needed for the inserting of an explanatory word in some passages

August 12, 2014 1 comment

Arthur PinkThird, interpretation is needed for the inserting of an explanatory word in some passages. Thus in

“Thou art of purer eyes than to [approvingly] behold evil, and canst not [condoningly] look on iniquity” (Habakkuk 1:13).

Some such qualifying terms as these are required, otherwise we should make them contradict such a verse as

“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3).

God never beholds evil with complacency, but He does to requite it. Once more.

“For who hath resisted His [secret or decretive] will?” (Romans 9:19);

“neither did according to His [revealed or preceptive] will” (Luke 12:47)

—unless those distinctions be made Scripture would contradict itself. Again, “Blessed are they that [evangelically, i.e., with genuine desire and effort] keep His testimonies” (Psalm 119:2)—for none do so according to the strict rigor of His Law.

For our concluding example of the need for interpretation let us take a very familiar and simple verse:

“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Does that “say what it means”? Certainly, says the reader; and the writer heartily agrees. But are you sure that you understand the meaning of what it says? Has Christ undergone no change since the days of His flesh? Is He the same absolutely today as He was yesterday? Does He still experience bodily hunger, thirst, and weariness? Is He still in “the form of a servant,” in a state of humiliation, “the Man of sorrows”? Interpretation is here obviously needed, for there must be a sense in which He is still “the same.” He is unchanged in His essential Person, in the exercise of His mediatorial office, in His relation unto and attitude toward His Church—loving them with an everlasting love. But He has altered in His humanity, for that has been glorified; and in the position which He now occupies (Matthew 28:18; Acts 2:36). Thus the best known and most elementary verses call for careful examination and prayerful meditation in order to arrive at the meaning of their terms.

 

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

Interpretation is necessary in order that the proper meaning of a word be understood in each verse of scripture

August 5, 2014 1 comment

Arthur PinkSecond, interpretation is necessary to prevent our being misled by the mere sound of words. How many have formed wrong conceptions from the language used in different verses through their failure to understand its sense. To many it appears impious to place a different meaning upon a term than what appears to be its obvious signification; yet a sufficient warning against this should be found in the case of those who have so fanatically and stubbornly adhered to Christ’s words, “this [unleavened bread] is My body,” refusing to allow that it must mean “this represents My body” — as “the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are [i.e. symbolize] the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20). The error of Universalism, based upon indefinite terms being given an unlimited meaning, points further warning. Arminianism errs in the same direction.

“That He by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9)

no more included Cain, Pharaoh and Judas than “every man” is to be understood absolutely in Luke 16:16; Romans 12:3; 1 Corinthians 4:5; and “all men” in 1 Timothy 2:4, 6, is no more to be taken as meaning all without exception than it is in Luke 3:15; John 3:26; Acts 22:15.

“Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations” (Genesis 6:9). Of Job, too, it is said that he was “perfect and upright” (1:1). How many have allowed themselves to be misled by the sound of those words. What false concepts have been formed of their import! Those who believe in what they term “the second blessing” or “entire sanctification” consider they confirm their contention that sinless perfection is attainable in this life. Yet such a mistake is quite inexcusable, for what is recorded very soon afterwards of those men shows plainly they were very far from being without moral defect: the one becoming intoxicated, the other cursing the day of his birth. The word “perfect” in those and similar passages signifies “honest, sincere,” being opposed to hypocrisy. “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect” (1 Corinthians 2:6). There, and in Philippians 3:15, the word signifies “mature”—compare “of full age” in Hebrews 5:14—as distinct from infantile.

“I will make drunk her princes, and her wise men.. and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the King, whose name is the Lord of hosts” (Jeremiah 51:57).

Those words are cited by gross materialists, who believe in the annihilation of the souls of the wicked. They need not detain us long, for the language is plainly figurative. God was about to execute judgment upon the pride of Babylon, and as a historical fact that mighty city was captured while its king and his courtiers were in a drunken stupor, being slain therein, so that they awoke no more on earth. That “perpetual sleep” cannot be understood literally and absolutely is evident from other passages which expressly announce the resurrection of the wicked—Daniel 12:2; John 6:29.

“He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel” (Numbers 23:21).

How often those words have been regarded absolutely, without any regard to their context. They were a part of Balaam’s explanation to Balak, why he could not curse Israel so that they should be exterminated by the Midianites. Such language did not mean that Israel was in a sinless state, but that up to that time they were free from any open rebellion against or apostasy from Jehovah. They had not been guilty of any heinous offense like idolatry. They had conducted themselves as to be unfit for cursing and cutting off. But later the Lord did see “perverseness” in Israel, and commissioned Babylon to execute His judgment upon them (Isaiah 10). It is unwarrantable to apply this relative statement to the Church absolutely, for God does “behold iniquity” in His children, as His chastening rod demonstrates; though He imputes it not unto penal condemnation.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

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