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Two extremes are to be guarded against, a love of the fantastic and a prejudice against what is novel

September 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Just so far as we really value a spiritual interpretation of God’s Word will we abominate all counterfeits. Two extremes are to be guarded against, both by those who advance and those who receive some new explanation of a passage: a love of the fantastic and a prejudice against what is novel. There is a middle ground between hastily condemning or accepting, namely to weigh carefully and prayerfully what is presented, testing it by other passages and by our own experience. Doubtless most of us can recall some interpretations which were new, and which at first struck us as being “farfetched,” but which we now regard as sound and helpful. If the Holy Spirit had not informed us that Abraham’s two wives were figures of the two covenants (Galatians 4:24), and that the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 30:11-14, were to be understood spiritually of the righteousness of faith (Romans 10:6-9), we had considered such interpretations ridiculous. Remember that God grants light to one minister which He does not to another. Even though his explanation commend not itself to you at the moment, beware of rashly calling it “a perversion of the Scriptures,” lest the same is being blessed to some poor child of God whose heart is feeding on what your head rejects.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

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Every preacher needs to be constantly on his guard against substituting human ingenuity for the teaching of the Spirit

September 12, 2017 Leave a comment

THERE are certain types of mind, particularly the mystical and fanatical, which are prone to substitute fanciful concepts for spiritual interpretations. God’s Word requires to be handled with reverential fear, and with much prayer for discernment and guidance, lest we tread on holy ground with the shoes of carnal wisdom; or the novice, striving after originality, give rein to his imagination, instead of disciplining himself to adhere strictly to the Analogy of Faith. Every preacher needs to be constantly on his guard against substituting human ingenuity for the teaching of the Spirit. Satan has ever mimicked the operations of the Spirit, and counterfeited a spiritual opening up of the Scriptures by wild perversions thereof. An early instance of this is the Kabbala, which, though of great esteem among the Jews, abounds in the most absurd explanations of Holy Writ. The rash allegorizing of Origen is another example to be studiously avoided, for he twisted the plainest and simplest texts into the most grotesque shapes or meanings. The strange system of exegesis adopted by Swedenborg is yet another case in point. The imagination needs to be bridled by both a tender conscience and the spirit of a sound mind.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

Let us now illustrate from the history of Jonah as it spiritually portrays the experience of many a backslidden saint

September 5, 2017 Leave a comment

Let us now illustrate from the history of Jonah as it spiritually portrays the experience of many a backslidden saint. The Lord gave that prophet a commandment, but it was contrary to his natural inclinations. He disobeyed, seeking to flee “from the presence of the Lord”—yielding to self-will saps the spirit of prayer and relish for the Word. Jonah went down into a ship—seeking the things of the world. God began to chasten him, by sending out “a great wind into the sea” because of his disobedience. That ought to have spoken loudly to his conscience, but, alas, he was sound asleep. Jonah perceived not the first manifestation of the Divine displeasure, and therefore was not troubled over the same. So it is with a backslidden saint: conscience slumbers when God afflicts: he is too stupefied to “hear the rod.” But God would not allow Jonah to remain indifferent. He was rudely aroused from his slumbers by the shipmaster, lots were cast and it fell upon Jonah himself. His “cast me forth into the sea” (1:12) was the language of that despondency which comes upon one when he is made to reap the whirlwind. Yet God did not desert His wayward and despairing child: He “prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah”—supernaturally preserving him. The sequel is blessed: said the erring one, “I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and He heard me” (2:2); yes, and delivered him.

Such are, in their essential features, the usual experiences of a carnal believer who is determined to have his own way. In His lovingkindness the Lord disciplines such a one for his self-will and carnality. When he acts like “a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke” (Jeremiah 31:18), and follows a course of disobedience, God makes his self-pleasing plans to miscarry and prevents him reaching some Tarshish on which he set his heart. The Lord will not long suffer any of His own to do as they please. By the workings of His providence, a “great wind” comes and thwarts their desires and designs. If they fail to see God’s hand therein and do not penitently humble themselves beneath it, then His rod falls still more heavily upon them. Then it is that they cry unto Him in their affliction. Note how Jonah looked beyond all instruments and acknowledged, “Thou hast cast me into the deep” (2:3) and owned his folly (2:8). In his “I will pay that that I have vowed” (2:9) we behold him restored to a spirit of submission; while his “salvation is of the Lord” freely ascribes his recovery unto His goodness. Thus Jonah 1 and 2 contain a spiritual picture both of the trials of a froward saint and of the faithfulness and mercy of God in His dealings with him.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

A much more numerous class of passages, which also differ considerably from those already noticed, require our attention, namely those which delineate the ups and downs of the Christian life

Ere leaving this branch of our many-sided subject, a much more numerous class of passages, which also differ considerably from those already noticed, require our attention, namely those which delineate the ups and downs of the Christian life. Many of them are set forth in plain and literal terms, others in highly figurative or typical language. Still others are concealed behind historical transactions which were Divinely designed to shadow forth the trials and temptations, the backslidings and falls, the conflicts and chastenings, the hopes and disappointments, the revivings and recoverings of saints in this era. We have left these until the last, not because they are of lesser importance, but because they require a Divinely taught and mature expositor to deal with them. They call for one who is well acquainted with his own heart, both with the workings of corruption and the operations of grace therein, as well as one with a considerable knowledge of God’s “ways,” if he is to trace out the different experiences of His people as they are reflected in the Scriptures. It is comparatively easy to bring out the spiritual meaning of, say, Exodus 15:23-25, or of Psalm 23; but it is harder (though necessary) to do so with Psalm 38:9, 10; 63:1, 2; 107:17-20; Proverbs 24:30-34; Isaiah 17:10, 11; and Hosea 2:14, 15.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

In not a few instances the Scriptures possess both a literal and a mystical force: Example 11

One more illustration of this kind must suffice. When His disciples asked Christ, “Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?” He answered them, “Elias is come already,” and we are told,

“Then the disciples understood that He spake unto them of John the Baptist” (Matthew 17:10-13).

That is one of the passages which Theosophists appeal to in support of their belief in reincarnation, and if our Lord’s words are to he taken at their face value, then we should have to admit that they lend some color at least to that theory. Like the Dispensationalists of our day, the scribes were great sticklers for the letter of Scripture, and insisted that the Divine promise,

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5)

meant just what it said. Here is certainly another case in point where the interpreter is needed, carefully to compare Scripture with Scripture and bring out the spiritual purport of them. That John the Baptist was not the actual person of the Tishbite is quite clear from his own blank denial, for when he was asked, “Art thou Elias?” he expressly declared, “I am not” (John 1:21). The question therefore remains, What did our Lord signify when He said of His forerunner “Elias is come already”?

That Christ was uttering a profound truth, one which could be apprehended only by spiritual and Divinely enlightened souls, when He declared that John the Baptist was Elijah, is very evident from His words to the apostles in Matthew 11:13, 14,

“For all the prophets and the law were prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it [or “him”], this is Elias, which was for to come.”

Those words also contained an indirect rebuke of their carnal beliefs and sentiments respecting the expected kingdom of the Messiah: His added, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (v. 15) confirms what we have just pointed out, for that call was never made except when something difficult for the natural man to understand was in view. John the Baptist was rejected by Israel’s leaders. Herod had beheaded him, and Christ declared that He too should “suffer” (Matthew 17:12), and that was something which ill accorded with their views. A suffering Messiah, whose herald had been murdered, was difficult to harmonize with the teaching of the scribes concerning Malachi 4:5; yet there is nothing in that verse which should stumble us today, for our Lord has made its meaning quite clear.

In addition to the elucidation of Malachi 4:5, furnished above, it should be pointed out that the key passage which opens the mystery is Luke 1:17, where it was announced that John should go before Christ “in the spirit and power of Elias”—language which manifestly signifies that he was not a reincarnation of the Tishbite. The essential oneness of the two men in their character and work rendered the history of the earlier one a prophecy of the other. The latter appeared at a time when conditions were much the same as those which characterized the state of Israel in the days of Ahab. The resemblances between the two men are many and marked. John was essentially a preacher of repentance. He was a man of great austerity, garbed similarly to the prophet of Gilead. Real trial was made of his fidelity also by the hatred and persecution of the ungodly, but he was zealous for the Lord, both in reproving sin in high places and in seeking to bring about a reformation of his nation. Both his mission and his disposition were Elijah-like in character.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

In not a few instances the Scriptures possess both a literal and a mystical force: Example 10

There is another class of passages, somewhat different from those noticed above, which needs to be considered under this head of the spiritual import of verses in the Word. These may be suitably introduced by a statement in Revelation 11:8,

“And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.”

As might well be expected, even by those who have only a comparatively slight acquaintance with the numerous works on the Apocalypse, with their manifold interpretations, commentators differ widely in their explanations of this verse. We do not propose to add to their number by attempting to identify the “two witnesses” or to determine if the “great city” where they are slain is to be understood literally or symbolically, nor whether the reference be to some place or some thing in the past, the present, or the future, for such speculations possess no practical value, offering not the slightest aid in fighting the good fight of faith. It is sufficient for our present purpose simply to call the reader’s attention to the words we have italicized, and to point out how that clause establishes once more the principle of exegesis which we are here illustrating.

By saying that the “great city” of Revelation 11:8, is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, the Holy Spirit intimates that it is characterized by the same evils which Scripture teaches us to associate with those places, that the filthiness of Sodom and the harshness of Egypt, in embittering the lives of God’s people of old, marked the scene where the two witnesses testified for God and were slain for their fidelity. It is probable that the language of Revelation 11:8, contains a designed allusion to Ezekiel 16:44-59, where repeated mention is made of a mystical Sodom. “Mystical” we say, for when the Lord declared, “When I shall bring again their captivity, the captivity of Sodom and her daughters” (v. 53), and the question be asked whether there will yet be a restoring of the historical Sodom and the other cities of the plain, that is but to carnalize what is to be understood spiritually (by literalizing what is figurative), and would be to transfer the subject there spoken of from the moral government of God toward men, for the merely natural reign of the Divine providential arrangements respecting the material world.

When the Lord said to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,

“Thou art thy mother’s daughter, that lotheth her husband and her children.. your mother was an Hittite, and your father an Amorite” (Ezekiel 16:45),

He was charging them with being guilty of the same abominations that marked the original dwellers in Palestine, who at a very early date apostatized from God, being among the first idolators after the great deluge.

“As I live, saith the Lord God, Sodom thy sister hath not done, she nor her daughters, as thou hast done, thou and thy daughters. Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness” (16:48, 49). God spoke thus to the backslidden and corrupt Jewish nation because she trod the polluted way and imitated the sins of the ancient city of ill fame.

To designate the covenant people “Sodom,” because the state and manners of the one were identical with the other’s, was one of the most solemn and impressive ways that could be taken to describe their inveterate depravity and vile character. Clear, then, it is that “Hittite,” “Amorite” and “Sodom” in those verses are no more to be taken literally than is “David” in Ezekiel 34:23, or “Balaam” and “Jezebel” in Revelation 2:14, 20.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

In not a few instances the Scriptures possess both a literal and a mystical force: Example 9

Now as Christ announced the oneness which He would produce between the angels and His people by an allusion to Jacob’s vision, so He referred to paradise as “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22), and His apostle spoke of the new covenant (prefigured by Sarah) as

“Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Galatians 4:26)

and the New Testament saints as “the circumcision” (Philippians 3:3). In like manner (to return to Hebrews 12:22), when he said “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God” he referred to the spiritual “Sion,” or that blessed and glorious state into which believers have been called by the Gospel. That language looks back, of course, to the Old Testament, where (according to the different spellings in the Hebrew and Creek) it is called “Zion,” and which represented or exemplified the highest revelation of Divine grace in Old Testament times. It was the place of God’s habitation (Psalm 76:2). It was the object of God’s special love, and the birthplace of His elect:

“The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God…. And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her” (Psalm 87:2, 3, 5).

Salvation and all blessings proceed therefrom (Psalm 128:5; 134:3).

Zion was not only the site of the temple, but the seat from which David reigned and ruled over the kingdom of Israel, issuing his laws and extending the power of his government over the whole of the holy land. As such it adumbrated the Messiah’s kingdom. It is (in fulfillment of the Father’s promise) to the celestial Zion that the Lord Jesus has been exalted (Psalm 2:6, and cf. Hebrews 2:9), and there He sways His scepter over the hearts of His people. Zion is where the spiritual David is enthroned, and whence “the rod of His strength” goes out, not only in bringing His redeemed into willing subjection, but by ruling “in the midst of His enemies” (Psalm 60:2; Isaiah 2:3). Thus, in saying to believers of the Gospel, “Ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God,” the Holy Spirit assures them that they have been given a personal interest in all the goodly things said of Sion anywhere in the Scriptures: that the spiritual content of those good things belongs to the New Testament saints particularly, that they have access to the spiritual throne of the antitypical David—the throne of grace. Since

“all the promises of God in Him [Christ] are yea, and in Him Amen” (2 Corinthians 1:20),

then those in Christ have a right and title to all the glorious things spoken of Zion in the Old Testament. Compare Joshua 1:5, and Hebrews 13:5, 6, for an illustration of this principle.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures