In these articles we are seeking to show the use which believers should make of God's Word: or more particularly, how that it is both their privilege and their duty to receive the whole of it as addressed immediately unto themselves, and to turn the same unto practical account, by appropriating its contents to their personal needs. The Bible is a book which calls not so much for the exertion of our intellect as it does for the exercise of our affections, conscience and will. God has given it to us not for our entertainment but for our education, to make known what He requires from us. It is to be the traveler's guide as he journeys through the maze of this world, the mariner's chart as he sails the sea of life. Therefore, whenever we open the Bible, the all-important consideration for each of us to keep before him is, What is there here for me today? What bearing does the passage now before me have upon my present case and circumstances--what warning, what encouragement, what information? What instruction is there to direct me in the management of my business, to guide me in the ordering of my domestic and social affairs, to promote a closer walking with God?
I should see myself addressed in every precept, included in every promise. But it is greatly to be feared that, through failure to appropriate God's Word unto their own case and circumstances, there is much Bible reading and study which is of little or no real benefit to the soul. Nothing else will secure us from the infections of this world, deliver from the temptations of Satan, and be so effectual a preservative from sin, as the Word of God received into our affections. "The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide" (Ps. 37:31) can only be said of the one who has made personal appropriation of that Law, and is able to aver with the Psalmist, "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee" (119:11). Just so long as the Truth is actually working in us, influencing us in a practical way, is loved and revered by us, stirs the conscience, are we kept from falling into open sin--as Joseph was preserved when evilly solicited by his master's wife (Gen. 39:9). And only as we personally go out and daily gather our portion of manna, and feed upon the same, will there be strength provided for the performing of duty and the bringing forth of fruit to the glory of God.
Let us take Genesis 17:1 as a simple illustration. "And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be thou perfect" or "sincere." How is the Christian to apply such a verse unto himsel? First of all, let him note to whom this signal favour and honour was shown: namely to him who is the "father of all them that believe" (Rom. 4:11,12,16)--and he was the first person in the world to whom the Lord is said to have appeared! Second, observe when it was that Jehovah appeared unto him: namely in his old age, when nature's force was spent and death was written on the flesh. Third, mark attentively the particular character in which the Lord was now revealed to him: "the Almighty God," or more literally "El Shaddai"--"the all-sufficient God." Fourth, consider the exhortation which accompanied the same: "walk before Me, and be thou sincere." Fifth, ponder those details in the light of the immediate sequel; God's making promise that he should beget a son by Sarah, who was long past the age of child-bearing (verses 15-19). Everything that is for God must be effected by His mighty power: He can and must do everything--the flesh profits nothing, no movement of mere nature is of any avail.
Now as the believer ponders that memorable incident, hope should be inspired within him. El Shaddai is as truly his God as He was Abraham's! That is clear from 2 Corinthians 7:1, for one of those promises is, "I will be a Father unto you. . . .saith the Lord Almighty" (6:18), and from Revelation 1:8, where the Lord Jesus says unto the churches, "I am Alpha and Omega. . . .the Almighty." It is a declaration of His omnipotence, to whom all things are possible. "The all-sufficient God" tells of what He is in Himself--independent, self-existent; and what He is unto His people--the Supplier of their every need. When Christ said to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for thee," it was all one with what Jehovah said unto Abraham. Doubtless the Lord appeared unto the patriarch in visible (and human) form: He does so to us before the eyes of faith. Often He is pleased to meet with us in the ordinances of His grace, and send us on our way rejoicing. Sometimes He "manifests" Himself (John 14:21) to us in the retirements of privacy. Frequently He appears for us in His providences, showing Himself strong on our behalf. Now, says He, "Walk before Me sincerely" in the believing realization that I am all-sufficient for thee, conscious of My almightiness, and all will be well with thee.
Let us now adduce some of the many proofs of the assertions made in our opening sentences, proofs supplied by the Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus in the application which They made of the Scriptures. It is very striking indeed to discover that the very first moral commandment which God gave to mankind, namely that which was to regulate the marriage relationship, was couched in such terms that it comprehended a Divine law which is universally and perpetually binding: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh" (Gen. 2:24)--quoted by Christ in Matthew 19:5. "When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement" (Deut. 24:1). That statute was given in the days of Moses, nevertheless we find our Lord referring to the same and telling the Pharisees of His day, "For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept" (Mark 10:5).
The principle for which we are here contending is beautifully illustrated in Psalm 27:8, "When Thou saidst, Seek ye My face; my heart said unto Thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek." Thus David made particular what was general, applying to himself personally what was said to the saints collectively. That is ever the use each of us should make of every part of God's Word--as we see the Saviour in Matthew 4:7, changing the "ye" of Deuteronomy 6:16, to "thou." So again in Acts 1:20, we find Peter, when alluding to the defection of Judas, altering the "let their habitation" of Psalm 69:25, to "let his habitation be desolate." That was not taking an undue liberty with Holy Writ, but, instead, making a specific application of what was indefinite.
"Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king, and stand not in the place of great men: for better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen" (Prov. 25:6,7). Upon which Thomas Scott justly remarked, "There can be no reasonable doubt that our Lord referred to those words in His admonition to ambitious guests at the Pharisee's table (Luke 14:7-11), and was understood to do so. While, therefore, this gives His sanction to the book of Proverbs, it also shows that those maxims may be applied to similar cases, and that we need not confine their interpretation exclusively to the subject which gave rise to the maxims." Not even the presence of Christ, His holy example, His heavenly instruction, could restrain the strife among His disciples over which should be the greatest. Loving to have the pre-eminence (3 John 9,10) is the bane of godliness in the churches.
"I the Lord have called Thee. . . . and give Thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles"; "I will also give Thee for a light to the Gentiles, that Thou mayest be My salvation unto the end of the earth" (Isa. 42:6; 49:6). Those words were spoken by the Father unto the Messiah, yet in Acts 13:46,47 we find Paul saying of himself and Barnabas, "Lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so bath the Lord commanded us; saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth"! So again in Romans 10:15 we find the Apostle was inspired to make application unto Christ's servant of that which was said immediately of Him: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of Him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace" (Isa. 52:7): "How shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace" (Rom. 10:15). "He is near that justifieth Me. . . . who is he that shall condemn Me?" (Isa. 50:8,9): the context shows unmistakably that Christ is there the speaker, yet in Romans 8:33, 34 the Apostle hesitates not to apply those words unto the members of His body: "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?"
The unspeakably solemn commission given to Isaiah concerning his apostate generation (6:9,10) was applied by Christ to the people of His day, saying: "And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah" (Matt. 13:14,15). Again, in 29:13, Isaiah announced that the Lord said, "This people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour Me, but have removed their heart far from Me," while in Matthew 15:7 we find Christ saying to the scribes and Pharisees, "Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth," etc. Even more striking is Christ's rebuke unto the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection of the body, "Have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Matt. 22:31,32). What God spoke immediately to Moses at the burning bush was designed equally for the instruction and comfort of all men unto the end of the world. What the Lord has said unto a particular person, He says unto everyone who is favored to read His Word. Thus does it concern us to hear and heed the same, for by that Word we shall be judged in the last great day (John 12:48).
The fundamental principle for which we are here contending is plainly expressed again by Christ in Mark 13:37, "And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch." That exhortation to the Apostles is addressed directly to the saints in all generations and places. As Owen well said, "The Scriptures speak to every age, every church, every person, not less than to those to whom they were first directed. This showeth us how we should be affected in reading the Word: we should read it as a letter written by the Lord of grace from heaven, to us by name." If there be any books in the New Testament particularly restricted, it is the "pastoral Epistles," yet the exhortation found in 2 Timothy 2:19, is generalized: "Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity." Those who are so fond of restricting God's Word would say that, "Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (verse 3) is addressed to the minister of the Gospel, and pertains not to the rank and file of believers. But Ephesians 6:10-17 shows (by necessary implication) that it applies to all the saints, for the militant figure is again used, and used there without limitation. The Bullinger school insist that James and Peter--who gave warning of those who in the last time should walk after their own ungodly lusts--wrote to Jewish believers; but Jude (addressed to all the sanctified) declares they "told you" (verse 18).
"Ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord" (Heb. 12:5). That exhortation is taken from Proverbs 3:11, so that here is further evidence that the precepts of the Old Testament (like its promises) are not restricted unto those who were under the Mosaic economy, but apply with equal directness and force to those under the new covenant. Observe well the tense of the verb "which speaketh": though written a thousand years previously, Paul did not say "which hath spoken"--the Scriptures are a living Word through which their Author speaks today. Note too "which speaketh unto you"--New Testament saints: all that is contained in the book of Proverbs is as truly and as much the Father's instruction to Christians as the contents of the Pauline Epistles. Throughout that book God addresses us individually as "My son" (2:1; 3:1; 4:1; 5:1). That exhortation is as urgently needed by believers now as by any who lived in former ages. Though children of God, we are still children of Adam--willful, proud, independent, requiring to be disciplined, to be under the Father's rod, to bear it meekly, and to be exercised thereby in our hearts and consciences.
A word now upon transferred application, by which we mean giving a literal turn to language which is figurative, or vice versa. Thus, whenever the writer steps on to icy roads, he hesitates not to literalize the prayer, "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe" (Ps. 119:117). "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for Thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety" (Ps. 4:8) is to be given its widest latitude, and regarded at both the rest of the body under the protection of Providence and the repose of the soul in the assurance of God's protecting grace. In 2 Corinthians 8:14 Paul urges that there should be an equality of giving, or a fair distribution of the burden, in the collection being made to relieve the afflicted saints in Jerusalem. That appeal was backed up with, "As it is written, he that hath gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack." That is a reference to the manna gathered by the Israelites (Ex. 16:18): those who gathered the largest quantity had more to give unto the aged and feeble; so rich Christians should use their surplus to provide for the poor of the flock. But great care needs to be taken lest we clash with the Analogy of the Faith: thus "the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker" (2 Sam. 3:1) certainly does not mean that "the flesh" becomes enervated as the believer grows in grace, for universal Christian experience testifies that indwelling sin rages as vigorously at the end as at the beginning.
A brief word upon double application. Whereas preachers should ever be on their guard against taking the children's bread and casting it to the dogs, by applying to the unsaved promises given to or statements made concerning the saints; on the other hand, they need to remind believers of the continuous force of the Scriptures and their present suitability to their cases. For instance, the gracious invitation of Christ, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28), and "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink" (John 7:37), must not be limited to our first approach to the Saviour as lost sinners, but as 1 Peter 2:4 says, "to whom coming"--in the present tense. Note too the "mourn" and not "have mourned" in Matthew 5:4, and "hunger" in verse 6. In like manner, the self-abasing word, "Who maketh thee to differ!" (1 Cor. 4:7) today: first from the unsaved; second from what we were before the new birth; and third from other Christians with less grace and gifts. Why, a sovereign God, and therefore you have nothing to boast of and no cause for self-glorying.
A word now upon the Spirit's application of the Word unto the heart, and our task is completed. This is described in such a verse as, "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance" (1 Thess. 1:5). That is very much more than having the mind informed or the emotions stirred, and something radically different from being deeply impressed by the preacher's oratory, earnestness, etc. It is for the preaching of the Gospel to be accompanied by the supernatural operation of the Spirit, and the efficacious grace of God, so that souls are Divinely quickened, convicted, converted, delivered from the dominion of sin and Satan. When the Word is applied by the Spirit to a person, it acts like the entrance of a two-edged sword into his inner man, piercing, wounding, slaying his self-complacency and self-righteousness--as in the case of Saul of Tarsus (Rom. 7:9,10). This is the "demonstration of the Spirit" (1 Cor. 2:4), whereby He gives proof of the Truth by the effects produced in the individual to which it is sayingly applied, so that he has "much assurance"--i.e. he knows it is God's Word because of the radical and permanent change wrought in him.
Now the child of God is in daily need of this gracious working of the Holy Spirit: to make the Word work "effectually" (1 Thess. 2:13) within his soul and truly regulate his life, so that he can thankfully acknowledge, "I will never forget Thy precepts: for with them Thou hast quickened me" (Ps. 119:93). For that quickening it is his duty and privilege to pray (verses 25, 37, 40, 88, 107, 149, etc.). It is a fervent request that he may be "renewed day by day" in the inner man (2 Cor. 4:16), that he may be "strengthened with might by His Spirit" (Eph. 3:16), that he may be revived and animated to go in the path of God's commandments (Ps. 119:35). It is an earnest petition that his heart may be awed by a continual sense of God's majesty, and melted by a realization of His goodness, so that he may see light in God's light, recognizing the evil in things forbidden and the blessedness of the things enjoined. "Quicken Thou me" is a prayer for vitalizing grace, that he may be taught to profit (Isa. 48:17), for the increasing of his faith, the strengthening of his expectations, the firing of his zeal. It is equivalent to "draw me, we will run after Thee" (Song 1:4).