The Unity of Revelation. 1 "Known unto God are all his Works from the Beginning of the World;" and Therefore they Constitute Together a Self-Consistent Whole.
CHAPTER XXXVI. THE UNITY OF REVELATION.1. "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world;" and therefore they constitute together a self-consistent whole. To receive the Holy Scriptures as containing a revelation from God is to acknowledge that they possess an essential and all-pervading unity. Whoever speaks timidly and hesitatingly of the essential harmony between the Old Testament and the New, either refuses to acknowledge both as given by inspiration of God, or he apprehends this great fundamental truth only in a confused and imperfect manner. If God spake by Moses and the prophets, as well as by Christ and his apostles, it is vain to allege any contradiction in doctrine or spirit between the former and the latter. So absolutely certain is it that the Saviour and his apostles built on the foundation of the Old Testament, that to deny its divine authority is to deny that of the New Testament also.2. But the unity of revelation, like that which pervades all the other works of God, is a unity in the midst of diversity -- diversity in its contemporaneous parts, but especially in its progress. Illustrations without number are at hand. The history of a plant of wheat, from the time when the kernel is sown in the earth to the harvest, has perfect unity of plan. But how unlike in outward form are the tender blade, the green stalk, and the ripened ear! The year constitutes a self-consistent whole. But can any thing be more dissimilar in form than spring and autumn? Yet no one thinks of finding a want of harmony between the fragrant blossoms of the former, and the ripened fruit of the latter. The path to the harvest lies through the blossoms. Geologists dwell at great length on the varied conditions through which our planet has passed, and the wonderfully diversified forms of vegetable and animal life corresponding to these several conditions. Yet in this endless diversity of outward form they recognize from first to last a deep underlying unity of plan. We might, then, reasonably infer beforehand that if God should make a revelation of himself to men, it would have not only unity but diversity of outward form, especially diversity of progress. The fact that the revelation contained in the Bible has such diversity is one of the seals of its genuineness.3. We may consider this unity in diversity in respect to the form of God's kingdom. From Adam to Abraham God administered the affairs of the human family as a whole, without any visible organization of a church as distinct from the world at large. From Abraham to Moses his church -- using the term church in a general sense -- existed in a patriarchal form. With the beginning of the Mosaic dispensation he put it into the form of a state, of which he was the supreme head and lawgiver, while its earthly rulers exercised under him all the functions of civil offices, the bearing of the sword included. When Christ came, he separated the church from the state, and gave it its present spiritual and universal organization. In all this diversity of outward form we recognize the progress of one grand self-consistent plan.4. We may now go back again to the beginning, and consider the diversity in the forms of public worship -- the simple offering of Abel, who "brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof," the altars of the patriarchs, the gorgeous ceremonial of the Mosaic economy with its priesthood and sacrifices, "the service of song in the house of the Lord" added by David, the synagogue service of later times, and, finally, the spiritual priesthood of believers under the New Testament, whose office is "to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Pet.2:5); and show that through all this variety of outward form the essence of God's service has ever remained unchanged, so that the example of primitive believers is a model for our imitation. Heb. chap.11.5. We may show, again, that the same manifoldness belongs to the forms of labor devolved on God's servants in different ages. The work assigned to Noah was not that of Abraham; nor was Abraham's work that of Moses; nor the work of Moses that of David; nor David's work that of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; nor did any one of the Old Testament believers receive the broad commission: "Go ye into all the world; and preach the gospel to every creature." They could not receive such a commission, for the way was not yet prepared. Abraham must sojourn in the land of promise "as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob" (Heb.11:9); Moses must lead Israel out of Egypt, and be God's mediator for the law given on Sinai; Joshua must take possession of the land of promise and David maintain it, sword in hand; the prophets must foretell the future glories of Christ's kingdom, not preach it, as did the apostles, to all nations. But in the divine plan this manifoldness of service constitutes a self-consistent and harmonious whole.6. The same unity in diversity belongs to the spirit of revelation. Failing to apprehend the character of God in its entireness, Marcion rent the seamless garment of divine perfection into two parts, the one consisting of justice, which he assigned to the "Demiurge" of the Old Testament, the other of goodness, as the attribute of the supreme God of the New Testament. He did not see that God's character is alike infinite on both sides; that his justice is a justice of infinite goodness, and his goodness a goodness of infinite justice. Hence he arrayed in opposition to each other two caricatures of deity, the one drawn from the Old Testament, the other from the New; an error in which he has had too many imitators in modern times. To see the harmony of the spirit that pervades the Holy Scriptures from beginning to end in respect to the Divine character, we should take a comprehensive instead of a partial view of their representations. It is true that the Old Testament describes God as infinite in holiness and inflexibly just. But it also describes him as "the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin." It is true that God's covenant under the Old Testament was restricted to a single nation; but this was, as has been heretofore shown, preparatory to a universal dispensation of mercy, as when a general seizes one strong position with a view to the conquest of an entire region. Chap.18. It is true, on the other hand, that the New Testament is, in a peculiar sense, a revelation of God's mercy through Jesus Christ. But it is a discriminating mercy, through which God's awful holiness and justice shine with dazzling brightness. It is a mercy shown not at the expense of justice, but in perfect harmony with it; a mercy sternly restricted, moreover, to those who comply with the conditions on which it is offered. The gospel is a plan of salvation, not of condemnation; "for God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved." John 3:17. Yet it brings condemnation to those who reject it; for the Saviour immediately adds (ver.18): "He that believeth on him, is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." It is in the New Testament, not in the Old, that we find the most awful declarations of God's wrath against the finally impenitent, some of them proceeding, too, from the lips of the compassionate Saviour: "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power" (2 Thess.1:7, 9); "He that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36); "These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal" (Matt.25:46).

7. The same harmony of spirit pervades both Testaments in respect to the way of salvation. On this momentous question the teachings of the New Testament are fuller than those of the Old, but never in contradiction with them. The Old Testament teaches that men are saved, not from the merit of their good works, but from God's mercy: the New Testament adds a glorious revelation respecting the ground of this mercy in Jesus Christ. To exhibit in a clear light the reality of this harmony, let us take a passage of the New Testament which embodies in itself the substance of the way of salvation, and compare with it the declarations of the Old Testament. The following will be appropriate: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." Titus 3:5.

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us. "The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: but because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt" (Deut.7:7, 8); "For thy name's sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity, for it is great" (Psa.25:11); "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions" (Psa.51:1); "I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for my holy name's sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen whither ye went" (Ezek.36:22); "We do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousness, but for thy great mercies" (Dan.9:18).

By the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost. "Behold thou desirest truth in the inward parts; and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me" (Psa.51:6, 7, 10, 11); "I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer.31:33); "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, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them" (Ezek.36:25-27).

8. The stern character of the Mosaic dispensation is freely admitted. As a preparatory dispensation, severity belonged appropriately to it. "The law," says Paul, "was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith." Gal.3:24. Its office was to educate the human conscience to such a point that it should be prepared for the full revelation of God's mercy in Christ. We may concede the prominence of God's justice in the Old Testament, and his mercy in the New; but we must never forget that neither part of divine revelation is complete in itself. It is only when we view them in their connection with each other, as parts of one great whole, that we discern in them an all-pervading unity and harmony of spirit.

From the unity of revelation some inferences may be drawn of a very practical character, especially in reference to the interpretation of the Old Testament.

9. Each particular communication from God to man must be, in its place and measure, perfect. For it proceeded from the infinite mind of God, who understood at the beginning the whole plan of redemption, and who, when he made the first revelation concerning it, knew all that was afterwards to follow, and said and did, in the most perfect way, what was proper to be said and done at the time. The revelations of the Holy Spirit, therefore, admit of a stupendous development, but no rectification or improvement. The very earliest of them contain the germs of all that is to follow without any admixture of falsehood. There is a holding back of the full light reserved for future ages, but no mist of error -- nothing which, fairly interpreted, will ever need to be retracted. For this reason the very earliest of God's communications to men retain for us, who live in these latter days, their pristine freshness and power. Take, for example, the great primitive prophecy: "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." Gen.3:15. We can find no words more pertinent to describe the mighty conflict now going on between the kingdom of God and that of Satan. What are they but a condensation into one sentence of the history of redemption -- a flash of light from the third heavens, which discloses at a glance man's destiny from Eden to the trump of the archangel? And so is it also with the later prophecies concerning Christ and his kingdom. What is true of the revelations of the Old Testament holds good of all its institutions. In their place, and with reference to the end which they proposed to accomplish, they were all perfect; were the best that could be given under existing circumstances. At the foundation of all our reasonings concerning the appointments of the Old Testament must lie the axiom: "As for God his way is perfect."

10. The later revelations must he taken as the true exponents of the earlier. This is but saying that the Holy Spirit is the true and proper expositor of his own communications to men. Since, as we have seen, the first revelations were made in full view of all that was to follow, the later revelations must be considered not as a mass of foreign and heterogeneous materials superadded to the original prophecies, but as a true expansion of the earlier prophecies out of their own proper substance. For example, the promise made to Abraham: "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Gen.22:18), is not so much a new promise as a further unfolding of the original one: "It shall bruise thy head." A further development of the same promise we have in Nathan's words to David: "Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee, thy throne shall be established for ever;" and in all the bright train of prophecies in which the glory and universal dominion of the Messiah's kingdom are foretold down to the day of Gabriel's announcement to Mary: "He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end." Luke 1:32, 33.

And since the manifestation of God in the flesh is the culminating point of revelation, it follows that the Lord Jesus and his apostles, whom he authoritatively commissioned to unfold the doctrines of the gospel, must be, in a special sense, the expositors of the Old Testament, from whose interpretations, when once fairly ascertained, there is no appeal. The attempt of some to make a distinction between Christ's authority and that of his apostles is nugatory. As it is certain that our Lord himself could not have been in error, so it is certain also that he would not have commanded his apostles to teach all nations concerning himself and his doctrines, and have further given them, in the possession of miraculous powers, the broad seal of their commission, only to leave them subject to the common prejudices and errors of their age. See further in Chap.7, Nos.3, 4.

11. The extent of meaning contained in a given revelation must be that which the Holy Spirit intended. It is not to be limited, then, by the apprehension of those to whom it was originally made. Earlier prophecy is, at least in many cases, framed with a view to the subsequent development of its meaning. Until such development is made by God himself, either in the way of further revelations, or indirectly by the course of his providence, men's apprehension of its meaning, though it may be true as far as it goes, must yet be inadequate. To cite a single passage from one of the Old Testament prophecies: "It hath pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief; when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand." Isa.53:10. No one will maintain that the Jews before our Lord's advent (all carnal prejudices aside) could have had that apprehension of its deep meaning which it is our privilege to enjoy. This meaning was contained in the promise from the first, but in an undeveloped form. Accordingly the prophets themselves "inquired and searched diligently" concerning the import of their utterances and the time of their fulfilment.1 Pet.1:11. They who deny the reality of prophetic inspiration are necessitated, for consistency's sake, to deny also the principle now laid down. But if revelation be a true communication from God to men, it is reasonable to believe that it should have contained from the beginning the germs of mighty events in the distant future, the realization of which in history should be, in connection with further revelations from God, its true expositor.

12. The more obscure declarations of Scripture are to be interpreted from the clearer. A single passage of God's word occasionally gives us a glimpse of some great truth nowhere else referred to in Scripture. Of this we have a remarkable example in what the apostle says of Christ's delivering up the kingdom to the Father upon the completion of the work of redemption.1 Cor.15:24-28. But no great truth relating to the way of salvation through Christ is thus taught obscurely and in some single passage of Scripture. Every such truth pervades the broad current of revelation, and shines forth from its pages so clearly that no candid inquirer can fail to apprehend its true meaning. If, then, we find in the Bible dark and difficult passages, they must, if interpreted at all, be explained, not in contradiction with what is clearly and fully taught, but in harmony with it. This is but saying that, instead of using what is obscure to darken what is clearly revealed, we should, as far as possible, illustrate that which is dark by that which is clear.

The Scriptures teach, for example, with abundant clearness, that Christ is the only foundation on which the church can rest. Isa.28:16; 1 Cor.3:11; Ephes.2:20; 1 Pet.2:6. This is, indeed, an office which plainly requires for its exercise that omnipotence, and that supreme power in heaven and earth which are expressly ascribed to him. Matt.11:27; 28:18; John 5:19-30; 17:2; 1 Cor.15; 24-28; Ephes.1:20-23; Phil.2:9-11; Col.1:15-19; Heb.1:3. When, therefore, our Lord says to Peter: "Thou art Peter [that is, as the word Peter means in the original, Thou art Rock], and upon this rock will I build my church" (Matt.16:18), to understand Peter, or any pretended successor of Peter, as a rock in any other sense than as an eminent instrument in Christ's hand for the establishment of his church, is absurd and blasphemous.

Again: Christ gives to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, with power to bind and loose (Matt.16:19), and elsewhere the same power is conferred upon all the apostles (Matt.18:18). That Peter and his associates in the apostleship had the keys of the kingdom of heaven in any such sense as that in which Christ has them (Rev.3:7); that is, that they had authoritative power to admit their fellow-sinners to heaven, or exclude them from heaven, is contrary to the whole tenor of the New Testament, which everywhere represents Christ as the supreme Judge, upon whose decision depends the everlasting destiny of every child of Adam. Matt.7:21, 22; 16:27; 25:31-46; John 17:2; Acts 17:31; 2 Cor.5:10. Christ's words concerning the keys may be best understood of the special authority which he bestowed on the apostles, as inspired teachers and guides of his primitive church, to settle all questions respecting her. For eminent examples of the exercise of this power, see the decisions concerning Gentile converts, Acts 11:1-18; 15:1-29. In this sense the gift of the keys ceased with that of inspiration. But if, as some think, the words may be understood of the common power conferred by Christ on his churches to regulate their own affairs, to administer discipline, and to admit or exclude from their communion, the power continues in this sense in the visible church, and is valid so far as it is exercised in accordance with God's word.

So also must we interpret the words of Christ recorded by the apostle John: "And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained." Chap.20:22, 23. The authoritative forgiveness of sin is a prerogative of God alone, the exercise of which implies omniscience as well as supreme authority in heaven and earth. The prerogative of remitting and retaining men's sins here conferred on the apostles is part of the general power of binding and loosing already considered. It was exercised in the sphere of the visible church on earth. As it respects the actual forgiveness of sin and consequent admission of the soul to communion with God here and eternal life hereafter, God's ministers can only declare the terms of salvation as they are set forth in the gospel.

The same general principle is applicable to the interpretation of all passages containing "things hard to be understood." The "unlearned and unstable" wrest them, by taking them out of their connection and in contradiction to the general tenor of God's word. But the candid student of Scripture never uses that which is difficult in revelation to obscure that which is plain. He seeks, on the contrary, to illumine what is dark by that which shines with a clear and steady light.

13. As a fitting close to this part of our subject we add some remarks on the analogy of faith. "We may define it to be that general rule of doctrine which is deduced, not from two or three parallel passages, but from the harmony of all parts of Scripture in the fundamental points of faith and practice." Horne's Introduct., vol.1. p.269, edit.1860. It is based on two fundamental principles; first, that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God," and therefore constitutes a self-consistent whole, no part of which may be interpreted in contradiction with the rest; secondly, that the truths to which God's word gives the greatest prominence, and which it inculcates in the greatest variety of forms, must be those of primary importance. Thus understood, the analogy of faith is a sure guide to the meaning of the inspired volume. He who follows it will diligently and prayerfully study the whole word of God, not certain selected parts of it; since it is from the whole Bible that we gather the system of divine revelation in its fulness and just proportions. "If we come to the Scriptures with any preconceived opinions, and are more desirous to put that sense upon the text which coincides with our sentiments rather than with the truth, it then becomes the analogy of our faith rather than that of the whole system." Horne, ubi supra. In this substitution of "the analogy of our faith" for the analogy of Scripture lies the foundation of sectarian controversy.

Again; he who follows the true analogy of faith will not allow a doctrine which runs through the whole tenor of divine revelation to be weakened or set aside in the interest of some other scriptural doctrine.

The Scriptures teach, for example, with great frequency and clearness that men are saved, not from the merit of their good works, but solely by God's free grace through faith in Jesus Christ. They teach also with equal frequency and clearness that without repentance and obedience to the divine law there is no salvation. These two deductions are not contradictory, but supplementary to each other. They present two sides of one and the same way of salvation. Yet it may happen that a Biblical student will find himself unable to reconcile in a logical way two such deductions as the following: "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Rom.3:28); "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt.7:21). What then shall we counsel him to do? Plainly it is his duty, first of all, to receive and hold both doctrines. Afterwards he may properly seek to reconcile them with each other in a logical way; but if he fails to accomplish this task to his satisfaction, he must not deny one truth, or sink its importance, in the interest of the other. The same general principle applies to various other doctrinal difficulties, which need not be here specified.

Finally, a true regard to the analogy of faith will make our system of belief and practice entire and well proportioned in all its parts. Every declaration of God's word is to be received in a reverent and obedient spirit. But inasmuch as the Scriptures insist much more earnestly and fully on some things than on others, it is our wisdom to follow, in this respect, the leadings of the Holy Spirit. It will be the aim of the enlightened believer to give to each doctrine and precept of revelation the place and prominence assigned to it in the Bible. Especially will he be careful that no obscure or doubtful passage of Scripture be allowed to contradict the plain teachings of inspiration.

The practical study of the Bible, that is, the study of it as "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness," resolves itself in a great measure into the comparison of Scripture with Scripture, especially the comparison of doctrinal parallelisms. All that the Bible teaches from Genesis to Revelation concerning God's being and attributes, his providential government over man, the person and offices of Christ and the way of salvation through him, and the final destiny of the righteous and the wicked, should be diligently compared, that from the whole we may gather a full and well-proportioned system of faith and practice as it is contained in the pages of inspiration. So far as we fail to do this our view of divine truth is defective and disproportioned. The solemn warning in respect to the last book of revelation applies with equal force to revelation as a whole: "If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things that are written in this book." Rev.22:18, 19.

chapter xxxv the figurative language
Top of Page
Top of Page