The apostle Paul dealt in certainties. His writings are affirmative. He was constructive, declarative, positive. He talks of how to build, and the choice of building materials; about foundations, and building thereon. And he gives us the emphatic assurance: "Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure." "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
The doctrines of the Christian church must be built upon the Bible. What is not built on the word of God is like a house built on sand, and will ultimately be swept away. The structure built on the solid rock—the infallible word of God—will withstand all the assaults of the enemy, and will remain unharmed by the attacks of men, however learned they may be according to the wisdom of this world.
In the interpretation of Scripture, ecclesiastical tradition cannot be used as authority. Scripture must interpret scripture. One writer of the Bible will often give the meaning of another writer which may be obscure. Thus the Bible becomes its own interpreter. But tradition, the writings of the Fathers, and the opinions of scholars should not be used as proof for correct doctrine.
"The Scriptures need not be read by the dim light of tradition or human speculation. As well might we try to give light to the sun with a torch as to explain the Scriptures by human tradition or imagination. God's holy word needs not the torchlight glimmer of earth to make its glories distinguishable. It is light in itself,—the glory of God revealed; and beside it every other light is dim."—"Christ's Object Lessons," p. 111.
"Do you ask, What shall I do to be saved? You must lay your preconceived opinions, your hereditary and cultivated ideas, at the door of investigation. If you search the Scriptures to vindicate your own opinions, you will never reach the truth. Search in order to learn what the Lord says. If conviction comes as you search, if you see that your cherished opinions are not in harmony with the truth, do not misinterpret the truth in order to suit your own belief, but accept the light given. Open mind and heart, that you may behold wondrous things out of God's word."—/d., p. 112.
In the days of Christ there were several sects of the Jews, who held opposing theories about many different doctrines. Each sect defended its faith according to its interpretation and understanding of the Scriptures, and each regarded as castaways those who held different opinions. It was difficult for each to see how the others could hope for salvation.
When talking to the Pharisees in reply to their criticism of His conduct, Christ reminded them that they had set aside the word of God and made void His law by their own teachings and traditions. On one occasion the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, "Why walk not Thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?" Christ's answer was decisive, unequivocal: "Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoreth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." Mark 7:5-7. Then Christ added, "Ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition."
Professed Christians often forget the saying of the prophet, "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." Many look to science or to the teachings of men to substantiate their faith and to uphold their doctrines. To them, apparently, the word of God is not sufficient; the "teachings of the Fathers" have more weight than the written word. Not a few rest upon the teachings of the "elders" for their faith; any search for the true meaning of Scripture is thought unnecessary because they are satisfied with the faith of their church as their fathers believed before them.
"Our salvation depends on a knowledge of the truth contained in the Scriptures. It is God's will that we should possess this. Search, O search the precious Bible with hungry hearts. Explore God's word as the miner explores the earth to find veins of gold. Never give up the search until you have ascertained your relation to God and His will in regard to you. Christ declared, Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in My name, I will do it.' "—Id., p. 111.
Science never has demonstrated, and never can demonstrate, the foundations of true religion. The worship of God is a spiritual act, and science cannot deal with spiritual things. Spiritual truth must come by revelation from God Himself. The word of God is authoritative, and to the devout Christian is final for all doctrine and sufficient for salvation. That word is the voice of God to man, and is the rule• for Christian living. What that word teaches man must obey; his salvation depends upon his faith, but true faith ever leads to humble obedience. To neglect the true meaning of the word of God, and to follow the teachings of men as of equal importance with the word when directly contrary to it, is a grievous error which multitudes are making today.
During Paul's ministry not a few separated themselves from the church, and continually confused the believers by their wrong interpretation of the word. Their conduct led the apostle to sound a note of warning to the youthful Timothy:
"Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenwus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His." 2 Tim. 2:15-19.
From this it is clear that some in the early church had introduced an interpretation of Scripture different from the gospel that Paul preached. He plainly taught that the resurrection would take place at the second coming of Christ; these men taught that the resurrection was in the past. That they made a great disturbance is evident from Paul's saying, "Their word will eat as doth a canker." Their teachings had already overthrown the faith of some. Singularly enough, an apostate from the faith does not usually work for sinners lost and without hope, but sets himself to overthrow some feature of the faith of those who believe the doctrines that he has rejected. This has almost always been the experience of the church. A world may lie in sin and ruin; many may be perishing among the heathen and in more enlightened lands; but when one leaves the word of God as did those false brethren in Paul's day, he undertakes to destroy the faith of believers.
Nearly all the leading false doctrines have come into the church at first through false interpretation of Scripture, and have been handed down to succeeding generations through tradition, such as the substitution of Sunday for the true Sabbath, belief in man's natural immortality, the concept of eternal torment, sprinkling for baptism, and the like. The plainly written word has been set aside, and the teachings of men have been substituted in its place. This should never be in the .remnant church. What the word does not plainly teach cannot be accepted as true doctrine or essential for salvation. Contrariwise, there is no teaching of the word of God that the Christian ought not to accept; no requirement that he ought not to obey. To the law and to the testimony must we ever appeal as our source of authority.
The word is not alone for doctrine, but it marks the road by which the Christian is to journey to the promised Canaan. In meeting the temptation in the wilderness, Christ repulsed the attack of Satan with the word: "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Matt. 4:4. The prophet Jeremiah declared, "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by Thy name, O Lord God of hosts." Jer. 15:16. The Christian "eats" the word of God, according to Oriental usage of the term, by meditating upon and carefully following what the word teaches. The minister of the word is exhorted to study, and rightly to divide, the word of truth. Paul gloried in that he did not handle the word deceitfully, nor corrupt it in his teachings. It Is a strange thing that one who claims to be an ambassador for Christ should dare to teach what is not found in the Bible. Yet this is often the case in the popular churches of today.
In order to build on the sure foundation, the word of God, one must seek for the true meaning of the word.
"There are mines of truth yet to be discovered by the earnest seeker. Christ represented the truth as treasure hid in a field. It does not lie right upon the surface; we must dig for it. But our success in finding it, does not depend so much on our intellectual ability as on our humility of heart, and the faith which will lay hold upon divine aid."—"Testimonies," Vol. V, p. 704.
The Holy Spirit, who indited what men wrote, is still operative in the church, and will help the humble seeker to discover the true meaning of the word. In these perilous days when false teachings abound more and more, scripture must be compared with scripture, truth must be searched for as men search for hidden treasure, or we shall fail to understand and maintain the true doctrine.
I. H. E.