(Being the substance of addresses given during the Autumn of 1964 to the Macqueen Memorial Congregation, Inverness, on the Book of Jeremiah.)
HAS GOD SPOKEN?
The supreme issue facing Christendom today is not the unity of its scattered portions, but the question of authority. Has God given us our orders or not? Is there a full and final authority on what is right or wrong to do or believe?
The ecumenical question is not the issue. Preoccupation therewith leads directly—as it has always led—to the error of inclusivism. The prior question is otherwise: it is, Has God spoken fully and finally to man? If not, all men must do what is right in their own eyes, and accept the consequent anarchy. If He has spoken then where is that Word if not in the Sacred Volume of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments?
TWO POSSIBLE BASES OF AUTHORITY
There can only be two possible bases of authority:—
1. Traditionalism (leading to the doctrine of an Infallible Church or an Infallible Pope), as represented by the Church of Rome;
2.An Infallible Bible.
Those who reject both must perforce set up their own minds as the supreme arbiter and the last tribunal, with the consequence of ever widening and more diffuse definitions to avoid their own self-isolationism. This is precisely what is happening in the ecumenical movement with its blurring of the lines of the historic faith, and its increasing accommodation for all forms of thought, including Judaism, the philosophic religions of the East, and now, even agnosticism. The unique, inviolable doctrines of the Christian faith as a supernatural religion, supernaturally attested in historic time and by historic events, are being played down, ignored, or even jettisoned, to make way for a World Religion composed of universal elements considered suitable for everybody. It does not seem to occur to many of these gentlemen that the world already has an example of what they so plausibly yearn for, in the old and very discredited cult known as freemasonry (to which indeed, if truth be told, so many of them already belong). They might do well while waiting for the latest brand of super-religion to emerge, to make a fresh study of this very masculine religious hodgepodge with its disgraceful methods of initiation and its highly respectable clientele throughout the world. Is this the kind of thing which emerges when men act without any authority other than their own pious inventiveness?
It is more than strange that in this medley of ecumenicalism the one objectionable feature to be singled out on the wide horizon is evangelicalism. This phenomenon of ecumenicalism clearly and brutally emerged at the 1964 Conference at Nottingham on Faith and Order. Among the huge concourse of 550 delegates a group of evangelicals incautiously presented themselves by special invitation of the organisers. What was not told to these innocents was that they had been really invited to be witnesses of their own execution—or at any rate to suffer the ignominy of a curtain lecture specially prepared for them and delivered by the well-known John Huxtable, of the utterly discredited and rapidly dying Congregational Union.
Said the pontifical Mr. Huxtable:
“Not the least of my difficulty with the Conservative Evangelicals is their characteristic insistence that, unless the Faith is expressed in their particular way, it is not truly expressed at all; that unless faith in Scripture be spoken of in terms of inerrancy and verbal inspiration, it is not genuine; that unless we believe in a substitutionary theory of the atonement it is doubtful if we believe in salvation at all; that except we look for the Second Advent in the terms they use, we probably do not believe it in any form. In short, if we do not agree with their reckoning of what Scripture amounts to, we are only questionably Christians, or at best second-hand churchmen.”
We do Mr. Huxtable the justice of having stated correctly what evangelicals feel about the whole business, though we might present in more drastic terms than he used, the final verdict on those who state the faith in a “different” way from that in which it has been expressed from the foundation of the Christian Church; who, by denying verbal inspiration, deny divine inspiration in any form (as their writings and utterances clearly show); who deny THE absolute and perfect substitution of Christ on the Cross in the sinner’s room; and who heartily object to the words of the angels that Christ shall so come in like manner as He was seen to go into heaven.
The measure of the non-evangelical spite against these foundation tenets of the Christian faith is clearly seen in this deliberate breach of hospitality, in singling out a specially invited group out of all that ménage of groups (many of whom have been betraying for a generation or more the faith once delivered to the saints) for the purpose of administering a sound castigation in public. It could only be devised, concerted and executed by men who are acute enough to perceive that their real enemy is the evangelical faith. They supported without public protest the circulation at their Conference of a Church Union pamphlet warning its Anglo-Catholic subscribers against taking part in any “open” communion with their fellow-Christians (so-called), but the representatives of that evangelical testimony whose honourable succession can be traced back through the ages to the apostle Paul and the New Testament, and back through the ages to Jeremiah and to the Old Testament saints and Patriarchs—these were the only blot on their ecumenical landscape. This is what made it more than a significant event: it is in fact a solemn warning. It puts EVANGELICALISM IN THE PILLORY.
JEREMIAH’S TWO-FOLD OFFENCE
Jeremiah’s offence was two-fold. First, he claimed to speak directly in the Name of God Almighty. Second, what he declared was in contradiction to the religious spirit of the times, and his insistence on the doctrine of his own verbal inspiration made him a public nuisance requiring the repudiation and the indignity of a public exposure in the stocks.
According to Jeremiah’s word, the ecumenical religion of Judah was hateful to God because it had incorporated the enormities of Baal worship, with its images, its fire-ceremonies of initiation, and its hideous and defiling psychological teachings which tolerated (and even enjoined) what is now euphemistically referred to as “homosexuality,” but which the verbally inspired Bible describes as the sin of Sodom, for which the only remedy is not hospitalization but fire and brimstone. Against all the humanistic and worldly-wise policies of the religious majority of the times, Jeremiah’s lone voice warned that judgment was coming —and that right soon; political alliances with Egypt would collapse before the realities of the divine thunders, and that generation would see the end of Temple, Nation, and Monarchy.
“Thus saith the Lord of Hosts: Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter’s vessel that cannot be made whole again: and they shall bury them in hell (Tophet) till there be no place to bury.”
The Temple would go down in ruins. Murder and arson would overwhelm the impenitent. There would be an exile of 70 years until all that evil generation should be wasted away. The reconstitution of the nation around its rebuilt temple and city (the shadow of its former self) would only be an adumbration of something vaster and totally divine—the setting up of a New Covenant to displace the Old, the creation on the ruins of Judaism of a Messianic Kingdom of spiritual new birth and of mystical extent to the limit of the ages and the utmost confines of the human race.
All this came to pass literally and infallibly as foretold. And what will Mr. Huxtable and the Nottingham fraternity say now against verbal inspiration? Jeremiah is one of those Old Testament writers whom it is dangerous to juggle with. Two things which the Huxtables, the Sopers, the Weatherheads, and the agnostics cannot maintain against Jeremiah are these: first, they cannot say that the prophet is a myth and his prophecy was history written after the event; second, they cannot say that his “inspiration” was only a playing upon his religious instincts by some influence, divine or otherwise, which worked naturally through a man’s own personality (a definition so beloved by those who deny verbal inspiration).
They cannot do so for the following reasons:-
Jeremiah’s prophecy was already established in the times of the great and historic Ezra, one of the most outstanding and utterly credible figures in Jewish history. Ezra wrote in the opening sentence of his moving history, “Now in the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia, that he made a proclamation ....” commanding the rebuilding of the Temple at Jerusalem. The time was precisely 70 years after the destruction of the Temple and city by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Now let it be clearly declared that no Bible critic is in a position to impugn this statement by Ezra. Anyone who tries to make out that not only was Jeremiah’s prophecy an artful insinuation after the event, a fraud perpetrated to advance some indefinable religious conspiracy, but that Ezra’s statement also was craftily contrived about the same time by a gang of unknowns who made up the lie, and knew at the time that they were bare-faced liars—anyone who says this makes himself a pitiful object indeed. If ever an historical theory breaks down under the weight of its own improbability, it is this theory. If ever writings in question reveal the absolute sincerity and integrity of those responsible for them the writings are the Books of Jeremiah and Ezra. Anyone who refuses them flies in the face of judgment just as surely as did the false Pashhur, son of Immer the priest, who, when he heard that Jeremiah spoke these things, smote him and put him in the stocks in the high Benjamin Gate of the Temple (Jer. 20:1-2). Ezra declared in effect that Jeremiah lived 70 years before his (Ezra’s) day at least, and that his prophecy was fulfilled to the letter.
Very well (we address the critic). In this instance you concede that Jeremiah’s case is made out. He is acquitted of the charge of being a religious fraud, because frauds don’t write like this. Moreover, he so clearly paints what happened in New Testament times, in language which no Jew could or would have used of his own nation, that even an atheist must concede that Jeremiah, whoever he was and whenever he lived, foretold an otherwise unforeseeable situation which on any theory was described with uncanny accuracy centuries before it came to pass (namely, the rejection of the Jew and the receiving of the Gentile world in his place, in the days of the Gospel). Moreover, he did it against all Jewish prejudice which endured till Christ’s day and beyond and which Paul had to contend against inside the early Christian Church.
You concede this. Therefore you concede that in this instance anyway is the clearest example of verbal inspiration, for what was uttered beforehand, in relation to events no human being could have foreseen, must forever be attributed to God Himself. But do you know what you concede? Do you not appreciate that if one instance of verbal inspiration is proved the whole case for the verbally inspired Bible is established?
But wait (you say). There is another string to the critic’s bow. Jeremiah may have been a mouthpiece of God, but at least the doctrine of divine inspiration must be subordinate to the laws of human nature; infallible impulses, mediated through the fallible apparatus of a man’s psychology and religious instincts are so modified as to make them susceptible to critical theories as touching general accuracy; at least, the human apparatus must impart entirely human features to the end-product.
A PRETTY THEORY
A pretty theory indeed. Its weakness lies in its being only a theory, which will not stand up when brought to the test of facts. If Jeremiah was drawing upon his own fundamental impulses, or imparting to a divine impression his own colouring and dress, we should expect two things: first, that the risky business of forecasting history centuries in advance would have an embarrassing denouement; second, that something of himself would clearly be distinguished in the texture of his prophecies. Now neither of these things takes place with Jeremiah. His prophecies unerringly come to pass as he foretells, in many instances long after his lifetime; again, so far from the sentiments of the prophecies being his own, he reacts strongly against the bitter words he is called upon to utter.
So much is this the case that even unwary evangelicals have been betrayed into incautious expressions and theories relating to the prophetic inspiration, as we shall now declare and expose with all the means at our command.
We refer our hearers to this same 20th chapter of Jeremiah which we have already before us. It begins with Jeremiah’s shameful immolation in the stocks for a day and a night; his energetic and brave repetition, on his release, of the same words which had brought him into violent disgrace, and then there follows an extraordinary outburst of tumultuous feeling from his riven and tormented soul—an outburst all the more destructive of the idea that his impulses were coloured by his own personality, because his grief had no witnesses and we know of it only because Jeremiah himself was the recorder, and knew well what he was doing when in the quietness and seclusion of his hidden years, he put pen to paper and added these words purposely and deliberately, to what he knew would be preserved for all time as part of the stock of inspired and Holy Scripture. Jeremiah 20 marks the end of what may be described as “Jehoiakim’s Roll” (see first verse of following chapter). This Roll was the same as that which was read before the evil King Jehoiakim as he sat in the Winterhouse of his palace (chapter 36), and which the incensed monarch cut to pieces with his penknife and burned on the fire.
Jeremiah reconstructed the destroyed manuscript, and took care to add, as the epilogue of the whole, the effect of his own prophecy on his own spirit. This is most revealing. It shows that in no sense was his prophecy from himself or coloured by its passage “through his own personality.” He spoke what he fain would NOT have spoken. The words were wrung from his agonised soul, and were a torment to his own spirit. He would rather not prophesy. The words he had uttered were as though a deception had been practised upon his spirit by Almighty God (chapter 20, verse 7). He records that he had made a resolve earlier in his ministry not to speak any more the words of God because they were too painful for him to utter. He only continued because God’s word within him was like a consuming fire which threatened to devour his own being in one tremendous conflagration. Are the Bible critics still listening?
More is to follow. At verse 14 we have what the careful Thomas Scott describes as “The most extraordinary transition in the whole scripture.” Jeremiah goes on to curse the day he was born and to remonstrate with God for not having slain him in infancy and spared him the tragedy of growing up to be the messenger and the symbol of irrevocable judgment upon his beloved people.
So great is this transition from the preceding verses, 12 and 13 (are the critics reading their Bibles?) that neither the careful Scott nor the venerable and pious Matthew Henry, nor most of the great evangelical commentators (we are being scrupulously fair all round) perceive that it is too extraordinary to be a mere outburst of human frailty (as they suppose). Had this been a mere exposure of the prophet’s own infirmity, what is it doing here in the record? Who put it there and why? Now Jeremiah put it there, and he put it there in a quiet day of literary recollection, not to obtrude his own irrelevant emotions upon the reader, but as an attestation of the integrity of his words, and a solemn warning to any Jehoiakim’s or others, ancient or modern, who should come along with penknife or blue pencil, in the coldness of their critical winterhouses (where reign perpetual frost and snow) to excise and cut, burn and destroy, those words of God which are imperishable, verbally inspired, and shortly to be verified in judgment.
That Jeremiah’s lament is itself part of the inspired stock of Holy Scripture, is proved by the fact that it is in itself a divine impulse derived from the similar lament already inscribed in the Book of Job, to be enlarged later in that very Book of Lamentations of Jeremiah written over the events of the last siege of city and Temple.
The lament of Jeremiah 20, so puzzling to the unwary scholar, is strongly prophetic of the early fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prediction concerning the Babylonian woe. So heavy the judgment of God! So heavy the burden of proclaiming it! In this dramatization of his grief, the prophet shows that he would rather not have been born than live to be the vehicle of such a solemn message which tore his very heart. How great, therefore, the judgment. How poignant and eloquent the grief of Another who wept over the impending destruction of that same city and Temple at the final end of the nation’s testing!
WHAT THE WORLD CANNOT ENDURE
The world cannot endure evangelical religion, for nothing so exposes the error, the falsity and the dubiety of worldly religion as the evangelical testimony to free justification by faith alone, and its concomitant doctrines of the Sovereignty of Divine Grace, the efficacy and sufficiency of Christ’s atonement through His own blood most precious, and the testimony thereto by the Sacred Volume of God’s Word, inspired, infallible, and supernaturally preserved.
The hour calls for the bold and urgent declaration of this position for nothing else can avail in the present plight of the human race.
There is nothing new in the evangelical testimony; it is as old and as unalterable as the grace of God and the need of man.
It was this testimony which brought Jeremiah to the stocks and exposed him to public ridicule and contempt when the shadows were getting long and time was running out for a people and an age which had departed from the faith of its fathers and was blindly stumbling on to the inevitable judgment.
It is this which makes Jeremiah so appropriate a prophet for such an age as ours, for we are on that fatal road too, and may already have passed the point of no return.
Having spent his entire life, first, in the exciting field of religious awakening during King Josiah’s Reformation, and then as a warning voice to a backslidden nation ripening fast for judgment, Jeremiah lived to see God’s Word prevailing in the investiture of Jerusalem by the Chaldean army—those grim ministers of God’s holy justice-—and the destruction of people, Temple and monarchy in fulfilment of the Divine Word which was in him.
If ever a Book proclaimed its own divine origin that Book is the prophecy of Jeremiah. Let the conflict which raged in the great prophet’s breast between zeal for the glory of God and the sadness which gripped him as he foresaw the inevitable end of his people, be a solemn witness that he was in the grip of a holy and divine inspiration which gave to his words, spoken and written, that quality of infallibility which we bespeak for the entire Sacred Volume; for the Book is a unity and if one such significant part as that of Jeremiah be the Divine Word, the rest of the Scriptures, of which it forms an integral and inseparable part, and to which it bears a steady and unequivocal witness, is of the like quality. The integrity of Jeremiah is the integrity of the entire Sacred Volume. Acknowledge that God spoke by this man (and who can deny this to Jeremiah?) and there is an inevitable consequence in the case of all those men of whom Jeremiah was but one in the great evangelical succession. What? Did God speak directly by this man only from the foundation of the earth? Or did not the outbreaking of the prophetic word in him betoken a pattern of the divine operation which required, by the same necessity as that which moved Jeremiah, that there should be a long succession of prophets (as indeed there was), to educate and warn and guide the people of God and prepare the way for the yet greater Prophet—He who was the very Word of which these were but the channel—who was to come?
Likewise Jeremiah shows what is to be understood by the “theopneustia,” the God-breathed infallibility of the Holy Scriptures. His was no mere poetic inspiration, or even gifted insight, concerning divine truth. Men of this calibre may sincerely err in their conclusions, and exhibit blemishes of judgment and intrusions of personality. No so Jeremiah. His is not the case of a man whose innate culture, ideas and feelings were taken up and used to give colour and form to religious instinct or impulse. Nothing like that about Jeremiah. Here was a man whose message was not about himself or “transmitted through his personality.” For Jeremiah spoke words which made him curse the day he was born, that he should have to be the man who said them. His message broke his own heart and made him vow silence upon his spirit, but the Spirit of God was stronger than he, kindled a divine fire in his soul that burst out in total conflagration and scorched with the breath of God a whole generation of scoffing and sneering evil-doers.
The total inspiration of Jeremiah’s prophetic word guaranteed not only its absoluteness as the very word of Almighty God to the human race, whether they would hear or whether they would forbear, but also ensured its preservation. If Almighty God had a message for the world which must and could only be delivered verbatim by men supernaturally endowed and chosen for the purpose, He must take steps to procure its preservation in the same pure state in which it came, and this we are assured in Jeremiah was what precisely took place.
We see the prophet, faced with the prospect of war, impending death, and cruel imprisonment, at work with his faithful friend and helper, the scribe Baruch, whose life was at hazard equally with his own, carefully arranging and copying out the prophetic messages, that they might be launched on the stormy sea of history and be preserved intact by the divine providence.
BESIDE THE CRITIC’S BONFIRE
What could the penknife of King Jehoiakim, feverishly and wickedly cutting to pieces Jeremiah’s scroll, and feeding the flames in the royal winterhouse, avail against the decree of God concerning His Word? The destroyed treasure is compiled afresh, and there are added to it many words beside for the confusion of the Bible enemies and critics. And, indeed, of what avail is the blue-pencilling and lordly contempt which reign today in many a minister’s study, many a professorial chair, and many a naive young student’s brain, against the idea of God ever having spoken a word which is as infallible as Himself, and as divine, and just as infallibly preserved? How these gentlemen of Jehoiakim’s court presume to sit beside the critic’s bonfire and by their own infallibility of opinion consign to the flames of their winterhouse what they judge to be not infallible, and by inference determine what is and what is not truth and so set themselves up for prophets of infallibility, unaware that they commit the very offence for which they point the accusing finger at the Bible’s prophets and writers. But wisdom is justified of her children, and it is always winter where these things are done, and a hoar frost of deadly unspirituality and equally dead humanism overspreads the scholastic purlieus of our modern Jehoiakim’s. The difference between them and Jehoiakim’s ancient court is that a sense of dismay at last spread over the elders of Judah when the ungodly deed was done, and unavailingly they tried to arrest the hand of the impious monarch, whereas today there is an unholy and reckless unanimity to reduce the Bible to tatters.
The proof of Jeremiah’s inspiration was the inexorable process of judgment which he foretold. It was given to him to see in his own lifetime the very judgment which it so grieved him to proclaim. His was no vague probing into a problematic future. He was caught up in the very events which were the subjects of his own warning. He lived to see monarchy, priesthood, people and Temple going down before the scythe of the Chaldean woe. His voice echoed across the silence of a depopulated country and foretold that not in the lifetime of any except the very youngest would the chastisement cease. Seventy years the land must lie uncultivated and so enjoy the sabbaths which Israel and Judah denied. Here is the inspired accuracy of Jeremiah. The Chaldean empire lasted just that length of time, then went down, as Jeremiah and other prophets predicted it would, and gave place to the benign rule of the Persians whose great head, Cyrus, decreed the restoration of people and temple, but not of monarchy. There was to be no more a king upon the throne of David; Jechoniah, the last legitimate monarch, was written off as childless (Jer. 22:30); successors there assuredly were, but no coronations; the next king must come to the kingdom in a new and more mysterious way; great David’s greater Son must mount the throne of the universe by means of the Cross.
All this God’s prophets foresaw, and could only foresee because they were men whom the Holy Spirit used in the most complete and absolute sense, as the mouthpieces of the Almighty. The penknives of Bible critics are poor weapons against the impregnable rock of Holy Scripture.
BEWARE THE CLERGY!
One solemn word more. Is it not a thing of great significance that it should have been the clergy who did violence to God’s prophet by exposing him in the stocks to the sneers and contempt of the wicked? It was Chief Priest Pashhur who smote the first cruel blow and inaugurated the violence committed against the person of God’s own prophet—as it was another Chief Priest and his clerical collaborators who lifted up their hands against the Greatest Prophet of all for claiming to be THE WORD of THE LIVING GOD. And so they have done ever since against all those who have stood for the prophetic and infallible WORD.
Beware thou self-appointed critic of God and His truth lest an eternal verdict show thee to be the devil’s hand rag in this business of scorning a Book which has always outlived and confounded the critics.
“How heartily,” writes old John Brown of Haddington: “How heartily the wicked, especially among the clergy, hate the faithful ministers of Christ.”
Need we any further comment? Is this why the evangelical cause is in the stocks today in Britain? Is this why we have ceased in our time to be a Christian nation? Is this the Dead Sea fruit of 150 years of Bible criticism, that religion should no longer mean a thing in our land, and that the doctrine of the Divine Word which made this people great should now be the object of contempt in pulpit and pew, seminary and study. Art thou proud of thy work, thou scornful critic?
Is this why the only blot on the ecumenical landscape today in England and Scotland, in America and everywhere else is the incorrigible evangelical who will not co-operate?
The true evangelical will not compromise because what he stands for is the very thing which the princes of Jehoiakim’s court (church unity and peace at any price men to the very last of them) deny, and are only the ecumenists they are because they DO deny this principle. For the over-riding question is, “Has God spoken infallibly, and is this Sacred Volume His own Exclusive Word which he has given as our only teacher and guide, having declared His mind here and nowhere else?” If this be the case, the evangelical has an unchallengeable position. He perceives that the only unity which God’s Word allows is evangelical unity, and everyone knows that such a unity does not even enter into the minds of the ecumenical party. And though they may put the evangelical in the stocks to be made a spectacle of, and though they may outnumber him twenty to one in their winterhouse, arithmetic never proved any case to be holy nor the Big Battalions to be the Army of the Lord.