Keynote New Year's Address: The Holy Bible, Our Constitution
P. G. Mathew | Monday, January 2, 2012
Copyright © 2012, P. G. Mathew
Today is the first day of the new year as well as the first Sunday of the new year. So I have decided to speak about what is most important to the church of God: the word of God. What is important is not our own idea or opinion. It is not what our mother said. I have noticed people like to say, "I think" and then voice their opinion. But I don't worry about what you think. I am concerned about what God thinks and what God has revealed to us in his word. The Bible is the constitution of his church, which Christ the Lord is building. We are not governed by human words of psychology, philosophy, personal opinion, or science. We are governed by sola scriptura. We agree with the first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 that deals with the Holy Scripture.
God has revealed himself to us in creation, in human conscience, and, most clearly, in the canon of the Holy Scriptures. In the sixty-six books of the canonical Scriptures, God has given us infallible revelation to make us wise unto salvation through saving faith in Jesus Christ.
All Scripture comes to us from God, to be interpreted and preached by God-called and appointed pastors and ministers of the gospel. It is the very word of God. Therefore, the authority and power of Scripture is the authority and power of the triune God himself. When I speak, my word has my authority. When I preach the word of God, it has the authority of God himself.
In the Scripture God commands all sinners everywhere to repent and believe in Jesus Christ, God's Son, the only Savior of the world. Those who believe are saved; those who will not believe stand condemned forever.
The Word of the Covenant
In the Scripture, the covenant Lord speaks to his subjects as a suzerain speaks to his vassals. He does not plead; he commands. His covenant has these elements: preamble, historical prologue, stipulations, sanctions, and so on. Exodus 20:1-17 begins, "I am the Lord your God." That is the preamble. The Lord identifies himself as the infinite personal God, I AM THAT I AM, the Creator, Redeemer God. Then he says, "who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." This is the historical prologue that tells us what he has already done for us. Then come the stipulations, God's laws. This is the central section of the covenant: his laws we are to live by. Then come the sanctions. There are blessings for those who obey God's stipulations, which we read about in Deuteronomy 28:1-14 and divine curses for disobedience, which are found in Deuteronomy 28:15-68.
This is a unilateral covenant of the great King. He doesn't discuss it with us, nor does he negotiate with us. He imposes upon us his covenant, and we have no choice but to accept and live by it. God graciously enters into a saving relationship with his sinful creatures and subjects. There is no room for negotiation. What is required is loving obedience. He is Lord, and we are his obedient subjects. So the whole Scripture is God's covenant document. True Christians everywhere submit to this governing document, this constitution. They believe wholeheartedly in its verbal, divine inspiration (which means every word is inspired) and infallibility; its clarity and sufficiency; and its divine authority and power.
The Scripture itself witnesses to its own divine authorship. There is no other way to prove it. Who are we to say what is to be believed, what is true, and what is not to be believed? Are we God? Paul writes, "All Scripture is God-breathed [i.e., God-spoken] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16). Do we like to be rebuked and corrected? We may not like it, but that is what the Bible does, unless we are perfect human beings who always do what is right.
The Holy Scriptures make us wise unto salvation. They are clear, sufficient, authoritative, and powerful to save because they are God's own word. Peter tells us, "For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but holy men spoke from God as they were carried along [i.e., controlled] by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21). We read in Psalm 19:7-11: "The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward."
We cannot believe in the divine Trinity, creation, fall, redemption, virgin birth, resurrection, hell, heaven, new heaven and new earth, and every miracle without believing the witness of Scripture of its own divine origin and therefore infallibility. If you oppose the Scripture, you oppose God himself.
Its every declaration is true, every promise is true, and every threatening is true. So we hear the word, believe the word, and are blessed by the word. We come to the Lord with a responsive heart and say with young Samuel, "Speak, Lord, your servant heareth." We come to the Scripture in complete submission to the God of the Scriptures. The Spirit who is the author of the Scripture enlightens us in the Scripture by the testimonium Spiritus sancti internum (the internal testimony of the Spirit), and so we understand divine mysteries.
Paul writes, "However, as it is written: "˜No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him'-but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. . . . We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. . . . The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. . . . "˜For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ " (1 Cor. 2:9-10, 12, 14, 16).
In the Holy Scripture, God speaks to be heard, believed, and obeyed. It is not your mother speaking; God is speaking. So we understand what the Scripture says is what the Holy Spirit says is what God says. It is what is written. It is according to the Scripture. We read 3,808 times in the Bible the phrase, "the word of the Lord came." The Scripture is the word of the Lord himself. Scripture then is our final authority, our constitution. So we are to learn the Scriptures. We are to search the Scriptures consisting of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments. There are no other authoritative revelations. We cannot add or subtract from these Scriptures once-for-all delivered to us. They have become the foundation of the church. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, "When we speak of the authority of Scripture, we mean "˜that property by which it demands faith and obedience to all its declarations.'"1
The authority of Scripture is the authority of God, which is the right to rule and control us. St. Augustine said, "What Scripture says, God says."2Vox Scriptura, vox Dei ("The voice of Scripture is the voice of God").3 To submit to the Scriptures is to submit to Christ himself. Everyone who is a true Christian must confess "Jesus is Lord" and submit to the Scriptures. John Armstrong says, "The . . . Reformation was fundamentally a recovery of the full and final authority of the Scripture."4
There are three ways people oppose the full authority of Scripture. First, of course, are through human philosophies which oppose the authority of Scripture. Second is by holding to a false view of the Holy Spirit. We see this illustrated by television preachers declaring, "The Lord told me," as in, "The Lord told me each of you should give me one thousand dollars." The third way is by maintaining an ungodly, ignorant, and subjectivistic interpretation of Scripture: "I think the Scripture is saying this, not that." It is sheer selfism that vetoes the voice, power, and authority of God. It is nothing less than demon possession. All of a sudden, you and your subjectivity become the final authority. You don't want to listen to anybody. You justify every action by your own pronouncement. We want to give seven illustrations of this idea of the authority of Scripture in the lives of people.
Adam and Eve
God said, "You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it, you will surely die" (Gen. 2:17). But in Genesis 3, Satan says the exact opposite. When anyone contradicts the Bible, he is inspired by the devil himself. So Satan gave Adam and Eve the deadly anti-word of God. He said, "Go ahead, eat of it. You will not surely die, for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." In other words, Satan was saying, "You are blind and ignorant now, and God wants to keep you that way, as ignorant slaves. But sin and be free! Shake off all authority in your life! Sin and be God! Sin and be a self-determining, all-knowing being!"
But the word of God is all-powerful. Adam sinned, and he became a slave of sin, Satan, and death. He did die. Paul writes, "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned" (Rom. 5:12). The wages of sin is death.
The second illustration is Noah (see Gen. 6:8ff). Noah, a sinner, found grace in the eyes of the Lord. He was righteous and blameless and walked with God. God was about to destroy the whole sinful humanity by a flood, yet he saved Noah's family of eight, along with some animals. God asked him to build an ark 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet in height, with a displacement capacity of 43,000 tons, an inside capacity of 1.4 million cubic feet, and 95,000 square feet of deck area.
There was no historical precedence of a flood. Noah built the ark in a landlocked area. But he believed God's word. He knew all things are possible with the infinite, personal God. He was a holy man. He separated himself and his family from all the wicked of the world. In holy fear, we are told, he built the ark (Heb. 11:7).
Do you fear anybody? Job feared God and shunned evil. By faith in God's authoritative word, Noah built the ark and saved himself and his family from the flood, which surely came, as God said it would. It wiped out the entire world, except for those eight people. So in Genesis 6:22 we read, "Noah did everything just as God commanded him." And in Genesis 7:5, "And Noah did all the Lord commanded him."
Do we render full obedience to God's regulative word, as Noah did? Think about it. Not partial obedience, but full and complete obedience.
No man, except our Lord, has ever been tested like Abraham. In his old age, Abraham by a miracle received a son of promise. His wife Sarah was barren all her life, but in her old age, by a miracle, she was enabled to conceive and give birth to the son of promise, Isaac. But in due time, God tested Abraham's love for God. God tests our love for him too. So we read, "Then God said, "˜Take your son, your only son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about'" (Gen. 22:2). Ten times the word "son" appears in the first sixteen verses of Genesis 22. There is emphasis on it.
God was saying to Abraham, "Take your son, your only son, the one whom you love, the son of promise, Isaac, and sacrifice him in worship and prove your love for me, that you love me with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." God will not accept anything less than that. So Abraham traveled the forty-five miles from Beersheba to Mount Moriah, where the temple was later built. As they journeyed, Isaac asked his father, "We have fire and wood. Where is the lamb?" He noticed that something so central to true worship was missing. Abraham replied, "Jehovah Jireh. God will see to it. God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering."
Abraham and Isaac finally arrived at Moriah. All the time, Abraham had been thinking about this severe test of his love. But he believed in God's word. So he reasoned, "God promised me a son, and he gave me a son in my old age. The Messiah is to come through Isaac. But God wants me to kill him and burn him up in worship of God. God is truth and cannot lie. Therefore, God must raise my son from the ashes so that the Messiah, the Savior of the world, can come." So he bound Isaac, placed him on the woodpile, and raised the knife to kill him. Then God spoke, Isaac was spared, and a God-provided ram was sacrificed. Salvation by substitution was taught. (PGM) After many centuries, John the Baptist would say, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25).
Abraham believed God's word. By faith, Abraham obeyed and passed the test with flying colors. So we read, ""˜Do not lay a hand on the boy,' [the angel of the Lord] said. "˜Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son'" (Gen. 22:12). Then he said, "And through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me" (Gen. 22:18). God was saying, "Yes, Abraham, your reasoning is right. I will spare your son. And I will not spare my Son. But my Son will come through his line, as I promised. My word is truth."
Moses was also obedient to the regulative word of God. He was told to build a tabernacle so that God could dwell in the midst of his people: "Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you" (Exod. 25:9) And we read, "See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain" (Exod. 25:40). This is repeated several times.
You and I have no right to edit, add, or subtract God's word to us. Complete submission and total obedience is required of all God's people. So Moses obeyed. Ten times it is stated in Exodus 39 that the people "did as the Lord commanded Moses." And in Exodus 40, eight more times it is stated that they "did as the Lord commanded." In Exodus 39:42 we read, "The Israelites had done all the work just as the LORD had commanded Moses." Then it says that "Moses inspected the work." He needed to make certain that everything was done in complete obedience to the pattern shown to him on Mount Sinai. "Moses inspected the work and saw that they had done it just as the LORD had commanded. So Moses blessed them" (Exod. 39:43).
Friends, there is a blessing that will come to you when you obey God. God himself examined everything and he said, "Yes, they did it." What happened next? "Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle" (Exod. 40:34). The greatest blessing is God's presence in our lives-in our family, in our church. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit.
God told Joshua, "Joshua, you are to succeed Moses my servant and lead my people to Canaan. There will be problems on your way. There are enemies. But you are to do one thing. Be careful to obey my law. Do not turn from it to the right or to the left. My word is the way-not the broad way, but the narrow way. Walk on it, and it will lead you to good success."
So we read, "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth. Meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and very successful" (Josh. 1:8). Know the word. Believe the word. Do the word. Obey the stipulations of the covenant Lord, and you will be blessed. The psalmist declares, "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law doth he meditate day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper" (Ps. 1:1-3).
When Joshua was old and dying, he told his successors, "Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left" (Josh. 23:6). Then he said, "Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed" (Josh. 23:14). The Scripture is the very word of God.
Josiah became king when he was eight years old. His father Amon was wicked, yet Josiah became the most godly king in the history of Israel. So we read, "Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did-with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses" (2 Kings 23:25).
Josiah was completely regulated by the Holy Scriptures. At age fifteen, he began to seek God. In Chronicles, "seeking God" means "looking to God to guide us in every situation of life." In 2 Chronicles 7:14 we read, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
At age nineteen, Josiah began a reformation as a result of his seeking God. He started to purge the evil of idolatry from Jerusalem and Judah. At age twenty-five, he began to purify and repair the temple. As he was seeking God by divine initiative, God led him to the Bible. It had been lost for years, but Hilkiah the priest found the lost book in the temple. You can imagine his joy: "Eureka! I have found it! I have found the Scriptures!" The Book was read to Josiah, and he was convicted by it, trembling before God. He repented of his sins and inquired of God through Huldah the prophetess, who observed the fact that Josiah's heart was responsive toward God. By this time, disaster for Judah could not be averted. But Josiah would not see it when it came, because his heart was responsive and he humbled himself. In contrast to Josiah, there later came a son of his named Jehoiakim, who took the Book and burned it page by page, showing his utter contempt for the word of God.
From this point on, Josiah studied the Bible. He went to the temple, read the Bible to the people, and they all renewed the covenant. What a revival!
God is the God who sends revival. He revives us. He takes away our stony heart and gives us a heart of flesh, a responsive heart, a heart that loves God and keeps his covenant. When God sends revival, he without fail leads us to his Book, the Holy Scriptures, and he gives us a great love to read it and meditate upon it day and night. He by his Spirit gives us understanding of this word. He gives us faith to believe the word. He gives the power to obey the word, and we discover that his promises are true. We enjoy fellowship with God, which is joy unspeakable and full of glory. Obedience to God's word becomes our singular passion. Jesus said, "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. . . . If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching" (John 14:21, 23). Four people came out of this revival of Josiah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They governed their lives in accordance with the Book.
So Josiah lived all his life in complete obedience to the Bible. He celebrated the Passover as nobody ever celebrated before in full accordance with the Scripture (2 Chron. 35:18).
Finally, look at Jesus. Adam sinned, and in him we all sinned and are born sinners. And we daily practice sin. The wages of sin is death eternal. But thank God for the second Adam, Jesus Christ. He came to fulfill all righteousness in our place. He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. 5:21). The purpose of incarnation is revealed in Psalm 40:6-8, where we are told, "In the volume of the book it is written of me: I have come to do your will, O God." And Jesus said, "Moses, the Prophets, the Writings, and the Psalms-they all speak of me, that Christ must suffer and be raised from the dead so that repentance and forgiveness of sins can be preached to the whole world" (see Luke 24:26-27; 44-47).
Christ had to come. Christ had to suffer, that repentance and forgiveness of sins might be preached through the gospel to the whole world. Yes, Jesus came to fulfill all the will of God. He submitted to the Scripture. He testified to the authority, power, infallibility, and inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. He believed in the absolute authority of the Scriptures. So he said, "It is written," quoted scriptures to the devil, and the devil left him. He said, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to finish it" (John 4:34). He said, "For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me" (John 6:38). He said, "The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him" (John 8:29). He said, "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do" (John 17:4). And from the cross he said, "It is finished" (John 19:30).
In this new year, may God revive us, that we may seek God in every situation. May God lead us to the Book of life. May it be our passion to read and obey it because it is not speaking about empty words. It is our very life, as Moses exhorted: "Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command [not beg and plead] your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you-they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess" (Deut. 32:46-47). Notice, Moses begins, "Take to heart." That means to "know, love, treasure, and be regulated by." By what? By "all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day." What is the purpose? "that you may command" - not beg or plead with - "your children to obey carefully all the words of this law." Then he says, "They are not just idle words" - he is not speaking about mythology. "They are your life" - words that lead to eternal life. "By them you will live long" and be successful. Jesus said, "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life" (John 6:63).
At the end of his life, in his last letter, this is what Paul tells us about the Holy Scriptures:
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage-with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Tim. 3:12-4:5)
False teachers abound; we see them all around us. Paul warned of this: "While evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived . . . For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine" (2 Tim. 3:13; 4:3). He told the Ephesian elders, "I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:29-30). He wrote, "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron" (1 Tim. 4:1-2).
What should we do? Preach the Word. "Preach the Word . . . in season and out of season" (2 Tim. 4:2). Why? He reminds Timothy, "how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:15-16). Preach the Word, because the false pastors will preach doctrines of demons. Paul exhorts, "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world." What is our weapon? The word of God. "On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
So in this new year, let us commit ourselves afresh like Josiah to seek God and to love our constitution, the Holy Scriptures-to study it, to preach it, and to live by it, that we may live a holy life, that we may shine as the light of the world to the glory of Jesus Christ, our Sovereign. Let the word of Christ dwell in our hearts richly, guiding us daily, because in the word is the truth of God revealed. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. By this word we can resist the devil, and he shall flee from us. The word of God has divine power to save us and destroy all God's and our enemies.
God will help us this new year. He told us, "Fear not, I am with you. I will never leave you nor forsake you." God said it, I believe it, and that settles it! Amen.
1 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authority (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1997), 44.
22 John H. Armstrong, "The Authority of Scripture" in Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible, edited by Don Kistler (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995), 105.
3 Armstrong, 107.
4 Armstrong, 117.
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Copyright © 2012, P. G. Mathew
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