“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” – Deuteronomy 4:2
In the church calendar the second Sunday in December is set aside as Bible Sunday. The New Church has distinctive teachings concerning the Word which are much needed at the present time.
The Bible is the Book of Life. This applies equally to the Old Testament and to the New. In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets,” and the Gospel of John begins with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” and says, “and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” The Lord’s life was the living out of the Word. He said, “I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” The Lord who is the Word, whose very life is the life of the Word, could not destroy it. He could not abrogate or deny His own truth. He came as the truth, to manifest Himself to us.
When Israel was led out of Egypt and had come to Sinai, commandments, statutes, and judgments were given them in order that they might live and go in and possess the land promised to them through their fathers.
The explanation of conditions on earth is to be found not alone in the political and economic world but in the world of spirit, for the Lord rules in the heavens and through them governs and determines all things here. And this He does by means of His Word, whereby men have conjunction with Him and with the heavens. The Bible brings us into touch with primary causes; it interprets our states of life; it gives us a vision of things as they ought to be and the directions which are necessary to enable us to reach the goal of the vision.
The Israelites were nearing the end of the wilderness journey when Moses was inspired to write, “Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers giveth you.” This teaches us that if we will learn and obey the precepts of the Word, we shall be recipients of the life of heaven, which the Lord, who is the origin and source of all good and truth, desires to give to everyone. Then follow the words of our text: “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”
One of the meanings of this text is that the Divine truth, or the Divine Word, which proceeds from the Lord by revelation and influx is unchangeable. It is not from men’s intelligence, and it is to be received in the understanding and applied to life. The Lord came into the world to bear witness to the truth not for His own glory but for the sake of men, as He said, “that they also might be sanctified through the truth,” “that they may be made perfect in one,” “that they may behold my glory,” “that where I am, they may be also,” “that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” Of the Lord it is written, “With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him?” He came not for His own glory, but to serve, to make others happy.
Our happiness comes to us by learning about the Lord and serving others in the desire to serve Him. But that our service may be intelligent and pure we must keep His laws. We cannot instruct Him. We can add no power nor glory to Him, any more than we can increase the power of the sun. The Word was given by the Lord. Isaiah writes, “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” There is power in the Word to accomplish its purposes. So we are warned not to add to it or to take away from it.
We readily see the application of this warning to those translators of the Word who would reject or change certain passages and add others. Today such changes are actually being made in the Word because it is not held in reverence as it once was. Translators sometimes twist and turn it to make it mean not what it says but what they think it ought to say. But the command applies not only to the translators but to everyone, for there is with everyone the temptation to add to or take away from the Word, because our natural tendency is to trust in our own intelligence instead of in the Lord’s wisdom. And we of the New Church are by no means exempt from this temptation, in spite of the fact that we have accepted positive and distinctive teachings concerning the inspiration of the Word and the sole Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Book of Revelation has been called “the charter of the New Church,” and at the end of that book we find the law of our text reiterated with even more solemn warning:
“If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any men 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 which are written in this book.”
The Psalmist writes, “The law of the Lord is perfect.” Do we feel at times that the laws of God are not perfect because the wicked seem to flourish while some good and humble people are afflicted and in need? Do we think that God’s laws fall short and fail to embrace all, even to the least?
Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you.” Do we doubt the reality of the spiritual world by living as if this world were all-important? If so, we are taking away from the Word.
We read, “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment.” Do we prefer to think that the Lord’s mercy is such that in some miraculous way He can change the evil after death into angels and receive them into heaven? Such a thought undermines the will to cleanse the life and the purpose of life here is defeated.
We read, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Some seem to think that all the world is evil, that others are always trying to cheat us, and that nothing but selfishness and greed can succeed. The Word tells us that the righteous shall inherit the earth and that the wicked shall be destroyed. In the presence of all that we see and hear about us, do we steadfastly believe that “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end”? If not, we are taking away from the Word. We should believe in the promises of the Word and live in the joy and strength of them. We should not in our minds diminish ought from the Word. No one can reject a part of the Word without forfeiting the life that is in it. If one rejects the truth that the Lord will be with us in the valley of shadows, then the power of that promise cannot be given us. If one does not believe that the Lord can give us victory over our evils if we obey Him, the life of that sustaining promise perishes for him. Whatever one takes out of the Book is taken out of his life.
And what if one adds to the Book? “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.” The plagues are the falsities and evil that afflict the souls of men when their own ideas supplant the teachings of the Word.
It is not uncommon for people to add to the Word. The doctrine of faith alone, nowhere taught in Scripture, is such an addition. The doctrine of universal salvation is such an addition. Again there is a general trend toward looking upon external practices which we consider good or bad as the test of Christianity. Some try to make the Word teach prohibition or to put the all of religion in external good works. They read into the Bible their own ideas of right and wrong. This leads them to think of themselves as better than others who do not agree with their opinions – the plague! Unconsciously they are saying, “I think this; therefore the Word must teach it.” This practice of altering or interpreting the Word to suit human opinions and desires is a major cause of the materialism of our day, a fashioning of God in our own image. To those who indulge in it the Word is closed. They do not apply it to their own improvement or acquire wisdom from it.
“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you.”
“Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of its righteous judgments endureth forever.”