“For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.
“But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” – John 5:46, 47
The second Sunday in December is widely celebrated throughout the Christian world as “Bible Sunday.”
The Gospel of John opens with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” and it is further declared that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” The Lord who is the Word, whose very life is the life of the Word came to manifest Himself to us. So He declares, “Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” Thus the Old and the New Testaments are made interdependent.
The burden of the Old Testament is the teaching that God the Lord would come into the world as its Redeemer and Savior. If men do not believe the prophecy, how can they believe the fulfillment?
The verse preceding our text reads, “How can ye believe, which receive honour of one another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” The Jews looked upon Moses as a prophet and as their lawgiver, but they believed only according to their own interpretations, which had so construed their Scriptures that they made even the commandments of no effect by their traditions. They really looked only to their own opinions. This is self-trust or self-exaltation, which is the basis of disbelief.
Today, in a large portion of the Christian world, this same self-exaltation takes the form of attributing the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures to men, making them subject to human limitations and error. Many believe in no unique revelation of God to men, and have no standard outside of themselves.
The New Church has a specific task here. The Word is the revelation of God to men. It is the means by which He is present with them, and it is indispensable to the spiritual enlightenment and guidance of mankind. Without it no true and living relationship could be established or maintained between the human race and the Lord. We are not born into the knowledge of Divine truth. We have no innate or intuitive knowledge of anything whatsoever. We have to be instructed in all that we need to know. There is no light shining from within that will instruct us. Religious truth, like all other truth, must reach us from some source outside of ourselves. It has always been so. Knowledge of God is not the invention of men.
Suppose that the mind of man had never been familiar with the thought expressed in the words “Thus saith the Lord.” Imagine, if possible, what would be our present condition if the Lord Jesus Christ had never lived upon the earth and the Gospel by which He is known had never been written. The Christian era is the result of the Lord’s coming upon the earth, and Christian principles have been the source of the world’s advance. If anyone thinks that this is all a human work, the effect of merely human efforts, his thinking has been very superficial. To deny the instrumentality of the Bible in uplifting and regenerating mankind is the same as denying the existence and active operation of the Lord in the world.
We are living in what is called the “age of reason.” With the Second Coming a new spirit was given to the world, the spirit of free inquiry. On account of this the secrets of the world of nature have been opened up; hence the amazing progress in natural science. But the human soul has higher capacities than those that are concerned with this world alone. Man is a spiritual being, capable of knowing God and knowing truths concerning the world of spirit.
The Bible is a book written within and on the back side. It has a meaning within the letter. Being the Word of God, it differs from all other writings. It must meet the needs of all men for all times and in all states of ignorance or enlightenment. It does meet these needs. In its letter it reaches the simplest mind, and in its spirit the highest states of spiritual intelligence. The Lord after the Resurrection opened the understanding of the two on the way to Emmaus that they might understand the Scriptures. And He declared, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now… These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs: but I shall show you plainly of the Father.”
It is because we are finite that the Bible was written in this way. God is infinite; He fills eternity. Our lives upon earth occupy but a brief space of time. The finite cannot comprehend the infinite. The temporal cannot grasp the eternal. Even the sun’s rays must be tempered by the atmospheres or the earth and all things upon it would be consumed. We cannot gaze directly at the sun. If this be true of any created finite object, how much more must it be true of the Divine and uncreated Source of life. The Lord said to Moses, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me and live.” And again we read in John, “No one hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”
It is but little of the Divine truth that can be apprehended even by the wisest of men and angels. Revelation has to be adapted to the capacities of those to whom it is given. So the Old and New Testaments differ in outward form. But this difference in the letter is slight. Both the Old and the New Testament have “dark sayings” and apparent contradictions. By His disciples the Lord’s words were often misinterpreted and misunderstood. And today one would be rash if he said that he understood every statement in the Word. The Book of Revelation is still a sealed book to many, as are most of the Levitical laws and large portions of the Prophets. The Bible cannot be explained on merely literal grounds.
Some would like to have all the harsh things removed from the Old Testament, so that there would be no clashing between “the Law given by Moses” and “the grace and truth” which came by Jesus Christ. But when the Lord says that we cannot believe His words unless we believe the writings of Moses, He is telling us that there is agreement between the law and His words. The difference between the Old and the New Testaments is in external form only, a difference in style or in accommodation to the states of men, not a difference in meaning. Both are needed to guide us in intelligence, in integrity, and to meet our ever-growing and varying needs.
Not a single book of the Word in either the Old or the New Testament can be explained on merely literal grounds. There must be a new method of understanding. The stories of creation, of the patriarchs, of the Exodus, of the conquest of the land of Canaan, of the period of the Kings, and of the divided kingdom are more than the history of Israel. They are the story of states through which we pass.
Every serious human book expresses the mind of its author, and those who read it approach the mind of that author in proportion to his ability to express himself and to their ability to understand. So it is with the Word, except that there is no question as to the Lord’s ability to express Himself. The limitations are ours. And the Lord has provided the means by which we may now understand it. He has told us that it is written in parables. We must interpret the parables. The question is asked, “Why does the Lord speak in parables?” “Why does He not tell us plainly?” It is because the Lord does not wish to force belief or allegiance. We must judge freely and choose freely. Only so can we be satisfied and happy in our choice.
Without the Bible Christianity is deprived of its historical basis and of its connection with the Lord, and loses its life-giving power. Religion without the Word is impossible, for without the Word we are without the knowledge of God.
And without the Word no happiness can come to men. If we would obtain lasting security, the Lord’s purpose must be our purpose; His ways must be our ways.
“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.”